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A bill that would have given control of state bison management to county politicians instead of state Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists – a proposal rejected by three-fourths of Montanans according to recent polling – was vetoed yesterday by Montana Governor Steve Bullock. The move was applauded by Native American tribes, conservation organizations and hunters who strongly opposed the bill citing concerns that it would have created a patchwork of inconsistent laws across the state, wreaking havoc on wild bison restoration in Montana and undermining state wildlife management authority.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today published a preferred route for the TransWest Express transmission corridor through four western states that would have harmful impacts on greater sage-grouse, desert tortoise and other wildlife. The BLM rejected less destructive alternative routes that could have been built on already disturbed lands and along existing corridors, such as state highways. Instead, the selected alternative cuts through important wildlife habitat, including core sage-grouse habitat identified as a priority for conservation by state and federal biologists in Colorado. Today’s decision comes just a month before federal conservation plans will be released for greater sage-grouse in Colorado and across the West.
In March 2015, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the D.C. District Court issued an order rejecting an extractive industry challenge to the Obama Administration’s National Forest Management Act 2012 Forest Planning Rule. The challenge alleged that the rule inappropriately requires the U.S. Forest Service to use science and conservation biology when creating new forest plans, which guide management on 191 million acres of national forests. On April 28, the judge issued her opinion setting forth the basis for her decision.
The first gray wolf known to travel west of the Cascade Crest in Washington state was confirmed this week after local officials found it killed by collision with a vehicle on Interstate 90 between North Bend and Snoqualmie. Despite this wolf’s unfortunate death, conservation organizations see its dispersal this far west as an encouraging sign of progress in wolf restoration.
“Rep. Tsongas’ amendment was the appropriate and logical response to the sage-grouse provision that would further jeopardize the imperiled grouse and give western states unparalleled and unprecedented veto power over the management of millions of acres of federal lands. We deeply appreciate her efforts to conserve the sage-grouse, federal lands and the myriad of species that depend on those lands. It is truly unfortunate that others on the committee weren’t persuaded to vote for her amendment to strike and are willing to turn millions of acres of federal lands over to the control of the states.
Today the House Armed Services Committee introduced a provision in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes unprecedented language from Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) that would undermine the outcome of ongoing state and federal collaboration and prevent greater sage-grouse from receiving Endangered Species Act and other protections for a decade or more—regardless of the bird's prognosis for survival. The measure would also essentially turn over management of western federal lands that are home to the species to the states.
Greater sage-grouse populations declined by at least 55 percent range-wide from 2007 to 2013, according to a new study by leading sage-grouse experts released by the Pew Charitable Trusts today. Populations declined even more steeply in some areas, including the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, which suffered a 76 percent loss over the seven-year period. The total number of birds counted in 2013 was the lowest ever reported in science. While the authors of the study acknowledged that sage-grouse populations tend to cycle over 10-year periods, they were uncertain if the birds will rebound from their current, precipitous drop, or if it “may be the start of a complete population collapse.”
Slow but steady growth in Oregon’s wolf population has triggered an Oregon Wildlife Commission review of whether state Endangered Species Act protections are still warranted for the species, a process that started today after the Commission was briefed by wildlife officials on the status of Oregon’s wolves. Wildlife conservation groups have expressed strong opposition to any proposal that would remove or weaken state protections for Oregon’s gray wolves, citing concerns the population is not fully recovered and still faces significant threats.
Defenders of Wildlife has petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to list two shark species, the smooth hammerhead shark and the bigeye thresher shark, under the Endangered Species Act.
The Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) announced they will build a concrete dam across the lower Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana. The dam will cause irreparable harm to the nation’s largest wild population of endangered pallid sturgeon, an ancient fish species with ancestors dating back to the time of dinosaurs, living in the upper Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers as well as several other fish species using the lower Yellowstone.