The ESA and Election Day: wolves, wood storks, woodpeckers, water and more.
Election Day is tomorrow, and perhaps the Endangered Species Act will never be the same. As reported by Alaska public broadcasting, the positions of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Scott McAdams on fisheries policy and the Endangered Species Act could prove hugely important to the voters. But Alaskans are not alone. All over the nation, the ESA dialogue and debate continues. Some people demand outright repeal, like Jonathan DuHamel in the Tuscon Citizen. Some seek narrowly tailored exemptions, and in fact, U.S. Senate candidates are discussing the merits of an ESA exemption for water users in the Central Valley of California. See PBS Newshour. The exemption approach, however, has its critics, as noted in a Kansas City InfoZine story berating the laws excusing U.S. Armed Forces military efforts from ESA compliance. And other voices insist on more protections, just as the Sierra Club argues for the polar bear. All of the story lines are simplistic, but the science and solutions are not.
Wolves vs. hunters. Wolves have a right to eat, says Kirk Robinson, Executive Director of Western Wildlife Conservancy in the Salt Lake Tribune. While Utah hunters seek a Congressional rider to exempt the species from the Endangered Species Act, Robinson argues that "there is not a single shred of science to support these bills or that their passage would set an egregious precedent... and there is no other species of animal on the continent capable of occupying the supremely important role of wolves in maintaining ecosystem health." Meanwhile, Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter told the Missoulian that the wolf reintroduction program was "a tragic example of oppressive, ham-handed 'conservation' at its worst... Idahoans have suffered this intolerable situation for too long, but starting today at least the state no longer will be complicit." Still, in Montana, FWS is refusing state efforts to affirmatively approve wolf hunting. See New York Times.
Wood storks v. developers. In Florida, developers want to delist the wood stork, arguing that it has passed its recovery marks. Environmental advocates, believing the increases to be temporary, want to maintain the listed species of the species. See Palm Beach Post.
Energy vs. sage grouse. Wyoming has tried to proactively conserve sage grouse by restricting development on state-designated "core areas," but the strategy is "a continual work in progress," says Republican Matt Mead, perhaps the states next Governor. But according to the New York Times, quoting energy experts, "painful choices" lie ahead. "The pain, at least for economic developers, is a prohibition on wind turbines and associated development within core sage grouse areas, which directly affects renewable energy prospects in the south-central part of the state."
Climate change vs. polar bears. A recent story in Advocacy for Animals, by Encyclopedia Brittanica, deems the polar bears the new canary in the coal mine, while opponents of the threatened species listing, including the Pacific Legal Foundation, call the bear a "thriving species" with population numbers reaching "the highest total in history." See LA Times. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, however, wants more information, and recently ordered the Interior Department to clarify a George W. Bush administration decision that polar bears were merely threatened rather than in imminent danger of extinction.
Emerging issues in aquatic environments. Protected species are becoming a new policy proxy for the pollution management and habitat destruction in freshwater and marine ecosystems. Having successfully sued the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to act, the Center for Biological Diversity today celebrated the decisions to list the Georgia pigtoe mussel, interrupted rocksnail and rough hornsnail as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and a related decision to protect 160 miles of their river habitat in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. Sadly, FWS also denied protection to Mississippi's Bay Springs salamander, declaring it to be extinct. A blog in the New York Times, and many readers, express concerns about the future of the recently listed Atlantic sturgeon. Similarly, the Sun Sentinel reports that "one-third of world's sharks, skates and rays face extinction" and notes that commercial fishing is blamed for much of decline. Smalltooth sawfish are already listed, and hammerhead numbers may be dwindling. More listings of oceanic species, and more regulation of the fisheries, may prove inevitable.
Lastly, a good news story. In South Florida, scientists are working to introduce ESA-listed species onto state-owned lands. Last week, biologists released 10 red-cockaded woodpeckers at the DuPuis Management Area as part of a long-standing partnership between the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to build the population of these important birds and benefit overall wildlife. See SFWMD.
Endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers are an unusual species. They are the only woodpecker species to excavate nest and roost sites in living trees, and unlike other woodpeckers, they are social, living in small family groups. The nests they construct play a vital role in the web of life in southern pine forests, and they are considered a “keystone” species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) because the cavities they construct in pine trees are used by a host of other animals, contributing to the richness of species in the pine forest. According to the USFWS, at least 27 species of vertebrates such as insects, birds, snakes, lizards, squirrels and frogs have been documented using woodpecker cavities. Photo from Steve Morello, University of Florida.. See also the RCW photo gallery from SFWMD. (Full disclosure: I am a SFWMD employee.)