In the news: economic consequences of the Endangered Species Act in the western USA.
This week offered many examples, especially from the western United States, of the continued tension between the values of the Endangered Species Act, and its raw economic consequences.
Conservationists intend to sue the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for their failure to list the sage grouse as a threatened species. See Epoch Times. But if the species does get listed, it could have significant repercussions for the use of wind energy in the Western U.S. See Huffington Post.
In California, changes to regional water management, intended to protect the threatened Delta smelt and losted salmonids, have hit regional agriculture, and the salmon fishery, hard. See New York Times. The desperate measures have not prevented the smelt populations from a continued downward path toward extinction. According to FWS, the species should be uplisted to endangered. But for now, FWS also said that the status change was precluded by other priorities. See SFappeal discussing FWS press release.
In Southern Oregon, Klamath region farmers rioted in 2001 when ESA-mandated protections led to water supply cutbacks. Today, says the Seattle Times, those farmers are trying to avoid shortages by renting fields served by wells.
Nearby, in Washington State, ESA effects on salmonid species are so significant that the U.S. Army Corps officials in Walla Walla are evaluating the potential for dam breaching throughout the Lower Snake River. See TheNewsTribune.
In Alaska, the designation of critical habitat for the Cook Inlet beluga whale spawned more controversy. Alaskans fear the consequences for fisheries, oil drilling, military activities, and other economic development efforts. See The Peninsula Clarion. Similar concerns related to the proposed Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska have Alaskan legislators and officials thinking about hosting a conference on the ESA and its effects. See Alaska Dispatch. (The state already planned on hiring its own Endangered Species Act lawyer.)
Thanks to groups like the International Crane Foundation and Operation Migration, the whooping crane continues on a path toward species recovery. As shown in a wonderful series of photos (including the photo above) by blogger and crane-lover Vicki Henderson. Crane pairs are dedicated to and very protective of their young.
While many of the stories above may seem like old news, with traditional environment vs. economy tensions, sometimes, the lines blur.
In Nebraska, the ESA's protections have helped whooping cranes escape extinction, and birders now pour into the state -- bringing their binoculars and tourist dollars. But the over-eager photographers sometimes harass the birds, and need to be warned by wildlife officials to keep their distance. See Omaha World-Herald.
Lompoc, CA is dealing with another usual ESA-related problem. Western snowy plover habitat along the shoreline leads to closures of the local beaches. Unhappy surfers then violate those closures, ignoring the signs, and the impacts to the species. See The Lompoc Record. Do California surfers spend as much as Nebraska birders?
As if all the stories above were not enough, many scientists have suggested that global climate change will increase stress on wildlife, which in turn, will increase economic tensions, too. Tackling the 800-pound gorilla, the U.S. Geological Survey announced that it will be studying the effects of climate change on wildlife. See USGS Press Release. They plan to study alterations in Florida’s ecosystems, potential impacts on Great Lakes’ fish, sea-level rise impacts on San Francisco Bay marshes, and the effects of melting glaciers on Alaska’s freshwater coastal systems.
And finally, an oldie but goodie for environmentally-minded people who spent the past decade hibernating... bald eagles are back from the brink of extinction! See Washington Post. Expanded habitat includes Cape Fear, North Carolina, and Litchfield, Connecticut. See StarNews Online, and Litchfield County Times.