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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.