Tag Archives: fish and wildlife service

Rep. Sean Duffy’s bill would strip protections for wolves

Legislation was introduced on Jan. 10 in Congress to strip federal protections from wolves in the Great Lakes region and Wyoming.

With language preventing any further judicial review, the bill would overrule two court decisions that found the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrongly removed Endangered Species Act protections for the wolf.

“The new Congress is the most extreme and anti-wolf our country has ever seen, and members wasted no time in attacking endangered wildlife,” said Collette Adkins, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This bill promises to undo hard-earned progress toward gray wolf recovery that has taken years to achieve. Without federal protection hundreds of wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan will once again suffer and die every year.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes region — Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota — in 2011 and in Wyoming in 2012.

Federal judges have overturned agency decisions for prematurely removing protections, failing to follow the requirements of the federal Endangered Species Act and ignoring the best available science.

Since the 2011 passage of a rider abolishing wolf protections in the northern Rocky Mountains, there have been dozens of legislative attacks on wolves in Congress, according to the CBD.  The bill introduced this week is the first introduced in the 115th Congress.

“Wolf recovery should be allowed to follow a course prescribed by science, not politics,” Adkins said. “This shameful meddling is harmful to wolves, harmful to science and harmful to our democratic processes.”

The bill has bipartisan sponsorship. It was introduced by U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Sean Duffy, R-Wis. and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.

Similar bills have passed the House but failed to clear the Senate and White House. But that was when the Senate and White House were in Democratic control.

CBD said the bill’s chances are considered  better in 2017,  when Republicans will control the House, Senate and White House.

For the record

Wayne Pacelle, president & CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, wrote about the issue on his blog for The HSUS. An excerpt:

With Republican majorities in both chambers, and with the Trump administration likely to actively support trophy hunting, this is a perilous moment for wolves.

In order to retain federal protections for them, we’ll need a massive outpouring of concern from citizens to their lawmakers. If they are delisted, we can expect more than 500 of the 5,000 wolves in the lower 48 to be shot, trapped, snared, and even chased by packs of hounds this coming fall and winter.

Please call your U.S. representative and U.S. senators and urge them to oppose any delisting bills or amendments or riders in Congress because they subvert judicial review and fly in the face of science that shows wolves are not adequately recovered to remove protections and turn management over to states that have pledged to immediately begin killing them again.

Your comments on the grizzly bear delisting proposal have enormously influenced decision makers, and now it’s time to speak up loudly and in overwhelming numbers for the wolves.

The entire blog is here.


Feds could ground ultralight-led whooping crane migration

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided it will no longer support the use of ultralight aircraft to help young whooping cranes migrate from Wisconsin to Florida each fall.

Officials announced late last week that this season’s ultralight-guided flights to the birds’ wintering home will be the last.

Operation Migration is a nonprofit group that has led the mechanized migrations for 15 years. The Canadian-based group has opposed the end of ultralights, saying ultralight assistance has helped cranes survive.

Fish and Wildlife officials say one reason for the decision was a lack of success the birds have seen in producing chicks and raising them in the wild.

The public-private effort has spent more than $20 million to help the flock. 

Operation Migration warns: FWS ‘visions’ end to ultralight guided release of whooping cranes

On Oct. 15 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service posted a document outlining its vision for the next five-year strategic plan for the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and the Eastern Migratory Population.

In their vision document, FWS proposed radical changes to the release methods used for the Eastern Migratory Population including ending the use of the ultralight-guided migration technique in favor of the Direct Autumn Release and other, as yet, untested methods. 

The reason is that the FWS feels the ultralight release method is “artificial” yet they have provided no data to back their claim that this is detrimental to the Whooping cranes. Alternatively, if you read our response, you will see that using data derived from the WCEP database, the UL method is the most successful thus far in terms of survivability, migratory behavior, and breeding success. 

In fact, the UL method most closely replicates the natural life history of the species in that, just as their parents would, OM teaches the young Whooping cranes a suitable migration route and cares for them until the following spring — just as their parents would.  

It is important to point out that, while the FWS is but one member of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, it has control over egg allocations each year. The FWS recommends prioritizing allocation of eggs for use in methods with shorter periods of captivity and more limited exposure to costumed humans.

A fact: Time spent in captivity and exposure to costumed humans is greater with other release methods.

Whooping cranes hatch at the captive breeding centers in May/June. The other methods involve holding cranes in captivity at the propagation centers until they are moved to the release sites in mid-September or later. The UL cranes are moved from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center to the White River Marsh at an average age of 46 days. From this point on, they are being exercised and learning important flight skills, just as they would with their natural parents. Cranes raised under the other release methods are not allowed to fly until such time as they are moved to the reintroduction areas in September or later.

Cranes held in captivity throughout the normal fledging period are at a disadvantage to their wild counterparts in that their flight muscles are not as well developed and they lack flying skills normally learned earlier in their life history. These skills are important to avoid predators, power lines and other obstacles. UL birds learn those skills and develop that endurance well before they encounter such dangers in the wild.

A fact: The UL method has resulted in higher first year and annual survival thereafter.

A fact: The only wild-produced crane colts in the Eastern Population which have survived to fledge resulted from ultralight/ultralight pairs.

Since the 2011 move to White River and Horicon Marsh, almost five years of work has been done by the non-profit WCEP partners.

In using only data from the first 10 years of this project to justify their Vision Document, FWS has painted the entire Eastern Migratory Population with a Necedah brush. It has ignored almost one-third of the available data and discounted all that has been invested in the Wisconsin Rectangle so far. The timing of their recommendation to end UL releases is even more short-sighted when one considers that Whooping cranes don’t typically breed until five years of age and, even then, don’t generally produce more than one offspring per season.

We are now on the cusp of determining if these cranes can successfully breed in the blackfly-free habitat of the Wisconsin Rectangle. Ending the UL program now is premature.

Heather Ray is the director of development for Operation Migration.

Get involved …

Operation Migration is on the Web at operationmigration.org.

Read WiG’s cover story on Operation Migration and the effort to rescue whooping cranes from the edge of extinction.

Obama pledges ban on interstate sales of nearly all ivory

President Barack Obama is tightening U.S. rules on sales of ivory from African elephants, aiming to show progress on conservation.

During a new conference in Nairobi, Obama said the restrictions will eliminate the market for illegal ivory in the United States.

“I can announce that we’re proposing a new rule that bans the sale of virtually all ivory across state lines,” Obama said.

The proposed U.S. Fish and Wildlife regulation would prohibit the sale across state lines of ivory from African elephants and further restrict commercial exports. But it provides limited exceptions for interstate sales, namely pre-existing musical instruments, furniture pieces and firearms that contain less than 200 grams of ivory.

Widely anticipated, the rule follows other restrictions Obama put in place last year aimed at choking the marketplace for poachers who have decimated African elephant populations and threatened their extinction. An estimated 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory between 2010 and 2012.

“We want to ensure our nation is not contributing to the scourge of poaching that is decimating elephant populations across Africa,” said Dan Ashe, director of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service.

In Congress, some House lawmakers hope to prevent the proposed rule from being enacted. The National Rifle Association has warned the rule could ban the sale of many firearms with ivory inlays.

Take action to stop the slaughter of African elephants.

Wisconsin groups join petition to reclassify gray wolves under Endangered Species Act

Animal protection and conservation organizations petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act as threatened throughout the contiguous United States, with the exception of the Mexican gray wolf which remains listed as endangered.

The proposal would continue federal oversight and funding of wolf recovery efforts and encourage development of a national recovery plan for the species, but would also give the Fish and Wildlife Service regulatory flexibility to permit state and local wildlife managers to address specific wolf conflicts.

Gray wolves are currently protected as endangered throughout their range in the lower 48 states, except in Minnesota where they are listed as threatened and in Montana, Idaho and eastern Oregon and Washington, where they have no Endangered Species Act protections.

Some members of Congress are advocating for legislation to remove all protections for wolves under federal law by delisting the animal under the Endangered Species Act. The petition proposes an alternative path to finalizing wolf recovery based on the best available science, rather than politics and fear, and would help to find a balanced middle ground on a controversial issue that has been battled out in the courts and in states with diverse views among stakeholders on wolf conservation.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement, “Several states have badly failed in their management of wolves, and their brand of reckless trapping, trophy hunting, and even hound hunting just has not been supported by the courts or by the American people. We do, however, understand the fears that some ranchers have about wolves, and we believe that maintaining federal protections while allowing more active management of human-wolf conflicts achieves the right balance for all key stakeholders and is consistent with the law.”

Wolf populations are still recovering from decades of persecution — government-sponsored bounty programs resulted in mass extermination of wolves at the beginning of the last century, and the species was nearly eliminated from the landscape of the lower 48 states. Wolf numbers have increased substantially where the Endangered Species Act has been implemented, but recovery is still not complete, as the species only occupies as little as 5 percent of its historic range, and human-caused mortality continues to constitute the majority of documented wolf deaths. 

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

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s piecemeal efforts to delist gray wolves in the northern Rockies and western Great Lakes have been roundly criticized by scientists and repeatedly rejected by multiple federal courts.

In addition to denouncing the service’s fragmented approach to wolf recovery, courts have recognized that several states have recklessly attempted to quickly and dramatically reduce wolf numbers through unnecessary and cruel hunting and trapping programs. The public does not support recreational and commercial killing of wolves, as evidenced by the recent decision by Michigan voters in the November 2014 election to reject sport hunting of wolves. Wolves are inedible, and only killed for their heads or fur.

Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, said, “Complex conservation problems require sophisticated solutions. The history of wolf protection in America is riddled with vitriolic conflict and shortsightedness and it is time for a coordinated, forward-thinking approach that removes the most barbaric treatment of this iconic species and focuses on the long-term viability of wolf populations throughout the country.”

The threatened listing proposed by the petition would promote continued recovery of the species at a national level so that it is not left perpetually at the doorstep of extinction. A threatened listing would also permit the Fish and Wildlife Service some regulatory flexibility to work with state and local wildlife managers to appropriately address wolf conflicts, including depredation of livestock.

Groups filing the petition include national organizations and those based in wolf range states:

• Born Free USA

• Center for Biological Diversity

• Detroit Audubon

• Detroit Zoological Society

• The Fund for Animals

• Friends of Animals and Their Environment

• Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf

• Help Our Wolves Live

• Howling for Wolves

• The Humane Society of the United States

• Justice for Wolves

• Midwest Environmental Advocates

• Minnesota Humane Society

• Minnesota Voters for Animal Protection

• National Wolfwatcher Coalition

• Northwoods Alliance

• Predator Defense

• Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians

• Wildlife Public Trust and Coexistence

• Wildwoods (Minnesota)

• Wisconsin Federated Humane Societies

• Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin

Posted by Lisa Neff.

Groups sue seeking recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves

A coalition of animal welfare and environmental groups has sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for repeated failures over the past 38 years to develop a valid recovery plan for the imperiled Mexican gray wolf, one of the most endangered mammals in North America.

With only 83 individuals and five breeding pairs in the wild at last report, Mexican gray wolves remain at serious risk of extinction, according to the coalition. They say a recovery plan, a blueprint for rebuilding an endangered species’ population to sustainable levels, is necessary to ensure the lobos’ survival and is legally required under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“The opportunity to recover the Mexican gray wolf is slipping away due to genetic problems and inadequate management policies, but the government still hasn’t created the basic recovery blueprint that the law requires,” said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso, who is representing the groups. “We are asking a judge to order federal officials to develop a scientifically-grounded recovery plan before it is too late.”

Earthjustice is representing Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, retired Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator David R. Parsons, the Endangered Wolf Center and the Wolf Conservation Center.

“For three decades now, Fish and  Wildlife officials have been dragging their feet on completing a recovery plan simply to appease state leaders and special interest groups opposed to sharing the landscape with wolves,” said Michael Robinson, a wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s shameful that the very people charged with recovering our wildlife have turned their backs on these beautiful creatures, leaving them to battle inbreeding and a host of other threats pushing them to the brink of extinction.”

The service developed a document it labeled a “Recovery Plan” in 1982, but the agency admits the document was incomplete, intended for only short-term application, and “did not contain objective and measurable recovery criteria for delisting as required” by the Endangered Species Act.

Also, the document did not provide a science-based roadmap to move the Mexican gray wolf toward recovery. In 2010, the service in 2010 admitted that the wild Mexican gray wolf population “is not thriving” and remains “at risk of failure.”

“In the Spring of 2012, the service cancelled the next meeting of the recovery team,” said Eva Sargent, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlif. “And we haven’t heard a word since. The majority of Arizonans and New Mexicans support recovery of the lobo, and they deserve more than decades of stalling on the most basic task — a scientific blueprint that moves the wolves from endangered to secure.”

Service-appointed scientists drafted a plan in 2012 that called for establishing three interconnected Mexican gray wolf populations totaling at least 750 animals as criteria for delisting, but the plan has never been finalized. The abandonment of the 2012 recovery planning process leaves Mexican wolf recovery guided by the legally and scientifically deficient 1982 plan, which did not even set a population recovery goal.

A new report, “Deadly Wait: How the Government’s 30-year Delay in Producing a Recovery Plan is Hurting Recovery of Mexican Gray Wolves,” contains documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act that demonstrate the most recent effort to develop a recovery plan was quashed by the service in 2012 at the behest of the states of Arizona, Colorado and Utah, which did not want to see Mexican wolves recovered within their borders.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include two environmental education organizations that operate captive-breeding facilities providing Mexican gray wolves for release into the wild. Despite their efforts, Mexican gray wolf survival continues to be threatened by the lack of a recovery plan to ensure that wolf releases are sufficient to establish a viable population.

“Recovery cannot take place in captivity alone,” said Virginia Busch of the Endangered Wolf Center. “Only by developing and implementing a comprehensive and legally compliant recovery plan reflecting the best available scientific information can Fish and Wildlife Service secure the future of the Mexican wolf, and establish management sufficient to restore this irreplaceable part of our wild natural heritage to the American landscape.”

Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York, added, “The captive-breeding program that we operate aims to release wolves into their ancestral homes in the wild, but the success of our efforts requires a recovery plan that will ensure the survival of these iconic and imperiled wolves.”

Endangered species protection sought for monarch butterfly

The Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for monarch butterflies, which have declined by more than 90 percent in under 20 years.

During the same period the once-common iconic orange and black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds, according to a statement from the organizations.

“Monarchs are in a deadly free fall and the threats they face are now so large in scale that Endangered Species Act protection is needed sooner rather than later, while there is still time to reverse the severe decline in the heart of their range,” said Lincoln Brower, monarch researcher and conservationist, who has been studying the species since 1954.

“We’re at risk of losing a symbolic backyard beauty that has been part of the childhood of every generation of Americans,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The 90 percent drop in the monarch’s population is a loss so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio.”

The butterfly’s decline is being driven by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born, according to the center.

The vast majority of genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a uniquely potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food. The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in Midwestern corn and soybean fields.

“The widespread decline of monarchs is driven by the massive spraying of herbicides on genetically engineered crops, which has virtually eliminated monarch habitat in cropland that dominates the Midwest landscape,” said Bill Freese, a Center for Food Safety science policy analyst. “Doing what is needed to protect monarchs will also benefit pollinators and other valuable insects, and thus safeguard our food supply.”

Monarch butterflies are known for their multigenerational migration each year from Mexico to Canada and back. Found throughout the United States during summer months, in winter most monarchs from east of the Rockies converge in the mountains of central Mexico, where they form tight clusters on just a few acres of trees. Most monarchs west of the Rockies migrate to trees along the California coast to overwinter.

The population has declined from a recorded high of about 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to 35 million butterflies last winter, the lowest number ever recorded.

The overall population shows a steep and statistically significant decline of 90 percent over 20 years.

In addition to herbicide use with genetically engineered crops, monarchs are also threatened by global climate change, drought and heat waves, other pesticides, urban sprawl and logging on their Mexican wintering grounds.

Scientists have predicted that the monarch’s entire winter range in Mexico and large parts of its summer range in the states could become unsuitable due to changing temperatures and increased risk of drought, heat waves and severe storms.

Monarchs need a large population size to be resilient to threats from severe weather events and predation. Nearly half of the overwintering population in Mexico can be eaten by bird and mammal predators in any single winter; a single winter storm in 2002 killed an estimated 500 million monarchs — 14 times the size of the entire current population.

“The purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to protect species like the monarch, and protect them, now, before it’s too late,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety. “We’ve provided FWS a legal and scientific blueprint of the urgently needed action here.”

“The monarch is the canary in the cornfield, a harbinger of environmental change that we’ve brought about on such a broad scale that many species of pollinators are now at risk if we don’t take action to protect them,” said Brower.

The Fish and Wildlife Service must now issue a 90-day finding on whether the petition warrants further review.

Wolf scientists: Science doesn’t support stripping protections

A panel of scientists says that the Obama administration’s proposal to end federal protections for gray wolves across most of the lower 48 states contains substantial errors and misrepresents the science regarding wolf conservation and wolf taxonomy.

The four leading wolf scientists were unanimous in their broad criticism of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s June 2013 proposal to drop Endangered Species Act protections for the wolves, which occupy less than 5 percent of their historic range.

“The nation’s top wolf scientists today confirmed what we and millions of American’s have been saying for months: The job of wolf recovery is far from complete,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This peer review is a major blow to the Obama administration’s highly political effort to prematurely remove protections for wolves.”

The scientists were particularly critical of the government’s determination that the gray wolf never occurred in 29 eastern states, but rather that a different species of wolf known as the “eastern wolf” occurred there. This determination forms a primary basis for removing protections.

“The service’s attempt to justify this decision on dubious science does not mask the fact that wolves occupy just a small fraction of their former range in the United States,” said Greenwald. “And in the few places where wolves have returned, they face levels of persecution not seen since the early 1900s that have resulted in the deaths of more than 2,600 wolves since 2011.”

Peer review is a critical part of the process in deciding whether to end endangered species protection for a species because it ensures outside experts agree that a species is truly able to stand on its own once protections are ended. Despite the importance of an objective and independent peer review process, in August of last year, the Service interfered with the selection of peer reviewers for the gray wolf delisting proposal. Some of the nation’s top wolf biologists were disqualified because the Service concluded that the scientists had an unacceptable “affiliation with an advocacy position.” After this information came to light the Service acknowledged its mistake, scrapped the first peer review panel and started a new process that was firewalled from Service influence.

“After playing fast-and-loose with the rules during the first peer review panel and getting caught, the Fish and Wildlife Service cannot ignore the results of this second peer review panel,” said Greenwald. “It is time for the Service to withdraw its delisting proposal and instead develop a long-term plan to restore wolves to New England, the Southern Rockies and the West Coast; only then can the wolf truly be considered recovered in the United States.”