The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has announced the availability of a revised recovery plan for the pallid sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus albus), a species that is found in the Missouri and Mississippi River basins, has been described as having a "unique dinosaur-like appearance," and has been listed as endangered since 1990. As summarized by the Service, the revised recovery plan updates the "current understanding of the species life history requirements, identifies probable threats that were not originally recognized, includes revised recovery criteria, and based on improved understanding of the species, describes those actions believed necessary to eventually delist the species." The Service believes that the pallid sturgeon "are an important indicator of the health of several of America's largest rivers, and represent a unique piece of America's natural history, with fossil ancestors dating back over 70 million years." The original recovery plan was drafted in 1993.
On February 26, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game petitioned (pdf) the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to remove the Central North Pacific subpopulation of humpback whales from the federal list of endangered or threatened species. In a press release, the director of Alaska’s Division of Wildlife Conservation declared the species a “prime example of a recovered species that should be delisted” from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because “the threat of extinction for this subpopulation is gone.”
The entire North Pacific humpback whale species (Megaptera novaeangliae) was listed under the ESA in 1970, when the population was estimated to be as few as 1,000. Estimates now place the Central North Pacific population at around 21,800 animals.
The Central North Pacific humpback whale subpopulation feeds off the coast of Alaska each summer, and migrates to Hawaii in the winter. Alaska state officials called ESA protections for the species a regulatory burden on industries such as fishing and oil and gas. They noted that, were the species to be delisted, other protections such as those provided under the Marine Mammal Protection Act would remain in place. Critics of the petition argue that the whales still face too may threats to be delisted, including entanglement in fishing gear, boat collisions, and changing ocean chemistry resulting from climate change and noise pollution.
Alaska’s petition echoes an April 2013 petition filed by the State of Hawaii urging delisting of the entire North Pacific humpback population. NMFS stated that it will respond to Alaska’s petition within 90 days.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) recently issued (pdf) a proposed rule to remove Eureka Valley evening-primrose (Oenothera avita ssp. eurekensis) and Eureka dune grass (Swallenia alexandrae) from the federal list of endangered species. The Service’s proposed rule follows its 12-month finding on the Pacific Legal Foundation’s petition to delist the species.
Eureka Valley evening-primrose and Eureka dune grass are endemic to three dune systems in the Eureka Valley, located in Inyo County, California. Eureka Valley is managed by the National Park Service (Park Service) because it is located within federally designated wilderness areas of Death Valley National Park.
At the time of listing, the primary threats to Eureka Valley evening-primrose and Eureka dune grass were identified as off-highway vehicle activity at the Eureka dunes, as well as impacts from camping associated with such off-highway activities. The Service determined that these threats have been ameliorated by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Park Service actions, including habitat protections and ongoing management of off-highway activities. According to the Service, remaining potential threats, including predation, stochastic events, climate change, and competition with Russian thistle, may be causing some stress to certain populations of the species, but these potential impacts do not rise to a level that warrants listing either species as threatened.
The two species were originally listed as endangered on April 26, 1978. On May 18, 2010, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a petition requesting that the Service delist Eureka Valley evening-primrose and Eureka dune grass, based on the Service’s analysis and recommendations in its 2007 five-year status review for the species. On March 27, 2013, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging the Service’s failure to issue the required 12-month finding. The Service’s issuance of its 12-month finding came pursuant to a settlement agreement and revised court order in that litigation.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) issued a final rule (pdf) listing the Georgetown salamander (Eurycea naufragia) and the Salado salamander (Eureycea chisholmensis) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service also issued a proposed special rule for the Georgetown salamander under section 4(d) of the ESA, which authorizes the take of protected species in certain instances.
The primary threat to the species is habitat degradation due to declining water quality and disturbance of surface spring sites. According to the Service, urban development prevents the infiltration of surface water through soil, which alters the temperature, pH, and alkalinity of the species’ habitat.
The proposed special rule (pdf) would allow for take of the Georgetown salamander incidental to activities that are consistent with conservation measures contained in a City of Georgetown water quality ordinance. The ordinance seeks to reduce certain threats to the species by requiring, among other things, geological assessments to identify springs and streams on any development site, and the establishment of non-disturbance and minimal-disturbance zones.
The Service will accept comments on the proposed special rule until April 25, 2014.
In an article (pdf) forthcoming in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Dennis Murphy and I explore the potential for adaptive management through structured decision-making to improve efforts to conserve imperiled species. We note the many impediments to effective management, which include frequent default to best professional judgment. We then explore the potential for adaptive management to overcome these impediments if it is implemented as a step-wise, structured approach incorporating scientific information into decision-making. We go on to identify five essential points of engagement where science guides adaptive management: developing conceptual models, confronting management prescriptions with available data, building quantitative models, designing monitoring schemes, and interpreting returns from monitoring.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced a final rule listing the Georgetown salamander (Eurycea naufragia) and Salado salamander (Eureycea chisholmensis) as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The final rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday. According to an article by Claire Osborn of the Austin American-Statesman, "Williamson County officials have said the area would lose millions of dollars in development if the salamanders are listed."
Today, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced (pdf) a 90-day finding on a petition to list the Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori), the Baltic Sea subpopulation of harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), the eastern Taiwan Strait subpopulation of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis), and the Fiordland subpopulation of the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) under the Endangered Species Act. The announcement came as a result of NMFS' determination that the petition presented substantial scientific and commercial information indicating that listing may be warranted.
NMFS will conduct a 12-month status review of the species to determine whether the best scientific information available supports listing. According to the announcement, NMFS is accepting information and comments on the species through April 22, 2014.
NMFS also stated in the announcement that it had determined that the petition did not present substantial information indicating that listing the Galapagos fur seal (Arctocephalus galapagoensis) is warranted, and declined to take further action with respect to this species.
In August 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) issued a proposed rule to delist the Hawaiian hawk (Buteo solitarius), also referred to as the io, from the federal list of endangered or threatened species. The proposed rule states that the proposed action is "based on a thorough review of the best available scientific data, which indicates that range-wide population estimates have been stable for at least 20 years, and the species has recovered and is not likely to become an endangered species in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range." While the official comment periods on the proposed rule and the proposed post-delisting monitoring plan closed on August 4, 2009, the Service did not make a final determination on the proposed rule.
Last week, on February 12, 2014, the Service announced the reopening of the public comment period on the proposed rule to delist the Hawaiian hawk. In the announcement, the Service states that "[a]lthough new information shows negative habitat trends due to urbanization and nonnative plant species invasion, efforts at habitat restoration that benefit the Hawaiian hawk are achieving success," and that even in the face of potential habitat concerns "the Hawaiian hawk is resilient enough to maintain itself over time in a variety of habitat types."
The announcement states that comments submitted during the prior comment periods do not need to be resubmitted. However, comments on the new information presented in the announcement "must be received or postmarked no later than April 14, 2014."
The proposed rule acknowledges that if the Hawaiian hawk is delisted, thereby stripping away all protection provided by the Endangered Species Act, the hawk would still be protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
For another take on the Service's announcement and proposed action, see the following article by Carolyn Lucas-Zenk in the West Hawaii Today.
Report Finds the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Relied on Inadequate Science to Propose Delisting the Gray Wolf
A report issued by a group of independent scientists claims that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) relied on inadequate scientific evidence to support its proposal to delist the gray wolf (Canis lupus) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As we previously reported, the Service issued a proposed rule to delist the species last June. The Service then commissioned U.C. Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) to conduct an independent review of the science behind the proposed rule. NCEAS issued its report last month.
According to the report, the Service’s decision was not supported by the best scientific evidence available at the time the proposed rule was issued. The report found that the Service’s decision was based in part on a 2012 Service study that was “not universally accepted.” The 2012 study had concluded that wolves in the eastern United States are a distinct species from the gray wolf of the western United States, and the Service used that conclusion to determine that gray wolves occupy enough of their historic range in the West to qualify for delisting.
While the NCEAS report did not reject the 2012 study in its entirety, it concluded that the study did not represent the best available science. Environmental groups are claiming that the report is proof that a legal challenge to the Service’s proposed rule would succeed in federal court.
The report identified additional scientific research that the Service should consider before changing the gray wolf’s ESA status. The Service has reopened the comment period on the proposed rule through March 27, 2014.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced (pdf) that it will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on a proposed application for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP), including a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The application concerns the lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicintus), which the Service has proposed to be listed as threatened under the ESA.
A group of stakeholders representing energy, agricultural, and conservation industries and organizations (Stakeholders) submitted the application. If issued, the ITP and HCP would provide sufficient “take” authorization to enable various regional construction, operation, and maintenance activities associated with multiple commercial energy facilities, agricultural activities, and conservation management activities within six states to continue in the event the Service ultimately lists the lesser prairie-chicken.
The HCP will include measures related to take avoidance, minimization of take through best management practices, and mitigation of the impacts of take through habitat preservation, restoration, and enhancement measures. The HCP’s planning area includes the occupied range of the lesser prairie-chicken in five states, including portions of New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. It also includes areas where the species’ populations could expand with appropriate conservation initiatives, which includes portions of Nebraska.
The Service originally received a petition to list the lesser prairie-chicken in October 1995. In July 1998, the Service determined that listing the species was warranted, but precluded by other higher priority species. In December 2012, the Service published a proposed rule to list the species as threatened.