ESA in the news: HCP overshadowed by Pacific politics, Caribbean crimes, Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and Southeast's increasing ESA sophistication
Earlier this week, wildlife officials from Nevada and the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service proudly culminated 12 years of work with the signing of the Section 10 permits for the Southeastern Lincoln County Habitat Conservation Plan. See the Lincoln County Record. The plan covers impacts to and take of desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) and southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax trailii extimus) on non-Federal lands associated with land development and maintenance activities, utility and infrastructure development and maintenance activities, flood control activities, County roadway maintenance, railroad construction and maintenance, and the conversion of an existing land use to another land use. See links to document from Nevada FWS office.
But the cooperative approach to Endangered Species Act implementation in Lincoln County stood in stark contrast to other news from California, Nevada and Idaho. In California, Westlands Water District has been hiring the experienced, and controversial, officials from the Bush Administration, including Craig Manson and Julie MacDonald, to represent it in the ongoing struggles over the regional water supply system and its effects on the delta Smelt in the Sacramento Bay-Delta. (Both officials were later fingered for wrongdoing by U.S. Department of Interior Inspector General Report.) See Inside Bay Area. Another ESA critic, Nevada's energy director, recently stunned the environmental community when he declared his "plan of attack" for implementing energy initiatives. A recent speech further surmised that federal environmental policies are nothing more than bureaucratic hurdles serving mostly to create more work for federal employees. See Las Vegas Sun. Taking the idea one step further, Idaho State representative candidate David Klingenberg said he supports the nullification of the Endangered Species Act. See The Spokesman-Review. But local citizens associated with Western Watersheds Project obviously disagree, and filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Boise, comparing the federal decision not to list the Western Sage Grouse, and its categorization as warranted but precluded, as putting the bird in the "black hole." See Bloomberg.
Some of the ESA opponents inevitable cross the line and commit criminal acts. In Tennessee, illegal off-site construction discharges violated the Clean Water Act and also killed nine Nashville Crayfish, a listed species, violating the ESA. See Nashville Post. In the Virgin Islands, a Hawksbill sea turtle death made local news due to illegal gillnet fishing. See Virgin Island Daily News. In Wisconsin, a 60-year old potato farm is under federal investigation, allegedly for the poisoning of the grey wolf. According to News of the North, Sowinski Farms is one of the largest suppliers of chip stock potatoes to national companies including Frito-Lay and Snowden. Sometimes, even ESA supporters get caught acting illegally. Officials from the Arizona Game and Fish Department may have been engaged in illegal and unpermitted efforts to capture a wild jaguar. See Arizona Star(whistleblower story) and Arizona Star (rebuttal by state officials).
But all those "crimes" pale in comparison to the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which could be deadly for endangered and threatened wildlife. See FoxNews Science. Dead turtles are washing up on the shores of the Gulf Coast, perhaps as a result of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. See Reuters and Discovery News. In an in-depth and interactive daily update, Sea Turtle Restoration Project reports that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill jeopardizes all sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. See also The Guardian. Although NOAA has long acknowledged the threat that oil development presents to sea turtle species, see National Ocean Service, thus far, NOAA has said that the reported Kemp's Ridley sea turtle deaths were NOT due to the oil spill. See Environment News Service. Still, the timing of the oil spill will probably prove to be significant for future implementation of the Endangered Species Act, because the loggerhead sea turtle is being considered for a listing change from threatened to endangered, and the oil spill also occurred during NOAA's review of the recovery plan for the Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle. See Environment News Service and New York Times. Louisiana species, including the recently delisted brown pelican, could be in trouble too, as oil continues to reach the barrier islands. See Environmental News Service and UK Times Online.
Photo of sea turtle swimming through BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill, image from Guardian UK.
While sea turtles suffer from oil development, panthers suffer from land use development, noted Craig Pittman in a recent article. Calling the species a "Dead Cat Walking," the article discusses the insufficiency of existing habitat protections. See TampaBay.com. In fact, all over the southeast, environmental groups and others are showing increasing awareness of the Endangered Species Act. As previously noted here at ESA blawg, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition to list 404 wetland species as threatened or endangered. See ESAblawg, New York Times, and Scientific American. Now, Mississippi groups are threatening to sue over a project threatening the critically endangered Mississippi gopher frog's last confirmed breeding pond. See GulfLive.com. And finally, in a case sure to catch national attention, Florida's ESA suit, alleging that the U.S. Army Corps operation of a Georgia dam in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin is killing downstream populations of listed mussel species, will soon be argued in Federal Court. See Gainesville Times.