Tribes join effort to keep Yellowstone grizzlies protected

By Matthew Brown, Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – Leaders of American Indian tribes in the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains have joined an effort to retain federal protections for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to decide this year whether it will move to lift protections for the roughly 1,000 grizzlies that scientists say live in the Yellowstone region of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

The campaign to enlist tribal backing for continued protections is being coordinated in large part by wildlife advocates. Organizers say more than two dozen tribes have signed on with resolutions and other declarations of support.

Tribal leaders cited their ancestral connection to the Yellowstone area and the cultural importance of grizzly bears to their people.

“Any move to delist the sacred grizzly bear on this ancestral landscape must involve consultation with the affected Tribal Nations,” wrote Ivan Posey, a member of the Eastern Shoshone and chairman of the Montana Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, in a letter last month.

Lifting protections and allowing state-sponsored hunting “not only represents a threat to tribal sovereignty, but also contravenes the American Indian Religious Freedom Act,” Posey said.

The council includes representatives from 11 tribes.

Tribal leaders from Idaho, South Dakota, North Dakota and Oklahoma have submitted similar letters through an advocacy group known as Guardians of Our Ancestors’ Legacy, or GOAL.

Federal grizzly recovery coordinator Chris Servheen said letters seeking comment were sent in April to four tribes in Wyoming and Idaho but none responded. The four tribes that received the Fish and Wildlife Service letters were identified by the agency’s tribal liaisons as having a direct interest in grizzlies in the Yellowstone region, Servheen said.

“We would welcome their input and ideas, and we asked for the input and ideas,” he said.

Grizzlies received federal protections in the Lower 48 in 1975 after getting wiped out across much of their range. The Yellowstone region is home to one of the largest remaining populations.

The region’s bears temporarily lost protections in 2007 before they were restored by a federal judge. No tribes raised concerns during that time, Servheen said.

Lifting protections would transfer jurisdiction over grizzlies to states that have said they would likely allow some trophy hunting of the animals. Wildlife managers have said hunt quotas would be kept small because of the size of the population and the bears’ low rate of reproduction.

Mountain caribou status revised to threatened

 

By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS

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.

Feds will let wind farms kill eagles for 30 years

By John Upston, Grist
“Whaaat?”

The Obama administration recently sent a big message to the wind energy industry, imposing a $1 million fine under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for a wind farm that killed birds in violation of wildlife rules.

On Friday, the administration sent a different message when it moved to make such rules more lenient.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would begin handing out permits that give wind companies permission to unintentionally kill protected bald and golden eagles for 30 years, provided they implement “advanced conservation practices” to keep the number of deaths low. Such permits had previously been capped at five years.

 

Some wildlife advocates were appalled by the move, which they had opposed. From The Hill:

In a statement sent to The Hill, the president of the National Audubon Society, David Yarnold, said that the administration “wrote the wind industry a blank check,” and indicated that a court challenge court be in the works.

“We have no choice but to challenge this decision, and all options are on the table,” he added.

The wind energy industry, meanwhile, tried to put the bird-killing habits of some of its operators in context, pointing out that similar “take” permits are available for dirty energy producers. From an American Wind Energy Association blog post by John Anderson, an expert on turbine siting, which, when done well, can be one of the best ways of avoiding bird deaths:

The wind industry does more to address its impacts on eagles than any of the other, far greater sources of eagle fatalities known to wildlife experts, and we are constantly striving to reduce these impacts even further. In fact, the wind industry has taken the most proactive and leading role of any utility-scale energy source to minimize wildlife impacts in general, and specifically on eagles, through constantly improving siting and monitoring techniques.

Remember, the federal government won’t be handing out permits allowing wind turbine owners to kill birds carte blanche. “The permits must incorporate conditions specifying additional measures that may be necessary to ensure the preservation of eagles, should monitoring data indicate the need for the measures,” the new regulation states.