Growing Returns

Trump’s ESA overhaul won’t give Americans what they want. Here’s what will.

We are observing the most coordinated set of attacks on the Endangered Species Act since it was signed into law nearly a half century ago.

Bald eagle soars thanks to endangered species act

The bald eagle – our nation’s symbol – would have likely gone extinct if not for the protections of the Endangered Species Act. Learn how our nation’s symbol soared back from the brink. Photo Credit: Bob Jensen

The latest series of assaults – from legislation introduced in Congress to proposed changes by the Trump administration – fall into the increasingly perilous partisan trap that pits industrial and economic interests against the environment and public health.

This two-sided narrative consistently drowns out moderate voices in national media coverage and has created an illusion of broad disagreement around the ESA that simply does not exist.

Recent surveys show that 83 percent of Americans support the ESA, including 74 percent of conservatives.

That’s a lot of bipartisan support. Yet House legislators and the Trump administration are pushing extreme proposals that cater to the political whims of a few special interests.

Americans deserve better. Here are six actions that will improve protections for wildlife, preserve our outdoor heritage and strengthen local communities. Read More »

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From satellites to artificial intelligence, how tech will change conservation as we know it

Wyoming is known for its panoramic landscapes, jagged mountains, and herds of pronghorn and bison. This imagery is associated with parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. But not all of Wyoming’s landscapes are encapsulated in iconic national parks.

In southern Wyoming, the continental divide splits to form an enormous arid basin marked by vast sand dunes and grey, alkali lakes. The largest unfenced area in the lower 48, this region is known by Wyomingites as the Red Desert.

The Red Desert stretches across 4 million acres in south central Wyoming. It is home to the largest herd of pronghorn in the continental U.S., the largest desert elk herd, and the longest migrating mule deer herd in North America. Nearly three quarters of the area is covered by sagebrush grassland, and sage-grouse leks are present in much of the region. In the Red Desert’s northeastern corner, a series of alkali lakes known as the Chain Lakes provide critical wetland oasis for migrating shorebirds like ducks, trumpeter swans and white pelicans.

What differentiates the Red Desert from Wyoming’s other iconic landscapes is the rapidly increasing land use for energy development.

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How the farm bill helps landowners and wildlife thrive together

This week, the Senate advanced a farm bill that includes many important provisions for conservation on America’s working farms, ranches and forestlands. Among these provisions is language codifying the Working Lands for Wildlife program that helps farmers and ranchers restore habitat for at-risk wildlife. It’s the first time the program has been formally recognized in the farm bill.

Thanks to the work of private landowners, conservation groups, tribes, and state and government agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided in September 2015 to remove the New England cottontail from the endangered species candidate list due to recovery. (Photo credit: Brian Tefft, Principal Wildlife Biologist at Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife.)

Through the Natural Resources Conservation Service program, USDA provides technical and financial assistance to landowners who voluntarily make improvements to wildlife habitat on their property. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pairs this with regulatory predictability under the Endangered Species Act.

It’s a win-win approach for improving agricultural productivity while enhancing habitat for wildlife.

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California’s budget is not about resistance. It’s about resilience.

The California legislature has passed a budget bill that gives me great hope for the state and for the nation. That’s because the budget was not only passed with bipartisan support – it also proves that conservation has broad political appeal.

California has rebuked the Trump administration on a number of issues including healthcare, immigration and the environment, leading many Americans to see California as the ultimate resistance state. But when I take a closer look at this budget, I think it has less to do with resistance, and everything to do with resilience.

Resilient people, communities, institutions and, yes, environment. Read More »

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Raise a glass (of tequila!) to celebrate this endangered bat’s recovery

When the lesser long-nosed bat was first listed as an endangered species 30 years ago, there were fewer than 1,000 bats in existence. Today, the bat’s population has grown to an estimated 200,000 bats living in 75 roosts across the southwestern United States and Mexico.

A lesser long-nosed bat feeding on an Agave blossom at night in Tucson, Arizona.

The lesser long-nosed bat is one of only three nectar-feeding bat species in the U.S. – uniquely providing valuable ecosystem services through bat pollination and the dispersal of fruit seeds, including for agave plants used in tequila production.

The relationship between bats and tequila may seem obscure at first, but the bat-plant association is so strong that the disappearance of one would threaten the survival of the other.

BATS Magazine

The lesser long-nosed bat is the first bat species to be removed from the endangered species list due to successful recovery. How the bat bounced back is not your typical conservation success story. Read More »

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How can communities get the most from investing in nature?

In places like Nevada, ranching has been a way of life for generations, and industries like mining provide key drivers of economic growth and community stability. But these landscapes also hold economic, historical and cultural values tied to the health and stewardship of natural resources.

The same is true for other communities across the country that are striving to address growing needs for infrastructure, economic growth, clean air and safe drinking water.

Balancing community resiliency, economic stability and stewardship of natural resources is no easy task. But a new funding mechanism is gaining traction on the ground in key places, providing proving grounds for how communities can make cost-effective investments in their futures. Read More »

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Will we be prepared for the next natural disaster? Let’s make sure the answer is “Yes.”

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a year and a half since Hurricane Matthew delivered devastating floods across eastern North Carolina. With so many families and communities still recovering from that storm, the thought of having to prepare for the next one is daunting, but it’s a necessary reality.

The wide-spread devastation that the 2017 hurricane season brought to the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean demonstrates the critical importance of planning and making necessary investments to reduce the vulnerability of our communities in the future. (Photo credit: The National Guard)

This month, a group of North Carolina state legislators will convene in Raleigh to discuss how to spend the state’s remaining federal disaster relief funds provided in the wake of Matthew.

In addition to the needs of still ongoing recovery efforts, the North Carolina House Select Committee on Disaster Relief is expected to begin exploring investment opportunities related to flood control and risk mitigation. Read More »

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Federal rollbacks + huge new oil and gas project = trouble for Wyoming

This blog was co-authored by Jon Goldstein and Sara Brodnax.

Last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management collected comments from citizens and groups concerned about the impacts of a proposed 5,000-well oil and gas project in eastern Wyoming.

The situation has a troubling irony, because as BLM reviews the project’s environmental risks, it is simultaneously working to roll back its own commonsense standards to stop oil and gas companies from venting, flaring, and leaking away pollution and valuable natural gas.

Oil and gas development in Wyoming

Rapid oil and gas development at times put Pinedale, Wyoming on par with smoggy Los Angeles in terms of ozone levels.

It’s the same story for the greater sage-grouse, which without strong mitigation measures will likely abandon critical breeding sites in the area set to be impacted by the planned oil and gas project. Here, too, BLM has signaled several attempts to unravel the collaborative, decades-forged plans to protect the imperiled bird.

The combination of weakening policies while expanding development could have disastrous consequences for Wyoming and other western states if methane pollution goes unchecked and the greater sage-grouse continues to decline.

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A rare desert wildflower is no longer endangered, but the law that saved it may be

When most people think about the Endangered Species Act, they picture the bald eagle, the sea turtle or the grizzly bear. They don’t think as often about the grasses, ferns, flowers and conifers that the ESA also protects.

That makes sense when you consider that there are approximately 26 known animal species for every known plant species. But animals, including humans of course, rely heavily on plants for food, oxygen, shelter and more.

Just like animals, plants increasingly face habitat loss, pollution, disease and climate change, which threaten their existence.

There are currently 949 species of plants listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA, including several species of cactus, mint and milkweed – a vital plant for monarch butterflies. But even the more obscure and isolated plants demonstrate how closely plant resilience is tied to the health of both local and broader ecosystems. Read More »

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Unlikely allies are crowdsourcing funding and habitat to save the monarch butterfly

The monarch butterfly has a new chance at recovery, thanks to the launch of the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange and inspiring commitments from early participants.

The Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange is an innovative market-based program dedicated to restoring and conserving high-quality monarch habitat on America’s private working lands. It’s been dubbed an ‘Airbnb for butterflies’ because it’s the only program of its kind that can open the vast untapped potential of large-scale farms and ranches to make habitat available for monarchs at an unprecedented scale and pace.

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Studies estimate that the monarch’s population has declined by 95 percent since the 1980s, and the butterfly faces a June 2019 deadline for an Endangered Species Act listing decision.

To change the monarch’s trajectory and avoid the need for restrictive regulations that often accompany a listing, we need to restore millions of acres of native milkweed and wildflowers across the butterfly’s vast migration route, fast.

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