U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces lawsuit over lesser prairie chicken

An environmental advocacy group filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, claiming the agency has failed to protect the lesser prairie chicken. The Center for Biological Diversity says a final decision in a 2021 proposal to add populations of the bird in New Mexico and Texas to the endangered species list is now five months overdue. 

The proposal calls for the southern population that lives in New Mexico and Texas to be listed as endangered while the northern population in Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas and part of Texas would be listed as threatened. Tuesday’s filing comes after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of its intent to sue in August. “It’s haunting to think that videos of the lesser prairie chicken’s intricate dance may be all that’s left for future generations if these fascinating birds don’t get the protections they’ve been promised,” Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “The oil and gas industry has fought for decades against safeguards for the lesser prairie chicken, and the Fish and Wildlife Service is late issuing its final rule.

Groups pressure federal agencies to address illegal grazing in Valles Caldera

More than a hundred cattle are currently grazing illegally in the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains. Environmental advocacy groups say three federal agencies must take steps to remove those cows and prevent them from returning. WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project and Caldera Action filed a notice of intent to sue the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, alleging that the agencies have failed to protect endangered species from the impacts of the cattle. They say the illegal cattle grazing has been documented going back to at least 2017. “Livestock trampling riparian areas of these protected lands has gone on far too long with federal land managers doing too little to stop it,” Cyndi Tuell, Arizona and New Mexico director of Western Watersheds Project, said in a press release.

Revised recovery plan released for Gila trout

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its plan on Wednesday for recovering the Gila trout, which is found in high mountain streams in parts of New Mexico and Arizona. The plan prioritizes efforts like reintroducing the fish into historical habitats, removing or managing nonnative trout species and captive breeding of the Gila trout at hatcheries. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Gila trout is one of the rarest trout species in the country. It first was listed as endangered in 1973 when the Endangered Species Act passed, but has been recognized as endangered since 1967. It was later downlisted to threatened in 2006.

Advocacy group: Federal agency violated Endangered Species Act

The Center for Biological Diversity says that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has violated the Endangered Species Act when it comes to protecting the lesser prairie chicken. The service published a proposed rule in June 2021 to list two distinct population segments of the lesser prairie chicken. 

The Center for Biological Diversity alleges that the Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to finalize the proposed rule in a timely manner. In a court filing made Thursday, the Center for Biological Diversity stated that it intends to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service if the rule is not finalized in the next 60 days. The proposed rule would list the lesser prairie chicken living in southeast Colorado, southwest Kansas, northwest Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle as threatened and the population living in west Texas and eastern New Mexico would be listed as endangered. The Center for Biological Diversity says that the rule should have been finalized in June of this year under Endangered Species Act requirements.

Fish and Wildlife Service releases draft recommended decision for Mexican wolves

A draft recommended decision in the Mexican gray wolf recovery plan would eliminate the population cap and temporarily restrict when a wolf can be killed, but environmental advocates say it still falls short of the reforms needed to ensure genetic diversity. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the final supplemental environmental impact statement for the proposed revision for the Mexican gray wolf regulations on Friday along with the draft recommended decision. The final recommended decision will be issued after at least 30 days have passed. 

This action comes following a 90-day public comment period that started in October. The Fish and Wildlife Service said they received more than 82,000 comments. The agency said in a press release that those comments did not result in any substantial changes to the final supplemental environmental impact statement.

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.

Federal appeals court rejects ranchers’ bid to overturn critical habitat designation for endangered mouse

A federal appeals court rejected two cattle groups’ arguments that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inadequately evaluated the economic implications of designating critical habitat for the meadow jumping mouse in New Mexico. The Northern New Mexico Stockman’s Association and the Otero County Cattleman’s Association sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2018 following the 2016 designation of critical habitat. The ranchers who belong to those groups don’t own land in the designated critical habitat, however they have federal permits to graze cattle on allotments in the area. The rangers argued that the critical habitat designation will increase costs, impact their cattles’ health and lower property values. Private property sales can include federal allotments.

Pressure mounts to protect Mexican Gray Wolves

Last year, advocates for the Mexican gray wolf cheered when a judge ruled the problem of poaching was not adequately addressed in a management plan by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Those same groups now want the agency to address sustainability goals. Mary Katherine Ray, wildlife chair for the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, said there is currently only one population of 186 Mexican gray wolves or “lobos” living in areas of New Mexico and Arizona. “Currently they’re listed as being non-essential, which means that the Service believes the wolf population — if it were to completely disappear — that’s the definition in the Endangered Species Act — that it could be replaced,” Ray explained. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated Interstate 40 as the northern limit of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Area, meaning wolves can be removed or killed if they travel beyond the boundary.

Proposed revision to Mexican wolf plan removes population cap

Wolf advocates praised a proposed revision to the Mexican wolf management plan that removes a cap on the number of animals, but they say this change does not go far enough. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the proposed revision on Wednesday for public comments and the notice was published in the Federal Register on Friday, Oct. 29. In addition to removing the population cap of 300 to 325 wolves, the proposed revision establishes an objective for genetic diversity and temporarily restricts the killing of Mexican wolves. The proposed revision comes after the U.S. District Court of Arizona remanded a 2015 rule to the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2018.

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.