The Hunting Coalition and its Subgovernmental Allies Continue to Dominate Wildlife Policymaking.
A series of articles in the 2017 issue of the Journal of Mammalogy explores the complexities of “management” of wolves and help to illustrate why the hunting coalition and the related hunting “subgovernment” are able to dominate wildlife policymaking. Vucetich et al. present a case study of “wolf hunting” in Michigan in which they compare the principles of North American Model of Wildlife Conservation with the policies adapted by the State of Michigan towards the management of wolves. The model’s principles include the use of the “best available science” and that wolves should only be killed for “legitimate purposes.” They report how wolves rebounded from extinction in Michigan to a population of 650 in 2013 thanks to the protections offered by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The State of Michigan in 2013 planned the resumption of wolf hunting and passed a statute that named wolves as “game animals.” Opponents of this plan to hunt wolves achieved enough signatures to subject these statues to a referendum. But another bill was presented that would take away the exclusive authority of the legislature to declare wolves and give this authority to a “Natural Resources Commission” appointed by the Governor and this was done so that the new bill would not be subject to a referendum. The governor and some other elected officials defended the new bill with the argument that giving the control to the Natural Resources Commission” was preferable to a referendum because it would “ensure scientifically sound management of wolves.” In 2014, referenda were held in which majorities (55% and 64%) voted to “prohibit wolf hunting and trapping.” Vucetich et al. describe how the Michigan Department of Natural Resources presented a memorandum on hunting wolves that argued its purpose was to protect human safety and “unacceptable losses of livestock” but Vucetich note that there is very little evidence to show that wolves represent a threat to humans and also that most of the livestock loss occurred due to a negligent livestock owner and the average loss was only 11 cattle per year (2000-2010). However, Vucetich et al. acknowledge that the laws allowing wolf hunting were supported by a “majority of the voters” who lived within the “geographic range of wolves in Michigan” The issue was further complicated by the decision of a Federal judge who reinstated ESA protections to the wolves under the ESA in 2014. Subsequently, the Michigan legislature passed a law to reinstate wolf hunting if wolves were delisted which the governor signed. Currently, the U.S. Congress under Republican leadership appears poised to remove protections from wolves for wolves in the Great Lakes region including Michigan.
The Vucetich et al. Michigan case study closely parallels a discussion of the conflict between institutionalism and referenda in my Wildlife Politics book which covers referenda in Alaska, Colorado, Ohio and other states where consistently voters rejected various measures that allowed what many viewed as unethical hunting and trapping (e.g., shooting wolves from aircraft, use of baiting, etc.) However, in the Alaska and some of the other cases as in Michigan, subsequent actions by the state legislature and governor enabled the hunting “subgovernment” (i.e., hunters and their interest groups, the state departments that control wildlife, and other policymaking bodies such as state wildlife commissions) to regain control of hunting policy, thus effectively overruling the referenda results which the hunting coalition labeled “ballot box” biology. The results vary by state but the generalization appears to hold that in states that are dominated by conservatives, the wildlife coalition is able to dominate wildlife politics despite the fact that the majority of the public does not support their positions. Indeed, in Alaska, the hunter coalition tried to ban ballot referenda for wildlife purposes though this failed. Vucetich cite research that only 30 percent of the public support hunting for trophies though a majority support subsistence hunting. Vucetich et al. suggest that as the percent of population that hunt declines, that the non-hunting majority are more likely to express their disapproval of lethal wildlife management actions and thus there will be increasing use of popular referenda to rein in these practices. However, in my review, it appears that in most states and at the national level, the hunting coalition-subgovernment forces continue to dominate, winning many battles such as hunting in national wildlife refuges and protections from the opposing coalition such as attempts to disrupt hunting. To summarize, although the anti-hunting coalition has won a few battles, it appears that despite their declining numbers, hunters are dominant over wildlife policy and the likely weakening of ESA protections under the Trump Administration and Republican-controlled Congress is likely to strengthen their control even further. Indeed, I cite examples of Democratic Senators who have supported the hunting coalition on these issues (e.g., Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin on delisting wolves in the Great Lakes area). The preferences of the majority for “ethical” hunting practices in most states do not have enough salience to challenge this control.
Optimism versus Pessimism on Biodiversity: Which is better for conservation? Which is more accurate?
Optimism versus Pessimism on Biodiversity: Which is better for conservation? Which is more accurate?
The April 20th issue of Science has four articles that touch on the issue that I close with in my Wildlife Politics book: Should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the future of biodiversity? I my book, I discuss how traditional conservationists tend to be pessimistic based on their assessments of the continued loss of biodiversity despite attempts to conserve. The group known as the “new conservationists” by way of contrast exude optimism. Part of this debate concerns whether pessimism will harm the biodiversity movement because many humans will give up on any hope for conservation and thus weaken support for biodiversity efforts. This concern certainly does seem to me to be a legitimate concern. However, traditional conservationists can point to disasters (e.g., extinction of the passenger pigeon, the discovery of harm effects of DDT on golden eagles and other species) that have propelled conservation action and thus the argument can be made that too much optimism about the effects of humanity on biodiversity can undermine attempts to give top priority to conservation. A major difference of opinion exists between those who believe that technology can solve our environmental problems and those who doubt this. For example, new conservationists have pointed to efforts to rebuild destroyed coral reef systems that have achieved local successes but such efforts have to be weighed against major “bleaching” of reefs around the world including the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.
Balmford and Knowlton’s editorial in science reiterates the point that “hopelessness could itself emerge as a driver of extinction.” They cite successes of conservation such as poisoning of rodents that “threaten seabird populations” in South Georgia and the slowing rate of “deforestation in Brazil” as examples of success. In the same issue of science, Elise Amel et al. in an article titled ““Beyond the roots of human inaction: Fostering collective effort toward ecosystem conservation” discuss the psychological basis for why it is so difficult to get humans to give priority to biodiversity conservation. They state that the immediate and visible benefits of short-term actions that conflict with conservation (e.g., not spend extra money for energy-saving transportation and home devices) are “more compelling” than taking actions that have positive but “hard-to-detect” and long-term effects on ecosystems. They discuss how difficult it is to get humans to change behaviors but note there are some methods such as “community-based social marketing” that employs educational methods as well as social leaders to achieve change. In my book, I cite examples such as the famed Chinese basketball player, Yao Minh, making public commercials against the use of ivory. They states that the lack of sense of efficacy—that their doubt that individual actions will have an impact—as a major obstacle.
Ruth DeFries and Harini Nagendra in an article titled “Ecosystem management as a wicked problem” view biodiversity conservation efforts as examples of difficult issues that are “intractable” with no “clear-cut solutions.” They cite some attempts to solutions such as Eleanor Ostrom’s proposed methods for management of “common pool resources” but these efforts (as I describe in my book too) have been most successful in small areas where local actors have the information and ability to punish those who violate the agreed-upon norms. They discuss other methods such as community-based natural resources management which attempts to solve conflicts between biodiversity conservation and the needs of poor villagers who live near wildlife that threaten their livestock and sometimes lives. These efforts have had mixed results as I describe in detail in my book. Another positive approach is to solve “multi-jurisdiction problems” where the problem overlaps existing political boundaries by the formation of institutions to deal with such issues and they cite some examples of successes such as the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor concept. Solutions that cross governmental boundaries or depend on international organizations are important but they are fragile and dependent on individual governments taking action. In my book, I describe in detail how CITES rules are dependent mostly on individual countries taking action and they have often only done so when subjected to threats of trade retaliation by powerful countries such as the U.S. The CITES organization itself has very limited resources for taking action.
Another proposed solution is to use the power of market incentives to motivate those who “own” the area that contains threatened species by having those interested in preserving them compensate these owners—the payments for ecosystem services (PES) approach. As I describe in my book, these PES attempts are still in their early stages. I provide some case studies that show that success depends on regular monitoring of data about adherence of the “owners” to contractual terms in order to determine if they have met their obligations and this can be a complex endeavor—it is not an “invisible hand” which is the major advantage of “pure” market approaches.
Finally, they note that wicked problem complexity forces an “adaptive management” approach in which solutions are attempted and then monitoring takes place with adjustments made based on how well, if at all, the “solutions” worked. Adaptive management thus is a process—not a theory and it depends entirely on consistent implementation and monitoring if it is to be successful. In my book, I describe how habitat conservation plans (HCPs) have become the main vehicle for conservation under the Endangered Species Act and while HCPs appear to be a promising way of achieving compromise among often bitterly opposed stakeholders, they depend on implementation and the long-term results of these HCPs have not very visible or proven. As I note in the book, once a long and difficult compromise HCP has been reached, almost no one including the government (e.g., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) is anxious to raise doubts and reopen the difficult negotiation process. The only exceptions are groups like the Center for Biodiversity but they have limited or no access nor resources to gather data that can raise questions about the HCP.
So, which is better, optimism or pessimism? I do agree that humans including myself need to have some belief in the possibility that action can be successful so that some optimism is necessary or conservation is doomed. However, when I read the final article of the Science series on ecosystem conservation by Eileen Crist et al. titled “The interaction of human population, food production, and biodiversity protection,” I became pessimistic. They describe how concern with human population growth has diminished because there is declining birth rates in the advanced industrialized countries plus the “Green Revolution” has eliminated concerns about meeting the needs of the growing population of humans. They see the primary concern as being climate change, not human population growth. They cite the growth in demands from China for soybeans and palm oil as likely to lead to continued conversion of forests and wildlife habitat to agricultural production to meet this demand. They argue that despite a great deal of rhetoric about “sustainable agriculture” that continued growth in “global trade in foods” that “pesticide use” and “tropical deforestation” will continue to accumulate. They admit that increasing human consumption of resources (apart from increases in human population) is a major factor too and cite as an example the conversion of U.S. “plains for food production” as having “wiped out 99% of the grasslands biome” along with its associated diversity of fora and fauna. Thus they emphasize that “land conversion for crop and animal agriculture” is the “chief driver of habitat loss.” They cite family planning and growth in the education and rights of women as possible saving factors especially for Africa which otherwise will have a huge population growth but they note that funding for family planning has decreased recently.
In short, in my Wildlife Politics book, I avoided making any predictions concerning biodiversity. Though I cited the continuing overall declines in biodiversity, there were promising trends such as setting aside large marine conservation areas that allow no fishing. I also was hopeful about trends such as the ability to use new technology to track and prevent poaching. However, perhaps due to the emergence of nationalist movements in the U.S. and other key western countries, I do not now see any strong forces countering threats to biodiversity and wildlife habitat. I see the likelihood that population growth and development around protected areas in Africa and other continents will continue and that eventually these protected areas will shrink and become “zoo-like.” I would like to be hopeful and I continue to take actions including contributions to conservation organizations and exhortations to my representatives to defend the Endangered Species Act and wildlife conservation general. Perhaps the current period is temporary and hope will again spring forth? I hope so.
Sharks versus Wolves: Comparison of Human Fear, Hatred, and Attraction to predators. An article in April 25th New York Times discusses how there is a growing debate in Australia on what to do about sharks who have attacked and sometimes killed (14 people since 2012) people. The Federal Environmental Minister of Australia criticized states that had not taken measures such as culling of sharks which he contents would reduce the attacks on people. However, the state’s Fisheries Minister countered that there was no evidence that culling of sharks would protect people from attacks and argued that people had to simply accept the statistically small risk that they could be killed or seriously harmed by shark attacks. The issue is controversial because overall shark species are threatened especially because they are being harvested for shark fin soup and many species are threatened. According to the Eleanor Whitehead, author of the article, white sharks are protected but states can “seek exemptions” to cull them too if they show evidence that they are “hurting tourist revenue.” Culling is done through the use of “baited drum lines — hooks suspended between a float and the ocean floor — to trap sharks” and they are then dispatched by rifles. The article states that 68 sharks were culled in Western Australia in 2014 but there is no evidence that the culling affected the number of attacks. As with wolves, there are attempts to use preventive measures such as nets that protect two of Australia’s bays—environmentalists dislike the nets because they kill other endangered species. The article states that personal devices that emit electromagnetic fields can prevent attacks by sharks that are merely “curious” but do not stop sharks that are in a determined “hunting mode.” Similar to wolves, surveys show that 75 percent of Australians who live near “shark-afflicted” areas prefer “non-lethal approaches.” Another similarity to wolves is that the statistics of being harmed by sharks are very small and, according to the article, have gotten smaller through time when you factor in the population growth of humans using the affected areas. However, as with wolf attacks on livestock, a single incident becomes huge news and pressures authorities to do something about the attacks. There are major differences: wolves almost never attack and threaten human lives—virtually all of their attacks are on livestock of economic value to humans or on prey such as elk and human hunters dislike the competition. Both species have what I call in my book “charisma”—both negative and positive charisma. Many people hate wolves and, in the U.S., especially hate their being “forced on them” by the Federal government under the Endangered Species Act and often their hate goes way beyond any rational calculation of costs or threats from the species. Since media have played such a role in creating fear and hatred of these species (e.g., through sensational stories and movies such as Jaws), it is incumbent on the media to present a more balanced rational perspective on these species. It raises a “philosophical” issue for humans—do you prefer to live in a world where there are no sharks to threaten you when you swim or wolves that will eat livestock and elk? Or do you prefer to live with the threat they present of attack (in sharks case) or loss of economic value (in case of wolves)? The article on the sharks is available as follows: Eleanor Whitehead. Surfer Is Killed, and Australia Asks: Do More Sharks Need to Die? New York Times. 4/25/17 from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/25/world/australia/shark-attack-esperance-surfer-laeticia-brouwer.html?emc=edit_tnt_20170425&nlid=10365419&tntemail0=y
The Antiquities Act of 1906 has been a major vehicle and, since Jimmy Carter and protection of lands in Alaska, the major vehicle for providing new protections and expanding wildlife conservation. But it has become the target of Republicans and, President Trump has ordered a review of the use of the Antiquities Act since 1996. As an article in E&E News by Jennifer Yachnin points out, theoretically Congress can reverse or modify monuments, they have rarely done so—indeed, a major “modification” has been to convert the monuments into national parks. Trump’s order says that the monuments have been “overused” and protected more area than they needed to. The current issue especially focuses on the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah created by President Obama just before he left office. Republicans such as Rep. Rob Bishop and Orin Hatch have criticized the monument’s creation and Bishop and other Republicans want to rein in the Antiquities Act (e.g., by requiring state approval of any designations). As I point out in my Wildlife Politics book, Bill Clinton and Bruce Babbitt heavily emphasized a compromise approach to conservation with emphasis on a “stakeholder” approach and tried to avoid confrontation. However, Clinton’s biggest legacy in the environmental area was the use of the Antiquities Act to designate monuments. Since Republicans have dominated the House of Representatives for much of the period since 1994 and have been averse to approving new conservation area, Clinton used the Antiquities Act which of course does not require participation of stakeholders. Likewise, George Bush’s greatest environmental legacy was the establishment of a large marine monument near Hawaii. The Obama Administration, like the Clinton Administration, basically fought a “rearguard” battle concerning wildlife conservation, emphasizing the stakeholder approach and trying to defuse the anger of the rancher-farmer-extractive industry coalition that dominates much of western U.S. states conservation policymaking. Thus, as I discuss in my book, the conservation community was unhappy with Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations and their chief successes in terms of expanding protections for habitat occurred through the Antiquities Act. Indeed, Bruce Babbitt, champion of the stakeholder-compromise approach during the Clinton Administration, more recently urged Obama to make aggressive use of the top-down Antiquities Act approach! Babbitt makes an additional point about the monuments created under the Antiquities Act mandates: they have turned out to be very popular in the long-run with the general population. Those opposed to it are very influential and powerful but they are small in terms of numbers. As always, the question in wildlife politics is will this powerful but small constituency be able to prevail to cut back on Antiquity Act use or will the salience of this issue become important enough for the much larger but less focused supporters to provide political support for these monuments? The answer is not clear. Generally, the powerful and focused minority win out but the fact that the Antiquities Act has survived previous unhappiness largely unscathed suggests that there is an unobtrusive but significant support for this law that Republican Teddy Roosevelt first used so creatively for wildlife conservation. Check out Yachnin’s E&E article at: https://www.eenews.net/greenwire/2017/04/24/stories/1060053484
The West is urban—so when will wildlife politics change to reflect this—or will it ever?
A short note in a recent issue of High Country News cited data that the West is “more urban” than the nation as a whole with 89 percentage. This raises the issue of when, if ever, will the politics of wildlife conservation change to reflect these demographics? Will ranchers and their “partners” extractive industries and farmers continue to dominate or will there be an evolution towards policies less focused on killing predators of cows and sheep? Up until now, the myth of the “cowboy” westerner and small rancher continues to dominate due to institutionalism and, I think, cultural stereotypes despite their divergence from reality. Check out the story at: http://www.hcn.org/articles/week-in-review-april-21?utm_source=wcn1&utm_medium=email
Institutionalism Versus the Endangered Species Act: How Western Congressional Representatives and Senators Dominate Wildlife Policymaking
Institutionalism Versus the Endangered Species Act: How Western Congressional Representatives and Senators Dominate Wildlife Policymaking. In my book Wildlife Politics, one of the conceptual frameworks that I use to explain wildlife conservation policymaking involves institutionalism. Institutionalism refers to how a few individuals and groups are often able to dominate policymaking institutions so that resulting policy reflects their views regardless of whether these policies are favored by the majority of the public or others involved in the institutions. It is particularly relevant to legislatures at both Federal and state levels. Currently, in Congress, there is an excellent examples of institutionalism at work concerning the development of policies aimed at weakening the Endangered Species Act. An E&E news article by Cobin Hyar available at http://www.wyofile.com/endangered-species-act-battle-raging-public-eye/
Discusses how one representative, Rob Bishop of Utah, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, is conducting hearings about revising the ESA. The article states that a Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations (of the Natural Resources Committee) is taking a lead role—it is led by another Republican from a Western state—Raul Labrador of Idaho. This illustrates how Western states dominate natural resources policymaking. Most of the public lands and largest national parks and public lands run by the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service are in the West, Republicans dominate wildlife conservation. The article describes how this subcommittee has the largest staff of any Natural Resources subcommittee and it is dominated by conservatives who have targeted the ESA for years such as staff leader Rob Gordon formerly of the Heritage Foundation and has written articles on how the ESA was
“ripe” for amendment. In the Senate, the Senator John Barasso, a Republican Senator from Wyoming, heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that is working on an overhaul of the ESA. However, Barasso is seeking to gain some bipartisan support from Democrats since they (due to Senate rules) could filibuster any proposed overhaul. The ranking minority Senator is Democrat Tom Carper whose head of staff, Mary Frances Repko, is well-known for her previous work fighting “anti-environmental riders” introduced by Republicans. The article also describes some of the key groups that are being consulted by the committees such as the Western Governors’ Association and other organizations such as “sportsmen, environmentalists, extractive industries (energy and lumber) and agriculturalists. One environmental participant is the head of Defenders of Wildlife, Jamie Rapoport Clark, who is seeking to achieve a compromise that makes the law “work better” but to limit changes to “administrative reforms” rather than a fundamental weakening. Prior to the rise of the environmental movement in the 1960s, the entire process was done in a quiet manner with no environmental groups participating at all but the role of these "sub-governments" has been weakened some, though they are still powerful. Environmental groups now monitor these sub-governments so "sneak attacks" are not possible. But, as is clear from above, dominance of institutions nevertheless is a key factor in explaining policy outcomes in regard to wildlife conservation.
Federalism and the Endangered Species Act: California to resist weakening of the ESA. One of the key variables that affects wildlife policy in the U.S. and many other nations is the division of powers between the central and other governments--I discuss this in several chapters in the Wildlife Politics book. In the U.S., many western states have resisted in various forms the implementation of the Endangered Species Act. Now, it appears that the "tables my be turned" with some liberal states such as California planning to resist weakening of the ESA. An article by David Danielski of The Press-Enterprise provides a useful example of federalism and its potential policy impact on Republican intentions to weaken the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Republicans have pointed to the ESA as a cause of water shortages in California due to mandates to provide the threatened fish (Delta smelt) enough water. They also accuse the ESA as being a hindrance to rebuilding the Oroville Dam due to consultations required by the National Marine Fisheries Service but representatives from the California Natural Resources Agency denies that the ESA has caused delays. Republicans claim that even minor changes such as in ditches require delays. Center for Biodiversity Staff say that the cause of delays is the lack of staff resources in the Department of Interior which will get even worse due to proposed Trump Administration cutbacks. The proposed law to protect the ESA and other environmental measures from weakening requires that there be “no backsliding” in environmental protections though the wording may be vague according to critics. The article also has a set of photos along with descriptions of threats to species in California. See David Danielski. Endangered Species Act. The Press-Enterprise. April 14, 2017. Accessed 4/18/17 from http://www.pe.com/2017/04/14/california-democrats-prepare-to-battle-gop-over-endangered-species-act/
The Endangered Species Act has already been updated! Habitat conservation and other incentive approaches have modified the “Macho” law and it does not deserve dismantling of key provisions: The Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan as exemplaR
The Endangered Species Act has already been updated!: Habitat conservation and other incentive approaches have modified the “Macho” law and it does not deserve dismantling of key provisions: The Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan as exemplar of ESA’s “updated” approach.
There are many attempts being put forward in this Republican Controlled Congress that are aimed at weakening the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to its purported bad effects on development, ranchers, farmers, developers, etc. The proposed measures to “update” the ESA which has not had major changes since 1982 include incorporating cost-benefit calculations so that cost is considered a factor in whether to list & take measures to preserve a species, and decentralizing ESA decision-making to states or giving veto power to states. But in 1982, the ability to “take” listed species was provided for when habitat conservation plans (HCPs) were created—they did not “take off” until the Clinton Administration but under the leadership of Clinton’s Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, HCPs became the “go to” method of resolving conflicts between conservation and conflicts with constituencies such as developers, ranchers, farmers, and state and local governments. The original ESA was focused on a single species by species approach while HCPs are actually advanced beyond this law to take a more ecology-wide approach with most HCPs providing for many different species. The Clinton-Babbitt Administration also emphasized other “incentive” based policies such as “no surprises” and candidate conservation with agreements (to protect unlisted species) that, in effect, revise the very nature of the ESA and make it more a “negotiation” approach than top-down dictation of terms. Babbitt did this specifically due to his fear that if ESA continued to be viewed as an intractable block and threat to development projects and the interests of powerful groups such as ranchers and farmers that it would be totally undermined politically and be revoked. These changes and the “new” ESA were dismaying to any conservationists who criticized many of the HCP agreements due to (from their perspectives) belief they compromised too much or due to their concern developers, extractive industries, and other interests are not likely to implement their promises (which is a real concern since implementation responsibilities are not spelled out in the law in any detail.) But the overall point is that the ESA has been effectively updated and thus there is no sound basis for weakening of the current law.
As a researcher on wildlife conservation, I have found few studies of HCPs in academic journals or books about the process of developing and implementing HCPs nor assessments of their effectiveness. However, the National Academy of Sciences has just published a review of the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan (for the San Antonio area of Texas) that I find to be of great value in understanding the HCP process and illustrates many of the challenges that anyone seeking to conserve species must deal with. As I point out in Chapter 6 of my book on the ESA, HCPs vary greatly in size with a small number of them covering large areas and many species while many others are small in nature and likewise the resources of the groups running the HCPs vary greatly from small in terms of staff and resources to quite large staffs and resources as appears to be the case with the Edwards Aquifer HCP. Thus the generalizability of this HCP is limited. However, as I read the National Academy’s analysis of the HCP, it turns up many of the themes on HCPs and wildlife conservation that I make in my book that are worth exploring here. First, the term of the HCP is 15 years which brings up the point that protecting and restoring species generally takes a long time, especially since many of the forces such as habitat destruction have been going on for generations and there is no quick fix for the causes of the problems. The original impetus for this HCP was a court case brought by the Sierra Club in 1991 for failure to protect species in the aquifer—the Court mandated that the Texas Legislature take actions to protect these species. This illustrates how court actions or the looming threat of court actions provides the impetus for responsible actors to do something. The Texas Legislature authorized the creation of the Edwards Aquifer Authority in 1993. The development of an HCP began in 1999 but the plan presented after 5 years of work did not meet the criteria set by the Legislature. In 2006, USFWS formed an “implementation program” and in the following year, the Texas Legislature mandated that 4 Texas state agencies participate: the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Water Development Board, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and they also set up a steering committee that included “river authorities” participate in the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA). Indeed, there were numerous participants in the Authority to represent various “stakeholders” including the following: “water utilities, cities, groundwater conservation districts, agricultural users, industrial users, environmental organizations, individuals, river authorities, and downstream and coastal communities.”
The agreed-upon implementation plan was finally agreed to in 2011—thus it took 12 years from the start of the planning process to reach completion. Thus, for large-scale HCPs like this one, the planning process often takes many years to complete. Negotiations among such a large number of actors is a time-consuming process. One aspect of their plan is to pay farmers who participate in a “voluntary irrigation suspension” program—thus emphasizing the use of incentives rather than command to achieve participation—one of the themes of the “new” ESA of Clinton-Babbitt. This same emphasis on negotiation and voluntary actions has been continued by the Bush and Obama administrations. Although the emphasis has been on voluntary compliance, the potential threat of ESA listing and Federal court mandates provided the “hammer” that kept the process moving.” For example, the original coordinator for the EAA, Dr. Robert Gulley, stated that “the approval of the habitat conservation plan will help protect the region from litigation under the Endangered Species Act….” This account of the history of the project is based on the following article: http://twri.tamu.edu/publications/txh2o/fall-2012/developing-conservation-plan-for-edwards-aquifer/
To summarize, this HCP’s history illustrates the complexity of the new ESA—it emphasizes voluntary and negotiated agreements but the impetus for it requires the implicit threat of ESA listing and Federal court actions. If the latter are taken away, it is unlikely that anything resembling the conservation actions taken could have been achieved.
To detail more specifically the major actions taken, the Plan requires a reduction of 44 percent to maintain flows from the spring. Other restoration measures include aquatic vegetation restoration such as “removal of invasive plant species and replanting of native species” and “sediment management in the spring and river systems.”
As with many major conservation projects like this, the plan employs “models” to determine what conservation measures should be taken in order to achieve goals. One of the issues that I discuss in Ch.2 of my book is that there usually disagreements over assumptions and parameters built into models. In order to deal with these issues, the EAA modelers employ tools such as sensitivity analysis and test the model for how well its predictions are borne out. The modelers were able to make use of existing “hydrological” models but had to basically create an “ecological model” and they did this by focusing on the few species for which they had adequate data. The models will need be updated periodically—the Academy Report notes that the models already do not make use of the most up-to-date tools and data. In order to simplify their task, the EAA uses data on the Comal Springs riffle beetle (CSRB) because this “species were believed to be good indicator species for the impacts on other Covered Species.” However, there turned out to be disagreement about whether the CSRB is an indicator species so the EAA is “moving towards” detailed monitoring plans for the other covered species(e.g., dryopid beetles, Peck’s Cave amphipod, salamanders.)” This demonstrates the enormous data collection task facing implementing bodies and why they seek to use indicator species.
The EAA considered 4 alternative courses of action and selected #2 which was expected to cost 261 million dollars over the 15 year period of the incidental take permit. This is a huge number but, when one considers the value of the properties that will be developed in the area covered by the HCP, it is not that large. One of the other alternatives would have cost more than 400 million dollars. They justified their selection based on the fact this alternative would deal with the most “varied” forms of threats.
One interesting dilemma faced by EAA is that part of their plan to support species such as the fountain darter is to reestablish native plants that support the species but the Academy found that “there is not enough new habitat from native plantings to maintain populations of fountain darter to balance non-native plant removal.” They suggest that two non-native species have been shown by data to support fountain darters but they acknowledge that “it may be unpalatable to consider non-native vegetation.” This brings up an issue I discuss in my book in different chapters—can and should non-native species be used to substitute for the functions formerly performed by “native species.” Many traditional conservationists reject this idea but it is one that the “new conservationists” such as Emma Marris and others support.
The report concludes by citing measures and savings that various governmental bodies such as cities and universities have agreed to take to meet the requirements of the plan. A key point made in their conclusion is the need to continually monitor the plan and its success: “…performance monitoring should be done not only for the first year, but regularly during implementation, with a comprehensive synthesis of the monitoring data about every five years that goes beyond the simple trends analyses found in the HCP annual reports.” Indeed, it is the need to monitor the implementation and success of HCPs which is at the heart of much of the concern that conservationists have with the “new ESA.”
So, overall, how has the change to the “updated ESA” begun by the Clinton Administration worked? I would argue that it was realistically a necessary step from a political perspective and also from a resources point of view—the USFWS simply does not have the resources and political resources to push a much more aggressive ESA policy. However, assessment of the success of the implementation efforts must be done at some point to verify that this approach is working. The case study is based on the National Academy Science Report: Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan REPORT 2. Committee to Review the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan. Water Science and Technology Board Division on Earth and Life Studies, National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. 2017. https://www.nap.edu/catalog/21699/review-of-the-edwards-aquifer-habitat-conservation-plan-report-1
Media impact & wide coalition win reversal of cyanide bomb policy: The Department of Agriculture announced a ban (temporary) on the use of cyanide bombs to kill wildlife—the bombs are intended for “pests” such as coyotes but in a recent incident, they killed a dog and sprayed a boy in Idaho. The ban is temporary and the agency reserves the right to begin using them again if they give 30 day notice. The incident was heavily covered by the media—showing that the killing of pets (and threats to humans especially children) carry a much heavier impact than their impact on non-target wildlife. The incident also shows how broad coalitions in wildlife that include both organizations focused on biodiversity and animal welfare can form a powerful coalition—the list of organizations opposing the use of the bombs includes the following: Western Watersheds Project, Predator Defense, WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Western Wildlife Conservancy, Nevada Wildlife Alliance, Gallatin Wildlife Association, Environmental Protection Information Center, the Wolf Conservation Center, Wilderness Watch, Klamath Forest Alliance, Northeast Oregon Ecosystems, Yellowstone to Uintas Connection, Footloose Montana, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Project Coyote, Voices of Wildlife, and the Mountain Lion Foundation. See the entire article on which this blog is based at http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2017/04/10/federal-wildlife-killing-agency-agrees-to-halt-use-of-m-44-cyanide-bombs-in-idaho/
Fissures in the Wildlife Conservation Coalition: Clean energy vs. Birds When the wildlife conservation constituency merges with other groups interested in preserving biodiversity such as environmentalists, hunters, and animal rights groups, they form a very strong coalition. However, on several issues, fissures occur among these groups due to differences in values, priorities, and policy preferences. One such case involves environmentalists who prioritize clean energy such as wind turbines versus wildlife conservationists such as bird lovers. An article by Michael Hutchins, director of the American Bird Conservancy, discusses the dangers posed to birds of the construction of wind turbines on the Great Lakes. Check out the article at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-wind-turbines-birds-bats-great-lakes-perspec-0410-md-20170407-story.html
During my research for the book, I noticed that there was no blog available for sharing informaton on wildlife conservation and thus I set up this blog to accomplish this purpose. Please share any informaticoncerning issues related to wildife policy and politics. I welcome feedback from users concerning this blog and website.