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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 | March 17, 2016

You may see a resemblance between these Louisiana black bear cubs and your favorite cuddly teddy bear. More The real-life inspiration for everyone's favorite plush toy has just gotten a new lease on life. For more than two decades, the Louisiana black bear — the iconic beast that inspired the "teddy bear" — has been considered a threatened species. But the adorable fuzzy bear will soon be removed from the Endangered Species List, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced on Thursday (March 10). "This is a terrific comeback story," Louisiana Rep. Ralph Abraham said at a news conference about the announcement. "I'm excited that our beloved teddy bear will be here for the next generation of Louisianans to enjoy. [Grizzlies to Polar Bears: See Images of Giant Furballs] The Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus lutelous) first entered the national consciousness in 1902. During a bear-hunting trip to Mississippi, President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt refused to shoot an old bear his aides had trapped and tied to a tree, calling the whole affair "unsportsmanlike." The story spread in U.S. newspapers, leading to an editorial cartoon published by The Washington Post. A New York City candy-store owner saw the cartoon and put two stuffed bears — which he called "Teddy's" bears — in his shop window, according to the Theodore Roosevelt Association. The plush toys became so popular that the shop owner began mass producing them. Since inspiring one of the world's most beloved toys, however, the species had fallen on hard times.  Louisiana black bears once roamed  the seasonally flooded forests of Louisiana, southern Mississippi and eastern Texas. By 1980, however, people had destroyed or modified much of this habitat, leading the bear to be listed as threatened in 1992, when as few as 150 bears were living in the wild. To help the iconic species recover, a host of governmental and nongovernmental organizations, along with private landowners, worked to restore 750,000 acres (3,035 square kilometers) of the bald cypress, oak and gum forests where the bears live. Because a majority of the Louisiana black bear's habitat falls on private lands, Louisiana farmers were offered financial incentives to restore difficult-to-farm patches of land into native hardwood forests. Now, between 500 and 750 Louisiana black bears roam the U.S., the FWS estimates. The FWS also released a monitoring plan to make sure the bear population can be sustained. "President Theodore Roosevelt would have really enjoyed why we are gathered here today," U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said during the news conference. "Working together across private and public lands with so many partners embodies the conservation ethic he stood for when he established the National Wildlife Refuge System as part of the solution to address troubling trends for the nation’s wildlife." Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards called the bear an "iconic symbol of our nation and Louisiana," where it is the state mammal. The bear was protected under the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA). More than 2,000 species worldwide are listed under the act as endangered or threatened, nearly 1,500 of which are native to the U.S. Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Landres P.,Rocky Research | Barns C.,Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center | Boutcher S.,U.S. Department of Agriculture | Devine T.,Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center | And 5 more authors.
USDA Forest Service - General Technical Report RMRS-GTR | Year: 2015

Keeping It Wild 2 is an interagency strategy to monitor trends in selected attributes of wilderness character based on lessons learned from 15 years of developing and implementing wilderness character monitoring across the National Wilderness Preservation System. This document updates and replaces Keeping It Wild: An Interagency Strategy for Monitoring Wilderness Character Across the National Wilderness Preservation System (Landres and others 2008), and provides a foundation for agencies to develop a nationally consistent approach to implement this monitoring. This monitoring strategy addresses two questions: How do stewardship activities affect attributes of wilderness character? How are attributes selected as integral to wilderness character changing over time within a wilderness, within an agency, and across the National Wilderness Preservation System? The primary audiences for the information from this monitoring are agency staff who manage wilderness day-to-day, and regional and national staff who develop wilderness policy and assess its effectiveness. The results of this monitoring will provide these staff some of the key data they need to improve wilderness stewardship and wilderness policy. Keeping It Wild 2 is designed to be nationally consistent across the four wilderness managing agencies and locally relevant, to be cost-effective, and to facilitate communication across the many resource programs that are responsible for preserving wilderness character. Implementing this monitoring strategy does not guarantee the preservation of wilderness character, but it informs and improves wilderness stewardship, and ensures managers are accountable to the central mandate of the 1964 Wilderness Act—to preserve wilderness character. © 2015, USDA Forest Service. All rights reserved.

Kasischke E.S.,University of Maryland University College | Verbyla D.L.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | Rupp T.S.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | McGuire A.D.,U.S. Geological Survey | And 7 more authors.
Canadian Journal of Forest Research | Year: 2010

A synthesis was carried out to examine Alaska's boreal forest fire regime. During the 2000s, an average of 767000 ha year-1 burned, 50% higher than in any previous decade since the 1940s. Over the past 60 years, there was a decrease in the number of lightning-ignited fires, an increase in extreme lightning-ignited fire events, an increase in human ignited fires, and a decrease in the number of extreme human-ignited fire events. The fraction of area burned from human ignited fires fell from 26% for the 1950s and 1960s to 5% for the 1990s and 2000s, a result from the change in fire policy that gave the highest suppression priorities to fire events that occurred near human settlements. The amount of area burned during late-season fires increased over the past two decades. Deeper burning of surface organic layers in black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) BSP) forests occurred during late-growing-season fires and on more well-drained sites. These trends all point to black spruce forests becoming increasingly vulnerable to the combined changes of key characteristics of Alaska's fire regime, except on poorly drained sites, which are resistant to deep burning. The implications of these fire regime changes to the vulnerability and resilience of Alaska's boreal forests and land and fire management are discussed.

Reynolds J.H.,National Wildlife Refuge System | Renner H.M.,Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
Condor | Year: 2014

Crevice-nesting seabirds are notoriously difficult to monitor. We present a survey design and analysis that estimates both colony area and geographic extent, using indirect evidence to determine whether a cell is "occupied." The approach is to define a grid of cells across potential habitat and randomly sample small plots within each cell, surveying for signs of occupancy. Visiting ≥1 plot cell-1 provides a basis for mapping geographic extent. Occupancy models are used to estimate colony area, probability of detection for an occupied cell, and standard errors for all estimated parameters (allowing for statistical comparisons across surveys or colonies). We estimated the area of a colony of Least Auklets (Aethia pusilla) and Crested Auklets (A cristatella) on Segula Island, Aleutian Archipelago, Alaska, in 2006, and use this as an example of how to adapt the survey design to the logistical constraints common in seabird colony surveys. Surveying only a handful of sample plots of ∼16 m2 in each ∼2,500-m2 cell in the grid was adequate to estimate the detection bias from spatial subsampling, correcting a >50% underestimate of colony area due to plots without evidence having been interpreted as unoccupied cells. © 2014 Cooper Ornithological Society.

News Article | March 11, 2016

The U.S. government announced that the Louisiana black bear, the furry beast that inspired the creation of teddy bears, has recovered enough to pull it off the list of federally protected species. The number of Louisiana black bears (Ursus americanus luteolus) has rebounded after 24 years of conservation efforts. It was listed as endangered in 1992, when only about 150 bears existed in its habitat. At present, about 500 to 750 bears live in the forests of Louisiana and Mississippi, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. These bears faced tremendous decline in population due to overexploitation and rapid habitat fragmentation. Most of the black bears live on lands owned by private individuals. With the help of Louisiana farmers, the country's Interior and Agriculture departments helped reinstate more than 485,000 acres of forests in areas which are considered priority for conservation. "Farmers played a pivotal role in helping the Louisiana black bear recover, using easements and other Farm Bill conservation programs to sew together primary habitat corridors," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "By working together, we're able to achieve more conservation, direct resources where biological returns are highest and achieve a larger habitat footprint spanning public and private lands," he added. During the time the black bears were listed, there were only three established breeding populations limited to Lower, Upper Atchafalaya river basins and Tensas in Louisiana. The population of these groups stabilized and more breeding populations formed in Mississippi and Louisiana. "Since listed as a federally threatened subspecies, considerable work towards restoring the Louisiana black bear has occurred, and multiple state and federal agencies, research universities, and nongovernment organizations have played integral roles for bear recovery over the previous two decades," posted the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in Louisiana. The famous black bear was introduced to the American culture in 1902 when President Theodore Roosevelt declined to shoot and kill a bear that was captured by hunters. The Washington Post featured the incident and as a result, an owner of a candy store based in Brooklyn created the now famous "Teddy" bear. "Working together across private and public lands with so many partners embodies the conservation ethic he stood for when he established the National Wildlife Refuge System as part of the solution to address troubling trends for the nation's wildlife," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. She added that the Louisiana black bear is another success story for the country and government agencies.

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