Plan to Kill Colorado Mountain Lions, Black Bears Prompts Lawsuit Against U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Three conservation and animal-protection organizations sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Thursday for funding a Colorado Parks and Wildlife plan to kill hundreds of mountain lions and dozens of black bears without analyzing the risks to the state's environment.
The multi-year plan to kill black bears and mountain lions in the Piceance Basin and Upper Arkansas River areas of Colorado is intended to artificially boost the mule deer population where habitat has been degraded by oil and gas drilling. The killing plans were approved despite overwhelming public opposition, and over the objection of leading scientific voices in Colorado.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Colorado by the Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States and WildEarth Guardians. The lawsuit faults the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to adequately analyze the impacts of these lethal predator-control experiments under the National Environmental Policy Act.
"It's appalling that the Fish and Wildlife Service bankrolled this killing without bothering to truly examine the environmental risks," said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Reckless oil and gas drilling has destroyed mule deer habitat, and outdated predator-control techniques can't fix that. Slaughtering bears and mountain lions will only further damage these ecosystems."
The Piceance Basin Plan will last three years. Colorado Parks and Wildlife will use specialized contractors, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services program, to kill mountain lions and black bears using inhumane traps, snares and hounds. The killing will be focused on and around the Roan Plateau, considered one of the most biologically diverse areas in Colorado. Up to 75 black bears and 45 cougars will be killed for a cost of approximately $645,000—75 percent of which will be paid for with federal taxpayer dollars.
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorizing the use of millions of public dollars meant to promote wildlife restoration to kill Colorado's bears and mountain lions is outrageous," said Stuart Wilcox, staff attorney for WildEarth Guardians based in Denver. "Scapegoating species key to ensuring Colorado's ecosystems remain resilient—because the state wants to ignore the true impacts of the filthy fossil fuel industry—adds insult to injury."
The Upper Arkansas River Plan will last nine years, during which time Colorado Parks and Wildlife plans to kill more than 50 percent of the mountain lion population in the area. Colorado expects the killing of up to 234 mountain lions will cost nearly $4 million, 75 percent of which will be federally funded.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service has an obligation under federal law to evaluate the environmental implications of its actions, relying on the best available science, and to allow the public to review that analysis," said Anna Frostic, managing attorney for wildlife and animal research at The Humane Society of the United States. "The agency has failed to comply with these statutory duties, ignoring potentially devastating impacts on black bears and mountain lions."
Rather than provide an independent analysis disclosing the environmental impacts of the Piceance Basin and Upper Arkansas River plans, the Fish and Wildlife Service tried to adopt an environmental assessment prepared by Wildlife Services, a wholly separate agency, whose purpose is to kill so-called "nuisance" animals nationwide.
Mountain lions and black bears are critical to their native ecosystems. Mountain lion predation produces carrion that feeds more bird and mammal scavengers than that of any other predator on the planet. Black bears' diverse diet of fruits results in broad dispersion of seeds, and their foraging behavior creates disturbances that allow sunlight to reach plants below the forest canopy, making them "ecosystem engineers."
Bears and cougars are vulnerable to persecution and could be extirpated from these two regions as a result of the plans. The Fish and Wildlife Service failed to consider the many substantial environmental harms that are likely to result from the plans, such as the harm to the local ecosystem of this potential extirpation and the suffering and deaths of orphaned cubs and kittens.
Battle Begins to Restore Protections for Greater Yellowstone Grizzly Bears https://t.co/X8DQxHLNQ6 @greenpeaceusa @Sierra_Magazine— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1504645511.0
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.