Outdoor gear maker Patagonia says it will sue Trump regime over ESA regulatory changes


Changes to regulations that implement the Endangered Species Act of 1973 will be challenged in court by one of the world’s most well-known outdoor equipment companies.

Patagonia Works announced on Oct. 31 that it would sue the Trump regime in sixty days on grounds that the new rules contravene the ESA itself.

“Rather than heed the alarm sounded by scientists around the world . . . the Trump Administration has promulgated amendments to regulations implementing the ESA that not only violate the plain language of the statute, but will make it more difficult to protect plant and animal species and their habitats,” the letter – called a Notice of Intent to Sue – declared.

The regulations at issue were finalized on Aug. 12, 2019.

According to Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental advocacy organization that focuses on biodiversity conservation policy, the new regulations will:

  • allow economic impacts of listing decisions to be considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration;
  • allow the killing of threatened species; encourage agencies to ignore long-term threats to the survival of species (including climate change),
  • create an obstacle to the designation of critical habitat for listed species; and
  • reduce the number of federal actions that require consultation with USFWS or NOAA.

Defenders of Wildlife, along with the environmental advocacy organizations Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians, and the animal welfare organization Humane Society of the United States, filed suit to challenge the new ESA regulations on Aug. 21 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

In addition, 17 states, the District of Columbia, and the city of New York challenged the new regulations in the same court on Sept. 25, 2019.

A July 2018 poll conducted by Ohio State University showed that about 80 percent of Americans support the goals of the ESA.



New study casts doubt on effectiveness of nature preserves in Latin America

A new study indicates that protection of nature preserves may not be enough to conserve ecosystems.

Researchers studied all preserves that are larger than 500 hectares and that were designated or known before 2004. They concluded that more than 1 million hectares of reserves in 19 nations of Central and South America were degraded during a five-year period:  

In Latin America, the rate of land and forest degradation inside protected areas more than doubled from 2004 to 2009, increasing from 0.04% to 0.10% per year. This is a small fraction but of a large number. Thus, in 2004 there were 81,975 hectares of land and forest degradation inside protected areas in Latin America, while in 2009, there were 247,056 hectares—an increase of approximately 165,000 hectares. Assuming each land and forest degradation event was unique (i.e., no change, regrowth and change again during the six years) and considering only the negative changes in land cover, the 2004–2009 land and forest degradation in our protected area data set was 1,097,618 hectares—an area the size of Jamaica.

French Guiana and Guatemala experienced the most loss of natural characteristics in the studied preserves. Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina, and Nicaragua suffered the least damage.

The researchers also examined potential causes for degradation of the region’s preserves and found that only the degree of funding provided to operate them has a statistically significant relationship with the amount of damaged land. However, they also decided that the relationship is “tenuous.”

Growth of a nation’s gross domestic product did not have a statistically significant relationship with degradation within the preserves. That was also the case with per capita GDP and rural population growth. 

Instead, the authors posited that a variety of human economic activities accounts for the failure of the reserves to protect the  natural systems within them. “Moving away from the data and results, we hypothesize that agricultural expansion, grazing expansion, intentional burning, infrastructure development, and increased accessibility could all be causal factors driving protected area land and forest degradation in Latin America and are potential future areas of research,” they wrote.

Terra-i, a remote-sensing system that monitors changes in land use, was used by the researchers to complete the study.

The paper appears in the journal Diversity.

The above graphic shows the percentage of protected land in each of the Latin American region’s countries that was affected by degradation of ecosystems during the study period, 2004-2009.

First environmental bill of new Congress would re-authorize elephant, tiger conservation laws

The first environmental law-related bill of the 113th Congress would re-authorize three laws that aim to conserve iconic wildlife native to other continents.

H.R. 39, which was introduced Thursday by veteran U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, would renew the African Elephant Conservation Act of 1989, the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act of 1994, and the Asian Elephant Conservation Act of 1997.

Young said that he is asking for re-authorization of the three laws because they provide benefits beyond conservation of the iconic species that are their subjects.

“In addition to preserving the local species, by working with local communities, the conservation programs improve people’s livelihoods, contribute to local and regional stability, and support U.S. security interests in impoverished regions,” Young explained in a statement provided by Michael Anderson, his press secretary.

The African Elephant Conservation Act aims to shut down international trade in ivory. To that end, AfECA gave the President authority to block imports of ivory from nations that do not establish and maintain a program to preserve African elephants (Loxodonta africana). President George H.W. Bush, by executive order, blocked imports of ivory from African elephants in June 1989.

AfECA also permits Washington to help finance elephant conservation programs in Africa. In 2011, Congress appropriated $1,774,465 for this purpose. That money was matched by more than $3.6 million in additional contributions from other donors and was put to work in 14 countries.

AfECA is aimed at maintaining a slow but steady rate of growth in African elephant populations that seems to have occurred between the 1930s and about 2006. 
The law must, however, contend with varying rates of elephant losses throughout its range. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the animal’s numbers are on the decline in central and west Africa.
One recent scientific paper estimated that the number of African elephants in that region of the continent has declined by 50 percent during the last four decades. 
A leading cause of that trend is the drive to exploit elephant tusks to finance military operations in some African nations. The money comes mostly from China, which maintains a persistent demand for ivory.
The situation in Asia is the result of much different factors. Asian elephants compete with humans for space and must contend, in many areas of their range, with deforestation. 
Asian elephants are also killed with some frequency by humans with whom they come in contact. The killings are related to the frequently unfortunate consequences to humans of being proximate to Asian elephants.
One recent report calculated that more than 400 people are killed by elephants each year, while another estimated that the animals cause economic losses, mostly due to crop destruction, on the order of $2 to 3 million per year.
The Asian Elephant Conservation Act established a fund through which nations that have ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species cooperatively finance habitat protection efforts for Elephas maximus.

Congress appropriated more than $1.5 million to the Asian Elephant Conservation Fund in 2011, which was matched by about $2.4 million from other sources.

The Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act works in essentially the same manner. The law aims to shut down commerce in rhinoceros horns and tiger body parts. A 1998 amendment to RTCA forbids any sale, import, or export of any product that contains any part of a rhinoceros or tiger, or which is labeled or advertised as including such body parts, if the product is intended for any type of human consumption.
RTCA applies to all five rhinoceros species and all five remaining tiger subspecies.

Both animals are in rapid decline.
According to a website maintained by the Wildlife Conservation Society, tigers occupy only about six percent of the available habitat on their native continent of Asia.
Meanwhile, the world’s population of rhinos has dropped by 90 percent since 1970.

As with AfECA and AECA, RTCA established a fund through which Washington has supported international efforts to preserve increasingly scarce rhinoceroses and tigers. In 2011 Congress appropriated more than $2.6 million to the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund, an amount matched by more than $4 million in other contributions.

“All together, these three funds have financed 1,202 conservation projects to assist two species of elephants, five species of rhinoceros and six species of tigers over the past twenty-three years,” Young said. “These funds have been the only continuous source of money for international conservation efforts, and conservationists across the globe believe that without these projects the African elephant, rhinoceros, tigers and the Asian elephant would disappear forever.”

The bill must first be considered by the House Natural Resources Committee before any floor debate on it is possible.

Congress previously enacted, and President George W. Bush signed, legislation re-authorizing AfECA and RTCA in 2007. That re-authorization expired at the end of September.

AECA was last re-authorized in 2002. The period of that re-authorization expired in 2007.

Young’s bill to secure re-authorization of all three laws during the 112th Congress did not get out of committee.

“I am committed to working with my colleagues on the House Natural Resources Committee to ensure that these bills are reauthorized,” Young said.

Photo of African elephants courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, photo by Andrea Turkalo.

Photo of Asian elephants courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, photo by Jennifer Pastorini.

Photo of rhinoceros courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, photo by Karl Stromayer.

Photo of Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni) courtesy Wikimedia.

Costa Rica bans sport-hunting

The Republic of Costa Rica, long known as a haven for biodiversity, has banned the hunting of animals for sport.

Reuters has the story.