The Wildlife Policy News

Volume 21, Issue 8 | August 2011

Editor: Laura M. Bies
Reporters: Erin Shaw and Charlotte Weaver 

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 . Download the entire issue as a PDF

In this Issue:


FY12 Interior Appropriations Bill Stalls on House Floor
 
The House Interior Appropriations Committee sent to the floor the FY12 Department of Interior (DOI) Appropriations bill, containing a number of cuts that will have a significant impact on federal conservation programs. The bill cuts the total DOI budget by $715 million from FY11 levels, funding it at $9.9 billion for FY12. The bill also cuts EPA funding by $1.5 billion. These levels are significantly lower than what was proposed in President Obama’s FY12 budget request. Key wildlife programs also found themselves on the chopping block. The committee recommended a $145 million cut for the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), funding them at $1 billion. Under this FWS cut, the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants would receive a cut of $39.8 million from FY11 levels, down to $22 million. The bill also cuts National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) funding by $36 million from FY11, despite the fact that the NWRS is already struggling with a backlog of more than $3.3 billion in operations and maintenance costs and is trying to address an ongoing issue of understaffing, particularly in law enforcement personnel. The bill would fund NWRS at $455 million for FY12.

The House Appropriations Committee also attached a long list of riders to the bill, many of which could have significant ramifications in terms of conservation, especially of endangered species. One rider would prohibit new species listings to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by the FWS, with supporters of the rider calling the ESA a prime example of “policy failure” and pointing to the low ratio of recovered species to overall number of listed species as proof. It would prevent the FWS from funding not only the listing of new species but also the designation of new critical habitat, the up-listing of a species from threatened to endangered and the protection by law enforcement of species similar to that of currently listed species. On 27 July 2011, the House passed the Dicks Amendment striking this rider from the appropriations bill. 

Sections 120 and 442 of the appropriation bill also severely limit protections for bighorn sheep in the western United States. Section 120 calls for the exemption of mobile permits from complying with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In doing so, ranchers could allow their sheep or cattle to graze on larger areas of land and continue grazing as they move between grazing lands, referred to as "trailing." This poses a threat to some bighorn sheep subspecies that are endangered or threatened, as they would be in closer contact with disease-carrying domestic sheep. Section 442 also works to undo previous protections by loosening restrictions on the interaction between domestic sheep and the native bighorn sheep.

Another rider, found in Section 119, would prevent opportunities for judicial review of the delisting of the gray wolf in Wyoming and other states within the Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment. This action discourages public participation and eliminates necessary checks to the ESA process by disallowing citizens from requesting a judicial review of a delisting. Section 118 also hinders the public’s ability to participate in the management of public lands by reducing their right to seek assistance from the federal courts when endangered and threatened species are not being properly protected or managed.

A number of amendments to strike these riders were filed by House Democrats but failed to pass. As of 1 August, the House was in the process of considering the bill.  Due to the current debt ceiling debate, however, a full house vote will most likely not occur until after Congress comes back from recess in September. A full committee report from the markup is available for public viewing.

Sources: House Committee on Appropriations, E&E Publishing, LLC (E&E Daily).

Senate Reauthorizes Estuary, Migratory Bird, Nutria Eradication Programs

On 13 July 2011, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved measures to reauthorize a collection of estuary protection, migratory bird preservation, and nutria eradication programs. The Clean Estuaries Act of 2011 (S. 1313), sponsored by Senator Whitehouse (D-RI), would reauthorize the National Estuary Program with a budget of $35 million through 2017. The act also requires the periodic assessment of the effectiveness of estuaries programs by the Environmental Protection Agency. Sponsors cited the economic value of estuaries, emphasized their role as a crucial buffer zone during strong storms, and stressed their importance as wildlife habitat. Senator Cardin’s (D-MD) bill to reauthorize the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (S. 538) was approved through 2017 as well. The Nutria Eradication and Control Act of 2011 (S. 899), also sponsored by Senator Cardin, reauthorizes an eradication and management program for nutria in nutria-infested coastal states through 2016. The invasive rodent does significant damage to coastal marshes and wetlands and is particularly an issue in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and in Washington, Oregon, and Louisiana. With the exception of a failed amendment attempt by Senator Inhofe (R-OK) to strike climate change wording from the estuaries bill, the reauthorization measures were met with bipartisan support. The bills now move to the full Senate for consideration.

Sources: U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, E&E Publishing, LLC (E&E Daily).

Revisions to Hawaiian Monk Seal Critical Habitat

In a federal register notice, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced six public hearings to discuss a proposed rule to revise critical habitat for the Hawaiian Monk Seal. The Hawaiian Monk Seal was first designated as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1976 due to human disturbance on Hawaii’s coastlines. The currently proposed changes would extend designated critical habitat out to the 500-meter depth contour around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and expand it to include Sand Island at Midway Islands. Additional habitat in six new areas of the main Hawaii Islands would also be incorporated.

The hearings are open to the public; both oral and written comments are being accepted for inclusion in the administrative records. Comments must be received by 31 August 2011. Comments can be submitted electronically through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at regulations.gov. View the Federal Register announcement for further details on submitting comments and for the public hearing schedule.

Source: Federal Register.

BLM Withdrawal of Western Oregon Plan Revisions
 
On 16 July 2011, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) scrapped a controversial timber harvest plan that included 2.6 million acres of forested land in western Oregon. The decision to withdraw the Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR) may have been influenced by the recently revised U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan. Some conservation groups argued that the WOPR threatened critical habitat for the northern spotted owl in Oregon’s old-growth forests and has therefore been the subject of a number of lawsuits in the past ten years. It was most recently challenged by nine environmental advocacy groups, including Pacific Rivers Council, Oregon Wild, the Wilderness Society, and the Center for Biological Diversity. BLM acknowledged flaws in the timber harvest plan and noted they did not consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service in regards to the Endangered Species Act when designating land for harvest.
 
Sources: Bureau of Land Management, E&E Publishing, LLC (Land Letter).
 
FWS Announces Scoping Period for Commercial Wind Facility EIS
 

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is seeking information from the scientific community on the scope of issues to be addressed in an environmental impact statement (EIS) for commercial wind development that could impact nine western states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. The EIS covers a habitat conservation plan and incidental take permits for the endangered whooping crane, endangered interior least tern, endangered piping plover, and a candidate species, the lesser prairie chicken. The EIS will address a 200 mile wide corridor based on the whooping crane migration path and will span the Gulf coast of Texas to the Canadian Border. The incidental take permit is being requested by a group of 19 wind energy companies called the Wind Energy Whooping Crane Action Group.

The corridor is being designed to minimize disturbance to species under the ITP, but some wildlife advocacy groups, such as the American Bird Conservancy, are concerned by the threat the facility could pose to nesting or migrating birds.  The FWS welcomes comments on any impacts of commercial wind development as well as alternatives, mitigation techniques, minimization techniques, research, and expertise. Specifically, the agency is looking for information on areas such as: wildlife and aquatic resources; special status species; wetlands; and environmental justice. Please see the notice from the Federal Register for more details. FWS will also be accepting requests for information concerning the habitat conservation plan, incidental take permits, and proposed EIS. Send comments or requests for information to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it by 12 October 2011.

Detailed information can be found on the FWS Ecological Services Great Plains Wind Energy website .

 
Federal Agencies to Use State Landscape-Level Wildlife Mapping
 
On 30 June 2011 the Western Governors Association announced an agreement with the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture that allows the federal government full use of state information concerning wildlife habitats. This agreement will encourage coordination between the states’ planning efforts and federal initiatives. Agency field offices can now work closely with state wildlife management to improve the conservation of critical wildlife habitats and corridors. The use of state landscape-level wildlife mapping will help create continuity in spatial planning and conservation priorities across boundaries and borders. This will be a helpful tool for natural resources managers across the western states as well as the rest of the nation.
 
 
News Updates
 
DOI and Wyoming Close to Agreement on Wolf Delisting: Discussion is underway between Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Governor of Wyoming, Matt Mead (R), concerning the delisting of the gray wolf. The management plan for Wyoming will ensure a population of 100 wolves with 10 breeding pairs, and will protect wolves in a zone surrounding Yellowstone where they will be considered trophy game and only be hunted by licensed hunters, although it would allow a reduction of the state’s wolf population by as much as two-thirds.
 
Source: E&E Publishing, LLC (E&E News PM).
 
FWS Close to ESA Settlement: On 12 July 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reached an agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) over an endangered species listing lawsuit filed by the CBD. The settlement will require the FWS to issue ESA determinations for 261 animal and plant species that have been stuck in backlog and are deemed in need of federal protection. These “candidate species” will be reviewed and will receive an endangered or threatened status over the next six years. An additional 600 or more petitioned species will also move up in reviewing priority. The settlement is currently awaiting approval from the U.S. District Court.
 
Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (Land Letter).
 
TWS Update: Revised NWRS Vision Released
 
TWS submitted comments on the draft NWRS vision, Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation. The revisions were made in direct response to the public comments collected over a two month period and include improvements such as: emphasizing landscape level habitat management; a beyond boundaries approach; leveraging resources through partnerships with government agencies, conservation groups, and private landowners; a national collaborative conservation strategy; establishing an urban refuge program; and expanding the network of community partners and refuge friends. TWS Executive Director, Michael Hutchins, attended the NWRS Conserving the Future conference in Madison Wisconsin to further promote TWS’s recommendations and show support for the NWRS vision, which will be finalized in October.
 


 
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