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Biodiversity: Some progress for Mexican gray wolves?

Feds propose updates to management of Southwest wolves

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Wolf pups recently born to a New Mexico pack. Photo by USFWS.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Rare and beleaguered Mexican gray wolves may get a little more room to roam in the Southwest, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes changes to a recovery plan from the species, including new releases of captive-bred wolves to bolster wild populations.

The new releases could happen in new areas of New Mexico and parts of Arizona where there are no wolf packs yet, and the federal agency’s proposed changes would also allow wolves to roam from the Mexican border to Interstate 40, a much broader region than currently permitted.

Only 83 Mexican wolves live in the wilds of the Southwest, including just five breeding pairs. Scientists have shown that inbreeding caused by a lack of wolf releases to the wild, coupled with too many killings and removals of wolves, is causing smaller litter sizes and lower pup-survival rates in the wild population. Expanding wolf releases to New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, in particular, would enable managers to diversify the population through new releases and diminish inbreeding. Continue reading

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Feds to backpedal on wolverine protection

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Are wolverines in the U.S. doomed by global warming?

Leaked memo suggests USFWS is bowing to political pressure from western states

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Federal officials apparently won’t let the best available science stop them from making yet another politically motivated endangered species decision.

This time, wolverines are at issue, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prepares to withdraw a proposal to list the rare mammal based on threats posed by global warming. The agency hasn’t officially announced its intention, but a leaked memo  shows that USFWS Mountain-Prairie regional director Noreen Walsh wants to override the recommendations of her own scientists and withdraw the listing proposal. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Review panel says feds didn’t use best available science for wolf delisting proposal

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Scientists find flaws in federal plan to take wolves off the Endangered Species List. Photo courtesy USFWS.

USFWS reopens comment period on controversial proposal

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A federal plan to take gray wolves off the endangered species list hit a snag last week, as an independent review panel raised questions about the scientific rationale for the plan.

Specifically, the reviewers questioned whether U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists used the best available science when they developed the delisting proposal. Part of the criticism hinged on the fact that the agency relied heavily on one single report that may have omitted some key information, and included fundamental flaws about the taxonomy and genetic differentiation of wolves. Continue reading

Environment: Scientific misconduct and cover-ups on Keystone XL pipeline wildlife studies

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Official documents suggest that top federal officials have once again subverted science to downplay impacts from a major development project.

No relief yet for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service whistleblowers

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — It’s pretty clear that top-level decisions on the Keystone XL pipeline are going to be made based primarily on political considerations, but a watchdog group is charging that federal agencies are taking extraordinary steps to cover their tracks after issuing flawed and politically tainted reports.

According to the U.S. Department of Interior’s inspector general, the tainted process damages the department’s credibility and integrity.

A series of documents released this week by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, managers with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used misleading maps to downplay impacts to endangered species. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Congress steps into wolf conservation fray

Letter asks U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to keep protection in place

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A congressional faction is pushing back against wolf de-listing. Photo courtesy USFWS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Two leading congressional Democrats are leading an effort to maintain protection for wolves across the United States.

Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), along with 52 House members this week sent a letter to the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urging an about-face on the agency’s anticipated proposal to remove federal protections for wolves across most of the lower 48 United States.

Wolf populations have recovered in places like the northern Rockies, but those areas only cover about 5 percent of the species’ original range. Before they were exterminated by humans, an estimated 2 million wolves roamed across most of the U.S. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Southwestern willow flycatcher gets critical habitat designation — finally

USFWS finalizes southwestern willow flycatcher critical habitat. Photo courtesy USFWS/Jim Rorabaugh.

USFWS finalizes southwestern willow flycatcher critical habitat. Photo courtesy USFWS/Jim Rorabaugh.

Several streams and rivers in southern Colorado included

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After losing more than 90 percent of its habitat to water development and urban sprawl, southwestern willow flycatchers will get some measure of protection, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a critical habitat designation for the endangered birds. Read the agency’s official notification here.

The designation covers about 208,000 acres of riparian habitat along 1,227 miles of rivers and streams in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. Some of the critical habitat is along the banks of well-known rivers, including the Rio Grande, Gila, Virgin, Santa Ana and San Diego.

The flycatcher is a small, neotropical, migrant bird that breeds in streamside forests. It was first listed as endangered in 1995 in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity. Continue reading

Court to determine whether U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must mitigate impacts of genetically modified crops

Environmental groups hail latest opinion as victory in fight against GM crops on protected lands

Migrating waterfowl rely on stopovers at wildlife refuges, where the use of genetically modified feed crops has been controversial. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A Federal court this week set the stage for resolving a long-running conflict over the use of genetically engineered crops of 44,000 acres of land in the national wildlife refuge system administered by the Southeast Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg said that, even though the region has already agreed to stop planting GM crops, there may be ongoing effects. The judge set a hearing date of Nov. 5 to determine an appropriate remedy and urged the parties to meet before then to try and reach at least partial agreement.

At issue is the fact that the USFWS started using GM crops without doing an in-depth environmental study Instead, the agency relied on environmental studies done by a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, according to Tom MacKenzie, spokesman for the southeast region of the USFWS. Continue reading

Drought means triage for endangered Colorado River fish

Low flows increase predation by non-native game fish; recovery effort could see temporary setback

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological technician Rick Smaniotto captured this endangered Colorado pikeminnow in a fish passage at the Redlands Water and Power Company Diversion Dam on the Gunnison River near Grand Junction, Colo., on July 3, 2002. The fish weighed 16.8 pounds and measured 37 inches. After collecting research data, the fish was tagged and returned to the river. PHOTO COURTESY USFWS.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Ben Schleicher holds an endangered bonytail captured in the Gunnison River in western Colorado in 2011. Bonytail are being raised in hatcheries and stocked in Upper Colorado River Basin rivers in an effort to establish self-sustaining populations. PHOTO COURTESY  UPPER COLORADO RIVER ENDANGERED FISH RECOVERY PROGRAM.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — With 2012 shaping up to be at least a near-record drought year in the high country, some of the Colorado River’s endangered native fish could be facing a battle for survival, especially in key tributaries like the Yampa, in northwestern Colorado.

As flows are reduced to a trickle, the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, and especiallly the humpback chub and bonytail chub, will face serious threats from competing non-native species.

But they’ll get a little help from Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program biologists, who will be doing their best to remove remove smallmouth bass, northern pike, and in some areas, white sucker, walleye and burbot. Continue reading

Obama slammed for weak polar bear conservation plan

Polar bears won’t get much help from a new protection plan proposed by the Obama administration. PHOTO COURTESY USFWS/SCOTT SCHLIEBE.

Conservation groups say administration abdicating responsibility for dealing head-on with global warming, the main threat to the endangered Arctic predators

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A proposed rule aimed at protecting endangered polar bears doesn’t even mention how the federal government will address global warming, which is seen as the primary threat to the Arctic predators.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will publish the proposed rule and a draft environmental study in the Federal Register on April 19, starting a 60-day public comment period. The proposed new rule would replace a 2008 version issued under the Bush administration that was voided by a federal court in 2011.

Conservation groups immediately blasted the proposed new rule as a gift to oil companies, because it basically results in business as usual. The only change is the addition of an underlying environmental study.

“As such, the Service’s management and conservation efforts for the polar bear will not change if this proposed special rule is finalized,” the agency wrote in a press release announcing the proposed rule. Continue reading

Endangered species short-shrifted in federal budget

Whitebark pines, one of the many species that qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act but hasn't been listed because of a shortage of funds. PHOTO COURTESY USFS/RICHARD SNIEZKO

Entire endangered species program gets less money than the cost of a single F-14

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY— These are tough times for the federal budget, with all sorts of competing demands for scarce funds, but endangered species will suffer disproportionately under President Barack Obama’s proposed budget. Obama has proposed a $1.5 million cap on what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can spend on responding to citizen listing petitions. By comparison, a single F-14 fighter jet costs $38 million.

Since the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, 24 at least 24 species have gone extinct while awaiting protection, and this proposed budget could push a few more plants and animals into oblivion.

Overall, the budget would boost funding for the Fish and Wildlife Service slightly, to about $1.3 billion, with $22 million for the endangered species program, about the same as last year. Continue reading

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