Court allows Trump’s border wall to violate several conservation acts

February 15, 2019 by  
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Donald Trump is moving forward with the construction of his controversial border wall, even if it means sidestepping important environmental laws. A federal judge ruled in favor of Trump’s wall construction along California’s southern border, a project that is expected to violate several conservation acts. The federal court ruled that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the power to wave environmental laws in the construction of the border wall, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act. The majority opinion argued that the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 gives the DHS power to ignore certain laws when it comes to border security. Related: 10 species at risk of extinction under the Trump administration “Because the projects are statutorily authorized and DHS has waived the environmental laws California and the environmental groups seek to enforce, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment to DHS,” Judge M. Margaret McKeown said. According to EcoWatch , environmentalists and conservation groups attempted to stop the construction of the border wall in 2017. Building the prototypes for the structure has already violated at least 37 regulations in San Diego County. Once construction begins, environmentalists predict that more than 90 endangered species could be harmed by the time the wall is complete. California is not the only state facing an environmental crisis. Texas is also getting ready to start construction of its border wall , and conservation groups are worried about how the wall will affect one of the most successful butterfly sanctuaries in the country: the National Butterfly Center . A 5-mile portion of the wall will cut through the heart of the property, which has environmentalists worried about how it will affect the 200 variations of butterflies that call the sanctuary home. This includes the monarch, black swallowtail and the Mexican bluewing. Conservation groups are currently attempting to stall construction of the wall in Texas as they scramble to figure out a solution. The Trump administration has hailed the new court decision as a major victory in its effort to secure the border. The White House has not, however, addressed how building the border wall will break dozens of environmental laws and potentially harm endangered species. Via EcoWatch Image via Melissa McMasters

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Court allows Trump’s border wall to violate several conservation acts

Conchs in the Bahamas could be extinct in 10 years

January 24, 2019 by  
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The Bahamas is famous for its large conch population, but some studies claim that could change significantly over the next decade if the archipelago doesn’t start enforcing its laws and introduce stricter regulations. Overfishing has devastated many of the Bahamian conch communities, and it is making reproduction so difficult, the sea slug could be extinct within 10 years. This would be devastating to Bahamian tradition and culture, not to mention the economic impact on the fishing industry. According to the Matador Network , about 9,000 fishermen, which is about 2 percent of the population, depend on the conch fishery. These sluggish sea creatures move too slowly to mate in just pairs. Instead, it’s safer for them to mate in groups, with at least 50 others nearby. But many of the Bahamian conch communities are below critical levels. Related: 60% of wild coffee species are now threatened with extinction The conchs in the Florida Keys suffered the same fate more than four decades ago. Back in 1975, the once abundant conch population went extinct because of overfishing. Now, the Bahamas are facing the same problem, because the nation has some of the most lenient fishing regulations in the Caribbean. However, the Bahamas’ Department of Marine Resources announced on January 13 that it would be ending exports and increasing its regulatory staff in an effort to protect the conchs . There could be some push-back according to Shelly Cant-Woodside, the director of science and policy for the Bahamas National Trust. “We’re not used to regulations or enforcement,” Cant-Woodside told National Geographic . Because the conch industry is the only source of income for many residents of the Bahamas, they might not welcome new restrictions. Right now, the fishermen can legally fish adult conchs after they have had enough time to reproduce. But the Bahamas’ Department of Marine Resources will enforce this rule more strictly by recommending a mandatory minimum shell thickness. Biologist Any Kough said that the new recommendation is encouraging, and it is a “clear sign” that the department is aware of the troubles the conch population is facing in the Bahamas. Via Matador Network and National Geographic Image via Briana Baud

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Shark fins still being sold in US restaurants amid ban

January 24, 2019 by  
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Shark finning has sparked numerous controversies for the horrible act of animal cruelty that has led to the banning of shark finning in 12 U.S. states. However, the ban is so difficult to effectively enforce that some restaurants in at least 10 of the states still manage to have shark fins on their menus, and some are starting to question if the ban is worth it. Shark finning — the act of slicing fins off live sharks and throwing the wounded shark into the ocean , where they sink and eventually die of suffocation and blood loss — became illegal in U.S. waters back in 2000. Yet, shark fins have been making their way to the states from countries that don’t ban the practice and catch sharks. Although the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington D.C. — who supports the national shark fin ban — updates their yearly list of establishments that serve shark fin soup, restaurants are still featuring the infamous soup on the their menus. According to National Geographic ,  shark fin soup is a “status dish in Asian countries” and has a long history dating back to the Song Dynasty. Currently, the soup is traditionally served at wedding receptions as a sign of respect for guests. Related: Nine more states join seismic blasting lawsuit against the Trump administration The “luxury dish” is prepared by boiling the shark fins and removing the skin and meat. The softened protein fiber that is left behind is then shredded and put into the soup. Trying to ban this item from restaurants is proving to be a major problem for U.S. enforcement agencies due to understaffing. Not to mention, making a case against shark fin vendors can be difficult since the trade is mostly underground, like illegal drugs. “I know it’s going on, I know it’s out there,” says San Francisco marine warden William O’Brien. “But it’s a very private matter — it’s not the kind of thing that, you know, people are selling to the public.” To make matters worse, the fines and jail sentences for violating the ban are usually light and don’t deter the practice. Via National Geographic Images via Shutterstock

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60% of wild coffee species are now threatened with extinction

January 17, 2019 by  
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When people think of threatened and endangered species, charismatic animals like tigers and giant pandas are usually top of mind. But climate change  really hits home when it lands in your morning mug. Coffea arabica , the wild relative of the world’s favorite coffee, has hit the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. According to a study done by scientists at England’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew , 60 percent of wild coffee species risk extinction. The culprits? Climate change, deforestation, pests and fungal pathogens. Kew scientists undertook their research in African forests and on the island of Madagascar. Their computer models predict that by the end of the century, climate change could decrease the land now used for Ethiopian coffee production by 60 percent. Ethiopia is Africa’s largest coffee exporter — the annual export value tops $1 billion — and the birthplace of Arabica coffee. The wild Arabica coffee is a vital seed stock for coffee farmers. Related: Champagne could lose its classic taste due to climate change This is bad news for coffee lovers, the multi-billion dollar coffee industry and the farmers who depend on the crop for their livelihood. “Among the coffee species threatened with extinction are those that have potential to be used to breed and develop the coffees of the future, including those resistant to disease and capable of withstanding worsening climatic condition,” said Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at Kew. “The use and development of wild coffee resources could be key to the long-term sustainability of the coffee sector.” The Kew study is the first IUCN Red List assessment of the extinction risk to coffee worldwide. “A figure of 60 percent of all coffee species threatened with extinction is extremely high, especially when you compare this to a global estimate of 22 percent for plants,” said Eimear Nic Lughadha, senior research leader in Kew’s conservation department and lead scientist for Kew’s plant assessment unit. “Some of the coffee species assessed have not been seen in the wild for more than 100 years, and it is possible that some may already be extinct. We hope this new data will highlight species to be prioritized for the sustainability of the coffee production sector so that appropriate action can be taken to safeguard their future.” + Kew Images via Emma Sage and Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew

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Iguanas reintroduced to island after 200 years

January 15, 2019 by  
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In 1835, Charles Darwin was the last person to officially see a land iguana on Santiago Island in the Galapagos. After that encounter, predators like the feral pig wiped the lizard population out of that location. Now — nearly two centuries later —  an initiative by the Galapagos National Park authority has reintroduced more than 1,400 land iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus) back to Santiago Island. Authorities said in a recent statement that on January 3 and 4, the land iguanas were taken from neighboring North Seymour Island and introduced to the coastal regions Puerto Nuevo and Bucanero, which have similar ecosystems to the iguanas’ former home. The Galapagos Conservation Trust says that the archipelago’s land iguana population suffered when species like cats, rats, dogs and pigs were introduced. Those species prey on baby iguanas and eggs, plus they compete for food. Some cats even target adult iguanas up to four years old. But, the last feral pig on Santiago Island was eradicated in 2000 as part of the Galapagos Conservancy’s Project Isabela, and the island became officially pig-free in 2004. Related: Endangered green and loggerhead turtles make Mediterranean comeback The Santiago Island iguana reintroduction initiative was in due to depleting vegetation on North Seymour Island, which was threatening also a main threat to the food source of more than 5,000 iguanas. However, some lizards did remain to avoid compromising the existing vegetation . “The land iguana is a herbivore that helps ecosystems by dispersing seeds and maintaining open areas free from vegetation,” says Galapagos ecosystems director Danny Rueda. Authorities will continue to monitor the iguanas that have been reintroduced to the Galapagos island in order to determine if the iguanas are properly adapting and creating nests, and also to see if they are finding necessary food. They will also keep a close eye on newer species found on the island, such as rodents and ants, to make sure they are not disturbing the iguanas’ nests. Galapagos National Park Director Jorge Carrión said on Twitter that reintroducing the iguanas to Santiago Island was “great news for #Galapagos, for #Ecuador, and the world.” Via CNN Image by 8moments

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10 species at risk of extinction under the Trump administration

January 2, 2019 by  
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The Endangered Species Coalition has released a report titled  Extinction Plan: Ten Species Imperiled by the Trump Administration , which outlines the possible impact of the current administration’s anti-wildlife policy stances. The report highlighted the 10 species that are in the most danger because of proposed new regulations as well as the specific changes that put these animals at risk. California Condor The California Condor has a 10-foot wingspan, making it one of the largest land birds in North America. These birds can reach altitudes of 15,000 feet and speeds up to 55 miles per hour. They are a critically endangered species, with fewer than 500 left, after flying in the skies of the western U.S. and Mexico for thousands of years. Most California Condors die in the wild from lead poisoning, and when the population shrank to less than 30 back in 1982, survivors were captured and put in breeding facilities. By 2017, more than 290 were flying free in the wild, with another 173 in the breeding program. However, on his first day in office, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke rolled back legislation from the Obama administration that banned the use of lead ammunition in critical condor habitat. This could be a catastrophic action that might lead to the end of the California Condor. Leatherback and Loggerhead Sea Turtles Both of these sea turtles can swim for thousands of miles, and they help maintain balance in their ocean habitat while providing essential nutrients to the beaches where they nest. Both types are protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but they are also vulnerable to human activity. Each year, thousands are snared in fishing nets and die, and climate change is hitting their homes hard. Related: Study finds microplastics in sea turtles around the world The Trump Administration’s proposed new regulations give leeway when it comes to how a habitat is or isn’t protected. If those regulations do kick in, the Fish and Wildlife Service can ignore protections in that habitat altogether, and the leatherbacks and loggerheads could lose their fragile beach nesting grounds entirely. Red Wolf Red wolves were declared extinct in the wild back in 1980. But after a successful experimental breeding program, they were reintroduced in North Carolina in 1987. The red wolf is on the edge of extinction again, with fewer than 30 left in the wild. The only place in the world that you can find red wolves is in a five-county area in North Carolina. Under proposed regulations from the Trump Administration, the delisting of the red wolf could be justified, even though scientists are still investigating their genetics. This would be a fatal blow to the species. Hellbender This ancient salamander is slimy and mud-brown or speckled gray, like a river rock. It has flappy skinfolds on the entire length of its body, lidless eyes that keep it from seeing much of anything and chubby toes for clinging to the river bottom. It also has a superb sense of smell. Hellbenders live solitary lives under a single boulder, and they never relocate. They do not pose any threat to humans and are a vital indicator of water quality, because they thrive in clean streams but deteriorate when their habitat does. Because the Trump Administration’s proposed regulations include economic analysis in their listing decisions, it could mean the end for the hellbender. The economics of mining, logging and fossil fuel extraction could cloud a listing for this species, and those businesses could also damage the hellbender’s habitat beyond repair. Giraffe The world’s tallest animal with 6-foot-long legs and a 6-foot-long neck, the giraffe is a highly social animal that roams in groups called towers. Their patterned coats are unique, just like fingerprints, and the animal is emblematic of Africa’s savanna. Hunting and habitat encroachment have reduced the population by 30 percent in the last three decades, and the animal appears to have gone extinct in seven countries. The two biggest threats are a growing trade in giraffe parts and trophy hunting; however, this animal is not protected internationally or by the Endangered Species Act. Related: Trump administration wants to allow “extreme and cruel” hunting methods in Alaska To make matters worse, Zinke created an International Wildlife Conservation Council full of NRA members that is promoting and expanding international trophy hunting. President Trump has not responded to a request to add the giraffe to the Endangered Species list. At this point, fewer than 100,000 are left. Humboldt Marten Related to the mink, the Humboldt marten is the size of a kitten. It is a stealthy hunter that lives deep in the forests of Northern California and Southern Oregon. This animal is so secretive, there is only a handful of photos in existence, and they were taken by remote-sensing cameras. At one time, the species was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1996. But only four separated populations remain, and humans have put them at risk by trapping them for their fur and logging in their rainforest habitat. Fewer than 400 are left, but it is not on the endangered species list and receives no federal protection. The Trump Administration finally proposed to list the Humboldt marten under the ESA but only to classify it as threatened. Under the new proposed regulations, a species classified as threatened no longer receives the same protections as those classified as endangered. There is also a special rule that exempts logging operations, which means the Humboldt marten population could vanish entirely. Rusty Patched Bumble Bee This species was the first bee in the continental U.S. to be listed under the ESA. That was a challenge all its own, because the paperwork was delayed on President Trump’s first day in office when his administration put a hold on the protections just before the bee was supposed to be listed. It finally made the list in 2017, but the Trump Administration’s proposed regulations prioritize the protection of habitat currently occupied by the species. This is a problem, because the rusty patched bumble bee has vanished from nearly 90 percent of their historic range due to disease, habitat degradation and use of pesticides . The bee needs that historic habitat to recover. If there are no safeguards for the habitat these bees once called home, it could have deadly consequences. West Indian Manatee This fully-aquatic, plant-eating mammal has some interesting relatives. At one end there is the elephant, and at the other, there is the hyrax. Manatees weigh around a thousand pounds and can live up to 60 years old. They have no natural enemies … except for humans. Manatees get hacked by propellers, smashed in watercraft collisions, drowned in canal locks and tortured and killed when they eat fish hooks, litter and lines. The biggest threat to the manatee is habitat loss thanks to red tides, algae blooms and pollution . But this didn’t stop the Trump Administration from downlisting the West Indian Manatee from endangered to threatened. The new rules also ignore impacts to habitat unless those impacts occur across the entire habitat and affect the whole species. With the manatees having such a scattered population, their habitat won’t get necessary protections. San Bernardino Kangaroo Rat This little rodent has specialized fur-lined face pouches that allow them to cache seeds in their cheeks until their face almost bursts. The San Bernardino Kangaroo Rat is about four inches long, and its tail is longer than its body. Their survival depends on natural cycles of wet and dry, and they never have to take a drink. They get all of their moisture from food, which comes from plants that mature at the perfect time and produce seeds at the right rate. Green vegetation stimulates their reproduction, but it has to be in moderation. There is a fragile wet/dry balance that human activities have messed up with mining, dam building and residential and commercial development. The new regulations from the Trump Administration would require less consultation between agencies, which means they can ignore the impact of what they do to their surroundings. Something as simple as a new road can mess up the rat’s wet and dry life, leading to extinction. Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo This bird loves where the water meets the woods, and they often avoid detection even when they are out hunting caterpillars and other prey. One researcher once watched a Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo for an entire hour waiting for him to budge, but he didn’t. In addition to hiding in plain sight, this bird is disappearing altogether. There are only about 2,000 left, and the species was listed under the ESA in 2014. But the bird needs habitat protections. It is now being reviewed for delisting, and the new regulations from the Trump Administration could kill the recovery plan. This could end up being a fast-track to extinction . + Endangered Species Coalition Images via U.S. Department of State , U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ), Red Wolf Recovery Program , Brian Gratwicke , Charles J. Sharp , Nbonzey and Mark Linnell / U.S. Forest Service

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10 species at risk of extinction under the Trump administration

Deforestation in South America causes extinction of 8 bird species

September 5, 2018 by  
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The Spix’s Macaw, a bird many would recognize as the star of the animated film Rio, is officially extinct. The macaw has been listed among eight bird species that have gone extinct in South America in the last decade in a new study conducted by BirdLife International . While the majority of bird extinctions are associated with island species sensitive to invasive organisms and hunting, these new extinctions are linked to a growing problem in South America: deforestation . Stuart Butchart, a scientist who lead the BirdLife International study, said that the extinctions in South America are proof that a crisis is currently unfolding in places that have historically been free of such events — and it’s all because of the destruction of natural habitats. In the past, about 90 percent of bird-related extinctions have been isolated to species on remote islands. But as Butchart points out, the new study indicates a rise in extinction events on large continents that are “driven by habitat loss from unsustainable agriculture, drainage and logging.” As it currently stands, there are more than 26,000 species on the verge of extinction. With that number continuing to rise, scientists warn that humans could usher in another global extinction event. Half of the birds that recently went extinct were native to Brazil. The Spix’s Macaw was last sighted in the wild in 2000, though the bird is being raised in captivity. Scientists hope to reintroduce the bird at some point in the future. Related: Scientists say mass extinction warning signs exist — and they can be observed today But that is not the case for many of the birds who have disappeared. The Alagoas Foliage-gleaner, the Cryptic Treehunter and the Poo-uli, for example, will never be seen again. Apart from the eight bird species that have already gone extinct, there are 51 others that are “ critically endangered .” Butchart and his team hope that their findings will promote future conservation efforts to save these bird species from becoming extinct. + BirdLife International Via The Guardian Images via Daderot and  Rüdiger Stehn

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Mass poaching in Botswana leaves behind 90 tuskless elephants

September 5, 2018 by  
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Ninety elephants have been poached in Botswana in what is being considered one of Africa’s grimmest mass poaching sprees. The majority of the creatures poached for their valuable ivory were large bull elephants who carry heavy tusks, according to a statement by Elephants Without Borders on Tuesday. The group had been conducting an aerial survey of the animals over several weeks in tandem with Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks when it made the discovery. “We started flying the survey on 10 July, and we have counted 90 elephant carcasses since the survey commenced,” said Mike Chase, director of Elephants Without Borders. “Each day, we are counting dead elephants.” It is clear that the elephants were hunted for ivory, despite the recent revocations of new ivory imports by large markets. The killing is supplying still-open routes to Asia, where a demand for fresh ivory is bankrolling poachers up to $1,000 per kilo. The carcasses were found mutilated with their skulls “chopped open by presumably very sharp axes, to remove their tusks” according to Chase, who also noted that in some cases the trunks of the animals had also gone missing. Related: The world’s largest ivory market just banned ivory Botswana is widely considered an elephant sanctuary compared to neighboring Zambia and Angola, where the creatures “have been poached to the verge of local extinction,” Chase said. It is no surprise that poachers are now turning to Botswana, as the previous “shoot-to-kill” policy against poachers has gone out the window. Moreover, rangers have been disarmed under the government of Mokgweetsi Masisi after former-President Ian Khama, who was vehement in his protection of wildlife , stepped down. Jason Bell, vice president for the International Fund for Animal Welfare , said, “Until now, Botswana’s elephant herds have largely been left in peace, but clearly Botswana is now in the cross-hairs.” Tourism Minister for Botswana, Tshekedi Khama also weighed in on the coinciding ranger disarmament and mass slaughter. “I am very concerned, it’s a huge worry … because we had been spared poaching for a long time, I think now we are realizing the sophistication of these poachers,” Khama said. “Unfortunately, sometimes we learn these lessons the hard way.” Botswana is home to the largest population of elephants in Africa , with nearly 135,000 of the majestic beasts roaming its lands. These numbers account for almost a third of all the elephants in Africa since numbers have plummeted to about 415,000 in the past decade,  according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature . “The scale of elephant poaching is by far the largest I have seen or read about in Africa to date,” Chase said. Related: The Trump Administration decides to allow the import of elephant trophies after all With rhinos also being targeted in Botswana — six white rhinos having been found butchered and stripped of their horns in recent months — a change in policy must be made. Government officials have declined to comment on any future plans to rectify the ranger policies or prevent future incidents. Via The Guardian Image via Letizia Barbi

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Mass poaching in Botswana leaves behind 90 tuskless elephants

Conservationists sound alarm over US House bill that weakens Endangered Species Act

May 25, 2018 by  
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Activists and scientists are concerned over the inclusion of a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that could threaten the survival of the endangered Greater Sage-Grouse and Lesser Prairie-Chicken. The provision would prevent the Lesser Prairie-Chicken from receiving protection under the Endangered Species Act for at least ten years, despite evidence of population decline suggesting that the Prairie-Chicken needs to be legally protected. It would also weaken safeguards put in place to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse, while clearing away regulatory obstacles for oil and gas development. “We urge U.S. Representatives to oppose the grouse and prairie chicken rider,” Steve Holmer of American Bird Conservancy said in a statement . “This provision has nothing to do with national defense, will place imperiled species on the path to extinction and should be stricken.” Both species live in isolated populations that are greatly diminished from their pre-contact levels, with the number of grouse falling from 15 million to fewer than 300,000 today. The prairie-chicken population dropped 50 percent between 2012 and 2013, and its range continues to shrink. Congressional changes to the Endangered Species Act could further threaten the birds . “Endangered Species Act protection provides an essential backstop to hedge against species extinction, particularly in light of major increases in oil and gas drilling in priority grouse habitats in Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Colorado ,” Holmer explained. Related: ‘Acoustic lighthouses’ could warn birds about wind turbines While a 2015 review of the status of the Greater Sage-Grouse led to more favorable protections, it did not result in its listing on the Endangered Species Act. Now, those limited protections could be rolled back by Congress . Perhaps the more impactful provision requirement is that the Lesser Prairie-Chicken not be placed on the Endangered Species list for ten years, regardless of scientific opinion. Holmer said, “Potentially the most devastating provision is the one that precludes judicial review of these listing moratoria, which prevents the public from seeking protection for these species even if they are on the very brink of extinction .” Via American Bird Conservancy Images via USFWS Mountain-Prairie (1)

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Conservationists sound alarm over US House bill that weakens Endangered Species Act

Trump official delays protection of endangered species at oil lobbyist’s request

April 20, 2018 by  
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A top United States Department of the Interior official appears to have used his position to delay the protection of an endangered species at the request of the oil industry. As reported by the Guardian based on acquired documents, Interior official Vincent deVito acquiesced to a 2017 e-mail from the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) asking that the Texas hornshell mussel not be placed under protection for six months in the interest of continued, uninhibited oil industry activity. While the mussel was eventually placed on the endangered species list in 2018, former Interior officials and government watchdogs have expressed concerns over the ethics and legality of deVito’s actions. Of particular concern is the Trump Administration’s seeming disregard to science in favor of political decision making. “Listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act are meant to be entirely science-based decisions that result from – in some cases – years of review by experts in the field, not political appointees,” former Interior associate deputy secretary Elizabeth Klein told The Guardian . “A delay in and of itself might not be the end of the world – but then again it very well could be for an imperiled species.” In response to criticism, Interior press secretary Heather Swift said in a statement that deVito “maintains that he simply responded with an acknowledgment of receipt on the mussel email and maintains he had no role whatsoever in the listing.” Related: New evidence shows oil and coal were central in the decision to reduce Bears Ears There’s a portfolio of instances where DeVito used his official capacity in ways that would appear to be favorable to the fossil fuel industry. For example, DeVito described his close consultation of industry lobbyists before proposing a reduction of royalty rates on offshore oil and gas from 18.75% to 12.5% – a recommendation that was ultimately rejected by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. DeVito was also influential in approving a coal project near the habitat of the endangered Big Sandy crayfish in West Virginia . “It a scientific integrity violation for a political appointee to essentially leapfrog the Fish and Wildlife Service’s process when you have an Endangered Species Act listing involved,” former career Interior scientist Joel Clement told The Guardian . Via The Guardian Images via New Mexico State Land Office and YouTube

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