Feds to update oil and gas rules for wildlife refuges

A playa lake at the Baca National Wildlife Refuge. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE.

A playa lake at the Baca National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy USFWS.

USFWS taking public comment through Feb. 9

Staff Report

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to update 50-year-old regulations for oil and gas development on National Wildlife Refuge System lands.

Last week the agency published a proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement that would require fossil fuel companies to use modern best management practices, especially as they relate to abandoned infrastructure and debris.

According to the USFWS, the new regs would reduce refuge impacts, including habitat loss and degradation, wildlife mortality and displacement, and other risks to ecological integrity. Continue reading

Wildlife: Secret talks open door for taking Northern Rockies grizzlies off the endangered species list

Wildlife activists gear up to fight proposal

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Grizzlies at play. Photo courtesy Kim Fense.

Staff Report

A classic wildlife conservation battle is shaping up in the northern Rockies, with conservation advocates lining up to challenge a state and federal plan to take grizzly bears off the Endangered Species List.

In a Sept. 25 letter, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told state officials in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana that it plans to publish a delisting proposal by the end of the year.

But that move flies in the face of conservation science, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which in a press release expressed concern that the plan could lead to state-supported trophy hunts. The federal government is ignoring increasing bear mortality rates and a declining population, the Center said in a press release.

Via email, a USFWS spokesperson said the agency believes that recovery is based on more than just the number of bears in the ecosystem.

“It depends upon a combination of factors including quantity and quality of habitat, adequate regulatory mechanisms, and a good balance of male and female bears that are well-distributed throughout the ecosystem. 

 “We consider 600 bears to be the lower limit at which there is no management and discretionary mortality is no longer allowable. The goal would be to manage for approximately 674 grizzly bears to ensure a sustainable and resilient population that utilizes the entire available habitat in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  We do not anticipate population numbers to dip down to 600 bears.

” No formal agreements have been made. Any proposal to delist the Yellowstone grizzly bear would require a robust conservation plan and associated regulations for management of the bear post-delisting.  We continue to work with the states and partners on these issues.”

Continue reading

Watchdogs say Western Governors’ Association is trying to weaken endangered species protections

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Not much love for endangered species like lynx at a recent Western Governors’ Association workshop. Photo courtesy Tanya Shenk/Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Recent workshop focused on industry gripes

Staff Report

For the apparent lack of anything productive to do, the Western Governors’s Association is apparently trying to cook up new ways to weaken the Endangered Species Act for the benefit of developers and extractive industries.

The association held a workshop last week, ostensibly to “encourage bipartisan conversations to improve the Endangered Species Act,” but that is just more Orwellian doublespeak, according to watchdog groups, who pointed out that speakers during the meeting “overwhelmingly represented industries and political interests opposed to protections for endangered species.” Continue reading

How does ecotourism affect ecosystems?

Researchers urge caution as visitation to wildlife areas booms

A seal is far outnumbered by tourists on the shores of Paulet Island, along the Antarctic Peninsula. @bberwyn photo.

A seal is far outnumbered by tourists on the shores of Paulet Island, along the Antarctic Peninsula. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Ecotourism has been hailed as a sustainable economic driver and a force for environmental conservation, but a new report says we also need to account for the possible adverse effects of visitation to relatively wild spaces.

In a new report published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, researchers said all of those interactions between wild animals and friendly ecotourists eager to snap their pictures may inadvertently put some animals at greater risk of being eaten. Continue reading

Wolf advocates push for more releases in Gila Wilderness

Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS

More releases of wolves are needed to genetically bolster the population in the wild. Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS.

Letter to feds points out dangers of ‘genetic bottleneck’

Staff Report

Political resistance at the state level shouldn’t deter federal biologists from releasing more Mexican gray wolves into the wild, according to conservation activists, who say that such releases are needed to prevent the wild population from becoming genetically crippled.

In a letter to federal officials, biologists and wildlife advocates urged Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to release at least five more packs of wolves into  the Gila National Forest in New Mexico through the end of this year and into 2016.

The “perilously low” number of breeding pairs makes the wolf population vulnerable to inbreeding depression that could send the population into a downward spiral, more than 40 biologists and conservation groups warned in the Oct. 8 letter. Continue reading

Wildlife thrives around Chernobyl disaster site

‘This doesn’t mean radiation is good for wildlife, just that the effects of human habitation … are a lot worse’

A family of moose roams free in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Credit Valeriy Yurko/Polessye State Radioecological Reserve

A family of moose in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
Credit: Valeriy Yurko/Polessye State Radioecological Reserve.

Staff Report

Wildlife is thriving in the area around Chernobyl, researchers said in a new study tracking the number of moose, roe deer, red deer, wild boar and wolves in the 1,621-square-mile Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

The census data shows there are seven times as many wolves in the area than in nearby uncontaminated reserves, along with growing populations of other species. The area was cleared of humans after a 1986 nuclear reactor disaster that polluted the immediate area, as well as distant fallout zones, with radioactive particles.

“This doesn’t mean radiation is good for wildlife, just that the effects of human habitation, including hunting, farming and forestry, are a lot worse,” said Jim Smith, a professor of environmental science at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K. Continue reading

Environment: Why are Colorado wildlife biologists apologizing for the energy industry?

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Mule deer populations in northwest Colorado have taken a bit hit from energy development

‘Just pointing fingers at the energy industry is not a helpful solution to this difficult issue’

Staff Report

FRISCO — A recent study showing that energy development in northwest Colorado significantly affects wildlife habitat drew national attention, and a curious reaction from Colorado’s wildlife agency, which seemed to be apologizing on behalf of the energy industry.

The study showed that the region’s dwindling mule deer population shies well away from active drilling, to a distance of at least 800 meters. Deer displayed more nuanced responses to other infrastructure, avoiding pads with active production and roads to a greater degree during the day than night.

When they added up the impacts, the researchers found that the responses equate to alteration of mule deer behavior by human development in more than 50 percent of the critical winter range in the study area during the day and over 25 percent at night. Continue reading

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