Colorado voters order wolf reintroduction

Canis lupus – image courtesy Wikimedia

Voters in Colorado have enacted by initiative a statute that requires gray wolves to be re-introduced to the state by 2023. According to results available at the website of secretary of state Jena Griswold, Proposition 114 passed with 50.64% of the vote.

Wolves will be reintroduced only to the Western Slope. The initiative includes a mandate to compensate ranchers who lose livestock to Canis lupus predation. In addition, the voter-enacted law requires the state parks and wildlife commission to use “the best scientific data available” to develop the reintroduction plan, hold hearings around the state to gather information to be considered in making the plan, and help ranchers to prevent wolf-livestock interactions.

The particular areas on the Western Slope that will again be populated by Canis lupus is left to the commission to determine. Prior to 1940 the animal ranged not only west of the Rockies, but across the state. In more recent years there have been wolf sightings in western Colorado, including a wolf pack.

Despite being added to the U.S. list of endangered and threatened species in 1974, and although gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in January 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service never moved to return the species to Colorado.

The Trump regime eliminated Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf on Oct. 29, 2020.

The state parks and wildlife commission rejected a 2016 proposal to reintroduce wolves. Colorado has, however, re-introduced several other species: turkeys during the 1980s, lynx in 1999, and bison in 2015, for example.

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.

 

 

Colorado predator control decision sparks controversy

Cabinet
This undated photo shows a mountain lion resting in a tree somewhere in Colorado. Image courtesy Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

The  Colorado commission responsible for management of wildlife decided Dec. 14 to approve a program demanding that up to 15 more mountain lions and 25 more black bears be killed every year.

Individual animals will first be captured by U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services employees with cage traps, culvert traps, foot snares, and hunting dogs. They will then be shot.

Killings will largely occur in the Arkansas River and Piceance basins.

The predator control plan is intended to prop up the number of mule deer available for hunters to target. At present the population of mule deer is at about 80 percent of that considered desirable by Colorado wildlife officials.

Mule deer have been declining throughout the west since the 1980s.

Loss of habitat to livestock grazing, expansion of human development in rural areas, and the impacts of oil and gas exploration are considered to have a greater impact on the number of mule deer in the state than does the population of mountain lions and black bears.

CPW has not denied that these factors may have far more to do with mule deer declines than predator populations.

“We acknowledge that any and all those things can have an effect on mule deer,” Jeff Ver Steeg, the agency’s assistant director for research, policy, and planning, told commissioners at the Dec. 14 meeting.

Conservationists and scientists have sharply criticized the decision by the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Commission.

Aubyn Royball, Colorado state director for the Humane Society of the United States, told commissioners that their decision would cause the inevitable death of numerous cubs and kittens.

In a letter dated Nov. 30, 21 biologists accused the commission of considering a program that lacks validity as an effort to understand the relationship between predators and prey species and that violates the state’s legal requirement to manage wildlife as a public trust.

Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the agency under the commission’s oversight, relies heavily on the sale of hunting and fishing licenses for revenue. The agency relies on that source of funds for about 90 percent of its revenue.

CPW’s total budget in fiscal year 2015 was about $213 million. The agency has experienced a cut of about $50 million since 2009.

The experimental predator control program approved Dec. 14 would cost taxpayers about $4.5 million over nine years.

CPW said in October that it expects a budget shortfall of between $15-23 million by 2023. It has proposed increasing hunting license fees.

Hunters kill more than 450 mountain lions and more than 1,350 black bears every year in Colorado.

CPW estimates that there are about 17,000 black bears and about 4,500 mountain lions in the state.

Environmental group tells Obama administration it will sue over failure to give elephants ESA protection

african-elephant-courtesy-wwf
The number of African elephants has declined from about 3-5 million in 1900 to a few hundred thousand.
Photo courtesy World Wildlife Fund.

An environmental organization has notified the U.S. Department of Interior that it is prepared to sue in 60 days if the Obama administration does not classify two African elephant species as endangered.

The announcement by the Center for Biological Diversity comes about five months after expiration of a deadline set by the Endangered Species Act for a decision on a petition that sought the listing.

“If the current rate of poaching persists, savanna elephants could be extinct in roughly two decades and forest elephants long before that,” Tanya Sanerib, an attorney for the organization, said. “Only by recognizing the true, endangered status of the two species of African elephants can we highlight and address elephants’ plight and threats.”

The June 2015 petition also asked the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to formally classify elephants native to Africa into two species: those that are native to equatorial forests (Loxodonta cyclotis) and those that are indigenous to the continent’s vast grasslands (L. africana).

All African elephants are at risk of extinction. According to the Great Elephant Census, a recent effort to estimate the number of the giant mammals now living in the wild on the bulk of the continent, there are less than 400,000 individuals left.

Savannah elephants are being killed so fast by poachers seeking the ivory of their tusks that they could disappear in 15 years. A recent scientific paper that examined the reproductive rate of forest elephants concluded that they, too, face a precarious future:

“The forest elephants Loxodonta cyclotis of Central Africa face the threat of extinction, with recent analysis of census data across their range showing a 62% decrease in their numbers for the period of 2002–2011 coupled with a loss of 30% of their geographical range (Maisels et al. 2013). Modelling of Monitoring of the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) data corroborates this, indicating that forest elephants are experiencing the greatest levels of poaching in Africa with potentially as much as 10–18% of the population killed per year (Wittemyer et al. 2014).

Section 4(b)(3) of the ESA forces FWS (or, in the case of marine organisms, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) to decide, within 90 days, whether a petition for listing is supported by “substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted.”

The agency then has 12 months to decide whether to add the species to the list of threatened and endangered species.

FWS decided in Feb. 2016 that the CBD petition did meet the scientific prerequisite of ESA section 3. However, the administration has not yet acted on the merits of the petition. One explanation for FWS’s handling of it may be that a decision whether to “uplist” African elephants from threatened to endangered status is not included in the current agency workplan.

Sanerib expressed a belief that the Obama administration has mostly been focused on establishing regulations, called 4d rules after the section of the ESA that authorizes them, to govern trade in elephant ivory and so has not yet prioritized the listing petition.

“I’m not sure that it was necessarily an intentional step by the administration,” she said.

The 4d rule for African elephants, which was finalized on June 6, does largely prohibit the import of ivory into the United States. However, the regulation is not airtight. So-called “de minimis” quantities of ivory are not covered; neither are quantities of ivory that are more than 100 years old, ivory used in certain musical instruments or that is part of some “traveling exhibitions,” law enforcement, or scientific research.

“The U.S. and China have committed to these near-bans on ivory in our domestic markets,” Sanerib explained.

If the African elephant species are listed as endangered, those bans would become far more rigid. Under section 9 of the ESA, essentially all import, export, sale, or transportation of an African elephant, or of its body parts, would be illegal in the United States.

About 100,000 African elephants were killed between 2010-2012. The number of elephants in Africa has declined from an estimated three to five million at the end of the nineteenth century.

Sanerib said that she is not sure whether any litigation that aims to force FWS to make a decision about whether to recognize two species of African elephant and grant both endangered status will be filed before the end of the Obama administration.

“Given the need to send notice letters by certified mail, I think it’s incredibly likely that we will be dealing with the Trump administration on this,” she said.

UPDATE, Nov. 18, 2016, 10:48 pm MST: The discussion of the section of the Endangered Species Act provision relating to FWS’ obligations when presented with a petition to list a species was corrected. The author had inaccurately cited the section number of the statute and erred in stating that FWS has 30 days to evaluate a petition.

 

 

Forest Service slaps Idaho wildlife agency for collaring wolves in wilderness area

The supervisor of an Idaho national forest has declared that the Gem State’s fish and wildlife agency violated a permit allowing use of a helicopter in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness area by collaring wolves.

Salmon-Challis National Forest supervisor Chuck Mark entered an order of noncompliance on Wednesday.

“Helicopter landings in the Frank to collar wolves were not authorized, and constitute noncompliance with the terms and conditions of the permit,” Mark said.

Idaho’s Department of Fish & Game had been granted the permit on Jan. 6 so that the agency could collar elk in the Middle Fork section of the wilderness area. That operation was started on Jan. 7 and finished Jan. 9.

Environmental advocacy organizations have filed a lawsuit challenging the permit as a violation of the Wilderness Act. They also sought an injunction that would prevent the helicopter flights. No hearing on that request has occurred.

Four wolves were collared in violation of the permit granted to IDFG. Mark’s order of noncompliance does not require those collars to be removed. Instead, IDFG must “provide information as to how and why the decision to collar the wolves was made,” “participate in an after-action review with the Forest Service” during which the two agencies will examine why the helicopter landings to collar wolves in the wilderness area occurred, and “develop a plan to assure that IDFG will not utilize helicopter landings in the wilderness for any purposes other than those for which the Forest Service specifically approves landings in any future permits that may be issued.”

IDFG notified the Forest Service of the violation. The state agency called the wolf collaring incident a “mistake.”

The environmental group plaintiffs in the litigation pending before U.S. district judge B. Lynn Winmill have amended their complaint to ask that the court bar IDFG from using collar data to track wolves.

“There is every reason to believe that these new wolf collars will be used by a state trapper to locate wolves for the purpose of killing them in pursuit of a program to manipulate wildlife populations that is fundamentally at odds with the concept of wilderness,” Tim Preso, an attorney at Earthjustice who represents the environmental advocacy organizations, said in a statement.

California legislature sends ivory ban bill to Gov. Jerry Brown

Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, photo by Andrea Turkelo
Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, photo by Andrea Turkelo

The nation’s most populous state may soon ban the import, purchase, sale, and possession of all products made from ivory and rhinoceros horn.

By a 47-21 vote, the state assembly sent the ban bill, AB 96, to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

The far-reaching measure would close a loophole in California law that exempted ivory products obtained before June 1, 1977.

The United States is thought to be the world’s second-largest importer of ivory products and two large California cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, are locations that experience a high volume of trade in them.

A federal law called the African Elephant Conservation Act bans the import of almost all ivory, but that statute exempts ivory obtained before 1989.

There is no effective way for customs officials or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to determine the age of imported ivory.

That is the same problem that has impaired the effectiveness of California’s existing law. Because it is easy to declare that ivory in one’s possession was obtained prior to June 1, 1977, and it is difficult to prove otherwise, trafficking in ivory has continued.

About 100 African elephants are poached for their tusks each day and, between 2010-2012, about 100,000 of the animals were illegally killed in their native habitat.

The total number of African elephants has declined from at least several million individuals, and possibly tens of millions, at the beginning of the twentieth century to somewhere between 400,000-700,000 individuals.

The various species of rhinoceros are in deep trouble. Killing of individuals for their horn, which is valued in Asian cultures for medicine but which provides no medical benefit, has caused the reduction of the northern white rhinoceros to four individuals. The population of southern white rhinoceros, also native to Africa, is estimated at about 20,000 individuals, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, while all species of black rhinoceros number about 5,000. Two of the three Asian rhinoceros species – the Sumatran and Javan rhinoceroses – are critically endangered, with total populations under 100 individuals.

Brown has not publicly said whether he will sign AB 96 into law.

Congressmen urge Obama administration to finalize ESA listing of African lion

The leading Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives committee that oversees wildlife matters has urged the Obama administration to finalize the listing of the African lion under the Endangered Species Act.

The request, which was joined by 49 other House Democrats, came in the aftermath of a highly publicized killing of a famous individual of the species in Zimbabwe by an American trophy hunter.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) wrote in a July 30 letter to Interior secretary Sally Jewell and Fish and Wildlife Service director Daniel M. Ashe that “the actions of Walter James Palmer are a good reminder of the peril the African lion faces.”

Palmer, a Minnesota dentist, is alleged by the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force to have shot and killed a lion named Cecil, famous for his black mane and a well-known tourist attraction at Hwange National Park, on July 1 after first impaling the big cat with an arrow shot from his bow.

The African lion is estimated to occupy less than 20 percent of its historic range, according to a 2012 paper in PLOS One. Image of lioness and lion in Etosha National Park, Namibia courtesy Wikimedia.
The African lion is estimated to occupy less than 20 percent of its historic range, according to a 2012 paper in PLOS One. Image of lioness and lion in Etosha National Park, Namibia courtesy Wikimedia.

Palmer’s guides lured Cecil outside the boundaries of the national park, according to a USA Today report that cites a statement from the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force and a statement by the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority.

Trophy hunters account for at least 600 African lion deaths each year, according to a 2009 report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

There may be as few as about 32,000 individuals of the species remaining in their habitat in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Lion numbers have declined precipitously in the last century,” concluded one 2013 paper that examined the species population and range. “Given that many now live in small, isolated populations, this trend will continue.”

Grijalva, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, suggested in his letter to Jewell and Ashe that an ESA listing would be likely to pressure countries that permit trophy hunting to prepare effective conservation plans for the African lion.

“As a conservation leader, the United States must send a clear message that we will not tolerate hunts in countries without a sustainable, science-based lion management plan, or in circumstances that do not benefit the conservation of the species,” the Arizona congressman wrote.

The Fish and Wildlife Service proposed in Oct. 2014 to list Panthera leo leo as a threatened species. Section 5 of the ESA requires the agency to finalize a listing within 12 months.

BLM pulls back from Idaho hunting contest

The Bureau of Land Management reversed course Tuesday on its previous authorization of a contest to kill gray wolves, coyotes, and other wildlife on Idaho public lands.

Gray wolves were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act until a bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in April 2011 compelled an end to their protection.

The agency revoked a five-year permit that had been granted on Nov. 13 to organizers of a “predator derby” to be held on BLM and Forest Service lands near Salmon.

Idaho Falls district manager Joe Kraayenbrink explained that elimination of entry fees for killing contest participants and confusion as to the nature or extent of prizes to be awarded were “factual uncertainties” that prevented BLM from deciding appropriate conditions for the permit.

“As IFW plans have more fully developed over time, our analyses did not fully appreciate and capture important aspects of how IFW envisions or ultimately intends the Derby to actually take place,” Kraayenbrink wrote in an announcement of the permit rescission.

Kraayenbrink referred to Idaho for Wildlife, the organizer of the predator hunt.

Environmental advocacy organizations had challenged the issuance of the permit in federal court. A lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Boise on the same day BLM had issued the permit authorizing mass killing of wildlife alleged that BLM and its sister agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to prepare a study of environmental impacts resulting from the participation in the planned massacre of up to 500 hunters.

The extent of BLM’s NEPA compliance with regard to the hunt had been a Finding of No Significant Impact, which is a conclusion that an activity planned for the public lands will have no significant environmental consequence.

During last year’s version of the event, which was apparently the first wolf-killing contest in the United States in 40 years, participants killed 21 coyotes and no gray wolves.

Organizers had made available prizes to the hunters who killed the largest gray wolf and the most coyotes.

They also explicitly encouraged the participation of children and gave unique awards to hunters who were not adults.

The plaintiffs in the Nov. 13 lawsuit also suggested that both agencies violated their own regulations by allowing the event to proceed.

The killing contest, which is set for Jan. 2-4, 2015, is still authorized on the Salmon-Challis National Forest. USDA Forest Service did not require hunt organizers to obtain any permit at all.

California bill banning bobcat trapping signed into law

Trapping of bobcats will soon be illegal in areas of California near federal and state preserves, including Joshua Tree National Park.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1213 on Friday. The measure also takes away state subsidies for bobcat trapping and forbids the practice on private land without the owner’s permission.

The legislation was a response to a significant increase in bobcat kills throughout the state, but especially in the area near Joshua Tree National Park. Trappers have gone so far as to place the devices around the boundaries of that preserve, catching and killing the animals if they wander beyond the imaginary lines that set it off on maps from other properties.

A 2012 report from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife documented a 51 percent increase between 2010-2011, while the previous year’s report showed a 57 percent increase from 2009-2010.

The increase has been driven by demand for pelts from foreign nations, especially China and Russia.

California last updated its count of the number of bobcats within its borders in the early 1980s. AT that time it was estimated that 70,000 of the animals roamed the state.

Brown wrote a signing statement in connection with AB 1213 that asked the legislature to fund a census.

California’s bobcat subspecies (Lynx rufus californicus and Lynx rufus mohavensis) are not included on the state’s list of threatened and endangered species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature considers bobcats to be a species of least concern.

Photo by Annica Kreuter, courtesy Center for Biological Diversity

San Diego Zoo, manager of Desert Tortoise Conservation Center, and U.S. wildlife agency dispute report that threatened desert tortoises will die because of lowered federal funding

Both the private agency that manages a Nevada facility dedicated to conservation of the threatened desert tortoise and the federal agency responsible for assuring the recovery of the species have denied an Associated Press report that hundreds of the animals that are housed there may be euthanized in coming months as a result of reduced financial support from the federal government.

According to the AP report, which was published Sunday, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center will be closed and the individual desert tortoises in its care will be killed.

The San Diego Zoo, which is the principal manager of the DTCC, denies that either of those outcomes is in the cards.

“Although we understand that, at any point, it’s possible to lose federal funds, we manage the center and we don’t have plans to do those things,” Christine Simmons, a zoo spokesperson, said. “We remain committed to working with the desert tortoise.”

Simmons explained that some tortoises – for example, those who are suffering from such severe medical  problems that they cannot be rehabilitated or released back into the wild – may need to be euthanized.

“That’s a small percentage of the overall population” served by DTCC, she said. 

A Monday press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Southwest Region also denied that any healthy tortoise now at the DTCC would be euthanized.

“Sometimes euthanasia of unhealthy pet tortoises is necessary, but only as last resort, and only after we evaluate other options,” the statement said. “All healthy tortoises at the DTCC will be relocated to sites that will support the recovery of the species.”

The italics are in the original text of FWS’ press release.

Gopherus agassizii are native to the deserts of western Arizona, eastern California, southern Nevada, and southwestern Utah. The reptile, which can grow to more than a foot in length, was added to the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 1990.

The desert tortoise is a member of a family of animals that has survived since the time of the dinosaurs. However, its desert habitat has been increasingly lost to development, especially in the Las Vegas valley. According to a website maintained by Conservation Centers for Species Survival, 90 percent of individuals in the species have been lost in the last three decades.

Only about 150,000 individuals of the species remain in the wild, according to the San Diego Zoo.

The DTCC is partially financed by funds provided by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which manages a large proportion of the public land within the desert tortoise’s range. 

BLM is allocating less money to the DTCC because it is receiving fewer dollars from habitat mitigation fees paid by developers under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.

The funds go up and down, depending on what’s happening with the economy,” agency spokesperson Erica Haspiel-Szlosek said. She explained that housing development in the Las Vegas valley, a principal source of the money that flows into the habitat mitigation fund, has taken a hit during the recent recession.

BLM ordinarily spends about one million dollars per year to operate the DTCC, Haspiel-Szlosek said.

“It will be about 1.5 million this year because we are preparing to trans-locate all the tortoises that are healthy from the center,” she said.

Tortoises are currently being relocated from the DTCC to an undisclosed location near Trout Canyon, Nev. and others will be moved in the future to a site near Coyote Springs, Nev., according to the FWS statement released Monday.

Haspiel-Szlosek explained that BLM wants to stop caring for “former pet tortoises” and would cease support for the DTCC when the available section 7 funds run out sometime in 2014.

“Although we’ve been in that position for awhile, we don’t feel that’s part of what we do,” she said.

About one thousand individuals are brought to the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center each year, according to the CCSS website. About 98 percent of those had been kept as pets.

A Washington Post article based on Sunday’s AP report is here.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia.

NOTE: This story also appears at Examiner.com. 

NOTE: This story was edited on Monday, Aug. 26 to reflect additional information obtained during an interview with a BLM spokesperson and a San Diego Zoo spokesperson and from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press statement. 

CORRECTION: This post originally stated that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Region office issued a press release about the controversy over the DTCC on Monday. It was FWS’ Pacific Southwest regional office that did so.