Eye on Washington - Oct/Nov 2014

October, 2014

While Congress is in summer recess, the spotlight has been on the actions of federal agencies. It is a mixed bag.  Of course, we applaud the decision by regional Bureau of Reclamation on this decision to release more water into our rivers to save fish; but we ponder why they chose to charge this against next year’s water supply rather than reducing water flow to the Central Valley. Some early predictions reveal the possibility that the drought could continue. Only time will tell.

 

Insecticides

While Congress seems to be able to accomplish very little through legislation, federal Agencies are making some decisions of importance.

On July 17, the USFWS released a memorandum stating the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will phase out the use of genetically engineered (GE) crops to feed wildlife and a ban on neonicotinoid insecticides from all wildlife refuges nationwide by January 2016.

Neonicotinoid pesticides have been linked to honey-bee collapse and bird declines.  This new ban will affect 150 million acres of public lands administered by the USFWS. We applaud the USFWS for their enlightened decision.

 

Endangered Species

As we mark the 100th anniversary of the death of the last passenger pigeon, Martha, which sent this once abundant American wild bird into extinction, we look at current decisions by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) who has the job of making determinations to add or not add animals that are imperiled. 

As we celebrate the recent, albeit temporary, return of the gray wolf to California and commend the CA Fish & Wildlife on their recent listing of the species, many conservationists are perplexed by the potential removal of the gray wolf in the lower 48 states.  While working on the proposal, the USFWS commissioned a report by National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at UC Santa Barbara. The scientists on the panel were asked to answer 4 questions related to the science used by the Service to make its determination. The report indicated, among other things, that the proposed rule did not “utilize the best available scientific information”, and did not “draw reasonable and scientific sound conclusions concerning the status of wolves.” 

Along similar lines, the Service made a decision not to list the wolverine—against the advice of their own USFWS scientists. 

On July 31, a group of more than 50 scientists sent a letter to Sec. Sally Jewell and USFWS regional director Dan Ashe (who pulled the proposed listing) when they found that in spite of multiple peer reviewed studies and recommendations from USFWS scientists, the proposed listing was pulled by Ashe based “uncertain” science showing a relationship between predicted effects of climate change—specifically decreased snowfall—and wolverine survival.

The scientists wrote: “The (USFWS) regional director’s decision to overturn a scientifically well-vetted and well-supported listing determination sets a bad precedent by allowing an administrator to overrule the expert judgment of the Service’s scientists as well as independent peer reviewers. Using ‘uncertainty’ as an excuse to dismiss the best available science sets an equally dangerous precedent given that so many rare and imperiled species are very difficult to study and assess.” 

As a result, the estimated 300 remaining wolverines in the lower 48 face near extinction as a result of habitat fragmentation and severe threats from global warming, A recent study projected that climate change could reduce wolverine habitat by 63 percent over the next 75 years. Most wildlife biologists consider the genetically unique CA population of wolverines to be extinct (recent photos of a wolverine in Tahoe National forest have been determined to be a single male, inexplicably from the Rocky Mtn. population).