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for people who care about the West

Sage grouse changes; Superfund funding; Sacrificial sea lions

HCN.org news in brief.

 

SWEEPING CHANGES TO SAGE GROUSE PLANS
The Interior Department in August released its review of 98 West-wide sage grouse management plans that were finalized in 2015 after a decade of research and negotiations. Some governors and industry groups applaud the recommendations, because they give states more flexibility and could open up lands for development. Critics say the report values oil and gas over the sage grouse, and that its recommendations would undo the work of existing plans. Here are a few key takeaways:

A greater sage grouse in Baker County, Oregon. A new report released by the Interior Department suggests scaling back protections for the imperiled bird.
Nick Myatt/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Changing boundaries
The recommendations include evaluating and perhaps eliminating focal areas and priority conservation areas that limit development in the bird’s most sensitive habitat.

Population targets
Instead of focusing on overall habitat health and resilience, the report recommends population targets as a measure of conservation success.

What’s next?
Lawsuits over the 2015 management plans from Idaho, Nevada and Utah will continue, while the Interior Department discusses the report with states, feds, ranchers, developers and conservationists. More recommendations will come this fall, and again in early 2018.  -Tay Wiles

920: Number of “problem” California sea lions on the Columbia River and tributaries that could be killed annually to protect salmon.

77: Percent of the region’s sea lion population that would represent (based on 2006 population estimates).

In July, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act, which allows permit holders to kill California sea lions on a 112-mile stretch of the Columbia River. Proponents, including the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, say the bill will help endangered salmon populations. But critics caution that the bill undermines federal protections such as the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and National Environmental Policy Act, without addressing the root causes of salmon declines, primarily habitat destruction and dams. The bill heads to a vote in the House next.  -Maya L. Kapoor

WHAT ABOUT THE FUNDS FOR SUPERFUND? 
In early August, a Senate subcommittee gathered to discuss the fate of Superfund, a program of the Environmental Protection Agency. The meeting comes one week after the Superfund task force, which was created by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in May, released its first report with recommendations for cleanups of sites. Despite Pruitt’s claims that his agency will prioritize cleanups of Superfund sites, his EPA is faced with stark budget cuts, including a 30 percent decline for Superfund alone. Ranking committee member Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said Pruitt is setting unrealistic expectations for what the agency can accomplish with a skinny budget. “The rhetoric and the reality may not add up,” she said. “I would like to hear how the agency plans to accelerate the pace of cleanups while significantly cutting the sources of funding to do that cleanup.”  -Paige Blankenbuehler

21: Number of Interior Department political hires known to come from the resource-extraction industry.

As Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke continued his review of 27 national monuments through August, he tapped pro-fossil fuel industry officials to fill vacant positions at the department. Zinke’s Interior Department has already shown signs of a broader push towards energy development on public lands. So far, just three hires come from a conservation, recreation, hunting or fishing background, according to Western Values Project, a progressive conservation organization.  -Tay Wiles

WHAT THEY LEFT BEHIND
A water bottle and tattered clothing were among the items abandoned by migrants near the Mexico border and discovered by Tucson Samaritans. See and read about their work during “Flood the Desert” day.

Items left by migrants under a Palo Verde tree.
Caitlin O’Hara

GOD WON'T TAKE CARE OF CLIMATE CHANGE
After President Donald Trump signaled his intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, Michigan Republican Rep. Tim Walberg told constituents that if climate change were “real,” God would “take care of” it. Not so, says Christine Colbert, an ex-Mormon, in an opinion piece. Colbert says people shouldn’t use their religious beliefs as an excuse to ignore climate change. In fact, she argues that many faiths promote environmental stewardship, a fact often forgotten in anti-climate change rhetoric. Even those who don’t believe the planet is warming should still advocate for measures to ensure clean air, water and wildlife populations for a healthy planet.  -Christine Colbert

You say

Ellie Roo: “God gave us the ability to think and reason. We need to stop waiting for Him to rescue us and use what He gave us!”

Terri Lepthien: “When religion is used to justify the destruction of the only place we exist, it is time to either dump or change said religion, as it has become worse than useless; it has become toxic to the existence of life on this planet.”

Clint Batterton: “The Bible is not a science book. As I was told in my mainstream Protestant church, we are stewards of the Earth who should leave it, intact, to the next generation.”