Good News for Yellowstone Grizzlies? U.S. to Review 'Flawed' Ruling That Removed Protections
Over the summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) decided to strip Yellowstone grizzly bears of Endangered Species Act protections, sparking condemnation from conservationists over the agency's “flawed" ruling.
But now, USFWS is reviewing this decision thanks to an appeals court ruling that restored protections for a completely different animal that was taken off the endangered species list: the Great Lakes gray wolf.
In August, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, ruled unanimously that USFWS was wrong in its 2011 decision to de-list the Great Lakes gray wolf and should remain under federal protection. The three-judge panel wrote then, "The Endangered Species Act's text requires the Service, when reviewing and redetermining the status of a species, to look at the whole picture of the listed species, not just a segment of it."
As it happens, the Fish and Wildlife Service used a similar method to de-list Yellowstone-area bears. Kelly Nokes, large carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians, explained to Reuters, U.S. wildlife managers removed the bears from federal protections without assessing impacts on other grizzly populations in the lower 48 states.
The Yellowstone grizzly bear has long been considered endangered, with as few as 136 bears in 1975. But in June, Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke announced that the population had been recovered to the point where federal protections can be removed and overall management can be returned to the states and tribes.
There are an estimated 700 today, which “meets all the criteria for delisting," the Department of Interior, which oversees USFWS, said.
The Associated Press reported that USFWS has now opened up a public comment session on the implications of leaving the bears unprotected. While the review is pending, the animals will stay under state jurisdiction and off the threatened species list, agency spokesman Steve Segin said. The agency plans to release its conclusions by March 31.
Conservation groups responded with fierce outcry over the government's decision to de-list the grizzlies this summer.
“Without continued Endangered Species Act protections, the recovery of grizzly bears in Greater Yellowstone is in serious jeopardy," said Bonnie Rice, Greater Yellowstone senior representative with Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign. "Inadequate requirements to protect and connect Yellowstone grizzlies to other populations and hostile state management policies will mean fewer bears restricted to an even smaller area. Grizzly bears will be killed through trophy hunts on the doorstep of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks instead of inspiring millions who come to the region just for a chance to see a live grizzly bear in the wild."
“These iconic bears need to be protected, not gunned down so their heads can go on some trophy hunter's wall," said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Facing ongoing threats and occupying less than five percent of their historic range, grizzly bears are nowhere near recovery and continue to need the strong protections of the Endangered Species Act."
“National Parks Conservation Association refutes the Department of the Interior's short-sighted decision, which threatens Yellowstone grizzlies and ignores concerns, including those raised by many in the National Park Service. Despite Interior's claim, the long-term health of Yellowstone and Grand Teton grizzlies is far from certain," added Stephanie Adams, Yellowstone program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “We must ensure Yellowstone grizzlies have necessary protections in place for the population to thrive."
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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.