Feds to Update Endangered Species Act

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Here is an interesting post from Bob Berwyn’s blog. Thanks, Bob,  for finding this! I tried to simply “repost” it to this blog but had technical difficulties..

Below is an excerpt:

Details

The changes would provide greater clarity to the public and states on what information would best inform the evaluation of a species’ status and result in better coordination with state wildlife agencies, which often have unique information and insights on imperiled species.

As part of the Administration’s ongoing efforts, the Services will also be unveiling additional proposals over the coming year to achieve four broad goals:

Improving science and increasing transparency. To improve public understanding of and engagement in ESA listing processes, the Services will:
Strengthen procedures to ensure that all information that can be publicly disclosed related to proposed listing and critical habitat rule notices will be posted online; and

  • Adopt more rigorous procedures to ensure consistent, transparent, and objective peer-review of proposed decisions.
  • Incentivizing voluntary conservation efforts. Voluntary conservation programs, such as Safe Harbor agreements and Candidate Conservation Agreements, can improve conditions for listed and at-risk species, and conservation banking can make listed species and their habitats assets for landowners.

The Services will:

  • Update guidance on the use of these proactive tools to establish consistent standards; and
  • Adopt a policy promoting the expanded use of conservation banking and other advance mitigation tools.

Focusing resources to achieve more successes. The Services will work to focus limited resources on activities that will be most impactful. These actions include:

  • NOAA’s launch of a new initiative to focus resources on eight of the nation’s most vulnerable marine species with the goal of reducing, stabilizing, or reversing their rate of decline by 2020;
  • Proposed revisions to interagency consultation procedures to streamline the process for projects, such as habitat restoration activities, that result in a net conservation benefit for the species;
  • Updates to the Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook to make developing and permitting plans more efficient and timely.
  • Engaging the States. State fish and wildlife agencies, by virtue of their responsibilities and expertise, are essential partners in efforts to conserve threatened and endangered species. The Services will:
    Implement the aforementioned revised petition regulations to give states an opportunity to provide input prior to submission; and
  • Update policy regarding the role of state agencies to reflect advancements in collaboration between the Services and the States.

For more information on the proposed ESA petition regulations, go to http://www.fws.gov/home/feature/2015/proposed-revised-petition-regulations.pdf. Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted on or before 60 days following its publication in the Federal Register.

Note from Sharon: These all sound like good ideas, and especially the science transparency one has oft been discussed on this blog. One wonders whether this would have been done without some pressure by Congress. I don’t believe in partisan enemizing, of course, but this does remind me of a quote from the Essays of James Vila Blake (the Unitarian minister):

Enemies make us watchful of ourselves and induce self-examination; for we must argue thus: our foe hates us with reason or without reason; if without reason, then he not really hates us, but some other sort of person for whom he mistakes us; but if with reason, then it is plain we should improve, and remove the reason.

31 Comments

  1. I don’t believe in “partisan enemizing” either, but I can’t think of a more appropriate description than this process being a “collaborative” partisan enema. A process in which anthropogenic origins of the Sixth Mass Extinction Event get ignored, while “incentivizing” (i.e. approval of even more profit taking) “voluntary” actions by the very same environmental perpetrators causing the extinctions .
    What better descriptor than, “conservation banking,” the quintessential oxymoron?
    This process has all the signs of a “reality” TV show tragicomedy.

    Dr. Strangelove comes to mind too.

  2. David, I hope you don’t believe in the Sixth Mass Extinction. But even if you believe that the scientists’ estimates of what will happen in the future are correct (I don’t, for one thing, it depends on economies partially and economists have not been very successful at predicting trends accurately), there are more sanguine views of the future, e.g.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-the-sixth-mass-extinction-can-be-stopped/

    • “David, I hope you don’t believe in the Sixth Mass Extinction”

      Sharon, certainly your own belief system is up to you, but condescension towards other perspectives is inappropriate. Your counter-theory about economies and economists isn’t very compelling; after all it isn’t “economists” who are out there monitoring species:

      “Among terrestrial vertebrates, 322 species have become extinct since 1500, and populations of the remaining species show 25% average decline in abundance. Invertebrate patterns are equally dire: 67% of monitored populations show 45% mean abundance decline. Such animal declines will cascade onto ecosystem functioning and human well-being. Much remains unknown about this “Anthropocene defaunation”; these knowledge gaps hinder our capacity to predict and limit defaunation impacts. Clearly, however, defaunation is both a pervasive component of the planet’s sixth mass extinction and also a major driver of global ecological change.” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264247848_Defaunation_in_the_Anthropocene (an article in an actual scientific journal, written by a team of actual scientists).

      The “more sanguine” article you quote doesn’t really contradict this information, though it does suggest that “we will probably have to employ more aggressive conservation” to change course. Unfortunately the author focuses mostly on ecological tinkering (“moving species to help them cope”, “bringing in new animals to fill the role of animals that have gone extinct”, and the ever-popular Jurassic Park “de-extinction” approach). But then, the author you quoted is not a scientist, but a journalist. And, the magazine “Scientific American” is not a scientific journal, but rather a “Substantive News or General Interest” periodical, which “may be quite attractive in appearance… News and general interest periodicals sometimes cite sources, though more often do not. A member of the editorial staff, a scholar or a free lance writer may write articles. The language of these publications is directed to any educated audience. There is no specialty assumed, only interest and a certain level of intelligence.”
      http://libsys.uah.edu/amridgeuniversity/guides/scholarsource.html

      I think David’s comment was pretty accurate.

      • Unfortunately, many “knowledge gaps” are filled with beliefs and models that are often assumed to be the scientific gospel. This often leads to the “Whatever Happens” mindset that believes “doing nothing” is restoration and beneficial, in the face of impacts that have changed so much, since the 1600’s. We cannot go back to a pre-human landscape, no matter what, or how much we “believe”.

      • Well, you can accuse me of being “condescending”. But you couldn’t hear the tone of my voice, which is that I really hope David doesn’t believe in it.

        Let’s take what you said “Among terrestrial vertebrates, 322 species have become extinct since 1500, and populations of the remaining species show 25% average decline in abundance. Invertebrate patterns are equally dire: 67% of monitored populations show 45% mean abundance decline. Such animal declines will cascade onto ecosystem functioning and human well-being. Much remains unknown about this “Anthropocene defaunation”; these knowledge gaps hinder our capacity to predict and limit defaunation impacts. Clearly, however, defaunation is both a pervasive component of the planet’s sixth mass extinction and also a major driver of global ecological change.””

        So let’s take the statements you cited line by line.
        “Among terrestrial vertebrates, 322 species have become extinct since 1500, and populations of the remaining species show 25% average decline in abundance

        Now who was counting species in 1500? 322 species of how many (..01 of the total) ? Linnaeus was born in 1707.. so who was counting them in 1500?

        The remaining species? The other 99.9% (let’s assume .01 show an “average 25% decline in abundance”? I think that perhaps some other species have increased in abundance, say deer where predators were extirpated and so on. So the average populations of ALL terrestrial vertebrates from voles to elephants have declined by 25% ..since 1500? Oh,.. well maybe they used a sample and extrapolated to ALL vertebrates.

        Now, here’s the place where I part ways even more strongly. “animal declines will cascade into ecosystem functioning and human well-being.”

        Now,” will” is a strong statement. To me if you want to convince that something “will” happen, you need to propose a specific mechanism.

        If we take central North America, we find that many terrestrial vertebrates have declined when agriculture came to the Plains (I’m picking this examples as I can see it from my window) . It has been 100 years or so, and while conversion may have affected “ecosystem functioning” and CHANGED how “ecosystems” “function”, there has been no reverberating impact on human well-being other than tons of grain being eaten by humans and domestic animals. Things did go too far, during the dust bowl, and people changed their practices.

        “ Much remains unknown about this “Anthropocene defaunation”; these knowledge gaps hinder our capacity to predict and limit defaunation impact
        s.”

        What this says is “we don’t really know what is going to happen” which is true. So why are they implying “it will be catastrophic?” Seems to me you gotta pick a lane.

        Clearly, however, defaunation is both a pervasive component of the planet’s sixth mass extinction and also a major driver of global ecological change.

        Is it? It is clear to the authors apparently.. but wouldn’t losing species of animals be by definition a part of “mass extinction”?. Like if you defined “mass extinction” would it involve plants and animals? But I don’t believe in a “sixth mass extinction” (predicted) and yes, if lots of species die off it will change the species in the ecosystem.

        Now all this is not to say that I don’t value species, but I don’t value scientists making stuff up and trying to scare people. Because many people know in some way they are being manipulated and it makes people mistrust scientists who are plodding along doing “real”- helpful but not hype-sational – science.

        The apocalyptic nature of the “sixth extinction” reminded me of the Eden and Apocalypse post where I quoted David Oates here.

        • Linnaeus is irrelevant here. For a start, humans have been documenting biodiversity since the dawn of history or even before that (cave paintings, Norse and biblical creation mythology, etc.). Theophrastus, Aristotle et al. described and categorized organisms about two millennia before Linnaeus. Many relatively recent extinctions are well documented (dodo, passenger pigeon, etc. etc. Here’s a Wikipedia list, you’d have to check the references if doubtful; this one’s just for North America but for the entire Holocene, which is roughly the timeframe in question, i.e. human influence. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_North_American_animals_extinct_in_the_Holocene)

          Species extinctions in the past, and estimates of past extinction rates, are made with a combination of paleontology and molecular phylogeny (this one’s pretty good: http://sysbio.oxfordjournals.org/content/62/2/220.full.pdf+html)

          It’s easy enough to look this stuff up. Similarly, ecosystem effects of keystone species loss, trophic cascade effects, etc., are all out there to read, but it requires some effort and setting aside of anti-science bias. Simply stating that “you need to propose a specific mechanism” has little resonance when there is already a very large body of literature which does just that… but, you have to be willing to look at it. If your starting premise is “scientists making stuff up and trying to scare people”, maybe that won’t happen, but I hope that’s not the case.

          • You said:
            “Linnaeus is irrelevant here. For a start, humans have been documenting biodiversity since the dawn of history or even before that (cave paintings, Norse and biblical creation mythology, etc.). Theophrastus, Aristotle et al. described and categorized organisms about two millennia before Linnaeus. Many relatively recent extinctions are well documented (dodo, passenger pigeon, etc. etc. Here’s a Wikipedia list, you’d have to check the references if doubtful; this one’s just for North America but for the entire Holocene, which is roughly the timeframe in question, i.e. human influence. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_North_American_animals_extinct_in_the_Holocene)”

            I am not questioning whether some species have gone extinct, nor whether people knew the differences between organisms and categorized them.
            I am saying that to estimate differences between species now and in 1500, you would have to define them the same way (and if you are saying they have declined, except for the obvious ones, you would have to count them (using the same protocols and definitions) then and now).
            I know that people have always classified organisms but to compare pre 1500 to now it seems to me you would have to classify the species THE SAME WAY. And here’s what Wikipedia says about consistency (my italics):
            “The Linnaean era
            Main article: Linnaean taxonomy
            The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) ushered in a new era of taxonomy. With his major works Systema Naturae 1st Edition in 1735,[16] Species Plantarum in 1753,[17] and Systema Naturae 10th Edition,[18] he revolutionized modern taxonomy. His works implemented a standardized binomial naming system for animal and plant species, which proved to be an elegant solution to a chaotic and disorganized taxonomic literature. As a result the Linnaean system was born, and is still used in essentially the same way today as it was in the eighteenth century. Currently, plant and animal taxonomists regard Linnaeus’ work as the “starting point” for valid names (at 1753 and 1758 respectively).[19] Names published before these dates are referred to as “pre-Linnaean”, and not considered valid (with the exception of spiders published in Svenska Spindlar). Even taxonomic names published by Linnaeus himself before these dates are considered pre-Linnaean.[14]”
            I did an experiment looking at random North and South American species (this was kind of a fun exercise) and seeing when they were identified as species:
            North American vertebrate: woodland jumping mouse Miller 1891
            North American invertebrate: Alaus Oculatus one eyed click beetle Linnaeus 1751
            South American vertebrate: capybara, Linnaeus 1766
            South American invertebrate: Chaco tigre Goloboff 1995

            Except running across this was not fun!!!!
            http://abcnews.go.com/Health/puppy-sized-spider-haunt-dreams/story?id=26344479
            Latreille 1804

            “Species extinctions in the past, and estimates of past extinction rates, are made with a combination of paleontology and molecular phylogeny (this one’s pretty good: http://sysbio.oxfordjournals.org/content/62/2/220.full.pdf+html)”

            Just because, by using enough math and assumptions, someone can estimate something, doesn’t mean that it’s a good enough estimate to be considered in public policy. Note: after reading this I would like a section in each modeling paper that clearly labels the nature of the data that was used to check the model in more or less plain English, without going to several other papers.

            “It’s easy enough to look this stuff up. Similarly, ecosystem effects of keystone species loss, trophic cascade effects, etc., are all out there to read, but it requires some effort and setting aside of anti-science bias. Simply stating that “you need to propose a specific mechanism” has little resonance when there is already a very large body of literature which does just that… but, you have to be willing to look at it. If your starting premise is “scientists making stuff up and trying to scare people”, maybe that won’t happen, but I hope that’s not the case.”

            OK, I think we lost bison, grizzlies, BFFs, and so on and there have been effects, but other species seem to have picked up the slack (as another ecological theory, the niche theory predicted) and we have not seen any catastrophic effects such as those theories predicted so far. Unless I am missing some? So we still believe bad things will happen and these theories are correct because….????

            After spending 40 years in the science biz, I don’t think I’m anti-science. I like the ideals of science, (empirical verification, open discussion, objective peer review) and will always question when individuals or organizations fall short of those ideals.

            • “there has been no reverberating impact on human well-being”
              “we have not seen any catastrophic effects”

              These are value judgments, based partly on willingness to take risks where outcomes are distant or uncertain. At some point, generational ethics and even morality factor into deciding whether causing extinctions is the ‘right’ thing to do.

              http://www.religionnews.com/2015/02/09/pope-francis-christian-not-protect-creation-not-care-work-god/

              ESA represented a degree of consensus on this question at a point in time. Riders to Defense appropriations bills would not.

              • Yes, they are value judgments. And we could discuss our values more clearly if we did not say things were “science” when they are abstractions some people thought up, that may or may not be real life in terms of plants and animals behaving that way nor how they interact with each other.

                One of the reasons I taught Environmental Ethics at Virginia Tech was that I noticed sometimes when I followed an argument line far enough, folks stopped saying it was “science” and started saying it was “morality” and I felt I needed to understand and be able to discuss both.
                The important thing about risk is the old policy analysis approach of looking carefully at who wins and who loses. Since no one is talking seriously about moving people out of California to bring back the grizzly bear, we know if there is a goal of bringing back everything to how it was (which is of course impossible anyway ) some groups are exempt from shouldering the impacts. So when some groups ask others to take the impacts of the risks is where the problem is. When you ask in terms of forcing others through policy instruments, you are using government power to enforce what you think is right- which is traditionally analyzed, discussed and decided through the three branches in the US.
                As to what Francis, the Bishop of Rome, has to say, I agree that we need to honor creation. I find that the devil (so to speak ;)) is in the details. He also is very interested in the poor and is probably interested in poor rural areas being able to develop their resources (in a sustainable way). It seems very easy for Bishop Francis to preach about what governments should be doing, while his own organization is fraught with problems that he could work on.. women priests, attitude towards gay people, sexual abuse…
                In fact, the Gospel according to Matthew says that Jesus had something to say about this – and the NIV Bible even uses timber terminology!
                “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

                Finally, folks who passed ESA had no idea how it would be interpreted in regs and by the courts as this has developed, it is natural to tweak it. We wouldn’t think the first stab at legalizing marijuana or Affordable Care could never be tweaked. Even in the 90’s when I worked on the Hill, the D’s knew ESA had problems, but they strategically preferred to bash R’s for trying to change it. Here we are 20 years later… same old..

                • I have no problem with the idea that Congress should revisit how laws are working and change them if needed. I just think that riders are a cowardly way to reallocate risk, and they shortchange the public debate that should accompany major policy changes. I also think it is interesting that, while Congress likes to require that agencies use (in the case of ESA) “the best scientific and commercial data available,” it doesn’t hold itself to that standard. I think the importance of science is that it makes decision-makers be clear about what their values are (which they would rather avoid doing).

                  • I thought this kind of summed up the original problem (would you call this a ‘mass extinction?’) and how values could affect a solution:

                    “The rate at which humans are driving species to extinction is 1,000 times faster than the rate at which animals would go extinct naturally, Pimm’s research shows.
                    “The issue is how fast we are driving species to extinction,” said Pimm. “We’re responsible for that, and, in doing so, we are handing our children a world not as rich and interesting as the one we got from our parents. We should do what we can to be good stewards.”

                    http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060019399

                    • How can Pimm’s research “show” that? Clearly “natural” asteroid impacts made different species prevalent and some extinct. we don’t know how many species we would have defined 100 years ago, so we don’t know how many (percentage wise) have gone extinct in the last 100 years. we don’t have that information. You can estimate it, in a variety of ways, but they are guesses. Just think of how hard it is to tell them apart without armies of taxonomists. Take, termite species- how many used to exist 100 years ago in Kansas compared to now, how about (pick a state in Brazil)? The more specific you get the clearer it seems that for most of the animal and plant world we really have no clue.

                      Of course, there are new species formed also and current species hybridize (“naturally” or not? Who knows?). What we do know is that all the mechanisms that were successful in revegetate/reanimalize post glaciation are working. You can choose to focus on the importance of current species, or on the importance of the evolutionary process. If you do the latter, you have no idea whether the future will be as/less/more “rich” or “interesting.” Which are of course not scientific terminology either.

                    • @Sharon: If 95% of evolutionary biologists agreed that there is a human-caused mass extinction, would you accept that? (And, like global climate disruption, I guess we can hope that’s not be a bad thing: ‘Whatever happens.’)

  3. Interesting. Causes me to be a bit nervous about “too much” listening to or being influenced by the state fish and game bodies, largely because a number of these once science-based agencies are now partially or totally controlled by the politicians in the various state houses. So politics and the supposed impacts of these T&E programs on the economy of the state loom high above the concern for most species under threat. And, as you might assume, I don’t trust most politicians.
    Idaho, my dear Idaho, is a prime example of my concern.

    • But this is about values, and doesn’t our political system deal with competing values with politics and not by calling in technocrats to make the decision? I actually don’t trust technocrats either because 1) they have personal agendas and 2) they are not accountable through elections.

      • “Accountable through elections.”? I wish I had the time to fully engage in this conversation Sharon, but the belief system you espouse here, (“political system dealing with competing values”) is far more problematic than your dissembling on the “value” of devolution happening on a scale commensurate with historic planetary cataclysms, (I recall Wiki reports current global estimates of 140,000 species /yr.), and the bright side of AGW.

        The short list of subverted democracy: electoral college; unlimited, anonymous, campaign contributions; media consolidation, regulatory and agency capture with zero personal or professional accountability; “too big to jail” financial industry; disenfranchisement of millions of African Americans via racist police state, American Military Imperialism, etc.,etc.)

        The view out my window on the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska is the island wide landscape-level devolution of a coastal temperate rainforest as a direct result of USFS and Native Corporate industrial logging. Our primary subsistence species (Sitka blacktailed deer) is in deep trouble in central Southeast, as are the low income families who cannot afford to go elsewhere, as are our endemic wolf subspecies Canis lupus ligoni. Then there’s the Queen Charlotte goshawk, pine marten, flying squirrel, and too many other old growth dependent species in precipitous decline the agency claims to not have enough funds to monitor and evaluate.

        Currently, our rainforest is under extremely dry conditions with multiple fires burning. This is what “democratic”, agency-induced, systematic collapse looks like in the “Last Frontier.”

        Agency response to agency mismagement is to initiate the “market based solution” of “stewardship and restoration” by retaining receipts of ongoing old growth habitat destruction, to “restore” it’s destruction at phenomenal costs to the taxpayers and future generations.

        • David, the electoral college is “subverted democracy”? OK, you can argue so, but it certainly is constitutional. See Article. II, Section. 1:

          “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows

          “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.”

          See also the 12th amendment.

          But this thread is about revisions of the ESA. As to that, one bill in the Senate, the “Common Sense in Species Protection Act of 2015” (S. 112), would require the Secretary of the Interior to provide an economic analysis for proposed rules designating critical habitat for ESA species. That’s common sense, as far as I’m concerned.

          • Just trying to limit (the questionable value) of my participation in this forum by relying on a keyword phrase (electoral college) to invoke what the founders likely did not intend: Gerrymandering, and the effect it has had on the subversion of democratic principles in our constitutional republic.

            Yes I am aware of the articles of the Constitution, thanks. I’d hoped to avoid this tedium though.
            I’d hoped the reader might be able to fill in the blanks from there — given the point I was making, which is Sharon’s implication all’s well with devolution of government, and devolution of biological systems is problematic and infinitely debatable.

            Therein lies the problem justifying my participation in this forum. It is neither satisfying nor productive, except in underscoring the pettiness, rigidity and permanence of egocentric, ego-driven, defense of Panglossian world views in the midst of anthropogenic planetary collapse.

            • David, we’ve both veered from the topic of this thread: proposed revisions of the ESA. What’s your view? Does the ESA need revision? What do you suggest?

              What is your response to the “Common Sense in Species Protection Act of 2015″ (S. 112), would require the Secretary of the Interior to provide an economic analysis for proposed rules designating critical habitat for ESA species?

                • Andy, Here’s the summary of S.112:

                  https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/112

                  Common Sense in Species Protection Act of 2015

                  This bill amends the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to require the Department of the Interior or the Department of Commerce to exclude an area from designation as a critical habitat to conserve an endangered or threatened species if the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of including the area, unless the failure to designate the area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the species.

                  At the time a proposed rule to designate a critical habitat is published, the appropriate department must make available for public comment a draft analysis that: (1) examines the incremental and cumulative economic effects of all actions to protect the species and its habitat upon each state and locality that is affected by the proposed designation; (2) includes consideration of economic effects on possible uses of land and property values, employment, revenues available for state and local governments, and the provision of water, power, or other public services; and (3) assesses those effects on a quantitative and qualitative basis.

                  • Steve, thanks for providing that summary. But it is quite different from how you originally introduced the topic: “the “Common Sense in Species Protection Act of 2015″ (S. 112), would require the Secretary of the Interior to provide an economic analysis for proposed rules designating critical habitat for ESA species. That’s common sense, as far as I’m concerned.” (quote from you)

                    As Andy correctly pointed out, that is already a requirement.

                    However, the final decision currently is discretionary (see excerpted language below) whereas the “Common Sense” act apparently seeks to impose a cost:benefit approach that requires a cumulative economic effects analysis of all actions to protect the species and its habitat, arguably an attempt to stack the deck in favor of economic interests and effectively neuter the ESA. Spelled out like that, unless one is of the opinion that the ESA was a mistake to begin with, it’s hard for me to see where “common sense” comes in.

                    Current language: “while the Act requires the Secretary to consider the economic impact, the impact on national security, and any other relevant impact, the decision whether to make exclusions under section 4(b)(2) of the Act is at the discretion of the Secretary; that the Secretary has wide discretion when weighing the benefits of exclusion against the benefits of inclusion; and that it is appropriate for the Secretary to consider impacts of a critical habitat designation on an incremental basis. These conclusions have been confirmed by judicial decision. See Building Industry Ass’n of the Bay Area v. U.S. Dep’t of Commerce, 2012 U.S. Dist. Lexis 170688 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 30, 2012).”

                    • All this against the backdrop of “does critical habitat matter?” The listing agencies don’t want to deal with it because it adds little or nothing to protecting the species, since adverse effects on habitat already trigger ESA processes once a species is listed. The exception is where unoccupied habitat is considered critical, which I don’t think happens often (maybe because the listing agency has so much discretion). Critical habitat has nevertheless become a bogeyman for the private property rights zealots, even though it would only affect things that would require a federal permit (and ESA already applies in this situation if the habitat of a listed species is occupied).

                      I’d rather see critical habitat as part of recovery planning. And then some teeth added to recovery planning. While Congress likes to complain that ESA hasn’t led to recovery of many species, I don’t see them advocating changes in ESA to promote recovery.

                    • S.122 would require the agency to examine “the incremental and cumulative economic effects.” But current regs limit economic analyses to incremental only. This analysis by Jessica Ferrell, an attorney at Marten Law, offers an explanation: “ESA Rule on Economic Impacts Takes Effect Next Month,” September 3, 2013.

                      http://www.martenlaw.com/newsletter/20130903-esa-rule-economic-impacts

                      “Effective October 30, 2013, a new rule will limit the economic impacts that federal regulators may consider when designating property as “critical habitat” under the ESA. The rule, jointly proposed last year and promulgated last month by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) and NOAA Fisheries (together, the “Services”), also requires the Services to publish a draft economic analysis for public comment at the time they propose critical habitat for listed species. It codifies the Services’ use of a “baseline” approach, limiting the scope of economic impacts considered in habitat designations to “incremental” (but for) effects.

                      “By not considering the broader context of overall ESA regulation when designating critical habitat, the magnitude of economic effects will likely be minimized in regulatory documents, potentially skewing public perception of the actual consequences of the action being proposed. For example, a proposed designation of nearly 14 million acres of habitat for Northern spotted owls is characterized as “minor” under the incremental approach, despite the larger impacts of listing-based ESA regulation over the past two decades (i.e., reduction of Pacific Northwest timber jobs by over 50%—a decline attributable, according to the USFWS, to the owl listing as well as market globalization and industrial modernization).[1] However, the ESA explicitly prohibits consideration of economic impacts in listing decisions—including coextensive impacts of listing and critical habitat designation. The rule will not be welcomed by property owners and users affected by habitat designations.”

                    • Let’s try an exercise, here. Let’s go back to the mid-80’s, and assume there was a public mandate to minimize clearcutting, provide for owls (and other wildlife), and “right-size” the timber industry. Since we know what the previous employment levels were, and we know what they became, it might be valuable to know what the employment levels might have been with an earlier “intervention” and a sensible (for everyone) set of plans.

  4. These reforms are just to the listing process. One species at a time, requirement to notify F and G of affected state government, etc.
    It’s a maneuver to break off the crisis set by the Multi Species settlement (sage, chickens, and 257 others) and the 1000 listing petition machine-gunning by the hardcore cadre. The “mainstream” green groups like having their machine guns, but are concerned that the “fringe” greens are gunning so indiscriminately, legal machine guns are about to be taken away. The ESA is like having nukes, but having a nuke implies responsibility.
    This is all back and fill to preempt congressional action, which seems to get more likely as more and more constituencies get their own spotted owl rammed down their throats. I wait with bated breath as to what happens with the state plans on grouse. USFWS and greens are far apart from the state councils on what is appropriate. If USFWS pulls the trigger or forces too-onerous plans to “avoid” a listing, Congress will do something scary. Scary bad, or scary good — depending on which side one is on.

  5. “Pace and scale” matters. Humans have been altering their environment for a long time, but the scale of habitat modification/destruction since the end of WWII is unprecedented. On a finite planet, growth is unsustainable, but the one thing both sides of the political spectrum agree on is the need for growth. Call it that you will; Biodiversity will suffer until growth stops.

    • More like, “humans have been massively altering their environment for a long time”. There, I fixed it for ya! If we’re going to blame dead people, we might as well blame them all!

      Then again, you could recognize that current harvesting levels in the overstocked and drought-ridden Sierra Nevada are at 1/30th of the old harvesting levels. *smirk*

    • 2nd.. I think you’re on to something.. what you see depends on the scale you look at. In North America, it seems like converting forests to farmlands was a big modification but that was before WWII. Ahh.. limits to growth.. reminds me of ..the original Limits to Growth..
      and this recent piece in American Scientist.

      “It’s possible that Forrester was offering wise advice, and someday we’ll regret not taking it. But when a mathematical or scientific argument is brought forward to justify taking such a painful and troubling action, standards of rigor will surely be set very high.”

  6. The version the rest of the country sees of this story (one might call that ‘common sense’):
    “The Obama administration hopes changes to the program, including giving state wildlife managers greater say in the listing process, will help convince Republicans that the success of the law is no reason to scrap it.”
    http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2015/0521/Teddy-bear-no-longer-endangered-What-s-behind-the-rewilding-of-America
    I find it a little disingenuous that one of the key faults attributed by those Republicans to ESA is its failure to recover species, but for some reason their ‘fixes’ don’t seem to help with that.

  7. Seems to me the economic analysis go like this. There are 318 million people in the United States and a few hundred thousand who live in rural Oregon so the economic affect of listing the “spotted owl” is negligible. Or even closer to home there are only 25 people working in your sawmill and almost 4 million in the state or Oregon so if we never sell you any timber the effect is again negligible. That’s about what we have gotten out of studying the social economic effect of proposed actions under NEPA and I suppose the ESA also.

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