Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Montana wolf death toll: 225

The rate at which gray wolves are dying in Montana took a big jump during the state's second hunting season since a rider to federal budget law cost the species Endangered Species Act protection.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced Monday that 225 gray wolves were killed in the state during the recently-closed hunting season, a 36 percent increase over the 2011-2012 seasonal total.

"We're generally pleased with these results," Jeff Hagener, MFWP's director, said in a statement. "The overall harvest of 225 wolves this season is higher than last year and reflects the more liberal harvest opportunities that were added for 2012. The effectiveness of hunters and now trappers together continues to grow."

Hunters accounted for 128 deaths, the agency said, while trappers killed 97 more.

The toll does not indicate a high likelihood of success for individual hunters. According to data released by MFWP, 18,642 permits to hunt wolves were issued during the 2012-2013 hunting season.

Next year's total might be even higher. The Montana legislature recently enacted, and the state's governor signed into law, a bill that increases the number of wolf hunting licenses that any individual can hold and lowers the price of an out-of-state resident's license to shoot a wolf from $350 to $50.

That said, the number of living wolves within the state likely exceeds this year's death toll. At the end of 2011 there were more than 600 wolves in the state, according to MFWP.

Colorado city becomes second in state to ban fracking

The Colorado city of Fort Collins has become the second municipality in the Centennial State to ban hydraulic fracturing.

The community's governing council gave final approval Tuesday evening to an ordinance that also forecloses any oil and gas exploration within the city limits.

Colorado's Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, has publicly threatened to sue any city or town in the state that bans fracking.

Fort Collins officials were not swayed by the threat.

Denver 9News quoted criticism of Hickenlooper by the city's mayor pro tempore, Kelly Ohlson.

"He seems at times to be more concerned about the gas industry, rather than the health and safety of the citizens he represents," Ohlson said. 

Loveland, a community in Boulder county, has also prohibited fracking.


California legislator proposes bill to ban bobcat trapping

California legislators are considering a proposal to prohibit the commercial trapping of bobcats.

The bill was introduced by a Los Angeles-area state assemblyman in response to protests against traps set near Joshua Tree National Park.

The Los Angeles Times has the story.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Obama nominates secretary of energy, EPA administrator today

President Obama has nominated a Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist and a long-time pollution regulator to lead the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency.

Ernest J. Moniz, who was an undersecretary at the energy department during the Clinton administration, got the nod to lead the administration's efforts to encourage renewable energy infrastructure development, while Gina McCarthy, the current EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation, was asked to take the lead on air and water pollution regulation.

The EPA appointment is the one that is more likely to provoke Republican opposition in the U.S. Senate. McCarthy would be tasked with implementing the administration's climate change regulatory agenda. Among other priorities is likely to be an effort to impose carbon dioxide emission limits on existing power plants, a fix to the cross-state air pollution rule recently rejected by a federal court, and development of ozone national ambient air quality standards.

Moniz is seen as being at least somewhat friendly to natural gas extraction while also being an advocate for the administration's efforts to encourage more renewable energy production.

If confirmed, Moniz would replace Steven Chu at the Department of Energy, while McCarthy would, if confirmed by the Senate, replace Lisa P. Jackson.

Juliet Eilperin's article in Monday's Washington Post includes a profile of McCarthy.

NYT: Russia, US cooperating on polar bear CITES protection effort

A report in today's New York Times indicates that Russia and the United States are cooperating in an attempt to convince fellow signatories of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora to ban international commerce in polar bear body parts.

The two nations will attempt to convince Canada, Denmark, or Norway to go along with the idea at this week's CITES conference in Bangkok, Thailand.

Those five nations are the most important participants in the debate over how to handle trade in polar bear skin and fur because polar bears have habitat within their borders.

A previous effort to afford polar bears the protection sought by the U.S. and Russia failed in at  a prior CITES meeting in 2010.

DC Circuit upholds polar bear listing under ESA

A federal appeals court ruled last week that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service properly listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The court rejected a challenge by the state of Alaska and extractive industry interests to a 2008 decision by the George W. Bush administration.

Environmental conservation advocates welcomed the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

"Climate change, habitat degradation and pollution already have polar bears on thin ice. Trophy hunting only exacerbates an already dire situation," Jeff Flocken, a spokesperson for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said in a statement. "Today’s decision to keep the status of the polar bear as threatened is an important step in the fight to safeguard the species against trophy hunting." 

Federal administrative law gives judges little room to second-guess scientific determinations by agencies.

The scientific basis for listing the polar bear as a threatened species is that the species requires Arctic Ocean sea ice for habitat, that the quantity of that ice during the summer months is being reduced as the planet's atmosphere and oceans warm, and that the loss of seasonal sea ice could result a risk that the polar bear will go extinct.

The litigants did not argue that these scientific predicates for the listing decision are incorrect. Instead, the legal arguments essentially amounted to claims that FWS did not correctly conclude that the undisputed scientific facts should lead to a listing decision, or a listing of all polar bear populations; that FWS did not give enough weight to other programs to conserve the species; and that, in any case, the agency did not provide a sufficient explanation for its actions.

The polar bear was added to the federal list of threatened and endangered species after more than three years of evaluation prompted by a Feb. 2005 listing petition.

The District of Columbia Circuit's resolution of the legal fight over whether the polar bear was properly listed as a threatened species does not end all ESA litigation relating to the species. A federal district court recently held that FWS erred in its designation of critical habitat for the polar bear.