The Wildlife Policy News

Volume 21, Issue 12 | December 2011

Editor: Christine Carmichael
Reporters: 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:


Court Upholds Listing for Beluga Whales

A District of Columbia District Court Chief Judge upheld the listing of the beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) as endangered in Alaska’s Cook Inlet on 21 November 2011. The State of Alaska and Escopeta Oil Inc. filed a lawsuit against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and many intervening defendants to challenge the Cook Inlet beluga’s listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Judge Royce Lamberth rejected the bid by the state to overturn the listing, stating that the federal government made a rational decision based on the best available science. The Cook Inlet belugas are geographically isolated and genetically different from other beluga whale populations, making them a distinct population segment (DPS) eligible for ESA protections.

The population was almost decimated in the 1990s by unregulated subsistence hunting, and has continued to decline despite efforts that began in 2000 to regulate hunting under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Cook Inlet beluga was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List in 2006, and has been listed as endangered in the U.S. since 2008. In 2009, NOAA proposed designating more than one-third of Cook Inlet as critical habitat for the DPS. Alaska Governor Sean Parnell opposes the whale’s listing and designation of over 3,000 square miles of habitat, including the upper portions of the Inlet which are marked for oil and gas exploration, as critical to survival. 

Sources: E&E Publishing LLC (E&E News PM), Environmental News Service

Groups Rally to Remove Mining Claim Pipes Killing Birds

As of 1 November 2011, hollow PVC pipes used as mining claim markers across the state of Nevada can lawfully be removed by any citizen and placed adjacent to the location from which it was removed. In 2009, conservation groups successfully lobbied the Nevada Legislature to pass legislation requiring claim holders to securely cap or remove the hollow markers within two years, after which it would be legal for anyone to remove the pipes.

A 2009 work crew removed 195 pipes, revealing 740 dead birds, most of which were cavity nesting species mistaking the 4-inch diameter pipes as suitable nesting locations. Once inside, birds are unable to climb or fly out of the pipe’s smooth interior and eventually die of starvation. The American Bird Conservancy reported that in a more recent survey, biologists removed 854 pipes containing 879 birds. Reptiles and mammals have also perished in the pipes, although to a lesser extent than birds. With over 1 million claims issued to date, 200,000 of which are still active, the hazardous pipes may have impacted hundreds of thousands of birds.

On 5 November 2011, Red Rock Audubon Society held a marker pull-out event, accompanied by a Nevada Department of Wildlife biologist to identify which claims were still active. If a claim is no longer active, the pipes can be removed from the premises completely, whereas pipes marking active claims can be removed but must be left on the ground near the claim. Conservation groups are also urging citizens to remove the pipes on their own, now that it is legal to do so.

Sources: American Bird Conservancy, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nevada Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Red Rock Audubon Society

Hearing Incites Heated Debate over Pace of Oil Shale Development

Representative Doug Lamborn (R-CO) offered a bill for consideration in a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on 18 November 2011 to accelerate the pace of oil shale development. The bill, called “Protecting Investment in Oil Shale the Next Generation of Environmental, Energy, and Resource Security Act (PIONEERS Act)”, would provide nearly a dozen new oil shale research leases and make some commercial leases available by 2016. The bill would also reduce royalty rates to entice companies to begin development. 

While approximately 1.5 trillion barrels of oil are suggested to exist in the oil shale lands within Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, many companies that have attempted to economically extract the oil have not been successful. Development could have impacts on the region’s wildlife, including a large elk (Cervus canadensis) population and the largest migratory mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) herd in North America. Some consider the development of this resource a waste of taxpayer money, as it is environmentally risky and still in the early stages of research.

A former Associate Director of the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming testified that such large scale industrial oil shale development would dry up farms and ranches if it ever became possible. Additional testimony against the bill enumerated the risks of oil shale development to water, two million acres of public land, wildlife, and jobs in the agriculture, tourism, and outdoor recreation industries. The former Associate Director also indicated that some in the oil industry own private oil shale lands on which to test new technologies, but have yet to bring a barrel of oil to the market.

Witnesses in favor of the bill included the Chairman and CEO of an oil shale company, who believes the appropriate technology is available to begin commercial extraction of oil shale resources. Testimony in support of the bill focused on the need to protect American soldiers by reducing the need for foreign oil and therefore wars fought over oil and denied claims that oil shale development requires more water than is readily available in the Interior West region.   

Sources: E&E Publishing LLC (E&E News, 11 November 2011), House Committee on Natural Resources

Groups Urge Removal of Bighorn Sheep Rider Language

Environmental groups urged Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID) to remove language in an appropriations bill that would prevent the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) from making management decisions that would result in the reduction of grazing domestic sheep. The language was incorporated as a rider into the spending bill as a response to part of a management plan for Payette National Forest which would have closed much of the forest’s land to sheep grazing. The USFS made the decision to reduce the number of grazing sheep in order to protect endangered bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) from diseases, such as bacterial pneumonia, that are spread by contact with domestic sheep. 

The rider prevents this action on any other federal lands and blocks USFS Chief Tom Tidwell’s decision to manage for the protection of the wild bighorn. Researchers are working on a vaccine that would eliminate the need for separation between the two animals, but it will likely take a decade or more to create. The groups explained to Representative Simpson that “protecting and rebuilding bighorn sheep populations depends upon effective separation from domestic sheep.”  Bighorn populations were nearly decimated in Hell’s Canyon in the 1990s after catching pneumonia from domestic sheep in Payette National Forest. 

Simpson contends that the decision in Payette National Forest forced the removal of 20,000 sheep, putting woolgrowers out of business. He also suggested that deer or elk may be spreading the disease, though peer-reviewed studies have confirmed that domestic sheep are the carrier. The efficacy of the rider is dependent upon passage of the appropriations bill, which has not yet occurred. The agencies covered under this appropriations bill are functioning under a continuing resolution, which will expire on 16 December 2011. 

Sources: E&E Publishing LLC (E&E Daily, 4 November 2011), National Wildlife Federation Battle for Bighorns, U.S. Forest Service


Canadian Environment Minister Declares Polar Bear a Species of Concern

Canada’s Environment Minister, the Honourable Peter Kent, has declared the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) as a species of special concern under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Two-thirds of the world’s population of polar bears reside in Canada, and Kent said the country has “a unique conservation responsibility to effectively care for them.” Polar bears were listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2008, and are also considered a species of concern in Russia. Many polar bear populations are in decline due to climate change and conflicts with humans, though there are a few populations on the rise. 

As stipulated by the SARA, a management plan for the species must be prepared as a result of the listing within three years. The goal of the plan is to alleviate human threats in order to remove the polar bear from the list, and will be based on the National Polar Bear Conservation Strategy which many other polar bear-hosting countries collaborated on. According to the agency, many consultations were held prior to the listing and most groups support the bear’s listing.   

Sources: Canada Gazette, Environment Canada, Polar Bears International

California Wildlife Refuges Studied for Sea-Level Rise Models

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is surveying five coastal California National Wildlife Refuges to model their vulnerability to sea-level rise and storm surges. Scientists are studying the refuges to determine the amount of sea-level rise that would effectively drown the remaining coastal wetlands and tidal marshes on these refuges. The models will also serve the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as it manages species and habitat on the refuges. The five refuges examined by the study include Humboldt Bay, San Pablo, Seal Beach, San Diego Bay and Tijuana Slough.

Wetlands can usually adapt to changes in sea-level as sediments accumulate to form new land which supports marsh vegetation. However, due to climate change, sea-level rise will accelerate faster than the sediments can accumulate, and wetlands will be battered with storms and flooding. Current sea-level rise models are broad, making planning difficult for specific areas.
 
The models will not be easy to create; in fact, they will require thousands of measurements of each refuge including elevation, water level, sediment structure, and vegetation. Researchers will develop a baseline for the wetlands, and then model how marshes would respond to the rising ocean, increasing by 10 centimeter increments until they find the inundation threshold. Individual refuge managers will be able to use this information to guide specific management on the refuges, while others on the coast can use it to shape their management plans. The final report of the study, one of many produced by USGS’ Western Ecological Research Center (WERC) is anticipated for release in 2013. WERC is collaborating on this project with The Southwest Climate Science Center, one of three new regional hubs of the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center which will become active pending appropriations in 2011.

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

Interior Report Recommends Additional Protections in Nine States

On 10 November 2011, the Department of the Interior released a report identifying 18 backcountry areas in nine Western states that warrant protections either as wilderness, national conservation areas, or other congressional designations. The recommendations in the report come after months of collaboration and discussion between Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes, Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey, local, state, and tribal officials, and conservationists. 

The report has been well received by many, but some critics feel proposals for wilderness designation should originate at the local level, or that the list panders to local government officials. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) praised the report as a way to restore balance to public land management that has been dominated by rampant oil and gas development. These recommendations are meant to encourage Congress to pass a public lands bill to protect these areas legislatively. Deputy Secretary Hayes said that half of the areas named in the report are already included in legislation that has been introduced in the current legislative session, while others have been introduced previously. Areas mentioned in the report include some well-known locations such as Devil’s Staircase, Golden Butte, and the San Juan Islands. 

Sources: Department of the Interior, E&E Publishing LLC (Landletter)

News Update: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Development Hearing (Part 2)

On 18 November 2011, a second hearing, “Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Jobs, Energy and Deficit Reduction (Part 2)”, was held at the request of House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA) to hear the minority views on the future of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The hearing included testimony from the chairperson of the Gwich’in Steering Committee of Arctic Village, Alaska, a professor of history, the president of Friends of the Earth, and the policy director of Earthworks.

The witnesses testified on the importance of the Arctic NWR, considered America’s Crown Jewel, and expressed fears that it will take years to find oil within the Arctic NWR, and that resource development would threaten the culture and way of life for residents of the region. Sarah James of the Gwich’in community said oil development would disturb caribou nursery grounds, thereby interfering with the Gwich’in way of life. James specifically expressed concern for the Porcupine River caribou herd which migrates to the coastal plain for birthing and raising young and may have no suitable alternative location to resort to if the area is disturbed. Another witness asked Congress to urge the White House to designate the coastal plain of the Arctic NWR (section 1002) as the Eisenhower National Monument via an executive order, to add an additional layer of protection without waiting for wilderness designation. 

Also discussed in the hearing was a new piece of legislation that seeks to reduce the deficit by $19 billion over 10 years, far more than the legislation discussed in the last hearing proposed.  The bill, called the “Fair Payment for Energy and Mineral Production on Public Lands Act”, sponsored by Representative Markey, would close tax loopholes that currently allow companies to use natural resources that belong to the public for free. Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a cosponsor of the bill, is concerned that taxpayers are subsidizing some of the most profitable private companies in the world. The plan includes a fee on non-producing leases, the renegotiation of leases that require zero royalty payments, and a fair distribution of revenues from drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The legislation was also suggested to the debt “Super Committee” as part of a money saving package.

On 15 November 2011 Representative Markey and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and 70 of their colleagues in Congress urged Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to recommend the coastal plain as wilderness in order to protect it from damaging oil and gas exploration. The Arctic NWR recently closed the comment period on a draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan which included two alternatives that would recommend this area for designation as wilderness.

Sources: E&E Publishing LLC (E&E Daily), House Committee on Natural Resources Minority

News Update: Hearing on Proposed Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge

The Majority probed government officials at a House Committee on Natural Resources hearing to investigate the priorities of the proposed Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge.  The proposed refuge would cost an estimated $700 million and consist of 50,000 acres of government owned land, and 100,000 acres of conservation easements on private lands. The refuge would serve to protect the imperiled Everglades Ecosystem, one of the last grassland and longleaf pine savanna landscapes, maintain ranching heritage, and shield the headwaters from pollution.

Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) questioned if the refuge would actually restore the ecosystem or if it was a diversion of funds. Representative Fleming and other Republicans were disappointed that the Department of the Interior did not seek Congressional authorization first, a topic called into discussion recently as a bill was introduced that would strip the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) of its ability to create refuges without Congressional authorization.

Concerns were expressed about guaranteeing access for sportsmen, and compensation for local residents for lost tax revenues. FWS Deputy Regional Director Mark Masaus said the FWS intended to provide for wildlife dependent recreation on the refuge, particularly hunting opportunities. A memorandum of understanding between state and federal wildlife agencies could shore up this concern on the government owned lands, but hunting access would have to be negotiated with land owners on the 100,000 acres of easements. 

Sources: E&E Publishing LLC (E&E Daily), House Committee on Natural Resources

TWS Update: Public Lands Bills Marked-up

The House Committee on Natural Resources marked up a number of public lands bills, including one that TWS has commented on in the past. In a September 2011 hearing, TWS expressed concerns over H.R. 2834, the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act, sponsored by Representative Dan Benishek (R-MI). The original bill included language that would undermine the protections of the Wilderness Act of 1964. The language would only allow implementation of the Wilderness Act if it facilitated or enhanced the original purpose for which the land was established, allowing for construction and mechanized machinery.

TWS submitted comments suggesting changes to address these problems after the initial hearing in September.  Some of those suggestions were included in two amendments offered by Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), but were rejected by the Committee. An en bloc amendment offered by Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT), which also captured many of TWS’ concerns including those in regard to wilderness, was accepted by the Committee and the bill was reported favorably for consideration by the full House of Representatives. 

Sources: E&E Publishing LLC (E&E Daily), House Committee on Natural Resources

 
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