By Eoin Higgins
Environmental groups on Friday condemned the announcement of a new rule proposed by President Donald Trump that would further weaken the Endangered Species Act by making it easier to destroy habitats vulnerable species rely on for survival.
"President Trump is back for another whack at another key environmental law," said Oceana senior federal policy director Lara Levison.
At issue is a planned rule change to the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, from the Department of Fish and Wildlife that would redefine "habitat" as "areas with existing attributes that have the capacity to support individuals of the species," precluding the restoration and repair of historical habitats that could, with time, support endangered species.
"The Trump administration won't be satisfied until it removes all protections for the natural world, including clean air and water, land, and now even habitat for our most vulnerable wildlife," Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
As the Center for Biological Diversity explained:
The definition stems from a 2018 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that said the Service needed to define the term habitat in relation to the highly endangered dusky gopher frog. The frog survives in one ephemeral pond in Mississippi. Recognizing that to secure the frog would require recovering it in additional areas, the Service designated an area in Louisiana that had the ephemeral ponds the frog requires. However, this area would need forest restoration to provide high-quality habitat.
Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, the landowner, and Pacific Legal Foundation, a private-property advocacy group, challenged the designation, resulting in today's definition and the frog losing habitat protection in Louisiana.
"This will have real life-and-death consequences for some of our nation's most vulnerable species," said Greenwald.
Oceana's Levison concurred with Greenwald's bleak assessment.
"The president's newly proposed rules will make it even harder to save species from extinction," she said. "The ESA protects threatened and endangered species like sea turtles and the North Atlantic right whale, as well as the habitats they depend on, but the draft rule released today reduces these protections."
Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute, called on the president and the administration to do the right thing for the planet by saving "an effective and popular law that serves as the last line of defense for rare species facing extinction."
"At a time of unprecedented wildlife extinction and habitat destruction, we should be working to strengthen — not weaken — the Endangered Species Act," said Liss.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
The Trump administration allowed a mining company to write its own report for how proposed mines in Idaho would affect protected species in the area, the AP reports.
Documents obtained by the AP show that Canadian company Midas Gold engaged in extensive lobbying with the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, in the spring and summer of 2018, which led to the company being named as lead for drafting a biological assessment on how Midas's open-pit gold mines would affect endangered fish.
A Chinook salmon leaps through white water in May 2001 in The Rapid River in Idaho. Documents show the U.S. Forest Service allowing a mininc company to write it's own environmental report which has the purpose of examining the potential effect the open-pit mines would have on salmon, steelhead and bull trout protected under the Endangered Species Act. Bill Schaefer / Getty Images
Before the lobbying efforts, which included meetings with top officials at the Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service had rejected Midas's request to be involved in the drafting process because its mines would likely harm fish.
For a deeper dive:
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
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The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
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Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
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Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
ProPublica, which broke the news of the kill Wednesday, reported it was unusual for the Mongolian government to issue permits after a hunter has left the region. Trump Jr. was given other forms of special treatment. He was protected on his hunt by both U.S. and Mongolian security services, and afterwards had a private meeting with Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga.
"What are the chances the Mongolian government would've done any of that to someone who wasn't the son of the United States' president?" Kathleen Clark, a legal ethics professor at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, asked ProPublica.
Argali sheep are beautiful and deeply endangered. They live in remote western Mongolia. Don Jr. went there and sh… https://t.co/w9dM8CeT4b— Eric Umansky (@Eric Umansky)1576066942.0
Trump Jr.'s spokesperson said the trip was purchased at a National Rifle Association charity auction before his father ran for office. It is not clear if the trip included meetings with government officials or the chance to kill an argali. Trump Jr. also killed a red deer on the trip, a kill that also required a permit.
The argali is the largest sheep in the world, with curving horns that can measure more than six feet. The species overall is listed as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but the Mongolian subspecies is considered regionally endangered, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The U.S. Endangered Species Act lists the argali as threatened. Between 1985 and 2009, their Mongolian population more than halved from 50,000 to 18,000, ProPublica reported.
Mongolia issues permits to hunt the sheep, a practice which is ostensibly intended to fund conservation. Those familiar with the permitting system told ProPublica that it encouraged favoritism.
Jandos Kontorbai Ahat, a member of the current president's political party who arranged the trip Trump Jr. won, said Mongolian trophy hunting permits were "very political."
There are also sometimes discrepancies between hunting quotas and the number of permits issued. While the hunters' fees are supposed to go to programs like population surveys, argali researcher Amgalanbaatar Sukh told ProPublica he had never received government funding for such a survey.
ProPublica could not determine if Trump Jr. imported the trophies from his argali kill into the U.S. To do so, he would have needed to apply for permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But his kill comes as U.S. law concerning the importing of hunting trophies is in flux, as The Guardian explained:
The legality of the importation of big game trophies into the United States has been, like many other issues in the Trump administration, confusing and ever-changing. The president himself has spoken out against the practice, calling such hunting practices a "horror show" despite his two sons being avid trophy hunters.
In order to import trophies of animals on the endangered species list, a U.S. hunter must show that its killing would be beneficial overall to the species at large. In 2017, the Trump administration pushed back against such restrictions on trophy hunting from the Obama era before reinstating the ban. A court ruling found thereafter it was done improperly, allowing imports to continue.
Environmental groups have criticized the Trump administration for its trophy hunting policies, including its decision to allow the import of lion and elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia and its creation of the International Wildlife Conservation Council designed specifically to promote trophy hunting.
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- Taxpayers Paid Over $75K So Trump Jr. Could Kill a Rare Sheep - EcoWatch ›
Fed Agency Plans Are Not Adequate to Prevent 99.8% of U.S. Endangered Species From Suffering Climate Crisis, Study Says
While the planet continues to heat up, almost every single one of the 459 species listed as endangered in the U.S. will struggle as the climate crisis intensifies, according to new research published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The researchers found that every animal on the list except for the Hawaiian Goose had one or more sensitivity that would leave them ill equipped to handle a warming planet, meaning 99.8 percent is vulnerable to extinction caused by global warming. However, federal agencies that are mandated to protect endangered animals have a subpar response. The federal agencies consider that only 64 percent of the endangered animals will be affected by the climate crisis. To make matters worse, the federal agencies have only planned interventions for 18 percent of species, according to the study.
"This study confirms that the climate crisis could make it even harder for nearly all of our country's endangered species to avoid extinction," said Astrid Caldas, a study co-author and a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, as The Guardian reported.
"While agencies have increasingly listed climate change as a growing threat to species whose survival is already precarious, many have not translated this concern into tangible actions, meaning a significant protection gap still exists," she added.
The animals on the Endangered Species List face numerous threats. The Key deer, found only in the Florida Keys, for example, faces a threat of habitat loss due to rising seas. The Florida Panther and the north Atlantic right whale also face threats from declining food stocks. However, nothing faces more threats than amphibians, mollusks and arthropods, which are sensitive to manifold threats from the climate crisis, including changes in water quality and harmful invasive species that move in as temperatures climb, according to the study, as The Guardian reported.
While 99.8 percent were found to have at least one of eight sensitivities to a changing climate, the analysis found that 74 percent of the animals on the list face threats from three or more factors.
Defenders of Wildlife, a non-profit conservation organization, led the study. The group faulted federal agencies for not doing their due diligence in administering the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
"Our study demonstrates that while climate change is a pressing threat to imperiled species, agencies that manage federally protected species have not given enough attention to this threat," said Aimee Delach, Senior Policy Analyst for Climate Adaptation and lead author on the study, in a Defenders of Wildlife study. "Even worse, we found the agencies are moving in the wrong direction, with actions in recovery documents addressing climate change threats declining since 2014. The current administration produced only one species' document in 2017-18 that included management actions to address climate impacts. These numbers don't even account for the disastrous new ESA regulations, which will hinder future efforts by agencies to protect species from these effects."
The report comes after recent maneuver's by Trump's Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt, to weaken endangered species protections to help the same companies Bernhardt was a lobbyist for before entering government, as Common Dreams reported.
It also comes in the wake of a UN released a report in May that natural biodiversity is declining at unprecedented rates due to global warming and nearly 1 million species around the world were at risk of extinction, as The Hill reported.
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The Kirtland's warbler, a small songbird that nests only in the young jack pine forests of Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario, was one of the very first animals placed on the U.S. list of endangered species. But now it has recovered enough to come off that list, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced Tuesday.
"Today is truly a success story," Margaret Everson, principle deputy director of the U.S. FWS, said at a delisting ceremony reported by The Detroit Free Press. "A success story we can all share with each other and our children, as we point to the skies in Michigan and Wisconsin in the springtime, and see (the Kirtland's warbler) alive and thriving. And we have the opportunity to celebrate the true purpose of the Endangered Species Act — the recovery of a species. All of us have recovered our beloved songbird."
The power of partnership has brought the Kirtland’s warbler back from the brink of extinction! Learn more about thi… https://t.co/zZmByOCaFs— USFWS Midwest Region (@USFWS Midwest Region)1570546865.0
The bird has come a long way. In the 1950s, there were fewer than 20 male Kirtland's warblers left, according to The Detroit Free Press. A management area was first established for the bird by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in 1958 and it was listed nationally under the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1966.
In 1971, two years before the Endangered Species Act was passed, there were only 201 singing males living in six counties of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, Science Magazine reported. In 2015, after nearly 50 years of conservation efforts, that number had risen to 2,383.
"This remarkable bird has a most impressive, exemplary success story that illustrates effective conservation and collaboration at work," Michigan Audobon Executive Director Heather Good said last year, as Science Magazine reported.
The warblers require a unique habitat that came with unique conservation challenges, as FWS explained:
Historically, wildfires were the most important factor for establishing the natural jack pine forests that Kirtland's warblers need for breeding habitat. Modern wildfire suppression greatly diminished the natural disturbance that once generated Kirtland's warbler breeding habitat. In the absence of wildfire, land managers had to take an active role in mimicking natural processes that regularly occurred within the jack pine ecosystem. This is primarily done through large-scale timber harvesting and human-assisted reforestation.
The warblers are also threatened by brown-headed cowbirds, which conservation groups work with the Forest Service to control.
Center for Biological Diversity Endangered Species Director Noah Greenwald said the warbler's recovery was a testament to the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act, and a living argument against the Trump administration's recent changes weakening that legislation, finalized in August.
"This success story highlights the danger of the Trump administration's efforts to cripple laws protecting our wildlife and natural landscapes," Greenwald said in a press release. "Without the Endangered Species Act, the Kirtland's warbler might have vanished forever. Many other species will disappear if we don't stop Trump's efforts to gut conservation policies."
Great news! The Kirtland's warbler, a songbird in the Upper Midwest, has recovered with a 10-fold increase in its p… https://t.co/yEtHjSSGLk— Center for Bio Div (@Center for Bio Div)1570564381.0
One of the arguments against the administration's changes is that they make it harder to protect species from the effects of the climate crisis, since they give the government wide leeway to interpret the phrase "foreseeable future." The Kirtland's warbler spends the winter in the Bahamas, meaning it could be threatened by sea level rise and more extreme storms like Hurricane Dorian, the Center for Biological Diversity pointed out.
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A coalition of some of the largest environmental groups in the country joined forces to file a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Trump administration's maneuver to weaken the Endangered Species Act.
The Department of the Interior's changes to the Endangered Species Act — which has successfully protected 99 percent of the animals on the list and saved the iconic bald eagle, grizzly bear and gray wolf from the brink of extinction — make it easier to remove species from the list, ends protection for threatened species that are not yet endangered, and allows regulators to weigh the economic cost of protecting a species, as Ecowatch reported.
The groups that filed the complaint in the Northern District of California yesterday allege that the changes undermine the purpose of the law, according to CNN. The environmental groups claim that the manipulations of the law will drastically weaken protections for plants and animals, while benefiting industry groups and landowners, according to The Hill.
"Trump's rules are a dream-come-true for polluting industries and a nightmare for endangered species," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a press release. "Scientists around the world are sounding the alarm about extinction, but the Trump administration is removing safeguards for the nation's endangered species. We'll do everything in our power to stop these rules from going forward."
The lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians and the Humane Society of the United States.
The administration's tweaks to the law are particularly striking for their timing, which come just after a United Nations report that warned of a worldwide biodiversity crisis and predicted the extinction of one million species by the end of the century due to the climate crisis.
"In the midst of an unprecedented extinction crisis, the Trump administration is eviscerating our most effective wildlife protection law," said Rebecca Riley, legal director for NRDC's Nature Program in a statement.
The complaint makes several arguments to the court in asking it to reverse the Interior Department's changes. It claims that the Trump administration violated the National Environmental Protection Act by refusing to analyze how its changes will affect various species. The suit also argues that there are discrepancies between the agency's draft proposal and the final rules. That means another legal requirement was violated since the final rules were never available for public comment, as The Hill reported.
Additionally, the complaint alleges that the Trump administration trampled on the Endangered Species Act by changing the law that requires federal agencies to ensure that actions they authorize, fund or carry out do not harm any species or its habitat that is listed as threatened or endangered.
"Nothing in these new rules helps wildlife, period," said Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice attorney, in a statement. "Instead, these regulatory changes seek to make protection and recovery of threatened and endangered species harder and less predictable. We're going to court to set things right."
The changes to the law could also significantly lengthen how long it takes for species' protection, which could further threaten them, according to CNN.
"The new rules move the Endangered Species Act dangerously away from its grounding in sound science that has made the Act so effective — opening the door to political decisions couched as claims that threats to species are too uncertain to address," said Karimah Schoenhut, Sierra Club staff attorney, in a statement. "In the face of the climate crisis, the result of this abandonment of responsibility will be extinction."
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The Parties to CITES agreed to list giraffes on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) today at the World Wildlife Conference or CoP18 in Geneva. Such protections will ensure that all giraffe parts trade were legally acquired and not sourced from the poached giraffes trade and will require countries to make non-detriment findings before allowing giraffe exports. The listing will also enable the collection of international trade data for giraffes that might justify greater protections at both CITES and other venues in the future.
Giraffes are undergoing a "silent extinction," declining by 40% in the past 30 years. With fewer giraffes than elephants left, they face many threats, including habitat loss, disease, poaching for bushmeat, the international giraffe parts trade, and trophy hunting. Their populations are, for the most part, small, fragmented, and widely scattered. For example, while giraffes used to range throughout much of West Africa, their only remaining population in the region consists of 425 giraffes in Niger. As such, seven of the nine giraffe subspecies have been classified as threatened with extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
With six giraffe range states — Central African Republic, Chad, Kenya, Mali, Niger and Senegal — submitting the proposal, and support from the U.S., EU, 32 African nations and leading giraffe scientists, the proposal seemed like a sure winner. However, giraffe protections weren't guaranteed until late in the game due to a suggestion from Botswana that instead of listing all giraffes, the Parties only list the populations of 13 of the 21 giraffe range states — exempting the populations of Botswana, Eswatini, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. This kind of proposal — referred to as a "split listing" — is frowned upon by CITES as law enforcement can't tell between illegal and legal species in trade, making enforcement impossible.
Fortunately, the global community rejected this suggestion — and supported the listing of all giraffe species. A great deal of Latin and South American countries, New Zealand, and the U.S. spoke in support of the proposal. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave a great statement on how U.S. import data indicates giraffe parts are coming into the U.S. and that we need more data to discern how much this threatens giraffe populations.
While we have lacked international trade data for giraffes since they weren't previously listed under CITES, U.S. data reveals trade in giraffe parts is soaring with almost 40,000 giraffe parts imported to the U.S. between 2006 and 2015—the equivalent of at least 3,751 giraffes. The most common giraffe parts seen in trade are bone carvings, raw bones, and skins. Further, a 2018 undercover investigation of the U.S. giraffe parts market found a variety of products, including many knives with giraffe bone handles — which have become common in the wake of the ivory ban — and taxidermied trophies.
As a next step, we hope the U.S. — which supported the CITES giraffe proposal — will list giraffes under the Endangered Species Act, which they are currently considering after a lawsuit from NRDC and our partners.
With the Amazon burning and the IPBES Report finding that one million species face extinction, we need all the good news we can get — even if it seems relatively small. Today's decision is just that.
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By Jennifer Weeks
The Trump administration has announced rule changes that alter how it will enforce the 1973 Endangered Species Act, which protects threatened and endangered species and their habitats. Among these changes, officials can now consider potential costs in deciding whether to list a species. The new policies will make it easier to delist species, and are likely to shrink areas set aside as critical habitat to help species recover.
These five articles from The Conversation's archives describe public perceptions of the Endangered Species Act and the challenges of saving species on the edge.
1. Americans Support Protecting Endangered Species
Critics of the Endangered Species Act say the law is too bureaucratic and costly to private interests, and that states should have a bigger role. But when Ohio State University's Jeremy Bruskotter and Ramiro Berardo and Michigan Technological University's John Vucetich reviewed 20 years of data on public views of the law, they found that over that time, roughly 80 percent of Americans consistently supported it.
Notably, while liberals strongly favored protecting endangered species, nearly 75 percent of conservatives did so as well. In a 2015 survey, more than 70 percent of hunters, farmers and ranchers supported the Endangered Species Act.
Why, then, are critics of the law so determined to weaken it? The authors point to research showing that "policy outcomes in America are heavily influenced by 'economic elites' and business interests who … have greater clout with, and access to, policymakers" than average voters.
2. States Aren’t Equipped to Take Over
Some regulators and members of Congress have pushed to delegate responsibility for listing and protecting endangered species to states. But University of California, Irvine legal scholars Alejandro Camacho and Michael Robinson-Dorn found that state statutes were much weaker than the Endangered Species Act. And states would have to massively increase spending to maintain the levels of protection that exist now.
"States have substantial authority to manage flora and fauna in their boundaries," the authors wrote. "But species often cross state borders, or exist on federal lands. And many states either are uninterested in species protection or prefer to rely on the federal government to serve that role."
The authors found room for better consultation between federal agencies and states, but argue that rather than dismantling the Endangered Species Act, Congress should provide enough funding to achieve the law's goals.
The Trump administration is proposing to downlist the American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) from endangered to threatened. Once abundant throughout the Northeast, the beetle is now found in just five states.
3. Regulators Need to Set Priorities
As it stands, conservation agencies don't have enough funding or time to write recovery plans for more than 1,600 listed species listed. Choosing which ones to protect raises complicated tradeoffs between science and values. And without recovery plans, species are unlikely to rebound.
Arizona State University biodiversity scholars Leah Gerber and Timothy Male sought to develop an effective system for guiding these choices. They designed a decision tool called Recovery Explorer that uses an algorithm to identify the most cost-effective choices for recovery, based on factors such as geography, biology and the likelihood that funding will actually lead to recovery.
"Scientists and policymakers now have an opportunity to develop a more workable strategy to improve the Endangered Species Act," they write. "And for those species that are deemed worthy of protection, the next steps will be to promote their recovery and be willing to pay for it."
Camera trap footage of a female gray wolf and pups in Lassen National Forest in Northern California. The state listed the wolves as endangered in 2014, but farmers and ranchers have challenged this policy.
4. Species Can Rebound with Help
The American bald eagle is often cited as an example of an endangered species that has made a successful comeback. But its cousin, the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is an even more spectacular case.
Ospreys were abundant across North America up through World War II, catching fish in rivers, lakes and harbors. But like bald eagles, they were devastated starting in the 1950s by DDT and other insecticides, which poisoned the birds and prevented them from successfully hatching eggs. By the mid-1960s populations had plummeted.
Ornithologist Alan Poole believes that Ospreys' disastrous decline helped make the case for banning DDT and other insecticides that were lethal to wildlife. The other key, he writes, was widespread construction of poles to support osprey nests:
"Within just a few miles of where I live along the Massachusetts coast, over 200 Ospreys now nest each year, lured in by abundant nest poles we've built on wide-open marshes. Fewer than 20 Ospreys were found here in the 1960s."
While ospreys were never formally listed under the Endangered Species Act, Poole believes they were near the brink of extinction 50 years ago. He calls their recovery "a reward for all who value wild animals, and a reminder of how nature can rebound if we address the key threats."
Ospreys on a nesting platform at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland.
5. Some Species Are Running out of Time
Thousands of right whales once swam in the North Atlantic, but today there are only about 411 left. This critically endangered species is threatened by collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear, which can cause traumatic injuries that slowly kill or cripple the animals.
Michael Moore and Hannah Myers of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution say it's critical to develop alternative gear for lobster and crab fishermen that will eliminate ropes from the water column, where whales are likely to swim into them. Options in development include pop-up buoys that fishermen summon with an acoustic signal and sensors that acoustically identify traps on the ocean floor.
While some fishermen call these technologies unaffordable, others are helping to test them. "Just as no fisherman wants to catch a whale, researchers and conservationists don't want to put fishermen out of business," Moore and Myers assert. "In our view, ropeless technologies offer a genuine opportunity for whales and the fishing industry to co-exist if they can be made functional, affordable and safe to use."
Editor's note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation's archives.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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The Trump administration announced sweeping changes to the Endangered Species Act Monday in a move that could make it harder to protect plants and animals from the climate crisis, The New York Times reported.
The changes would make it easier to remove species from the list, end the blanket rule giving threatened species the same protections as endangered ones, allow regulators to assess the economic impacts of protecting a species and give the government major leeway in how it interprets the phrase "foreseeable future." This last change is relevant to species threatened by the climate crisis, since many of its effects may be decades away.
Interior Secretary and former energy lobbyist David Bernhardt claimed the changes would increase transparency.
"The act's effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation," he said in a statement reported by The New York Times.
Today, I unveiled improvements to the implementing regulations of the Endangered Species Act. In its more than 45-year history, the ESA has catalyzed countless conservation partnerships that have helped recover some of America’s most treasured animals and plants. pic.twitter.com/soY9AEBH3P— Secretary David Bernhardt (@SecBernhardt) August 12, 2019
"We're facing an extinction crisis, and the administration is placing industry needs above the needs of our natural heritage," Natural Resources Defense Council Nature Program legal director Rebecca Riley said in a statement.
BREAKING: The Trump admin. just finalized dangerous and drastic rollbacks the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which protects at-risk species from gray wolves to bald eagles. https://t.co/Uni8JhOuDx pic.twitter.com/aeZn1wJaDR— NRDC 🌎 (@NRDC) August 12, 2019
The Endangered Species Act has saved 99 percent of listed species from extinction, according to HuffPost. Notable successes include the bald eagle, Yellowstone grizzly bear and humpback whale, but scientists warn that the new rules could prevent the act from performing similar rescues in the future. Take the North American wolverine, which the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is deciding whether or not to protect. The cold-loving mammal could lose a third of its U.S. range by 2050 and two thirds before 2100 due to rising temperatures, The Guardian reported.
"The current science suggests that a warming climate is most likely going to have an adverse impact on the wolverine," Jeff Copeland, a retired Forest Service biologist who now works with the Wolverine Foundation, told The Guardian. "That's the debate that needed to happen."
But, because of the Trump administration's changes to the interpretation of "foreseeable future," it likely won't.
Environmental groups are also concerned by the removal of language saying protection decisions must be made "without reference to possible economic or other impacts of determination."
FWS assistant director for endangered species Gary Frazer told The New York Times that the language was only being removed to allow economic impact assessments to be conducted for informational reasons. He said they would not inform protection decisions.
But conservation groups mistrusted the language change. The only reason for writing economic impact reports, Obama-era Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes told HuffPost, is to "poison the well and obtain a sort of public reaction to the listing."
Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation for lands, wildlife and oceans at Earthjustice, agreed the language removal was dangerous.
"There can be economic costs to protecting endangered species," Caputo told The New York Times. "If we make decisions based on short-term economic costs, we're going to have a whole lot more extinct species."
By undermining the Endangered Species Act, the Trump admin not only risks the future of iconic wildlife species, but further threatens the balance of fragile natural systems that we humans depend on for survival. #TrumpExtinctionPlan #StopExtinctionhttps://t.co/dqp8RJyiA7— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice) August 13, 2019
Earthjustice has already promised to sue over the changes, according to HuffPost, as have Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
"I know that gutting the Endangered Species Act sounds like a plan from a cartoon villain, not the work of the president of the United States," Healey said during a press call reported by HuffPost. "But unfortunately that's what we're dealing with today."
How Trump Could Make the Extinction Crisis Even Worse: https://t.co/8Z2YmDch91— Extinction Symbol (@extinctsymbol) May 9, 2019
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John Paul Stevens, the retired Supreme Court Justice who wrote the opinion granting environmental agencies the power to regulate greenhouse gases, died Tuesday at the age of 99. His decision gave the U.S. government important legal tools for fighting the climate crisis.
"Justice John Paul Stevens was one of the great environmental heroes of the last century," Washington Gov. and climate-focused presidential candidate Jay Inslee wrote in a statement following his death. "His decisions formed the bedrock of America's environmental laws, and his impact on our environment will be felt for generations to come."
Justice John Paul Stevens was one of the great environmental heroes of the last century. His decisions formed the b… https://t.co/q3oE7UcJl4— Jay Inslee (@Jay Inslee)1563333437.0
Stevens was appointed to the court by President Gerald Ford in 1975 and retired in 2010 at the age of 90, having served more than twice the average amount of time for a Supreme Court Justice, the Associated Press reported. He was characterized as moving from the center to the liberal wing of the court during his tenure, but Stevens himself thought that was inaccurate. In his view, the court had moved to the right while his positions had stayed roughly the same.
"I don't think of myself as a liberal at all," Stevens told The New York Times in 2007, as the Associated Press reported. "I think as part of my general politics, I'm pretty darn conservative."
However, Stevens did rule in favor of a number of positions considered liberal, including gay rights, abortion rights and gun control, according to Reuters. He also opposed key Bush administration policies. For example, he wrote the court's decision that detainees at Guantanamo Bay could challenge their incarceration in U.S. courts.
Another disagreement with the Bush administration marked perhaps the cornerstone of his environmental legacy. In Massachusetts v. EPA, he wrote the majority opinion arguing that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had the authority to regulate auto emissions that contribute to climate change, The New York Times reported at the time. Further, he ruled that, if the agency chose not to regulate greenhouse gases, it would have to justify its decision with science.
The Bush administration has argued that the EPA lacked the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act and that, even if it had the power, the Bush EPA would not choose to use it. Stevens disagreed.
"Because greenhouse gases fit well within the Act's capacious definition of 'air pollutant,' EPA has statutory authority to regulate emission of such gases from new motor vehicles," Stevens wrote.
His decision paved the way for key Obama-era policies, such as the first auto-emissions standards focused on limiting climate-changing emissions, Grist wrote in a reflection on his retirement in 2010.
Manhattan v. EPA wasn't his only significant environmental decision. Grist highlighted three others:
- Chevron v. NRDC: This 1984 decision was initially seen as a defeat for environmentalists because it said the DC Circuit could not override the Reagan EPA's decision to give more flexibility to companies in honoring their Clean Air Act obligations. However, it set an important precedent that the courts should defer to regulatory agencies when they act on a reasonable interpretation of a law.
- Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter Of Communities For A Great Oregon: In this 1995 case, Stevens reinstated the portion of the Endangered Species Act that protected the habitats of endangered species. It had been struck down based on a narrow interpretation by the DC Circuit, but Stevens argued that the intent of the law was clearly on the side of protecting habitats.
- Sierra Preservation Council v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency: In this case, decided in 2002, Stevens wrote the majority opinion that upheld land use protections for Lake Tahoe. His ruling reversed the court's abuse of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to block environmental laws.
"Justice Stevens should be remembered as a great justice in environmental cases, not because he bent the law to favor environmental outcomes, but rather because he insisted that the law itself, which dictates environmental outcomes in many cases, be followed," Grist concluded.
Stevens died in a hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida following complications from a stroke he suffered on Monday, according to a Supreme Court statement reported by Reuters. He was remembered fondly by his former colleagues.
"He brought to our bench an inimitable blend of kindness, humility, wisdom, and independence. His unrelenting commitment to justice has left us a better nation," Chief Justice John Roberts said in the statement.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline Fight Could Go to the Supreme Court https://t.co/PyjtlKV3vr— Lakota Country Times (@Lakota_Timez) March 2, 2019
Many fish, marine mammals and seabirds that inhabit the world's oceans are critically endangered, but few are as close to the brink as the North Atlantic right whale ( Eubalaena glacialis). Only about 411 of these whales exist today, and at their current rate of decline, they could become extinct within our lifetimes.
From 1980 through about 2010, conservation efforts focused mainly on protecting whales from being struck by ships. Federal regulations helped reduce vessel collisions and supported a slight rebound in right whale numbers.
But at the same time, growing numbers of right whales died after becoming entangled in lobster and crab fishing gear. This may have happened because fishing ropes became stronger, and both whales and fishermen shifted their ranges so that areas of overlap increased. Entanglement has caused 80 percent of diagnosed mortalities since 2010, and the population has taken a significant downward turn.
This comes after a millennium of whaling that decimated the right whale population, reducing it from perhaps between 10,000 to 20,000 to a few hundred animals today. And entanglement deaths are much more inhumane than harpoons. A whaler's explosive harpoon kills quickly, compared to months of drawn-out pain and debilitation caused by seemingly harmless fishing lines. We believe these deaths can be prevented by working with the trap fishing industries to adopt ropeless fishing gear – but North Atlantic right whales are running out of time.
Whalers pursued right whales for centuries because this species swam relatively slowly and floated when dead, so it was easier to kill and retrieve than other whales. By the mid-20th century, scientists assumed they had been hunted to extinction. But in 1980, researchers from the New England Aquarium who were studying marine mammal distribution in the Bay of Fundy off eastern Canada were stunned when they sighted 26 right whales.
Conservation efforts led to the enactment of regulations that required commercial ships to slow down in zones along the U.S. Atlantic coast where they were highly likely to encounter whales, reducing boat strikes. But this victory has been offset by rising numbers of entanglements.
Adult right whales can produce up to an estimated 8,000 pounds of force with a single stroke of their flukes. When they become tangled in fishing gear, they often break it and swim off trailing ropes and sometimes crab or lobster traps.
Lines and gear can wrap around a whale's body, flukes, flippers and mouth. They impede swimming and feeding, and cause chronic infection, emaciation and damage to blubber, muscle and bone. Ultimately these injuries weaken the animal until it dies, which can take months to years.
Fishing rope furrowed into the lip of Bayla, right whale #3911.
Michael Moore / NMFS Permit 932-1905-00 / MA-009526 / CC BY-ND
One of us, Michael Moore, is trained as a veterinarian and has examined many entangled dead whales. Moore has seen fishing rope embedded inches deep into a whale's lip, and a juvenile whale whose spine had been deformed by the strain of dragging fishing gear. Other animals had flippers nearly severed by swimming wrapped in inexorably constricting ropes. Entanglement injuries to right whales are the worst animal trauma Moore has seen in his career.
Even if whales are able to wriggle free and live, the extreme stress and energy demands of entanglement, along with inadequate nutrition, are thought to be preventing females from getting pregnant and contributing to record low calving rates in recent years.
Solutions for Whales and Fishermen
The greatest entanglement risk is from ropes that lobster and crab fishermen use to attach buoys to traps they set on the ocean floor. Humpback and minke whales and leatherback sea turtles, all of which are federally protected, also become entangled.
Conservationists are looking for ways to modify or eliminate these ropes. Rock lobster fishermen in Australia already use pop-up buoys that ascend when they receive sound signals from fishing boats. The buoys trail out ropes as they rise, which fishermen retrieve and use to pull up their traps.
Other technologies are in development, including systems that acoustically identify traps on the seafloor and mark them with "virtual buoys" on fishermen's chart plotters, eliminating the need for surface buoys. Fishermen also routinely use a customized hook on the end of a rope to catch the line between traps and haul them to the surface when the buoy line goes missing.
Transitioning to ropeless technology will require a sea change in some of North America's most valuable fisheries. The 2016 U.S. lobster catch was worth U.S. $670 million. Canadian fishermen landed CA$1.3 billion worth of lobster and CA$590 million worth of snow crab.
Just as no fisherman wants to catch a whale, researchers and conservationists don't want to put fishermen out of business. In our view, ropeless technologies offer a genuine opportunity for whales and the fishing industry to co-exist if they can be made functional, affordable and safe to use.
Switching to ropeless gear is unlikely to be cheap. But as systems evolve and simplify, and production scales up, they will become more affordable. And government support could help fishermen make the shift. In Canada, the federal and New Brunswick provincial governments recently awarded CA$2 million to Canadian snow crab fishermen to test two ropeless trap designs.
Converting could save fishermen money in the long run. For example, California Dungeness crab fishermen closed their 2019 season three months ahead of schedule on April 15 to settle a lawsuit over whale entanglements, leaving crab they could have caught still in the water. Under the agreement, fishermen using ropeless gear will be exempt from future early closures.
A Rebound is Possible
The Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act require the U.S. government to conserve endangered species. In Congress, the pending SAVE Right Whales Act of 2019 would provide $5 million annually for collaborative research into preventing mortalities caused by the fishing and shipping industries. And an advisory committee to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently recommended significant fishing protections, focused primarily on reducing the number of ropes in the water column and the strength of the remaining lines.
Consumers can also help. Public outcry over dolphin bycatch in tuna fisheries spurred passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and led to dolphin-safe tuna labeling, which ultimately reduced dolphin mortalities from half a million to about 1,000 animals annually. Choosing lobster and crab products caught without endangering whales could accelerate a similar transition.
Population trends in the North Atlantic and southern right whale species (estimates for North Atlantic species prior to 1990 are unavailable; southern estimates prior to 1990 on decadal scale). Illegal whaling caused a downturn in the southern species in the 1960s.
North Atlantic right whales can still thrive if humans make it possible. The closely related southern right whale (Eubalaena australis), which has faced few human threats since the end of commercial whaling, has rebounded from just 300 animals in the early 20th century to an estimated 15,000 in 2010.
There are real ways to save North Atlantic right whales. If they go extinct, it will be on this generation's watch.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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The study looked at 31 populations of 19 species of marine mammals and sea turtles in the U.S. that had been granted endangered species protections and found that around three-quarters of them had increased in size.
"The Endangered Species Act not only saved whales, sea turtles, sea otters and manatees from extinction, it dramatically increased their population numbers, putting them solidly on the road to full recovery," Center for Biological Diversity scientist and study coauthor Shaye Wolf said in a press release. "We should celebrate the Act's track record of reducing harms from water pollution, overfishing, beach habitat destruction and killing. Humans often destroy marine ecosystems, but our study shows that with strong laws and careful stewardship, we can also restore them, causing wildlife numbers to surge."
NEW STUDY: Among the 31 populations studied, 78 percent of marine mammals and 75 percent of sea turtles increased t… https://t.co/2p2WB8L13T— Center for Bio Div (@Center for Bio Div)1547679394.0
In total, 77 percent of the populations studied increased, six percent declined and 16 percent did not follow an observable trend. Seventy-eight percent of marine mammal populations increased while nine percent, representing two species, decreased. Seventy-five percent of sea turtle populations rose, and none of the turtle populations studied declined.
Here are some of the success stories, and one key failure.
Hawaiian Humpback Whales
There were only 800 of these whales in 1979, nine years after they were first listed. By 2005, there were more than 10,000. They had recovered enough by 2016 to be removed from the endangered species list.
Why are there finally robust populations of humpback whales swimming in the Pacific Ocean? Because the #ESAworks, a… https://t.co/NvrIN7vEo3— Ctr4BioDiv Ocean (@Ctr4BioDiv Ocean)1547672819.0
Southern Sea Otters
Southern sea otters live off the coast of central California, where they are essential to the kelp forest ecosystem. Their numbers have increased from 1,443 in 1979 to to 2,688 in 2017, nearing their recovery goal.
North Atlantic Green Sea Turtle
In 1979, there were only 62 nests for this species in all of Florida. By 2017, there were 53,102. The massive increase was due to the protection of nesting beaches, a ban on killing turtles and taking eggs and efforts to reduce deaths caused by fishing equipment.
Southern Resident Killer Whales
Southern Resident killer whales were the only population studied whose numbers are still in serious decline. This is because the government has not actually protected their full habitat as required by the act. The other species whose numbers declined, Hawaiian monk seals, are now seeing a rebound.
The 24 species studied that had recovered most successfully were all listed 20 years ago or more, suggesting that it does take time to help a population recovery.
"Conservation measures triggered by ESA listing such as ending exploitation, tailored species management, and fishery regulations, and other national and international measures, appear to have been largely successful in promoting species recovery, leading to the delisting of some species and to increases in most populations," the study authors wrote.
"The recovery of listed species depends ultimately on the adequate implementation of the ESA's tools and other conservation measures," the study authors wrote. "Studies have demonstrated that the government's failure to fully implement the ESA's protections and adequately fund conservation actions have been major impediments to species recovery."