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State leaders oppose plan to protect wolverines

ENDANGERED SPECIES — While 25 environmental groups quickly applauded a federal proposal to protect wolverines under the Endangered Species Act last week, officials from Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have declared the effort unnecessary.

“There is no evidence suggesting that wolverines will not adapt sufficiently to diminished late spring snow pack (assuming there is any) to maintain viability,” Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead wrote in a letter sent Monday to federal officials.

Read on for the story from the Associated Press.

25 groups call for protecting wolverines

WILDLIFE — The Lands Council based in Spokane joined 24 other environmental groups today in calling for the federal government to protect wolverines under provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

In February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the wolverine as a “threatened” species under the ESA primarily because of habitat fragmentation and losses from climate change. Wolverines, the rarest carnivore in the lower 48 states, depend on late spring snow for travel and protection of denning sites.

A list of the environmental groups and their common comments are posted here.

 Additional threats to the species include an exceptionally small and vulnerable population size in the Lower 48 – where the entire population is no more than 250-300 individuals – and mortality from trapping, which is legal on a limited basis in states such as Montana.

Today the Western Environmental Law Center organize and presented the comments for the groups. “We are supportive of the Service’s long-overdue proposal to protect wolverine under the ESA,” said Matthew Bishop, attorney and lead author of the comments.  Bishop is in the Helena field office of the WELC, wich is based in Eugene.

Calling it “a huge step in the right direction, Bishop said, “the proposed rule does not go far enough to ensure the long-term survival and recovery of the species.  The groups say the wolverine should be given the more protective “endangered” status.

Wolverine, lynx, fishers studied in Montana

WILDLIFE — Montana's big Crown of the Continent wilderness areas are providing fertile ground for research on wolverines, lynx and fishers, as you can read in this Missoulian story.

This research eventually will blend with similar efforts in Idaho and Washington to help get a better profile of the life and needs of these off-the-radar creatures.

Wide-ranging wolverine opened researchers’ eyes

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to list the wolverine as a threatened species is generating more insight into the elusive carnivore.  Even in modern times, wildlife biologists are just documenting the life-history suggested in this quote of the day:

“We put a GPS collar on him and released him there in the Tetons, and he just disappeared. Eventually, he came back to the Tetons and dropped his collar, and we found it. He went down to Pocatello, Idaho, and back to the Tetons in three weeks. It really opened our eyes to how these animals can travel unbelievable distances in a short amount of time.”

—Bob Inman,a carnivore biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, about the travels of a male wolverine radio-collared during a decadelong study of the species in Wyoming and Montana.
- Jackson Hole News & Guide

Feds consider possible trophy hunts for grizzlies around Yellowstone

Federal authorities are laying groundwork for possible trophy grizzly bear hunts around the Yellowstone area as soon as 2014, the AP reports, in the surest sign yet that more than 30 years of ederal protection for grizzlies in the area is nearing an end. Officials stressed that any grizzly season would differ significantly from the aggressive wolf hunts now underway in Idaho and Montana, and would not be aimed at reducing grizzly numbers. “It would be a very careful, limited hunt,” said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A federal-state committee that oversees grizzly bears will consider adopting a pro-hunting policy during a meeting next week; click below for a full report from AP reporter Matthew Brown in Billings.

California artists wins 2012 Duck Stamp Contest

CONSERVATION — An image of a common goldeneye painted with uncommon talent by Robert Steiner, an artist from San Francisco, Calif., is the winner of the 2012 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. 

The artwork will be featured on the 80th federal migratory bird stamp, which will be purchased by collectors, waterfowlers and other wetlands conservationists next year.

The announcement was made today by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Rowan Gould at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, during the annual art contest – the only juried art competition sponsored by the federal government.

This is Steiner’s second Federal Duck Stamp Contest win.  His art previously appeared on the 1998-1999 Federal Duck Stamp.

Steiner’s acrylic painting of a common goldeneye will be made into the 2013-2014 Federal Duck Stamp, which will go on sale in late June 2013.  The Service produces the Federal Duck Stamp, which sells for $15 and raises about $25 million each year to provide critical funds to conserve and protect wetland habitats in the National Wildlife Refuge system for the benefit of wildlife and the enjoyment of people.

Read on for more details.

Pregnant caribou could drop state’s first calf in 50 years

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Montana wildlife officials say a Canadian caribou has wandered into northwestern Montana for the second time this spring, and this one has the potential to make history. 

Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife manager Jim Williams tells KCFW-TV the possibly pregnant cow is from a herd that biologists brought to British Columbia to augment an existing herd. 

He says if the caribou gives birth, it would be the first known caribou birth in Montana in over 50 years.  

A biologist in Libby is tracking the animal in the Purcell Mountains, near the Yaak River and anyone who spots a caribou is asked to report the sighting to FWP. 

In late April, state wildlife officials located a collared caribou that was feared dead, got it medical treatment and returned it to Canada.

Two Washington plants warrant ESA protections

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Two plants found exclusively on or adjacent to Washington’s Hanford National Monument warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today. 

Both species, the Umtanum Desert buckwheat and the White Bluffs bladderpod, are found primarily on federal lands, occupying cliffs overlooking the Columbia River.

The Service is proposing to list the Umtanum desert buckwheat and the White Bluffs bladderpod as threatened.  A species listed as threatened is considered likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

The agency is also proposing to designate critical habitat for each plant: approximately 344 acres for Umtanum Desert buckwheat and approximately 2,861 acres for White Bluffs bladderpod. All of the land proposed for critical habitat for the Umtanum Desert buckwheat is federally-owned. Of the 2,861acres proposed as critical habitat for the bladderpod 2,400 are federally-owned. The remainder of the proposed critical habitat is a mix of state (42 acres) and private lands (419 acres).

More photos are available here.

Read on for details.

Caribou habitat comment period extended; Bonners Ferry meeting set

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Citing requests from Idaho’s governor, local governments and the Kootenay Tribe, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced a 60-day extension for public comment on a proposal to designate critical habitat for woodland caribou in the Selkirk Mountains.

The federal agency made the announcement this morning along with scheduling a public hearing on the proposal for April 28 in Bonners Ferry.

The woodland caribou that range from North Idaho and a sliver of northeastern Washington north into British Columbia are listed as an endangered species.

Federal biologists have proposed designating 375,565 acres of high-elevation critical habitat in Idaho and Washington for the caribou. They say the designation would have little impact on protections that already are in place.

Idaho’s Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and Boundary County officials asked for an extension to the comment period that was announced in November as well as additional opportunities for citizens to participate in public processes regarding the proposal, FWS officials said.

“We recognize the public’s interest in this issue and will work together to help citizens fully understand our proposal to designate critical habitat for caribou,” said Brian Kelly, the Service’s State Supervisor for Idaho.

FWS is re-opening the public comment period on the caribou proposal until May 21, 2012.

Read on for more details about the proposal and the public meeting in Bonners Ferry.

Bonner County mounts case to remove caribou protection

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Bonner County commissioners in Sandpoint have approved spending up to $10,000 as part of plan to have Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou taken off the federal endangered species list, according to a story moved by the Associated Press.

Commissioners last week unanimously approved a plan that involves a contract with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a public interest law firm that focuses on property rights. Commissioners also approved a memorandum of understanding that allows the public to contribute money to the effort.

“We're going to seek out donors,” Commissioner Mike Nielsen told the Bonner County Daily Bee.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1984 listed the caribou as a protected species. Woodland caribou, rarely-seen creatures with their antlers stand as tall as a man, are struggling to survive in the United States, precariously occupying one remote area of the Northwest as a final toehold in the Lower 48.

Continue reading, more from the AP:

N. Idaho locals hammer feds on proposed caribou habitat

PUBLIC LANDS — Some North Idahol residents are upset by a proposal to designate an area half the size of Rhode Island in a remote part of the Panhandle and Washington as critical habitat for endangered woodland caribou.

They blasted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at a meeting on Tuesday, saying the federal plans amounted to a land grab that would devastate the local economy, according to an Associated Press story by Nicholas K. Geranios.

But federal officials said the designation was required to help save the last remaining caribou herd in the Lower 48 states. They said the average person should not be impacted by a critical habitat designation.

That didn’t satisfy many of the estimated 200 people who showed up at the so-called “coordination” meeting requested by the Bonner County commissioners, who are seeking to provide input to federal regulators.

“Our goal in this coordination is to stop this closure,” county Commissioner Cornel Rasor admitted.

Read on for details from the AP report.

N. Idaho officials to meet with feds about caribou

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  Bonner County commissioners to meet with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials later this month with the goal of altering the federal agency’s plan to protect habitat for woodland caribou in the Selkirk Mountains.

The meeting is set for Jan. 24 at the Inn at Priest Lake in Coolin.

Commissioners are concerned the plan to designate as critical habitat nearly 600 square miles of land in northern Idaho and northeastern Washington will harm the local economy by restricting logging, snowmobiling and forest access, according to an Associated Press report.

Fish and Wildlife announced the plan in November after lawsuits by environmental groups. The agency estimates the woodland caribou herd in the region has dwindled to less than 50, with occasional sightings.

“For three caribou, we’re going to tie up over 375,000 acres?” Commissioner Mike Nielsen told the Bonner County Daily Bee, indicating that he prefers to ignore the concept of trying to protect critical habitat for a recovering species.

 “That’s over a hundred thousand acres per caribou that people can't use,” he added in a serious overstatement or outright lie. 

People would continue to be welcome to visit the high caribou habitat, although motorized vehicles would be restricted in some areas.

There are issues worth discussion in this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal, but spewing propaganda cheapens the appeal.

Bonner County mulls options to challenge Selkirk caribou habitat protection

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Bonner County commissioners may challenge a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposal to designated 375,562 acres as critical habitat for endangered woodland caribou in the southern Selkirk Mountains.

The issue is on the meeting agenda for Tuesday, when the commissioners may discuss invoking a federal rule that requires agencies to coordinate with local officials on land use matters, according to a report in the Sandpoint Daily Bee on Friday.

“We have a dog in this fight and we have tools that have never been used before,” Commission Chairman Cornel Rasor told the newspaper.

The FWS estimates about 45 woodland caribou exist in the southern Selkirks.

The proposal to protect habitat is chilling to businesses at Priest Lake, where residents a few years ago were rocked by Forest Service restrictions on snowmobile entry into the Selkirk caribou recovery zone.

Bonner County Commissioners already have established a Property Rights Council that is challenging federal Environmental Protection Agency standards on developing wetlands around Priest Lake, as detailed in this report by the Boise Weekly

Feds propose habitat protections for Selkirk caribou

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday a proposal to designate 375,562 acres of critical habitat in North Idaho and northeastern Washington for southern Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The action was prompted by appeals starting in 2002 by environmental groups. The action could lead to rule changes for logging, fire control and human activity in some areas. Comments on the proposal will be accepted until Jan. 30.

See comments from Forest Service on what's already being done to protect the region's caribou in today's news story.

The southern Selkirk Mountains caribou was listed as an endangered species in 1984. At last count, 46 caribou were surviving in the Selkirk Mountains of North Idaho, northeastern Washington and British Columbia.

The proposed critical habitat is located in Boundary and Bonner counties in Idaho, and Pend Oreille County in Washington. These lands are currently considered to be occupied by the species.

Read on for details from today's announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wetlands declining, report confirms

CONSERVATION — America's wetlands declined slightly from 2004-2009, underscoring the need for continued conservation and restoration efforts, according to a report issued last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This is merely affirmation of an old story. The federal agency's Status and Trends Wetlands reports from previous decades have documented a continuous albeit diminishing decline in wetlands habitat.

Read on for more details.

Cyberspace loose with facts or flat out lying about Jeremy Hill grizzly case coverage

ENDANGERED SPECIES — People want to hear what they want to hear about the Jeremy Hill grizzly bear shooting case, and some of them aren't letting facts get in the way of spreading their agenda on the Web.

My down-the-middle factual column on the issue last week pointed out the various considerations the case brings up as it heads to trial.

Now I'm seeing righteous people lie about what I said to discredit the column.  Here's one excerpt from a Idaho Freedom Foundation blog post by Wayne Hoffman (emphasis mine):

Not everyone is taking Hill’s side. Spokesman-Review columnist Rich Landers was quick to stick up for the grizzly and the feds, writing that while federal law lets people shoot wolves that are threatening people, but not so with grizzlies. … Thus, Landers justifies and gives cover to the federal stance that has enabled Hill’s prosecution.

That's a total fabrication to make it look as though the law - and me, too - would find fault with a person protecting human life. Here's what I wrote:

Shooting a grizzly bear is serious business. The law says a wolf can be shot if it’s actively threatening pets or livestock, but no such caveat exists for shooting a grizzly.  Self-defense or the defense of another person are the only legal justifications for shooting a grizzly.

I clearly pointed out that Hill has legal justification to shoot a grizzly if it was threatening him or his children.

But Mr. Hoffman's words and those of others are circulating quickly in cyberspace for unquestioning people to consume and repeat with no regard for the truth.

Bonners Ferry man charged with killing grizzly

POACHING — Jeremy M. Hill, 33, of Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho, has been charged for killing a grizzly bear, U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olson announced today.

The information filed today in United States District Court alleges that on May 8, 2011, Hill shot and killed a grizzly bear that was on his property in Bonner’s Ferry. The grizzly bear is classified as a threatened species in the Lower 48 states, according to the Endangered Species Act of 1975, and protected by federal law.

The charge of killing a threatened species is punishable by up to one year in prison, a maximum fine of $50,000, and up to one year of supervised release.

The case was investigated by the Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Bangs reflects on Northern Rockies wolf recovery effort

WILDLIFE — Ed Bangs worked on wolf recovery for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1988, through the reintroduction in the mid-1990s, until he retired last month.

High Country News editor Ray Ring rounded up Bans for an interview and this perspective of the wildlife biologist's experiences in the field and as a manager of a controversial program.
  

Eating our way out of invasive species infestations

EXOTIC SPECIES — Care for a nutria burger?  Or maybe a dab of didymo “rock snot” on your ice cream?

With a boost from creative marketing, the bloated American appetite could help control exotics while conserving imperiled native species.

An invasive species called lionfish is devastating reef fish populations along the Florida coast and into the Caribbean. According to a New York TImes report, an increasing number of environmentalists, consumer groups and scientists are seriously testing a novel solution to control it and other aquatic invasive species — one that would also takes pressure off depleted ocean fish stocks: they want Americans to step up to their plates and start eating invasive critters in large numbers.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is now exploring models suggesting that commercial harvest of Asian carp in the Mississippi would most likely help control populations there, “as part of an integrated pest management program,” spokeswoman Valerie Fellows told The Times.

When they find tastey recipes for spotted knapweed, cheatgrass, rush skeletonweed, milfoil and zebra mussels, we'll be on the road to recovery.

Ducks Unlimited applauds Fish and Wildlife director confirmation

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — The U.S. Senate Thursday evening confirmed Daniel Ashe as the 16th director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ashe, a career employee of the agency, assumed his duties immediately.

Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited — and the FWS director from 2005-2009 — praised the Senate action.

“I have known and worked with Dan for more than 15 years,” Hall said. “He’s a strong supporter of wildlife resources, an avid outdoorsman and a committed conservationist. The Fish and Wildlife Service is an important partner to Ducks Unlimited, and we look forward to working together to tackle the challenges facing wetlands and waterfowl today.”

Ashe has served as the Service's deputy director since August 2009. From 2003 to 2009, he was the science advisor to the Service's director with broad responsibility to develop and implement the agency's scientific policy and programs for resource management.

Endangered species summarized coast to coast

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Following the federal government's recent announcement of plans to act on 250 endangered species and Washington state's plan to release 100 endangered pygmy rabbits in special habitats in Douglas County,  The New York Times has published a good overview of endangered species from coast to coast.

Better yet, in observance of Endangered Species Day (Sunday) the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has set up a good Endangered Species website with quizes, podcasts and other info about critters struggling for survival.

That website is in addition to the federal agency's excellent Endangered Species program site.

Feds announce plans to process 250 imperiled species

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The Obama administration announced today that it intends to work through a backlog of more than 250 imperiled animal and plant species over the next six years to decide if they need protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Interior Department officials said the proposal stems from a court agreement with an environmental group, WildEarth Guardians. The agency has been sued numerous times over its handling of species as diverse as greater sage grouse and Canada lynx.

Those are included on a long list of fish, birds, mammals, plants and even snails that scientists say need greater protections.

Read on for the rest of the Associated Press report that moved out of Montana this morning.

Hunting, fishing trends pegged in national status report

OUTDOOR TRENDS  – The ebb and flow of hunting and fishing is detailed in a recently released federal report  on hunting and fishing statistics.  For example:

  • The number of turkey hunters has increased at more than twice the rate of the growth of the U.S. population since 1991.
  • The number of duck and deer hunters has remained stable since 1991.
  • Turkey hunters in 2006 went out twice as many days as they did in 1991, and the rates for duck and deer hunters going out also increased by 20 percent to 40 percent.
  • While the overall number of hunters has declined, most of this can be attributed to a large decrease in small game and dove hunting. Rabbit and squirrel hunting lost half their participants since 1991, which may indicate that new hunter recruitment is declining.
  • Fishing participation has dropped for both freshwater and saltwater angling and for nearly all species of fish, with the exception of flatfish.
  • Anglers have increased their average days of fishing, so overall fishing efforts remained stable.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released a new report, “Trends in Fishing and Hunting 1991-2006: A focus on Fishing and Hunting by Species,” that provides a detailed look at fishing and hunting by species and offers information on national and state fishing and hunting expenditures, participation rates and demographic trends. 

The 72-page report, an addendum to the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation, represents a comprehensive survey conducted by the Service’s Wildlife Sport Fish and Restoration Program. Data used to support the study were obtained from 11 fishing and hunting surveys sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Assn. of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Read on for quotes on the meaning of the report:

Lead shot banned for controlling nuisance wildlife

ENVIRONMENT — In an effort to reduce lead toxicity hazards to wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week that it has banned the use of lead ammunition for it's official control hunting of nuisance birds such as blackbirds, cowbirds, grackles, crows and magpies.

The agency often allows lethal control of these birds in areas where they congregate in numbers large enough to cause damage to crops or property or pose a health or safety hazard.

This new regulation will require the use of non-toxic ammunition in the control of these nuisance birds. 

“Depredation hunting tends to leave large amounts of highly toxic lead ammunition on the ground that non-target birds and other wildlife consume while mistaking it for food,” said Michael Fry, an avian toxicologist and advocacy director for the American Bird Conservancy.

“We have had many discussions with FWS about using non-toxic shot for all agency operations and we are very glad they have made this decision.”

“The paint industry got the lead out, the gasoline industry got the lead out, the toy industry got the lead out, the home building industry got the lead out of plumbing, and even the automotive industry most recently is getting the lead out of the wheel weights on cars,” Fry said. 
“The lethal impacts of lead in our environment are so well documented and accepted by the science and health community that any deliberate release of lead into a public environment should be viewed as unacceptable.”

Sage grouse habitat map released

WILDLIFE — A breeding bird density map for the greater sage-grouse released today by the Department of Interior could be a step in controling development to help keep the prairie bird off the Endangered Species list.

The map identifies important areas having high density occurrences of greater sage-grouse, a ground-dwelling bird that inhabits much of the West. These areas were determined by estimating the male’s attendance on “leks,” the name biologists use to describe the communal breeding grounds of the bird.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will work with the state fish and wildlife agencies to refine the map by incorporating more specific state-level data.