Votes to Overturn Species Protections
The Senate voted to approve three resolutions (May) seeking to overturn key decisions of Federal agencies last year related to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). None of the resolutions however, secured votes sufficient to overcome promised Presidential vetoes.
One resolution (S.J.Res.23) seeks to overturn a rule of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service that reversed a rule of the Trump Administration defining “habitat” in regulation, which had the effect of limiting what could be considered habitat for the purposes of ESA protections. The updated 2022 rule dropped the definition, which will enable the agencies to define habitat for each unique circumstance of a species. The resolution passed the Senate by a vote of 51-49, which is short of a two-thirds majority to overcome an expected veto (in this case 67 votes).
A second resolution (S.J.Res.24) seeks to overturn a rule of FWS that elevates the endangered status of the long-eared bat from “threatened” to “endangered,” and also drops its status as a unique species for purposes of ESA protections. The resolution passed the Senate by a vote of 51-49, short of a veto-proof majority.
A third resolution (S.J.Res.9) seeks to overturn a FWS rule that provides ESA protections to two species of prairie chicken, one that is considered “threatened” and the other “endangered.” The resolution passed the Senate by a vote of 50-48, also short of a veto-proof majority.
ESA Designation for the Prostrate Milkweed
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) finalized a rule (February 27), proposed a year ago, listing the prostrate milkweed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This final action comes 16 years after an initial petition to the agency requesting this action.
Along with this ESA designation, USFWS designated as “critical habitat,” 691 acres in south Texas that are important to the plant. This milkweed is especially important to large bees and wasps, and is a “host plant” for monarch butterflies, which recently saw a sharp decline in population near the US-Mexico border.
All known Texas populations of prostrate milkweed are within 9 miles of the US‒Mexico border. USFWS says that border security-related construction of barriers, roads, and drag strips are potential threats of high magnitude to prostrate milkweed populations.
Other risks to the plant include habitat loss from root-plowing and degradation from invasive plant encroachment; energy development, road and utility construction, and right-of-way maintenance.
Grizzly Bear Listing
The FWS announced (February 3) that the agency completed its “initial review” of several petitions seeking removal of grizzly bears from the list of endangered and threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
FWS determined that two of the petitions present “substantial information” for establishing that grizzly bears of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are a distinct population bears that also warrants removal from the list. A third petition arguing for removal of grizzly bears from the lower 48 states “does not present substantial, credible information” that warrants a similar action.
FWS says it will now initiate a 12-month comprehensive status review of the bears of the two ecosystems “based on the best available scientific and commercial data available.” The results will be published at an unspecified time. The findings could potentially result in a delisting.
The official information related to this proposal can be found here.
US-South Africa Anti-Poaching Cooperation
The US and South Africa announced (January 25) the formation of a new Task Force on Combating the Financing of Wildlife Trafficking to combat, among other things, the trafficking in abalone, rhino horns, pangolins, and elephant ivory.
The Task Force will work to combat illicit finance linked to illegal wildlife trade in three key areas:
the sharing of financial red flags and indicators relating to wildlife trafficking cases;
increased information sharing to better support key law enforcement agencies to help bolster law enforcement efforts to use financial investigations to pursue and recover the illicit proceeds of wildlife criminals; and,
the convening of government and private sector persons and organizations in an effort to improve controls to combat money laundering and the illicit proceeds related to drug trafficking and wildlife trafficking.
The overarching pledge, potentially the most important of the conference, is to protect 30% of land and oceans by 2030. Just 10% of lands and 17% of oceans are considered protected. The hope is that with this pledge and any resulting actions, biodiversity protection will be enhanced worldwide.
Similar to the UN’s recent annual conference on climate change, a key sticking point of this conference session reportedly was the specifics on financing. Among the agreed-to measures is that participating countries committed to reform $500 billion in government subsidy programs considered to be harmful to nature, and that developing countries will receive an increase in financial support.
Under the framework, funding support for poorer countries would total at least $25 billion annually for poor countries by 2025, increasing gradually to $30 billion annually by 2030. A total of $200 billion per year annually is the goal for the entire world to spend on biodiversity protection from both public and private sources.
The United States has committed $600 million to the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) for international efforts, but this is over the next four years. The GEF recently reported (June) that twenty-nine donor governments finalized more than $5.3 billion in pledges for the GEF for the next four years, already more than a 30 percent increase from the prior pledge period. That being the case, the GEF is used for more than just biodiversity conservation.
Even with the European Union separately committing biodiversity resources of €7 billion through 2027, it is not clear how the world gets to $20 billion annually in support, much less $30 billion in the future. An estimated $10 billion per year currently flows to the developing world annually related to biodiversity protection.
And, it is important to note that the goals and funding of the last biodiversity conference were not met. The next UN biodiversity conference will take place in 2024.
World-Wide Species Protection Negotiations
The Interior Department announced (November 28) new species protection agreements as part of discussions at the International Conference of the Parties (CoP19) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Among the agreements:
Inclusion on the CITES listing of 36 species of U.S. native turtles, which are under increasing demand from East Asia and Europe.
Inclusion of glass frogs in “Appendix II” of the CITES listing, helping ensure international trade does not represent a threat to wild populations. International demand for glass frogs in the exotic pet trade adds to other threats, including habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, invasive species and diseases such as chytrid fungus. U.S. pet trade demand for glass frogs has increased exponentially, increasing from13 live individuals imported in 2016 to 5,744 individuals in 2021.
The U.S. and Mexico agreed on a way forward to curb illegal fishing of endangered totoaba, wanted particularly in East Asia for its swim bladder, and also ensure survival of the critically endangered vaquita, which now numbers 10 or fewer individual animals and is at imminent risk of extinction.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) finalized a rule (November 29) proposed in March to elevate the protection status of the Northern Long-Eared Bat from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.
This action is being taken primarily because of the effect of white-nose syndrome (WNS). USFWS says that data indicates that white-nose syndrome has caused estimated declines of 97% to 100% of affected northern long-eared bat populations.
The northern long-eared bat is found in 37 states in the eastern and north central United States. Such bats mostly spend the winter hibernating in caves and abandoned mines. During summer, they roost alone or in small colonies underneath bark or in cavities or crevices of both live and dead trees. They emerge at dusk to fly primarily through the understory of forested areas, feeding on insects
USFWS claims that efforts to address WNS have yielded advancements including identification of critical information about its impacts on North American bat species. The agency says it is using disease surveillance tools to monitor spread and impacts, and is testing biological, chemical, immunological, genetic and mechanical treatments in some states to improve bat survival.
Emperor Penguin Protection
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued (October 25) Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection to Emperor Penguins. They will receive a “threatened” designation under the ESA. There are more than 2,400 species designated as threatened or “endangered” by FWS.
A threatened species means any species likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range, while an endangered species elevates the concern that a species is in danger of actual extinction.
Section 4(d) of the ESA permits the Secretary to extend certain protections that apply to endangered species to threatened species by prohibiting certain acts that may affect them; for example preventing persons from importing, exporting, sellomg, or taking (e.g., harm, hunt, harass, kill) an endangered species.
While FWS says that Emperor Penguin populations “appear currently stable,” they have determined the species is in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future in a significant portion of its range due to ice melt caused by climate change. Emperor Penguins need ice to help form breeding colonies, forage for food, and avoid predation.
The agency estimates that there currently are about 61 breeding colonies along the coastline of Antarctica, with a population size between 270K-280K breeding pairs, and 625K-650K individual birds. The agency claims that according to the “best available science,” by 2050 the global population size of Emperor Penguins will likely decrease by 26%-47% under low-high carbon emissions scenarios.
Monarch Butterfly Endangered Status
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which produces the international “Red List” of threatened species, announced (July 21st) that it has added the Monarch Butterfly as an endangered species. The IUCN Red List includes 147,517 species, of which 41,459 are threatened with extinction.
IUCN cites both habitat destruction and climate change as the causes for the butterfly’s decline. The group believes that the population of monarch butterflies in North America has declined between 22% and 72% over the last 10 years.
The United States has not yet moved to designate the Monarch Butterfly as endangered under U.S. law. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in February (2022) proposed to designate the Prostrate Milkweed, a rare flowering plant native to south Texas and northeastern Mexico, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). FWS also proposed to set aside 691 acres of critical habitat for the milkweed. This milkweed plant is important for the Monarch.
Wildlife-Endangered Species Recovery & Conservation Funding
The House of Representatives passed (June 15th) the “Recovering America’s Wildlife Act” (RAWA) by a vote of 231-190, including just 16 Republicans voting for the bill and 2 Democrats opposing. The legislation has its genesis in the recommendations of a 2016 Blue Ribbon Panel report that had as its core recommendation the establishment of a significant and permanent source of funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Wildlife Restoration Program. This legislation will phase in a new permanent (i.e., mandatory) and annual financing source for FWS wildlife conservation grants to states and localities authorized (with some modification) under the existing Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act.
Grant funding will total nearly $1 billion starting in FY 2023, growing to $1.4 billion by FY 2026. And, nearly $188 million of this funding over the initial four years of the Act will be dedicated specifically to endangered and threatened species activities.
The Congressional Budget Office, in its cost estimate of RAWA, says that FWS spent $713 million on similar restoration and conservation activities in FY 2021. New RAWA funding would add to, not replace, current funding. In addition, the FWS announced earlier this year that it would distribute “a record $1.5 billion” (in FY 2022) in excise-tax supported funding for state and local outdoor recreational opportunities, and wildlife and habitat conservation efforts via the agency’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) Program.
Proponents of the RAWA proposal have argued for years that conservation programs are not only inadequately funded, but also that the primary financing source of excise taxes on firearms and archery equipment is not reliable. These amounts fluctuate with the prevailing markets for taxed goods, and wildlife health benefits the public at large, not only hunters and the recreational community. Opponents in the House argued that the bill will add to the Federal Budget deficit and that new spending should have been offset in some way, which it is not.
The Senate is next up for consideration of RAWA, which currently has bipartisan support including 16 Republican and 19 Democrat cosponsors of a Senate bill.
A Federal District Court overturned (February 10, 2022) an October 2020 decision of the Trump Administration to delist the Gray Wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The District Court found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) had, without adequate analysis and explanation, wrongly concluded that the Gray Wolf no longer needed protection across the country due to the recovery of distinct populations in the Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountain regions. The Court found that USFWS could not ignore the conditions of the Western Gray Wolf merely because of wolf recovery in other regions.
While USFWS had not supported an immediate relisting of the Gray Wolf under the Biden Administration, the agency did announce (September 15, 2021) that it was initiating a 12-month review of the current listing. It is likely that the review will continue despite the District Court decision. Calls have increased to more urgently address threats to the Western Gray Wolf, given a spate of illegal and legal wolf killings, along with some State laws permitting wolf hunting.
Yellowstone American Bison
A U.S. District Court is ordering (January 12, 2022) FWS to revisit its 2019 review and decision not to list Yellowstone's American Bison as a protected species, saying the agency did not adequately justify the basis for its decision. The Buffalo Field Campaign and other groups have been fighting to protect Yellowstone's buffalo as a protected species.
Northern Spotted Owl
FWS announced (November 2021) a Final Rule that withdrew a Trump Administration Final Rule substantially increasing excluded acreage in Oregon and Washington from the protected habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl. The prior rule reduced protected acres from 3.4 million to just a little over 200,000 acres. Protected acreage returns to prior levels under the rule.
American Bumble Bee
FWS issued a notice (September 29, 2021) to conduct a 12-month review on the need for protection of the American Bumble Bee under the ESA. The Center for Biological Diversity and Bombus Pollinators Association of Law Students submitted a petition for this purpose and FWS agreed to conduct the review.
Delisting Extinct Species
FWS announced (September 29 2021) that it was removing 23 species listed under the ESA, as the agency believes these are now extinct, including 11 bird species.
No Results Found
Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) of Wild Fauna and Flora
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITIES) is the current international treaty intended to protect endangered animals and plants. About 5,000 species of animals and 29,000 species of plants are protected by CITES against over-exploitation through international trade.
Status: CITIES entered into force in 1975.
Endangered Species Act (ESA) - Gray Wolves
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced a policy decision to initiate a 12 month status review of Gray Wolves under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Status: USFWS announced the review on September 15, 2021. The Trump Administration delisted Gay Wolves from ESA protection in January of 2021, prior to leaving office.
Endangered Species Act (ESA) - Grizzly Bears
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined that there should be no change to the current listing status of Grizzly Bears as "Threatened" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Status: USFWS announced this decision on March 31, 2021.
Migratory Bird Treaty Act Incidental Take
The Department of the Interior announced that it issued a final rule that revokes a rule of the Trump Administration weakening protections of migratory birds by preventing prosecutions against companies for bird deaths that could have been prevented (e.g., via oil pits, wind turbines, electrical lines, etc.). At the same time, the agency issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to detail specific regulations regarding permissible "incidental take" of migratory birds.
Status: the Final Rule was published in the Federal Register on September 30, 2021, while the NPRM on incidental take was published on October 4, 2021.
Kunming Declaration (COP 15 - Biological Diversity)
This is a declaration that is an outcome of the 15th meeting of participating countries of the UN Convention of Biological Diversity (i.e., COP 15). The key outcome of the meeting and this declaration is that participants have committed to develop and implement an effective biodiversity framework "to reverse the current loss of biodiversity and ensure that biodiversity is put on a path to recovery by 2030 at the latest."
Status: the declaration was approved on October 13, 2021.