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Feds say eastern population of Steller sea lions is recovered

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Steller sea lions. Photo courtesy National Marine Mammal Laboratory.

Protective measures help restore marine mammals from Alaska to California

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal biologists say the eastern distinct population of Steller sea lions has recovered to the point that they can be removed from the endangered species list — the first species to be de-listed by by NOAA Fisheries since the eastern North Pacific gray whale in 1994.

The eastern distinct population segment is found along the coast of southeast Alaska and British Columbia. The best available scientific information indicates numbers of eastern Steller sea lions have increased from an estimated 18,040 animals in 1979 to an estimated 70,174 in 2010. Eastern Steller sea lions will continue to be protected under provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Continue reading

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USFWS updates endangered species candidate list

Castilleja christii at Mt.Harrison.Gina Glenne, USFWS

Christ’s paintbrush was removed from the endangered species candidate list, thanks to a conservation agreement between the U.S. Forest Service and the USFWS.
Photo courtesy Gina Glenne, USFWS.

Feds say far-reaching conservation agreement with environmental groups is working

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal biologists say a court-approved work plan that reduces the amount of endangered species litigation has helped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cut the number of candidate species to 192, the lowest number is 12 years.

The agency released its formal  Candidate Notice of Review (PDF) in late November. Three species have been removed from candidate status, two have been added, and nine have a change in priority from the last review conducted in October of 2011.

Since its implementation, the agreement between the agency and conservation groups has significantly reduced litigation-driven workloads and allowed the agency to protect 25 candidate species under the ESA, and propose protection for 91 candidate species.

The agreement will continue to allow the agency to focus its resources on the species most in need of the ESA’s protections over the next five years, said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.

“We’re continuing to keep the commitments we made under this agreement, which has enabled us to be more efficient and effective in both protecting species under the ESA, as well as in working with our partners to recover species and get them off the list as soon as possible,” said Director Ashe. “Our ultimate goal is to have the smallest Candidate List possible, by addressing the needs of species before they require ESA protection and extending the ESA’s protections to species that truly need it.” Continue reading

Colorado: Wolverine recovery plan on hold for now

Federal decision on endangered species listing for rare carnivore will help determine how the state proceeds

A lone wolverine originally from Wyoming wandered into Colorado a few years ago and was most recently spotted near Mt. Bierstadt by Westminster photographer Cameron Miller. Click on the image to visit Miller’s website.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A lone wolverine that’s been crisscrossing the Colorado high country for the past few years will have to wait a while longer for some company.

A tentative state plan to reintroduce the mountaineering omnivores is on hold at least until the federal government decides whether to list the species as threatened or endangered. Opposition from the ski industry and ranchers played a key role in putting the brakes on the proposed restoration.

In particular, Colorado Ski Country USA cited impacts of the lynx reintroduction program on ski areas and expressed concern about how a wolverine restoration could affect ski area plans, including terrain additions and operations within existing areas, said Eric Odell, species conservation coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Those key stakeholders want more certainty and assurances that a wolverine reintroduction won’t affect their activities, said Eric Odell,  A reintroduction would also require legislative approval, Odell added.

Most recently, wolverine M56 — a male who wandered from Wyoming to Colorado — was spotted in late April near Mt. Bierstadt, and then again in the vicinity of Winter Park, according to Odell. Continue reading

Feds challenged on greater sage-grouse ruling

A conservation group says the federal government erred by not putting greater sage-grouse on the endangered species list, and will challenge the decision in federal court. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE.

Western Watersheds Project claims feds made “arbitrary and capricious” ruling based on political pressure from industry

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal officials last week did a legal tap dance just about as intricate as the greater sage-grouse mating ritual itself as they announced their decision to not put the birds on the endangered species list, but that fancy footwork won’t be enough to prevent additional legal action.

The Western Watersheds Project is already back in a federal district court in Idaho, claiming that the decision by the Interior Department was “arbitrary and capricious,” and that greater sage-grouse are as qualified as any other species to be listed.

The Fish and Wildlife Service decision is presented in detail here.

Continue reading

Feds: No endangered listing for American Pika

A pika stashes some pine branches in a pile of talus. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY.

Listing would have been first based solely on global warming impacts

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal biologists last week said the American pika is not immediately threatened by climate change as they ruled against putting the small Alpine mammal on the endangered species list.

Read the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release on the decision here.

“American pika can tolerate a wider range of temperatures and precipitation than previously thought,” the biologists wrote. “We have determined that climate change is not a threat at the species- or the subspecies-level now or in the foreseeable future.”

There was keen interest in the ruling because the pika would have been the first animal listed because of direct threats from global warming. Conservation groups asked for the listing because pikas live in a small niche of Alpine habitat that could shrink drastically as air temperatures increase. In parts of the intermountain west, pika populations have already declined dramatically.

Some of the groups involved in the petitioning process expressed disappointment with the decision and said the federal government underestimated the threat. The groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity and EarthJustice, would not rule out a lawsuit to force the federal government to reconsider. Continue reading

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