Tag Archives: threatened

Federal rule would permit deaths of thousands of eagles

The Obama administration is revising a federal rule that allows wind-energy companies to operate high-speed turbines for up to 30 years, even if means killing or injuring thousands of bald and golden eagles.

Under the plan announced earlier in May, wind companies and other power providers could kill or injure up to 4,200 bald eagles a year without penalty — nearly four times the current limit. Golden eagles could only be killed if companies take steps to minimize the losses, for instance, by retrofitting power poles to reduce the risk of electrocution.

Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said the proposal will “provide a path forward” for maintaining eagle populations while also spurring development of a pollution-free energy source that’s intended to ease global warming, a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s energy plan.

Ashe said the 162-page proposal would protect eagles and at the same time “help the country reduce its reliance on fossil fuels” such as coal and oil that contribute to global warming.

“There’s a lot of good news in here,” Ashe said in an interview, calling the plan “a great tool to work with to further conservation of two iconic species.”

The proposal sets objectives for eagle management, addresses how bird populations will be monitored and provides a framework for how the permitting system fits within the agency’s overall eagle management, Ashe said.

Wind farms are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning rotors as wide as a passenger jet’s wingspan. Blades can reach speeds of up to 170 mph at the tips, creating tornado-like vortexes.

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are about 143,000 bald eagles in the United States, and 40,000 golden eagles.

It’s unclear what toll wind energy companies are having on eagle populations, although Ashe said as many 500 golden eagles a year are killed by collisions with wind towers, power lines, buildings, cars and trucks. Thousands more are killed by gunshots and poisonings.

Reporting of eagle mortality is voluntary, and the Interior Department refuses to release the information.

Wednesday’s announcement kicks off a 60-day comment period. Officials hope to issue a final rule this fall.

The plan was developed after a federal judge in California blocked a 2013 rule that gave wind energy companies a 30-year pass to kill bald and golden eagles.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh ruled last August that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to follow environmental procedural requirements in issuing the 2013 directive. The agency had classified its action as an administrative change from a 2009 rule, excluding it from a full environmental review.

The agency adopted the 30-year rule as a way to encourage the development of wind energy, a key source of renewable power that has nearly tripled in output since 2009. A previous rule allowed wind farms to apply for renewable five-year permits.

Golden and bald eagles are not endangered species but are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The laws prohibit killing, selling or otherwise harming eagles, their nests or eggs without a permit.

The permits would be reviewed every five years, and companies would have to submit reports of how many eagles they kill.

David Ward, a spokesman for the American Wind Energy Association, said wind power helps conserve eagles by mitigating climate change, a major threat to the birds. “While unintentional take of eagles can occur from wind energy production, it is relatively uncommon and our industry does more than any other to find ways to reduce that small impact,” Ward said.

Michael Hutchins of the American Bird Conservancy said that unless the plan requires better tracking of bird deaths at or near wind turbines it is unlikely to succeed. Hutchins, whose group filed a lawsuit challenging the 2013 eagle plan, said officials must ensure that bird-death reporting is done by independent observers rather than by the industry, which he said treats such data as “trade secrets.”

“Mortality data should be transparent and open to the public,” Hutchins said. The group also is concerned that wind farms are not sited in migratory paths of eagles, he said.

Under the new proposal, companies would pay a $36,000 fee for a long-term permit allowing them to kill or injure eagles. Companies would have to commit to take additional measures if they kill or injure more eagles than estimated, or if new information suggests eagle populations are being affected.

Companies would be charged a $15,000 administrative fee every five years for long-term permits. The fees would cover costs to the Fish and Wildlife Service of conducting five-year evaluations and developing modifications, the agency said.

U.S. hunters import 126,000 wildlife ‘trophies’ annually

U.S. hunters import about 126,000 “wildlife trophies” annually and killed about 1.26 million animals between 2005 and 2014, according to the Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States.

Trophy hunting is the killing of animals for body parts, such as the head and hide, for display or decor rather than for food and sustenance. A recent study examining the motivation for such hunts found that U.S. hunters glamorize the killing of an animal to demonstrate virility, prowess and dominance.

A report from Humane Society International/Humane Society of the United States titled Trophy Hunting by the Numbers: the United States’ Role in Global Trophy Hunting, uses an analysis of hunting trophy import data obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Some findings:

• Trophies are primarily imported from Canada and South Africa, followed by Namibia, Mexico, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Tanzania, Argentina, Zambia and Botswana.

• Trophy hunters most want to kill American black bears, impalas, common wildebeests, greater kudus, gemsboks, springboks and bonteboks.

• Trophy hunters highly covet the so-called “African big five” — lions, elephants, leopards, white rhinos and buffalo. All of these species, except the African buffalo, are classified as near threatened or vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

• The U.S. ports of entry that received the most wildlife trophies in the past decade were New York City; Pembina, North Dakota; Chicago; Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas; and Portal, North Dakota.

“This report clearly shows the dire impact American trophy hunters are having on wildlife in other countries,” said Teresa M. Telecky, director of the wildlife department at HSI.

She continued, “It’s outrageous that every year hunters take the lives of thousands of animals, many threatened with extinction, just to win a prize and show off. These animals need protection, not to be mounted on a wall. The fact that rare, majestic species are entering the U.S. in large and small ports of entry should alarm lawmakers and the public concerned about trophy hunting.”

Hunting groups promote the hunts, offering accolades and awards to club members. The largest of these groups, Safari Club International, recently concluded its convention in Las Vegas, where more than 300 mammal hunts for more than 600 animals were auctioned off, and other hunts were arranged privately on the exhibit floor. An African lion trophy hunt can cost $13,500–$49,000. An African elephant hunt can cost $11,000–$70,000.

SCI often uses the revenue from hunt sales to lobby against wildlife protection measures.

U.S. “trophy hunters” highly covet the African big five. The import numbers for 2005–14 are 17,200 African buffalo, 5,600 African lions, 4,600 African elephants, 4,500 African leopards and 330 southern white rhinos. Photo: GraphicStock
U.S. “trophy hunters” highly covet the African big five. The import numbers for 2005–14 are 17,200 African buffalo, 5,600 African lions, 4,600 African elephants, 4,500 African leopards and 330 southern white rhinos. Photo: GraphicStock

For certain species, including lions, elephants, leopards and rhinos, the U.S. is the largest trophy-importing country.

HSI and The HSUS, in a statement on the report, pledged to continue to seek new protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act for species that meet the criteria for listing.

The African lion is the latest species to receive ESA protection, after a multi-year effort by animal protection organizations, including HSI and The HSUS.

The groups are seeking increased ESA protections for species currently listed in a lower category of protection, as was recently done for the African elephant. HSI and The HSUS are also urging corporations — such as Swarovski Optik  — to end sponsorship of trophy-hunting advocacy organizations.

Alleged shooter of whooping cranes faces charge under Endangered Species Act

The case against the alleged shooter of two endangered Whooping Cranes in Texas last month has been re-filed under the federal Endangered Species Act, which increases the likelihood of larger penalties for the crime.

Environmental activists were concerned that Trey Frederick might be tried for a Class B misdemeanor under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

“If we hope to deter future shootings, perpetrators must be prosecuted vigorously. In all cases of Whooping Crane shootings, we demand justice for the birds that were killed, restitution for the enormous effort needed to bring them back, and personal penalties that match the seriousness of the crime,” said Rich Beilfuss, president & CEO of the International Crane Foundation.

In the 1940s, there were fewer than 20 Whooping Cranes left in the wild.

With conservation and reintroduction efforts, the crane numbers slowly increased to about 400 total in the wild.

The two cranes shot in Texas were members of the recently reintroduced Louisiana flock which numbers just about 30.

Over the past five years, more than 20 Whooping Cranes have been shot and killed in the United States.

“Whooping Cranes are an iconic species, central to our shared natural heritage. We are grateful to the thousands of citizens who have demanded justice in this case and thank federal authorities for continuing to pursue a just outcome. It’s our hope that by working together, we can prevent future tragedies like these shootings,” Beilfuss said. 

German police say New Year’s sexual assaults may be linked to crime ring

Police in Germany said they are investigating whether a string of sexual assaults and thefts during New Year’s celebrations in Cologne is linked to a known criminal network in the nearby city of Duesseldorf.

The assaults last week have prompted outrage in Germany and a fresh debate about immigration, after police said the perpetrators appeared to be of “Arab or North African origin.”

A more nuanced picture of what happened in the New Year’s Eve chaos outside the Cologne train station emerged on Jan. 6.

Police said about 1,000 men gathered there and that smaller groups surrounded individual women, harassed them and stole their belongings. Police do not believe all 1,000 men were involved in the attacks, though they have not said how many were.

The interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state, where Cologne and Duesseldorf are located, told news agency dpa that police have identified three suspects but have not yet arrested anyone.

About 90 people filed criminal complaints, though police have not said how many of them were women who were sexually assaulted. At least one woman said she was raped.

Police said some of the assaults in Cologne appeared similar to incidents that have been reported over the past two years in Duesseldorf, where men have groped women to distract them before stealing their belongings. The two cities are 25 miles apart.

Duesseldorf police were working closely with their counterparts in Cologne to determine whether crimes in the two cities might be connected.

Cologne police have faced criticism for their response to the New Year’s Eve assaults, the scale of which emerged only slowly. On Jan. 1, they issued a statement saying that the celebrations had been “largely peaceful.”

Mayor Henriette Reker said she expected police to analyze what went wrong and “draw consequences from that.”

She didn’t elaborate on what that would entail. Police chief Wolfgang Albers has shrugged off questions about his own future, saying that he will stay in his post.

Reker herself was mocked on social media for saying, when asked about what women can do to protect themselves better: “There is always the possibility of keeping a certain distance, more than an arm’s length” from strangers.

Some of those who criticized her felt that Reker was blaming women for the attacks and lambasted the idea that women could have simply protected themselves by keeping men at arm’s length.

Reker said that she regretted any misunderstanding, but had merely been pointing to existing prevention and counseling programs in response to a journalist’s question.

“The priority is for concrete security to be provided on our streets and squares,” she said in a statement.

Authorities have cautioned that the nationality and residency status of the Cologne suspects is still unknown, since no one has been arrested.

Germany’s top security official stressed that those involved must be punished regardless of where they come from. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said that “you cannot draw a general suspicion against refugees from the indications that they were perhaps people who looked North African.”

He added that “a bit of patience is necessary to clear up as completely as possible the structure of the perpetrators and the organizational structures there might have been,” including whether there was any link to similar, smaller-scale incidents on New Year’s Eve in Hamburg.

Illegal loggers clear-cut 24 acres of winter grounds for monarch butterflies

Studies found that illegal loggers clear-cut at least 24 acres in the monarch butterflies’ wintering grounds in central Mexico this year, a Mexican environmentalist said.

Writer and activist Homero Aridjis said the illegal logging went on unchecked between April and August and occurred in one of the most important areas of the reserve.

Earlier, Mexican officials had said that the reserve lost about 22 acres due to illegal logging in one area this year and that a number of arrests were made.

Illegal logging had fallen to almost zero in 2012. The butterflies depend on the pine and fir forests west of Mexico City to shelter them against cold and rain.

Aridjis called on authorities to stop all illegal logging in the butterfly reserve.

1st wolf pack in decades seen in northern California

California has its first wolf pack since the state’s gray wolf population went extinct in 1924.

State and federal authorities announced that a remote camera captured photos earlier this month of two adults and five pups in southeastern Siskiyou County.

They were named the Shasta pack for nearby Mount Shasta.

The pack was discovered four years after the famous Oregon wandering wolf OR-7 first reached Northern California.

Karen Kovacs of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said it was an amazing accomplishment for gray wolves to establish themselves in Northern California just 21 years after wolves were reintroduced in the Northern Rockies.

Those wolves eventually migrated into Oregon and Washington before reaching California, where they are protected by federal and state endangered speciesacts.

Just where these wolves, all black in color, came from will have to wait for DNA testing on scat at an Idaho lab, but it is likely they are a continuation of the increasing numbers of wolves migrating from Oregon’s northeastern corner to the southern Cascade Range, Kovacs said.

Though the wolves have been spotted by local ranchers tending their herds, there have been no reports of wolf attacks on livestock, Kovacs said.

Amaroq Weiss, of the conservation group with Center for Biological Diversity, said she was more worried the wolves could fall victim to hunters as hunting season gets underway.

Anticipating that wolves would migrate into the state, California declared them an endangered species last year, but the state Fish and Wildlife Department does not expect to have a management plan in force until the end of this year, Kovacs said.

The department has no goals for how many wolves might eventually live in California and no idea how many once lived in the state, she added. California’s last known native wolf was killed in 1924 in neighboring Lassen County.

There are at least 5,500 gray wolves in the contiguous 48 states, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Fish and Wildlife denies petition to reclassify gray wolves as ‘threatened’

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on June 30 denied a petition from 22 conservation and animal welfare groups to reclassify nearly all gray wolves in the lower 48 states as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act — a step that would continue federal oversight and funding for wolf recovery and encourage the development of a national recovery plan.

The reclassification would also have given the Fish and Wildlife Service flexibility to permit state and local wildlife managers to address specific wolf conflicts, according to the petitioners.

Michael Markarian, chief program and policy officer of The Humane Society of the United States, said, “We are disappointed in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision not to consider this middle-ground approach to wolf management. A threatened listing is a reasonable compromise to this contentious issue and it retains some federal protection for wolves, while providing more flexibility to the states in dealing with the occasional problem wolf.”

The agency denied the request, saying the wolves in the petition didn’t constitute a “distinct population segment,” even though they’ve been classified that way since 1978.

“These wolves deserve a real shot at full recovery across the country and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is doing its best to make sure that never happens,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Service’s claim that wolves don’t constitute a distinct population is ludicrous and totally belied by the fact they’ve been considered distinct in the lower 48 for more than three decades.”

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 Montana, Idaho, eastern Oregon and Washington, where they have no Endangered Species Act protections.

Some members of Congress are pushing legislation to remove all Endangered Species Act protections for wolves.

The reclassification petition filed by conservation groups in January proposed an alternative path to finalizing wolf recovery based on the best available science rather than politics.

“Sadly the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seems content to let politicians in Congress, rather than scientists, decide the future of wolf recovery in the United States,” Greenwald said. “Denying the petition to reclassify wolves is yet another sign this agency is hoping to wash its hands of wolf recovery and leave the job unfinished forever.”

Markarian said, “We need practical solutions, not to turn back the clock to the days of widespread hound hunting, baiting and trapping of hundreds of wolves in states with hostile and reckless wolf management policies.”

Fond du Lac allowing beekeeping in city limits

Fond du Lac is now allowing residents to practice beekeeping within city limits.

Action Reporter Media reports the Fond du Lac City Council unanimously passed an ordinance on May 13 allowing beekeeping in residential neighborhoods. It was already legal in parts of the city that are zoned for agriculture.

Residents would have to apply for a yearly beekeeping permit. There is a cap of two hives per property and a 5-foot height limit. Hives must also sit at least 25 feet from property edges, and residents won’t be allowed to sell honey from those hives.

Neighbors living in adjacent properties who are allergic to bees would be able to give input about granting the permit.

Milwaukee and Madison have opted to let residents keep bees on their properties in recent years.

Court: Navy war games harm whales, dolphins

A federal court this week said the U.S. Navy’s training and testing activities off the coast of Southern California and Hawaii illegally harm more than 60 whale, dolphin, seal and sea lion populations.

The U.S. District Court of Hawaii ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated multiple requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act by allowing the Navy’s plan.

“Searching the administrative record’s reams of pages for some explanation as to why the Navy’s activities were authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service, this court feels like the sailor in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ who, trapped for days on a ship becalmed in the middle of the ocean, laments, ‘Water, water every where, Nor any drop to drink.’” the court wrote in a 66-page opinion.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Cetacean Society International, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Pacific Environment and Resources Center and Michael Stocker brought the case to the court.

Last year, the case was consolidated  with another action — Conservation Council for Hawaii v. National Marine Fisheries Service — challenging the government’s authorizations of Navy activities in Hawaii and Southern California.

The court also ruled against the government in that action.

Under its five-year plan for training and testing, the Navy is permitted to harm whales, dolphins and other marine mammals nearly 9.6 million times while conducting high-intensity sonar exercises and underwater detonations, according to a statement from the NRDC. The impacts include millions of instances of temporary hearing loss and significant disruptions in vital behaviors, such as habitat abandonment, as well as permanent hearing loss, permanent injury and more than 150 deaths.

Ocean noise is one of the biggest threats worldwide to the health and well-being of marine mammals, which rely on sound to “see” their world.

Navy sonar activities, shipping noise and seismic exploration by oil and gas companies have made our oceans noisier in recent decades, resulting in widespread disruption to feeding, communication and mating.

Zak Smith, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s marine mammal protection project, said, “Defenseless marine mammals are going deaf and hungry and may die at the hands of our Navy. And the laws we have that are meant to limit such harms have been misused by the government.

“Instead of downplaying the impacts on marine mammals — including endangered blue, fin and humpback whales — the government should be doing more to protect them from these harmful activities.”

Wisconsin congressman introduces measure to remove wolves from endangered species list

Wisconsin Congressman Reid Ribble has introduced legislation that would remove gray wolves in those states from the “endangered” species list.

This legislation comes on the heels of two recent court cases that placed wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming back under federal protection due to overreaching state management programs that jeopardized wolf recovery. It is the first of several bills expected to be introduced this Congress seeking to weaken protections for wolves and to subvert a series of federal court rulings that determined that the federal government has too narrowly segmented wolf populations and that the states had overreached in their trophy hunting, commercial trapping and hounding programs.  

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said, “This legislation is an end-around a series of federal court rulings that have determined that state and federal agencies have acted improperly in acting to delist wolves. This bill is just a the latest act of political bomb-throwing and gamesmanship, and lawmakers who want balance on the wolf issue should reject it.”

In November, Michigan citizens voted overwhelmingly to increase protections for wolves and to put a stop to plans that would have allowed trophy hunting and commercial trapping of wolves.

And earlier this year, The HSUS and 21 animal protection and conservation organizations offered an alternative to congressional delisting and a path to national recovery by petitioning 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.

If adopted, the proposal would continue federal oversight and approval of wolf management efforts, but would also provide more  flexibility for state and local wildlife management to address specific wolf conflicts, including lethal control for depredation of livestock.

Earlier this year, a Washington State University peer-reviewed study revealed that wolf control efforts often trigger effects that result in more livestock depredation by breaking up packs and stimulating reproduction by survivors.