Selected tag(s): Endangered Species Act

Why wholesale repeal of environmental protections is a losing business strategy

© Dwight Nadig

Taking aim at government regulation is a favorite pastime in Washington, but the Trump Administration and the 115th Congress have upped the ante.

In the course of a few weeks, the House of Representatives voted down a measure to curb methane leaks from oil and gas rigs on public and tribal lands. It also voted to overturn a common-sense rule to prevent coal companies from polluting local streams. Meanwhile, the president signed an executive order requiring the arbitrary removal of two existing regulations for every new one created.

Next in their sights: gutting Environmental Protection Agency programs and possibly repealing the Endangered Species Act.

There’s no question we can improve how we go about implementing environmental laws to ensure they deliver the biggest bang for the buck for people and nature. But as an advocate for the environment and a former policy director at the U.S. Department of Commerce, I find the rhetoric-driven rush to rescind these protections short-sighted – even dangerous. Read More »

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The year the private sector stepped up for land, water and wildlife

By this time next year, I believe we’ll reflect back on 2017 as the year that the private sector stepped up to protect our land, water and wildlife for future generations.

I believe this because major retailers, food companies, agricultural businesses and farmers laid the groundwork in 2016, making sizeable commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), improve water quality and conserve habitat for imperiled wildlife.

President-elect Trump has made political theater by threatening to kill the regulations that protect our nation’s air and water. But in the real world, the private sector is going the other direction.

Forward-thinking businesses are rolling up their sleeves and finding ways to make those regulations work better by accelerating the uptake of practices that are good for the planet and the bottom line.

These are three areas to watch in 2017.

Read More »

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Despite a new political landscape, landscape conservation commitments remain

Sagebrush in Carson Valley, Nevada. Photo credit: Flickr user loren chipman.

Sagebrush landscape in Carson Valley, Nevada. Photo credit: Flickr user loren chipman.

The presidential election has changed the political landscape both nationally and in the states we work. As we continue to make sense of the changes, what hasn’t changed is the commitment of many state leaders – Republicans and Democrats – to protecting our nation’s treasured landscapes.

In Nevada, the state just made a second wave of funding available to Nevada landowners who enhance and restore high-quality habitat for greater sage-grouse. This funding supplements an initial $1 million made available earlier this year to fund the first four credit projects through the Nevada Conservation Credit System (CCS).

Nevada created the CCS to keep the greater sage-grouse off the Endangered Species List and to provide a robust, efficient mitigation program for industries seeking to offset impacts to the imperiled bird’s habitat. Under the system, landowners sell credits to industries needing to mitigate future disturbances to the bird’s habitat in order to receive permits from the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Read More »

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California’s new law means more bang for every buck invested in wildlife

The Swainson's hawk was listed as a threatened species in California in 1983 due to loss of habitat and decreased numbers across the state.

The Swainson's hawk is one of the at-risk species that AB 2087 benefits.

Prudent investors know to keep a few key things in mind. They anticipate the timing of spending priorities, like retirement, and evaluate investment risk accordingly. They might spread resources across funds to meet different objectives. And of course, they look to maximize their return on investment.

Why shouldn’t these same principles apply to investments in our natural resources?

Thanks to a new bill signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, these principles will now apply to regional conservation investment strategies for wildlife and other resource management activities in California.

AB 2087: A new approach to conservation planning and mitigation

Assembly Bill (AB) 2087 (Levine), will establish voluntary, non-regulatory strategies to help conservationists, local agencies and the state apply core investment principles when planning conservation or mitigation projects.

This legislation comes at a critical time. Expanding development in California has supported a growth in food production, flood protection, transportation and housing, but it has also resulted in various impacts on the environment. The loss and fragmentation of wildlife habitat, in particular, has created a need for the state to restore and maintain at least 600,000 acres for multiple at-risk species in the coming decades. Read More »

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Why two California farms give me hope for the monarch butterfly

A monarch caterpillar eats showy milkweed at Davis Ranch in Colusa, California.

A monarch caterpillar eats showy milkweed at Davis Ranch in Colusa, California.

The western population of monarch butterflies is in steep decline, according to a recent study released by the Xerces Society, having fallen 74 percent in the past two decades, from roughly 1.2 million in 1997 to fewer than 300,000 butterflies in 2015.

Studies have documented the drop in eastern populations over the past several years, but this is the first time we've been able to understand the risks to the western population, which resides west of the Rocky Mountains.

The population is struggling because of development around the forested groves where they spend winters along the California coast and in Mexico, and because of pesticide applications that kill vital milkweed habitat. These threats and the population decline are significant, having the potential to influence a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision in coming years if the situation fails to turn around soon.

I’ve feared for many years that the monarch might reach the point that it will require protections under the Endangered Species Act – a last resort that signals a dire state for the iconic and beloved species. But a recent trip to California gave me great hope that it’s not too late to change the monarch’s trajectory.  Read More »

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What if God wants the lesser prairie-chicken to go extinct?

Photo credit: USDA NRCS

Lesser prairie-chicken. Photo credit: USDA NRCS

A version of this piece previously ran as an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle.

A few years ago, I was invited by Texas farmer David Cleavinger to visit his family’s farm near Amarillo. This was during a period of time when my organization, Environmental Defense Fund, was deeply involved in conservation efforts for the lesser prairie-chicken, a colorful bird whose habitat is in decline throughout its five-state range, which includes the panhandle of Texas.

David picked me up at the airport and asked if we could make a quick stop on the way to his farm. That stop turned out to be at local radio station KGNC, where David had arranged for me to go on air and talk about wildlife conservation with a particular focus on the local implications for efforts to revive the lesser prairie-chicken.

I agreed to join the show with some trepidation, but it quickly subsided as we got into a lively discussion with the host, James Hunt, and several listeners. Toward the end of my appearance, a caller asked a surprising and provocative question – What if God wants the prairie-chicken to go extinct? Read More »

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Monarch butterflies get help from Texas ranch

A monarch caterpillar eats antelope horn milkweed! growing at Shield Ranch.

A monarch caterpillar eats antelope horn milkweed growing at Shield Ranch.

A few weeks ago, I visited Shield Ranch, a 6,000-acre property devoted to responsible cattle management and wildlife conservation. I made the visit to the ranch – less than 20 miles west of my home in Austin – to test a new tool being designed to more accurately assess habitat for the monarch butterfly.

Standing in a field of wildflowers with a team of scientists, we used the monarch butterfly habitat quantification tool to measure vegetation and determine what monarch habitat was available on the property. We’ve used similar habitat quantification tools for other at-risk wildlife like the lesser prairie-chicken and greater sage-grouse, but this was the first time we tested a tool for monarch butterfly habitat.

Read More »

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Lesser prairie-chicken numbers are up. Is it good conservation or just good weather?

2015 marked the end of a five year drought, bringing much needed relief to the parched prairie region. But climate impacts such as drought and wildfires are only expected to increase in duration and frequency in the future, so one wet year is not going to be sufficient to protect lesser prairie-chickens in the long run.

2015 marked the end of a five-year drought, bringing relief to the parched prairie region. But climate impacts like drought and wildfires are only expected to increase in the future, threatening lesser prairie-chicken recovery efforts. Credit: Lesser Prairie Chicken via photopin (license)

Recent media reports have touted population rebounds for the lesser prairie-chicken – up 25 percent from last year. That’s great news for the bird, which was nearly wiped out in recent years as booming oil and gas industries encroached on the bird’s range across Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bird as “threatened” in March 2015, at the same time that the five states embarked on a conservation plan of their own. The plan was officially assembled and endorsed by the five members of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA).

Now that bird numbers are up, WAFWA is claiming success – attributing the chicken’s rebound to effective implementation of their Lesser Prairie-Chicken Rangewide Conservation Plan (RWP). Certainly that program has provided some benefit, but the key question is whether the program has been a big enough boost to set the lesser prairie-chicken on a path to recovery. Read More »

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My life’s work: Building strategies for ag and industry to protect wildlife

Could the monarch butterfly be the next passenger pigeon? Read more in Modern Farmer.

Could the monarch butterfly face the same plight of the passenger pigeon? Read more in Modern Farmer.

When I think about what motivates me as a conservationist, I often reflect on the bird species we’ve lost – the Carolina parakeet, the ivory-billed woodpecker, the passenger pigeon.

I remember these species when I work to create pathways to prevent extinction for today’s at-risk wildlife – the lesser prairie-chicken, the golden-cheeked warbler and the greater sage-grouse.

But it’s not just the birds that inspire me. It’s also the people.

My role as director of conservation strategy and habitat markets often requires me to cultivate partnerships with ranchers, farmers, oilmen and large multinational corporations. It’s incredibly satisfying to work with this diverse set of stakeholders to find common ground. Sure, we all have different interests driving us, but I am steadfast in my belief that we can protect natural resources, while at the same time enabling the responsible production of food, fuel and fiber. Read More »

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Program helps Texas ranchers save endangered bird, but more conservation is needed

Dr. Nancy Heger with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department presented results of three decades of GIS analysis (from 1986 to 2015) showing that loss of golden-cheeked warbler habitat continues apace, particularly in the Austin to San Antonio corridor just west of Interstate 35.

Dr. Nancy Heger with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department presented results of three decades of GIS analysis (from 1986 to 2015) showing that loss of golden-cheeked warbler habitat continues apace, particularly in the Austin to San Antonio corridor just west of Interstate 35.

Earlier this month, I helped organize the 2016 Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo Symposium in Austin, Texas. The Symposium was attended by nearly 200 scientists, consultants, academics, regulators and interested citizens from as far away as Wisconsin and southern Mexico – all convening to review and discuss the science of the two species of interest.

Despite a recent petition to the contrary, the science on the golden-cheeked warbler is clear: habitat for the bird continues to disappear and the species warrants its endangered status.

We need more conservation, not less

A petition filed by Texans for Positive Economic Policy claims that there is ample population and habitat for the warbler, and that its status is inhibiting development and thereby the economy. There are two reasons why this claim is unfounded. Read More »

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