The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is pushing ahead with the sale of oil and gas leases on land outside of Chaco Culture National Historical Park and other sites revered by Native American tribes, The Associated Press reported.
The latest listing—which quietly appeared on the BLM website not long after the government reopened after the shutdown—comes about a year after then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke postponed a lease sale in the Greater Chaco Region in response to intense public pressure over cultural and environmental concerns.
BLM will open a protest period for comments from Feb. 11 through Feb. 20 for a sale scheduled for March 28, according to the agency's notice. More than 50 parcels in New Mexico and Oklahoma will be on the auction block.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, located in northwestern New Mexico, is shaded in light purple. BLM New Mexico Oil and Gas Lease Sale Parcels
During the record-long government impasse, Democrats, environmentalists and others fiercely criticized the Trump administration for moving ahead with drilling permits on public lands while most other agencies were shut.
"It's a mistake that while critical public services were shuttered for 35 days during the government shutdown, BLM still moved forward with this opaque process," Sen. Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, told the AP about the latest lease.
The AP noted that it is possible for BLM to withdraw the latest land sales depending on the outcome of the protest period.
For years, environmental groups, tribes and other opponents have raised flags about fracking encroaching on and threatening Chaco Canyon, a major center of ancient Pueblo culture and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As it happens, the park sits in the central San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico that's booming with shale gas extraction. Roughly 90 percent of the Great Chaco Region is already leased for oil and gas development, but more fossil fuels lie beneath those lands. The New Mexico BLM wants to sell parcels that are close or just along the park's 10-mile, no drilling buffer zone.
Ironically—as Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaigner for WildEarth Guardians, pointed out to EcoWatch—newly elected Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, signed an executive order just this week that committed the state to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change.
How did the New Mexico BLM respond to that order? "By announcing its intent to auction off more public land in the state to industrialized fracking," Sobel lamented.
"Oil and gas has already devastated our state's air quality, water quality and flow, and public health," she added. "It's clear the Trump administration will stop at nothing to sacrifice public interest for private profits."
Sobel noted that a "record-breaking 10,000 protest comments" were submitted in response to a December 2018 oil and gas lease sale in the state, and yet the BLM "ignored the public and wasted no time in proposing even more public land for fracking."
"We're looking to New Mexico's newly elected state and federal representatives to finally address fracking impacts, and with this week's Executive Order on Climate and a slew of proposed statewide bills aimed at enforcement and accountability around oil and gas, we hope New Mexico can tun the tide and reign in this dangerous industry, protecting our people and sacred landscapes," she concluded.
Trump Auctions Off 150,000 Acres of Public Lands for Fracking Near Utah National Parks https://t.co/ehBXpZZkly— R u t h H o p k i n s (@R u t h H o p k i n s)1544666047.0
Today is election day in the U.S., which means that if you are a U.S. voter whose state doesn't have early voting, today is the day to head to the polls and make your voice heard.
A lot of the races in this year's midterm election have big consequences for the environment. The Sierra Club has even assembled a list of 10 "Fossil Fools" to boot from office because they consistently prioritize fossil fuel interests over the environment and public health.
But environmental voting isn't just about picking certain candidates over others. A number of states are also considering important ballot measures that give voters a direct say on environmental issues, from protecting endangered species to promoting renewable energy. Here are five to keep track of as you watch the results come in tonight.
1. Initiative 1631, Washington State
If Washington voters approve I-1631 today, they would make their state the first in the nation to impose a fee on carbon emissions, as EcoWatch has pointed out previously. The initiative would charge $15 per metric ton of carbon emissions beginning in 2020 and raise the fee by $2 every year until the state meets its 2035 emissions goals. The funds would be directed towards clean energy and transit, and cleaning up polluted communities.
The fossil fuel industry has outspent the "Yes" campaign two-to-one, but initiative has some very prominent supporters.
Climate change may be the toughest problem humanity has ever faced — but it's solvable. Washington has a unique opp… https://t.co/20OkwrU9dL— Bill Gates (@Bill Gates)1541255580.0
2. Proposition 112, Colorado
In an attempt to limit risks from fracking, Proposition 112 would ban oil and gas development within 2,500 feet of homes, buildings, water sources or other sensitive areas. If it succeeds, it could actually be a major blow to Colorado's growing shale industry, as CNN explained:
If approved, the ballot question would eliminate future drilling locations in a chunk of the surging Denver-Julesburg, or DJ, basin in Colorado, one of the nation's largest oil-producing states. Much of the Colorado land held by oil companies like Anadarko Petroleum (APC) and Noble Energy (NBL) would suddenly be off limits to new drilling.
Not surprisingly, the oil and gas industry is also spending hard to stop this measure, to the tune of more than $30 million. But supporters remain defiant.
If Prop. 112 passes in #Colorado, it will show that PEOPLE CAN stand up to #oilandgas companies and win. That sta… https://t.co/8mQdz1RZ3u— WildEarth Guardians' Climate and Energy Program (@WildEarth Guardians' Climate and Energy Program)1541457270.0
3. Proposition 127, Arizona
Proposition 127 would require Arizona utilities to get 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. Currently, as Ars Technica pointed out, the state plans to get 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025, so the proposition would majorly scale up the state's renewable energy commitment.
Both opponents and supporters of the measure have spent a lot to win the day, making it the most expensive ballot measure in Arizona history.
The Union of Concerned Scientists came out strongly in support of the measure, arguing that it would save utility customers money, improve public health by reducing air pollution, create jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, among other benefits.
The Good Place's Ted Danson also lent his support.
[email protected] knows it’s forking important to vote #YESon127 to clean up our energy and our politics! https://t.co/fWaKHqDE3M— Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona (@Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona)1541293384.0
4. Amendment 9, Florida
This odd combination occurred because Florida's Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years to suggest amendments to the state's constitution, has the right to bundle changes on the ballot. They argued that combining the two made sense because they were both environmental issues and because it would save space on the ballot, Vox explained.
But it might backfire. Several local newspapers expressed concerns about forcing voters to say yes or no to two different things at once in their endorsements. Others see it as a win-win.
"The issues together send a message of clean air, clean water," Constitution Revision Commission member Lisa Carlton, who wrote the pre-bundled vaping measure, told Grist. "I cannot think of anything more important than protecting our near shores in Florida."
5. Ballot Measure 1, Alaska
Ballot Measure 1 would impose new requirements and a new permitting process for any developments that would impact bodies of water that salmon and other fish call home. It's a response to the controversial Pebble Gold Mine, a project that was so threatening to the local watershed that even Trump's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put its efforts to approve it on hold.
Oil and gas interests, as well as 12 of Alaska's Native Regional Corporations, say that existing protections for salmon are sufficient and the measure would hurt the economy, Ars Technica reported. Wildlife groups like the Alaska Conservation Foundation are supporting it.
We are voting Yes on 1 because we can't bear to think about an Alaska without wild salmon! Get the Facts on Ballot… https://t.co/206ezzlNLl— Alaska Conservation Foundation (@Alaska Conservation Foundation)1541464980.0
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
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
waterlust.com / @abamabam
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
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
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.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
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.
The National Marine Fisheries Service protected rare Taiwanese humpback dolphins on Tuesday, listing the species as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act. The decision comes in response to a March 2016 petition from the Animal Welfare Institute, Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians seeking U.S. protections to help prevent the extinction of a population that now numbers fewer than 100 individuals.
"These rare dolphins deserve every possible chance to escape extinction, and we are thrilled that the National Marine Fisheries Service has stepped up and given them the protections of the Endangered Species Act," said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. "A myriad of dolphin species are at risk due to human activities, and we owe these intelligent creatures the best protections we can give them."
Taiwanese humpback dolphins are threatened by gillnet fishing, pollution, boat traffic and development along Taiwan's densely populated west coast, including the proposed construction of large wind farms. An endangered listing will enable the U.S. to provide technical expertise and resources to support Taiwan in conserving the rare dolphin.
"This is good news that will help these rare dolphins avoid extinction. International cooperation is the key to saving certain critically endangered species," said Abel Valdivia, an ocean scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Now that U.S. officials have made the right call on this listing, they should immediately start working with Taiwan on a recovery plan. The Endangered Species Act is a powerful tool that can still save the Taiwanese humpback dolphin and other small cetaceans struggling to survive."
The Taiwanese humpback dolphin, also known as the Taiwanese white dolphin, is a biologically and culturally important subspecies of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin. In 2014 the National Marine Fisheries Service denied a previous petition to protect the Taiwanese humpback dolphin, concluding that the population was not distinct from the Chinese white dolphin, which swims in deeper waters closer to China's coastline. New taxonomy studies, however, conclude that the Taiwanese humpback dolphin is a distinct subspecies with unique characteristics, whose numbers continue to decline to alarmingly low levels.
"This is a major victory for the Taiwanese dolphin," said Tara Zuardo, Animal Welfare Institute senior wildlife attorney. "The Endangered Species Act will help enable the United States to provide the resources needed to help protect and conserve this imperiled population. We are grateful that the National Marine Fisheries Service recognized the need to take immediate action."
An estimated 50 percent to 80 percent of all life on Earth is found in the oceans. More than half of marine species may be at risk of extinction by 2100 without significant conservation efforts. Despite this grave situation, the U.S. largely fails to protect marine species under the Endangered Species Act.
The Endangered Species Act is an effective safety net for imperiled species: It has prevented extinction for more than 90 percent of plants and animals under its care. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct by 2006 if not for its protections. Protecting species with global distributions can help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulations and recovery of the species.
First Ever Tagging of Amazon Dolphins to Boost Conservation Efforts https://t.co/JI7XW5GmFz @environmentca @ConservationOrg @ImageOfWildlife— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1512695409.0
Conservation Groups: Fracking, Drilling Would Ruin Public Lands Near Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park
Conservation groups are calling on the Trump administration to cancel plans to lease thousands of acres of federal public lands for oil and gas development near western Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park and Blanca Peak without fully analyzing environmental or cultural harms.
WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Rocky Mountain Wild, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, Sierra Club, and Wild Connections, submitted extensive comments Friday on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's proposal to auction off 21,000 acres of public lands in Colorado in September. Of the lands nominated for auction, 18,000 acres are located near Great Sand Dunes National Park and Blanca Peak. In the comments, the groups noted that the Bureau of Land Management conducted little to no analysis on the potential harm from drilling and fracking to Colorado's air, water, night skies, wildlife habitat, cultural resources or the national park.
"The area near Great Sand Dunes National Park is uniquely beautiful and very susceptible to the harms from drilling and fracking," said Becca Fischer, a climate guardian with WildEarth Guardians. "Once BLM leases these lands, it cannot close the door to noise pollution, light pollution, and threats to our clean air and water. Yet, the BLM failed to conduct a meaningful analysis of these impacts."
"This fracking plan would ruin some of Colorado's most scenic, remote and valuable wildlife habitat," said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Unfortunately nothing is more important to the Trump administration than fossil fuel industry profits."
Last month, in response to intense public pressure from conservation groups and others, Zinke removed public lands in New Mexico near Chaco Canyon National Historical Park and in Montana near Yellowstone National Park from the auction block based on cultural and environmental concerns.
The pace of public lands approved for leasing by the BLM continues to drastically increase in 2018. In 2017 the BLM auctioned off more than 1 million acres of public lands for fracking in six western states. The BLM's proposed lease sales for the first half of 2018 in those same states already total almost 1 million acres.
Oil and gas leasing on federal public lands is a major contributor to global warming in the U.S. Leasing opens the door for oil and gas drilling and fracking, and more fossil fuel burning. Reports indicate that 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. can be traced back to fossil fuel development from federal public lands and waters.
"We should not be sacrificing these places, the wildlife there, history and opportunities to an outdated vision of energy independence," said Kimberly Pope, Sierra Club's Our Wild America organizer in Colorado. "We have an obligation to leave great natural places for others to experience."
Trump, Zinke to Auction Away 700,000 Acres of Western Public Lands for Fracking https://t.co/FE5d2IsXN6… https://t.co/FLLTKIOG5p— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1513116912.0
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
More than 300,000 acres are on the auction block in Nevada's Great Basin in 2017, including wild lands near the Ruby Mountains. PR vonB / Flickr
President Trump and Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke are continuing their onslaught against American public lands this holiday month and moving forward with plans to auction off 700,000 acres for fracking, endangering clean air and water, the climate and sacred lands.
"First it's our cherished national monuments, now Trump and Zinke are set to give away even more public lands to the fossil fuel industry," said Becca Fischer, climate guardian for WildEarth Guardians. "Rather than giving back this holiday season, this administration is proving that it will stop at nothing to put our public lands in the hands of dirty energy executives and sell off our rights to clean energy and a healthy environment."
In total in 2017, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has auctioned and is proposing to auction off more than a million acres of public lands for fracking in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Of that 1 million, the BLM will sell 700,000 acres in the December sales.
● On Dec. 12, 99,000 acres in Montana, 388,000 acres in Nevada and 94,000 acres in Utah are slated to be auctioned off for fracking.
● On Dec. 14, 72,000 acres in Wyoming are slated to be auctioned off.
The pace of public lands giveaways is set to increase in 2018. The BLM's lease sales for the first half of the year already total almost 1 million acres.
Massive #Fracking on Nevada Public Lands Sought by Trump Administration, Conservation Groups Launch Legal Protest… https://t.co/BJSbJ2f3IP— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1510672573.0
"While oil and gas companies get rich, Americans are shouldering the cost of climate change, air pollution, water contamination, lost wildlife habitat and degraded sacred lands," said Fischer. "This administration has made abundantly clear that the American public and their lands are nothing more than a 'burden' to industry."
Zinke's "Energy Burdens" report released in October showcases the Department of Interior's plans to implement the oil and gas industry's wish list for policy revisions. The report outlines Zinke's plans to eliminate public input and grease the skids for unfettered fracking.
The December lease sales come amid growing protests over the BLM's management of public lands for fracking. WildEarth Guardians filed administrative appeals (also called "protests") challenging the proposed leasing in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming as illegal under federal law.
"In every western state, the Bureau of Land Management is sidestepping the law, shortcutting its reviews and doing everything it can to lock out the American public," said Fischer. "Sadly, on our public lands, the BLM is putting fracking above everything."
Multi-stage fracking coupled with horizontal drilling has opened up millions of acres of public land to intense industrialization. For example, fracking can mean thousands of semis tearing up rural roads and kicking up dust, massive increases in air pollution and greenhouse gases, and large-scale water consumption. There are also concerns about water contamination from frack fluids, earthquakes from wastewater disposal, and the social impacts on communities that result from an influx of new people.
Oil and gas leasing on public lands is also a major contributor to global warming in the U.S. Leasing opens the door for oil and gas drilling and fracking, and more fossil fuel burning. Reports indicate 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to oil and gas development from public lands and waters.
In 2016, WildEarth Guardians filed suit over the failure of the BLM to limit oil and gas production to protect the climate. That suit is moving forward in federal court. If successful, it will call into question the legal validity of these oil and gas sales.
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."
'A Terrible Violation of America's Public Lands and Heritage': Lawsuit Targets Trump's Slashing of Protections at Grand Staircase-Escalante
Hours after President Donald Trump issued a proclamation taking an axe to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah on Monday, conservation organizations filed a lawsuit attacking the order as an abuse of the president's power.
Earthjustice is representing eight organizations in a suit charging that the president violated the 1906 Antiquities Act by stripping monument protections from this national treasure: The Wilderness Society, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council are co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit and represented by in-house counsel.
"If the Trump administration thinks Grand Staircase-Escalante can be sold out without a fight, they're in for a huge surprise," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante contains dinosaur fossils found nowhere else in the world. Since its designation, 21 new dinosaur species have been unearthed by scientists in the monument, leading some to call these lands a "Dinosaur Shangri-la," and a "geologic wonderland." Grand Staircase holds one of the richest collections of fossils from the Late Cretaceous Period, which gives scientists and the public alike an unparalleled window into the dinosaurs that lived in these lands 10 million years ago. In mid-October, scientists airlifted one of the most complete tyrannosaur skeletons ever found out of Grand Staircase. These fossils are largely found in the Kaiparowits Plateau, where the coal industry has long coveted access for coal mining that would wreak havoc on this dinosaur treasure trove that belongs to the American people.
"President Trump has perpetrated a terrible violation of America's public lands and heritage by going after this dinosaur treasure trove," said Heidi McIntosh, managing attorney in Earthjustice's Rocky Mountains office. "While past presidents have used the Antiquities Act to protect unique lands and cultural sites in America, Trump is instead mangling the law, opening this national monument to coal mining instead of protecting its scientific, historic and wild heritage. We will not let this stand. We will use the power of the law to stop Trump's illegal actions."
Trump's executive order to revoke and replace Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument came on the heels of a review conducted by Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke. More than 2.7 million Americans voiced their support for national monuments across the country, and public participation in the comment period was overwhelmingly in favor of keeping these public lands and waters protected just as they are.
'Theft Of Our Heritage': Thousands Protest Trump's Cuts to Utah's National Monuments https://t.co/vaqdtDaAu0 @NRDC… https://t.co/4eviDwn8hp— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1512397717.0
"Despite the call for public comments, Trump never cared that we, the public, wanted him to keep his hands off our monuments," said Chris Krupp, public earth guardian at WildEarth Guardians. "He's not concerned with those of us that camp, hike, fish and hunt. He'd rather give another handout to oil, gas and coal companies."
"The Trump administration's effort to sell out our public lands is deeply unpopular and goes against American values," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "We will work to ensure our lands and waters remain open to the public and protected for future generations to explore and enjoy."
President Bill Clinton protected the lands of Grand Staircase as a national monument on Sept. 18, 1996 using the Antiquities Act, a century-old law that has been used by 16 presidents since Theodore Roosevelt to protect some of our nation's most cherished landscapes and cultural heritage. Congress enacted the law in 1906, granting presidents the authority to create national monuments on federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural, historic or scientific features. The Antiquities Act does not, however, grant presidents the authority to diminish or rescind the monument designations of their predecessors.
"President Trump is attempting an unauthorized remodel of the Grand Staircase, knocking out not only geologic steps but cornerstones of the evolution of species, human history, and our cultural heritage as well," said Tim Peterson, Utah Wildlands program director with the Grand Canyon Trust.
"Grand Staircase is a cradle of biodiversity and losing even an acre would be a crime," said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Scientists have identified nearly four dozen new species of butterflies here. We must protect this monument's wildlife, stunning landscapes and cultural treasures for future generations. Trump and the fossil-fuel industry have picked the wrong battle."
After President Clinton designated Grand Staircase, an intricate land swap between the state and federal government was completed. Congress passed legislation modifying the monument's boundaries in 1998 and then approved a land swap in which the state of Utah received 145,000 acres of mineral-rich federal lands and $50 million from the federal treasury. That $50 million has since gone to support Utah's public schools, and the swap would be incredibly difficult to unravel. The Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration established the Land Exchange Distribution Account to dole out the proceeds from these state-federal trades. At least 27 Utah counties have since received a total of $441 million.
Grand Staircase-Escalante has proven a tourism and economic boon for Southern Utah since its designation. Between 2001 and 2015, the population in the two counties bordering Grand Staircase grew by 13 percent, jobs increased 24 percent and real personal income grew 32 percent. Travel and tourism boomed in the region, offering 1,630 jobs around Grand Staircase. In the big picture, recreation from adventure-seekers, hikers, amateur geologists and families simply getting outdoors now funnels more than $12 billion into Utah's economy.
"I'm a resident of Kanab, and there are a lot of local businesses that are completely dependent on tourism related to Grand Staircase-Escalante," said Laura Welp of Western Watersheds Project, and a former Bureau of Land Management botanist at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. "The entire 'staircase' of spectacular geological layers, with its world-class fossil resources, deserves to be protected intact from the threat of coal mining and other types of commercial exploitation."
"Americans from across the nation should be outraged by President Trump's unlawful attempt to eviscerate the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, one of our country's wildest and most scientifically significant federal public landscapes," said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Utah's largest conservation organization. "No one will look back on this decision in 15, 25 or 50 years and say Trump did the right thing by protecting less of this magnificent place. And by promoting this illegal act, Utah's parochial congressional delegation and local politicians have firmly come down on the wrong side of history."
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt announced Monday that the Trump administration is rolling back the Clean Power Plan to end the previous administration's "war on coal" but there's a big problem: Obama didn't kill the coal industry—the market for cheap natural gas and increasingly affordable renewable energy did.
Case in point, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that New Mexico's largest utility still plans to phase out coal as a power source in 2031. The Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) currently uses coal for 56 percent of its energy generation but wants drop use to 12 percent by 2025.
"The actions we have planned represent the most cost-effective ways to serve our customers with reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible energy," Ray Sandoval, a company spokesman, explained to the publication.
In April, Pat Vincent-Collawn, CEO of PNM Resources, said moving toward renewables and natural gas is "the best, most economical path to a strong energy future for New Mexico."
PNM intends to stick with the Obama-era regulation even though it specifically targeted emissions from the nation's coal-burning power plants.
Pruitt argues that the 2015 climate policy overstepped federal law by setting emissions standards that power plants could not reasonably meet.
But PNM's move is part of a larger trend of utilities around the country that are turning away from coal. According to The Santa Fe New Mexican, "In April, a survey by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found that 46 coal-burning units at 25 power plants across 16 states will close or significantly reduce production by 2018."
PNM isn't alone in sticking with the Clean Power Plan. Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group also plans reduce carbon dioxide emissions to the levels set by Obama regulation despite Trump's plans to nix it.
"This is much more driven by fundamental economics as opposed to what is or isn't going on in Washington," president and CEO Allen Leverett told shareholders five months ago.
Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy director at WildEarth Guardians, further commented that "things are moving away from coal, Clean Power Plan or not. Nowhere is that more evident than New Mexico."
A report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects that about two-thirds of coal-fired plants to close by 2040, while gas-fired electricity is seen to rise by 22 percent and renewables could jump by a stunning 169 percent.
By WildEarth Guardian
Wednesday, WildEarth Guardians sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, challenging the agency's flawed rule stripping grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of Endangered Species Act protections. The service's premature removal of crucial federal safeguards undermines the recovery of the species as a whole, while subjecting grizzlies stepping outside the safety of our national parks to state-sanctioned trophy hunting.
"The Service failed to carry out its paramount—and mandatory—duty to ensure grizzly bears in the contiguous United States are recovered to the point at which the protections of the Endangered Species Act are no longer necessary," said Kelly Nokes, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians. "The Service's decision is riddled with flaws, not based in science nor the law, and places this icon of all that is wild squarely in the crosshairs of extinction once again."
The lawsuit faults the service for illegally designating grizzlies in Greater Yellowstone as a "distinct population segment" and simultaneously removing protections from the population without first considering the impact such removal will have on imperiled grizzly populations located elsewhere in the lower 48 states. The suit also highlights the service's failure to use the best available science when it determined that grizzlies in the Yellowstone region are recovered.
Yellowstone Grizzly Bears to Lose Endangered Species Protection https://t.co/XjADo2xnmi @environmentca @ConservationOrg— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1498252211.0
"Biologists agree that grizzly recovery hinges on connecting isolated populations and distributing the genes they carry," said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center representing WildEarth Guardians. "Under this illegal and ill-advised plan, dispersing grizzlies essential to species recovery would be the first to die."
Grizzlies in the Yellowstone region remain threatened by dwindling food sources, habitat loss and fragmentation, and illegal killing. The Yellowstone population is isolated and has yet to connect to bears elsewhere in the U.S., including to bears in and around Glacier National Park. Grizzlies also have yet to reclaim key historic habitats, including the Bitterroot Range along the Montana-Idaho border.
Hunted, trapped and poisoned to near extinction, grizzly bear populations in the contiguous U.S. declined drastically from nearly 50,000 bears to only a few hundred by the 1930s. In response to the decline, the service designated the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, a move that likely saved them from extinction. The species has since struggled to hang on, with only roughly 1,800 currently surviving in the lower 48 states. Grizzlies remain absent from nearly 98 percent of their historic range.
At last count, approximately 690 grizzly bears resided in the Greater Yellowstone region in 2016, down from 2015's count of 717 bears. The last two years had near record-breaking grizzly mortality, with at least 139 bears killed since 2015 (including 20 documented deaths thus far in 2017, 58 dead bears in 2016 and 61 dead grizzlies in 2015). Of those, at least 98 bears died due to human-causes and 30 deaths remain undetermined or are still under investigation.
Wednesday's lawsuit challenges the service's final rule removing Endangered Species Act protections from grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in U.S. District Court for the District of Montana. WildEarth Guardians is represented by Matthew Bishop and John Mellgren of the Western Environmental Law Center and Kelly Nokes of WildEarth Guardians.
The Trump administration rejected a petition Monday to protect imperiled Pacific bluefin tuna under the Endangered Species Act. This powerful apex predator, which commands top prices at fish auctions in Japan, has been overfished to less than 3 percent of its historic population. Although the National Marine Fisheries Service announced in October 2016 that it was considering listing the Pacific bluefin, it has now concluded that protections aren't warranted.
"If the paychecks of fishery managers and federal officials were tied to the status of this marvelous creature, they would have done the right thing," said Carl Safina, president of the Safina Center and a scientist and author who has worked to draw public attention to the plight of the bluefin tuna.
Japan, South Korea, Mexico, the U.S. and other countries have failed to reduce fishing enough to protect this iconic species, a luxury item on sushi menus. One recent study found that bluefin and other large marine organisms are particularly vulnerable to the current mass extinction event; their loss would disrupt the ocean food web in unprecedented ways, and they need more protection to survive.
"Pacific bluefin tuna will spiral toward extinction unless we protect them. The Endangered Species Act works, but not when the Trump administration ignores the plight of animals that need help," said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "This disappointing decision makes it even more important for consumers and restaurateurs to boycott bluefin until the species recovers."
In June 2016 petitioners requested that the Fisheries Service protect Pacific bluefin tuna as endangered. The coalition includes the Center for Biological Diversity, The Ocean Foundation, Earthjustice, Center for Food Safety, Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, Mission Blue, Recirculating Farms Coalition, The Safina Center, SandyHook SeaLife Foundation, Sierra Club, Turtle Island Restoration Network and WildEarth Guardians, as well as sustainable-seafood purveyor Jim Chambers.
"The Trump administration's war on the oceans has just launched another hand grenade—one that hastens the extirpation of bluefin tuna from U.S. waters and ultimately hurts fishing communities and our food supply," said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.
Almost all Pacific bluefin tuna harvested today are caught before reproducing, putting in doubt their future as a species. Just a few adult age classes of Pacific bluefin tuna exist, and these will soon disappear due to old age. Without young fish to mature into the spawning stock to replace the aging adults, the future is grim for Pacific bluefin unless immediate steps are taken to halt this decline.
"Instead of celebrating the Pacific bluefin tuna for their impressive and important role in the ocean, humans are sadly fishing them to the brink of extinction in order to put them on the dinner plate," said Brett Garling of Mission Blue. "It's more than regrettable that this gastro-fetish is robbing the ocean of one of its most iconic species. The time is now to wake up and realize that tuna are worth much more swimming in the ocean than in soy sauce on a plate."
The federal government is providing extensive support for fossil fuel production on public lands and waters offshore, through a combination of direct subsidies, enforcement loopholes, lax royalty collection, stagnant lease rates and other advantages to the industry, a report released Wednesday found.
The government is contributing at least $7 billion per year in subsidies to support fossil fuel production on federally held lands and offshore waters alone, and is holding some $35 billion in public liabilities for drilling in public waters of the Gulf of Mexico. These subsidies support increased fossil fuel production on U.S. lands and waters out of step with efforts to meet international climate objectives.
The report, released by Oil Change International in partnership with 350.org, WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, Clean Water Action, Food & Water Watch and Public Citizen, for the first time outlines in detail the subsidies and other public support being provided in the U.S. to the fossil fuel industry for its activities on public lands.
The report, Unequal Exchange: How Taxpayers Shoulder the Burden of Fossil Fuel Development on Federal Lands, presents an accounting of the minimum amounts of direct taxpayer dollars going to support fossil fuels on public lands, not including externalities such as climate and health impacts, which would bring the totals even higher. If those factors are taken into account, for example, mining coal in the Powder River Basin alone would have a net cost to the U.S. public of some $17.8 billion per year as of 2015.
"Rex Tillerson and other members of the Trump administration deny that these subsidies even exist just like they deny climate change. The reason is clear—in both cases, if you admit the truth, the only answer is a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry," said Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International.
"The first step towards that is to stop supporting the industry with our public dollars. These subsidies are a raw deal for American taxpayers, and a disaster for our climate."
Particularly notable is a finding that some royalty and lease rates for fossil fuel development on public lands have remained unchanged since the 1920s.
"As if simply allowing the toxic, climate-killing extraction of fossil fuels on our sensitive public lands isn't shameful enough, that the federal government actually subsidizes this foolish activity with taxpayer money is downright absurd," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director at Food & Water Watch.
"For the sake of climate stability, the transition to a clean energy future must begin immediately. An ideal place to kick-start the transition is with a ban on fossil fuel extraction on our precious public lands, and most certainly, a halt to the underhanded propping-up of this antiquated industry with our precious public dollars."
The report makes a number of key recommendations, starting with a basic determination that the fossil fuel leasing program on public lands should be phased out in line with climate science. Until that become reality, the report finds immediate action to reduce large, unfunded liabilities for U.S. taxpayer money associated with fossil fuel production on public lands should be reduced and royalty and lease rates should be increased to better reflect the full costs to the public of these activities.
"This report makes it clear as day that the Trump agenda is the fossil fuel billionaire agenda," said Jason Kowalski, policy director at 350.org.
"The industry finances corrupt politicians, who in turn help them keep fossil fuels economically viable at a time when the science suggests most oil, gas and coal needs to be kept in the ground. They set out to rig the system and they succeeded. History will judge them harshly."