Volume 17 - Issue 2

Editor: Laura M. Bies
Reporters: Megan T. Cook and Brooke L. Talley

Get The Wildlife Policy News (v17, i2) as a single Adobe Acrobat .pdf file.

Wildlife Policy News is intended to foster the exchange of information about policy issues among Society leaders. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect official policy of The Wildlife Society unless so stated. Please share this publication with your colleagues. Contents may be reprinted with credit to Wildlife Policy News. We welcome comments and suggestions for future issues This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

In this Issue:

  1. Pocosin Lakes Refuge Threatened by Proposed Navy Landing Field
  2. Legislative and Regulatory Changes to ESA Proposed
  3. Alaska’s Wolf Bounty Illegal
  4. Complications in Removing Bald Eagle from ESA Protection
  5. Iowa May Control Deer Overpopulation with New Contraceptive
  6. Yellowstone Grizzly Bear No Longer Endangered
  7. Juvenile Whooping Cranes Die during Severe Storm
  8. FWS to Determine if Eastern Cougar Extinct
  9. Management Conflicts between Yellowstone Bison and Montana Cattle
  10. Controversy Continues on Santa Rosa Island
  11. Administration’s Farm Bill Proposal a Mixed Bag for Conservation Programs
  12. President Requests Reduced Wildlife Funding for FY08

Pocosin Lakes Refuge Threatened by Proposed Navy Landing Field

The winter range for the largest concentration of migratory waterfowl on the East Coast lies less than five miles from the preferred location for a new Navy fighter jet landing field. The U.S. Navy has proposed to build an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) for fighter jets near Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.

Considered a Globally Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy, the refuge hosts the greatest concentration of migratory waterfowl on the East Coast. The refuge also contains one of only four reintroduced wild populations of the federally endangered red wolf (Canis rufus).

The adverse potential impacts of the OLF are as diverse as the groups who oppose its construction, which include conservation groups, military personnel, farm organizations, sportsmen, government agencies (including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), North Carolinian elected officials (including Governor Mike Easley), and local governments.

Critics are concerned with the negative impacts to the area’s wildlife (habitat destruction, disturbance of feeding, nesting, and breeding, and bird-jet collisions), local residents (displacement of farming families who have lived in the area for generations), and pilot safety (jeopardy from bird-jet collisions when practicing take-offs and landings).

The controversy has heated up since 2003, when the Navy published its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project. In 2005, a U.S. District Court ordered a permanent injunction stopping the OLF construction, citing the Navy’s failure to objectively analyze the environmental impacts of the proposed OLF in its EIS. In accordance with the court’s ruling, the Navy released a Draft Supplement to the EIS (SEIS) on 23 February 2007 for which it is currently accepting public comments.

At a public hearing in March, FWS Director Dale Hall questioned the Navy’s SEIS findings. He cited FWS concerns about the loss of foraging habitat for wintering birds, the effects of noise on waterfowl, and the cumulative effects thereof on historic waterfowl use patterns.

Assessments by the Navy itself predict a “severe” likelihood of catastrophic bird collisions that would compromise pilot safety for half the year. To reduce this risk, the Navy proposes to drive away birds through growing crops unattractive to wildlife, harassment (such as using dogs or fireworks), and killing birds if the aforementioned tactics fail.

FWS argues that forcing the birds to forage elsewhere will “disrupt historic wintering waterfowl use patterns and permanently remove traditional wintering areas.”

The Wildlife Society formed an expert committee to review and provide comments on the SEIS and will take part in the public comment period based on the results of the independent review. The Navy will accept comments on the Draft SEIS until 24 April 2007.

Sources: Defenders of Wildlife, Department of the Navy, North Carolinians Opposing the Outlying Landing Field, The News & Observer, The New York Times, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington Daily News

Back To Top

Legislative and Regulatory Changes to ESA Proposed

Proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) enforcement would reduce the role of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in overseeing the act and give states unprecedented power to veto the listing of individual species. The draft regulatory changes, leaked to the press on 27 March, would also limit the number of species eligible for listing and restrict extinction analyses to 20 years or 10 generations, rather than the 50 to 100 year range FWS currently employs.

A side-by-side comparison of the old regulations and the proposed changes with analysis of what the changes would mean, prepared by the Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, is available here.

The leaked draft changes come on the heels of the 16 March publication of a new Bush Administration interpretation of the ESA phrase that defines an endangered species as one “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”

This new interpretation limits the application of ESA protection to the current range of a species, rather than the (usually much larger) historical range used to determine ESA listings in the past.

Although the ESA does not explicitly mention “historic” range, it is impossible to determine whether the current distribution and population size of a species is sufficient to ensure the species’ survival without taking into account the historic distribution of the species.

Ignoring the historical range of species could make it easier to deny endangered species listings and may even promote the intentional killing of at-risk species; once individuals are removed from an area, the area is no longer part of the current range, and so intentional removals would avoid potential ESA conflicts.

Courts have consistently ruled against the Bush Administration’s interpretation that a species must be in danger of extinction throughout all of its range to warrant listing under the ESA and this new interpretation is seen by many groups as an attempt to bolster the Administration’s position in court. The interpretation was outlined in a memorandum to the FWS Director and published on the Interior Department website.

In a positive development for conservation, private landowners could receive financial incentives to protect endangered species on their land if a newly introduced bipartisan bill wins approval in Congress. The majority of endangered and threatened species in the U.S. are on found on private land, so this incentives bill provides immense opportunity for increased endangered species conservation.

Introduced in the Senate by Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and in the House by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Don Young (R-AK), The Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2007 would provide beneficial tax treatment to private landowners willing to participate in species recovery or habitat restoration actions. The bill would result in changes to the tax code and not to the underlying Endangered Species Act. Read the Senate and House bills.

Sources: Center for Biological Diversity, Department of the Interior Office of the Solicitor, E&E Publishing, LLC (E&E News PM, E&ETV OnPoint, Greenwire, Land Letter), The Endangered Species Coalition, MSNBC, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

Back To Top

Alaska’s Wolf Bounty Illegal

A $150 bounty for killing wolves in Alaska was ruled illegal by a state judge on 30 March 2007. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game had offered the bounty to pilots and aerial gunners on 21 March 2007 in an attempt to bolster its predator control program. Through this program, Alaska lethally manages its wolf population in order to increase moose and caribou populations. Volunteer pilots and hunters have been granted permits since 2003 to shoot wolves from airplanes in five targeted areas of Alaska, totaling 60,000 square miles. Since 2003, the aerial-hunter program has killed 607 of the estimated 7,000 to 11,000 wolves in the state.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s goal for this season is 382 to 664 wolves killed by 30 April. Rough winds, sparse snow, and increased fuel prices have made it more difficult and expensive to fly this season, resulting in only 115 wolves killed by mid-March and prompting Governor Sarah Palin to offer the bounty.

About 180 permitted pilots and gunners were eligible for payment upon turning in the left forelegs of wolves killed. A bounty has not been offered in Alaska since 1972. Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd argued that the payment was not a bounty, but rather a financial incentive, because it was being offered to a small group of people only for this season and the forelegs would be used as biological specimens.

State Superior Court Judge Bill Morse rejected that argument, calling the cash a bounty. He said that although Department of Fish and Game does not have the authority to offer a bounty on its own, the Board of Game can create bounties.

The Board Chair stated they would consult with lawyers and staff about what to do next. An emergency order could enact a bounty within days, possibly hours.

The Board of Game previously requested authorization for state staff to shoot wolves from helicopters, arguing that since helicopters can hover closer to the ground than airplanes, it was a more deadly and humane method. Gov. Palin preferred the bounty because it was cheaper than hiring helicopters.

The state is now looking into chartering helicopters for state biologists to join the hunting as one of its options to increase wolf kills. The Alaska Chapter of The Wildlife Society has a Position Statement on wolf management in Alaska available here.

Alaska’s predator control program also manages brown and black bear populations to increase moose and caribou numbers. Since 2005, hunters have been permitted to bait and shoot brown bears in 2,700 square miles near the Canadian border. The Alaska Board of Game has also just approved special control area permits for hunting black bears (effective next season) that allow any black bear to be shot, including cubs and females with cubs. View the regulatory changes.

The Alaska Chapter of The Wildlife Society has a Technical Review entitled “Issues Related to the Sale and Use of Black and Brown Bear Parts in Alaska.”

Sources: Alaska Board of Game, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Anchorage Daily News, Environmental News Network, E&E Publishing, LLC (Land Letter), The New York Times

Back To Top

Complications in Removing Bald Eagle from ESA Protection

After eight years in limbo, the bald eagle may finally be removed from the endangered and threatened species list in June. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is under a federal court-ordered 29 June 2007 deadline to make a final decision on the delisting, first proposed in 1999.

Following a sharp population decline largely due to hunting and the eggshell-thinning pesticide DDT, the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was listed as an endangered species in 1967, under a law preceding the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA).

It was down-listed to a threatened species in 1995 and today more than 10,000 breeding pairs exist in the United States.

If the bald eagle is removed from ESA protections, the birds’ primary protection mechanisms will be the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, both of which prohibit the “take” of bald eagles, including their parts, nests, and eggs.

Controversy over how to define the word “disturb” in the BGEPA definition of “take” has led to the current delisting delay. The BGEPA defines “take” as “pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb.”

Previous informal applications of “disturb” have ranged from temporarily flushing an eagle from its perch to causing an eagle to permanently leave a geographic area. In December 2006, FWS released a Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for defining “disturb” wherein it proposes defining it as “to agitate or bother a bald or golden eagle to the degree that causes (i) injury or death to an eagle (including chicks and eggs) due to interference with breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior, or (ii) nest abandonment.”

This proposed definition ignores recommendations of FWS Director Dale Hall, which include adding the more protective wording “or likely to cause” injury or death. Several conservation groups also argue that the more common understanding of the word “disturb” should be used, which would include actions that frighten or annoy.

By the 29 June 2007 deadline, FWS expects to produce a regulatory definition of “disturb,” develop a proposed rule to allow incidental take under the BGEPA, and finalize voluntary Bald Eagle Management Guidelines based on the final definition of “disturb.” Read the draft EA on “disturb” and the draft bald eagle management guidelines.

Complicating the delisting issue for the bald eagle is a January 2007 lawsuit to prevent a nationwide delisting of the bald eagle. The plaintiffs call for retaining ESA protection for the Arizona bald eagle population and claim FWS failed to follow proper procedures in their August 2006 rejection of a petition to designate the Southwestern desert nesting bald eagle as an endangered Distinct Population Segment under the ESA.

Fewer than 100 desert nesting bald eagles exist, according to 2006 data from the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Their survival is threatened by their behavioral, biological, and ecological isolation from all other bald eagles.

Sources: Arizona Game and Fish Department, Environment News Service, E&E Publishing, LLC (Greenwire), National Public Radio, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Washington Post

Back To Top

Iowa May Control Deer Overpopulation with New Contraceptive

Overpopulation of white-tailed deer in Iowa may be curbed if wildlife managers there begin to use a new deer contraceptive. Under development by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center, the contraceptive vaccine “GonaCon” will make both male and female deer infertile by neutralizing sex hormones following a single-dose vaccination. GonaCon also eliminates estrus so that deer will not exhibit typical mating behavior that can sometimes be dangerous to themselves and others.

Other contraceptive vaccines proposed in the past were more difficult to implement because they required singling-out females for vaccination, then re-capturing the same animals at a later date for a booster shot. With GonaCon, the capture and injection will cost between $300 and $1,000 per deer, with effects lasting two years.

Since there are more than 200,000 deer in Iowa, each reproductive until 10 years of age, Iowa’s deer population could grow at a 20 – 40% rate if left unchecked. Overpopulation could cause economic hardship to landowners from over-grazing and habitat degradation throughout its range.

If the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approves the drug, this would be the first wildlife contraceptive available for non-research purposes. Meat from vaccinated deer should not be dangerous for human consumption, although there is concern about accidental human injection and its effects.

A bill currently before Iowa legislators would require written authorization for drugging of wild animals for fertility control, disease prevention or treatment, growth stimulations, and immobilization. Therefore, if the bill passes and EPA approves GonaCon, there will be limitations on who can distribute the vaccine to control deer population growth.

Sources: The Des Moines Register, Environmental News Network, Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Back To Top

Yellowstone Grizzly Bear No Longer Endangered

Grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) in Yellowstone National Park will officially be delisted from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on 30 April 2007. This follows the issuance of a final conservation strategy by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which will guide future recovery efforts.

The plan, approved 15 March 2007, requires “intensive monitoring” so that the bear population will maintain a robust size without declining.

More than 50,000 grizzly bears ranged across the U.S., west of the Mississippi River, in the early 19th century. By 1975, fewer than 1,000 grizzlies were left in the lower 48 states due to active campaigns to shoot, trap, and poison them.

The population in Yellowstone has since recovered to over 500 bears, from a low of 136 in 1967 when they were listed as federally threatened. Under the final conservation strategy, biologists want to maintain the current population by monitoring mortality rates and hunting takes, including continued monitoring of radio-collared individuals.

The number of cub-bearing females should be maintained at a minimum of 48 per year, with mortality rates not exceeding 9% for females & cubs, and 15% for adult males. Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states outside of Yellowstone, estimated to number 600, will remain federally protected.

Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and some other environmental groups argue that the delisting is premature, citing concerns about unforeseen effects of climate change, pressures from habitat degradation (due to mining and logging), and the decline of one of the bears’ chief food sources (the whitebark pine tree) due to the destructive mountain pine beetle.

In contrast, the National Wildlife Federation applauds the delisting as a success story for the ESA. As outlined in the TWS Position Statement “Delisting of Grizzly Bears in the Greater Yellowstone Area,” TWS also endorses FWS’ delisting actions, citing the fact that, as a result of on-the-ground implementation of the strategy by all cooperators, population abundance, distribution, and mortality targets have been consistently met, leading to a bear population that has far exceeded targets in the recovery plan. View the FWS recovery plan.

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (E&E News PM, Land Letter), Environmental News Network, Federal Register, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, TWS’ “Delisting of Grizzly Bears in the Greater Yellowstone Area” Position Statement

Back To Top

Juvenile Whooping Cranes Die during Severe Storm

A severe thunderstorm in Florida the night of 1 February 2007 killed 17 of 18 juvenile whooping cranes in Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Crystal City, Florida. The cause of the deaths is still undergoing investigation; drowning or electrocution due to lightning are possible causes.

Juvenile whooping cranes at the refuge are kept in a large pen with flight netting over the top when adults are present to prevent the adults from entering the area to feed, as they behave aggressively and sometimes attack juveniles. When adults are not present, the young birds are allowed in a larger, topless enclosure that still provides predator protection.

During the storm, the young birds were in the enclosed pen since adults had been present on the property during that day’s check. Birds at the refuge have weathered many storm events successfully, but the intensity of this fatal storm was not predicted.

The sole survivor from the “Class of 2006” is a male who now resides in good remote habitat with two sandhill cranes in an area frequented by three adult Class of 2005 whooping cranes.

A federally endangered species, the whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America, up to five feet in height with a seven-foot wingspan.

Only 300 birds remain in the wild, in three flocks in: (1) the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, (2) the Kissimmee Lake region of Florida (non-migratory flock), and (3) the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida where the birds migrate from Wisconsin.

The Chassahowitzka flock is managed by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), who rear juvenile birds in Wisconsin and subsequently guide them with an ultra light aircraft on the migratory journey to Florida. The Class of 2006 traveled the 1250 miles in 78 days, eventually arriving at Chassahowitzka in mid-January.

The WCEP’s Project Direction Team is currently reviewing information on the events leading up to the February deaths including weather reports, tidal data, lightning strike data, necropsy results, and first-hand site reports from refuge personnel. A Summary Report will be posted on WCEP’s website once conclusions have been reached and will include any proposed changes to management protocols.

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (Land Letter), Operation Migration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership

Back To Top

FWS to Determine if Eastern Cougar Extinct

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has launched a comprehensive review of the eastern cougar’s (Puma concolor couguar) status to determine whether or not this federally endangered species is, in fact, extinct. Once the most widely distributed mammal in the western hemisphere, cougars have been reduced to fragmented populations, now considered subspecies, due to hunting and habitat fragmentation.

The eastern cougar was one of the first species to gain protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). Following listing, FWS launched a recovery plan in 1982 for the eastern cougar.

Species listed under the ESA are supposed to undergo review every five years but limited resources and the presence of higher priority cases have postponed the review process for the eastern cougar until now.

There have been no definitive signs that the eastern cougar exists in the wild for over a century. Some evidence points to eastern cougar presence, but biologists conclude that examples of cougar carcasses and scat in the eastern U.S. were evidence of captive cougars that escaped into the wild.

FWS will determine whether the eastern cougar is extinct following compilation of scientific and/or commercial information relating to the cougar along the Eastern seaboard, North to South from Maine to South Carolina, and West to East from Michigan to Tennessee.

If no conclusive evidence is found for cougar presence in the outlined area, it will be officially delisted and declared extinct. The review will also consider the possibility that all big cats in North America are the same species, currently classified as 15 subspecies, including the mountain lion and Florida panther.

Because the eastern cougar and Florida panther cannot be distinguished visually or through DNA analysis, all cougars living wild in the eastern US are currently protected by the ESA.

Research at the University of Maryland indicates that all cougar subspecies are genetically the same, including those commonly called the panther, painter, catamount, puma, cougar, and mountain lion. Adult cougars average between six feet and 105 pounds (females) to eight feet and 140 pounds (males) with uniform red-brown or gray-brown coloring.

FWS will accept information about the eastern cougar at any time (Mary Parkin at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ), although the deadline for information to be used as part of the review process has already passed.

Sources: The Eastern Cougar Foundation, Federal Register, E&E Publishing, LLC (Land Letter), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Back To Top

Management Conflicts between Yellowstone Bison and Montana Cattle

The Montana cattle industry is dissatisfied with the government’s current management plan for preventing the transmission of brucellosis from Yellowstone bison to their disease-free cattle, as was outlined at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing in March.The hearing focused on potential transmission of brucellosis from bison to Montana cattle, with testimony provided by Brian Schweitzer (Montana Gov.), Mike Soukup (National Park Service, assoc. dir.), John Clifford (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), deputy admin.), Jim Hagenbarth (Montana Stock Growers Assoc.), and Josh Osher (Buffalo Field Campaign) among others.

Of the three states surrounding Yellowstone National Park, only one (Montana) still has its brucellosis-free certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Brucellosis is a contagious bacterial disease that can infect wildlife, domestic animals, and humans.

If Montana were to lose this certification, it would be economically disastrous to the state cattle industry. Idaho and Wyoming both lost their certification due to elk interactions with cattle.

The transmission of brucellosis from wild bison to domestic cattle has never been scientifically documented. During winter months, some bison roam out of the park and onto private Montana land in search of food.

The snow pack outside of the park is shallower, facilitating bison grazing during winter months. Typically, only 200 bison move out of the park each year, covering an area no greater than 10,000 acres. Nearly 4,000 bison and 15,000 elk live in Yellowstone.

The Department of the Interior and USDA have a joint management system to protect the bison and cattle industry, spending over $2.4 million annually to herd bison, manage hunts, and ship sick bison to slaughter. However, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer testified that the management system is not going far enough to prevent transmission of brucellosis. He demanded that the federal government do something to prevent Yellowstone’s bison from transmitting brucellosis to Montana cattle when the animals roam out of the park during winter months.

He offered three suggestions: (1) buy the rights to the Montana land that bison are grazing on so that no cattle are raised there ($5 – 10 million), (2) create a buffer zone around the park where all cattle must be tested for the disease upon entry and exit, or (3) slaughter bison in the park that test positive for the disease.

Although Schweitzer’s suggestions seem straightforward, the legality and biology of implementing these options is not as simple.

USDA’s APHIS will not create a buffer around an area (“zone out”) until after a disease outbreak is discovered. Additionally, APHIS may lack the authority to test all bison in the park and subsequently slaughter the sick individuals.

Testing for the disease is not only difficult (since the animal must be captured with subsequent blood withdrawal), but also inaccurate for bison since it measures antibodies and a bison that has resistance to the virus would show a positive test result (a false positive).

Sources: Buffalo Field Campaign, E&E Publishing, LLC (Energy & Environment Daily), House Natural Resources Committee (20 March 2007)

Back To Top

Controversy Continues on Santa Rosa Island

Hunting of introduced deer and elk continue to hamper public access, wildlife recovery, and native habitat restoration efforts on Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park. The island, located off the coast of Santa Barbara, California is the second largest island in the park, and is home to the federally endangered Santa Rosa Island fox (Urocyon littoralis santarosae) and eight species of threatened and endangered plants, including one of only two Torrey pine (Pinus torreyana) populations in the world.

Prior to becoming part of the national park, Santa Rosa Island was owned by Vail and Vickers, Ltd. (V&V), which ran a commercial cattle ranch and a deer and elk hunting operation on the 52,794-acre island.

The National Park Service (NPS) purchased the island from V&V for $29.5 million in 1986 and granted the company a 25-year use and occupancy lease on a 7.6-acre area and a series of 5-year special use permits to continue the cattle ranching and commercial deer and elk hunting.

The hunting closes off ninety percent of the island from the public for four to five months during the year and is at odds with the establishing legislation for Channel Islands National Park, which does not allow hunting in the park.

A 1996 lawsuit from the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act due to impacts from the cattle, deer, and elk grazing the island. This was followed by a court-mediated settlement between NPS, NPCA and V&V that required removal of the cattle by 1998 and removal of the deer and elk by 2011.

While the cattle removal occurred, the remaining portions of the settlement have since been overruled by a provision in the 2007 Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 109-364) that requires NPS to maintain deer and elk on the island at levels suitable for a military hunting refuge.

Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), then-Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, successfully inserted this provision in October 2006 after multiple failed attempts to pass this or a similar provision in the past. Both California Senators, many members of Congress, and NPS all oppose maintaining the deer and elk on the island for hunting.

The Hunter amendment could be overturned if a bill from 2006 is reintroduced that supports the “continued administration of Channel Islands National Park, including Santa Rosa Island, in accordance with the laws, regulations, and policies of the National Park Service.”

Sources: Daily Nexus (University of California, Santa Barbara), E&E Publishing, LLC (E&E News PM), National Park Service, National Parks Conservation Association, San Francisco Chronicle, THOMAS (Library of Congress)

Back To Top

Administration’s Farm Bill Proposal a Mixed Bag for Conservation Programs

The Farm Bill is the largest federal investment in conservation on private land, which makes up more than half of the landscape in the lower 48 states. The current Farm Bill, authorized in 2002, will expire this September. The conservation title of the 2007 Farm Bill could provide approximately $7.8 billion over the next 10 years for conservation programs.

The Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group (AWWG) of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which includes TWS, made suggestions to support and improve the effectiveness of current programs under the Farm Bill in the report “Growing Conservation in the Farm Bill.”

While containing some beneficial provisions, such as the Sodsaver provision, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposed 2007 Farm Bill also raises concern from conservation groups because it consolidates many existing programs and restructures the application and enrollment process for many programs. The AWWG warns that combining programs could result in the loss of fish and wildlife protections particular to each program.

In the USDA’s Farm Bill Proposal, six programs (Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, the Agricultural Management Assistance Program, the Forest Land Enhancement Program, the Ground and Surface Water Conservation Program, and the Klamath Basin Program) will be consolidated into a newly redesigned EQIP funded at an outlined $4.2 billion increase over 10 years.

The proposal would also consolidate three existing easement programs for working lands (the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, the Healthy Forest Reserve Program, and the Grassland Reserve Program) into a new Private Lands Protection Program in order to “streamline processes, eliminate redundancies, and expand the strengths of each program.”

A key Farm Bill program, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), has proven valuable to wildlife by rewarding farmers who plant ground cover that improves soil water, and wildlife resources. The AWWG pointed to the CRP as being America’s most successful conservation program, having saved 450 million tons of topsoil each year and protected 170,000 miles of streams. In the 2007 Farm Bill, CRP will be reauthorized but biofuels production incentives will be included.

The proposal would pay farmers to idle marginal cropland, but would allow some land to go into biomass production, ultimately giving priority to farmers who pursue biomass production. This is a concern to conservationists since biofuels production and harvesting could compromise wildlife and conservation gains from the past 20 years of CRP. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman, Tom Harkin (D-IA), feels that the increase in CRP funding still falls short of where the program should be as outlined in the 2002 Farm Bill.

That bill envisioned a full, nationwide sign-up program that any farmer could join if he/she met the outlined criteria. Due to the rising price of grain and land brought on by the ethanol boom, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns wants to eliminate the general sign-up for CRP in 2007 and possibly 2008.

Beneficial conservation proposals are also outlined in the Administration’s 2007 Farm Bill Proposal, including reauthorizing the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and establishing “Sodsaver.” WRP will be reauthorized, but will now include the existing Emergency Watershed Program (a floodplain easements program).

Under the President’s Budget Proposal, WRP will receive a higher allocation than in previous years so that farmers will be paid to restore 2.275 million acres from cultivated land to wetlands. Under the 2002 Farm Bill, incentives are provided that have the effect of encouraging farmers to break native sod.

The Sodsaver amendment of the 2007 Farm Bill proposal will remove these incentives so that farmers are discouraged to convert grassland to crop production. Sodsaver compliance will be expanded to protect native grassland and wetlands surrounded by native prairie. It will not allow federal farm program benefits on newly tilled acres without a previous cropping history.

The House and Senate will be passing their own versions of the Farm Bill in the coming months, with the goal of having a final version ready for the President’s signature before the expiration of the 2002 Farm Bill.

Sources: Ducks Unlimited, E&E Publishing, LLC (Energy & Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire), “Growing Conservation in the Farm Bill” Report (Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership), USDA 2007 Farm Bill Proposal

Back To Top

President Requests Reduced Wildlife Funding for FY08

On 5 February 2007, President Bush unveiled a $2.9 trillion budget for fiscal year 2008, once again increasing spending for defense and homeland security while cutting budgets for natural resources and the environment, including cuts to many wildlife-related programs.

The Department of the Interior was allocated $10.705 billion for FY08, down $87 million from FY06. Appropriations bills passed by Congress in the coming months will set the final funding levels.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) – Overall, FWS would receive FY08 funding of $1.29 billion, representing about a one percent increase from final 2007 funding but a decrease of $31 million from FY06. The State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Fund request was a $2 million increase for a total of $69.5 million; however, this is still more than $15 million below FY02 and more than $30 million below FY01. The Wildlife Society, as part of the Teaming with Wildlife Coalition, is asking Congress for a return to the FY02 level of $85 million for FY08.

The National Wildlife Refuge System would receive only a $2.8 million increase from FY06, while at least $15 million is required to keep pace with inflation. The requested $394.8 million budget for operations and maintenance will fail to reduce the backlog now surpassing $2.5 billion. Funding for Partners for Fish and Wildlife would be $3 million below the FY06 level. The Landowner Incentive Program (LIP), Science Excellence Initiative, and Private Stewardship Grants programs were eliminated in the Administration’s proposal for FY08. TWS is asking Congress to restore funds to LIP at the FY06 level of $21.7 million.

U.S. Geological Survey – The Biological Resources division would receive $181 million, an increase of $3 million over FY06. The National Biological Information Infrastructure, however, faces a $2 million decrease, a loss of a third of its budget.

The Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units (CFWRU) would receive $15.4 million, a slight increase over FY07 that would just fulfill fixed costs. TWS has recommended to Congress to establish a competitive, matching fund program that would make an additional $20 million available annually. Without additional funds, a quarter of CFWRU scientist positions will be vacant by the end of FY08.

U.S. Forest Service – The Forest Service request was $4.127 billion, an estimated $64 million decrease from FY07. Funding for Wildland Fire Management has increased to 45 percent of the Forest Service budget, effectively reducing other program areas even further. Funding for Wildlife and Fisheries Habitat Management would decrease by 11 percent to $118 million and Forest and Rangeland Research would decrease by 6 percent to $263 million.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – Funding increases to address fish and wildlife impacts from development have not kept pace with funding increases to expand development on BLM land. BLM’s Wildlife Management program received a small increase of $181,000 over FY07, but TWS is urging Congress to increase funding by another $3 million. The President’s Request to increase funding for the Threatened and Endangered Species Management Program by $740,000 ignored BLM’s 2001 recommendation to double the program’s budget to $48 million. The FY08 proposal also reduces funding for resource management planning by $3 million. BLM did receive an additional $15 million to carry out the Healthy Lands Initiative, whose purpose is to enhance habitat for multiple uses including energy development, but it is criticized by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (which includes TWS) for being too narrow in scope and inadequately funded.

Natural Resources Conservation Service – Funding for the Conservation Security Program would increase from $257 million to $316 million and the Wetlands Reserve Program would increase from $191 million to $455 million under the proposal. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding would decrease by $17 million to $1 billion.

Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service – Under the Administration’s proposal, the McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry program funding would be reduced by a third to $20 million, with all of the funding to be distributed through competitive grants. This is a significant departure from previous years and will remove the certainty of long-term and stable forest research that is necessary to meet future forest-product needs. The Hatch Act funding would decrease by half to $164 million. The National Research Initiative funding would increase by $67 million to $257 million.

Sources: Defenders of Wildlife, E&E Publishing, LLC (Energy & Environment Daily, Greenwire), Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, U.S. Department of Agriculture – Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey

Back To Top

 
The Wildlife Society | 5410 Grosvenor Lane, Suite 200 | Bethesda MD 20814-2144| Phone: (301) 897-9770 | Fax: (301) 530-2471