Silverspot butterfly, found in northern New Mexico, could receive federal protection

A butterfly found in northern New Mexico could soon be added to the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Tuesday that it is considering listing a subspecies of the silverspot butterfly, which is found in high elevation areas ranging from 5,200 to 8,300 feet above sea level in parts of Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, as threatened. This follows the completion of a peer-reviewed species status assessment report. This is one of five subspecies of the silverspot butterfly and there are only ten known populations of this subspecies. The scientific name is Speyeria nokomis nokomis.

Snake receives critical habitat designations in Arizona, New Mexico

A small snake that eats fish has gained additional critical habitat designations in New Mexico and Arizona under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a final rule in the Federal Register this week designating 23,785 acres of critical habitat for the narrow-headed garter snake in five Arizona counties and three New Mexico counties (Grant, Catron and Hidalgo counties). The majority of the land in the critical habitat is federal, however about a quarter of it is privately owned. The Glenwood State Fish Hatchery is also included in the critical habitat, although the snake has not been found on the property. The notice states that the “narrow-headed garter snakes are primarily found in rocky stretches of canyon-bound headwater streams that have perennial flow or limited spatially intermittent flow that is primarily perennial.” It rarely ventures far from water.

Lesser prairie chicken in New Mexico could be listed as endangered

Two populations of the lesser prairie chicken could receive federal species protections amid concerns about loss of habitat. The southern population would be listed as endangered while the northern population would receive protections as a threatened species, according to a press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently accepting comments about listing the bird. The lesser prairie chicken relies on tall grass to hide from predators and, according to the press release, it has lost habitat in about 90 percent of its historic range. Factors leading to this habitat loss and fragmentation include energy development, grasslands being converted into farmland and woody vegetation encroaching into the grassland.

Audit finds ‘inappropriate’ handling of funds for lesser prairie chicken conservation

A conservation program that industry groups and landowners hoped would keep the lesser prairie chicken off the federal Endangered Species Act list has fallen short of its conservation mission and wasted millions in the process, according to an independent audit of the program.

The lesser prairie chicken has been under consideration for Endangered Species Act protections for more than 20 years and was listed as a threatened species, a step down from endangered species designation, from 2014 to 2016. 

A group of five states that share the lesser prairie chicken range — New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma — developed in 2013 a voluntary conservation program with land owners, ranchers and oil and gas companies through the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), a consortium of state fish and game agencies across the West. WAFWA has managed the program for landowners and oil and gas developers to buy into in order to assure protections for remaining lesser prairie chicken habitat. 

Border wall poses new problems for the endangered Mexican Gray Wolf

A lone male wolf loped across the sandy landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert under a waning January moon in 2017, heading north. The male, known as M1425, was a member of a small population of endangered Mexican gray wolves reintroduced into Mexico in 2012. The wolf was doing exactly what male wolves should be doing: exploring the landscape in search of new habitat, food sources and possibly even a mate. M1425 spent two nights exploring the new range before turning south and heading back to familiar territory. The journey north, which took the wolf across the U.S.-Mexico border, was encouraging to researchers who tracked the animal’s peregrinations by GPS collar.

ESA rules could spell trouble for the lesser prairie chicken

The lesser prairie chicken can’t catch a break. The fowl, a relative of the sage grouse, has the misfortune of calling portions of the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico home. Grazing, oil and gas development and water scarcity in southeastern New Mexico has decimated the bird’s population in New Mexico over the last 25 years. 

The species was briefly listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014, but after a series of lawsuits from industry groups, the bird’s listing is currently caught in bureaucratic limbo. Officials in southeastern New Mexico have pledged to keep fighting against attempts to protect it. And now, tweaks to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) could spell extinction for the bird.

Conservation groups sue Trump admin over changes to Endangered Species Act

Conservation organization WildEarth Guardians and six other environmental and animal protection groups filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over changes it made to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The nonprofit law firm Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians and the Humane Society of the United States. “Nothing in these new rules helps wildlife, period,” said EarthJustice attorney Kristen Boyles, in a statement. “Instead, these regulatory changes seek to make protection and recovery of threatened and endangered species harder and less predictable.”

The lawsuit alleges the administration “failed to publicly disclose and analyze the harms and impacts of these rules,” in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It argues the administration inserted changes into the final rules that “were never made public and not subject to public comment, cutting the American people out of the decision-making process.”

The groups also argue the administration violated the ESA by “unreasonably changing requirements” for compliance with Section 7, a provision of the ESA that requires federal agencies to ensure that actions they authorize do not jeopardize the existence of any species listed, or destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat of any listed species.

Imperiled wildlife are caught in a political tug-of-war

As temperatures climb to triple digits and fires rage from California to Colorado, Western lawmakers and the Trump administration are turning up the heat on the Endangered Species Act. On July 12, the conservative Western Congressional Caucus, which was founded to “fight federal overreach” and advocates for extractive industries, introduced a nine bill ESA reform package. And in a separate move, the Trump administration is proposing to change how federal agencies implement the law. A common thread in the bills is a push to give more authority to the Interior Secretary and states. The proposed rule changes dial back federal agencies’ ability to pursue policies that hamper development.

Will Trump put a ‘hired gun’ for ranchers in top BLM post?

Nearly a year after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the agency that manages 246 million acres and that is critical to the functioning of the American West still has no permanent leadership. In November, Brian Steed, the former chief of staff for Utah State Rep. Chris Stewart, R, became the third person in 11 months to temporarily take on the duties of Bureau of Land Management acting director. One potential pick for the director job is Karen Budd-Falen — a long-time antagonist of the bureau. In other administrations, her background would make her an unlikely pick. In the Trump administration, she’s a contender.

For endangered species, politics replace science

Prairie dogs are complicated creatures. In addition to confounding property owners by burrowing on land slated for shopping malls or horse pastures, they sometimes defy accepted biological principles. Unlike many social animals, instead of dispersing as they age, prairie dogs stick close to home, preferring to live cooperatively with relatives. In fact, prairie dogs are actually more likely to immigrate after their kin disappear. And at least one prairie dog expert thinks the socially complex animals speak a real language.