Wildlife Policy News 2011 October

The Wildlife Policy News

Volume 21, Issue 10 | October 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 .

In this Issue:

Gateway West Transmission Line Project a Potential Threat to Sage Grouse
 
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is in the process of developing plans for the Gateway West Transmission Line Project, which would create the largest electricity transmission line in the U. S. According to the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), transmission lines will stretch over 1,100 miles of southern Wyoming and southern Idaho, connecting solar, wind, and geothermal energy generation sites to population centers. The proposed route coincides with wildlife habitat for sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), pygmy rabbits (Brachylagus idahoensis), burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia), and various species of raptor, raising concerns from conservation organizations. Of highest concern is the imperiled sage grouse, a candidate species for the federal Endangered Species List.

Wyoming has designated 15 million acres in the state as core sage grouse habitat and Idaho has delineated 9 million acres as key habitat for this species. The Gateway West Transmission Line could cross through approximately 235 miles of these areas, fragmenting important habitat for the sage grouse. Local sage grouse working groups are advising the BLM on the issue, and Idaho Power Company and Rocky Mountain Power have provided the BLM with a plan to mitigate or minimize impacts of the project on sage grouse, included as an appendix to the draft EIS. The BLM will be holding public hearings regarding the draft EIS in Wyoming during the first week of October 2011, where the public can submit comments. Anyone interested in submitting comments on the draft EIS can also do so through a web form provided by BLM, via e-mail to: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , or by written mail to: Bureau of Land Management, Gateway West Project, PO Box 20879, Cheyenne, WY 82003. Comments are being accepted through 28 October 2011. For more information on the transmission line project, please visit the BLM project website.

Sources: Bureau of Land Management, E&E Publishing LLC (Landletter)


Proposals to Drill in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Considered
 
On 21 September 2011 the House Natural Resources Committee held an oversight hearing titled “ANWR: Jobs, Energy, and Deficit Reduction, ” to discuss the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s (ANWR) potential to raise revenue and create jobs in order to pay down the national deficit. Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) has brought up drilling in ANWR to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, charged with finding $1.5 trillion in savings in Fiscal Year 2012.

The committee heard from witnesses which included  Alaska Governor Sean Parnell, Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mark Begich (D-AK), Congressman Don Young (R-AK), a member of the Kaktovik city council, a labor union representative, an ice road trucker, a representative from the Republicans for Environmental Protection, and the President of the League of Conservation Voters. Much of the testimony focused on the economic benefits of drilling and the accessibility of the oil. Chairman Hastings argued that less than 500,000 acres would need to be disturbed to access the oil, and that it could produce up to $300 billion in new federal revenues over its production life. Representative Rush Hold (D-NJ) countered by saying that the total disturbance, including the infrastructure, would affect more land and its inhabitants, including caribou (Rangifer tarandus), polar bears (Ursus maritimus), grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis), gray wolves (Canis lupus), migratory birds species, and many others. According to an Energy Information Administration study, ANWR could supply up to 1.45 million barrels a day—around 7.5% of the nation’s daily consumption of roughly 19.1 million barrels a day.

The actual number of jobs created by the proposed project was not reported in the hearing, but many witnesses believed livelihoods could be furthered with the release of ANWR section 1002 to oil production. However, the chance of this proposal moving forward in the Senate is not high, especially in light of a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) report of preliminary findings which recommend that the coastal plain section of ANWR be designated as wilderness. In its draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan the FWS indicates ANWR  "holds symbolic and existence values for many people who find satisfaction in just knowing the area exists and will be passed on to future generations." Comments on the draft must be submitted by 15 November 2011 via email to: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , via written mail to: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arctic NWR – Sharon Seim, 101 12th Ave, Rm 236, Fairbanks, AK 99701, or via fax to: (907) 456-0428.

House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA) has requested a second hearing on this issue which would include more minority witnesses and provide an opportunity for Members to offer their ideas on ways to reduce the federal deficit. Markey has previously introduced legislation to raise money by closing tax loopholes and reducing perks such as royalty-free drilling on public lands offshore. According to E&E News, Markey touted that “Democratic proposals to ensure oil companies pay their fair share would generate nearly $60 billion over the next 10 years." 

Sources: E&E Publishing LLC (E&E Daily, Greenwire, E&E News PM), U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Hearing Documents


Funding for Wetland Grants and Waterfowl Habitat Protections
 
On 14 September 2011 the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission announced the authorization of over $9 million for the protection of waterfowl habitat within five units of the National Wildlife Refuge System, and $20 million for matching grants for wetlands conservation. Funding for waterfowl habitat protection comes from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund and will be used to protect 5,550 acres of habitat. Wetlands funding is provided through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which facilitates a match-based grant program for private wetland conservation projects in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. NAWCA-funded projects must involve long-term protection, restoration, enhancement and/or establishment of wetlands and associated upland habitats that benefit all migratory birds that are associated with wetlands. In addition, partners will contribute almost $52 million in non-federal matching dollars towards these projects, which will conserve nearly 100,000 acres of wetlands in 16 states.

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


State of Alaska Joins Others in Fighting Polar Bear Listing
 
The state of Alaska and a number of hunting groups joined 25 plaintiffs in appealing the federal ruling that upheld the threatened designation for polar bears in late June 2011. The groups seek to overturn the decision, handed down by Judge Emmet Sullivan of the District of Columbia. Alaska also sued the FWS in 2008 to overturn the listing of the polar bear, which occurred under the Bush Administration.

Judge Sullivan did not upgrade the polar bear to endangered, despite urging from environmental groups to do so, nor did he delist the species, as hunting groups had requested. Controversy over this issue stems from different views concerning global climate change and its impacts on species and their habitats, as well as the growing population of polar bears. Polar bear numbers have been on the rise since being afforded protections under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. However, U.S. Geological Survey scientists have found that shrinking sea ice could pose a serious threat to the bears. Sea ice is a staple of polar bear habitat, used for hunting, mating, resting, and raising young. The loss of this habitat could eliminate two-thirds of the world’s population of polar bears—including all of Alaska’s bears—in the next 50 years. 

The state of Alaska believes this finding to be speculative and based on uncertain predictions of future threats. However, in most cases deference is given to federal agencies unless a plaintiff can prove they erred in reaching their finding. According to Judge Sullivan’s ruling, the federal government followed proper procedures and reached a rational decision based on the evidence available.

Sources: E&E Publishing, LLC (Greenwire), U.S. Geological Survey


San Juan National Forest Gas Development Disrupts Migration Corridors
 
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are developing plans for 3,000 new natural gas wells in and around San Juan National Forest in western Colorado. The project would cover 10,000 acres of USFS and BLM land. The draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), originally published in 2007, was recently supplemented to include the development potential of a shale gas play. The land included in the new drilling plan for the Gothic Gas Shale Play intersects with migration corridors of big game species, including elk (Cervus canadensis) and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus). Environmental groups worry that habitat fragmentation due to the energy development project will negatively affect populations of these species. The draft EIS and supplemental documents are available on the San Juan Public Lands Center website. Individuals interested in submitting comments on the supplement can do so via e-mail to: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , by written mail to: SJPL Supplement Comments, Attn: Shannon Manfredi, 15 Burnett Court, Durango, CO 8130, or by fax: Attn: SJPL Supplement Comments and Shannon Manfredi, 970-375-2331. Comments are being accepted through 25 November 2011.

Sources: E&E Publishing LLC (Landletter), San Juan Public Lands Center, Federal Register


Interior Proposes New Florida Wildlife Refuge
 
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced a draft Land Protection Plan (LPP) and draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the proposed establishment of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area in Florida. The proposed area, located in the Kissimmee River Basin, would connect existing conservation lands, create corridors for wildlife, protect rare species, improve water quality, and provide opportunities for wildlife-related recreation. The areas will also support working ranches. The establishment of the National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area furthers President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative and incorporates a public-private partnership through the use of conservation easements.

The refuge and conservation areas would be comprised of up to 150,000 acres with a total cost of $625 million, subject to federal budget appropriations. The refuge would be composed of up to 50,000 acres purchased from private land owners, and the conservation area would consist of up to 100,000 acres of conservation easements also purchased from private land owners. The conservation easements would ensure the land is not sold to development in the future. Public input from over 38,000 comments and four public meetings has been used to create the draft LPP and EA, which are available for public comment until 24 October 2011.  Comments can be submitted via email to: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , by written mail to: P.O. Box 2683, Titusville, FL 32781-2683, or by fax to: 321-861-1276.

Sources:  E&E Publishing LLC (E& E News PM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


News Update: ESA Backlog Settlement
 
A federal judge approved a settlement on 9 September 2011 regarding the status of candidate species for the Endangered Species List. The settlement requires that the FWS set up a concrete timeline for making final listing decisions on over 250 animal and plant candidate species that have been stuck in backlog. The FWS will have up to six years to make determinations on these species. This settlement addresses cases against the FWS by both the Center of Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians. The Department of Interior also announced on 26 September 2011 that it will carry out status reviews for 374 water-dependent species, including the Florida sandhill crane (Grus canadensis pratensis). However, these status reviews will likely not take place until after the FWS completes the review of the aforementioned candidate species in backlog.  

Sources: E&E Publishing LLC (E&E News PM, Greenwire), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


News Update: Investigation of Climate Change Scientist
 
New material was released in the ongoing investigation of Dr. Charles Monnett, a government scientist who was questioned about allegations of misconduct concerning contract awarding and favoritism. Emails pertaining to the alleged procurement violations have been released by Dr. Monnett’s legal representation, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), in order to prove the allegations false. The emails were released to the Department of Interior (DOI) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in response to questions from an interview in early August 2011. Department of Interior Office of the Inspector General officials have been investigating Dr. Monnett’s role in a sole-source contract for a current polar bear study, claiming he helped Andrew Derocher win a government contract in exchange for Derocher’s help with his 2006 paper on drowned polar bears. Dr. Monnett argues that he followed common practice, and included other employees in the correspondence chain. According to Dr. Monnett, managers and procurement officers were fully aware of his activities, and noted that other studies have been handled in “essentially the same way since then.” The investigation continues, but now includes emails to counter the allegations and a rebuttal from PEER.

Sources: E&E Publishing LLC (Greenwire), Alaska Dispatch, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility


TWS Update: Joining the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species
 
TWS became an official member of the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species (NECIS) in September 2011. NECIS seeks to “promote sound state, federal, and international policy that prevents harmful non-native, or invasive, species from being introduced, becoming established, and spreading in the U.S. and other countries; support ecologically-sound prevention, research, control, and eradication of invasive species where appropriate; and enhance cooperation among environmental, recreational, and other natural resource-oriented and scientific non-profit groups to achieve more success in the invasive species policy arenas.” TWS brings expertise on invasive plant and animal issues and looks forward to contributing to this coalition.
 
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