Feds Push Plan to Strip Endangered Species Act Protections for Yellowstone Grizzlies
Brushing aside mounting evidence that Yellowstone’s grizzly bears face increased threats from genetic isolation, loss of key foods and increased human conflicts and mortalities, federal and state officials are recommending removal of Endangered Species Act protections for the bears as early as next year.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
At the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee meetings in Bozeman last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) grizzly bear recovery coordinator Chris Servheen fell short of setting a timeline for removing federal protections for Yellowstone’s threatened grizzly bears. But citing unpublished studies and unreleased data, Servheen and federal scientists said the grizzly population is robust and healthy. The states argued they are ready to take over management of the bears, which, like wolves, would be aggressively hunted under state plans. The agencies’ recommendation to delist grizzly bears was conditioned upon release of a final scientific report, due at the end of November.
“This highly political, fast-tracked plan to drop federal protections for grizzly bears plays Russian roulette with a population that is still imperiled and facing significant new threats,” said Louisa Willcox, a grizzly bear conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.
“With the loss of important foods, the world of the Yellowstone grizzly is unraveling," Willcox continued. "Now is not the time to turn over the keys to management to states that are known to be hostile to large carnivores and plan to renew a grizzly bear hunt.”
Removal of protections for bears is being justified by purported increases in the bear population that are based on models showing the population number is now 741 bears, up from previous estimates, announced earlier this year, of roughly 600 bears. But the USFWS and federal scientists have repeatedly refused to release the data that supposedly shows there are more bears.
“There’s no way to know if these are paper bears or real bears, because the government has refused to release the taxpayer-funded data and analyses upon which its findings were based,” said Willcox.
A study published earlier this year by leading scientists questions the accuracy of the USFWS’s optimistic bear trends. The study offers evidence that the agency’s estimates of the population size and trend are likely inflated due to data-collection biases and inaccuracies, including the incorrect assumption that female grizzlies reproduce at maximum rate until the age of 25 to 30.
Another new study, which was produced in coordination with the USFWS and the interagency grizzly bear study team, suggests the grizzly population may even be declining by an average of four percent a year since 2008. The decline parallels the loss of whitebark pine, a key food, and a concurrent spike in bear mortalities.
Ever since a federal court struck down the USFWS’s 2007 attempt to remove grizzly bears’ federal protection, the agency has made no secret of its ongoing plans to delist the bears. In its ruling against the service two years ago, the court cited the agency’s inadequate recognition that dramatic reductions in the white bark pines central to the bears’ diets would likely drive the grizzlies to forage more in lowland areas, increasing confrontations with people and bear deaths.
“The government is cherry-picking the data to get the result it needs to justify delisting," said Willcox. "In reality, top grizzly researchers say the bear population has likely been in free-fall for five years now.”
“The hard-fought gains to restore grizzly bears over the past 38 years will be quickly reversed if current declining trends continue—and delisting would push Yellowstone’s magnificent grizzlies back to the brink of extinction,” Wilcox continued.
The USFWS argues that the collapse of whitebark pine and cutthroat trout, formerly key bear foods, does not matter as the grizzly bear is known to eat more than 200 other foods as well, such as earthworms, mushrooms and biscuitroot. That assertion assumes these foods can adequately substitute for high-calorie foods like pine seeds and trout—foods that the government has long maintained were key drivers of the health of the Yellowstone population. The agency also argues that the genetic isolation of bears does not matter because bears will be trucked in to improve the health of the population.
“Claiming other foods can just substitute for pine nuts and trout is like saying a bowl of lettuce packs the same punch as a four-course salmon dinner,” concluded Willcox. “There’s still a chance to reconnect Yellowstone to other grizzly bear populations and bring back grizzly bears in the lower 48, but not if Yellowstone’s population is prematurely delisted and subsequently crashes.”
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
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A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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