Tag Archives: department of interior

Republicans join Democrats against Trump’s Great Lakes cuts

It  sounds like an idea that would warm a conservative Republican’s heart: Kill funding of a regional environmental cleanup of the Great Lakes that has lasted seven years and cost the federal government more than $2 billion, with no end in sight. If states want to keep the program going, let them pick up the tab.

That is what President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget plan proposes for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, an ambitious push to fix problems that have long bedeviled the world’s largest surface freshwater system — from invasive species to algal blooms and toxic sludge fouling tributary rivers.

During the Obama administration, the program generally got about $300 million a year. Trump’s offer is zero. His spending plan says it “returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to state and local entities, allowing EPA to focus on its highest national priorities.”

The response from Republicans in Great Lakes states: No, thanks.

“I think it makes sense for us to continue to make prudent investments in protecting and improving the Great Lakes,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told The Associated Press, adding that he would lobby the Trump administration and congressional leaders to put the money back.

Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan considers Great Lakes funding “very important to Michiganders, therefore we know there is strong support among Michigan’s congressional delegation and we will work with them to preserve the funding,” spokeswoman Anna Heaton said.

GOP lawmakers from the region also rushed out statements defending the program. It “helps protect both our environment and our economy,” U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said.

The reaction illustrates a political fact of life: Whether you consider something in the budget valuable or wasteful can depend a lot on where you’re from.

And it underscores the resistance Trump may encounter to some spending cuts he is proposing for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior and other agencies that draw frequent attacks from congressional Republicans yet fund projects and services with support back home.

The president’s spending blueprint also targets a Chesapeake Bay cleanup begun in 1983 that received $73 million last year, plus other “geographic programs.” It doesn’t identify them, but a proposal by the Office of Management and Budget this month called for cutting all or most funding for San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound and the Gulf of Mexico.

Asked for more details, EPA released a statement saying the plan “reflects the president’s priorities” and that Administrator Scott Pruitt “is committed to leading the EPA in a more effective, more focused, less costly way as we partner with states to fulfill the agency’s core mission.”

The Great Lakes region includes swing states crucial to Trump’s election — Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. There’s also New York, Minnesota and Illinois. And Indiana, whose former governor, Mike Pence, is now Trump’s vice president.

Coincidentally, the budget plan was released as about 100 Great Lakes advocates paid a yearly visit to Washington, D.C., in support of the restoration initiative. They flocked to the offices of home-state lawmakers, reminding them that Congress voted only last year to extend the program another five years.

“We are going to turn once again to our bipartisan congressional champions,” said Todd Ambs, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.

While Democratic lawmakers excoriated Trump’s proposal _ “incredibly short-sighted and reckless,” said Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan _ Republicans noted that former President Barack Obama at times recommended more modest reductions to the initiative, which Congress rejected.

Some also pointed out that former President George W. Bush signed initial legislation authorizing a wide-ranging Great Lakes cleanup, although he sought little money for it.

The initiative has funded nearly 3,000 projects across the eight states. Among them: efforts to prevent Asian carp from invading the lakes, prevent nutrient runoff that feeds harmful algal blooms, rebuild wetlands where fish spawn and remove sediments laced with PCBs and other toxins.

Nearly all the federal grants require cost-share payments from a state, local or tribal agency, or perhaps a nonprofit organization. But Ambs said they can’t afford to shoulder the burden alone.

Without federal support, “all of this restoration work would come to a halt,” he said.

 

32,000 oil, gas leases retired in sacred Badger-Two Medicine wilderness area

The U.S. Department of the Interior and Devon Energy on Nov. 16 announced retirement of more than 32,000 acres of oil and gas leases from the Badger-Two Medicine roadless area.

The move comes on the heels of a lease cancellation by the Department of the Interior and echoes the call by many that the Badger-Two Medicine region — a vital wildland link connecting the Bob Marshall Wilderness with Glacier National Park and an indispensable stronghold of Blackfeet culture — should not be industrialized by roads, bridges and drill rigs.

At a ceremony, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said, “The cancellation of leases that were set many years ago in an area that should never have had leases to begin with. This is the right action to take on behalf of current and future generations.”

“One of the core values that we have is to be a good neighbor. We certainly think this is a great opportunity to demonstrate the fact that we can be a good neighbor in this situation,” added Devon Energy president and CEO Dave Hager.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.,  also spoke at the ceremony. “There are special places in this world where we just shouldn’t drill, and the Badger-Two Medicine is one of those places. This region carries great cultural and historical significance to the Blackfeet Tribe and today’s announcement will ensure that the Badger-Two Medicine will remain pristine for both the Tribe and the folks who love to hunt, hike, and fish near Glacier Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.”

Conservation groups cheered the announcement.

“It’s incredibly satisfying, after all these decades of conflict and controversy, to see the players negotiating in good faith to find a solution,” said Kendall Flint, president of the local conservation group, Glacier — Two Medicine Alliance. The alliance has long sought retirement of the leases, which were sold for just $1 per acre more than 30 years ago.

The 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine is part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest and is bordered by Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

The Department of the Interior under Secretary James Watt, appointed by Ronald Reagan, granted the leases in the early 1980s, sparking immediate and prolonged opposition from local residents, conservationists and the Blackfeet Nation.

Other companies also have voluntarily retired more than 110,000 acres of Badger-Two Medicine leases.

Two smaller leases remain, according to the Interior Department. Efforts continue to negotiate their retirement.

Efforts to protect the Badger-Two Medicine wildland also have involved the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, National Congress of American Indians, Glacier County Commissioners, retired Glacier National Park superintendents, retired U.S. Forest Service and BLM leadership, hunting and angling groups, local ranchers and residents, and even the rock band Pearl Jam.

“This is a landmark moment in the decades-long battle to protect the Badger-Two Medicine region, and future generations will be even more thankful for it than we are today,” said Tim Preso of Earthjustice.  “But the fight is not over.  We will continue to advocate for this wild, sacred landscape until the last threat to its integrity is removed.”

The 1980s-era leases have long stood in stark contrast to a legacy of conservation throughout Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front region. Beginning with the establishment of Glacier National Park in 1910 and bolstered by creation of the Sun River Game Preserve in 1913, conservation measures have since included: the creation of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (1932); Sun River Wildlife Management Area (1948); Bob Marshall Wilderness Area (1964); Scapegoat Wilderness Area (1972); Great Bear Wilderness Area (1978); and passage of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act (2014).

Within the boundaries of the Badger-Two Medicine roadless area, recent conservation measures include a 2006 congressional ban on any future federal oil/gas leasing and a 2011 prohibition on motorized travel. The entire Badger-Two Medicine region has been designated a “Traditional Cultural District” under the National Historic Preservation Act, in recognition of its importance to Blackfeet tradition and culture.

9 species climate change is impacting

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. We are already seeing its effects with rising seas, catastrophic wildfires and water shortages. These changes are not only having a dramatic impact on diverse ecosystems but also on the wildlife that call these places home. Here are nine species that are already being affected by climate change.

If we don’t act on climate now, this list is just the tip of the iceberg of what we can expect in years to come. Future generations shouldn’t just see these animals in history books — we owe it to them to protect these creatures and their habitats.

1. Moose

Rising temperatures and booming parasite populations are expected to cause this cold-weather species that calls the northern United States and Canada home to move farther north. That’s because milder winters and less snow can lead to higher numbers of winter ticks. Tens of thousands of these parasites can gather on a single moose to feed on its blood — weakening the animal’s immune system and often ending in death, especially the calves. Photo by National Park Service.

 

2. Salmon

Salmon require cold, fast-flowing streams and rivers to spawn. Changing stream flows and warming waters in the Pacific Northwest are already impacting some salmon species and populations. Higher temperatures have also led a harmful salmon parasite to invade Alaska’s Yukon River. So while salmon might currently be on the menu, climate change is expected to impact major commercial and recreational fishing industries in the coming years. Photo by Bureau of Land Management.

fish in water

 

3. Snowshoe Hares

To help hide from predators, this North American rabbit has evolved to turn white in winter to blend in with the snow. With climate change, snow in some areas is melting earlier than the hares have grown accustomed to, leaving stark white hares exposed in snow-less landscapes. This increased vulnerability might cause declines in hare populations that could lead to implications for other species. Snowshoe hares are critical players in forest ecosystems. Photo by National Park Service.

snowshoe hare

 

4. American Pikas

About the size and shape of a hamster, the American pika typically lives at high elevations where cool, moist conditions prevail. Research by U.S. Geological Survey has found that pika populations are now disappearing from numerous areas that span from the Sierra Nevadas to the Rocky Mountains. Populations within some areas are migrating to higher elevations likely to avoid reduced snowpacks and warmer summer temperatures. Unfortunately, pikas are strongly tied to rocky-talus habitat that is limited and patchily distributed. This gives them few options as temperatures continue to rise. Photo by Jon LeVasseur (www.sharetheexperience.org).

pika with leaves in mouth

 

5. Sea Turtles

Various populations of sea turtle species and their nesting sites are vulnerable to sea-level rise, increased storminess and changing temperatures — all impacts of climate change. These factors may result in current nesting and foraging sites becoming unsuitable for federally threatened and endangered turtle species — especially loggerhead sea turtles. Photo by USGS.

turtles on a beach

 

6. Puffins

These colorful-billed birds that look like miniature penguins are experiencing population declines in the United States and elsewhere. In the Gulf of Maine, puffins are having difficulty finding their major food sources of white hake and herring. As the sea warms, the fish are moving into deeper waters or further north, making it harder for puffins to catch a meal and feed their young. Adult puffins are compensating by feeding their young butterfish, but young puffins are unable to swallow these large fish and many are dying of starvation. Delayed breeding seasons, low birth rates and chick survival are all affecting the reproductive ability of these birds. Photo by USFWS.

puffins

 

7. Alaskan Caribou

Caribou are always on the move — it’s not uncommon for them to travel long distances in search of adequate food. But as temperatures increase and wildfires burn hotter and longer in Alaska, it could considerably change the caribou’s habitat and winter food sources. Ultimately, this will affect subsistence hunters who rely on caribou for nutritional, cultural and economic reasons. Photo courtesy of Jacob W. Frank.

caribou

 

8. Piping Plovers

The piping plover is an iconic shorebird that breeds and nests along the Atlantic Coast, the Great Lakes and the Great Plains. Increased human use of their beach habitats, including intense coastal development, as well as rising sea levels and storm surges associated with climate change threaten the species. Photo by USFWS.

birds on a beach

 

9. Polar Bears

Polar bears in many ways have become the symbol of climate change. In 2008, they were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act — the first species to be listed because of forecasted population declines from the effects of climate change. The primary cause of their decline: loss of sea ice habitat attributed to Arctic warming. Polar bears need sea ice to hunt seals — a main source of food — as well as to move across the large home ranges they need for foraging habitat. Polar bears aren’t alone in feeling the effects of shrinking sea ice. Walruses and other Arctic species are facing similar challenges as summer sea ice continues to retreat. Photo by National Park Service.

polar bear jumping in water

Have questions about what climate change is doing to wildlife? Join the Department of Interior for a Twitter chat on Nov. 18 at 1 pm ET. Submit your questions on Twitter or Facebook using #askInterior.

Courtesy the U.S. Department of Interior

Bird conservancy sues feds over eagle kill rule

American Bird Conservancy has filed suit in federal court against the U.S. Department of the Interior, alleging multiple violations of federal law in connection with the agency’s regulation that allows wind energy companies and others to obtain 30-year permits to kill eagles without risking prosecution.

In April, the environmental group notified DOI and its U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of its intent to sue, citing violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and other statutes in connection with the new eagle kill rule.

“Eagles are among our nation’s most iconic and cherished birds. They do not have to be sacrificed for the next 30 years for the sake of unconstrained wind energy,” said Michael Hutchins, national coordinator of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Program. “Giving wind companies a 30-year pass to kill bald and golden eagles without knowing how it might affect their populations is a reckless and irresponsible gamble that millions of Americans are unwilling to take.”

The previous rule, adopted in 2009, provided for a maximum duration of five years for each permit to kill eagles. According to a statement issued at that time by FWS in the Federal Register, a permit of any longer duration “would be incompatible with the preservation of the bald or golden eagle.”

But four years later, DOI has increased by six-fold the time during which eagles could be killed.

ABC believes wind energy and other renewable energy sources can be encouraged without putting eagles at risk.

Hutchins said, “In the government’s rush to expand wind energy, shortcuts were taken in implementing this rule that should not have been allowed. We understand that some bird mortality is inevitable. However, in this case, long-term, cumulative impacts to eagle populations were not properly assessed, and the 30-year take permit rule was adopted in the absence of the required NEPA analysis concerning impacts on eagle populations or any other species that share the eagles’ range.”

“The recovery of bald eagle populations is an FWS success story — an example of how a species’ population, with enough time and resources, can be brought around,” added Hutchins. “Americans take pride in the fact that bald eagles are once again a common sight in many places across the country. Their popularity and symbolic importance suggests that the American people are not going to tolerate the deaths of many to wind turbines.”

In 2009, 22,000 wind turbines were in operation in the United States, representing 25 gigawatts of installed capacity — a small fraction of the 300GW of production capacity needed to meet the 2030 federal goal of generating 20 percent of U.S. electricity from renewable energy.

By 2030, wind energy project growth is expected to impact almost 20,000 square miles of terrestrial habitat  — an area larger than the combined areas of New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island — and more than 4,000 square miles of marine habitat, some of this critical to threatened and other protected species.