Op-ed: GOP renews attack on Endangered Species Act

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Does this look like any congressman you know?

Lots of ruffled feathers and foot-stomping …

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Watching the House Committee on Natural Resources field hearings on greater sage-grouse and the Endangered Species Act was a bit like watching the birds themselves during their magnificent mating ritual — a lot of puffed up rhetoric, ruffled feathers and foot-stomping, but very little substance.

The main take-home message appeared to be that there’s a vast conspiracy of liberal judges, conservation groups and Obama administration officials colluding to destroy the American way of life in the rural West (specifically Montana and Wyoming, where the hearings were held).

That’s probably not surprising, considering the list of witnesses was hand-picked by the committee’s ultra-conservative and anti-environmental GOP leadership, but the inflammatory words used by some of the more extreme committee members still comes as a shock. Continue reading

Mexican gray wolves will get more room to roam

Feds settle lawsuit, brightening prospects for Southwest wolf recovery

Mexican gray wolf. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Mexican gray wolf. Photo courtesy USFWS.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Mexican gray wolves may get a little more breathing room in the southwestern U.S.

Settling a pair of lawsuits this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to propose increased recovery territory for the rare predators in Arizona and New Mexico and will drop plans to capture wolves entering the two states from Mexico. As part of the agreements, the agency will finalize a rule to allow direct release of captive Mexican gray wolves into New Mexico and to allow Mexican wolves to establish territories in an expanded area of the two states.  Continue reading

Study: Forest clearings crucial for some birds

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Birds need structurally diverse forests. bberwyn photo.

Fire suppression, other forest practices may be contributing to decline of forest-interior species

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Efforts to protect forest-interior birds in the Northeast may be partly misguided, a new U.S. Forest Service study suggests.

Currently, most of those conservation efforts focus on preserving mature forests where birds breed, but the new research shows younger forest habitat may be vital in the weeks leading up to migration.

“Humans have really changed the nature of mature forests in the Northeast,” said Scott Stoleson, a research wildlife biologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station. “Natural processes that once created open spaces even within mature forests, such as fire, are largely controlled, diminishing the availability of quality habitat.” Continue reading

Finding balance between energy development, conservation

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Graph courtesy Center for Western Priorities.

New report highlights need for more emphasis on land protection

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Public lands in the West are being leased for oil and gas production at a steady rate, but setting aside lands for non-industrial purposes has not kept pace — and it’s not just Republicans who are to blame.

The last time Congress  protected public lands was under an omnibus public lands bill that set aside more than 2 million acres of wilderness and established three new national park units, a new national monument, three new national conservation areas, and more than 1,000 miles of national wild and scenic rivers.

Since then, both parties have emphasized fossil fuel production for the past decade, according to a coalition of advocacy and conservation groups who released a new report last week outlining the need to protect at least as many areas as are being leased for drilling and fracking. Continue reading

Puget Sound orcas keep ESA protection

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Puget Sound‘s orcas need Endangered Species Act protection. Photo courtesy NOAA/NMFS.

Feds reject argument by ultra- conservative property rights group

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A tiny population of threatened killer whales in Puget Sound will remain protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The National Marine Fisheries Service this week rejected a petition from the Pacific Legal Foundation, which had challenged the population’s status.

The fringe property rights advocacy group claimed, based in invalid science, that the Puget Sound  “southern resident” killer whales are not a distinct population. In response, the federal government conducted a year-long review of the status and eligibility of the orcas for Endangered Species Act protection and confirmed that the whale’s endangered listing remains warranted. Continue reading

Environment: Air pollution can stunt coral reef growth

New study may help inform reef conservation effrot

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Bleached coral in the Caribbean. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Coral reefs are at risk from global warming, but regional aerosol emissions may also be a significant factor in how corals grow, according to a new study by scientists with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

The research linked airborne particles caused by volcanic activity and air pollution to episodes of slow coral-reef growth. The findings came as part of an effort to to better predict the effects of climate change and human disturbance on reefs.

The data came from several coral cores drilled in reefs near the Atlantic entrance of the Panama Canal formed by the coral species Siderastrea siderea between 1880 and 1989, whereas samples from the Turneffe atoll in Belize showed growth fluctuations in the coral species Montastrea faveolata from 1905 to 1998. Continue reading

Can a high-tech navy coexist with marine mammals?

Federal biologists propose new rule to guide naval training

A humpback whale near Hawaii. Photo courtesy NOAA.

A humpback whale near Hawaii. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — In a preliminary assessment, federal biologists said the mid-frequency sound generated by active sonar, the sound and pressure generated by detonating explosives and other activities associated with naval exercises aren’t likely to have a significant impact on protected marine species.

Nevertheless, the National Marine Fisheries Service is proposing a new rule to minimize impacts from naval training activities, including mitigation zones and observers trained to spot marine life during exercises.

The rule also calls for implementing a stranding response plan that includes a training shutdown provision in certain circumstances, and allows for the Navy to contribute in-kind services to NOAA’s Fisheries Service if the agency has to conduct a stranding response and investigation. It would also designate a humpback whale cautionary area to protect high concentrations of humpback whales around Hawaii during winter months.

Those steps don’t go far enough protect marine life, said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Many whales and other marine mammals, like Hawaiian monk seals, are already struggling for survival. Now the Navy’s going to intensify war games in their habitat?” Sakashita said. We’re learning more and more about the tragic effects of sonar on whales and dolphins, yet the Navy’s being given carte blanche to blast the oceans with it and harm animals over and over again,” she added. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Feds propose endangered species listing, critical habitat designation for rare Gunnison sage-grouse

Colorado wildlife officials disappointed by listing proposal

Colorado Gunnison Sage-grouse critical habitat map

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed designating about 1.7 million acres of critical habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse in Colorado and Utah.

Gunnison sage-grouse

A male Gunnison sage-grouse struts as part of its spring mating ritual. Photo courtesy BLM.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Despite ongoing voluntary conservation measures, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this week that the best available science indicates that the Gunnison sage-grouse is in danger of extinction and needs protection under the Endangered Species Act.

By some estimates, there are only about 4,000 to 5,000 of the iconic western birds remaining, scattered in eight small population pockets in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. As a result, the USFWS has proposed listing the species as endangered and also proposed designating about 1.7 million acres of critical habitat.

The proposal triggers a 60-day public comment period, with input due by March 12. The agency will also hold a series of public meetings to take input from residents and landowners in areas that could be affected by the listing. The meetings will likely be held in Gunnison, Montrose, Delta and Cortez, Colorado, or in Monticello, Utah and will be advertised at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/. Continue reading

Study says conservatives respond to different kind of environmental messaging

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Conservatives and liberals share the same globe, but vastly different viewpoints on conservation. Image courtesy NASA.

Can we bridge the ideological divide on crucial conservation issues?

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — It’s astounding that environmental issues have become so politically polarized, with liberals generally favoring stronger environmental protection, while conservatives tend to reject efforts to preserve natural resources as government over-reach. Recent debates about global warming and the EPA’s ability to control greenhouse gases are a case in point.

It doesn’t really make sense. Toxic heavy metals in water, air pollution and the loss of biodiversity affect everyone equally and just by the nature of their fundamental philosophy, one would think that conservatives would want to conserve natural resources and the environment.

But new research from psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, suggest that conservative view on issues like deforestation and toxic waste may not be as intractable as assumed. It appears those viewpoints can be changed when the messaging about environmental stewardship are shifted to focus on the concepts of  of fending off threats to the “purity” and “sanctity” of Earth and our bodies. Continue reading

Oceans: Study says sharks get a bad rap from media

Sensationalized shark attack stories favored by mass media outlets

A great white shark in California coastal waters. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Sharks have always been seen as the big, bad wolves of the sea, and despite their critical ecological role as apex predators, they’ve been treated especially harshly by the media.

A new study by Michigan State University researchers shows that the mass media — especially in the U.S. and Australia — favor scare stories about shark attacks over coverage of shark-related conservation issues.

Allowing such articles to dominate the overall news coverage diverts attention from key issues, like declining global shark populations and the risk of extinction, said Meredith Gore, MSU assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife and the School of Criminal Justice. Continue reading

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