NOAA to consider taking humpback whales off endangered list

Humpback_whale_noaaBy YERETH ROSEN

June 25, 2014 Alaska Dispatch

Alaska’s humpback whales came a step closer to moving off the endangered species list this week when an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a positive initial finding on the merits of the state’s petition to delist a population of the marine mammals.

On Wednesday, NOAA Fisheries announced a positive finding, which means the agency “has determined that the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted,” said a release on the finding.

The State of Alaska petitioned the agency in February to delist the central north Pacific population of humpbacks, which travels between Hawaii and Alaska. An estimate at that time put the entire north Pacific population at 21,800, up from about 1,000 in 1966, the year commercial whaling ended. The central north Pacific stock — the population segment targeted by the state’s petition — is believed to number at least 5,833, NOAA said Wednesday.

Another organization, the Hawai’i Fishermen’s Alliance for Conservation and Tradition, is also seeking delisting, but for the entire north Pacific population. NOAA issued a positive 90-day finding on that petition last August.

The positive findings on the Alaska and Hawaii group’s petitions mean NOAA will conduct status reviews of the central north Pacific and entire north Pacific populations. Those reviews generally take a year.

NOAA is already engaged in a status review of the global population of humpback whales, a project started in 2009 and not prompted by any petition, said Julie Speegle, a spokeswoman for the agency.

NOAA plans to combine the new north Pacific population reviews into the global study, Speegle said. “Within that status review, we will look at the different stocks,” she said.

Humpback whales exist in oceans all over the world, Speegle said. Within the north Pacific population, she said, there are three stocks — the central stock that is the subject of the Alaska petition, the western stock in Asia and the stock that swims off California, Oregon, Washington and Mexico.

If any delisting occurs, that could affect regulations that protect the whales, Speegle said.

“We would go back to the regulations to determine what may be necessary or what needs to be changed,” she said. But regulation changes depend on the outcome of the status review, a range of possibilities that includes a possible change to a listing of “threatened” from the current endangered listing, she said.

Mountain caribou status revised to threatened



Associated Press May 7, 2014

Image Source: Conservation Northwest
Image Source: Conservation Northwest

SPOKANE, Wash. — The federal government on Wednesday downgraded the protected status of the last remaining herd of mountain caribou in the Lower 48 states from endangered to threatened. Environmental groups hailed the decision as good for the animals.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the change in response to petitions from Idaho’s Bonner County, a snowmobile group and a pro-business law firm that had sought the removal of all protections from the herd in northern Idaho.

The herd is thought to number fewer than 30 animals but interacts with a much-larger herd on the Canadian side of the Selkirk Mountains.

The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group seeking to protect the herd, said the decision means the animals will continue to get the protection they need.

“We’re just glad they stayed protected,” said Noah Greenwald of the center. “As far as the protections a species gets, the difference between endangered and threatened is not substantial.”

The decision came in response to a petition from the Pacific Legal Foundation, Bonner County and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, which said the herd in the U.S. was too small a subset of animals to warrant listing.

“We think it is a partial victory,” said Jonathan Wood, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento, California.

The downgrade in status may lift some of the most severe restrictions on activities in caribou habitat, Wood said.

“The severe burden on property owners and Bonner County and people interested in recreation may get greater flexibility,” he said.

Woodland caribou once ranged across much of the nation’s northern tier. However, the animals disappeared 100 years ago from all but a small and remote area of the Idaho Panhandle and northeastern Washington.

The population has been protected since 1983 under the Endangered Species Act.

“Scientists from both sides of the border have determined southern mountain caribou are significant and need protection to survive,” said Jason Rylander, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “We should not allow these unique animals to go extinct in the United States.”

All caribou are the same species, but mountain caribou have adapted to harsh winters with deep snow by developing dinner-plate sized hooves that work like snowshoes. They eat only arboreal lichens during the winter months.

The Pacific Legal Foundation argued that caribou should not be protected because there are plenty in Canada. But environmentalists countered that the Endangered Species Act specifically allows protection of distinct populations.

“The woodland caribou is Idaho’s most endangered animal. It is important that they remain protected and we get down to the real work of recovery before they go extinct,” said Brad Smith of the Idaho Conservation League.

Conservation groups have sued for the establishment of protected critical habitat and to close a large area of the Selkirks to snowmobiles, which pose a threat to the animals.

The Fish and Wildlife Service originally set aside more than 375,000 acres of critical habitat, but pro-business groups complained that would decimate the economy of the area. The habitat was eventually reduced to about 30,000 acres, a decision that remains in litigation.

Gray Wolves Would Be Removed From Endangered Species List Under New Plan

Indian Country Today Media Network

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed taking the gray wolf off the federal Endangered Species List, saying it is no longer in danger of extinction, and replacing it with the Mexican wolf, a species under siege.

The move, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe in a teleconference with reporters, allows the agency to focus on the much more endangered Mexican wolf. (Related: Shooting of Mexican Gray Wolf Being Investigated by Federal Government)

Gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and the western Great Lakes are already out from under federal protection. Today’s announcement lifts the federal restrictions from all lower 48 states. The wolves will still be managed, Ashe said, but the states will do it. Tribes are also important in these efforts, he said. (Related: Proposed Settlement Would De-List Idaho, Montana Gray Wolves)

Working with state partners in Arizona and New Mexico, “our goal is to reinvigorate our Mexican wolf recovery program,” Ashe said. “No one is suggesting” that gray wolves require less protection, but the question is whether they still require federal protection, he added.

Tribal input will be key during both the gray wolf’s transition away from federal management and the Mexican wolf’s continued regeneration, Ashe said.

“We have worked historically through the reintroduction and recovery effort with tribes, and our principal partner is the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho,” he said. “In fact, during key juncture in the recovery effort, when the State of Idaho was not participating—government and political leaders had prohibited the state fish and game agency from participating—the Nez Perce Tribe played a critical role with us and was really a vital partner in the early stages.”

“Regarding the Mexican Wolf, the White Mountain Apache have been a key partner so far to recover the Mexican Wolf,” he said, “and tribal partners will be increasingly important in the Southwest as we reinvigorate our efforts to recover the Mexican wolf.”

The dual move reflects the fact that the federal government has fulfilled its responsibility under the Endangered Species Act, which turns 40 this year, to ensure that “the gray wolf is going to remain a part of the landscape of our nation and for future generations of Americans,” Ashe said. The gray wolf population has grown from a few hundred in the early 2000s to :at least 6,100 gray wolves in the contiguous United States, with a current estimate of 1,674 in the Northern Rocky Mountains and 4,432 in the Western Great Lakes,” according to the Fish and Wildlife Service on its website.

“About this time next year we should be talking about a final proposal,” he said. The clock on a 90-day public comment period begins on June 7, after which the Fish and Wildlife Service will evaluate the results and come up with a determination and a plan.

The wolves have been considered endangered for the entire tenure of the protection law. Ashe admitted the government had “persecuted” the animals before they were listed for protection—hunting them from the air, gassing them in their dens and poisoning them in the wild. But in 1995, wildlife officials had released a few dozen wolves into Yellowstone National Park and in Idaho, and today there are more than 1,700 in that region alone, he said.