Plan for sonar range off Georgia/Florida in dispute as endangering whales

17 11 2008


By Steve Patterson | The Times-Union

A Navy plan to build a training range for sonar exercises off Jacksonville’s coast is worrying Florida and Georgia environmental agencies.  Officials in both states have told the Navy that ship traffic from the training range could harm endangered right whales, which spend the winter offshore raising their young.

“The waters offshore of Georgia and northeast Florida are the only known calving ground for the species. Protection of the right whale calving habitat is critical for population recovery,” Georgia Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Noel Holcomb wrote in a response to a draft Navy report on the project.

Today is the start of the whales’ calving season, which lasts until April 15. There are about 350 remaining right whales.

Training less during calving season is the best way to avoid harming them, said recommendations from Holcomb’s agency and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Federal rules protecting right whales treat the area close to Jacksonville’s shoreline as “critical habitat” for the giant mammals. The training range would be about 50 miles offshore, outside that critical zone.

But agencies in both states argued that whales are found throughout the area, not just near the beach. One whale fitted with an electronic monitor in 2005 traveled 73 miles east of shore, the Conservation Commission noted.

The Navy named Jacksonville in September as its top choice for a training site, after weighing four Atlantic coast locations. Ships, submarines, planes and helicopters would train there for anti-submarine warfare.

The 500-square-mile range would be fitted with underwater sensors to track vessels’ movements. That’s supposed to help trainers critique the crews’ performance quickly so they learn more from each exercise. Without such a system, training critiques are sometimes filed weeks later, after reviewers piece together data recorded on each vessel.

Read on here.


Bush Wants Some Endangered Species Act Rules Extinct

16 08 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — Just months before President Bush leaves office, his administration is antagonizing environmentalists by proposing changes that would allow federal agencies to decide for themselves whether subdivisions, dams, highways and other projects have the potential to harm endangered animals and plants.

The proposal, first reported by The Associated Press, would cut out the advice of government scientists who have been weighing in on such decisions for 35 years. Agencies also could not consider a project’s contribution to global warming in their analysis.

Reaction was swift from Democrats and environmental groups.

See the full article here.

Climate Change Forces Proposed Changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA)

13 08 2008
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has proposed to update a portion of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations that govern the endangered species responsibilities of federal agencies, known as Section 7.
Under these proposed regulatory changes, federal agencies would have the authority to decide for themselves, without consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife (FWS) or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), if their construction projects threaten an endangered or threatened species. The proposed regulations also prohibit federal agencies from linking greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the deterioration of any species’ habitat. Federal agencies that determine that a project does not have an adverse impact to a threatened or endangered species would accept all liability for any harm that results to the protected wildlife or habitat. According to DOI, the changes will make it easier for agencies to understand when and how the regulations apply and reflect current practices and recent courts cases.

Read further here.



Polar Bear Listed as “Threatened” Species

8 08 2008

The United States Department of Interior listed the polar bear as a “threatened” species under the federal Endangered Species Act. While such a listing would typically create review requirements only for projects in Alaska, in this case the listing was made to address the impacts of global warming. At least theoretically, any “major federal action” in the US needed to approve a new source of greenhouse gas emissions would have to conduct an ESA review to determine the impact on polar bears prior to receiving approval. To protect against this result, the Secretary of DOI announced:


To make sure that the Endangered Species Act is not misused to regulate global climate change, I will take the following specific actions:


First, to provide clarity and certainty to those regulated under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service will propose what is known as a 4(d) rule that states that if an activity is permissible under the stricter standards imposed by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is also permissible under the Endangered Species Act with respect to the polar bear. This rule, effective immediately, will ensure the protection of the bear while allowing us to continue to develop our natural resources in the arctic region in an environmentally sound way.


Second, Director Hall will issue guidance to Fish and Wildlife Service staff that the best scientific data available today cannot make a causal connection between harm to listed species or their habitats and greenhouse gas emissions from a specific facility, or resource development project, or government action.


Third, the Department will issue a Solicitor’s Opinion further clarifying these points.

Fourth, the ESA regulatory language needs to be clarified. We will propose common sense modifications to the existing regulation to provide greater certainty that this listing will not set backdoor climate policy outside our normal system of political accountability.