Monday, March 30, 2009

Omnibus Land Bill Becomes Law

Today, President Obama signed into law the legislation commonly referred to as the Omnibus Public Lands Bill. I'll admit, given the name, I didn't really think about the endangered species implications of the legislation until someone pointed out that this bill is about so much more than rearranging various geographic boundaries. It is perhaps the greatest lands protections bill in my lifetime.

This law contains over 160 separate pieces of legislation, ranging for the designation of three new national parks to ocean exploration and ocean acidification research. It protects 2 million acres of land as wilderness and designates over 1,000 miles of rivers as Wild and Scenic. It is safe to say, it does a lot. In fact, the table of contents alone runs 10 pages.

In addition to all of the habitat benefits that comes with the above, a few of the more endangered species specific items:
  • San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act – This is end result of tough negotiations, which included member groups such as the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations and NRDC (and surely others), intended to help restore spring run Chinook to the Central Valley in California.
  • Wolf Livestock Loss Demonstration Project – This is a program designed, last I knew, to provide some federal matching funds for state trust funds that could be set up to compensate ranchers who lose livestock to wolves. I think we have member groups who came down on both sides of the issue: some supportive of programs that help decrease angst directed toward wolves, others that oppose any incentives for private grazing on public lands.
  • Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program – (it has its own website) Another one with supporters and opponents. I'll admit, I'm a year behind on the controversy here, but last Winter it had to do with basically freezing endangered species regulations as they apply to this agreement into place as they were in 2005 for the next 50 years (a bad idea). Then, the original legislation even went as far as saying that any future changes in the Endangered Species Act would have to explicitly say in the legislation that it applied to this settlement (also a bad idea). I'm afraid I can't say if those provisions made it into the omnibus bill right off hand, but it's worth looking for if your interested.
(if any of the above concerns are outdated, please note it in the comments section)

Of course, with any bill that runs 1,200 pages long, there will be no small amount of controversy. The most noted objection I've seen so far is the authorization of a road in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Defenders of Wildlife and others note that it's a bad place for a road. As I understand it, the local Native Alaskan community wants the road to access the airport when medical emergencies arise and they can't get to it via the normal water route. Alaska has offered tens of thousands of acres in exchange for the 200 affected by the road, but the road will apparently impact rather exclusive feeding grounds for a variety of waterfowl in what is said to be one of the most fertile wildlife sites in the country, if not world. (old article on the controversy available here)

This new law contains bills that were being pushed by from tiny local wilderness advocates to the largest of environmental organizations. I know there is a great deal of celebration going on tonight. A big round of congratulations to the citizens, advocates and policy-makers who made it happen.

For more info:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Time is Running Out for the Polar Bear

Time is running out for the polar bear. As their sea ice habitat disappears, polar bears are starving and drowning, and mothers and cubs are dying as their snow dens collapse on them due to a warming climate. In addition, pollution from oil and gas drilling threatens to destroy what's left of the polar bear's disappearing habitat.

The fate of the polar bears and other endangered species relies on their Endangered Species Act protections being restored. In their last days, the Bush Administration weakened protections for the polar bear and other endangered species. As we've written, Congress passed a bill that gives the Obama administration 60 days to overturn the Bush administration's regulations that weakened the Endangered Species Act and eliminated essential protections for the polar bear.

Secretary Salazar has until May 9, 2009 to overturn the Bush Administration's regulations that weaken the Endangered Species Act. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar must take this critically important step to restore scientific integrity at the Department of Interior. The Endangered Species Coalition staff and members will be meeting with the Department of Interior to ask them to restore protections for the polar bear and other endangered species.

The Endangered Species Coalition has created a petition to Secretary Salazar asking him to restore protections for polar bears and other endangered species.

You can help build support for restoring endangered species protections by signing the petition to save the polar bear.

Thank you for help to save polar bears, gray wolves, canada lynx, pacific salmon and thousands of other endangered species.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Global Warming threatens another, but the cooldown on listing may be over

If I am remembering correctly, today we have a new milestone to recognize with the Obama Administration: their first listing proposal of a species in need of added protection. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is proposing that the population of eulachon found in Washington, Oregon and California waters be considers a distinct population and that it be listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. (announcement available here). You might also know eulachon as candlefish, Columbia River smelt and hooligan – my particular favorite.

Part of the reason for mentioning this here is to highlight a contrast with the last administration. During the past eight years, there was a dramatic and dangerous dearth of listing activity – leaving hundreds of species in need to either wait on the candidate list or go with absolutely no review or protection. Preventing protection was one of their many sad legacies that we must overcome. Much more work needs to be done to meet our responsibility to our children and grandchildren to protect endangered species and the places they call home.

So it is with some optimism that I view today’s announcement as perhaps the first step by the Obama Administration in resuscitating the listing program. We surely will have our disagreements – and already have - but we are looking forward to working together to help protect imperiled species and are happy to see progress already being made.

About the proposed listing
The fish is thought to actually benefit from some effort already underway for the sake of other fish, such as salmon. But not enough apparently. According to the Fisheries Service, the main threat the fish faces is global warming, which is altering ocean conditions. They are also being caught as bycatch from the shrimping industry.

The proposal for listing was spurred by a petition from the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.

There is now a 60 day comment period open. NMFS is also gathering information regarding where critical habitat should be designated and if you’ve seen any in Northern California lately. So, keep an eye out when your next on the Klamath.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Congress Restores Endangered Species Protections

Yesterday, Congress passed a bill that will allow President Obama to quickly and easily overturn the Bush Administration rules that weakened the Endangered Species Act. They rejected the efforts of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to strip the provision from the bill.

Last week, President Obama announced that he will reconsider the Bush Administration's regulations that weakened the Endangered Species Act. Now, he will have an opportunity to overturn the harmful regulations quickly and easily.

This is a great victory thanks in part to the Endangered Species Coalition's members
and the 100+ groups who signed onto our letter asking the Obama Administration
to overturn the regulations.

President Obama can overturn the Bush Administration's regulations that
weaken the Endangered Species Act. He needs to hear from us right now. If you
have not already, ask President Obama to immediately reverse regulations that weaken
the Endangered Species Act and to take steps to strengthen endangered species
protections.

You can sign our petition to President Obama at www.stopextinction.org

Friday, March 6, 2009

Senate protects endangered species provision

Yesterday evening, the Senate voted 52-42 to reject the amendment by Senator Murkowski (R-AK) that would have weakend an endangered species provision in the omnibus spending bill now being debated. As mentioned previously, the provision is designed to help repeal two Bush Administration regulations limiting protections under the Endangered Species Act. More detail is available in our recent press release. The omnibus bill is currently scheduled to be voted on early next week.

We thank Senators Boxer, Cardin and Feinstein - and their staff - for rising to protect the endangered species provision. They, along with House Interior Appropriations subcommittee chairman Norm Dicks (D-WA06) and other members of the appropriations committees, were instrumental in providing this opportunity to the Obama administration to restore these much needed endangered species protections.

And since I've been having so much fun lately with the C-SPAN videos, here is Senator Feinstein's speech supporting the endangered species provisions and highlighting the plight of polar bears:

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Senator Cardin Speaks Out for Protecting Species

This morning, Senator Cardin (D-MD), chair of the Senate Water and Wildlife subcommittee, spoke about the importance of protecting endangered species and overturning the last-minute Bush Administration rule changes. See his speech in this video:



The Senate is expected to vote late this afternoon on the amendment by Senator Murkowski (R-AK). The amendment would weaken a provision in the FY09 omnibus spending bill that would otherwise make it easier for the Obama administration to help restore needed protections by overturning the Bush administration rules.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Senator Boxer Rocks the Senate Floor in Support of Endangered Species Protections

We are working with Congress and our members to defeat an amendment that will block the Obama Administration's ability to restore some key endangered species protections.

Today, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) gave a passionate speech on the floor of the Senate in opposition to the amendment. As part of her testimony, she reads a letter from the Endangered Species Coalition and over 100 of our member organizations. She gave such a compelling argument in support of strong endangered species protection, science and good government. Everyone should watch it and be inspired.

See Senator Boxer speech in this video:



Last week, the House passed a bill that included language that empowers the
Obama Administration to overturn the Bush Administration rules that weakened the Endangered Species Act and blocked conservation measures for polar bears. This week, the Senate will vote on the bill. However, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin are furiously trying to strip the provision from the bill.

The Senate will vote on the bill by the end of the week. The Endangered Species Coalition and our member organizations are launching an all-out effort to pass the bill and empower the Obama Administration to restore protections for the polar bear and other endangered species.

Congress and the Obama Administration can overturn the Bush Administration's
regulations that weaken the Endangered Species Act. But, they need to hear from us right now. If you have not already, please send a letter to your Senators urging them to pass the bill that restores protections for endangered species.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

President Obama Restores Endangered Species Protections

Great news – President Obama announced today a restoration of independent, outside reviews for how government projects and decisions impact endangered species. President Bush changed when these reviews are implemented with a set of new regulations that went into effects just five days before Barack Obama became President.

At a celebration for the Department of the Interior’s 160th anniversary, President Obama included this announcement:

Finally, today I've signed a memorandum that will help restore the scientific process to its rightful place at the heart of the Endangered Species Act, a process undermined by past administrations. The work of scientists and experts in my administration – including right here in the Interior Department -- will be respected. For more than three decades, the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected our nation's most threatened wildlife, and we should be looking for ways to improve it -- not weaken it.

Throughout our history, there's been a tension between those who've sought to conserve our natural resources for the benefit of future generations, and those who have sought to profit from these resources. But I'm here to tell you this is a false choice. With smart, sustainable policies, we can grow our economy today and preserve the environment for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren. That is what we must do.

This change is a great first step, but some of the Bush Administration changes are still in place. Congress can help make it easier for the Obama Administration to finish the job with a provision in the omnibus spending bill being debated in the Senate this week. If you haven’t already, please contact your Senators and urge them to support protecting these provisions from amendments, which we are expecting to be offered in the next few days.

Additional resources:

Update: View President Obama's announcement: