wildlife policy news

Volume 19, Issue 2, April 2009

Editor: Laura M. Bies

Reporters: Bridget Collins and Terra Rentz

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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 at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

In this Issue:

  1. Final Budget Approved for FY 2009
  2. FY 2010 Budget Process in Motion
  3. More New Administration Officials
  4. Teaming with Wildlife Act Introduced
  5. Voluntary Sodsaver Program Lacks Participants
  6. Obama Memo on Scientific Integrity
  7. Wildland Fire Fund Proposed
  8. Leopold Shack Receives National Historic Landmark Designation
  9. Wyoming Mule Deer Declines
  10. GMO Ruling for National Wildlife Refuge System
  11. State of the Birds Report
  12. Regional Hearings on Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing
  13. Updates

Final Budget Approved for FY 2009

Last year's 110th Congress passed a continuing resolution in October 2008 to maintain spending levels for most government programs in the first part of FY 2009 at FY 08 levels, instead of going through the full budget process. On 11 March, President Obama signed H.R. 1105, the FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act, a $410 billion omnibus spending bill, which sets new spending levels for the remainder of this fiscal year.

Natural resource programs and agencies across the board received stable or increasing budgets from the FY 09 package. The Department of Interior (DOI) received a $27.6 billion budget, an increase of $1.3 billion over FY 08. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) received an appropriation of $1.44 billion, an increase of more than $100 million from FY 08 spending levels.

Numerous programs within the FWS reflected budget increases. The National Wildlife Refuge System received an increase of $30 million to $463 million, with an additional $42.45 million dedicated to refuge land acquisition. State and Tribal Wildlife Grants received an increase from FY 08 levels of $73.8 million to $75 million. North American Wetlands Conservation Fund reflected an increase to $43 million from $42.6 million in FY 08. Migratory bird programs received funding totaling $45.9 million with $4.8 million dedicated to the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act. Habitat conservation within the Ecological Services unit received $105 million with an additional $53 million dedicated to Partners for Fish and Wildlife, and $5.3 million towards the National Wetlands Inventory

Other Agencies within DOI and the Department of Agriculture also received increases from FY 08 budgets, such as the U.S. Geological Survey’s Biological Research Division’s appropriation of $185.3 million, and the Bureau of Land Management’s appropriation of $1.04 billion – with $48.5 million dedicated towards fish and wildlife management and $21.7 million directed towards threatened and endangered species. The U.S. Forest Service received $4.75 billion, with $139.4 million directed towards fish and wildlife habitat management within the National Forest Service. USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service also received an increase of $20 million from FY 08, to $853 million.

Details are available on the Senate Appropriations Committee web site.

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (Greenwire, E&E Daily), Wildlife Management Institute Outdoor News Bulletin, GOP Legislative Digest

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FY 2010 Budget Process in Motion

The FY 2010 budget process began on 26 February 2009 with the release of President Obama’s “budget blueprint.” Projecting a budget request of $540 billion in discretionary spending, President Obama set forth several priorities include energy, education, and health care reform.

The President’s budget acknowledged the chronic underfunding of the Department of Interior (DOI) and related agencies and programs in the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The total budget request included $12 billion for DOI, $26 billion for USDA and $10.5 billion for the EPA.

Key requests include an increase of $100 million for the National Parks Service for maintenance and conservation and an additional $25 million provided in matching funds to prepare for the Service’s 100th anniversary. A proposed increase to $420 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund helped put the program on track to reach its full funding of $900 million by 2014. A request of $130 million was submitted for DOI to assess and respond to the impacts of climate change on wildlife, with $40 million to be shared directly with states for wildlife adaptation. An additional $10 million was included for North American Wetlands Conservation activities to assist with restoration and land acquisition of wetlands important to migratory waterfowl.

The year-long budget process began early last fall as agencies submitted their initial budget requests to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In January, OMB finalized those requests and assembled the FY10 budget, which was released by the President late February, with a detailed budget request expected from the Administration in April. On 25 March 2009, the Senate and House Budget Committees approved concurrent resolutions that outlined the budget framework for members. Although each body proposed reduced budgets, with the House discretionary spending recommended at $533 billion and the Senate discretionary spending recommended close to $525 billion, many of the President’s original priorities were maintained in the budget resolutions. A final vote to accept the concurrent resolutions in both the House and the Senate is expected to occur within the next two weeks.

Once the resolutions are approved, the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees will begin drafting the 13 Appropriation bills that comprise the final budget. House approval of the Appropriations bills is slated for June, with Senate revisions to occur soon after. The target date for final budget approval by the House and Senate Conference Committees is September.

For the most up-to-date information on the budget visit the House and Senate Budget Committee homepages. For specific information regarding dates for appropriation subcommittee hearings or format for public testimony, please visit the House and Senate Appropriations homepages.

Sources: U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Budget, U.S. Senate Budget Committee, House Concurrent Resolution 85, Office of Management and Budget: President’s Budget Blueprint – A New Era of Responsibility, E&E Publishing, LLC (Greenwire, E&E Daily)

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More New Administration Officials

The Obama administration has announced several new nominations for wildlife-related government posts that are currently awaiting Senate confirmation. Tom Strickland was nominated for Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. Currently chief of staff to Secretary Ken Salazar, Strickland will hold both positions if confirmed. Strickland was a U.S. attorney for Colorado from 1999-2001, where he represented the Federal government in a variety of public land and environmental cases. David Hayes was nominated as Interior deputy secretary, a position he held in the Clinton Administration from 1999 to 2001.

The President nominated Kathleen Merrigan – currently a professor at Tufts University specializing in sustainable agriculture – to be the new deputy secretary at USDA. If confirmed, Merrigan would be the department’s second-highest ranking official. Sherburne Abbott is the current director of the University of Texas' Center for Science and Practice of Sustainability, and was nominated to be associate director of environment in the White House office of Science and Technology Policy. Jo-Ellen Darcy, a senior environmental adviser to the Senate Finance Committee, was nominated to be assistant secretary for civil works for the Army Corps of Engineers. The assistant secretary deals with many wetland regulatory issues, and the position is the Corps’ highest held by a civilian.

Two additional positions that do not require confirmation have already been filled. Will Shafroth, former executive director of Colorado Conservation Trust, is now Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. Career USDA employee Dave White is the new chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. White has been a NRCS state conservationist, and has been acting NRCS chief since his predecessor stepped down at the end of the Bush Administration.

On 19 March the Senate unanimously confirmed Jane Lubchenco as head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and John Holdren as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

See WPN Volume 19, Issue 1, Article 4
Sources: DOI, E&E Publishing, LLC (E&E News PM, Greenwire), NYT, Reuters, US State Department, White House Press Office

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Teaming with Wildlife Act Introduced

On 19 March, Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) introduced the Teaming with Wildlife Act of 2009 (S.655) which would secure dedicated funding for state-level wildlife management and conservation efforts. The Act would use a portion of the royalties collected from mineral development on federal lands and outer continental shelf oil development to allocate states $350 million per year over five years (fiscal years 2011-2016).

The funds would be transferred directly to the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program. The Program, enacted in 2000, created a federal fund to support state conservation and education programs for all species through an amendment to the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act. The 2000 legislation also required states to create comprehensive wildlife conservation strategies – also known as wildlife action plans – that identify conservation challenges and prioritize needs. Wildlife action plans have been developed for all 50 states, six territories, and D.C., with the focus of preventing wildlife from becoming endangered.

Since its 2000 enactment, however, The Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Fund has only received appropriations for one fiscal year. In the meantime, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has administered an alternative in the form of the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program, offering states and tribes matching grants to fund projects that address wildlife action plan goals. Unfortunately, because the SWG program depends on the annual appropriations process, it has been unable to meet all the states’ long-term planning needs.

Historically, the majority of wildlife conservation funding has come from state hunting and fishing license sales and the federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment created by the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts. State wildlife agencies require additional, long-term funding to conserve all wildlife species. The Teaming with Wildlife Act would alleviate the problems associated with short-term funding cycles, and make up to 75 percent of a state project’s costs eligible for federal funding.

The Act was cosponsored by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), and John Thune (R-SD), and is currently under consideration by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

See also: WPN Volume 18, Issue 3, Article 6
Sources: The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Office of Senator Johnson, The Teaming with Wildlife Act

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Obama Memo on Scientific Integrity

President Obama issued a memorandum on scientific integrity on 9 March 2009 that outlined the Administration’s philosophy of the role of science in policy formation and gave specific directives for executive departments and agencies.

The memo asserted that reliable science is needed to inform policy decisions on a range of topics – from climate change and the environment to public health and national defense. So as not to diminish the public’s trust of science or the scientific process, the memo directed that, “political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions.”

The memo gave the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy – a position held by the newly confirmed Dr. John Holdren – until July to develop specific recommendations to “guarantee scientific integrity throughout the executive branch.” Holdren was directed to address six topics in his recommendations, including hiring practices for scientific positions, agency technical and peer-review processes, increasing the public availability of scientific findings, and agency policies for identifying and dealing with cases of improper conduct.

The memo also directed all executive agencies to fully cooperate with Holdren as he prepares his recommendations. Agencies were instructed to share any requested information and to “coordinate with the Director in the development of any interim procedures deemed necessary to ensure the integrity of scientific decisionmaking.”

Sources: White House Press Office, The Washington Post

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Wildland Fire Fund Proposed

On 10 March 2009, Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced legislation that would create a permanent fund for battling catastrophic wildland fires. The Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act, or FLAME Act (S.561, H.R.1404) has bipartisan co-sponsorship in both houses of Congress.

Fire suppression costs have increased dramatically in recent years, a trend the Forest Service attributed in its 2009 budget justification to the “application of suppression resources to fires that have increased in size and intensity due to persistent drought, hazardous fuels conditions, and complexity of increased development within the wildland urban interface.

Nearly half of the Forest Service’s annual budget is spent on fire suppression, and the agency has been forced to use funds intended for other priorities to meet firefighting needs.Last year alone, the Forest Service was forced to transfer over $400 million from other programs after it exhausted its $1.2 billion fire suppression budget.

The FLAME Act would allow the Secretaries of Agriculture or Interior to designate some wildland fires as catastrophic based on their size, severity, and the threat they pose. Agencies could then draw on the federal fund to cover the expense of emergency wildland fire suppression. The FLAME Fund annual appropriation would be at least the average amount spent by the Agriculture and Interior Secretaries for emergency wildland fire suppression in the previous five fiscal years, and would be in addition to annual appropriations for normal fire suppression activities. The Act would also require that both Secretaries provide Congress with a report, to be revised every five years, outlining a comprehensive wildland fire management strategy.

The House passed the Act on 26 March by a 412 to 3 margin. The Senate version, meanwhile, is currently in the Energy and Natural Resources committee. The Obama administration outlined a similar plan in its budget blueprint, reserving $75 million for Interior agencies and $282 million for the Forest Service to battle catastrophic wildfires. In the President’s plan, funds would only be available if the agencies exhausted their regularly appropriated wildfire budget.

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (E&E Daily), Environment News Service, Government Accountability Office, House Committee on Natural Resources, Office of Senator Jeff Bingaman, US Forest Service.

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Voluntary Sodsaver Program Lacks Participants

The voluntary “sodsaver” program included in the 2008 Farm Bill currently lacks participation from governors of the five Great Plains and Upper Midwestern states. Designed to mitigate the rapid loss and development of native prairie, the sodsaver program would block federal crop insurance and disaster payments for farmers who transform native grassland into agricultural cropland.

Protections for native prairie had garnered strong support from both sportsmen and conservation groups and the former Bush Administration, resulting in mandatory protections in the original House and Senate 2008 farm bills. However, after continued deliberation the resulting sodsaver program was an optional, scaled down version of the original. Previous farm bills provided conservation easement payments for farmers who opted to conserve grasslands, in addition to crop insurance and subsidies to those farmers who elected to plow under these lands. As a result, Western prairie governors have been faced with the dilemma of opting into a program that may cause political backlash from a portion of landowners within the prairie pothole region who had previously benefitted from these subsidies and insurance programs.

The Department of Agriculture had set a target date of 15 February 2009 for governor sign up, with a continued option for governors to choose to participate later. Currently no state has enrolled in the program. USDA officials are working on a final rule to fully implement the program and put in place the mandatory protections needed to preserve these key wetlands.

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (Greenwire), eNews, Ducks Unlimited

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Leopold Shack Receives National Historic Landmark Designation

The shack and farm of Aldo Leopold - forester, writer, professor, and conservationist - has been officially designated as a National Historic Landmark. On 16 January 2009, then-Interior Secretary Kempthorne designated nine new National Historic Landmarks, with Leopold’s shack among them. Fewer than 2,500 locations bear this national designation.

Aldo Leopold and his family purchased the farm and rehabilitated chicken coop, referred to as “the shack,” in the 1930s and was the source of inspiration for many of Leopold’s well know writings including A Sand County Almanac, a collection of personal essays and sketches published posthumously. Leopold, pioneer of the science and profession of wildlife biology, has acted as an inspiration and conservation icon for many in the field of natural resource management and is attributed with philosophies that led to the establishment of national policies on forestry, watershed management, game management, and soil conservation.

In Leopold’s own words, “Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a good shovel. By virtue of this curious loophole in the rules, any clodhopper may say: Let there be a tree—and there will be one.” Let there be a landmark—and there will be one.

Sources: A Sand County Almanac, Department of Interior Press Release 16 January 2009

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Wyoming Mule Deer Declines

In January, Western Ecosystems Technology, Inc. released a report – prepared in 2007 for the Bureau of Land Management, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and Questar Exploration and Production – documenting mule deer trends in Wyoming’s Pinedale Anticline, an area undergoing natural gas development.

The report focused on the Mesa mule deer population, the population within the larger Sublette herd that is in close proximity to natural gas development operations. The researchers found a 30 percent decline in the Mesa population during a seven-year period (2001-2007) of intensive energy development.

The observed population trend was consistent with the Mesa population’s demographic rates, which when modeled predicted a 27 percent population decline. Further, the population’s emigration rate was estimated at only 1.5 percent per year, and thus was not likely a significant component of the decline. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department also estimated a 10 percent decline for the Sublette herd as a whole during the same time period.

Energy development at the Mesa site resulted in 1,520 acres of direct habitat loss, primarily at well pad sites, which accounted for less than 3 percent of the Mesa area. Indirect habitat loss, however, extended much farther. The model-averaged estimate predicted that mule deer avoided energy development sites by 2.6 to 7.5 km, depending on the level of human activity.

In fall of 2008, the Bureau of Land Management released a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Pinedale Anticline Project Area that allowed for year-round development of an additional 12,000 acres. The additional energy development may further affect the mule deer herd, as much of the approved 12,000-acre area overlaps with the herd’s winter range. However, the ROD also designated 440,000 acres as “unavailable areas” for energy development.

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (Land Letter), Sublette Mule Deer Study (Phase II): Final Report 2007, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, The Pinedale Roundup

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GMO Ruling for National Wildlife Refuge System

On 25 March, a Delaware District Court ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to conduct proper environmental studies before allowing the planting of genetically modified crops on the 10,000 acre Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Sussex County, Del. In 2001 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife enacted a policy that prohibits the use of genetically modified crops in refuges unless “determined to be essential to accomplishing refuge purposes.”

Several groups, including the Delaware Audubon Society, the Center for Food Safety, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility brought suit against the FWS for the use of genetically modified corn and soybean crops grown on the Prime Hook Refuge until 2006. The groups claimed the crops decreased soil productivity and were otherwise ecologically detrimental to the long-term health of the refuge ecosystem. FWS was found in violation of the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act and the National Environmental Policy Act for failure to perform a formal environmental impact statement.

The legal precedent set in this District Court case may affect current cooperative farming agreements on more than 80 other National Wildlife Refuges where genetically modified crops are grown on refuge land.

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (Greenwire), St. Louis Post

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State of the Birds Report

At a press conference on 19 March, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar released a comprehensive report on bird population trends in the United States. The report, entitled The U.S. State of the Birds, synthesized long-term datasets from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Christmas Bird Count, and the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey.

According to the report, nearly a third of the 800 bird species in the United States are threatened, endangered, or species of conservation concern. Although Secretary Salazar referred to the report’s findings as a “clarion call to action,” he stressed that the trend is reversible. Citing the strong positive responses many waterfowl and wetland birds have had to wetland conservation, Salazar asserted, “If we move forward with a new ethic of conservation, we will be able to restore bird populations."

The report highlighted several groups exhibiting particularly strong declines, including seabirds, shorebirds, Hawaiian endemics, and grassland and aridland-nesting species. The grassland bird indicator, based on 24 obligate grassland species, showed a 40 percent decline from baseline numbers.

For each bird group emphasized, the report identified specific threats and potential solutions. Most of the solutions focused on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing urban sprawl through planned development, conserving key habitats, and removal and control of invasive species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The U.S. Geological Survey, and several conservation and research organizations produced the report as part of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative.

Sources: The State of the Birds: United States of America 2009, Department of the Interior, Scientific American, The Washington Post, E&E Publishing, LLC (E&E News PM)

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Regional Hearings on Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing

On 11 March 2009, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced regional public meetings to discuss the five-year draft development plan of the outer continental shelf (OCS) released by the Bush Administration on 16 January 2009. The draft OCS plan’s original comment period was scheduled to end 23 March, but Secretary Salazar extended it 180 days, to 21 September 2009.

Salazar asked the Mineral Management Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to assemble within 45 days of the announced extension of the comment period all of the information available about OCS resources and potential impacts. At each regional hearing, Salazar will present the Interior’s findings on OCS energy resources and the potential environmental impacts that may occur from their development, while soliciting comments and public testimony.

Anyone interested in offshore development is encouraged to attend. The four regional hearings will occur at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, NJ on 6 April; Tulane University in New Orleans, LA on 8 April; the Dena’ina Convention Center in Anchorage, AK on 14 April; and at the Mission Bay Conference Center at the University of California, San Francisco on 16 April. Comments may be submitted in writing at www.MMS.gov or by mail to Ms. Renee Orr, Chief, Leasing Division, Mineral Management Service, MS 4010, 381 Elden Street, Herndon, VA 20170-4817.

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (E&E News PM, Land Letter), Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources Press Release

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Updates

Public Lands Omnibus Signed into Law
On 30 March 2009, President Obama signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 into law. The U.S. House of Representatives voted 285 to 140 on 25 March to approve the bill (H.R. 146). Previous omnibus legislation failed to clear the House by two votes. H.R. 146 designates over 2 million acres as Wilderness in nine states, over 1,000 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers, three new National Park Units, three new National Conservation Areas, four new National Trails, ten new National Heritage Areas, and one new National Monument. A joint statement was released by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) stating, “[the omnibus] will ensure the protection of important parts of our nations natural, cultural and historic legacy.”

Sources: The New York Times, E&E Publishing, LLC (Land Letter, E&E News PM)

Obama Issues Memorandum Regarding the ESA
On 3 March 2009 President Obama issued an Executive Memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies addressing a 16 December 2008 regulation issued by the Bush Administration. The rule expanded upon the circumstances in which agencies may decide not to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) prior to implementing projects or plans that affect endangered or threatened species. Secretaries of Interior and Commerce have been asked to review the December regulation and determine whether a new rulemaking process is necessary with respect to consultative processes. Agencies have been asked to adhere to the prior longstanding consultative practices until such a review is completed.

Sources: Presidential Memorandum, Land Letter

Farm Bill Comment Periods Extended

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published corrections to proposed rules for the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), two of the Farm Bill’s voluntary conservation programs. The updated rules correct an error in how payment limitations are applied, and extend the public comment period to 17 April 2009. USDA also makes a request for public input on how WHIP and EQIP can support renewable energy production, climate change adaptation, and carbon emissions reduction efforts. The public comment period on the WHIP and EQIP Environmental Analyses has also been extended to 17 April 2009.

See WPN Volume 19, Issue 1, Article 10

Sources: The Federal Register

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