House passes America’s Conservation Enhancement Act

By Laura Bies, The Wildlife Society

Posted on October 8, 2020

 The America’s Conservation Enhancement Act, passed by Congress last week, increases the authorization level to $60 million annually for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. Credit: Tom Koerner/USFWS

The U.S. House of Representative passed the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act (S. 3051), which includes reauthorization for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and funding to combat invasive species, last week.

The package of conservation measures, which was previously passed by the Senate, now goes to the president for his signature.

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US wildlife officials aim to remove wolf protections in 2020

FILE – This June 29, 2017, file remote camera image provided by the U.S. Forest Service shows a female gray wolf and two of the three pups born in 2017 in the wilds of Lassen National Forest in Northern California. (U.S. Forest Service via AP, File)

 Aug. 31, 2020.  By John Flesher and Matthew Brown | AP  

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The Trump administration plans to lift endangered species protections for gray wolves across most of the nation by the end of the year, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday. “We’re working hard to have this done by the end of the year and I’d say it’s very imminent,” Aurelia Skipwith told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday. The administration also is pushing ahead with a rollback of protections for migratory birds despite a recent setback in federal court, she said.

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Hunting helps suppress chronic wasting disease in Colorado mule deer herds

Rebecca Ferrell Public Information and Website Manager 720-595-1449 /  August 19, 2020

 A Colorado Parks and Wildlife study published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases indicates sufficient hunting pressure may be the key to controlling chronic wasting disease in mule deer. Nearly two decades of data showed adaptive hunting management strategies lead to lower CWD prevalence rates. FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Applying sufficient hunting pressure may be the key to managing chronic wasting disease in mule deer, especially early in outbreaks when the disease is scarce. But reduced harvest prescriptions aimed at growing mature male deer will accelerate the growth of epidemics. These are the main findings reported by Colorado Parks and Wildlife scientists in a new peer-reviewed article published online in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases. The new paper summarizes an analysis of data from Colorado mule deer across 12 hunting areas, gathered over nearly two decades (2000-2018). Areas with the largest declines in annual hunting license numbers (pressure) showed the largest increases in the percent of infected adult male deer killed by hunters (prevalence). Prevalence stayed comparatively flat in most areas where license numbers remained steady or increased. Further analysis showed that increasing the number of licenses lowered the risk of hunters harvesting an infected deer 1-2 years later, and decreasing license numbers increased that risk. “This is timely information for managers and policy-makers to have as CPW begins to ramp up our statewide efforts to manage CWD,” said Matt Eckert, CPW Terrestrial Programs Supervisor and study co-author. “Hunting is a tool we already use to manage our deer and elk herds statewide, and these results show that we can adapt the use of hunting for CWD suppression as well.” The new study shows that CWD prevalence was cut in half in northern Larimer County through a sustained management effort that began back in 2000. “Our effort to curb CWD in the Poudre-Red Feather deer herd required some short-term sacrifices and was not universally popular when we started out,” said Mark Leslie, CPW Northeast Regional Manager, “but that local community can be proud of the groundbreaking progress made in their area.” In Middle Park, several factors created the impetus for management changes. CWD was first detected there around the same time CPW Researchers discovered that bucks had CWD prevalence twice that of does. Additionally, the Middle Park deer herd’s ratio of bucks per 100 does was above the Herd Management Plan objective. “The combination of these three things created a sense of urgency for us to increase licenses to get buck to doe ratios down to management objective,” said Andy Holland, former Hot Sulphur Springs Area Wildlife Biologist, now CPW’s statewide Big Game Coordinator and another study co-author. Local managers began increasing the annual number of licenses for hunting bucks in Middle Park and subsequent managers have stayed the course. Data reported in the new study show how sustained hunting pressure flattened the epidemic curve in Middle Park over the last 15 years even as prevalence in the White River and Bear’s Ears herds increased. “The recent surveys confirmed that our preventive efforts have paid off. Hopefully these findings will pave the way for using hunters to manage the prevalence of CWD in other Colorado herds,” noted Holland.

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Judge restores migratory bird protections

Pamela King and Michael Doyle, E&E News reportersPublished: Wednesday, August 12, 2020

J. Kelly/Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr

A federal court has struck down the Trump administration’s revisions to migratory bird regulations. J. Kelly/Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr The Trump administration’s controversial approach to migratory bird safeguards runs afoul of the law, a federal judge ruled yesterday. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York struck down the Interior Department’s 2017 interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) that removed penalties for activities or hazards, such as power line electrocutions, that result in the accidental taking of a bird.

“It is not only a sin to kill a mockingbird, it is also a crime,” wrote Judge Valerie Caproni, citing a famous excerpt of the 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “That has been the letter of the law for the past century. “But if the Department of the Interior has its way,” she continued, “many mockingbirds and other migratory birds that delight people and support ecosystems throughout the country will be killed without legal consequence.”

Interior Solicitor General Daniel Jorjani wrote in a 2017 legal opinion that “[i]nterpreting the MBTA to apply to incidental or accidental actions hangs the sword of Damocles over a host of otherwise lawful and productive actions” (E&E News PM, Dec. 22, 2017). Caproni, an Obama appointee, scrapped the Jorjani opinion and remanded the issue to Interior. “Yesterday’s opinion undermines a commonsense interpretation of the law and runs contrary to recent efforts, shared across the political spectrum, to decriminalize unintentional conduct,” said department spokesman Conner Swanson.

The court decision strands one of Interior’s most controversial moves, as the department has been seeking to solidify the now-rejected solicitor’s opinion as a formal rule (Greenwire, July 20). “With the legal basis for its actions over the past year defeated, the administration should expect more defeats in court if they try to lock in their attempt to roll back the MBTA,” said Sarah Greenberger, interim chief conservation officer for the National Audubon Society, one of the challengers in the case.

Eight states that had also thrown their weight behind the lawsuit celebrated Caproni’s decision. “Migratory birds, including the bald eagle, are not only national symbols of freedom and liberty — they are vital for our country’s ecosystem,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D). “Today’s decision recognizes the critical importance of protecting our precious wildlife and upholding the rule of law.”

If the Trump administration appeals, as would be likely for such a high-stakes defeat, the case could be on track for the Supreme Court because of a potential split in how different appellate circuits have interpreted the law’s ambiguous language. Impact on rulemaking The proposed regulation now under review would codify the opinion of the Interior solicitor’s office that incidental bird take resulting from an otherwise lawful activity is not prohibited under the MBTA. Bird mortality estimates vary widely. The number of birds killed annually by power pole electrocutions, for instance, is figured at between 900,000 and 11.6 million. Collisions with wind turbines currently kill an estimated 234,000 birds per year, while oil pits kill an estimated 750,000 birds annually.

In a regulatory impact analysis that accompanied the proposed rule, FWS reported it had pursued an average of 57 incidental take cases annually between 2010 and 2018. Eighty-one percent of the cases were brought against electrical or oil and gas businesses. Four percent of the cases were brought against wind energy companies. “A legal opinion of the Department of the Interior does not provide the public or other federal departments and agencies with the certainty of a codified regulation,” a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) explained. The draft EIS was the subject of a boisterous public comment period that expired July 20. The Fish and Wildlife Service has said a final rule could be expected in the fall. The draft EIS said narrowing MBTA protections would have a “likely negative” impact on birds that includes “increased” mortality. The draft EIS further predicted that “some entities” such as energy companies will “likely reduce” compliance with industry standards designed to protect birds. Other non-avian species and certain cultural resources are also said in the draft EIS to face “likely negative” consequences from the narrower protections. Companies, though, could anticipate “likely reduced legal and financial costs” with the certainty they won’t be prosecuted for actions that inadvertently lead to the deaths of migratory birds, according to the federal agency. “For some industries and some practices, there would likely be cost savings from not implementing beneficial practices,” the study predicted.

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Group sues to restart Wisconsin DNR hunter education courses

 By TODD RICHMONDJune 17, 2020

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Kansas-based hunting advocacy group filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to force the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to restart in-person hunter education courses. Wisconsin law requires anyone born after Jan. 1, 1973, to complete a hunter education course to obtain a hunting license and hunt alone. DNR officials canceled department-sponsored in-person courses in March as the coronavirus pandemic seized the country and have refused to recognize completion certificates as part of the state’s push to slow the virus’ spread through social distancing.

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