wildlife policy news

Volume 19, Issue 3, June 2009

Editor: Laura M. Bies

Reporters: Bridget Collins and Terra Rentz

Get The Wildlife Policy News (v19, i3) as a single 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 at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

In this Issue:

  1. Administration Releases FY10 Budget Request
  2. Obama Administration Upholds Bush-era Polar Bear Rule
  3. Wildlife Adaptation in House Cap-and-trade Bill
  4. Congress Approves Legislation for Firearms on Public Lands
  5. Horse and Burro Act Passes Committee
  6. IUCN Red List Updated for Birds
  7. Court Ruling on Otero Mesa Drilling Plan
  8. Congressman Grijalva Proposes Border Legislation
  9. Draft Legislation would Overhaul Interior Energy Leasing
  10. Interim Roadless Policy Implemented
  11. Updates

Administration Releases FY10 Budget Request

The next stage in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget process occurred in early May with the release of detailed budgets for each federal agency. Providing more details on President Obama’s earlier budget blueprint, agency officials outlined requests for the Department of Interior (DOI) and Agriculture’s (USDA) budgets at $12 billion and $26 billion, respectively.

Conservation and sportsman’s groups alike applauded components of the president’s budget, highlighting a focus on climate change and the funding of the recently approved Open Fields program which provides hunter access incentives to private land owners. The president’s climate change initiative received some of the largest increases in the entire budget, with $133 million in Interior department-wide increases, of which the Fish and Wildlife Service would receive $40 million to assist states and tribes with incorporating wildlife adaptation strategies into State and Tribal Wildlife Action Plans, in addition to the $75 million dedicated towards State Wildlife Grants.

Other programs within the Department of Interior receiving increases include $10 million to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, nearly $5 million more to the Biological Resources Division of the USGS, and increases to wildlife management programs within the Bureau of Land Management. An additional nearly $38 million would be directed towards initiatives aimed at increasing youth participation in hunting, fishing, and conservation and towards the development of a new Youth Conservation Corps.

Key programs within USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Services were not as positively supported by the President’s proposal. The Wetlands Reserve Program received a reduction in the acreage allotted for the program and a $27 million decrease in the annual budget, while Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program sustained an over 50% reduction from $85 million in FY 08 and FY09 to $42 million for FY 10.

Throughout the month of May TWS submitted budget testimony and recommendation to the Appropriations Subcommittees for Agriculture and Interior in both the House and Senate. Concurrently, the House Appropriations Committee has been hosting hearings for each of the agencies to provide justification for their budget proposals.

For the most up-to-date information on the budget visit the House and Senate Appropriations Committee homepages. Further details regarding the original budget blueprint released by the President, and the general timeline for appropriations can be found in the April edition of TWS’ Wildlife Policy News (v19, i2).

Sources: Office of Management and Budget, DOI, ESPN, E&E Publishing, LLC (E&E Daily)

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Obama Administration Upholds Bush-era Polar Bear Rule

On 8 May, Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the Interior Department would maintain the Bush era 4(d) Endangered Species Act (ESA) rule regarding the listing of the polar bear. The 4(d) rule, which was finalized in December of 2008, prohibits the ESA from being used to regulate development projects outside of the arctic that may contribute to climate change.

The Secretary stated that the ESA was not designed to accommodate, and is not the proper mechanism to regulate, climate change. However, the Secretary has kept the door open to changing the rule, or creating additional rules, through the regulation process, should polar bear numbers continue to decline.

President Obama’s budget for Fiscal Year 2010 requested that $7.5 million be dedicated to polar bear research and assessment, with $1.2 million specifically for consultation on oil and gas projects and for the development of a polar bear conservation plan. Many conservation organizations feel that addressing protections for the polar bear through the appropriations process is not enough and are already pursuing changes to the rule through the litigation process.

Current litigation consists of over a dozen cases both from organizations in support of increased protections and from those against the original listing of the polar bear, all of which are in the process of being reviewed jointly by U.S. District Court Judge, Emit Sullivan. The first status conference for this litigation is scheduled for the end of May.

The issue of climate change regulation through the medium of the ESA has not ended with the polar bear, as a recent 90-day finding released from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regarding the listing of the American pika (Ochotona princeps) may bring the conservation debate to the forefront once again. Published in the Federal Register (Vol. 74, No. 87) on 7 May, the 90-day finding is currently soliciting scientific and commercial data regarding the species.

In the initial petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in December 2007, climate change was cited as the greatest threat to the American pika, a species extremely constrained to cooler climates and higher elevations. The USFWS will be accepting comments and pertinent data until 6 July 2009. Comments may be submitted online via the Federal rulemaking Portal or by mail to Public Comment Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-ES-2009-0021, Division of Policy and Directives Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222, Arlington, VA 22203.

Sources: Alaska Public Radio Network, E&E Publishing, LLC (Greenwire), the Federal Register, the Washington Times

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Wildlife Adaptation in House Cap-and-trade Bill

Legislation currently under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives would create a cap-and-trade system for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Significantly, the bill would also allocate a portion of the revenue from the sale of emissions allowances to wildlife and natural resources climate change adaptation.

On 21 May, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 33 to 25 in favor of H.R. 2454, America’s Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. Among many other provisions, the bill would allocate 1% of the total allowance value to natural resource adaptation between 2012 and 2021, 2% from 2022-2026, and 4% from 2027-2050. Analysis of the potential economic value of the allowances indicates that these percentages could generate $1.71 billion in average annual funding through 2030 for adaptation efforts. Federal agencies would receive 61.5% of the adaptation funds, while the remaining 38.5% would go to state coastal and fish and wildlife agencies.

The bill would create a Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Account within the Treasury to fund adaptation projects at the state and federal level. As introduced, the funds in the Adaptation Account would have been available without further appropriation. That is, the Account would provide a dedicated and stable funding source for adaptation that would not go through the tumultuous and often unpredictable annual Congressional appropriations process.

Before passage, however, the Energy and Commerce Committee amended the allocation mechanism for federal adaptation funds. As currently written, Congress would appropriate taxpayer dollars to federal agencies each year for climate change adaptation. The amount appropriated is to be “no less than” the amount deposited directly into the Adaptation Account for federal agencies from allowance revenue. Taxpayer funds would then be reimbursed from the federal portion of the Adaptation Account.

Although this system could still allocate significant funds to federal agencies for wildlife adaptation, the federal adaption programs would be subject to the annual appropriations process. The 38.5% of adaptation funds for states, however, would still be allocated as dedicated funding.

The bill is now under consideration in eight other House Committees, including the Natural Resources Committee. These Committees will hold additional hearings and consider further amendments over the coming weeks. H.R. 2454 may go to the full House for a vote before Congress adjourns for summer recess in August.

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (Greenwire, E&E Daily, E&E NewsPM), National Wildlife Federation, New York Times

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Congress Approves Legislation for Firearms on Public Lands

In a recent amendment to the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, H.R. 627, Senator Ted Coburn (R-OK) proposed an unrelated provision that would bar the Interior Department from creating or enforcing any regulations prohibiting the possession of a firearm on National Parks or National Wildlife Refuges. On 20 May, the House approved the amended bill after enacting a rare procedural move that teased out the firearms legislation for an independent vote. Although addressed separately, the final legislation was approved with a vote of 279 to 147 and was signed by the President on 22 May.

In 1936 firearms were banned from our National Parks in an effort to curb poaching. In 1983, however, this regulation was eased by the Reagan Administration to allow firearms in National Parks and Refuges as long as they remained unloaded and “stored in a manner that will prevent their ready use.” Public lands under the direction of the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service continued to operate under state firearm laws after the 1983 rule. Furthermore, 61 units of the National Parks System permitted hunting on park land and operated under state firearm laws, in addition to over 300 hunting programs throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System in accordance with the National Wildlife Refuge Act of 1966.

H.R. 627 goes into effect as of February 2010 and would implement firearm regulations in accordance with the established laws of the state in which the public land resides. Opponents of the bill are concerned about increased enforcement needs due to the heightened potential for poaching and the lack of restrictions in the measure for the prohibition of firearms during special events.

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (E&E Daily), Environmental News Service, USFWS, Library of Congress

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Horse and Burro Act Passes Committee

On 29 April, the House Natural Resources Committee voted 21-14 in favor of H.R. 1018, which would amend the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 to prohibit the culling of healthy horses and burros, lift restrictions on the areas the animals can inhabit, increase support for the wild horse and burro adoption program, and help create sanctuaries on federal lands.

The 1971 Act charged the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with managing free-ranging horses and burros as wild species and to protect them from "capture, branding, harassment or death.” Since then, BLM policy has been to set "appropriate management levels" for each herd based on environmental conditions. Overpopulated herds have been selectively thinned through roundups, with individuals placed in holding facilities until sale or adoption. The recent economic downturn, however, has reduced the number of adoptions and increased costs, prompting the BLM to warn last summer that inadequate funds might require that thousands of healthy wild horses and burros be euthanized.

The BLM is responsible for managing an estimated 36,000 free-roaming horses and burros – approximately 9,400 above its appropriate management level. Horse enthusiasts such as Madeleine Pickens (wife of energy mogul T. Boone Pickens) have advocated for the creation of private wild horse and burro sanctuaries to alleviate some of the strain on BLM resources. Critics argue, however, that the BLM has been forced to reclaim several hundred horses from similar sanctuaries in the past after the private organizations ran out of operating funds.

The current legislation also encourages exploration of sterilization methods. In the past, the BLM has run trials with a drug regimen that can sterilize mares for up to two years. Since 2004, the BLM has administered the drugs to approximately 2,000 horses and is still monitoring for noticeable results. Additionally, in our current economic state the issue of cost feasibility has been raised because capturing a horse to administer the drugs costs roughly $500, while the cost of the drug itself is an additional $300.

Prior to the final House Natural Resources Committee vote, an amendment from Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) was adopted that would allow for the removal of horses in the event that the animals are deemed a threat to water quality or wildlife. The BLM has not taken an official position on the bill, but did provide testimony in a March Subcommittee hearing. Some of the BLM’s recommendations, including language to clarify when a wild horse or burro can be humanely destroyed due to illness or injury, were incorporated through amendments.

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (E&E Daily, Greenwire, Land Letter), BLM

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IUCN Red List Updated for Birds

On 14 May BirdLife International released an annual update of the IUCN’s Red List documenting the conservation status of the world’s 9,998 recognized bird species. Similar to the 2008 update, the new report found that 12% of the world’s bird species are Threatened under the IUCN designation.

Red List ratings changed for 12 species between the 2008 and 2009 reviews – with 5 species improving and 7 species deteriorating in conservation status. The Palila, an endemic Hawaiian honeycreeper, was among the species with deteriorating status. The species is now found on less than 10% of its historical range and was uplisted from Endangered to Critically Endangered due to habitat loss and the introduction of avian malaria.

Four newly described species were also added to the Red List. The Gorgeted Puffleg, a hummingbird confirmed as a new species in 2007, entered the list at the Critically Endangered level. The species is believed to inhabit only a single 1,200-hectare patch of cloud forest in Columbia – a region currently losing approximately 8% of its forest cover per year to commercial coca plantations.

Much like the recent State of the Birds Report (see WPN v19 i2), the Red List update documents population recoveries in some places where conservation efforts have been put forth. The Mauritius Fody – an endemic from the same island where the Dodo went extinct in the 17th century – was downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered as a result of concerted efforts to restore habitat and control invasive species.

Sources: BirdLife International, IUCN, BBC, Reuters

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Court Ruling on Otero Mesa Drilling Plan

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on 28 April that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act in developing its oil and gas development proposal for the Otero Mesa in New Mexico. The court remanded the drilling plan pending completion of an environmental impact statement assessing the proposal's effects on wildlife, the Chihuahuan grassland ecosystem, and the aquifer beneath the mesa.

The plan, first drafted under the Bush Administration, made 1.4 million acres (approximately 97%) of the mesa eligible for energy development lease. Drilling was prohibited under the plan on an additional 35,790 acres of the Chihuahuan desert grassland, and the industrial footprint of well pads, roads, and pipelines was capped at approximately 1,589 acres. The BLM is currently reviewing the decision, and industry officials that intervened in the case on behalf of the BLM may seek a full rehearing or appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Otero Mesa plan was opposed by numerous conservation and environmental organizations, as well as the state of New Mexico. Otera Mesa is the largest contiguous patch of Chihuahuan grassland remaining in the United States, and the fragmentation created by energy development may negatively impact the 1,000 native plant and animal species found in the habitat.

It is unclear whether the Obama Administration will initiate the environmental impact statement process or instead abandon the current energy proposal.

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (Land Letter)

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Congressman Grijalva Proposes Border Legislation

New legislation has been introduced that may ameliorate the effects of increased border security on our nation’s natural resources. On 23 April, Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced H.R. 2076, the Border Security and Responsibility Act of 2009, which would require the Department of Homeland Security to consult with federal land managers and state, local, and tribal governments when pursuing methods to secure our nation’s borders. In addition, H. R. 2076 would repeal the REAL ID Act waiver authority, which allows for the waiver of laws that impede construction of physical barriers along our borders, as authorized under the Bush Administration.

Current border security measures, such as the construction of an impermeable border fence along the US-Mexican border from California to Texas, have already fragmented critical wildlife habitat in locations such as the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in Arizona. H. R. 2076 would provide flexibility to border security and would allow land managers, local officials, and community members to provide input in border security decisions. Furthermore, the bill calls for the development of a borderlands monitoring and mitigation plan that addresses the full range of environmental and economic impacts of both new and current border barriers and security measures.

Identical legislation failed to be approved by committee after being introduced in June 2007. H.R. 2076, which currently has 20 co-sponsors, is currently under review in the House Homeland Security Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and the House Committee on Agriculture.

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (E&E Daily, Land Letter), Defenders of Wildlife, Newsweek, Office of Congressman Raúl Grijalva

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Draft Legislation would Overhaul Interior Energy Leasing

The Democratic staff for the House Natural Resources Committee have released draft legislation reorganizing the Interior Department’s energy leasing programs and revising the Department’s ethics rules.

The legislation would combine the portions of the Minerals Management Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) responsible for leasing federal lands for oil and gas, wind, wave, and solar projects into a single new agency called the "Office of Federal Energy and Minerals Leasing.” This new agency would be charged with the citing, development, regulation, and collection of royalties for onshore and offshore development projects.

The new Office of Federal Energy and Minerals Leasing would be responsible for imposing new fees on nonproducing federal leases. Initial onshore lease terms would be reduced from ten years to five, and minimum royalty rates would be raised to 18.75 %.

The draft would create new outer continental shelf "Regional Planning Councils" composed of stakeholders from federal and state agencies, industry, tribes, and other organizations to oversee offshore strategic planning. It would also join the efforts of the BLM and Forest Service with states in onshore renewable and non-renewable energy development planning. The measure would replace the current administrative process for onshore wind and solar permits with that of a commercial leasing program and would eliminate the Interior’s royalty-in-kind program. The royalty-in-kind program currently allows industry to make royalty payments to Interior in petroleum rather than cash, and has been a source of past corruption.

New ethics reforms in the draft include requiring that all employees of the office that conducts audits or compliance reviews meet professional auditor qualifications, and prohibiting all employees from accepting gifts from, owning stock in, or being employed by any energy or mineral-related industries. Employees would also not be allowed to work for energy companies for one year after leaving the Interior agency.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has already made several statements indicating that he would dedicate himself to reforming the Department, potentially including agency reorganizations and royalty restructuring. The Secretary has indicated that he will work with Congress to develop effective reforms.

Although many conservation organizations have praised the ethics reforms as long overdue, some are skeptical that the creation of an agency dedicated to leasing would strike an appropriate multiple use balance in federal land management.

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (Greenwire), New York Times

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Interim Roadless Policy Implemented

On 28 May, Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, released a memorandum (#1042-154) that essentially places a hold on potential development or harvest within the National Forests’ roadless areas. Vilsack’s memorandum changes the delegation of approval authority from the Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment to the Secretary of Agriculture for one year.

Authorized by former President Bill Clinton on 12 January 2001, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule prohibited the construction or reconstruction of roads and the cutting, sale and removal of timber on roadless areas administered by the US Forest Service. Roadless areas consist of Forest Service land equal to or in excess of 5,000 acres that have no roads at the time of inventory. Although the rule received positive public support, Bush-era regulations weakened the rule and excluded lands in parts of Alaska, Colorado, and Idaho. Conflicting court rulings in recent years in both California and Wyoming have further clouded the jurisdiction of the rule.

Secretary Vilsack’s new policy is intended to provide consistency and clarity to the use and development of the nation’s roadless areas until a long-term roadless policy is developed by the Obama Administration. The memorandum gives Vilsack complete authority to approve all road construction and timber harvest on certain lands, except for those in the state of Idaho, which currently operate under their own state-authorized roadless management plan.

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (E&E News PM), Natural Resource Defense Council, Great Falls Tribune, LA Times

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Update: Endangered Species Act Consultation Rule Overturned

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) rule finalized by the Bush Administration in 2008, making it optional for federal agencies to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine whether an action is likely to adversely affect listed species, has been overturned. In the language of the fiscal year 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act, Congress gave the Obama Administration the authority to revoke the ESA rule without going through the formal rulemaking process. On 28 April, the Interior and Commerce Departments announced that they would use that authority to overturn the ESA rule and reinstate the mandatory consultation process. Many scientists and conservation organizations joined with TWS in advocating for the rule’s reversal. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comment by 3 August on how to improve the section 7 consultation rule under the ESA.

See WPN Volume 19 Issue 2 Update 2 and Volume 18 Issue 5 Number 1

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (E&E Newsome), Environment News Service

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