Feds, Busineses and Farmers Save Habitats and Species
Some rules tighter on seasonal wetlands
By: Norma Bennett Woolf Date: 01/14/2012 Category: | Wildlife Journal |
For the past two years, Republicans in the 104th Congress worked to pass bills that would curb the power of government agencies to regulate private property rights on environmental issues. The House and Senate approved a flurry of environmental bills at the end of the session, but the bills did not include the regulatory modification promised by the Republicans.
After the November election, the Clinton Administration's Interior Department drafted a new program to increase fees at 106 public land sites controlled by three agencies - the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Fish and Wildlife Service and the FWS loosened rules for establishment of habitat conservation plans to ease restrictions on property owners. At the same time, in a year when the number of waterfowl is at its highest level in 40 years, President Clinton pleased environmentalists with new rules to restrict development on seasonal wetlands as small as one acre and to phase out certain types of permits within two years.
In its annual report, the FWS praised the "restoration and conservation of millions of acres of wetland habitat" for increasing duck population by 34 million birds since 1990. Much of that restoration work was done through money raised by hunters - through licenses, taxes, and private hunt clubs and organizations such as Ducks Unlimited - not by government agencies. This cooperative effort and the use of habitat conservation plans provide incentives to land owners to save and restore habitat for wildlife, incentives that are lost with the stricter wetlands rules.
National park fees rise in pilot program to boost budgets
The Interior Department has raised fees at national parks, recreation areas, and refuges to increase budgets for improvements on public lands. Visitors to some parks will pay double the previous cost per day - new rates at most sites will range from $2 per person to $20 per car.
"Even with the pilot fee increase, a family of four can enjoy a week's visit to Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Glacier national parks for less than it costs to see a first run movie," said Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. "While everything else has gone up in price over the past 70 years, Yellowstone is still $10 per car. That's less than the price of a good video of the park and much less than it costs to visit an imitation Yellowstone at an amusement park in Florida."
The National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management have selected 106 sites to participate in the three-year test approved by Congress. The revenue will be used for specific improvements such as rehabilitation of campgrounds, opening new trails, providing new picnic areas, build new access areas for handicapped visitors, renovate wetlands, and other direct uses.
Unlike past fee collections, the new money will not go to the government's general fund for dispersal through the Congressional budget process. Instead, 80 percent of the money will stay on site and the remaining 20 percent will be disbursed among the sites with the highest need. Each of the 106 chosen sites will provide information about the project and the intended use of revenue.
A list of selected sites is available from the three agencies: BLM (17 sites) can be reached at (202) 452-5125; US Fish & Wildlife (42 sites), (202) 219-3861; and National Park Service (47 sites) (202) 208-6843.
Landowners squeezed by new wetlands rules but benefit by habitat guidelines
The government has tightened wetlands rules to prevent development, but has eased requirements for habitat conservation plans that protect endangered species on private lands.
President William J. Clinton endorsed regulations proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers that make it more difficult to build on seasonal wetlands and will eventually phase out the fast-track permit process for these lands.
Currently, developers can get permits to build on seasonal wetlands of less than 10 acres with only a cursory review. The new regulations limit such permits to areas of less than three acres and tightens requirements on lots as small as one acre. The fast-track permits will be phased out over the next two years.
Environmentalists cheer the new regulations, approved in spite of Congressional efforts to loosen restrictions on private lands and provide compensation for landowners whose development rights are restricted by regulations. The approval process for development on seasonal wetlands will increase from 45 days to 90 days, making it too expensive for many landowners.
While the Army Corps of Engineers is restricting development of privately-owned seasonal wetlands, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Commerce Department's National Marine Fisheries Service is expediting permits for habitat conservation plans on private property. The plans provide protection for species while allowing economic development that will not "appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of species in the wild."
The plans were established to aid owners of lands inhabited by endangered or threatened wildlife by allowing the incidental take of some individual animals when the developers are involved in lawful activity. Habitat conservation plans include conservation easements, restoration or enhancement of degraded or former habitat, creation of new habitats, establishment of buffer areas, and modification of land use practices.
The new rules establish a category for small landowners and other low-impact projects. They will help landowners who want to build a house to get permits more quickly.
Congress approved habitat conservation plans in 1982. In the first 10 years, only 14 permits were granted. Since 1992, 183 permits have been approved and 200 are in development. By 1995, most plans were approved for areas smaller than 1000 acres. Since then, 25 have exceeded 10,000 acres; 25 have exceeded 100,000 acres, and 18 have been larger than 500,000 acres. Copies of the habitat Conservation Plan Handbook are available from the HCP Coordinator, Division of Endangered Species, US Fish & Wildlife Service (ARLSQ 452), 1849 C Street NW, Washington DC 20240.
Champion International wins wildlife ward
Champion International Corporation, a forestry products company, has earned a wildlife stewardship award from the US Fish and Wildlife Service for a range of projects developed to benefit wildlife.
"Wherever Champion has a presence, it has worked with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and its counterpart state agencies to develop solutions that protect wildlife and allow land use," said Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt as he presented the award. "Champion has shown that we can use our lands while protecting our natural heritage."
Champion has supported many activities designed to protect endangered and threatened species and their habitats for the past several years. The efforts include adopting land management techniques that benefit birds and fish and education programs for employees and contractors. In 1994, Champion worked with the FWS, the USDA Forest Service, and the State of Texas to protect an existing colony of endangered red cockaded woodpeckers and providing additional habitat for transplanted woodpeckers. Rather than just donating money or land to the effort, Champion employees built and installed artificial nesting cavities, conducted controlled burns, and established open stands of longleaf pine for the woodpeckers.
In Maine, the company helped establish the Salmon Habitat and River Enhancement Project to conserve the Atlantic salmon. Here employees cleared obstacles to spawning, repaired water control structures, and built and tended weirs to track returning fish.
Champion has also worked with the FWS to arrange or fund endangered species training for its contract loggers, developed a series of videotapes about endangered species in the south, and produced an illustrated guidebook to endangered species in Alabama, a prototype for similar books in each of the 17 states where the company operates.
Champion CEO Dick Olsen accepted the award. "This award is testimony to the hard work of hundreds of Champion foresters and wildlife biologists," Olsen said. "What is especially gratifying is that it recognizes Champion's comprehensive approach to protecting our forest resources as part of our ongoing sustainability and stewardship effort and our commitment to the American Forest & Paper Association's Sustainable Forestry Initiative."
Champion is the eighth corporation to receive the award since its inception in 1990.
Farmers and ranchers will WHIP habitat into shape.
WHIP - Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program - is the latest partnership effort between private land holders and a federal agency to protect important wildlife habitat. Administered by the US Department of Agriculture, WHIP offers technical assistance and money to develop conservation practices that benefit wildlife. It is part of the 1996 farm bill.
"USDA's Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program will help the nation's farmers and ranchers develop and preserve important wildlife habitat for future generations," said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. "Agriculture has helped stem losses in wildlife populations and their habitats, and WHIP is one of many tools USDA plans to use to continue to make this happen."
To participate in WHIP, individuals must own or control the land offered to the program. Contracts are for 10 years; funds are available for up to 75 percent of the costs up to a maximum of $10,000. Applications for the program will be approved based on state habitat priorities; those that provide the greatest wildlife benefits will be funded.
State agencies and private groups or businesses can provide additional funds to help a land owner complete the project. Plans to enhance streams, wetlands, and uplands, especially those that involve planting or restoration of native plants, will be considered.
The budget for WHIP is $50 million through 2002. The program is administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
In 1996, duck populations soared, buffalo roamed free, and condors flew in the southwest
The continued recovery of the nation's duck population after decades of decline is just one wildlife success story in a year that offered many bright spots fro species from buffalo to butterflies, according to a report from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
"The American people are making an impressive effort to restore wildlife across the nation," said John Rogers, acting FWS director.
Among the year's good news stories:
- An estimated 90 million ducks flew south from their northern nesting grounds, the highest figure since FWS began estimating the fall flights in the 1950s. Several years of plentiful rain and snowfall in primary nesting areas of the north central US and south cental Canada along with restoration and conservation of millions of acres of wetland habitat boosted duck population by 34 million in the past six years.
- In early December, six California condors were released into the wild in northern Arizona, an area that has not seen the huge birds for seven decades. The condors were bred in California and Idaho and held in pens at the release site for several weeks before they were set free. Condors nearly became extinct during the 1980s and have been restored through captive breeding programs and releases to their former ranges.
- For the first time since the mid-19th Century, buffalo are again home on the range in the tall prairie grasses of the Walnut Creek National Wildlife Refuge near Des Moines, Iowa. The 14 animals came from the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma and Ft. Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska. The FWS would like the herd to reproduce to 100-150 animals.
- After two successful releases of gray wolves in Yellowstone National park in Wyoming and in central Idaho in 1995 and 1996, the population of these predators is up to 52 in Yellowstone and 40 in Idaho and no new releases are planned for 1997.
- Eighty-two bald eagles fledged from 58 active nest sites at the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Minnesota, up from nine eaglets produced at nine sites in 1986. Nine of the nests produced triplets this year.
- In August, for the first time since 1817, biologists reported the first recorded breeding of northern fur seals on the Farallon Islands off the California coast. A bull, several females, and a pup were seen on West End, a wilderness area of the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge 30 miles west of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. San Miguel Island in the Channel Islands is the only other northern fur seal breeding colony in California.
- Mississippi Sandhill Crane Wildlife Refuge reported a record 13 nesting pairs of sandhill cranes this year, the most in 30 years of monitoring. Today there are 95 Mississippi sandhill cranes in the US, 23 hatched in the wild, up from 30 in 1975.
- About 170 whooping cranes are expected to arrive at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge this year, up from 158 last year. Only 16 whooping cranes were left in the wild in the 1940s.
- Despite record losses last winter caused by red tide along Florida's southwest coast, manatees are doing well at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Florida and populations may top last year's record high of 304 animals. By the end of November, 283 manatees had already congregated in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico with more expected by the end of December.
- More than 250 endangered Schaus swallowtail butterflies were released into their historic habitat near Miami. The butterfly, which occurs only in Florida, was on the verge of extinction in 1991, but populations have been on the rise since mosquito spraying was halted on northern Key Largo during breeding season.
- Endangered black-footed ferrets have been discovered in the Shirley Basin of Montana, where the species was reintroduced from 1991-1994. Surveys confirmed the presence of about 20 ferret kits in seven-to-nine litters. At least two of the litters were born to last year's wild-born females.
FWS advocates return of Mexican wolf
Extinct in the wild in the US, the Mexican wolf could return to its home ground in an experimental plan proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service in December. The wolves would be classified as a "nonessential experimental population" under the Endangered Species Act, a designation that allows management with fewer restrictions than those normally covering endangered species.
There are 149 Mexican wolves in captivity in zoos, and wildlife sanctuaries in the US and Mexico. If the plan is approved, the wolves will be released first in eastern Arizona in the Apache National Forest and allowed to disperse into the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. The wolf recovery areas will include only public lands. If wolves move beyond the recovery area boundaries onto private or tribal lands or if they pose a significant threat to livestock, they will be removed unless the land managers want them to remain.
The proposal includes no land-use restrictions or prohibitions on tribal or private lands and few restrictions on public lands. Outside a few small areas on public lands where temporary restrictions may be imposed to protect denning wolves, traditional uses such as logging, grazing, mining, military activities, and hunting will be unaffected. Under the experimental population designation, there is no violation of the ESA if a wolf is killed by accident, as a result of military training, to protect human lives, or to stop attacks on livestock, but the killing must be reported promptly.
The wolves in Yellowstone and Idaho and the California condors in Arizona were released as experimental populations
Mexican wolf adults weigh 50-90 pounds and are 4.5-5.5 feet from nose to tail and 26-32 inches tall. It was extirpated from the US by predator control campaigns and has not been seen in Mexico since 1980. A decision on the recommendation will be made after the 30-day comment period, which ended January 19, 1997.
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