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Endangered Species Act

Casper – While species like the Greater sage grouse, gray wolf and grizzly bear are readily cited when talking about the Endangered Species Act, Tyler Abbott of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) noted that there are a number of less-known species that are facing the potential for listing.

“Invertebrates – also known as bugs – often don’t quite make the headlines,” said Abbott. “We have had several proposals for listing in the last year.”

The first step in a listing process is a 90-day finding. The finding provides a “low bar” for whether or not a closer look should be taken at the species, he said. A positive finding means that the FWS must do a 12-month finding, which determines whether a species is warranted for listing or not.

Butterflies

“The Monarch butterfly did have a substantial 90-day finding in December,” Abbott said. “Although Wyoming is listed for the Monarch, we don’t know hardly anything about Monarchs in Wyoming.”

While data on Monarch sightings have been solicited, Abbott noted that there are no confirmed findings of the Monarch butterfly in Wyoming.

“It looks to me that Wyoming is in the middle of two migrations – one on the West Coast and one in the center of the U.S.,” Abbott said. “At this point, there is little information, so this 12-month finding will be an education for all of us.”

The Fritillary butterfly also had a substantial 90-day finding that was released in September.

“There was enough information regarding its decline for a 12-month finding,” Abbott explained. “It has undergone a drastic decline since 1980.”

The range of the butterfly is in Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri, although Abbott noted that Wyoming may fall within its range.

“Wyoming is on the western edge of the range,” he continued. “It lives in tall grass prairie habitat and is found in the Midwest. That finding is underway.”

Beetle

Next, Abbott noted that a 90-day finding for the narrow-footed diving beetle is expected to be published soon.

“This beetle tends to occur in perennial stream habitat, streams areas and standing water pools that have water year-round,” he explained. “The bugs tend to like overhanging vegetation for at least part of their lifecycle.”

Abbott noted that the species has been seen in 10 documented occurrences in Fremont, Natrona and Johnson counties, but the beetles are very hard to identify.

“That calls into question whether we have documented sightings,” he said. “If the 90-day finding is positive, it will be an opportunity to learn more, but if it is negative, we don’t have to take the next step.”

Bee

A petition for a 90-day finding for the western bumblebee was received by FWS in September, which is underway.

“The western bumblebee demonstrates a precipitous decline over the last 20 to 30 years,” Abbott commented. “Being a West-wide, multi-state evaluation, I think the problem areas are in the Pacific Northwest, which was what prompted the petition to list.”

“These 90-day findings are a low bar,” Abbott added. “If there are certain areas where the species have undergone precipitous declines, then we will do a 12-month evaluation. When that occurs is open to question.”

In addition to these four findings, Abbott commented that FWS has a number of other priorities.

Abbott addressed the attendees of the 2015 Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup Wildlife Committee meeting on Dec. 1.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cody – As chairman of the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), Governor Matt Mead delivered the keynote address on Nov. 12 in Cody at the opening workshop for his Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative, asking everyone to work together to improve the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“In WGA, we recognize that we have political differences and we have different points of view, but we focus on areas where there is a common interest. In those areas of common interest, we put politics aside in favor of progress,” he remarked.

The Governor invited representatives from industry, government and non-government organizations (NGO) to be a part of the conversation, seeking input for positive changes to the Act.

“We, collectively, have to have the courage and the faith that people of good faith, with good intentions, can work together and put together something to present not only at WGA, but broader than that – to the National Governors’ Association and to Congress,” he said.

Throughout the workshop, wolves, grizzly bears and sage grouse were common examples of species that western states have been confronted with in regards to the ESA.

Changing the story

“We have had successes, and we have had things that have been sources of frustration. We have found that the ESA generates endless lawsuits, which are costly, time consuming and, frankly, do little at all to help species,” stated Mead.

Moving forward, the Governor hopes to elevate the role of the states, using best management practices in species management and conservation, while also discovering ways to make the ESA statute more efficient and effective overall.

“We need to have the ESA viewed as a good news story. We need to have a day coming where rancher Joe or Jill finds a threatened species on their place and they don’t view it as bad news. Instead, they view it as a sign of celebration for the stewardship they’ve had to allow for a species to survive,” he noted.

A series of panels followed the keynote address, featuring speakers from business sectors, such as energy and mining; sportsmen, recreation and environmental interests; agriculture and forestry; and government and quasi-governmental entities.

Proactive management

Ed Arnett, senior scientist at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, encouraged conservation efforts to preclude the need for ESA litigation.

“While we certainly agree there are some reasonable reforms that will likely improve the effectiveness of the ESA and its implementation, we believe that the very best solution to improve the Act is to avoid having to use it in the first place,” he explained.

Arnett argued that, throughout the history of the United States, sportsmen have played an important role in conservation and that management plans should not be focused on a single species.

“The future of species conservation has to focus on proactive collaboration, and it needs to utilize that landscape scale, science-based approach to conserve ecosystems and multiple species, well in advance of needing to list them in the first place,” he remarked.

Building partnerships

Albert Sommers, Wyoming state representative and president of the Upper Green River Cattle Association, spoke on behalf of livestock producers in the West and described increased death losses due to predation in the Upper Green River cattle allotment.

“Prior to 1994, we averaged about two percent death loss on calves in the allotment. In the last four years before 2015, we were in excess of nine percent calf loss in that allotment,” he noted.

When the Greater Yellowstone Coalition requested a partnership, producers were wary of their intentions, but Sommers encouraged stakeholders to look for opportunities.

“We have to develop relationships with people before we can ever develop any kind of plan or come to any kind of collaboration. We have to be mindful of the past, but we have to look forward and see where the opportunities are in the future. Problems may not be the same as they were in the past,” he stated.

ESA concerns

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Scott Talbott illustrated the importance of wildlife to the culture of the West, citing a recent survey that determined 74 percent of Wyoming residents feel the presence of wildlife enhances their quality of life in the state.

“Wildlife is very important to us,” he said. “Wyoming statute requires Wyoming Game and Fish Department to manage all wildlife in the state.”

Talbott highlighted state efforts toward conservation and raised concerns about inconsistencies in the implementation of the ESA.

“The Act is administered extremely inconsistently, not only across species but from state to state. While we, as state managers, need some flexibility, I think some of the administration of the Act on a local or regional basis within the Service has created some fairly significant problems for the states,” he noted.

Funding has also been a concern in regards to the ESA, as many federal projects have been supported with state funds.

“I think that funding is a huge issue. I think there needs to be adequate federal funding for federal management of those species,” he commented.

Best science

Using the best available science in ESA decisions was also a popular point of discussion throughout the workshop, and Talbott reported that 13 peer-reviewed papers were presented to courts supporting the delisting of grizzly bears from the endangered species list.

“There is a problem with the process when we have an animal like the grizzly bear that has exceeded all recovery criteria for 12 years and that animal is still listed,” he said.

Talbott explained that sound scientific data should carry weight throughout the conservation process.

“I think they do use the best available science for listing. I think they should also use the best available science for delisting species,” he remarked.

Moving forward

The opening workshop was concluded with a number of strategic breakout sessions to identify commonalities and opportunities for cooperation. The next two workshops will be held on Jan. 19 in Boise, Idaho and Feb. 12 in Oahu, Hawaii.

Conversations will also continue throughout the West through webinars, virtual town halls and other meetings.

Gary Frazer, United States Fish and Wildlife Service assistant director of Ecological Services, stated, “For a challenge as big as species conservation and an act as far reaching and consequential as the ESA, we can never stop learning and evolving.”

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cheyenne — As endangered species issues dominate the headlines, it’s easy to overlook the broad nature of work that takes place within the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
    “A healthy wildlife population is certainly a goal of the department and the benefit livestock producers bring is immeasurable,” says Game and Fish Director Steve Ferrell. “I don’t think you can overstate the value working landscapes provide to a healthy wildlife population. The livestock industry in Wyoming provides many benefits to wildlife.”
    Some of the greatest challenges — wolves, grizzly bears, sage grouse and brucellosis — are shared between the wildlife and livestock sectors. “Disappointment,” says Ferrell when asked about his agency’s response to the recent relisting of the grizzly bear under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It’s a feeling that was echoed amidst Wyoming’s agricultural community, especially in the wake of a grizzly attacking a sheepherder in western Wyoming just one week prior to the decision.
    “You can imagine the frustration of that decision is similar to when the wolf was relisted,” says Ferrell. “We’re back to the drawing board.” Just days after the decision Game and Fish agreed to continue managing the grizzly for the time being, but will do so under a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). “We’re the only ones with the resources to manage nuisance bears right now,” says Ferrell. Abandoning such management now, he adds, could leave Wyoming residents short a very important service in the immediate future. Hunters and anglers purchasing licenses in the state provide the bulk of the money necessary to operate the grizzly management program.
    “That’s a good question,” says Ferrell when asked if the agency should continue to manage the bear now that it’s back under federal oversight. “That’s something I haven’t formulated my opinion on that yet. We’ve got to analyze more fully and determine what that means to us. We’re in a holding pattern right now to see how the FWS might respond to this court ruling.”
    Another factor is a pending court cased filed in Idaho, also seeking to have the bears returned to ESA protections. If the outcome of that case is different than the recent decision, Ferrell says it’s his understanding that it would progress to the Ninth Circuit for further deliberation. While it’s a conservative number, Ferrell says the Game and Fish doesn’t doubt the accuracy of the estimate of 600 grizzly bears within Wyoming.
    Management of the grizzly bears becomes increasingly difficult as bear populations increase and they become less fearful of humans. “We’ve got a crew that works with grizzly bears throughout the season they aren’t hibernating,” says Ferrell. The crew’s work spans from relocating problem bears to addressing nuisance grizzlies.
    As wolf discussions continue in the courtrooms, personnel at the WGFD have watched ongoing wolf hunting seasons in Idaho and Montana with interest. Three weeks into the Montana season, as of Oct. 6 hunters had harvested nine of the 75-wolf quota. In Idaho, where the season has been open slightly longer, hunters have harvested 28 of the 220-wolf quota.
    “Wolves aren’t as easy to hunt as some people think they are,” says Ferrell. “A lot of people thought they’d reach their quotas in a week or two and I think that was an unreasonable expectation.”
    “They’re certainly having an impact,” says Ferrell of wolves and wildlife. Research, he says, is ongoing in the Cody area to quantify the impacts. Of particular concern, he says, is the inability to manage wolves to reduce their impacts on big game populations.
    Does the Endangered Species Act need to be reformed? “It’s certainly been the source of a lot of frustration over my career,” says Ferrell. “There have been several attempts at trying to modify it, which is probably a barometer of public opinion, but it hasn’t been successful yet. I don’t think that’s going to be an easy thing to do, but I do hope Congress keeps it on their radar screens and makes the ESA less prone to litigation.”
    “The ESA precludes state authority over wildlife,” says Ferrell. “States don’t have authority over species once they’re listed, that belongs to the FWS. Every time a species is listed or relisted that takes the state role out of it. That in itself is troubling and is one of the main reasons we like to get species off of the ESA and re-assume that role.”
    As it relates to the sage grouse, G&F has been a leader in efforts to keep the bird from being listed. Asked about the workload impact to his agency stemming from the Governor’s executive order addressing development in sage grouse core areas, Ferrell says, “The Executive Order is really an asset to the role we’ve been trying to play. Our increased work load relating to sage grouse really happened a long time ago.” Since the bird was petitioned for listing, Ferrell says Wyoming alone has addressed the bird’s habitat needs with projects covering 500,000 acres.
    During a recent meeting including the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and the Wyoming Board of Agriculture, Ferrell says the state’s elk population was discussed. Currently over objective in many areas, Ferrell says, “Access to private land is a barrier in getting on top of this. Game and Fish is partnering with the Ag Board in looking at some ways to improve access with willing landowners.”
    “We have several elk herds that are over objective,” says Ferrell. While that scenario is of greatest concern in those areas where the elk carry brucellosis, he says bringing the herds back within objective is a priority statewide.
    Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Laramie – “Anyone can petition any organism for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) at any time, for any reason,” remarked Gary Beauvais of the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database.

Beauvais spoke in Laramie at the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, Wyoming Section of the Society for Range Management and Wyoming Weed and Pest Council “Partners in Resource Excellence” convention, held Nov. 2-5.

“A potential organism could be the full species, a subspecies or it could be what is known as a distinct population segment. We are seeing trends toward petitions targeting distinct populations and subspecies more than for full species,” he explained.

Listing process

Once the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) receives a listing petition, they have a 90-day period to decide if there is enough evidence of decline and threat to the targeted organism to warrant further investigation. If there is not, the petition is set aside. If there is enough evidence, the next step is a 12-month investigation.

During the 12-month investigation, FWS must determine if the targeted organism is in significant danger of extinction, in which case it is classified as endangered, or if it is in significant danger of becoming endangered, in which case it is classified as threatened.

“At the end of that process, if there is not enough evidence, the petition is not considered any further and that’s what’s known as a ‘not-warranted’ decision,” noted Beauvais.

Listed species

If the species is considered to be warranted for listing, FWS has a number of options, including listing the species immediately under the ESA or placing the species on a waiting list under a candidate status.

“This is where we were for a long time with the sage grouse. It was warranted for listing under the ESA but the actual listing, paperwork and documentation was precluded by higher priority tasks that the FWS had,” Beauvais said.

If a species is listed under the ESA, FWS is required to formulate a recovery plan and designate critical habitat for the species. The recovery plan defines adequate population levels and distribution for the listed organism that are required for it to be delisted.

“The listed species are reviewed periodically to evaluate whether those listed as endangered can be moved to threatened or if those listed as threatened can be delisted,” he continued.

Court cases

Litigation is common surrounding ESA decisions, and the fates of many species are often in court for long periods of time.

“Once species are listed, people sue to delist them, and once they are delisted, people sue to relist them. A lot of these high profile species tend to be stuck in this litigation limbo for a while, with court orders variously remanding decisions to the Service, reversing decisions or putting a stay on listings. That can really put a lot of uncertainty on the listing situation,” remarked Beauvais.

Potential listings

Currently, there are 14 taxa that occur regularly in Wyoming listed under the ESA, including four listed plants and two candidate plants. There are also more listed taxa that occur in the state occasionally.

“These species are not thought to be residents, but when they do occur, there is an impact from the ESA. These would be species like the whooping crane and the Dakota skipper butterfly,” Beauvais explained.

Several other species in Wyoming are also currently under petition for the ESA, meaning that they are under consideration for a listing.

“Bison and feral horses are perennially under a listing decision. They have been petitioned many times and denied listing many times,” he noted.

The other species under consideration include the white-tailed prairie dog, a bat known as the little brown myotis, the western toad – formerly known as the boreal toad, a subspecies of the spotted skunk, a distinct population segment of the black-backed woodpecker, the monarch butterfly and two types of bumblebee.

Successes

“I think it’s important to realize there have been at least 50 Wyoming organisms that have been petitioned for listing and denied listing by FWS over the last couple of decades,” Beauvais added.

Three species in Wyoming have also been delisted, including the bald eagle, peregrine falcon and the pond snail.

“Trains that don’t wreck don’t make the news. It’s tempting to look at all of the listed species and all of the species coming up and think there is a huge problem, that the ESA doesn’t work or it needs to be changed. In fact, it does work in a lot of cases,” he said. “We have to consider those 50 taxa not listed as successes as well.”

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Washington, D.C. - An Aug. 15 proposal from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) aims to amend Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7 consultation regulations.
    The proposal is intended to streamline procedures for gaining FWS approval of authorizations issued by other federal agencies that can impact endangered species.
    “These changes aren’t major, but they’re helpful,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) Executive Vice President Jim Magagna. “Up until now, anytime a federal agency has undertaken a federal action, like the Bureau of Land Management doing grazing permits, if there has been a potential impact to an endangered species they had to do a Section 7 consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service. The change allows, under a broad set of circumstances, that other agencies can do their own ESA review without a formal consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service.”
    He says the change simplifies the process and removes the need to always get FWS directly involved.
    “Ideally it would very much simplify things with conditions that allow federal agencies to use documents they already have for other purposes, rather than doing a completely new biological assessment in every case,” notes Magagna, adding that the change would also help with time delays. “The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently given a 60-day deadline to render a decision that they concur with the determination of another federal agency.”
    “The existing regulations create unnecessary conflicts and delays,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne when he announced the proposed rule in August. He said the proposal aims to bring the Endangered Species Act “into the 21st century.”
“This change should make time and paperwork savings, but that’s making the big assumption that if these rules go through some of the environmental groups won’t challenge an agency every time they try to utilize this,” says Magagna.
    A second part of the changes to ESA concerns the control of greenhouse gases. “That is the administration’s response to the petition that led to the listing of the polar bear, which was based on greenhouse gases,” says Magagna. “The environmental groups have already filed several more petitions for listing based on global warming concepts.”
    Some environmental groups have labeled the changes the “Bush Extinction Plan.”
    “We welcome the additional time to oppose the Bush Extinction Plan and demonstrate the vast public support for the Endangered Species Act,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, in a press release after the comment period was extended.
    “The American public will not stand for such an underhanded attempt by this lame duck administration to weaken protections for our nation’s wildlife and wild lands,” she said.
    Comments on the rules were accepted until Oct. 15 after a 30-day extension from the original deadline of Sept. 15. A mid-October Associated Press article reports the FWS received over 200,000 comments. Because there is an effort to finalize the new rule by the end of the Bush Administration, the agency was attempting to review all comments in 32 hours with 15 additional staff members.
    According to AP, these rules changes would be the biggest overhaul of endangered species regulations since 1986. The FWS summary of the proposal states that much has happened since that time and the Services have gained considerable experience in implementing the Act, as have other federal agencies, states and property owners.
    Magagna says currently there aren’t many activities in Wyoming that have required the Section 7 review, but that the changes do have some potential future benefit.
    The Public Lands Council, along with the American Sheep Industry Association, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Texas Cattle Feeders, Idaho Cattle and WSGA submitted comments to the FWS regarding proposed changes to the ESA Section 7 consultation process. They stated this proposed rule was a meaningful first step and urged the services to issue a final rule as soon as practical.
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..