ESA news: federal family reaches sage grouse deal; scientists reject federal plans for salmon barging; CBD, WildEarth and PLF continue Tribal traditions
Last month, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced that the greater sage-grouse warranted protection of the Endangered Species Act, but that a listing was precluded by higher priority species needs. Environmentalists promptly declared their intent to sue. See AP wire and Center for Biological Diversity press release.. But today, the federal government announced its alternative: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reached an agreement to support the conservation of greater sage-grouse and sagebrush ecosystems in parts of 11 Western states. See San Jose Mercury News. "This agreement gives us a framework to prevent further habitat fragmentation and undertake other conservation efforts in partnership with states, tribes, private landowners and other stakeholders." Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said. The federal announcement also coincides with a push by wind energy interests to increase study of the species. See The Jamestown Sun (ND). For more information about the Sage grouse debate, visit The Salt Lake Tribune and
Greater sage-grouse currently occupy 258,000 square miles of the sagebrush ecosystem. In recent years, the species lost 44 percent of its habitat due to agriculture; urban development; energy extraction, generation and transmission; invasive weeds, pinion-juniper tree encroachment, and wildfire. The human footprint across the area where greater sage-grouse live is large and becoming larger as the country strives for energy independence, agriculture, development and other, often competing uses. (Caption info from USDA press release, photo from Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge.)
The federal agencies announcements related to the sage grouse stand in sharp contrast with recent news from the Pacific Northwest, where the agency efforts to resolve the ongoing disputes over salmonid were rejected by an independent science panel. The federal government wanted to stop spilling water over the top of four Snake River dams, "and rely instead on barges to carry young salmon and steelhead downstream on their spring migration to the sea." See AP wire. But an Independent Scientific Advisory Board -- formed by NOAA Fisheries and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council to provide advice and recommendations -- said that a "mixed strategy" of letting fish migrate naturally through spills over the dams and barging them was preferred. See The News Tribune (WA). In a noteworthy historical column this week, WaterWorld describes how The Shoshone-Bannock Indian Tribes began the "salmon wars" by petitioning the National Marine Fisheries Service on April 2, 1990, to list the Snake River sockeye salmon as an endangered species. "Twenty years ago this month, a small group of Indians in eastern Idaho changed the world in the Columbia River Basin."
Environmental groups continue the Shoshone-Bannock tradition. The Center for Biological Diversity recently announced a lawsuit alleging illegally delayed Endangered Species Act protection for the Pacific fisher, a relative of the mink and otter "decimated by historic fur trapping and logging of old-growth forests." See CBD press release. Similarly, WildEarth Guardians continues to challenging the Service’s failure to federally protect the Mist Forestfly, a case that made news when Wild Earth accused FWS of denying that there is "an extinction crisis" and further accusing FWS of "minimizing the problem of global climate change." See WildEarthGuardians press release. The Pacific Legal Foundation continues to serve as a counterbalancing force to these groups. Earlier today, PLF announced that it had petitioned for removal of the California gnatcatcher from the federal Endangered Species Act list. See LiberyBlog.
Unlike PLF and the environmentalists, and despite the coming summer months, Alaska is cooling down -- at least when it comes to the ESA. Although Alaska Dispatch reports that Sen. Lisa Murkowski recently held a roundtable discussion in Anchorage, "slamming" the Endangered Species Act, KTUU, money for a public relations campaign against the Endangered Species Act has gone unspent. Maybe Alaska can offer some of the money to FWS to help with the other species needs?