With our discussions about burned forests and blackbacked woodpeckers, here are some views of the Power Fire, on the Eldorado National Forest. Initially, the wildfire seemed to be of mixed severity but, as the summer wore on, more and more insect mortality caused previously green trees to turn brown. After Chad Hanson took his appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court, this project was halted with about 75% of the dead trees cut. The court decided that not enough analysis was done regarding the blackbacked woodpecker, despite only 55% of the burned area in the project.
In this picture, seven years after it burned, most of those foreground snags were in a helicopter unit, with a fairly large stream buffer at the bottom. At least 5 times we marked additional mortality in that unit. Also important is the fact that we were cutting trees which still had green needles, using the new fire mortality guidelines of the time. As you can see, the density of snags should be quite sufficient in supporting multiple woodpecker families.
This patch of snags was clumped, below a main road and above a major streamcourse.
Another view of abundant snags within a cutting unit, and a protected streamcourse.
You can see that both large and small snags were left for wildlife. After 6 years, surely some snags have already fallen, as expected. Not every acre can, or should, have birds on every acre. Since this is predominantly a P. pine stand, the combination of high-intensity fire and subsequent bark beetles caused catastrophic losses of owl and goshawk habitat, including nest trees. You can also see that reforestation is, and will continue to be problematic, with all that deerbrush coming back so thick.
Missoula, MT – The Canada lynx was listed as threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in March 2000, yet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to complete the required recovery plan to ensure the survival of the elusive cat.
Today, a coalition of wildlife advocacy groups dedicated to the long-term survival and recovery of lynx filed a lawsuit to compel the Agency to complete a recovery plan to bring the species back from the brink of extinction. Threats to the lynx include loss of habitat and connectivity from improper forest management, development, and climate change, and mortality from starvation, predation, poaching, and incidental trapping.
The goal of the ESA is to prevent the extinction of and to provide for the eventual de-listing of imperiled species. As such, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to adopt and implement recovery plans for all listed species that describe the specific actions needed to achieve de-listing, include measurable criteria, and estimate the time and costs required to achieve recovery goals.
“Recovery plans are one of the most important tools to ensure a species does not go extinct,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center in Helena who is representing the wildlife advocacy groups in the case. “The ESA-mandated plan provides a road map to eventual de-listing by laying out what needs to happen and how best to get there,” added Bishop.
“Lynx will never fully recover in Montana and throughout the rest of their range in the lower 48 states until state and federal agencies have coordinated, concrete conservation actions designed to promote their recovery,” said Arlene Montgomery, Program Director of Friends of the Wild Swan. “Recovery plans are vital to ensuring that lynx not only persist, but thrive. They address the threats and provide the strategy that will lead to recovering lynx that builds upon the Endangered Species Act listing and designation of critical habitat.”
“Offering the Canada lynx protection under the Endangered Species Act absent a Recovery Plan, the Service merely created a paper tiger,” explained Duane Short, Wild Species Program Director for Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. “Its legal obligation to develop and implement a Recovery Plan is intended to produce meaningful actions that will actually enhance long-term survival of the species. Listing the lynx as Threatened under the Act, absent a Recovery Plan, is a job left undone.”
“The lynx’s recovery continues to be hampered by a ‘business as usual’ mentality from the federal and state agencies,” added Bishop. “Recent data suggests the lynx population in Montana may be in decline and yet, we’re still seeing development, trapping and snaring, roads, and industrial logging projects – including clear cuts – in some of the last remaining areas still occupied by lynx, including protected critical habitat” said Bishop. “Coordination among the various entities at the federal, state, and local level is needed to address the cumulative effects of these activities on lynx and their habitat. This is exactly what a federal recovery plan can do.”
The Western Environmental Law Center is representing Friends of the Wild Swan, Rocky Mountain Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance.
This picture is located within the Cedar Breaks National Monument, where conifer mortality is quite excessive. There is really not much that can be done with this situation, other than spending lots of money to fell, pile and burn. Within the Dixie National Forest, this mortality dominates the upper elevations. Even at this altitude of over 10,000 feet, the land is very dry for 9 months, except for seasonal lightning storms. Like some of our public lands, we need a triage system to deal with such overwhelming mortality and fuels build-ups. In this example, we are too late to employ a market-based solution, which would do more non-commercial work.
I have seen this area over many years, and have watched as forests die and rot, with catastrophic wildfire being the “end game”. Anyone venture a guess at what will grow here, in the future?
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and WildWest Institute filed a lawsuit yesterday in Federal District Court in Missoula against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in response to the FWS’s July 2011 decision that the whitebark pine is “warranted for listing as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act” but precluded by higher priority actions.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already concluded that whitebark pine faces numerous threats, including climate change, that are so pressing that whitebark pine is in danger of extinction,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “This is the first time the federal government has declared a widespread tree species in danger of imminent extinction from climate change. Since the Forest Service still has proposals to clearcut whitebark pine, all we’re doing is asking the court to move the listing process along a little faster so we can protect what’s left under the Endangered Species Act.”
The plaintiffs are requesting that the Court declare the agency’s decision is contrary to law, set aside or remand the decision, and compel the agency to promptly set a reasonable date to issue a proposed Endangered Species listing rule for whitebark pine.
Whitebark pine is a slow-growing, longed-life tree with life spans up to 500 years and sometimes more than 1000 years. Whitebark pine is a keystone — or foundation — species in western North America where it increases biodiversity and contributes to critical ecosystem functions. Those include providing highly-nutritious seeds for more than 20 different species including Clark’s Nutcracker, grizzly bears, black bears, Steller’s Jay, and Pine Grosbeak.
“People who spend time in the high-country realize that whitebark pine are dying at alarming rates due to impacts associated with climate change,” explained Matthew Koehler, with the WildWest Institute. “We cannot sit back, do nothing, and watch a critically important component of our high-country ecosystem just disappear and go extinct before our eyes. This isn’t just about the whitebark pine, but about the future viability of these high country ecosystems, including the species that rely upon that habitat such as grizzly bears and Clark’s Nutcrackers.”
The role the pine seeds play in the ecosystem is fascinating. Clark’s nutcrackers crack open the pine cones and collect the seeds in specialized throat pouches. The birds then cache the seeds in small piles in numerous shallow holes on the forest floor. If the Clark’s nutcrackers, or other wildlife species, don’t come back to eat all the seeds, new trees sprout. Additionally, red squirrels collect and bury larges caches of whole pine cones in middens. Grizzly bears unearth the caches, carefully pry off the scales of the pine cones with their claws, and then pull out the seeds with their tongues. Studies in the Yellowstone National Park area show that grizzly bears obtain one-quarter to two-thirds of their energy from the seeds. The 30-50% fat content from whitebark pine seeds promotes survival and reproduction of female grizzly bears that rely on this fat not only to hibernate, but also to support lactation. When pine seeds are plentiful, grizzly bears have more surviving cubs. And in years when pine seeds are scarce, the result is more conflicts with humans and more dead grizzly bears.
The U.S. Forest Service estimates that climate change will result in the whitebark pine population shrinking to less than 3% of its current U.S. distribution by the end of the century.
Forestry operations and bioenergy have been part of the economic and social fabric in Northern California for decades. A five-year study produced in 2009 by the USDA Forest Service modeled forest management under different scenarios across 2.7 million acres encompassing the Feather River watershed. The model’s time horizon spanned four decades, examining wildfire behavior, forest thinning operations and a range of environmental and economic impacts. It concluded that in virtually every aspect analyzed, managing forest resources and utilizing biomass for energy production provides significant advantages over the status quo.
With acres per wildfire going WAY up, thinning projects seem to be the way to go to reduce both wildfire sizes and wildfire intensities. Again, we have strict diameter limits in the Sierra Nevada, and clearcutting has been banned since 1993.
The link is here
Democrats on the House Resources Committee released a new report on Tuesday. Phil Taylor, a reporter with E&E, has a story out about the report and subsequent hearing. Unfortunately, E&E doesn’t have a free link to the entire story, so some snips from the story are below.
Environmental groups over the past three years have appealed less than 5 percent of projects on federal lands designed to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire, and, of those, less than one out of five involved endangered species issues, according to a new report from Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee….
“Environmental laws, land management agencies, litigation, endangered species and even immigrants share the Republican blame for this year’s devastating wildfires,” Markey said. “These accusations are just a smokescreen.”
Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management data obtained by committee Democrats seemed to back up his claim.
Out of 8,000 fuel reduction projects in federal forests over the last three, less than 1 percent of all of the work was affected by appeals, according to the Democrats’ report. Endangered Species Act challenges affected less than 0.05 percent of all hazardous fuels work on roughly 10 million acres of land, the report found.
“This report shows that political fact-checkers should create a new category called ‘pants on wildfire’ for the ill-informed Republican myths on forest fire prevention,” Markey said. “When climate change is baking the country in drought and actually increasing the risks of catastrophic wildfires, these half-baked ideas from Republicans do a disservice to the people who have suffered from wildfires.”….
Democrats said the findings are consistent with a Government Accountability Office report in 2010 that found less than 20 percent of the 1,191 fuel reduction projects on about 9 million acres from 2006 to 2008 were appealed. About 2 percent of all fuel reduction projects were litigated and those involved about 124,000 acres, the report says.
I don’t have a link to the story, but the following article comes from Greenwire. I’m posting it here as a sort of companion piece to the ESA piece Sharon just posted regarding the House Resources Committee Hearing.
Lawsuits not hurting Endangered Species Act – FWS director
By Laura Petersen, E&E Reporter
The House GOP’s campaign against environmental groups that sue the federal government over endangered species management is not the way to improve the Endangered Species Act, according to Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.
“On the scale of the challenges that we face implementing the Endangered Species Act, litigation doesn’t even show up on the radar screen,” Ashe said in an interview this week marking his one-year anniversary as director.
Invasive species, habitat fragmentation, water scarcity, climate change and availability of reliable scientific information are all much more pressing issues than lawsuits, Ashe said.
In an effort to overhaul the Endangered Species Act, House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) has focused particularly on the high number of lawsuits brought against the government under the law’s provision that allows citizens to sue if they disagree with a listing decision or a delayed decisionmaking process and have their legal fees paid for if they win.
Hastings has characterized the environmental groups that file suits regularly as “lawsuit-happy organizations that make a living off of suing the federal government” and called litigation costs “one of the greatest weaknesses” of the Endangered Species Act (E&E Daily, June 20).
Ashe dismissed the attacks as a “good sound bite,” noting that the amount of money the agency has paid out in legal fees is a small fraction of the $200 million a year it spends to implement the ESA and hardly enough to support entire nonprofit organizations.
“Can I get frustrated at [Center for Biological Diversity] and WildEarth Guardians, or my good friend Jamie Clark at Defenders [of Wildlife] when they decide to sue us? Yeah, I can,” Ashe said. “But on balance, I think it’s a strength for the Endangered Species Act, and not a weakness.”
The provision has been especially beneficial during presidential administrations that “did not have a friendly view” of implementing the law and protecting imperiled plants and animals, he said.
Last year, FWS struck a massive settlement agreement with environmental groups that set a six-year timeline for the agency to make decisions on 251 candidate species and initial findings on hundreds of other species. In exchange, the groups promised to not file more lawsuits.
The settlement has been “quite a success,” with both sides being “faithful” to the bargain, Ashe said.
Asked how he would reform the Endangered Species Act, Ashe said “reform is too strong of a word.”
However, he said the law can be better. The biggest improvement he would like to make is to increase financial incentives for endangered species conservation.
The following was just released by the Center for Biological Diversity:
A new study in the international journal Bioscience finds that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service routinely ignored scientific peer review when designating protected critical habitat for endangered species. According to the study published this month, the agency ignored recommendations by scientific experts to add areas to critical habitat to ensure the survival and recovery of endangered species 92 percent of the time.
“Our study shows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completely failed to rely on the best available science when deciding which habitat to protect for some of America’s most endangered species,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the peer-reviewed study. “This isn’t some meaningless bureaucratic oversight. Ignoring scientists’ advice jeopardizes the survival and recovery of endangered species.”
The designation of critical habitat is a key step in protecting the most important areas used by endangered species. Species with protected critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as those without it. As part of making a designation, the Fish and Wildlife Service must have experts outside the agency review the proposed designation to make sure it’s scientifically sound and suitable to help species survive and recover.
Using data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the study reviewed 169 peer reviews of 42 critical habitat designations for 336 species covering a five-year period (2002-2007). Of the 169 reviews, 85 recommended adding areas and 19 recommended subtracting areas. In response, the agency added areas in only four cases and subtracted areas in only nine cases. After peer review, 81 percent (34) of the 42 critical habitat designations were reduced by an average of 43 percent.
“Routinely, the agency dismisses scientific advice on the grounds that they need ‘flexibility’ to better serve endangered species,” said Stuart Pimm, chair of conservation at Duke University and one of the study’s authors. “There is absolutely no evidence that, in consistently denying threatened species their needed habitats, any species has benefitted.”
In addition to examining the peer reviews, the study presented case studies examining the process for designating critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher and Cape Sable seaside sparrow. In the case of the flycatcher, the peer reviewers faulted the proposed designation for failing to include areas recommended by a scientific recovery plan. Rather than add additional areas, however, the agency cut the designation by 53 percent at the behest of a former political appointee at the Department of the Interior. In the case of the sparrow, the agency cut an area from critical habitat against the advice of peer reviewers (one of whom described the area as “extremely important”) based on the false premise that designation of critical habitat would conflict with Everglades restoration.
“Science, not politics, ought to drive which habitat is protected for endangered species,” said Greenwald. “Obtaining peer review shouldn’t simply be about checking off a box on a form. Saving species means saving the places they live and, when it comes to that, our best scientists need to be listened to.”
The study is the first to systematically examine a government agency’s response to peer review of its decisions. Peer review of government decisions is fundamentally different from peer review of scientific studies in that there is no editor to determine whether peer review has been properly considered or, if appropriate, followed. To rectify this situation, the study recommends appointing an arbiter to oversee the government’s response to peer review and giving agency scientists more independence to ensure closer adherence to scientific information.
The Center for Biological Diversity just keeps on pumping it out. Today, they released this new report (PDF). The Executive Summary is pasted below.
Critics of the Endangered Species Act contend it is a failure because only 1 percent of the species under its protection have recovered and been delisted. The critique, however, is undermined by its failure to explain how many species should have recovered by now. It is a ship without an anchor.
To objectively test whether the Endangered Species Act is recovering species at a sufficient rate, we compared the actual recovery rate of 110 species with the projected recovery rate in their federal recovery plans. The species range over all 50 states, include all major taxonomic groups, and have a diversity of listing lengths.
We found that the Endangered Species Act has a remarkably successful recovery rate: 90 percent of species are recovering at the rate specified by their federal recovery plan.
On average, species recovered in 25 years, while their recovery plan predicted 23 years — a 91 percent timeliness accomplishment.
We confirmed the conclusion of scientists and auditors who assert that the great majority of species have not been listed long enough to warrant an expectation of recovery: 80 percent of species have not yet reached their expected recovery year. On average, these species have been listed for just 32 years, while their recovery plans required 46 years of listing.
Many species that have not been listed long enough to reach their recovery goals increased dramatically since being protected by the Endangered Species Act:
California least tern 2,819% increase in nesting pairs San Miguel island fox 3,830% increase in wild foxes Black-footed ferret 8,280% increase in the fall population Atlantic green sea turtle 2,206% increase in nesting females on Florida beaches El Segundo blue butterfly 22,312% increase in butterflies
While many species are near or above the numeric population goal set by their recovery plan and will likely be delisted in the next 10 to 15 years, others also have strong recovery trends, but will not be delisted for many decades because their recovery plans require that much time to fully secure their fate.
The study’s findings are similar to a 2006 analysis of all federally protected species in the Northeast, which found 93 percent were stabilized or improving since being put on the endangered species list and 82 percent were on pace to meet recovery goals.
When judged in the light of meeting recovery plan timelines for recovery, the Endangered Species Act is remarkably successful. Few laws of any kind can boast a 90 percent success rate.