Archive for the ‘Endangered Species Act’ Category

The Internet v. Melissa Bachman

Photo by Tambako the Jaguar. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Tambako the Jaguar. Some rights reserved.

If you’ve been on any sort of social media in the last 48 hours, you’ve likely come across this picture, either on its own or accompanied by some strong words regarding its content – a woman holding a hunting rifle sitting and smiling over the carcass of a male African lion. The woman in question is Melissa Bachman, a Minnesota-based tv producer and hunting enthusiast, and the lion was killed legally within the boundaries of the Maroi Conservancy in South Africa, whose slogan is “conservation through sustainable hunting.” The hunting of African lions has long been a source of outrage for animal rights activists, as they are not covered by the Endangered Species Act and as such their carcasses can be legally brought back into the United States as trophies (as 60% of lions killed by hunters are each year). The fact that there are only 32,000 of these lions left in the world and that this number could be out of date and in fact much lower does not help. Six hundred lions are killed yearly in the arena of big game hunting alone, and then there is the number of lions that die each year from habitat loss, contact with humans, etc. (a much higher figure than 600). The International Fund for Animal Welfare created a petition to list the African Lion as an endangered species two years ago, which is available here and would ban the transport of lions into the U.S. under the ESA. Earlier this year, the director of the IFAW wrote an editorial for National Geographic on this very subject.

As for Bachman, the internet has reacted (some might say overreacted – regardless of your feelings about the above photo and this story in general, this is as good a place as any for a reminder that there is no justification here for personal attacks or threats against Bachman herself and that doing so weakens the arguments made against her behavior) – celebrities like Ricky Gervais and Morrissey have denounced Bachman and the culture of big game hunting in general, while Cape Town resident Elan Burman has launched a petition on Change.org calling on the South African government to ban Bachman from any future entry to the country – a petition that as of writing this has gained over 310,000 signatures. It seems that the outrage is especially potent because Bachman can be seen smiling unapologetically in the photo. Of course, whether or not the strong dissent against Bachman is justified depends entirely on your point of view on the matter, but it certainly is a timely reminder that we have a responsibility as the alpha-species to protect the animals that we share this planet with as in the world we have built and chosen to live in, they are simply not able to protect themselves.

FEMA’s Proposed Changes to the National Flood Insurance Program

Photo by kevin dooley. Some rights reserved.

Earlier this month, law firm Van Ness Feldman published an Alert detailing FEMA’s plans for revising the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

The NFIP was developed in the late 1960s in response to a few seasons of nasty natural disasters. It is a federal program that encourages landowners in participating communities to adopt and enforce FEMA approved floodplain management ordinances. Those communities are then eligible to purchase flood insurance through the program, which is designed to provide a financial alternative to relying on emergency disaster relief. According to FEMA, “the costs associated with flood damage are reduced by nearly $1.7 billion a year” through the program.

Not everyone has been happy with the NFIP, of course. According to Van Ness Feldman, ever since its adoption, the program has faced “ongoing significant criticism,” with critics claiming that it either doesn’t do enough, or does way too much, depending on whom you ask. (For instance, environmentalists have criticized FEMA’s failure to consult with USFWS and/or NMFS on the impact of the NFIP on endangered species.) It is supposedly these criticisms that have driven FEMA to reform the NFIP.

In a mid-May, FEMA filed a Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, proposing to evaluate the following proposed action and alternatives in their EIS:

(1) Modify the NFIP based upon changes identified through the evaluation process to enhance floodplain management standards including provisions to address endangered species and habitat concerns. This is FEMA’s proposed action.

(2) Taking no action, which would result in the continued administration and implementation of the NFIP as it stands today.

(3) Discontinue the NFIP, recognizing that only Congress can take this action.

(4) Request legislative authority to remove existing subsidies and cross subsidies for flood insurance policies.

(5) Modify the NFIP based upon changes identified through the evaluation process to enhance floodplain management standards including provisions to address endangered species and habitat concerns and request legislative authority to remove existing subsidies and cross subsidies for flood insurance policies.

Comments will be accepted on the Notice until July 16, 2012.

Learn more about the NFIP: FEMA on the basics, NFIP evaluation, and NFIP reform. You can also read about recent changes to the NFIP approved in late June by Congress as part of the Federal Public Transportation Act of 2012 (see Title II).

All of the Above? NRDC Wants None of It

Photo by NOAA's National Ocean Service. Some rights reserved.

Quick on the heels of an upbeat Department of the Interior Press Release came an equal-and-opposite reaction from the National Resources Defense Council.

The commentary focused on a recently released Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement from DOI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that evaluates potential significant environmental effects of multiple geological and geophysical “G&G” activities in support of oil and gas exploration and development, renewable energy, and marine minerals in the Mid- and South Atlantic. All part of Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, according to the DOI, which called these steps “critical,” and the PEIS “a milestone […] consistent with the Proposed OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2012-2017.”

But the NRDC sees it differently. The same G&G processes that might be used to “understand the extent, properties and geography of hydrocarbon resources, as well as the potential to site renewable energy structures and locate marine mineral resources like sand and gravel” – such as seismic air guns – are apparently “equivalent to blasting dynamite in a neighborhood every 10-12 seconds for weeks or months on end,” according to the NRDC, and “can cause hearing damage and death to marine mammals like endangered North Atlantic right whales that calve off the coasts of Georgia and Florida.”

Feel strongly one way or the other? The public may submit written comments by email to ggeis@boem.gov.

What Does “significant portion of its range” REALLY Mean?

Photo by viralbus. Some rights reserved.

Well, evidently it’s not very straightforward. Which is why the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), along with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), published draft guidance in the Federal Register last Friday, providing interpretation of the phrase “significant portion of its range” in the Endangered Species Act’s definitions of “endangered species” and “threatened species.”

According to a recent Perkins Coie Update, a “clear and consistent” interpretation of this phrase has “proved elusive over the years.” If finalized, the guidance would provide a legally binding policy that would set forth the agencies’ interpretation of ‘‘significant portion of its range’’ and its place in the statutory framework of the ESA, replacing a 2007 legal opinion from the Solicitor of the DOI on the topic (which was subsequently withdrawn in 2011).

Endangered Species Act “Mega-Lawsuit” Seeks EPA Review of 300+ Pesticides

Photo by C. G. P. Grey. Some rights reserved.

Southwest Farm Press reports that the Plaintiffs and Defendants in Center for Biological Diversity et al v. Environmental Protection Agency et al have filed a joint status report requesting a 30-day continuation of the stay of the litigation and the postponement of the October 14 status conference until November 18.

The lawsuit kicked off in January of this year, when the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) filed a complaint against the EPA for “its failure to consult with federal wildlife agencies regarding the impacts of hundreds of pesticides known to be harmful to more than 200 endangered and threatened species,” according to a CBD press release. The press release calls the lawsuit “the most comprehensive legal action ever brought under the Endangered Species Act to protect imperiled species from pesticides.”

The specific relief requested by the plaintiffs is as follows:

1. Declare that EPA is violating Section 7(a)(2) of the ESA by failing to consult with the Service [United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) and National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) (collectively “Service”)] concerning effects of pesticides on the endangered and threatened species and critical habitat identified herein;

2. Order EPA to begin or reinitiate consultation pursuant to Section 7(a)(2) of the ESA on the effects of pesticides identified herein on the endangered and threatened species and critical habitats identified herein in an expeditious fashion;

3. Order appropriate restrictions on the use of the identified pesticides where they may affect endangered and threatened species and critical habitats until the consultation process has been completed and EPA has brought its pesticide registrations into compliance with Section 7(a)(2) of the ESA;

4. Award Plaintiffs’ costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees and expert witness fees; and

5. Grant Plaintiffs such additional and further relief as the Court may deem just and appropriate.

In June more than 130 organizations and business banded together with CBD and PANNA and sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson echoing the demands of the lawsuit:

“Specifically, we ask the EPA to immediately initiate formal consultations under the Endangered Species Act with federal wildlife agencies regarding the impacts of pesticides known to be harmful to hundreds of federally threatened and endangered species.”

Yet the letter also implores the EPA to take action without being compelled: “Rather than waiting for a court order, the EPA should comply with its statutory responsibility and revise its pesticide review program to incorporate input from federal wildlife agencies.”

The parties in the lawsuit have been exploring the possibility of settlement since May, but as of now, no substantive agreements have been reached.

The Alligator’s Role in ‘Winning the Future’

Photo by The Wandering Herpetologist. Some rights reserved.

Did you know:

–          The average lifespan of the American alligator is approximately 50 years long

–          Alligators have five toes on their front legs but only four on their hind legs

–          The average weight of an alligator is between 400 and 500 pounds!

Fans of alligator facts are advised to read on, as the New York Times reports today on a new study led by Rakesh Bajpai, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Louisiana, which shows that the American alligator, and alligator fat in particular, could provide a practical solution to a growing problem facing biodiesels.

As soybeans are used regularly in food production as well as biodiesel production, researchers have pointed out that, as biodiesel users grow, the amount of soybeans needed to produce even a fraction of the amount of oil that could soon be necessary would surpass the current ratio of American soy farms. Alligator fat, on the other hand, is not currently used for anything, and is discarded into landfills when alligators are harvested for meat and skin.

Bajpai and his researchers converted roughly 15 million pounds of discarded alligator fat into 1.25 million gallons of usable biodiesel fuel. Bajpai estimates that a large plan could feasibly produce such fuel at $2.40 a gallon, a very reasonable figure indeed, and a morally sound way to put to use a part of the animal that has up until now been needlessly thrown away.

The American alligator was added to the endangered species list in 1967 and later removed, thanks to widespread efforts by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service along with state wildlife agencies in the South, in 1987, having fully recovered their original populations. In similar news, the Lake Erie watersnake was removed from the federal list of endangered species this week, after property development in the area threatened to wipe out their natural habitat. Their population has rebounded to over 10,000 in the last two years, and their recovery stands as testament to the lasting impact of the Endangered Species Act. Reptilophiles rejoice!

Judge Dismisses Obama Hydroelectric Plan as Too Vague

Photo by Slideshow Bruce. Some rights reserved.

Judge James Redden of the Federal District Court in Portland issued a final ruling on an Obama Administration plan to make hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest safer for spawning salmon. Redden’s decision came on the basis that the plan, known as the biological option, was too vague in its various proposals to make the salmon’s natural habitat “safer,” and that it violated certain portions of the Endangered Species Act.

Redden chided the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Obama administration for not extending their promises of safer dams beyond 2013, or even that “the expected habitat improvements – let alone the expected survival increases – are likely to materialize,” and recommended that they voluntarily remove and rework their supposed improvements on a Bush-backed plan from 2005 that salmon-supporters and Redden alike believe too closely mirrors Obama’s current plan. In fact, salmon advocates have been outspoken on the issue since the plan’s genesis in 2009 – you can read through archived pleas from the Save Our Wild Salmon organization here.

The Obama administration and the NOAA will now take three months to try and improve and specify certain aspects of the plan. Redden has made two similar rulings in the last 15 years, finding ways to balance the interests of the hydroelectric industry and the environmental costs in federal rules. You can read through a handy conversation between Beth Hyams and Rob Manning from OPB News on what comes next for the plan here.

Trip Van Noppen, President of Earthjustice, the public interest law firm representing fishing and conservation groups in the case, offered this simple solution after the ruling yesterday as one concrete change that would benefit salmon:

“Taking out the four dams that strangle the lower Snake River would bring millions of dollars from restored salmon runs to communities from coastal California to Alaska and inland to Idaho. Let’s reject the path that continues wasting money on failed salmon technical fixes and embrace a solution that could set an example for the rest of the nation.”

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