Posted in climate change, endangered species, global warming, green policy, tagged American pika, Center for Biological Diversity, climate change, Earthjustice, Endangered Species Act, global warming, Natural Resources Defense Council on July 25, 2010|
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photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
On Thursday, Yale Environment 360 published a story I wrote about a growing fight over using the U.S. Endangered Species Act to protect wildlife at risk of extinction from climate change:
While a high-profile battle raged over listing the polar bear as a threatened species due to melting Arctic sea ice, U.S. environmentalists were quietly building a case to protect a critter closer to home, one whose existence also seems gravely threatened by a warming world.
A pocket-sized member of the rabbit family with a distinctive squeak and large ears that frame dark eyes and a button nose, the American pika lives on rocky slopes high in alpine mountain ranges from the Sierra Nevada to the Rockies. Sporting a thick gray-brown coat, the pika does not hibernate and so maintains a high internal temperature to survive frigid winters. Because it can’t turn off its heater, the animal can die in the summer if its body temperature increases by as little as 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 F).
As temperatures have risen across the American West, scientists who study the pika have discovered that it is disappearing from lower elevations. In the Sierra Nevada, for instance, biologists at the University of California, Berkeley, found that the pika had moved upslope 500 feet to cooler climes over the past 90 years. Another study determined that nine of 25 pika populations in the Great Basin of Nevada and Utah have vanished over the past century, with surviving pikas migrating up 900 feet. Eventually, the tiny mammal will reach the mountaintop and the end of the line, with nowhere left to go if temperatures continue to climb, according to numerous biologists.
The pika has become an indicator species in more ways than one. It is in the vanguard of a growing number of animals and plants that U.S. environmental groups have petitioned to protect as the Endangered Species Act becomes the latest battleground over global warming.
The effort to put a furry face on the abstract phenomenon of climate change is bringing to a head a simmering issue: As scientific evidence accumulates about global warming’s impact on wildlife, how effective can the Endangered Species Act be in cushioning the blow of climate change on various species? But beyond this issue, an even thornier question looms: Can conservation groups use the act to force the U.S. government to use the legislation’s powerful provisions to mandate greenhouse gas reductions to protect wildlife and their habitat?
You can read the rest of the story here.
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I’ve written before about the coming collision between green energy projects and endangered wildlife. Now we have a federal court decision in a case involving an endangered bat and a West Virginia wind farm. As I write Thursday in The New York Times:
A federal judge’s ruling that stopped construction of a West Virginia wind farm to protect an endangered bat underscores the growing conflicts between green energy and imperiled wildlife.
But the case, thought to be the first of its kind involving a wind energy project, seems unlikely to derail other projects, as some wind energy advocates have feared, unless the operators ignore endangered species laws.
In the West Virginia dispute, a subsidiary of wind developer Invenergy called Beech Ridge Energy applied to build a 122-turbine project along an Appalachian ridgeline in Greenbrier County. The county is home to the Indiana bat, which the federal government listed as endangered in 1967.
“This is a case about bats, wind turbines, and two federal policies, one favoring the protection of endangered species, and the other encouraging development of renewable energy resources,” wrote Judge Roger W. Titus of the Federal District Court in Maryland in Tuesday’s ruling. “The two vital federal policies at issue in this case are not necessarily in conflict.”
That’s because under the Endangered Species Act, developers can apply for an “incidental take permit” that allows the inadvertent killing of protected wildlife if other measures are taken to protect the animals.
Invenergy told federal wildlife officials that surveys had not detected the Indiana bat at the West Virginia wind farm site. Although officials at the Fish and Wildlife Service had urged the company’s consultants to conduct more extensive surveys, a West Virginia state agency approved the project and construction of the wind turbines began.
The Animal Welfare Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit group, sued to stop construction. An initial assessment of the project had estimated that it would annually kill 6,746 bats of all kinds.
After listening to expert testimony from both sides, Judge Titus concluded that Invenergy’s consultants avoided undertaking surveys that would have shown the presence of Indiana bats at the project site.
“By a preponderance of the evidence, that, like death and taxes, there is a virtual certainty that Indiana bats will be harmed, wounded, or killed imminently by the Beech Ridge Project,” the judge wrote in his ruling. “This court has concluded that the only avenue available to defendants to resolve the self-imposed plight in which they now find themselves is to do belatedly that which they should have done long ago: apply for an I.T.P.” (I.T.P. refers to incidental take permit.)
You can read the rest of the story here.
photo: U.S. FIsh and Wildlife Service
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