The Wildlife Policy News

Volume 21, Issue 9 | September 2011

Editor: Christine Carmichael
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 . Note: This issue has been revised and is up-to-date as of 4:00pm EST, Friday, September 2nd, 2011. 

In this Issue:

FWS Announces Recovery of Lake Erie Water Snake
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced on 16 August 2011 the recovery of the Lake Erie water snake (Nerodia sipedon insularum) and subsequent removal of the species from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. The FWS also made public a post-delisting monitoring plan for the water snake subspecies. The Lake Erie water snake was first listed as threatened in 1999 after a decline due to eradication by humans, as well as habitat loss and degradation. When initially listed, the subspecies’ population had dropped to only 1,500 adults. Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the snake included designation of 300 acres of inland habitat and 11 miles of shoreline for breeding grounds. Ironically, the introduction of an invasive species into the water snake’s habitat also assisted in their recovery. The Eurasian round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) was introduced into Lake Erie in the mid 1990s and became a new food source for the Lake Erie water snake. There were an inventoried 11,980 snakes as of 2009, well above the minimum population level of 5,555 adult snakes required by the 2003 recovery plan. Monitoring will occur for 5 years following this delisting. The Lake Erie water snake is just the 23rd species to be removed from the list due to recovery. 

Sources: Federal Register, E&E Publishing LLC (E&E News PM).

BLM to Increase Sage Grouse Protections
On 21 July 2011, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced a new strategy to combat sage grouse population decline by including science-based habitat conservation measures in its resource management and individual project plans. The BLM plans to take a regional approach to conservation, developing unique management plans for sage grouse habitat in the eastern and western portions of its range. Native to the US northwest and found in 11 states, the sage grouse is dependent on sagebrush for food and cover. While not listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), sage grouse populations are in steady decline due to habitat fragmentation and destruction. Recent construction of roads, pipelines, and power lines has resulted in the removal of sagebrush and decline in sage grouse populations in the eastern portion of its range, while sage grouse in the western region are threatened by wildfires and invasive plants. The BLM will create a national policy team and two regional management teams to address this strategy in an effort to prevent the sage grouse from reaching a point where listing under the ESA is necessary. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service announced on 11 August 2011 that it will allocate $21.8 million for sage grouse habitat conservation as a part of a two-year Sage Grouse Initiative .

Sources: E&E Publishing LLC (Landletter, E&E News PM).

BLM Feral Horse Roundup Delayed
Controversy has once again delayed the Bureau of Land Management’s annual wild horse roundup. Animal rights and horse advocate groups argue that the roundup violates the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which declared these horses a historic symbol of “the pioneer spirit of the West.” Feral horses, which are not native to the U.S., can cause soil erosion, stream sedimentation, native wildlife habitat damage, and destroy native plant communities when they reach high population levels, as seen in the Midwestern U.S. The roundup was originally slated to begin on 16 August 2011 but was delayed due to a lawsuit by the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and the Western Watershed Project. The BLM hopes to begin the roundup in September 2011, once the issue is resolved in federal court. The Wildlife Society has recently approved a position statement regarding the impacts of feral horses and management techniques. 

Sources: E&E Publishing LLC (Landletter, Greenwire).

BOEMRE Investigation of Climate Change Scientist
Charles Monnett, a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) wildlife biologist, has come under scrutiny from the Office of the Inspector General and BOEMRE. A paper published by Monnett in 2006 states that polar bear deaths due to drowning may increase in the future, particularly if the trends of declining pack ice and longer periods of open water persist. Monnett is represented by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a group who believes the investigation may have political motivations. The findings of this study galvanized the climate change movement and lent support to the listing of the polar bear as threatened in May 2008, the first species to be listed as threatened due to climate change.

While the investigative interviews have focused on the 2006 research, BOEMRE is probing a relationship concerning contracting and possible favoritism, not the actual science presented in the paper. PEER fears the investigation was prompted by complaints from skeptics, and advocates for a professional review to prevent this type of investigation, which they consider a witch hunt. Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity asked the Department of the Interior to determine if Monnett’s suspension violated scientific integrity rules meant to protect research from political interference. BOEMRE stated that Shell Oil and drilling have nothing to do with the investigation, as many have speculated. Monnett was placed on administrative leave 18 July 2011, and was allowed to return to work 26 August 2011. However, Monnett will have no role in developing or managing contracts but instead will be in the environmental assessment division. 

In response to a complaint filed by PEER on Dr. Monnett’s behalf, the Interior’s Science Integrity Officer is looking into allegations of scientific and scholar misconduct on the part of BOEMRE Director, Acting Regional Director, Deputy Regional Director, and others.  The Office of the Inspector General’s investigation of Dr. Monnett is still ongoing. 

Source: E&E Publishing LLC (Greenwire).

Suit Filed to Halt Gray Wolf Hunts
Environmental groups are asking for an injunction to halt gray wolf hunts scheduled to begin as early as 30 August 2011 in Idaho and Montana. The wolves, part of the Northern Rocky Mountain population, were delisted in April 2011 by a rider attached to spending legislation. The rider, added by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), overrode a previous judicial decision and exempted future legal challenges to the delisting. Idaho’s hunt would allow for an unlimited number of wolves to be taken, as long as the population stays above 150 individuals. Montana’s hunt would allow the take of 220 wolves. The groups are suing for the injunction on the basis that Congress exceeded its constitutional boundaries by passing a law that directs an outcome in the courts, impinging on judicial interpretation.

On Thursday, 25 August 2011, the 9th circuit court of appeals denied the injunction needed to prevent the wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana. The plaintiffs maintain that Congress violated the doctrine of Separation of Powers in attaching the rider that delisted the wolves in April of 2011. The injunction was not granted, allowing the hunts to go on as planned, but the case will still be heard. The decision will depend on the court’s interpretation of the rider; whether it goes too far by directing the courts on how to apply the existing Endangered Species Act, or whether it amends the existing Endangered Species Act. Opening briefs are due to the 9th District Court on November 16th.

Sources: Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. E&E Publishing LLC (Greenwire).

Gopher Tortoise: Warranted but Precluded

On 27 July 2011 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) added gopher tortoises (Gopherus Polyphemus) east of Mobile Bay to the list of candidate species eligible for Endangered Species Act protection. The gopher tortoise is currently listed as threatened in the western portion of its range. The FWS issued a finding of “warranted but precluded”, leaving the gopher tortoise without any statutory protection. However, the FWS can provide technical assistance and competitive matching grants to state and private landowners that undertake voluntary efforts to conserve the candidate species by improving its habitat.

The petition to evaluate the species for listing was received 13 January 2006 but funding was not available to begin the evaluation until 2009. The funding for evaluations and listings is determined through the annual Congressional appropriations process, with actions prioritized based on available funding. Currently, the FWS faces a tremendous backlog of species waiting for evaluation and listing, which continues to grow under financial constraints.

Source: Federal Register, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Nuclear Contamination Dilemma
The relatively young Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge (Rocky Flats NWR) currently faces a dilemma between protecting the land from invasive species and protecting its inhabitants from exposure to nuclear contamination. The 5,000 acre refuge, acquired by the FWS in 2005, was once the site of a nuclear weapons production facility. Contaminants from the facility, such as plutonium, are still being detected in the area. Rocky Flats NWR is home to a host of rare plant and animal species, and is under attack by invasive weeds. A report from the Office of the Inspector General warns that invasive weeds have displaced native species, “which increases the potential risk for migration of nuclear contaminants to surface water.” The FWS is limited in its choice of management strategy, as actions traditionally used to eradicate invasive plants, including plowing the affected area, could further stir the contaminants, exposing the refuge and surrounding public to harmful pollutants.

The problem recently came to light as preparations began for a transportation project to create a parkway or bicycle path on a 300-foot wide parcel along the refuge’s eastern boundary. The FWS solicited public comment to decide which project would win the bid and to determine what type of environmental analysis is needed under the National Environmental Protection Act. Some groups believe that either project would endanger the public and submitted a petition in July 2011 requesting the FWS to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS) to determine the extent of plutonium contamination in soil surrounding the area of proposed construction, as well as to determine potential health risks either project would pose to construction workers, nearby residents, and commuters, among others. The FWS is currently drafting an environmental assessment (EA) to determine if a detailed EIS is warranted before the project moves forward. The draft EA is expected to be publicly available for comment in October 2011.

Source: E&E Publishing LLC (Greenwire).

News Update: DOI Wyoming Gray Wolf Agreement
As of 3 August 2011, the Department of the Interior (DOI) and state of Wyoming reached an agreement to allow the delisting of the gray wolf in Wyoming and its return to state management. The management plan stipulates a minimum population size of 100 wolves with 10 breeding pairs, and allows for regulated and limited trophy hunts, management of problem wolves, and wolves to be taken without a hunting license as predators. House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Rep. Markey (D-MA) expressed “grave concerns” about the agreement and finds it unclear if all aspects of the plan have been established using the best available science.  The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission released a revised Gray Wolf Management Plan on 8 August 2011 and is accepting comments from the public regarding the plan through 9 September 2011.

Source: E&E Publishing LLC (Landletter).

TWS Update: Dicks Amendment Passage
On 22 July 2011, The Wildlife Society wrote to Speaker of the House John Boehner, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and members of Congress urging support for an amendment by Senator Norm Dicks (D-WA) to the House FY12 Department of Interior (DOI) Appropriations bill. The Dicks amendment, which passed on 27 July 2011, strikes a rider in the appropriations bill that would have prevented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 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. The passage of this amendment was a small victory for conservationists; however, the bill contains a number of other anti- environmental riders and funding cuts that will be evaluated when Congress comes back from recess on 7 September 2011.
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