ESA in the news: brown pelicans delisted, and other hurts-so-good news
Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana are celebrating the delisting of the brown pelican, a bird species with a global population estimate of more than 620,000 birds. See Reuters. Is it all because of the ESA? Probably not. The banning of DDT probably had far more to do with the bird's recovery. See Investigate West, and prior ESA blawg on the delisting of the bald eagle. Nevertheless, facts are facts, and recovery is recovery. According to FWS draft delisting rule, "numbers of successful nests and fledglings produced annually since 1993 do indicate continued nesting and successful fledging of young sufficient to sustain a viable population in Louisiana." Elsewhere along the U.S. Gulf Coast, FWS says that "brown pelican populations, while experiencing some periodic or local declines, have increased dramatically from a point of near disappearance in the 1960s and 70s."
Somehow, when it comes to the Endangered Species Act, good news seems to leave people feeling bad. Not everyone found cause for celebration with the pelican announcement. OCweekly, also quoting the Center for Biological Diversity, expressed fears that climate change will continue to threaten the pelicans. Others didn't stop with criticisms of the pelican delisting. Mongabay reports that "Obama slower than Bush in protecting America's endangered species." In a press release, Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, also said that “protection of only two species in 10 months reflects a failure to enact substantial reforms in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.” Mongabay even added a supplemental note bemoaning other species delistings. But in contrast, Legal Planet noted that "the success of the ESA should never be measured by the number of species delisted."
As a result of the ban on the use of DDT in the United States, as well as complementary conservation efforts, the species has made a strong comeback and, in view of its improved status, has been removed from the list of threatened and endangered species throughout its range. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now estimates the global population of brown pelicans at 650,000 individuals. Photo and caption from FWS fact sheet.
Although the brown pelican delisting represents one less species facing extinction, environmental groups have filed numerous petitions in the past few weeks to compel increased numbers of ESA-protected species. For example, NOAA, Seacoast Online and the Boston Herald say that the Atlantic Wolffish is ugly, tasty, but not endangered, but the Conservation Law Foundation still disagrees, fearing the consequences of excessive fishing, so legal action may be coming soon. See CLF Petition. Oceana is also pushing for more fishery regulation, and launched a new campaign to "get sea turtles off the hook" by regulating fishing gear. See Ecorazzi. And the Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect 83 imperiled coral species in U.S. waters under the federal Endangered Species Act due to the threats of climate change and ocean warming and acidification. See LA Times and CBD Petition.
Of course, the Federal Government already has plenty of work to do, including the U.S. Department of Justice's continuing efforts to defend the Fish & Wildlife Service's established protections for the gray wolf and polar bear. Wyoming officials are still torqued over FWS's rejection of its wolf management plan and consequential decision to leave the species populations listed in their state. See Salt Lake Tribune. Alaskan officials fear that the listing of the polar bear as a threatened species will impair development. Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan warned that the listing could turn Alaska into “the world’s largest zoo," as quoted in the New York Times, and Governor Parnell told Radio Kenai that his State will continue to oppose the listing. Other states are less hostile to the ESA. Kentucky officials were cautious about the naming of the Kentucky glade cress and rabbitsfoot mussel as a formal candidate for listing, see Louisville Courier Journal, whereas officials in Hawaii seem to have embraced the benefits of the ESA, and actively encouraged Congress and President Obama to approve $3 million in appropriations dedicated to protecting listed bird species in Hawaii. See American Bird Conservancy announcement.
And, as usual, new ESA-related controversies are brewing all across the nation. NOAA's top-ranking official, Jane Lubchenco, announced that she will attend the Nov. 23 U.S. District court hearing in Portland, Oregon, after which Judge Redden is expected to reach decision in the long-running litigation over how to run hydroelectric dams while still protecting salmonids in the Columbia Basin. See Seattle Times. NOAA is also evaluating whether to downlist the humpback whale, because surveys estimate population growth from fewer than 5,000 in the 1960s to 60,000 or more today. See Wall Street Journal. FWS can also expect its share of work in the coming months. Bull trout populations have fallen sharply in Montana, says the Flathead Beacon. The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department elected to keep part, but not all, of the Sharp Park Golf Course, a prime piece of public recreation real estate located on a coastal watershed that also serves as a habitat for the endangered San Francisco garter snake. See San Francisco Chronicle. Bullfrog removal, needed to save the California red-legged frog, is spawning local opposition, reports petaluma360.com. And in Pima County, Arizona, the proposed Rosemont copper mine -- for which a biological opinion is underway -- is spawning quite a negative public reaction, leading to an early op-ed by the National Mining Association. See Arizona Star.