Thursday, May 29, 2008

What Would Aldo Leopold Do (WWALD)

by Derek

May 28, 2008

It has now been exactly 60 days since wolves in the Northern Rockies were removed from the protection of the Endangered Species Act. To date, 16 wolves have been legally killed in Wyoming, where wolves may be shot on sight. That’s an average of one wolf killed every four days. Four of these wolves were shot in Wyoming during the first weekend after delisting, with local bloggers bragging about their success on the Internet. One “hunter” went so far as to chase a wolf to exhaustion astride a snowmobile before shooting it.

To be clear, these are not wolves that have been killed by wildlife managers for eating cows or sheep. These wolves were shot by people just for sport; their only “crime” was that of, well, being a wolf.

Although gray wolves have been delisted throughout the Northern Rockies, most of the killing of wolves continues to occur in Wyoming. That’s because, of all three states in the region, Wyoming has the most egregious plan for wolf management. Whereas Montana and Idaho intend to manage wolves as a game animal, which will eventually include regulated public hunting, Wyoming has classified wolves as a “predatory animal” in 85 percent of the state. What that means is that, with the exception of Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone and a small buffer area surrounding them, wolves may be shot on sight in Wyoming – anytime, by anyone, without even a hunting license.

Now, it seems to me that the term hunting implies a number of principles, among them, the doctrines of
Fair Chase and conservation. When you buy a hunting license, your license fees go to the state fish and game agency to support wildlife conservation. Indeed, the North American Wildlife Conservation Model, extensively celebrated among sportsmen, is implemented via the collection of these license fees. The Wyoming wolf shooters, however, do not buy a license for the privilege of shooting a wolf, and thus their actions contribute neither to wildlife conservation per se, nor to the long-term sustenance of the species. Moreover, the shoot-on-sight policy fails to uphold another principle of the Model – scientific management – since unlicensed hunting, by definition, does not even provide wildlife managers with accurate data on the number of hunters killing wolves.

Aldo Leopold is widely considered to be the father of modern wildlife ecology. After shooting a wolf while working for the U.S. Forest Service in Arizona, Leopold wrote of seeing a “fierce, green fire” extinguish in the dying wolf’s eyes. In that moment, he realized that all species were important, and later concluded that conservation requires us to live in accordance with the natural world around us, including all species that live upon it. Wrote Leopold: “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators.”

I don’t know what Leopold would think about the regulated wolf-hunting, so soon after the return of the species from the brink of extinction, but I have no doubt he’d frown upon Wyoming’s 19th Century wolf management policy that treats wolves as pests to be exterminated rather than an integral part of the web of life.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fishing for Excuses

The Bush Administration is fishing for excuses for how they have allowed the entire West Coast fishery to collapse at the expense of family fishermen and local businesses up and down the Pacific Coast.

I was so disappointed in the administration’s response to Congress’s investigation into the fisheries collapse. The Fisheries sub-committee of the House Natural Resources Committee held Oversight Hearing On The Management Of West Coast Salmon Fisheries' on Thursday, May 15.

There were two panels, the first of which was made up of a member of the National Marine Fisheries Service, a Representative of the California Dept. of Fish and Game, Jack Williams, Senior Scientist for Trout Unlimited, and an outside consultant to Bonneville Power Administration. The second panel was made up of several commercial and recreational fishing people, and Jason Peltier, a former Administration appointee, and California water users association executive director.

Testimony was interesting, with the NMFS representative avoiding the tough discussion of how the 2004 Biological Opinion on salmon got changed. In fact, to my knowledge, there were no questions about this at all, and most of the answers were related to the new Biological Opinion coming out early next year. Fact is, had the 2004 opinion been release as the scientists wanted - jeopardy (trouble for fish) - it would have blocked increased water diversions from the California Bay-Delta. NMFS instead, had the opinion held up from release and sent to the SW Regional office where it was changed to no-jeopardy (no problem for fish). This allowed large increases in water diversions from the Delta, sucking up out-migrant salmon along with the water. Now, 4 years later, we are facing the first ever closure of the California and Oregon salmon fishing season.

Had it not been for Representative George Miller and other Members of Congress, the Bush Administration would not have to answer for their role in the collapse of the fishery. I would hope that Bush Administration wakes up before it is too late. People have been financially injured, tax money has been wasted ($170 million in relief going to commercial businesses, an expense that could have been avoided), people and families have been hurt (as testimony showed), and endangered species have been further pushed to the edge of extinction.

Mark Rockwell, California Field Representative

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Best Available Excuses

Representative Jay Inslee’s (1st-WA) statement, “Instead of best available science, we have best available excuses,” at the House Natural Resources Committee hearing last week simultaneously sums up the state of affairs at the Department of Interior and the Bush administration’s response.

The House Natural Resources Committee chaired by Senator Nick Rahall (3rd-WV) held a hearing on May 21st titled, “The Danger of Deception: Do Endangered Species Have a Chance?” Witnesses testified that officials in the upper reaches of the Department of Interior and even the office of Vice President Dick Cheney have potentially undermined the science used to protect our nation's endangered fish, plants and wildlife.

These and similar conclusions were delivered through the testimony of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Dr. Francesca Grifo with Union of Concerned Scientists and Scott Hoffman Black with Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation (an ESC member group, I might add), Dave Parsons (on the Mexican gray wolf) and Dr. Jerry Franklin (on Northern Spotted Owl).

The hearing and GAO’s investigation into this issue was a follow-up on previous uncovered evidence of political interference in endangered species decisions in connection with former Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald who resigned amidst the scandal.

Evidence of Broader Interference
While the Department of Interior has worked to spin the political interference as just one rogue employee, GAO’s investigation and this hearing caused the spin to come crashing down. Pressed by questions from Chairman Rahall, the GAO named three political appointees and one high-ranking Interior Department employee who may have tampered with decisions. Those four are Craig Manson, former Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Brian Waidmann, current Chief of Staff to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne; Todd Willens, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks; and Randal Bowman, current Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary Lyle Laverty. Their names came up in relation to at least 9 species decisions, but because it was outside of the scope of the GAO's charge, the full extent and consequences of their meddling are unknown.

Vice President Cheney's Office Takes on Right Whales
As Dr. Scott Kraus from the New England Aquarium said in his testimony, “fast ships kill whales.” Picture a squirrel getting run into by a semi and you'll understand why NOAA-Fisheries has proposed a seasonal speed limit on boats coming in and out of ports during the migration of north Atlantic right whales (there are only about 300 left in the world). This proposal has been held up by the office of the Vice President though, which has repeatedly questioned the scientific basis for the proposal. A different part of the executive branch, the Council of Economic Advisors, went further by “cherry picking” data on collisions between whales and ships and then attempting to create their own analysis to draw doubt on the NOAA proposal. Dr. Grifo has lots of details about this in her testimony if you'd like to know more details. And while I do not want to diminish the need to inform such decisions by scientific experts, let me ask you: would you rather be hit by a bus (or even a Yugo) moving at 30 miles per hour or 5 miles per hour?

Getting it Right (a.k.a No More Julie-Proofing)
The GAO testified that the Department of Interior responded to the political interference mess, not by trying to find all cases of political interference, but by limiting their review to decisions related to Julie MacDonald specifically. Had they not put on those blinders, the GAO states, they would have likely found additional instances of potential political interference.

Equally as troubling as the direct interference is what was referred to as “Julie-proofing” by agency staff and highlighted by Representative Paul Sarbanes (3rd-MD) in his questions. This is where agency staff would alter their own reports in anticipation of what would be accepted or rejected by Julie MacDonald (and presumably other like-minded administration officials). The GAO reported that some even prepared two decisions, in case their preferred one was rejected.

While it would have better done a year ago, the Department of Interior should immediately respond to the GAO's investigation by identifying and reviewing all species decisions where there is reason to believe politics has undermined the best available science. Furthermore, the long overdue seasonal speed limit that NOAA's scientists say will help reduce the number of deaths of right whale from ship collisions needs to be implemented.

As Representative Raúl Grijalva (7th-AZ) stated, there is much concern about this kind of corrupted culture becoming “institutionalized” within the agency. Increasing accountability and transparency – through whistle-blower protections for scientists, better ethics policies within the Department of Interior and other steps – are a good place to start. But it will also take a clear message from the Secretary of Interior that scientific interference is no longer acceptable and that the department will be making all needed efforts to correct every instance of inappropriate meddling.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Endangered Species Day 2008 rocked

Endangered Species Day was a great success this year, with over 100 events happening in 33 states, Washington DC and Puerto Rico. The photo to the right comes from the event at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, where folks spent some time finding the endangered tidewater goby. Thanks to everyone who helped make this year's Endangered Species Day such a great success.

And many thanks as well to these bloggers for highlighting the day:

Friday, May 16, 2008

Happy Endangered Species Day 2008

Today is Endangered Species Day! To celebrate, there are more than 90 events in 28 States plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico planned. (see full list of events). Perhaps you even saw Jack Hanna mention it on the Late Show with David Letterman on Wednesday.

Here is the national press release on today's celebration:

Association of Zoos and Aquariums - Endangered Species Coalition
Girl Scouts of the USA - National Association of Biology Teachers
National Wildlife Federation - Zoological Society of San Diego
Federation of Fly Fishers - Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism
National Audubon Society - Sierra Club - Defenders of Wildlife
Center for Biological Diversity - Center for Native Ecosystems
Earthjustice - Environmental Defense Fund

Contact: Leda Huta, Endangered Species Coalition: 202-320-6467
Steve Olson, Association of Zoos and Aquariums: 301-562-0777 x249
María Cabán, Girl Scouts of the USA: 212-852-5727
Christina Simmons, San Diego Zoo: 619-685-3291
Tony Iallonardo, National Audubon Society: 202-861-2242 x 3042
Cat Lazaroff, Defenders of Wildlife: 202-682-9400
Kristina Johnson, Sierra Club: 415-977-5619
Josh Pollock, Center for Native Ecosystems: 303-546-0214
Leah Elwell, Federation of Flyfishers: 406-222-9369
Susan Holmes, Earthjustice: 202-667-4500

America Celebrates Endangered Species Day
On May 16th, Americans Celebrate Commitment to Protecting
Our Nation’s Wildlife Heritage

Washington, DC -- On May 16, America celebrates Endangered Species Day and our nation’s commitment to protecting endangered species and their habitat with events across the country.

“Endangered Species Day is a celebration of our nation’s wildlife heritage such as the American bald eagle, gray wolf, gray whale, pacific salmon and many other wildlife, fish and plants,” said Leda Huta, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “We owe it to our children and grandchildren to leave behind a legacy of protecting endangered species and the special places they call home.”

On Endangered Species Day, parks, wildlife refuges, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, museums, libraries, schools, agencies, businesses, conservation organizations, religious organizations and community groups hold events to highlight the everyday actions that people can take to help protect our nation’s wildlife heritage.

“Endangered Species Day gives us a chance to celebrate America’s commitment to protecting our unique wildlife,” said Steve Olson, Vice President of Government Affairs at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. “Zoos and aquariums across the country will hold events to educate people about how they can help protect endangered species.”

“Endangered Species Day provides our members here and abroad another opportunity to take action to protect the wildlife that share the planet with them,” said María L. Cabán, Project Manager, Environmental & Outdoor Program, Girl Scouts of the USA. "It is essential for girls to learn the importance of, and work toward, conserving biodiversity so that they may become stewards of the Earth."

Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the San Diego Zoo, the Bronx Zoo, the Bar Harbor Whale Museum, the Port Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, WA, the International Wildlife Film Festival and over 90 venues in 28 states are organizing events to celebrate Endangered Species Day.

“Endangered Species Day asks everyone in the United States to take a day to contemplate the natural world and the wildlife that inhabit it." said Allison Alberts, Director of Conservation and Research at the San Diego Zoo. "At the San Diego Zoo we are using May 16, 2008 to highlight concerns about the effect of climate change on endangered species."

“Endangered Species Day provides biology teachers with an opportunity to engage their students in applying the concepts of ecology and the interconnectedness of life learned in the classroom,” said Pat Waller, President of the National Association of Biology Teachers.

“Our Jewish tradition recognizes that humanity is dependent on the rich diversity of life on earth. Endangered Species Day is an ideal time to recommit ourselves to the caretaking of all species not only for their survival, but for our own as well.” From Mark Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center.

One reason for the nation’s success in protecting wildlife is the passage of the federal Endangered Species Act 35 years ago. The Endangered Species Act has successfully prevented the extinction of hundreds of species.

“Across the country, America’s symbol, the Bald Eagle has made a remarkable recovery thanks to the Endangered Species Act,” said Betsy Loyless with the National Audubon Society. “The Bald Eagle is now both a symbol of America and a symbol of conservation and sound stewardship of our natural heritage. It is fitting that Americans take a patriotic moment on Endangered Species Day to appreciate the bald eagle and the natural heritage that is such an important part of what makes America great.”

"We should pause on this day to celebrate our nation’s commitment to conserve and recover endangered plants and animals. From the recovery of our national symbol, the bald eagle, to the return of the California condor, Americans have made great strides in the recovery of our nation’s treasured wildlife," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife.

Endangered Species Day will raise awareness about the ongoing threats to endangered species such as habitat loss and global warming.

“As people take time today to celebrate the success of the Endangered Species Act, we must also recognize the unprecedented threats facing wildlife brought by global warming," said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. "We need to take swift action to address global warming if we want to continue our legacy of protecting wildlife for future generations."

"As global warming poses new threats to our wildlife, the Endangered Species Act becomes more important than ever. Today is a good time to recognize the achievements of the keystone environmental law that is responsible for pulling the bald eagle back from the brink of extinction. Today is also a good time to commit to protecting the integrity of the law so we can continue to save threatened wildlife like polar bears," said Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director.

"As we celebrate the success of the Endangered Species Act, we also look toward the challenges brought by global warming and the opportunity to conserve the polar bear, walrus and many species of penguin for our children and grandchildren," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“We should all give thanks that America had the foresight to take the steps necessary to ensure that our children and grandchildren will continue to be thrilled by our nation’s unique wildlife,” said Michael Bean, Chair of the Wildlife Program at Environmental Defense Fund. “With more than 1,800 species worldwide now listed as threatened and endangered, and thousands more threatened with extinction unless they are protected, America’s commitment to protecting wildlife is more important than ever.”

Endangered Species Day also provides an opportunity to learn more about the wide variety of actions that individuals and groups can take to help protect our nation’s endangered wildlife, fish and plants, including building backyard wildlife habitat, protecting open space, and supporting local efforts to clean up rivers, parks, and other natural areas.

More information and a list of events can be found at

The Endangered Species Coalition is a national network of hundreds of conservation, scientific, sporting, religious, humane, business and community groups across the country. Through public education, scientific information and citizen participation, we work to protect our nation's wildlife and wild places. The ESC is a non-partisan coalition working with concerned citizens and decision makers from all parties to protect endangered species and habitat.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bush Administration Lists Polar Bear but Refuses to Protect Habitat or Address Drilling and Global Warming

Today, the Bush Administration listed the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but refused to address the main threats to the species – habitat loss, drilling and global warming. At the Endangered Species Coalition, we welcome the listing of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act, but we urge the Bush Administration to halt drilling in the bear’s habitat.

I guess it is hard for Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to ignore drowning polar bears and the science that shows that they are endangered. However, we are alarmed that they are ignoring the impacts of drilling and global warming on the polar bears’ sea ice habitat.

I would ask Secretary Kempthorne: if we are not going to stop the factors that are contributing to the loss of polar bear habitat and the melting of the sea ice, how are we going to protect the polar bear?

The administration is creating exemptions under a 4d rule that appear to limit protections for polar bears from oil and gas drilling in their habitat. We know that species listed under the Endangered Species Act are much more likely to survive and recover than those that are left off the list. By listing the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act, it increases bear's chances of surviving. However, we are concerned that the Bush Administration is ignoring the impact of global warming and drilling on the polar bears’ sea ice habitat. We urge them not to allow drilling in the Chukchi Sea and other polar bear habitat by drilling loopholes in the Endangered Species Act.

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne also announced that the department will propose “modifications to the existing ESA regulatory language.” In the past, the Bush Administration has proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act that would dramatically weaken protections for endangered species and their habitat and used Solicitors Opinions to circumvent the law.

We are troubled about how this administration has reinterpreted the intent of the Endangered Species Act in the past and how they may attempt to weaken protections for endangered species in the future. We urge them to protect the polar bear and its habitat instead of using loopholes to weaken the law and science to protect species.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “Projected changes in future sea ice conditions, if realized, will result in loss of approximately 2/3 of the world’s current polar bear population by the mid 21st century. Because the observed trajectory of Arctic sea ice decline appears to be underestimated by currently available models, this assessment of future polar bear status may be conservative.”

The law - and the American people – demand that the best science, and only science, be used to determine which plants and animals receive protection under the Endangered Species Act. Clearly, the science says that polar bears need our help and need the strong protections of the Endangered Species Act. The administration shouldn’t ignore the science to protect its habitat. The polar bear is only as protected as its habitat.

The listing of the polar bear is a drastic change from the Bush Administration’s track record on endangered species protections. The Bush Administration has systematically undermined scientific decisions to protect endangered species. Currently, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Department of Interior's Inspector General's office are investigating allegations of interference in a number of different Endangered Species Act-related decisions. Last year, Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald resigned after being investigated for her role in undermining the scientific integrity of numerous decisions. The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on political interference in endangered species protections on May 21st.

Leda Huta

Endangered Species Coalition

Friday, May 9, 2008

Endangered Species Day 2008

Endangered Species Day - a day to celebrate our nation's commitment to protecting our wildlife fish and plants on the brink of extinction - is Friday, May 16, 2008.

Dozens of events are going on around the country to celebrate this year. Everyone from zoos to Disney and Girl Scout Troops to environmental organizations are involved.

And if that wasn't enticing enough, we even have a couple of public service announcements:

So, please join us in celebrating the protection and recovery of our country's great endangered fish, plants and wildlife. More information can be found on the Endangered Species Day website.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Schwarzenegger fires first salvo in attack on endangered species

Last week, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger chose to celebrate Earth Day by launching what may be the first salvo in the next big attack on endangered species. Instead of celebrating the successes of endangered species protection, such as the bald eagle, gray wolf and California condor, Schwarzenegger decided to use endangered species protection as a scapegoat. He blasted his own California environmental agency for “slowing approval of a solar facility in Victorville” because of “an endangered squirrel.”

Schwarzenegger in Last Action Hero 3 Showing in Sacramento on Earth Day 2008, California Progress Report, Bill Walker, Environmental Working Group

Climate Wire: Endangered Species: Squirrel casts long shadow over solar project

Unfortunately, we expect this to become a pattern: short-sighted politicians and the industries that give them money will be using this argument against the Endangered Species Act as a “red-herring.” They’ll try to dupe the public into believing that in order to deal with the impacts of global warming, we’ll have to throw out all environmental protections, including those that safeguard wildlife and humans.

Schwarzenegger isn’t the first. Last year, Georgia’s governor asked the Bush Administration to exempt the state from the Endangered Species Act because of drought in the south.

AP, Georgia’s governor declares drought emergency; White House says it will review Perdue’s request for federal assistance

Both Governors are clearly comfortable divulging only one part of the story. Governor Schwarzenegger conveniently skirts around the fact that conservationists working to protect endangered species would in fact be pleased to see solar power in the Mojave Dessert, provided that the facility is cited properly. And, Governor Perdue preferred not to focus on the fact that Georgia’s water management policies don’t just impact endangered species, they also impact Floridians living downstream, including fisherman of Apalachicola Bay—where most of Florida’s oysters are harvested.

With the immediate peril of global warming, endangered species protections are needed more than ever. Already on the brink of extinction, endangered species are the most vulnerable to changes in climate. Melting sea ice, warming ocean and river waters, shifting life cycles and migration are impacting endangered species, including polar bears, penguins, coral, salmon and migratory birds. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that we’ll have up to 60 percent species loss in some areas if global warming continues unabated. In addition to having a direct impact on endangered species, climate change will also negatively impact the political environment for endangered species.

Yet, while endangered species will be impacted more than ever, their protections will also be targeted more than ever. Extractive industries and the politicians that receive their contributions have tried to chip away at endangered species protections for decades. Now, as humans face increasing impacts due to climate change, opponents to endangered species protections will falsely claim that environmental protections must be eliminated to prioritize human needs. We know that it is a specious argument and that protecting wildlife and wild lands is key in protecting humans—for our drinking water, for our air, for our food and medicinal sources, and for our quality of life. Nevertheless, endangered species will now also have to overcome this new political reality.

As much of the West begins to suffer from more frequent droughts due to global warming, and water shortages create escalating tensions within the region, our opponents will have a whole new audience to target with this message. A recent study in Science found that the global warming is causing drought across the west. As National Geographic reported “The U.S. West will see devastating droughts as global warming reduces the amount of mountain snow and causes the snow that does fall to melt earlier in the year.”

No longer will it be a few thousand loggers impacted by decisions on ancient forests. Now, we may have many tens of thousand of individuals throughout the West impacted by water management decisions.

Our opponents will make the most of this opportunity by using endangered species protections as a scapegoat, framing the issue in simplified and false humans-versus-wildlife terms and setting up the entire West as a fervent battleground on environmental protections. We can count on these opponents to environmental protections to cherry-pick information and provide only one part of the story, painting any type of regulation as extremist and obstructionist.

We know from our decades-long work on this issue that in order for endangered species to get a fair shake in the media, we’ll need to get the word out now—before our opponents make the mantra of “let’s weaken environmental protections to battle other environmental problems” a constant drumbeat. And, to silence that drum, we’ll need the power of grassroots organizing.

To address this threat head-on, we have a campaign focused on the linkages between global warming and endangered species. To find out more about our work to protect endangered species from the impacts of global warming, visit

Leda Huta, Executive Director
Endangered Species Coalition