Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How the Omnibus helps endangered species

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected today to debate an omnibus bill that sets the federal government’s budget for the rest of the fiscal year. The bill has some good news for endangered species.

First, it includes budget increases for many endangered species programs, which have been ailing for years. For the main Fish and Wildlife Service programs, which include listing and critical habitat designation; consultations; candidate protections; and recovery efforts, there is an increase of almost $7.5 million – or approximately five percent. Within the National Marine Fisheries Services, marine mammal protections gained $1.5 million (or almost four percent). We had been advocating for significantly larger increases to help combat staffing shortages and the growing waiting list of candidates in need of protection, but the increases will be helpful and are appreciated. Regrettably, there were decreases for funding for sea turtles (well below even what President Bush’s budget had recommended) and the Bureau of Land Management’s threatened and endangered species program – despite the growing pressure that will be coming with more energy development of all types. More broadly, there is also help for developing a national strategy to protect wildlife and natural resources from the effects of global warming.

The bill also provides hope for endangered species in another big way. Text in the bill would grant Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the yet to be confirmed Secretary of Commerce 60 days to review and possibly repeal the Bush Administration’s last minute regulations that undermined endangered species protections. Secretary Salazar could also repeal or amend the special rule put into place that impacts polar bear protections.

We’ve been working hard along with our member groups to undo these bad rules and it is great to see this included in the bill. However, there is still work to do. Some lawmakers have called this language a “backdoor” attempt to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. They are wrong; the repeal would actually just return us to the status quo of the last 20 years. But that may not prevent them from trying to offer amendments that would remove the language. If they do attack these provisions, we’ll need your help. Stay tuned and we’ll let you know more as this develops.

p.s. other good news came today with expansion of critical habitat for the Canada lynx, which had its original designation slashed by political interference from a Bush Administration appointee.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Change and Hope for Endangered Species

With the election of President Barack Obama, we have the unprecedented opportunity to restore protections for our nation's disappearing wildlife and last remaining wild places.

Before leaving office, the Bush Administration snuck through midnight regulations that would weaken the Endangered Species Act. The regulations make it harder to protect polar bears, gray wolves, Canadian lynx, pacific salmon and thousands of other endangered species.

The Endangered Species Act is the safety net for our nation's wildlife, fish and plants on the brink of extinction. The Bush Administration's new regulations cut a hole in the safety net and take scientists out of the decision making process.

There are several ways that we can restore the protections of the Endangered Species Act. The Obama Administration can overturn the regulations. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has said that he will review the rules. Or Congress can pass a bill. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Jo Rahall has introduced a bill H.J. Resolution 18 that would use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the Bush Administration's regulations.

If you want to overturn the Bush Administration’s last minute regulations that weaken the Endangered Species Act, you can help in a number of ways:

Write your Members of Congress and urge them to save endangered species by co-sponsoring H.J. Res. 18 which would use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the Bush Administration's regulations. Send a letter to your Members of Congress to ask them to support the bill to overturn the Bush Administration's Endangered Species Act regulations.

Join us in applauding President Obama’s stated commitment to protect endangered species and restore scientific integrity. Urge President Obama to immediately reverse regulations that weaken the Endangered Species Act and to take steps to strengthen endangered species protections, including

• extend the Endangered Species Act’s safety net to all species in need
• strengthen habitat protections
• address global warming impacts on threatened and endangered species
• provide adequate funding for endangered species programs

Sign the Petition to President Obama to save endangered species

We must act now to restore strong protections for endangered species. Thank you for your help in saving our nation’s wildlife, fish and plants on the brink of extinction.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A new wolf information resource hits the web

By Derek Goldman, Northern Rockies Representative

This week a coalition of ESC member groups and allies in the Northern Rockies have launched a new website aimed at providing science-based information and resources on wolves to folks living in the West: Check it out.

As a member of the steering committee that worked with the web designers to guide development of the site, I was amazed at the amount drafting, editing, reviewing and commenting it took to launch this thing. But it was well worth it, as the final product looks great!

The site was officially launched this week by seventeen conservation organizations to help dispel a few myths about wolves in the region.
  • Myth One: wolves are eating all the elk, and thus depleting hunting opportunities. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Elk are faring well throughout the northern Rockies, 14% above population objectives statewide in Montana and Wyoming, and at or slightly above objective in Idaho. (That’s all according to data from each state’s respective fish and game department.) And according to data compiled by the same state agencies, hunter success remains high as well. Yeah, sure there are 1 or 2 elk herds out of more than 50 that are declining, but there are factors other than wolves behind it. If you’re concerned about threats to elk herds, you better be thinking habitat, because there is simply no greater threat to elk and all wildlife than the loss of habitat due to industrial and residential development.
  • Myth Two: wolves are crippling the ranching industry because they kill a lot of domestic sheep and cattle. Hardly, wolves account for less than 1% percent of all livestock losses. That’s not to say individual ranchers don’t feel the pinch when a wolf kills a sheep, but the number of wolf kills doesn’t come anywhere near the number of sheep and cattle killed by say, disease, cougars or bad weather.
  • Myth Three: wolves prey upon people, especially small children. False. Wolves are actually shy creatures, and tend to avoid humans. There has never been a documented case of a wolf killing anyone in N. America.
In spite of this reality, the wolf always seems to be the scapegoat for many hunters, ranchers, and anyone else looking for something to blame. Hopefully, folks can look into some of the information on the web site, and learn about ways to coexist with wolves. Then maybe, just maybe, we can move toward a wolf management policy that is driven by science instead of fear, politics and hyperbole.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Updated Stop Extinction Video

We have a couple of updated short videos to share. You might recognize parts of them from announcements last spring for Endangered Species Day (which will be May 15th this year). Dusty Harrison put the video together for us then and has updated them to enable us to continue to use them - for which we thank him.

We encourage you to share them with the world however you best like.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

High Hopes for Endangered Species

As recent headlines attest, President Obama's administration is a 180 from what we have seen in the past eight years. For endangered species that is a good thing.

Immediately upon taking office, Obama stopped any Bush rules, not yet finalized, from going forward. The memo from Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, was a saving grace for the Gray Wolf, which was on its way to being delisted by Bush (after being stopped twice already by the courts). Unfortunately, it is too late for one of the worst rules issued by the Bush administration--removing mandatory oversight of the Fish and Wildlife Service biologists on federal projects to ensure that they don't harm endangered species.

However, Obama's Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar promises to review this midnight regulation. Salazar is somewhat of an unknown on endangered species policies. But in his first meeting with his employees--gathered in the department's auditorium and in offices across the country--he promised to lead the department with '"openness in decision-making, high ethical standards and respect to scientific integrity." That alone would make a tremendous difference for endangered species decisions. His statement that the department has "been painted unfairly on the backs of career employees because of actions by political appointees ... and that era is now changing and it starts today," was met with loud applause from his employees.

We're hopeful that those who care for wildlife will have reason to cheer Salazar soon also.