Monday, June 8, 2015

Prairie dog in eye of ESA storm

Marty Jackley is one of nine Republican attorneys general joining a lawsuit that could undermine the Endangered Species Act by excluding private property from enforcement.
They argue states should manage animals that live only within their borders. This type of prairie dog can only be found in a southwest portion of Utah. But federal attorneys counter that most protected species live only in a single state and courts have long upheld federal authority to manage them. [KJZZ]
In the event the case gets to the Supreme Court of the United States environmentalists see hope from Chief Justice John Roberts.
Roberts wrote that the ruling leads to "regulating the taking of a hapless toad that, for reasons of its own, lives its entire life in California" and "constitutes regulating" interstate commerce. If the government loses at the 10th Circuit, it's unclear whether it would want to take the case to the Supreme Court for fear of Roberts and the conservative majority setting a more far-reaching precedent. The law defines a "take" as killing, harassing, harming, pursuing, shooting, wounding, trapping or capturing a protected species. Violations carry stiff financial penalties and in some cases jail time. [excerpt, Jeremy P. Jacobs, Legal fight over prairie dog could chew hole in ESA]
South Dakota had made modest improvements raising its grade from 'F' to 'D' on WildEarth Guardians' 2015 Report from the Burrow (pdf). The state's GOP-owned wildlife 'management' agency allows wholesale slaughter of the keystone species on private land; but, habitats and colonies on public lands often overlap where selective killing can disrupt entire ecosystems.

Jackley's actions come after the next step has been taken in the Cain Creek Land Exchange, a public-private land ownership swap in the Conata Basin. Led by The Nature Conservancy, a non-profit that began buying land there in 2007, sold some land in 2012 to Badlands National Park.
“Where we can consolidate land ownership and have less interface with private landowners and less issues with boundaries and prairie dogs, we’re hopeful that will help alleviate problems,” said Cindy Hockelberg, the U.S. Forest Service project manager for the swap. [Rapid City Journal]
Conata Basin is on the top ten ecotourism sites chosen by the University of Nebraska's Great Plains Center.

Sylvatic plague has been confirmed in prairie dogs in Oglala National Grassland upstream on the White River from Conata Basin. The disease kills black-footed ferrets, the prairie dogs' natural enemy reintroduced by wildlife officials for prairie dog control.
Only 150 years ago, the prairies of Nebraska and South Dakota were a part of a multi-state sea of native grasses laid out below an upside-down bowl of blue sky, with antelope, songbirds, prairie dog colonies and herds of buffalo roaming miles upon miles of the expanse and not a fence in sight. Agriculture and urban development have overcome the symbolic prairie, replacing hills of grass with crop and pastureland, taming the rivers and wetlands and breaking up the remaining ecosystems with roads, fences and other features of human civilization. Land use is changing in the Great Plains,” said Dirac Twidwell, rangeland ecologist with the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. “There is considerable momentum for further conversion of our nation’s rangelands to support energy demand.” While development did not seem adverse when examined locally, he and others on the research team led by the University of Montana found that ecosystem degradation was evident when viewed from a large scale via high-resolution satellite measurements of vegetation growth. [Yankton Press & Dakotan, links added]
Prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets are critical to sustain the reintroduction of bison in sage grouse habitat as the West is rewilded.

The Bureau of Land Management has caved to domestic terrorists in Nevada allowing cattle onto drought-wracked public lands.

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