Sunday, August 31, 2014

Happy Labor Day

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Has the Extinction of Species Taught us Anything?

 The passenger pigeon is among the most famous of American birds, but sadly this is due to it's demise - the largest-scale human-caused extinction in history. Over a century ago, the last remaining birds that remained existed only in captivity. Similar to the critically endangered red wolf and Mexican gray wolf before their chance to reclaim the wild in the 1980s and 1990s. Unlike these lobos, the passenger pigeon didn't get a second chance. The last male died in 1910, leaving "Martha," a female, as a "barren relic of past abundance." One hundred years ago this week, Martha, the very last pigeon of her kind, died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Has the extinction of the passenger pigeon taught us anything? A compelling editorial in the New York Times asks this question in Saving Our Birds BY JOHN W. FITZPATRICK

"Preserving abundance in nature is ecologically just as important as rescuing rare species en route to extinction. The passenger pigeon taught us that even the most numerous species can undergo population collapses in astonishingly short periods of time. Cod fishermen of the North Atlantic learned the same painful lesson just two decades ago. It is far more effective and cost-efficient to conserve a species while it is abundant than to wait until it reaches the brink."

Friday, August 29, 2014

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Announces Review of Eastern North Carolina Red Wolf Population

Eastern North Carolina Red Wolf Population Under Review

Originally published on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website - here.
Focus Group Sessions Scheduled August 29, 2014
Contacts: Tom MacKenzie, USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded a contract to conduct a review of the Eastern North Carolina non-essential, experimental red wolf population to the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI), of Cabot, Virginia. Founded in 1911, WMI is a private, non-profit, scientific and educational organization, dedicated to the conservation, enhancement, and professional management of North America's wildlife and other natural resources.

The evaluation will be completed in 60 days by October 10, 2014. Under the Service’s contract, it will be peer reviewed and then used to help the Service determine the program’s future. That determination is expected to be finalized in early 2015. The evaluation will cover three primary areas: scientific, management, and public attitudes.

“Program evaluations are a normal practice to ensure optimal effectiveness and have been conducted in other recovery programs, such as the Mexican wolf recovery program,” said Leopoldo Miranda, Assistant Regional Director of Ecological Services in the Service’s Southeast Region. “Once we receive the final evaluation, we will review it and make a decision to continue, modify, or terminate the red wolf recovery program non-essential, experimental population in North Carolina.”

"The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission fully supports this evaluation to ensure the red wolf recovery program is based on sound-science and is managed in full alignment with the Red Wolf Recovery Plan,” said Gordon Myers, Executive Director, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

“We are committed to assisting the Service any way we can throughout this process.” "We are interested in the public’s perspectives regarding red wolves, and red wolf recovery efforts in Eastern North Carolina," Miranda added. “As part of the human dimensions portion of the evaluation, the Service also asked WMI to conduct two public focus group sessions.”

WMI will host the first in Swan Quarter, North Carolina, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 10, in the Mattamuskeet High School Cafeteria located at 20392 U.S. Highway 264. The second will be held in Columbia, North Carolina, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 11, in the Columbia High School’s Auditorium at 902 East Main Street

Interested individuals may submit comments, concerns, or information regarding the Eastern North Carolina non-essential, experimental red wolf population and the program evaluation to the following e-mail: WMI also is conducting a brief voluntary online survey that does not request any personally identifiable information. Interested individuals may submit input to either, or both. To access the survey visit the following link:

Any comments should be submitted no later than September 12, 2014. This will allow WMI time to review the comments and ensure relevant information can be considered during the review. Comments received after that date will not be considered in the program evaluation.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Op-Ed Explains How New Interpretation of the ESA Threatens its Reach

Conservation, or Curation? 

Originally published in the New York Times - August 20, 2014

THE United States Fish and Wildlife Service — the main agency for the conservation of species — recently announced a new interpretation of the Endangered Species Act that severely limits its reach and retreats from the conservation ethic that healthy landscapes depend on native plants and animals.

The law says that a species qualifies for protection if it is in danger of extinction “throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” A species does not need to be at risk of extinction everywhere it lives if it is endangered in a significant portion of its range. But what is “significant”? And how is “range” defined?

Now, under a policy that took effect July 31, the agency has provided answers. The law’s protections, for practical purposes, will be applied only if a species is at risk of extinction in a vital (read, significant) portion of its range where its loss would put the entire species at risk of extinction. And the concept of range no longer takes into account its historical distribution but defines the concept in terms of where the species is found now.

This means that as long as a small, geographically isolated population remains viable, it won’t matter if the animal or plant in question has disappeared across the vast swath of its former habitat. It won’t qualify for protection.

This interpretation threatens to reduce the Endangered Species Act to a mechanism that merely preserves representatives of a species, like curating rare pieces in a museum. Also likely to suffer are efforts to protect or repopulate areas where endangered species once lived.

Imagine if this new approach had been in place when the bald eagle was being considered for protection in the 1970s. Arguably, the national bird might never have been listed as endangered in most of the lower 48 states, even though it had virtually been extirpated by illegal hunting and the pesticide DDT. Why? Because a healthy population of bald eagles remained in Alaska and Canada.

Today, the return of the bald eagle is one of the great successes of the Endangered Species Act. The bird is flourishing in the very areas where it had been wiped out and reasserting its position in the ecological order that was disrupted by its absence. This was accomplished in part by using the authority in the law to protect nesting sites and summer and winter roost sites and to reintroduce the bird into its historical range.

(The Fish and Wildlife Service says it still would have protected the bald eagle under this new interpretation. Nevertheless, a case could have been made to withhold the law’s safeguards once the bird was no longer at risk of extinction outright.)

More recently, other threatened animals haven’t been so lucky.

In cases involving the gray wolf, wolverine and swift fox, the agency, employing the logic of this new policy to guide it, decided or proposed to remove or withhold protections for those animals after concluding there was no risk that they would go extinct. Never mind that they had vanished from much of the territory they once inhabited. (The gray wolf, which is in the administrative process of losing its protection under the law, had been lost from 85 percent of its range but securely inhabits the last 15 percent.) The agency reasoned that there were enough of these animals left in their much-diminished range to survive.

Several years ago, the Fish and Wildlife Service and a sister agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service, began developing a uniform policy for interpreting that key phrase in the Endangered Species Act — the line that says that a species must be at risk “throughout all or a significant portion of its range” to qualify for protection. Uncertainty over the meaning of that phrase and government decisions based on varying interpretations had led to controversy and litigation.

The two agencies call their reading of the law a “reasonable interpretation,” although they acknowledge that “there is no single best interpretation.” In fact, their reading is especially narrow and possibly contrary to Congress’s intent when it passed one of the nation’s most important conservation laws. A more appropriate interpretation of range would be those portions of a species’ historical distribution that are suitable, or that can feasibly be made suitable, by mitigating or removing the threats that had caused the species’ decline.

If the purpose of conservation is merely to preserve the fewest possible members of a species, then this new policy might be adequate. But this approach amounts to a retreat from two conservation aspirations that had long animated the law: first, to mitigate harms that humans had perpetrated against certain species, such as severely reducing their geographic range; and second, to make it possible for species to return to landscapes where they had been extirpated. The idea was that healthy ecosystems depend on the presence of native species.

Since taking effect in 1973, the law has been instrumental in saving many species from extinction, including the California condor, American crocodile, whooping crane and black-footed ferret. Some 1,400 plants, animals and fish are now on the list.

This new approach does not mean that endangered species won’t still be saved. But it falls far short of the conservation aspirations the law once embodied. This new policy will result in a world for our children even more diminished than the one we live in.

John A. Vucetich is an ecologist at Michigan Technological University. Michael Paul Nelson is an environmental ethicist at Oregon State University.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Is Science at Risk of Extinction?

 There's a new trend in our country and it's not a good one... We're ignoring science.

Although U.S. Fish & Wildlife (FWS) is bound by the Endangered Species Act to base its species listing and delisting decisions on the best available science, the federal agency has been ignoring science science to give in to political pressures instead. We've seen this in FWS' draft proposal the nationwide gray wolf delisting, rule changes for the Mexican wolf, and last week's decision to abandon proposed protections for the wolverine.

Since FWS has chosen to ignore the best available science, including advice from the Service’s own wildlife experts, has science itself gone extinct?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Brotherly Love Fest For Ambassador Wolves Zephyr & Nikai

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tell USFWS Mexican Gray Wolves are Essential

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has released a draft proposal to change the rules governing the Mexican wolf reintroduction.

The draft proposal, if implemented, will seriously jeopardize the continued existence of critically endangered Mexican gray wolves, who currently number less than 90 in the wild. The proposal ignores the best available science and recommendations by top wolf scientists.

USFWS proposes to allow more Mexican wolves to be shot, trapped, and permanently removed from the wild. The proposal continues to designate the wild population of lobos as “non-essential,” failing to give them additional protections necessary to their survival. And, while it does expand the area wolves can roam, it restricts them to parts of New Mexico and Arizona below I-40, even though leading wolf scientists say that populations of Mexican wolves north of I-40 are essential to the lobo’s recovery.

The only completely good thing it does is to finally allow new wolves from the captive breeding population to be released into a larger area, a change desperately needed for genetic rescue of the wild population. 

USFWS has released this draft proposal with a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for public comment and will hold hearings on August 11 in Pinetop, AZ August 11 and on August 13 in Truth or Consequences, NM.


If at all possible, attend a hearing in August. It is crucial that we demonstrate tremendous public support for Mexican wolf recovery. More hearing details are here.

Submit comments on the draft proposal before 9/23/14 and include these specific talking points in addition to your personalized message:

1. I support expanding the area in which direct releases of Mexican wolves can occur, the one critical change included in the proposed rule.
  • This change has been recommended by experts for over 10 years and needs to be implemented immediately. Currently, new releases are hindered because they can only happen in part of Arizona.
2. The USFWS should eliminate boundaries to the wolves’ movement.
  • The draft proposed rule prevents wolves returning to northern New Mexico and southern Colorado or to the Grand Canyon region, including northern Arizona and southern Utah.
  • Preventing movement into northern New Mexico and southern Colorado and the Grand Canyon region, including northern Arizona and southern Utah, contradicts the best available science, which confirms that those areas are essential for Mexican wolf recovery.
  • Additional populations of Mexican wolves are necessary to their recovery and genetic health, as is the ability for wolves to move between populations.
  • Not allowing wolves outside of the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area will result in more captures that can result in death or trauma to the wolves. We can’t afford to lose rare Mexican wolves just because they crossed an arbitrary, scientifically unsupported boundary. There should be no restrictions on the movements of Mexican wolves.
3. The USFWS should designate Mexican gray wolves as essential.
  • The current labeling all of the wild wolves as “nonessential” ignores science and the reality of 15 years of experience with reintroducing wolves.
  • The USFWS claims that even if all of the 83 wolves in the wild are wiped out this is not “likely to appreciably reduce the likelihood” of recovery of Mexican wolves in the wild is unsupported by science or common sense.
  • The 83 wolves in the wild have up to four generations of experience in establishing packs and raising pups and are over 22% of all of the Mexican wolves in the world.
  • After multiple generations of captive breeding with few releases, scientists warn that there may be serious genetic problems making captive wolves less able to thrive in the wild.
  • The fourth generation wild lobos are not expendable and are essential to recovering this unique subspecies of wolf.
4. The USFWS needs to quit stalling and complete a comprehensive recovery plan.
  • USFWS admits that their present, typewritten, 1982 recovery plan is not scientifically sound and does not meet current legal requirements – yet in its proposed rule USFWS continues to emphasize a woefully inadequate population of only 100 wolves in the wild. Instead of following the best available science on recovery, the Service is chasing after what a 31-year-old inadequate plan suggested as a good first step.
  • Current proposals should contain no provisions that would preclude future recovery options.
5. The proposed expanded provisions for “take” (killing, trapping, and removals) of these critically endangered wolves are unacceptable and will not contribute to the wolves’ recovery.
  • Science-based program reviews have shown, and the USFWS has acknowledged, that the killing and permanent removal of wolves by agency managers to resolve “conflicts” has been a major cause of failing to meet the reintroduction objective.
  • The proposed rule changes offer additional excuses for removing wolves. USFWS needs to tighten restrictions for “take” of Mexican wolves, not loosen them.
Submit your comments electronically here:

Or by U.S. mail or hand delivery to: Public Comments Processing,
Attn: FWS–R2–ES–2013– 0056;
Division of Policy and Directives Management;
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters,
MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Wolf Conservation Center Opposes [H.R. 4315] - Endangered Species Transparency and Reasonableness Act

H.R. 4315 is package of four dangerous bills that would drastically change the way the Federal government protects endangered and threatened species. HR 4315 would add layers of bureaucracy, waste limited agency resources, and divert efforts to recover species under the Endangered Species Act. Of specific concern, the bill would require federal agencies to publish on the internet all data used in ESA listing determinations. Such a requirement would limit the amount and quality of information supporting ESA decisions by discouraging data sharing by scientists, State and local governments, and particularly private landowners, who do not want their information disclosed online. This provision could also expose vulnerable wildlife and rare plants to increased poaching or vandalism.

H.R. 4315
 requires the Secretary of Interior to make the data used for each ESA listing decision publicly available via the Internet
 would have the effect of discouraging states with privacy laws on their books from sharing their data with government decision makers.
 could discourage scientists and local governments from sharing data with the Fish and Wildlife Service
 would require private landowners and companies to share data associated with their property online
 would provide a roadmap to poachers looking for endangered wildlife

HR 4316
 would require the Secretary to submit an annual report to Congress detailing agency expenditures for “covered suits,” meaning “any civil action” under the ESA against the Department of the Interior, the Forest Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
 will simply exacerbate the alleged problem that the authors of this bill claim it is trying to solve; will divert more resources away from recovery efforts, by now requiring the Department of Interior to report annually on the detailed costs of every citizen suit filed against it under the ESA.

  • If the legislators who drafted this bill complain that environmental groups are filing frivolous lawsuits at taxpayer expense, shouldn’t Congress be held to a similar standard? If so, maybe the agencies should also report how much they are spending, the number of full time employees, and the total number of employee hours spent responding to document requests, subpoenas and hearings from any Member of Congress. 
  • This excessive abuse of the process is expensive for taxpayers and burdensome for agencies. If legislators believe in the merit of these requests, then they should have no trouble asking agencies to report how many taxpayer dollars it is costing them to comply.  

HR 4317
 would redefine “best available science” and require the federal government to accept as the best available science ANY data submitted by a state, tribal, or county government.
 does not require the data to be of a high quality – or even a moderate quality; there is no standard at all.

  • If a county, state, or tribe wanted to submit incomplete or bad data, even that data would be anointed as the best available, regardless of what scientific experts have to say. 
  • This dangerous bill attacks the essential protections that form the very foundation of the ESA. This bill will not improve the recovery of our nation’s most endangered wildlife. Instead, it will undermine the best available science for listing new species, and create new challenges to species recovery. 
  • To weaken the scientific foundation of the Endangered Species Act is to doom more species to extinction. Scientists know we must protect species because they are working parts of our own life-support system. Once species become extinct, no corrective legislation can bring them back—they are gone forever. 

HR 4318
 would limit the ability of citizens to participate in the Democratic process and hold the government accountable because it places an arbitrary cap on legal fees awarded to prevailing or partially prevailing parties in litigation against the government. The courts decide what are reasonable fees under this and scores of other laws every day, and they have a much better ability to objectively determine what is appropriate.

The Wolf Conservation Center believes H.R. 4315 and its related attached bills can potentially undermine essential protections that form the very foundation of the Endangered Species Act. None of these bills will improve the recovery of our nation’s endangered wildlife. Instead, they reduce the ability of the public to hold gov't agencies accountable for complying with the law, undermine the best available science for listing new species, and create new challenges to species recovery. To weaken the scientific foundation of the Endangered Species Act is to doom more species to extinction.

Please consider joining the WCC in OPPOSING this political attack on our most historically significant environmental law. When you vote to OPPOSE H.R. 4315 via the WCC POPVOX legislative campaign, a message is sent directly to your Senators expressing your opposition.  Vote to OPPOSE here.