Volume 22, Issue 6 | June 2012
Editor: Christine Carmichael
Reporters: Will Roberts and Maggie Thomas
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this Issue:
Desert Population of Bald Eagles Not Listed Under ESA
On April 20, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that the Sonoran Desert population of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus
) will not be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The FWS looks at three qualifications (discreteness, significance, and threatened or endangered status) to determine if a species should be listed under the ESA. While the population of bald eagles was found to be discrete, it was not deemed significant biologically or ecologically to the taxon as a whole. The eagles are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Lacey Act, but an ESA listing would have required additional protections for the birds’ habitat, such as restricting grazing and off-road vehicle activities, along with providing funding for nest protection programs.
House Republicans Introduce Bills Targeting Lacey Act
On May 8, the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held a hearing
to discuss two bills that aim to reform regulation of imported wildlife and plants. The RELIEF Act (H.R. 3210
), introduced by Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN) on October 14, 2011, would limit the liability associated with possession and importation of products that may unknowingly be processed in illegal ways. In effect, however, it will restrict judicial enforcement of the Lacey Act in two crucial ways. The first is found within Section 3(c) of the proposed legislation whereby the role of “innocent owner” is introduced, expanding exemptions not only to persons or retailers, but also to corporations who may be found guilty of violating certain provisions of the Lacey Act. Section 4 of the RELIEF Act aims to cap civilian penalties for violations of the Lacey Act related to plants and plant products at $250, regardless of the value of the contraband.
On March 8, Representative Paul C. Broun (R-GA) introduced the FOCUS Act (H.R. 4171
), which takes a much more hard line approach to amending the Lacey Act. Section 2(a) of the FOCUS Act would eliminate Lacey Act penalties for violations of foreign laws regulating wildlife take and transport. Sections 2(b) and (c) will eliminate all criminal penalties associated with Lacy Act violations, sanctions on permits for violations, and an agent’s ability to seize vehicles or other instrumentalities used in a Lacey Act crime. Section 2(d) virtually withdraws all remaining law enforcement capabilities pertaining to the Lacey Act including eliminating the authorized officers’ authority to conduct searches for evidence, removing law enforcement agents’ ability to make an arrest under the Lacey Act even with the clearest, most demonstrable evidence in hand, and barring judges from issuing an arrest warrant for violations of the Lacey Act, among others.
Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act of 2012 Introduced in House
On May 15, Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) introduced the Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act of 2012 (H.R. 5744
) that could allow expediting of grazing and forest-thinning projects on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. The bill also calls for the environmental assessments of grazing projects to be valid for at least a decade, and at least 20 years for timber harvesting projects. Also included are provisions that the Secretary of the Interior must evaluate the effect of endangered species listings on hazardous fuel loads and include a wildfire risk assessment in critical habitat designations. The bill currently has garnered 27 co-sponsors, including two democrats.
Nova Scotia Implements 2-Year Fracking Moratorium
On April 16 Nova Scotia put into place a two-year ban on the natural gas extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” in order to collect more information on how the process may affect drinking water. The announcement came from Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau who said that fracking will be on hold until his review is released in mid-2014. Energy Minister Charlie Parker said that the government wanted to incorporate data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada who also have reviews in draft stages.
Sources: E&E Publishing (E&E Energy Wire, April 18, 2012), Metro News (April 16, 2012)
Polar Bears Receive Limited Protection under New Rule
On April 19, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced the release of a draft special rule regarding protection of federally threatened polar bears (Ursus Maritimus
), which would exempt all activities that occur outside the polar bears’ range from abiding by portions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Such activities may include greenhouse gas emissions, oil and gas development, and any activities inducing global climate change. The polar bear is the first animal to be listed under the ESA due solely to climate change-related threats. Public comments will be accepted until June 22, and can be submitted online
under Docket No. FWS–R7–ES–2012–0009 or by mail to:
Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. FWS–R7–ES–2012–0009
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM
Arlington, VA 22203
New York Bats Slowly Rebound from White-Nose Syndrome
During the 2011 winter hibernating season, researchers conducted a bat count survey in New York caves that were once contaminated with the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome (WNS), a fatal disease to hibernating bats in North America. Results from the survey conducted by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed higher counts of living little brown bats (myotis lucifugus) in three out of five caves in upstate New York. Although the populations seem to have increased, overall bat mortality resulting from WNS is still hovering around 90 percent.
Wind Developers Express Support for New Guidelines
On May 15 the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), along with 40 wind-power companies, wrote to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) stating their support of the recently adopted Onshore Wind Energy Guidelines
. The companies say they are committed to working with the FWS on implementing the rules that were developed over a five-year planning process. The guidelines were crafted with the intent of safeguarding wildlife and habitat from the negative impacts associated with siting, construction, and operation of wind energy development projects.
Groups Urge Exclusion of Bighorn Budget Rider
As reported in the January Wildlife Policy News
, a budget rider was included in FY12 Interior appropriations bill in the House precluding the use of funds to restrict domestic sheep grazing on national forest lands. On May 24, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) wrote to Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID), who proposed the rider, stating that scientific analyses of proposed management actions conducted through the National Environmental Policy Act process supported plans to restrict domestic sheep grazing due to the risks of disease transmission to endangered wild bighorn (Ovis canadensis
). WAFWA asked that the rider be excluded from FY13 and future budgets.
Final Wildlife Health Plan Released
Earlier this month, the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center released its Strategic Science Plan: Advancing Wildlife and Ecosystem Health for the Next Decade
. TWS provided comprehensive comments on the draft plan in February which included suggestions, among others, to use more concrete language in the document to most effectively provide the framework for carrying out the vision of the National Wildlife Health Center.
Key Conservation Programs Survive Farm Bill Markup
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry passed a revised Farm Bill onto the full Senate on April 26. The amended bill consolidated the 23 Conservation Title programs included in the 2008 bill to 13. Included in the Conservation Title were two environmental victories: the passage of the Sodsaver Amendment, which limits the federal incentive for converting native grasslands to crop production, protecting critical habitat for wildlife, and guaranteed funding for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program with language to remove any incentives to plant invasive, or potentially invasive, species. On April 24, TWS along with several other conservation organizations sent a letter to Senate Agriculture committee leadership encouraging the inclusion of the Sodsaver amendment in the final bill.