Tag Archives: endangered species

U.S. charity loophole enabled trading of 1,300 endangered animals

Last year, after a Minnesota dentist sparked an uproar by killing a popular lion named Cecil while on safari in Zimbabwe, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service placed similar African lions on the endangered species list, making it illegal to import them as trophies to the United States.

But for African lions and other threatened and endangered species, there’s an exception to this rule: Hunters, circuses, zoos, breeders and theme parks can get permits to import, export or sell endangered animals if they can demonstrate that the transactions will “enhance the survival” of the species.

Often, records show, this requirement is met in part by making a cash contribution to charity — usually a few thousand dollars. The practice has angered both animal-rights activists who say it exploits wildlife and exhibitors who describe the process as unfair and arbitrary.

In the last five years, the vast majority of the estimated 1,375 endangered species permits granted by the Fish & Wildlife Service involved financial pledges to charity, according to agency documents reviewed by Reuters.

For a $2,000 pledge, the Fish & Wildlife Service permitted two threatened leopard cubs to be sent from a roadside zoo to a small animal park. After a $5,000 pledge, the agency approved the transfer of 10 endangered South African penguins to a Florida theme park.

An application now under final consideration would permit a South Carolina safari park operator to send 18 endangered tigers to Mexico to participate in a multimillion-dollar movie – for a $10,000 donation to charity.

Craig Hoover, a senior Fish & Wildlife Service official, said his agency considers many factors before granting an endangered species permit – among them, a species’ biological needs, threats and population size.  Charitable contributions to conservation programs are just one factor in granting permit evaluations, and not a requirement, he said.

“It’s not necessarily all that is considered,” said Hoover. “There may have been an education component, an outreach component, a captive breeding component.”


Under the Endangered Species Act, exception permits may be granted only “for scientific purposes or to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species.”

According to a recent Fish & Wildlife Service document reviewed by Reuters: “Very few of the Endangered Species Act permits that we issue have direct benefits to the species in the wild. Most applicants provide an indirect benefit, such as monetary support, to meet the enhancement requirement.”

Late Friday, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat who serves on the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees, asked the agency to halt the practice.

Boyle said exemptions to the endangered species law are intended for humanitarian or environmental purposes, such as providing medical attention to a wounded animal, not commercial uses. He said the charity pledges are “unreliable at best and amount to an empty promise in exchange for an exemption to our bedrock species conservation law.”

The agency usually does not try to independently confirm that donations are actually made or that the charities, often located overseas, are worthy, an agency document says. “Typically, we rely on the applicant,” the document notes. Hoover said applicants supply this information through annual reports and agency grant programs.


Last year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued the Fish & Wildlife Service over a 2014 endangered species permit issued to Tarzan Zerbini Circus of Webb City, Missouri. The permit allowed Tarzan Zerbini to take two elephants, Shelly and Marie, on a Canadian circus tour — on the condition that it pledge $15,000 annually to an elephant charity and raise another $50,000 annually from patrons.

“We call it ‘pay-to-play’ because that’s what exactly what’s going on, allowing these people to promise money in exchange for being able to harm endangered animals,” said PETA general counsel Jeff Kerr. “The Fish & Wildlife Service is actively conspiring and cooperating with people to violate the Endangered Species Act through this program.”

The agency defended itself against PETA’s claim that the process is illegal, but the lawsuit apparently triggered a government investigation of Tarzan Zerbini’s financial pledge. Records show the service determined that the circus had only contributed half the amount promised and had raised little, if anything, from patrons. On April 21, the permit was suspended. Last week, PETA withdrew the lawsuit.

Larry Solheim, a Tarzan Zerbini consultant who served as general manager for 26 years, said the circus made good-faith efforts to comply with its pledges. He said honest mistakes and misunderstandings caused the other half of the money to be contributed late and said technical issues hampered efforts to raise the $50,000 from patrons.

Solheim said the concept of requiring conservation efforts is a good idea. But he described the permit process as too focused on foreign donations. He called it “a game” that can resemble “political extortion.”

“You’re just essentially buying a permit if you pay this conservation fee,” he said. “It’s just totally subjective – if they want to have this kind of requirement, they need to have clear guidelines.”

John Cuneo, whose Hawthorn Corp leases endangered animals to circuses and is often criticized by PETA, said he has lost business for failing to promise to make the charitable payments.

“It makes me so mad,” Cuneo said. “It feels like a scam.”

Hoover, the agency official, said PETA and the animal exhibitors are wrong.


“We would deny any form of ‘pay to play policy’ is in place, formally or informally,” Hoover said. He added: “We would deny that we tell people they must” make charitable contributions, “but if they are engaging in activity where the import or export isn’t contributing to conservation, then there must be some other means by which they must be contributing conservation.”

The permit application to send 18 tigers to Mexico for a Hollywood movie was filed by Bhagavan Antle, who operates the Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina. Antle declined to name the people behind the movie, which is tentatively titled “Tiger Island.” The plot revolves around tigers living on an abandoned island, and a group of children who end up shipwrecked there.

The permit is still pending, but records show that Fish & Wildlife officials directed that Antle confirm a pledge of $10,000 to charity and a promise that the movie will have a conservation theme. He has agreed to do so, and said he thinks the agency’s process is good because it helps endangered animals. Antle said $10,000 is a fair contribution for the right to use 18 tigers on a multimillion-dollar motion picture.

“The movie company thinks it’s a hardship – to spend $10,000 for what used to be free,” Antle said. But he added, “If it becomes a big hit movie, that will change more hearts and minds than a $10 million contribution to conservation.”


Last year, the Fish & Wildlife Service approved the sale of 10 African penguins from a California theme park to the Miami Seaquarium.

“We are thrilled that our guests will be able to observe these fascinating creatures and at the same time learn about this endangered species and what we can do to help preserve our feathered friends,” Andrew Hertz, the Seaquarium’s general manager, said in a press release in February. A spokeswoman said Hertz wasn’t available for an interview.

The sea park built a new exhibit for the birds called “Penguin Isle,” a spectacle that includes a 9,000-gallon pool with an acrylic underwater swimming tunnel, allowing visitors to come “face to face” with the penguins, the release says. The Seaquarium, which averages about 600,000 customers a year, charges $99 for a family of four.

As part of the endangered species permit approval, the seller agreed to make an annual contribution for five years to a South African charity that rescues penguins soiled by oil spills.

The annual pledge: $1,000.

Fatal alligator attacks in Florida and what you should know

The body of a 2-year-old Nebraska boy was found Wednesday he was snatched by an alligator at a lake in Walt Disney World. He’s one of 16 people killed in alligator attacks in Florida since 1997.

Here are the other 15 fatal alligator attacks.

Nov. 23, 2015: Brevard County deputies determined that Matthew Riggins, 22, was killed by an alligator in a Barefoot Bay lake while possibly hiding to avoid law enforcement. Divers recovered his body with injuries consistent with an alligator attack nine days after he was reported missing by his girlfriend, who said he told her he was going to commit burglaries. A nearby alligator behaved aggressively toward divers, and was trapped and euthanized.

  • 19, 2015: The body of 62-year-old James Okkerse was found floating in Blue Springs State Park in central Florida with injuries consistent with an alligator attack. A 12-foot alligator had been spotted in the lake twice the day before, forcing the park to close temporarily each time. Authorities shot the alligator. Friends said Okkerse swam there every day.
  • 8, 2007: A man who jumped into a lake to flee police at the Miccosukee Resort and Convention Center was killed by an alligator more than 9 feet long. Divers found the body of Justo Antonio Padron, 36, the next afternoon, with alligator teeth marks on the torso. The alligator believed to be responsible was killed.
  • May 14, 2006: Near Lake George in the Ocala National Forest, the body of 23-year-old Annemarie Campbell was found sticking out of an alligator’s mouth by her friends, who beat the reptile until it released her. Campbell was a Tennessee visitor snorkeling in a secluded recreation area. The 11-foot-4-inch, 407-pound alligator was euthanized.
  • May 13, 2006: The body of Judy W. Cooper, 43, was found in a canal 20 miles north of St. Petersburg. Trappers caught and killed an 8-1/2-foot alligator that had her body parts in its belly.
  • May 10, 2006: The dismembered body of Yovy Suarez-Jimenez, 28, was found by construction workers in a canal in Broward County. She had toxic levels of alcohol and an anti-depression drug in her body. Authorities believed she was attacked on land and dragged.
  • July 15, 2005: An alligator more than 12 feet long grabbed 41-year-old Kevin Murray by the arm as he swam in Apollo Waterway and pulled him underwater as neighbors watched. A trapper killed the alligator.
  • March 11, 2005: Donald Ray Owen, 56, was found dead in Six Pound Pond near Lakeland in Polk County with alligator bites and an arm amputated below the elbow. The 9-foot-8-inch male alligator was caught and killed.
  • 26, 2004: Georgia college student Michelle Reeves, 20, drowned after part of her arm was bitten off in an alligator attack that occurred while she apparently went skinny-dipping in a Fort Myers lake. An alligator was trapped and removed from the area.
  • July 23, 2004: Landscaper Janie Melsek, 54, died from a severe infection two days after she was mauled by a 12-foot, 457-pound alligator on Sanibel Island. The alligator dragged her into a pond, tearing at her arm so severely that part of it was later amputated. Rescuers saved her from the reptile’s jaws in a tug-of-war.
  • June 18, 2003: A 12-year-old boy was mauled by an alligator while swimming at Palm Gardens Marina, about 35 miles northwest of Orlando. Bryan Griffin was pulled under after friends repeatedly warned him to exit the water. Trappers later killed 10 alligators in the Dead River, including one they decided was responsible.
  • 11, 2001, 82-year-old Robert Steele had his leg severed and bled to death when he was attacked by a 10-foot alligator while walking his dog by a Sanibel Island canal. The alligator, found with the leg in his mouth, was killed.
  • June 23, 2001: A 2-year-old girl wandered from her Winter Haven backyard to a lake and was killed by a 6 ½-foot alligator. The body of Alexandria Murphy was found near the shoreline of Lake Cannon in Winter Haven an hour after her family reported her missing. A trapper killed the alligator suspected.
  • May 4, 2001: The chewed body of 70-year-old Samuel Wetmore was found floating in a Sarasota County retention pond with an 8-foot alligator circling nearby. Wetmore suffered from dementia and was believed to have wandered away from home.
  • March 22, 1997: An 11-foot alligator was discovered swimming protectively near the body of 3-year-old Adam Binford in a lake in Volusia County, a mile from where he’d disappeared the day before. His mother said he’d been standing in knee-deep water picking water lilies for her. She heard a splash and when she turned around her son was gone. The 450-pound alligator was killed.

Things to know about alligators in Florida

The frequency of serious, unprovoked alligator bites has grown in Florida along with the state’s population — but fatal alligator attacks remain rare. Some things to know about alligators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:


More than a million alligators live throughout Florida, though the species remains listed as an endangered species because it closely resembles the endangered American crocodile.


Alligators can be found in fresh and brackish bodies of water — including lakes, rivers, canals and golf course ponds — and there’s an estimated 6.7 million acres of suitable habitat statewide. Alligator bites are most likely to occur in or around water, as gators aren’t well-equipped to capture prey on dry land.


Alligators are opportunistic feeders that will eat what is readily available and easily overpowered. It’s illegal to feed wild alligators because that causes them to lose their fear of humans. While gators can lunge at prey along a shoreline, there’s no evidence of alligator attacks in which the reptiles went after people or other animals on land.


Hides, meat and other parts can be sold from legally harvested alligators. In 2014, the hides and meat from harvested gators was worth $6.8 million.


There have been 23 fatalities caused by wild alligator attacks in Florida since 1973, among 383 unprovoked bites not caused by someone handling or intentionally harassing an alligator. Florida averages about seven serious unprovoked bites a year, and officials put the odds of someone being seriously injured by an unprovoked alligator in Florida at roughly one in 2.4 million.


Most of the eight children and 15 adult victims of alligator attacks have been in freshwater bodies of water.

Sources: The Associated Press, except for the March 11, 2005, item from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission


Bodies of 40 tiger cubs found in Thai temple freezer

Forty dead tiger cubs were found on June 1 in a freezer at a Buddhist temple that operated as an admission-charging zoo, a national parks official said.

The discovery happened while authorities were removing mostly full-grown live tigers from the temple in western Kanchanaburi province following accusations that monks were involved in illegal breeding and trafficking of the animals.

The cubs were found in a freezer where the temple staff kept food, said Anusorn Noochdumrong, an official from the Department of National Parks who has been overseeing the transfer of the temple’s 137 tigers to shelters. Since Monday, 60 have been tranquilized and removed.

“We don’t know why the temple decided to keep these cubs in the freezer,” Anusorn said. “We will collect these carcasses for DNA analysis.”

The cubs appeared to be up to a week old, he said. Authorities plan to file charges against the temple for illegally possessing endangered species, he said.

The temple’s Facebook page said in March that the temple’s former vet had decided in 2010 to stop cremating cubs that died soon after birth. Calls to the temple’s office were not answered.

The temple, a popular tourist attraction, has been criticized by animal rights activists because of allegations it is not properly set up to care for the animals and flouted regulations restricting the trade of tigers.

The monks resisted previous efforts to take away the tigers, but relented this week after police obtained a court order.

The temple recently made arrangements to operate as a zoo, but the plan fell through when the government determined that the operators failed to secure sufficient resources.

Cincinnati zoo director defends killing gorilla

The Cincinnati Zoo’s director is defending the decision to kill a gorilla to protect a 4-year-old boy who entered its exhibit, noting it’s easy to second-guess after the child was recovered safely.

The male western lowland gorilla named Harambe was killed Saturday by a special zoo response team that feared for the boy’s safety. Video taken by zoo visitors showed the gorilla at times appeared to be protective of the boy but also dragged him through the shallow moat.

Director Thane Maynard said the gorilla was agitated and disoriented by the commotion during the 10 minutes after the boy fell. He said the gorilla could crush a coconut in one hand and there was no doubt that the boy’s life was in danger.

“We stand by our decision,” he said Monday, reiterating that using a tranquilizer on the 420-pound gorilla could have further threatened the boy because it wouldn’t have taken effect immediately.

Maynard said an investigation indicates the boy climbed over a 3-foot-tall railing, then walked through an area of bushes about 4 feet deep before plunging some 15 feet into the moat. The boy was treated at a hospital and released that same day.

The director said the zoo remains safe for its some 1.6 million annual visitors, but a review is underway for possible improvements.

Kim O’Connor, who witnessed the boy’s fall, told said she heard the youngster say he wanted to get in the water with the gorillas. She said the boy’s mother was with several other young children and told him no.

Anthony Seta, an animal rights activist in Cincinnati, helped organize a vigil Monday just outside the zoo gates. He said the gathering wasn’t meant to assess blame but rather to honor Harambe, who turned 17 the day before he was shot.

“People can shout at the parents and people can shout at the zoo,” Seta said. “The fact is that a gorilla that just celebrated his birthday has been killed.”

In the days since, people have taken to social media to voice their outrage about the killing of a member of an endangered species. A Facebook page called “Justice for Harambe” was created along with online petitions and another page calling for a June 5 protest at the zoo.

Maynard said the zoo had received messages of support and condolences from around the world, including from other zoo directors and gorilla experts. A spokesman for Jane Goodall, the famed primatologist, said she had “a private conversation” with Maynard, who said she expressed her sympathy.

Maynard said zoo visitors have been leaving flowers at the exhibit and asking how they could support gorilla conservation.

“This is very emotional and people have expressed different feelings,” Maynard said by email. “Not everyone shares the same opinion and that’s OK. But we all share the love for animals.”

The Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, where Harambe spent most of his life, said Monday that its staff was deeply saddened by the gorilla’s death.

Harambe was sent to Cincinnati less than two years ago in hopes he would eventually breed with females there. Maynard said the zoo has some of Harambe’s sperm saved for research and possible future reproductive use.

Many social media commenters have criticized the boy’s parents and said they should be held accountable. A Cincinnati police spokesman said no charges were being considered. A spokeswoman for the family said Monday they had no plans to comment.

“I do think there’s a degree of responsibility they have to be held to,” said Kate Villanueva, a mother of two children from Erlanger, Kentucky, who started the “Justice for Harambe” page and attended Monday’s vigil. “You have to be watching your children at all times.”

Jack Hanna, host of “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild,” said the zoo made the right call by shooting the gorilla. Hanna said he saw video of the gorilla jerking the boy through the water and knew what would happen if the animal wasn’t killed.

“I’ll bet my life on this, that child would not be here today,” Hanna told WBNS-TV.

The zoo said that it’s the first such spectator breach at Gorilla World since it opened in 1978. The director said expansion plans announced for the exhibit earlier this year would proceed as scheduled.

Gorilla World remained closed Monday, but Maynard said it could reopen next weekend.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a statement from its primatologist Julia Gallucci saying the zoo should have had better barriers between humans and the gorillas.

“This tragedy is exactly why PETA urges families to stay away from any facility that displays animals as sideshows for humans to gawk at,” Gallucci said.

Group to observe Earth Day by giving away condoms

The Center for Biological Diversity plans to celebrate Earth Day by asking people to think about saving the planet through safe sex — and giving out condoms.

The center is distributing 25,000 free Endangered Species Condoms nationwide for Earth Day to highlight the connection between reproductive rights and the wildlife extinction crisis, according to a news release.

The condoms will be given away by 300 volunteers at Earth Day events, rallies and on college campuses.

From CBD: With human population continuing to grow at a rate of about 227,000 people per day, driving habitat loss and competition for natural resources, ensuring that people only have children if and when they’re ready is a critical part of protecting wildlife. But the United States has the highest fertility rate of any industrialized nation, and nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended.

“The real heart of the issue is that Americans, women especially, don’t have access to contraception or family planning tools they want or need to make decisions about their reproductive futures. While the rate of unintended pregnancy has recently dropped in the United States, it’s still incredibly high,” said Leigh Moyer, the center’s population organizer. “Right now it seems like lawmakers are doing everything they can to restrict reproductive healthcare. If we want to have healthy human — and wildlife — families we need to protect and expand access to reproductive healthcare for everyone.”

The United States scored a D+ overall on reproductive rights, according to the Population Institute’s 2015 Reproductive Health and Rights Report Card.

That’s down from a C last year, due to an “extremely hostile” atmosphere around reproductive health and rights, a teen pregnancy rate higher than any other developed country and a wave of funding cuts and restrictive policies.

The center’s Endangered Species Condoms were created to raise awareness about the effect of human population growth on wildlife species and are wrapped in colorful packages featuring six different endangered species and information about the impact of runaway human population growth on polar bears, monarch butterflies and other imperiled wildlife.

The center has given away 650,000 of the free condoms since 2009.

The center is also launching a new video series on YouTube and Facebook where staff have frank discussions about how most environmental catastrophes, including the extinction crisis, are driven by human population growth and overconsumption.

The Center for Biological Diversity plans to celebrate Earth Day by asking people to think about saving the planet through safe sex — and giving out condoms. — PHOTO: designed by Lori Lieber with artwork by Shawn DiCriscio. © 2015
The Center for Biological Diversity plans to celebrate Earth Day by asking people to think about saving the planet through safe sex — and giving out condoms. — PHOTO: Designed by Lori Lieber with artwork by Shawn DiCriscio.

Poll: Majority oppose removing protections for grizzly bears

A new national poll shows that the majority of voters oppose the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to remove grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the list of federally threatened and endangered species.

Majorities across all demographics, party affiliations and geographic regions of the United States oppose the proposed delisting, which would hand over management of GYE grizzlies to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The states have signaled they will open up trophy hunting seasons on bears.

The FWS estimates around 700 grizzlies live in the ecosytem and that there may be as few as 800 to 1,000 in the entire lower 48 states, in contrast to the 50,000 grizzly bears historical estimates suggest once roamed North America.

The poll, announced by The Humane Society of the United States, showed that more than two-thirds of Americans oppose opening up a trophy hunting season on grizzly bears in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Also, a two-thirds majority supports the idea of a five-year moratorium on trophy hunting to ensure the full recovery of the grizzly bear population.

The poll  also shows that an even larger majority of American voters — 80 percent —oppose allowing state managers to use certain trophy hunt methods, like hounding— where packs of radio-collared dogs chase bears into trees — and baiting — where piles of rotten and junk foods are used to lure bears in for an easy kill.

Nicole Paquette, vice president of wildlife protection of The Humane Society of the United States said in a statement released this week, “These polling results demonstrate that most Americans believe Yellowstone’s grizzly bears should not be killed for trophies. Not only is there no scientific justification for this premature proposal, there is no public appetite. Grizzly bears are far from recovered and face a range of threats including the loss of critical food sources like white bark pine. We don’t want trophy hunting added to that list of threats.”

“The prospect of a hunt is especially troubling, but we were pleased to see that even 50 percent of hunters nationwide oppose delisting of grizzlies, compared to only 33 percent who support it,” added Kent Nelson, executive director for Wyoming Wildlife Advocates. “It’s also gratifying to see that a full 62 percent of hunters support a five-year moratorium on delisting, while just 33 percent support it. This is telling.”

Both groups urged the FWS to reject the proposal and they are encouraging supporters to submit comments by May 10 asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to maintain ESA protections.


About the poll

The poll, conducted by Remington Research Group on behalf of The HSUS and WWA from April 7-9, surveyed 3,087 voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.2 percent, with a 95 percent level of confidence.

The questions

Q: The grizzly bears of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are found in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton areas, situated on the borders of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, and are considered the most famous bears in the world. Each year millions of tourists travel to the parks from all over the world for the chance to see these animals.  Do you agree or disagree that grizzly bears are a valuable part of the Yellowstone area?
Agree: 81%
Disagree: 9%

Undecided: 10%

Q: What is your opinion of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?
Favorable: 54%
Unfavorable: 17%
No opinion: 29%

Q: Grizzly bears once ranged from northern Mexico to Alaska—perhaps as many as 50,000 in the lower 48. In 1975, after decades of being driven to near extinction due to habitat loss and hunting, grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem were granted federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. Currently, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population is roughly 2% of its historic range, and the bears are still vulnerable due to a host of threats, including habitat loss and loss of food sources.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed to delist Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears from the Endangered Species Act.   Do you support or oppose removing federal Endangered Species Act protections?
Support: 26%
Oppose: 55%
Undecided: 19%
Q: If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removes Endangered Species Act protections from grizzly bears who live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, management of these bears will revert to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.  These wildlife managers have already stated they intend to open trophy hunting seasons as early as 2017.  Do you support or oppose opening up trophy hunts on Yellowstone area grizzly bears?
Support: 20%
Oppose: 68%

Undecided: 12%

Q: Should Yellowstone’s grizzly bears lose their Endangered Species Act protections, management of these animals revert to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming who have stated they will open up a trophy hunting season.  Do you agree or disagree that there should be at least a 5-year moratorium on trophy hunting to ensure that the population is fully recovered?

Agree: 67%
Disagree: 20%
Undecided: 13%
Q: Once delisted, it is possible that state managers could allow Yellowstone area grizzly bears to be hunted by the following methods – hounding—where participants release packs of radio-collared dogs to chase bears into trees—and baiting, where piles of rotten and junk foods are placed in a certain location to lure bears for an easy kill at point blank range.  Do you support or oppose allowing trophy hunters to use these methods to kill Yellowstone area grizzly bears?
Support: 11%
Oppose: 80%
Undecided: 9%
Q: Do you identify as a hunter?
Yes: 27%
No: 73%
Q: Do you identify as an angler?
Yes: 34%
No: 66%
Q: Do you identify as a wildlife viewer?
Yes: 78%
No: 22%

Activists fight to protect wolves from hunts

The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to strip wolves of federal protections in Wyoming, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The 242–161 vote was on amending a hunting bill, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act. 

“This vote by the U.S. House of Representatives is a crack at the very foundation of the Endangered Species Act, a law that has a 99 percent success rate at pulling species back from the brink of extinction,” said Drew Caputo of the environmental group Earthjustice. “Ninety percent of Americans from across the political spectrum support the act. If we continue down this slippery slope, we could end up in a world where our children or grandchildren might never again see a bald eagle, or a breaching whale, or hear the cry of a wolf in the wild.”

Amendment sponsors include U.S. Reps. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Dan Benishek of Michigan, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota.

Their measure, which the House voted for in late February, would override the federal court rulings that state management plans do not sufficiently protect wolves and return species management to states. This could again allow for the trophy hunting of Great Lakes wolves and the killing of wolves in most of Wyoming, where a management plan would provided for shooting wolves on site.

The amendment also contains a clause precluding further judicial review of the removal of federal protections in Wyoming, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“If enacted, this legislation could prove devastating for the recovery of wolves in the continental United States,” said Caputo. “What’s at stake here is whether wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes will again face the same unregulated killing that nearly wiped them out in the first place.”

The House vote came less than two months after Congress rejected a rider to an omnibus spending bill that would have removed Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming.

A similar push is on in the U.S. Senate. In January, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works added a provision to the Sportsmen’s Act to subvert the judicial process and delist wolves. Currently, gray wolves in Minnesota are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act and as “endangered” for Wyoming, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Both the House and Senate measures would order the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reissue a rule to delist the gray wolf. The rule was first issued in late 2011 and cleared the way for states to manage wolf populations, which quickly led to the slaughter of wolves.

Hunting wolves

Wisconsin legislators legalized the use of firearms and crossbows to kill wolves. The state also legalized the baiting, trapping and hounding of wolves.

“In Wisconsin, wolves are killed in some of the most brutal ways,” said Wendy Keefover, manager of The Humane Society of the United State’s native carnivore protection program. “Wisconsin is the only state where you can hound wolves. You can bait wolves. You can use neck snares to trap a wolf. …Wisconsin has some of the most egregious ways to kill.”

Different numbers can be found for the wolf hunts held in 2012–13, 2013–14 and 2014–15 in Wisconsin.

Data from HSUS shows:

  • 2012–13: The 2012 winter wolf count was 779–804 in 205 packs. The proposed hunting quota was 201 wolves. The DNR reported the killing of 117 wolves: 56 hunted and 61 trapped.
  • 2013–14: The wolf population was 660–689 in 197 packs. During that “season,” 17 wolf packs disappeared and the population declined by 19 percent. The HSUS said 65 wolves were killed for livestock depredation, 21 died in vehicle collisions, 59 were killed illegally, and hunters and trappers killed 257 wolves. Some 16,672 applications were filed and 1,879 permits were sold for the trophy hunt.
  • 2014–15: The state issued 1,500 permits to hunters and trappers and set a hunt quota of 156 wolves, prompting an appeal from The HSUS, which said the pace of trophy hunting, along with poaching, would cause a population crash. The HSUS estimated the total number of wolves killed was 301. Less than a week into the hunt, the DNR closed four of the six zones, with half the zones exceeding quotas.

“There was such a rush to hunt,” said Melissa Tedrowe, Wisconsin state director for The HSUS.

“After delisting, the only management tool offered by our state or the other states was to kill wolves,” said environmental activist Kelly Powell of Madison. “That isn’t a management plan. That’s slaughter. That isn’t the way to deal with a recovering species.”

The official wolf hunting season in Wisconsin ended in early December 2014.

That month, a federal judge overturned the delisting of the Great Lakes wolves, putting permitted hunts on hold.

Benishek, in a statement, said the delisting amendment “was based on valuable input from both Michigan and federal officials in order to use sound science to responsibly manage the wolf population while also meeting the needs of local communities. As the number of wolves has increased well beyond the recommended number for recovery, there has been a negative impact on other species and a constant threat to livestock and pets.”

The delisting measure has the support of Safari Club International, a hunting group, and the National Rifle Association, the largest gun ownership group in the United States.

On the opposing side, Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity and The Humane Society of the United States, along with many state and local organizations, maintain the congressional push to delist wolves does not involve sound science or responsible management, nor does it have widespread public support.

“I just really want to emphasize that the American public and the majority of Wisconsinites value and appreciate wolves as they icon that they are,” said Keefover.

She and Tedrowe said the drive to delist is based on myths about wolves as predators and ignores the role of large carnivores in the ecosystem.

A year ago, a coalition of animal protection and conservation organizations suggested reclassifying the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act as threatened throughout the contiguous United States. That move would continue federal oversight and funding for species recovery efforts but provide some regulatory flexibility to address wolf conflicts.

“A congressional end run around science and the Endangered Species Act will create more controversy and put wolves and the law itself in jeopardy,” Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said at the time. “The better path is to downlist wolves to threatened, replace the failed piecemeal efforts of the past with a new science-based recovery strategy and bring communities together to determine how wolves will be returned to and managed in places where they once lived.”

The proposal pending in the Senate and the measure that passed the House does not take that approach. Another version of the Senate bill lacks the delisting amendment, and others opposed by animal welfare advocates and environmentalists.

Activists also have grave concerns that lawmakers may attach riders to budget bills providing for the delisting of gray wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming.

Recommended reading …

Wyoming’s dire plans for the wolves by Tim Preso of EarthJustice.

Grizzly protection in Yellowstone may end

The federal government is proposing to lift threatened-species protections for hundreds of Yellowstone-area grizzlies, opening the door to future hunts for the fearsome bears across parts of three states for the first time since the 1970s.

The Associated Press obtained details of the proposal in advance of an announcement on March 3. It caps a four-decade, government-sponsored effort to rebuild the grizzly population and follows the lifting of protections in recent years for more than a dozen other species, including the gray wolf, brown pelican and flying squirrel.

Hunting within Yellowstone National Park would still be prohibited. But the proposal could allow animals to be taken in surrounding parts of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

“By the time the curtain closes on the Obama administration, we are on track to have delisted more species due to recovery than all previous administrations combined,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe told the AP. “We’ve done that because of several decades of hard work, like with the grizzly bear.”

The Grizzly in America

Grizzlies once roamed much of North America and came to symbolize the continent’s untamed wilderness. Hunters and trappers had nearly wiped them out across most of the Lower 48 states by the late 1800s.

A final decision on the proposal is due within a year. It could come sooner if state wildlife commissioners act quickly to adopt rules on how much hunting is allowed. Those rules are not mandatory under the federal proposal, federal officials said.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock told the AP that the bear population would be responsibly managed by state wildlife officials. The Democrat said if a public hunt for the animals is pursued, it could be done in a way that avoids killing bears that live on the periphery of Yellowstone National Park.

“Yellowstone wildlife is treasured. We understand that. We’ll manage them in a way that addresses that sensitivity,” Bullock said.

Protections would remain in place for about 1,000 bears in and around Glacier National Park and smaller populations elsewhere in Montana, Idaho and Washington state. Grizzlies are not protected in Alaska, where hunting has long been allowed.

Since grizzlies in the Lower 48 were added to the endangered and threatened species list in 1975, the number in the Yellowstone region increased from 136 animals to an estimated 700 to 1,000 today, according to government researchers.

Yet after years of growth, the grizzly population plateaued in recent years, and some wildlife advocates say it’s too soon to allow hunting. Also opposed are dozens of American Indian tribes that view the grizzly as a sacred animal.

Formal consultations between the tribes and the Interior Department are ongoing, although Ashe said the issue is unlikely to be resolved.

Federal and state officials said limits on how many bears can be killed will safeguard against a collapse in the bear population.

If bear numbers drop below 600, intentional killings through hunting and the removal of bears that attack livestock would be prohibited. Exceptions would be made for bears that threaten public safety. More hunting would be allowed when bear numbers increase.

Grizzly numbers rebounded despite declines in some of their key food sources, including cutthroat trout and the nuts of whitebark pine, a high-elevation tree devastated by bark beetles and an invasive fungus.

Environmentalists argue that those declines are good reasons to keep protecting the region’s grizzlies. But government-sponsored studies have shown grizzlies are able to adapt easily to different types of food, said Brian Nesvik, wildlife and law enforcement chief for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The last legal hunts for Yellowstone-area bears happened in the 1970s. The animals were taken off the threatened species list in 2007, but that move was struck down and protections were restored two years later after environmental groups challenged the government in court.

State officials and members of Congress have pointed to the case of the grizzly bear as an example of how the Endangered Species Act needs changes so animals don’t linger under federal protections once they are recovered.

Ashe said reforms aren’t needed as much as money to help species recover.

House votes to strip wolves of federal protections

The U.S. House has voted for an amendment to  the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2015 that would strip wolves of federal existing protections in Wyoming, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The amendment, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Dan Benishek of Michigan, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota, would override two federal court decisions that found these states’ management plans do not sufficiently protect wolves.

The legislation would return wolf management to states whose management plans have explicitly been deemed insufficient by federal courts. The wolf delisting amendment further includes a clause precluding further judicial review of the removal of federal protections for wolves in the states at issue.

Drew Caputo, Earthjustice vice-president of litigation for Oceans, Lands and Wildlife, said in a statement, “This is an unfortunate day for wolves.  If enacted, this legislation could prove devastating for the recovery of wolves in the continental United States. What’s at stake here is whether wolves in Wyoming and in the Great Lakes will again face the same unregulated killing that nearly wiped them out in the first place.”

He continued, “Further, this vote by the U.S. House of Representatives is a crack at the very foundation of the Endangered Species Act, a law that has a 99 percent success rate at pulling species back from the brink of extinction. Ninety percent of Americans from across the political spectrum support the Act. If we continue down this slippery slope, we could end up in a world where our children or grandchildren might never again see a bald eagle, or a breaching whale, or hear the cry of a wolf in the wild.”

Forest Service authorized to kill up to 103 spotted owls in national forest

Federal wildlife officials authorized the U.S. Forest Service to kill up to 103 threatened northern spotted owls in 14 timber sales slated for auction this spring in the Klamath National Forest, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Westside Fire Recovery Project will clear-cut 6,800 acres on slopes above the Klamath River where lightning fires in the summer of 2014 affected owl habitat reserves, CBD said in a news release.

“Natural fires restored the forest after decades of fire suppression and gave spotted owls a kitchen full of food,” said Jay Lininger, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Owls can thrive with fire, but they cannot survive clear-cutting after fire.”

In a biological opinion signed on late last week and released on Feb. 25, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that post-fire logging may “incidentally take” 74 adult owls and up to 12-29 juveniles, but will not jeopardize the continued existence of the forest raptor overall.  

The opinion is required by the federal Endangered Species Act before the Forest Service can formally offer the timber sales, which were initially advertised last year.  

More than 70 percent of the area proposed for logging overlaps Late-Successional Reserves designated by the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan to secure old-growth forest habitat for crashing spotted owl populations and prevent their extinction.  

A recently published demographic study found sharp declines of spotted owl populations at an annual rate of nearly 4 percent range-wide from 1985 to 2013. The Klamath Mountains are thought to be the best hope for recovery of the species and a source for long-term repopulation of owls in the Cascades and Coast ranges.  

Despite the owl’s ongoing decline and the scientific recommendation in published literature that post-fire logging should not be conducted within owl territories, the biological opinion allows the Forest Service to remove habitat from up to 57 established activity areas where the owls nest. 

“Clear-cut logging at that scale in occupied habitat is a major setback for spotted owl recovery,” Lininger said. 

The Fish and Wildlife opinion signals for the first time since the regional forest plan went into effect that federal biologists openly disagree about impacts to spotted owl resulting from a post-fire logging project.    

Last fall Dr. Paul Henson, the top Fish and Wildlife official responsible for spotted owl recovery, commented to the Forest Service that logging in the Westside project should be “minimized” where owls remain after fire because large, dead trees will “greatly improve” the quality of forest habitat as it naturally recovers over time.

“In general, most scientists agree that salvage logging does not contribute positively to the ecological recovery of naturally disturbed forests,” Henson wrote. “It is important for (land managers) to seek ways to implement important fuel reduction work without over-utilizing salvage logging that can adversely affect the restoration of natural conditions.”  

Henson also cast doubt on the core rationale advanced by the Forest Service for the project, namely to reduce hazardous fuels and fire danger.

“In our experience many post-fire salvage projects tend to be more opportunistic than part of a larger-scale, proactive strategic planning effort to reduce fire spread and severity,” he wrote.

Foresters also recently wrapped up a separate consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service stating that post-fire logging would harm threatened coho salmon by adding sedimentation to Grider and Walker creeks and reducing egg survival. 

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