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News Article | May 1, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

A trio of adorable snow leopards was recently caught on camera snuggling and relaxing beneath a shady tree near a monastery. The rare and elusive creatures were photographed in Qinghai province, in central China, using camera traps placed by Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, the Snow Leopard Trust and Shan Shui Conservation Center. China contains about 65 percent of the snow leopard habitat, according to Panthera. The footage was captured outside Zhaxilawu monastery; the camera trap was placed there because the area had been a hotspot for wildlife, with a wild bear and another snow leopard spotted in the previous weeks. Tibetan monks have also been recruited as snow leopard allies, with monks patrolling the areas where the snow leopards prowl to prevent poaching, according to a 2013 study. Though it's hard to tell from the video alone, the trio may be siblings, or possibly a mother and her two cubs, scientists from Panthera said. In the video, they roll around, yawn, stretch their feline limbs and nuzzle each other, before pausing to investigate the camera trap. Snow leopards (Panthera uncia) are elusive cats that live in the forbidding, mountainous terrain of Asia, from Russia in the west to China in the east. Their white-speckled fur allows them to blend in with their craggy mountainous habitat, while their thick padded feet allow them to tromp silently but sure-footedly in the snow, hunting for prey. About 4,000 to 7,000 snow leopards remain in the wild, according to Defenders of Wildlife, and the regal felines are listed as a threatened species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.


News Article | May 3, 2017
Site: hosted2.ap.org

(AP) — A federal agency targeted by President Donald Trump for budget cuts next year has only about half the money needed to build a new Yellowstone River dam and a bypass channel meant to save an endangered fish, but it plans to begin construction anyway. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers inked a $36 million contract in 2015 with Ames Construction of Burnsville, Minnesota, to build the concrete dam and a channel in Montana for about 125 wild pallid sturgeon to swim to their spawning grounds that are now blocked by an existing rock dam. The dinosaur-like pallid sturgeon can grow up to 6 feet (1.83 meters) long. The Corps has secured only $19 million for the project under what's known as a continuing contract clause, according to project manager Tiffany Vanosdall. The Corps uses the clauses for large civil engineering projects like the dam, with the expectation that Congress will fund the balance in subsequent years to complete the work. Trump has targeted the Corps for a $1 billion spending reduction in his 2018 budget plan, though the plan does not specify which projects would be cut. No money for the Yellowstone River project was allocated in a spending bill released by Congress on Monday. Despite uncertainty of future funding, Vanosdall said the funding request has been made to Congress and "we expect seamless appropriations." Defenders of Wildlife, an advocacy organization, opposes the dam. It said Tuesday that the pallid sturgeon's chances for survival could be even worse if the dam is built and then the money runs out before the fish passage is constructed. "Then we're stuck without a fish passage for pallid sturgeon to swim and spawn," said the group's Rockies and Plains representative Aaron Hall. The entire project, including planning, will cost an estimated $59 million and last two to three years. Construction is expected to begin after July 1. The pallid sturgeon is in jeopardy because they can't reach their spawning ground to reproduce. An existing rock weir that diverts river water to an irrigation system for about 400 eastern Montana farms blocks their passage. Defenders of Wildlife and Natural Resources Defense Council sued the federal agencies in 2015 to remove the weir, leading the agencies to propose building a new dam and a bypass channel for the fish. A federal judge initially blocked the project then last month allowed it to proceed after the Corps completed a new environmental analysis. The advocacy groups say the environmental analysis is insufficient and asked the judge Tuesday to block the project again. They are skeptical that the fish would use the new bypass channel, and they are seeking the removal of the original rock weir so the pallid sturgeon can swim unhindered through the Yellowstone River. Another Corps project manager, Christopher Fassero, said the bypass should work because it will be designed to mimic a natural river channel.


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

FILE - In this undated file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a Mexican gray wolf leaves cover at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, Socorro County, N.M. The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday, April 25, 2017, lifted a preliminary injunction that had prevented the Fish and Wildlife Service from releasing more Mexican gray wolves. (Jim Clark/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP, File) DENVER (AP) — A federal court on Tuesday removed an obstacle to the U.S. government's plan to release more endangered wolves in New Mexico over the state's objections, but it was not clear whether additional animals would be reintroduced under the Trump administration. The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a temporary order issued by a lower court that stopped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from releasing more Mexican gray wolves after New Mexico refused to agree to the plan. The state Game and Fish Department is disappointed, but it will keep pursuing the case in federal court in New Mexico, where it was originally filed, spokesman Lance Cherry said. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Jeff Humphrey said the agency was still reviewing the decision. Despite the ruling, it wasn't immediately known whether wolf releases would resume. President Donald Trump has slowed or reversed other environmental initiatives since taking office in January, when the appeals court was considering the wolf case. And many Republicans in control of Congress have long objected to parts of the Endangered Species Act, which is the legal authority for re-establishing the Mexican gray wolf and other animals. Protected status under the act usually brings restrictions on ranching, mining and other activities. Only about 110 Mexican gray wolves live in the wild. They nearly disappeared in the 1970s, and the federal government added them to the endangered species list in 1976. The Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing them to parts of their original range in New Mexico and Arizona in 1998. New Mexico has complaints about the way the program is managed, and in 2015 it refused to issue a permit to Fish and Wildlife to release more of the predators. The agency decided to release them anyway, citing an urgent need to expand the wild population to prevent inbreeding. New Mexico officials went to court, and a federal judge temporarily blocked further releases last year while the dispute is resolved. The government appealed. The 10th Circuit says New Mexico failed to show that the state would suffer irreparable harm if more wolves were released — a requirement for such an order. "The irreparable harm comes to the ranchers and the people of New Mexico," said Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association. Wolves are known to attack livestock. "It saddens me to think that the court doesn't understand how much harm is coming to our ranching families and their livelihood," she said. Bryan Bird of Defenders of Wildlife called the ruling a victory for the wolves. He said his group works with residents who live in the wolves' range. "We can coexist with these icons of the Southwest," he said. The appeals court didn't address other questions, including whether New Mexico would likely win in a lawsuit over the dispute. Wolf reintroduction programs are always contentious because of the threat the predators pose to livestock and wild game favored by hunters. Last year, the Interior Department's internal watchdog said Fish and Wildlife had not fulfilled its obligation to remove Mexican gray wolves that preyed on pets and cattle. New Mexico officials also complain that federal officials tripled the target number of wolves in the wild — from about 100 to 300 — without sufficient justification. Separately, a federal court in Tucson, Arizona, will hear arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit from two environmental groups alleging the Fish and Wildlife Service imposed harmful limits on the size and range of the Mexican gray wolf population. Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP. His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/dan%20elliott.


News Article | May 2, 2017
Site: hosted2.ap.org

(AP) — A federal agency targeted by President Donald Trump for budget cuts next year has only about half the money needed to build a new Yellowstone River dam and bypass channel meant to save an endangered fish, but it plans to begin construction anyway. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers inked a $36 million contract in 2015 with Ames Construction of Burnsville, Minnesota, to build the concrete dam and a channel in Montana for about 125 wild pallid sturgeon to swim to their spawning grounds that are now blocked by an existing rock dam. The dinosaur-like pallid sturgeon can grow up to 6 feet (1.83 meters) long. The Corps has secured only $19 million for the project under what's known as a continuing contract clause, according to project manager Tiffany Vanosdall. The Corps uses the clauses for large civil engineering projects like the dam, with the expectation that Congress will fund the balance in subsequent years to complete the work. Trump has targeted the Corps for a $1 billion spending reduction in his 2018 budget plan, though the plan does not specify which projects would be cut. No money for the Yellowstone River project was allocated in a spending bill released by Congress on Monday. Despite uncertainty of future funding, Vanosdall said the funding request has been made to Congress and "we expect seamless appropriations." Defenders of Wildlife, an advocacy organization, opposes the dam. It said Tuesday that the pallid sturgeon's chances for survival could be even worse if the dam is built and then the money runs out before the fish passage is constructed. "Then we're stuck without a fish passage for pallid sturgeon to swim and spawn," group spokesman Aaron Hall said. The entire project, including planning, will cost an estimated $59 million and last two to three years. Construction is expected to begin after July 1. The pallid sturgeon is in jeopardy because they can't reach their spawning ground to reproduce. An existing rock weir that diverts river water to an irrigation system for about 400 eastern Montana farms blocks their passage. Defenders of Wildlife and Natural Resources Defense Council sued the federal agencies in 2015 to remove the weir, leading the agencies to propose building a new dam and a bypass channel for the fish. A federal judge initially blocked the project, then last month allowed it to proceed after the Corps completed a new environmental analysis. The advocacy groups say the environmental analysis is insufficient and they plan to ask the judge as early as Tuesday to block the project again. They are skeptical that the fish would use the new bypass channel, and they are seeking the removal of the original rock weir so that the pallid sturgeon can swim unhindered through the Yellowstone River. Another Corps project manager, Christopher Fassero, said the bypass should work because it will be designed to mimic a natural river channel.


News Article | May 3, 2017
Site: www.washingtonpost.com

A coalition of environmental groups on Wednesday sued the Trump administration over its efforts to expand offshore drilling, arguing the move violates the president’s legal authority, threatens a multitude of wildlife and could harm the fishing and tourism industries. The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Alaska, comes days after President Trump signed an executive order aimed at jump-starting offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, as well as assessing whether energy exploration can take place in marine sanctuaries in the Pacific and Atlantic. The policy could open millions of acres of federal waters for oil and gas leasing, just months after President Barack Obama withdrew the areas from possible development. At a signing Friday in the Roosevelt Room, Trump emphasized that the United States has abundant offshore oil and gas reserves and made clear his intention to tap them if possible. “We’re opening it up,” he said. Wednesday’s lawsuit argues that Trump’s executive order exceeds his constitutional and statutory authority. It notes that Obama used his authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Acts to permanently end drilling in much of the Arctic and key parts of the Atlantic but says that no president has ever undone or reversed such a decision and that the law “does not authorize the president to reopen withdrawn areas.” [Trump signs executive order to expand drilling off America’s coasts: ‘We’re opening it up.’] “The permanent protections President Obama established for the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans were won with years of research, lobbying and organizing,” Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement. Until Wednesday, his group had never filed a legal challenge. “Offshore drilling and the associated threat of devastating oil spills puts coastal economies and ways of life at risk while worsening the consequences of climate change. Now, President Trump is trying to erase all the environmental progress we’ve made, and we aren’t about to go down without a fight.” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife, called Trump’s order an example of his administration’s “single-minded focus on fossil fuel extraction at the expense of every other value.” “Exposing the enormously sensitive ecosystems of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to the risk of a catastrophic oil spill is playing roulette with the nation’s coasts, wildlife, birds and fish. It is also manifestly illegal,” Clark said in an statement. “No president has ever before tried to undo a previous president’s determination, made under a specific grant of authority from Congress, that ecologically sensitive offshore waters deserve protection from the risks inherent in oil drilling. We do not need and cannot use the oil that may lie under these waters if we ever hope to meet our nation’s commitment to addressing climate change.” Other groups joining the lawsuit include the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, the Alaska Wilderness League and the Wilderness Society. A White House official on Wednesday said the administration is “confident that President Trump’s common-sense decision to boost our energy sector will be vindicated in the judicial process.” Even Trump administration officials have acknowledged that it would take a couple of years or longer to rewrite federal leasing plans and open up areas of the Arctic and Atlantic to drilling. And if global oil prices remain low, that could deter investors from pursuing offshore drilling in the near term, despite the administration’s efforts to make more areas eligible for development. That said, the administration and supporters of the president’s approach have argued that future oil demand and prices remain uncertain and that the country ought to keep open the option to drill offshore. Last week, Vice President Pence described the executive order as “an important step toward American energy independence” that would generate additional U.S. jobs. Wednesday’s lawsuit marks the latest effort by activists to challenge the Trump administration’s energy and environmental policies in the courts. Groups such as Earthjustice and others, for example, have filed suits over Trump’s order to approve two pipeline projects and over an order aimed at opening tens of thousands of acres of public lands to coal leasing. They also have opposed other measures, such as efforts to roll back the Obama administration’s key regulation to cut carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants and a move to delay the implementation of tougher standards to limit smog that were finalized in 2015. Also Wednesday, the Sierra Club and other groups sued the head of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency over a recent decision to halt an Obama-era regulation aimed at limiting the dumping of toxic metals such as arsenic and mercury by the nation’s power plants into public waterways. Beginning in 2018, power plants would have had to begin showing that they were using the most up-to-date technology to remove heavy metals — including lead, arsenic, mercury and other pollutants — from their wastewater. But EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced last month that the agency would postpone compliance deadlines for the regulation while it reconsiders the rule, which is also being challenged in a federal court. “These standards would have tackled the biggest source of toxic water pollution in the country, and now the Trump EPA is trying to toss them out. It’s indefensible,” Pete Harrison, an attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance, said in a statement. “The EPA didn’t even pretend to seek public input before plowing ahead with this rollback that could allow millions of pounds of preventable toxic pollution to go into our water.”


At the US-Mexico border at the Coronado National Memorial/Roosevelt Easement. The wall and wide patrol road causehabitat fragmentation, threatening the well-being of many species. Credit: Matt Clark/Defenders of Wildlife With the prospect of a US-Mexico border wall looming, research and reporting on the ecological impacts of walls is both important and timely. Reporting in BioScience on such barriers' known effects on wildlife, science journalist Lesley Evans Ogden describes the potential effects of the proposed structure along the 2000-mile US-Mexico border. "If the wall is completed, it will create a considerable biodiversity conservation challenge—one unlikely to disappear anytime soon," she writes. The threats posed to local populations of species may be dire. Smaller aggregations of animals are often ephemeral and rely on individuals moving between populations to replenish their numbers and genetic stocks. "Local populations blink on and off like Christmas lights," says the University of Arizona's Aaron Flesch, who was interviewed for the article. The concern is that, if a border wall prevents migration, isolated local populations may fail to blink back on again. Research described in the article points to problems even in areas where actions have been taken to allow animal movement. "Even when there isn't a physical wall or much of a barrier, [border agents] are actively engaged in enforcing the law through patrols," explained David Christianson of University of Arizona. These patrols, which may disrupt movement or other animal behavior, often include off-road travel "right in the middle of this endangered species habitat," says Christianson. Preliminary radio-collar and camera-trap data indicate that some species, such as pronghorn antelope, do not frequently travel near the US-Mexico border. Perhaps most significant, some research described by Evans Ogden indicates that hardened border barriers may be ineffective in preventing passage by the species they are intended to impede—humans. Jamie McCallum, a consultant at Transfrontier International Limited, and his colleagues from the Zoological Society of London set camera traps in protected areas where 4- to 5-meter steel barriers are already in place. The traps were used to photographically "capture" the presence of mammals along the border. Animals such as coati and pumas were found in lower numbers near hardened borders, as was expected by the researchers. However, the photographic evidence showed no lower likelihood of finding smugglers or undocumented migrants near border walls. Although more work remains to be done, this could be a sign that walls do little to prevent human cross-border movement. Says McCallum, "I thought it would have at least some kind of trace of an effect, even if it wasn't a statistically significant finding. But it didn't appear to."


The White House wants to cut the Interior Department budget by about 12 percent as the Trump administration shifts the agency’s focus toward promoting fossil fuel drilling and extraction on public lands and in federal waters. The budget proposal released Tuesday would reduce Interior’s funding to $11.6 billion in fiscal 2018 — about $1.6 billion less annually — and eliminate programs that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has called unnecessary, duplicative or a low priority. Among them: discretionary grants to help reclaim abandoned mine sites, National Heritage areas that Trump administration officials say are more appropriately funded locally and National Wildlife Refuge payments to local governments. The budget also significantly decreases funding for new major acquisitions of federal land, cutting such appropriations by more than $120 million. The administration says it instead intends to focus on investing in and maintaining existing federal lands. In particular, Tuesday’s proposal would boost money to help address the roughly $11 billion maintenance backlog within the national park system. “It was not an easy job. There were difficult decisions that were made,” Zinke said in a call with reporters. “This budget overall speaks to the core mission of the Department of the Interior. It funds our highest priorities — safety, security, infrastructure.” [Trump, reversing Obama, will push to expand drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic] The budget proposal would pour more funding into the development of oil, gas and coal investments on public lands. Onshore fossil fuel programs would receive $189 million annually, an increase of $24 million; offshore programs would get $343 million, including a $10 million increase to update the nation’s five-year offshore drilling plan. The Bureau of Land Management would get a $16 million increase in its oil and gas management program to accelerate the rate at which its staff processes permit applications and addresses right-of-way requests for infrastructure projects. The budget also includes a proposal aimed at opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas leasing, though that would require approval by Congress. “We have not been a good partner with industry,” Zinke said of the push for expanded energy production on public lands, adding that federal revenue from offshore drilling leases is only a fraction of what it was a decade ago. “Energy production is vital to our national security and our national economy.” Last month, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at expanding offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans and assessing whether energy exploration can take place in marine sanctuaries in the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. That move made millions of acres of federal waters eligible for oil and gas leasing, just months after President Barack Obama withdrew them from possible development. At a signing ceremony, Trump emphasized that the United States has abundant offshore oil and gas reserves, “but the federal government has kept 94 percent of these offshore areas closed for exploration and production, and when they say closed, they mean closed.” Zinke has said it would probably take about two years to do a thorough review of what new areas could be put up for auction. The Interior Department employs 70,000 people at more than 2,000 locations and manages 530 million acres, or about 20 percent of U.S. territory. It controls even more resources underground, including about 700 million acres of minerals. After his confirmation in March, Zinke said in an address to staffers that he disagreed with the initial version of the White House’s budget proposal and vowed to push back against deep cuts. “I looked at the budget. I’m not happy, but we’re going to fight about it, and I think I’m going to win at the end of the day,” he said at the time. Environmentalists were quick to criticize the proposed cuts, saying the budget would prioritize fossil fuel development while hurting key science programs, hindering work to protect threatened and endangered species and crippling the National Wildlife Refuge System — the world’s largest land-and-water system dedicated to wildlife conservation. “The Trump budget includes devastating and unacceptable cuts to vital conservation programs,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, chief executive of the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife, who directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under Bill Clinton. “We owe it to our children and grandchildren to be good stewards of our environment and leave behind a legacy of protecting our air, land, water and wildlife. But this budget is a disaster that flies in the face of those values.” Interior officials are also taking aim at the wild horses and burros that range on federal lands, by seeking to eliminate language that restricts it from euthanizing the animals in order to reduce their numbers. The Bureau of Land Management estimates that as of March nearly 73,000 wild horses and burros roam federal land, “almost three times the number that is sustainable and healthy for the land and the animals.” BLM wants to use “the full range of tools” identified under a 1971 law, the agency said in a statement, “including humane euthanasia and unrestricted sale of certain excess animals.”


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.washingtonpost.com

On the eve of a Senate hearing Wednesday to consider “modernization of the Endangered Species Act,” an environmental conservation group sued the Trump administration for halting implementation of federal protections for the first bumblebee in history placed on the endangered list. The Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service it oversees for delaying protections for the rusty patch bumblebee from Feb. 10 until at least mid-March without allowing public comment or hearings. The bee’s status as an endangered species was finalized in early January under the Obama administration. [This bumblebee was everywhere. Now it’s the first bee ever on the endangered species list.] “The Trump administration broke the law by blocking the rusty patched bumblebee from the endangered species list,” the NRDC said in a statement announcing its suit filed at a federal court in New York. “The science is clear — this species is headed toward extinction, and soon. There is no legitimate reason to delay federal protections for this bee. Freezing protections for the rusty patched bumblebee without public notice and comment flies in the face of the democratic process.” The striped black and yellow pollinator with a long black tail “once flourished in 28 states and two Canadian provinces,” the NRDC said. “But the bee’s population and range have declined by approximately 90 percent in the last 20 years.” Officials at the Interior Department declined to comment on the lawsuit, but a department spokeswoman, Heather Swift, said the agency “is working to review this regulation as expeditiously as possible and expects to issue further guidance on the effective date … shortly.” Last week the agency announced that it published a notice of the delay in the Federal Register, overstepping procedures that involve notices of public hearings, the hearings themselves and comment from the public that can take up to a year. Wildlife conservation groups described the delay and the upcoming Senate hearing led by Republicans as attacks on the 43-year-old Endangered Species Act. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee did not define what “modernization” meant, leaving one conservationist to offer her own definition. “Modernization of the Endangered Species Act is code for gut and weaken,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and chief executive of Defenders of Wildlife. “The Endangered Species Act works. It has stopped extinction of 99 percent of listed species.” Clark is one of two leaders of conservation groups scheduled to testify at the hearing. The other is the recently departed Fish and Wildlife director under Obama, Dan Ashe, who is now president and chief executive of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Others scheduled to testify include David Freudenthal, the former governor of Wyoming, a state that successfully fought a proposed federal threatened or endangered listing for the greater sage grouse. That chicken-like bird’s population plummeted as the western sage brush was developed, grazed by hundreds of thousands of cattle and opened to mineral mining and natural-gas drilling that drove the birds from their habitat. Gordon S. Myers, executive director and president of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, is also scheduled to testify. The commission resisted a federal Fish and Wildlife program to restore critically endangered red wolves by establishing a population in North Carolina. It issued a resolution calling on the agency to remove them from private lands in the red wolf recovery area near the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. [The government was letting residents kill nearly extinct wolves. A court put a stop to it.] Last September, a federal district court in North Carolina issued a preliminary injunction barring the Fish and Wildlife Service from capturing and removing red wolves in the state or issuing permits that allowed private landowners to kill the animals when they stray onto their property. Following a lawsuit filed by several nonprofit environmental groups, Judge Terrence W. Boyle of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina ruled that Fish and Wildlife was “enjoined from taking red wolves, either directly or by landowner authorization without first demonstrating that such red wolves are a threat to human safety or the safety of livestock or pets.” Any other decision would ignore that Congress had mandated the program to prevent the extinction of red wolves, the judge said. Scientists say the government’s new plan to save red wolves is backward The world just agreed to the strongest protections ever for endangered species The horn and ivory trade is obliterating elephants and rhinos


News Article | February 17, 2017
Site: motherboard.vice.com

Former attorney general and fossil fuel pal Scott Pruitt was confirmed to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today, with a vote of 52-46. Two Democrats, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, both from oil producing states, crossed party lines in support of Pruitt. After a month of complying with a White House "gag order", the agency's first public communication in almost a month was a congratulatory message to Pruitt. Many EPA employees are decidedly not looking forward to welcoming him to the agency. Groups of EPA staff members, both current and retired, have vocally opposed Pruitt's confirmation on the basis that he is unfit to serve America's environmental and public health interests. For most people working in the science community, there's no overstating the egregious conflicts of interest his nomination flags. Pruitt sued the EPA 13 times as Oklahoma's attorney general. He was called "a key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama's climate change policies," and let fossil fuel companies draft letters he had sent to former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. "Scott Pruitt is anti-environment, anti-science and anti-regulation. His ascension to lead the Environmental Protection Agency flies clearly in the face of our government's responsibility to protect our air, water and wildlife. It is a strange time indeed when someone with such disdain for the mission of the EPA now heads this critically important agency," Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. The agency has been among President Trump's biggest targets for upheaval. Both Trump and Pruitt oppose the EPA's position on climate change science (basically, that climate change exists and is manmade), and seek to limit its powers. Trump is expected to sign multiple Executive Orders this week at Pruitt's signing-in ceremony. It's unclear what those rules will be, but federal policies like the Clean Water Act and Clean Power Plan, which would limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, are certainly on the chopping block. We can only wait and see how the EPA will respond to that.


News Article | February 25, 2017
Site: hosted2.ap.org

Thorny skate will not be added to endangered species list (AP) — The thorny skate's population may have declined, but not by enough to justify listing it under the Endangered Species Act, the federal government has ruled. Environmental groups had argued that the bottom-dwelling fish's population loss in the northwest Atlantic Ocean was considerable enough to afford it protections set aside for endangered animals. But the National Marine Fisheries Service disagrees. Documents published in the Federal Register on Friday state that the fisheries service has concluded the thorny skate is "not currently in danger of extinction" in all or a significant piece of its range. The service said the fish is also not likely to become in danger of extinction soon. The agency agreed with the petitioners that surveys of the skate have declined over time. Recent catch surveys show less than 5 percent of the peak they reached in the 1970s, the report stated. However, the skates "remain numerous throughout the greater portion of their range, numbering in the hundreds of millions," the report stated. The thorny skate ranges from Greenland to South Carolina. Animal Welfare Institute and Defenders of Wildlife called on the federal government to offer the fish Endangered Species Act listing, which could've led to habitat protection or new fishing restrictions. The skates live in the Gulf of Maine, a key commercial fishing area, and the call to protect them generated some resistance from fishing groups. Tara Zuardo, an attorney for Animal Welfare Institute, said Saturday that the group is disappointed by the government's ruling, and disagrees that the skate is not being subjected to overfishing. "Climate change and other factors continue to impact this species," Zuardo said. Fishermen have been prohibited from harvesting the thorny skate commercially since 2003. The fish are sometimes taken as bycatch in other fisheries, including by vessels that seek cod and some that seek other skates. Skates have commercial value as bait as well as food, with the meat frequently appearing as "skate wing" on menus. It tends to be a little less expensive to consumers than other kinds of fish.

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