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OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump proposal would make it tougher to protect habitat for endangered species, critics say | Trump administration proposes timber sale in Tongass National Forest

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump proposal would make it tougher to protect habitat for endangered species, critics say | Trump administration proposes timber sale in Tongass National Forest
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ESA ON THE WAYThe Trump administration is proposing another measure that critics say will harm endangered species, proposing Friday to further weigh economic impacts before setting aside habitat that could aid their recovery.

The proposal from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would change what the agency considers before designating new so-called critical habitat, a move that would give more weight to the financial impacts on the oil and gas industry, ranchers and even homeowners.

Environmentalists fear the rule would tilt the process to the favor of industry after the administration has already finalized a major rollback of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“If this proposal and the others put forward by the Trump administration are allowed to stand, it will be death by a thousand cuts for endangered wildlife across the country. Critical habitat is just that — critical for species’ survival and recovery. In the face of mass extinction, and climate and health crises worsened by habitat destruction and loss of nature, it’s essential that we protect more habitat, not less," the Sierra Club said in a statement.

Designating habitat as critical doesn’t bar development of a parcel of land, but it could lead to additional barriers or come with certain management requirements.

FWS is already required to consider the economic impacts before issuing a critical habitat designation, but the proposal would require them to accept assessments of that impact from industry.

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Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity, worries those figures could be inflated or at best speculative. He gave the example of a land owner who could argue a designation could interrupt their plans to build a resort, potentially costing them $50 million.

“They’re basically saying Fish and Wildlife will take people at their word of what the value of the designation will be and give weight to that,” he said.

The process would work similarly on federal lands that may already having grazing or oil and gas activity underway.

“It essentially gives priority to special interests who have economic stake in management of federal lands. This gives them an additional hook over the rest of us that all own those lands,” Greenwald said.

“The proposed regulations would provide greater transparency for the public, improve consistency and predictability for stakeholders affected by [endangered species] determinations and stimulate more effective conservation on the ground,” FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith said in a release. 

Publicizing the economic impacts of protecting endangered species was a key feature of last year’s rollback of the ESA, including how protecting a species or its habitat might hinder the operations of the oil and gas industry, foresters and many other operations that work on or near federal lands.

And in July, FWS proposed a rule that would block the agency from protecting habitat for endangered species if the area is not currently ready to host them — something critics say ignores how climate change is impacting the environment and pushing migration of species.

That proposal spurred more Democratic pushback Friday in a letter signed by more than 100 lawmakers.

“We are alarmed by this proposed rule, especially in the context of the three regulations finalized last year that weakened ESA implementation. This onslaught of environmental rollbacks that threaten the survival of our nation’s wildlife must stop,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter spearheaded by House Natural Resources Chair Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

Lawmakers argue the rollbacks impeded the government’s ability “to conserve and restore important habitat based on the best available science for the recovery of ESA-listed species.”

Read more about the proposal here

 

IT’S GOING DOWN, I’M YELLING TIMBER: The Trump administration on Friday proposed a sale that would allow logging across thousands of acres of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, which critics say will exacerbate climate change and harm wildlife habitats. 

The Forest Service proposed allowing the timber industry to chop down trees across more than 6,000 acres of forest. This includes more than 5,000 acres of what’s known as “old growth” forest, containing older trees that are important to fighting climate change.

The Tongass National Forest is a major carbon sink, meaning its trees soak up carbon from the atmosphere, mitigating the impacts of climate change. 

In a letter attached to the draft of the environmental impact statement outlining the proposal, Tongass Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart wrote that the sale intends to “contribute jobs and labor income in local and regional communities in the timber and tourism sectors, contribute to improved terrestrial and aquatic conditions, support access to subsistence resources, and provide safe access to Forest users.”

However, critics have expressed concerns about the climate impacts of allowing logging in the region, especially the large, older trees that can be found in the forest. 

“The older and bigger the tree is means the more carbon it is holding in the tree trunks, the roots, the branches …the bigger, the better. And what you have in the Tongass are some of the carbon-storing champions,” said Randi Spivak, the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands director. 

She also expressed concern that allowing the trees to be cut down could harm animal species that use it for cover, and native people who eat animals like deer. 

“Deer need these old-growth forests for thermal cover in winter and food sources, and when you log these forests, you lose that thermal cover from these forests. Likewise, the archipelago wolf, whose populations have really been devastated, they prey on deer and they also utilize these forests,” she said. 

The logging would take place on  Revillagigedo Island, which is part of the national forest.  

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The proposal is separate from a prior attempt to allow logging in a different area of the Tongass on Prince of Wales Island, which a court stalled earlier this year. The judge argued that the Forest Service’s environmental analysis had “serious shortcomings.” 

Read more about the proposal here.

 

ON TAP NEXT WEEK:

On Wednesday: 

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing to examine a bill that would direct the Interior Secretary to issue a rule removing Yellowstone-area grizzly bears from the endangered species list. 
  • House Democrats will hold a roundtable titled “William Pendley’s Unfitness to Lead the Bureau of Land Management”

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

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