Proposal Weakens Endangered Species Protections From Fracking on Public Lands
The Obama administration has proposed a new rule that would scale back the requirement that federal agencies fully track the harms inflicted on endangered species when large-scale plans are developed and carried out on federal public lands. As a result, the cumulative impacts on rare species from actions like oil and gas drilling will be discounted in the decision-making process—putting hundreds of plants and animals at greater risk of extinction. The change is being proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, which have repeatedly failed to track how the projects they approve are affecting rare and vanishing species.
“America’s endangered species are already dying deaths by a thousand cuts, because too often no one’s keeping an eye on the big picture,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This proposal will make that problem even worse.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, wildlife agencies must develop an “incidental take statement” that sets an upper limit on the amount of permitted harm that a federal agency may inflict on an endangered species. This statement is the key provision ensuring that agency-approved actions don’t jeopardize protected species.
The new proposed rule says that for so-called “programmatic” actions—such as land-management plans for public lands, oil and gas leasing and general permits for development issued under the Clean Water Act—the incidental take statements will not be required to contain numeric limits on the amount of harm permitted. While there are rare cases where it is almost impossible to determine the number of individuals harmed by an action, this proposed policy will open up a huge loophole by failing to ensure that upper limits are set on harm to endangered species whenever possible.
“Our wildlife agencies should be working on stronger and more sophisticated mechanisms to understand and track harms that occur at these sweeping, landscape scales,” Hartl said. “Instead they’re just walking away from the challenge—and endangered species will suffer.”
In 2009 the Government Accountability Office concluded that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s tracking of the harm it allows to endangered species “lacks a systematic method for tracking cumulative take of most listed species.” It noted that the agency only had such a system for three out of 497 federal protected species in the western states. Instead of addressing the problem and requiring tracking by the federal agencies, the proposed rule essentially tells the agencies not to worry about the cumulative harm caused by multiple actions within their jurisdictions.
“Just like the Hippocratic oath, the first rule for getting species on to the road to recovery should be to do no harm. This proposal makes it less likely that the wildlife agencies will even know if rare and vanishing plants and animals are being hurt,” said Hartl. “At the very least, the agencies should set a cap on the number of individual plants and animals that can be harmed by a particular action, even at the programmatic landscape scale.”
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.