Photo by Mike Dunn
WE THANK THOSE OF YOU WHO VOTE AND COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES AS IF THE FUTURE LIVES AND HEALTH OF OUR LOVED ONES, COMMUNITY, COUNTRY, AND THE EARTH DEPENDED ON IT !
We are deeply concerned about erosion of safeguards for our nation's public lands and waters. While Americans are divided on many issues, we believe our mutual love for our nation's wild lands and natural places is a common cause that unites us. Protecting our public lands and natural heritage assets is not a "blue" or "red" issue. The vast majority of Americans support the conservation of America's environmental resources and natural heritage. President Joe Biden pledges to devote executive branch attention and priority for addressing the twin crises of Climate Change and Destruction of Natural Resources.
CODE RED FOR HUMANITY: Changing Climate Realities and Threats Demand Urgent Response and Mitigation Attempts
Extreme heat, droughts, wildfires, melting ice caps, sea level rise, species extinction and potential collapse of ecosystems and ocean currents are all real threats and are worsening due to human-caused heating of the global climate. Urgent and immediate mitigating action is demanded to counter these threats and to reduce emissions of carbon, methane, and other fossil-fuels causing catastrophic climate changes. Steadily rising heat is inevitable for Earth’s lands and seas. If remediation actions are not taken NOW, then our civilizations, human health and welfare, and natural ecosystems are all in immediate jeopardy. See this troubling Washington Post article about potential action pathways for Climate Change
https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/interactive/2022/global-warming-1-5-celsius-scenarios/ "We looked at 1,200 possibilities for the planet’s future. These options are our best hope." The results suggest is that the world has probably run out of easy options to stay under 1.5C — or have a low overshoot.
The extremity of the situation is articulated in a 2022 article from Earth.org, which analyzed findings from the UN’s Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES):
2023 is 50th Anniversary Year of National Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Protection Act - watch for information about status, achievements and challenges
US Supreme Court majority maims wetlands protection
The U.S. Supreme Court on May 19th handed down another 5-4 vote outrageous decision that puts our clean water and communities at risk. Ignoring scientific consensus and decades of established law defining the scope of the Clean Water Act. That decision drastically limits the law’s protections for wetlands. The Supreme Court’s majority ruling on the Sackett v US EPA case to restrict the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. This ruling jeopardizes drinking water supplies for millions of people and threatens the health of our nation’s streams and wetlands.
For more than 50 years, federal law has been the backbone of wetland protections in our states. The Supreme Court radical-right majority's ruling discards the protections of the Clean Water Act (on its 50th year anniversary) at a time when they are desperately needed. The Court's ruling puts nearly half of America's remaining wetlands in peril of destruction.
In the South, we know the value of wetlands. From salt marshes to Carolina bays to mountain bogs, wetlands provide essential habitat for wildlife, filter pollution, and absorb floodwaters that threaten our communities with increasing frequency. Wetlands are essential to healthy streams, rivers, and fisheries. This decision is a gift to big polluters and industry interests to strip the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to protect our health and our waters. The decision will allow more pollution to flow into our streams and rivers and for developers to destroy wetlands’ ability to absorb floodwaters.
“For 50 years the Clean Water Act has been instrumental in revitalizing and safeguarding drinking water sources for people and wildlife, wetlands for flood control, and habitats that sustain our wildlife heritage,” said Jim Murphy, director of legal advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation. “Federal protections that don’t depend on local politics or regional polluter influence are essential to vulnerable and disadvantaged communities nationwide. The court’s ruling removes these vital protections from important streams and wetlands in every state.”
Though the Court’s ruling is a major blow, the fight to defend clean water and protect vital wetlands has never been more urgent. Although the Supreme Court’s decision is significant and disappointing, it will not stop defenders of the environment from fighting to protect wetland ecosystems, clean water and applying place-based knowledge and expertise. We must not stop efforts to protect wetlands in the South and the communities that depend on them. Too much is at stake. We have to continue to work at the local, state, and federal level to build protections for wetlands and to defend our natural communities from rampant wetland destruction. We will have to fight in our courts, state legislatures, in Congress, and in local governments to protect our waterways and wetlands.
And even worse, Republican-majority controlled state legislatures --including in North Carolina -- immediately passed legislation aimed to reduce the scope of wetlands protection within states.
More Information re. Supreme Court Dramatically Reduced Protections for Wetland
The U.S. Supreme Court's May 25 2023 decision on the Sackett v. EPA case drastically narrows the scope of the Clean Water Act. This decision will jeopardize drinking water for millions of people and threatens the health of the nation's streams and wetlands. "At least half of the nation's wetlands could lose protection under this ruling, which provides an even narrower definition of 'protected waters' than the Trump administration had sought" (New York Times).Learn more from the Clean Water for All Coalition:While the Supreme Court's decision in Sackett v. EPA is extremely disappointing, it is important to robustly respond in order to ensure that the voices of those pushing for stronger clean water protections are heard and the impacts of this case are understood. Help get the word out and learn more:
International Biodiversity Preservation Summit delivers for nature!
Despite pessimistic predictions, the international forum on biodiversity preservation held in Montreal, Canada, in December 2022 produced groundbreaking goals to preserve natural habitats for at least thirty percent of Earth's land and waters, which could go far toward forestalling the predicted extensions of a quarter of ALL of the wild animals and plants on our planet. This 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP) and representatives of nearly 200 countries reached a historic agreement to protect nearly a third of the planet by 2030 to safeguard biodiversity. Here’s a summary of what came from the biodiversity: https://apple.news/A3Z7Adoq0TJqv-33c31nQnA
National Audubon, NatureServe, and other partenrs will work with CBD to track progress toward this goal, building off current scientific and technical support provided by the Biodiversity Indicators Program.
Biodiversity crisis threatens southern ecosystems — and calls on us for solutions
Now, more than ever, we must turn our attention to the species comprising our ecosystems. In addition to addressing climate change, we need tangible action that protects the globally significant biodiversity found right here in the South. Discover some of the ways the Southern Environmental Law Center is working to address biodiversity loss and recognize its impacts in our region and beyond. READ MORE
Recovering America's Wildlife Act - FAILED to pass Congress in late 2022 - renewed efforts to pass in 2023
Despite efforts and endorsements of hundreds of America's wildlife conservation organizations and thousands of supporters, Congress FAILED to enact this crucial legislation in 2022 when the US Senate did not vote on the proposed Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) during the "lame duck" Congressional session in December, although the legislation had already passed the Congressional House.
The proposed RAWA legislation has already been reintroduced in the 2023 session of the US Congress. Enactment of this bill and its funding would be a tremendous boost to save America's imperiled wildlife and plant species, but apparently not enough of our Congressional representatives (at least US Senators) care.
This legislation represents a smart, future focused investment that will also strengthen the economy and create a significant number of jobs that help grow the $862 billion outdoor economy and bring support to key sectors such as agriculture and forestry – all while supporting the conservation of America’s fish, wildlife, and the habitats they depend on. This common-sense, fiscally responsible solution passed the House of Representatives with a bipartisan vote in June and had 42 bipartisan Senate cosponsors and was passed out of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works with a bipartisan vote in April. But Senate leadership refused to bring the proposed legislation to a vote.
For more Information about the legislative and funding proposal visit OurNatureUSA and videos like these from North Carolina WRC staff about how all species and habitats are important to you and the future of wildlife (use password: RAWA2022) and this inspiring 1 minute YouTube video from the National Wildlife Federation.
Taking measures to conserve species before they are on the brink of extinction and ensuring healthy populations will help save taxpayer dollars and prevent these species from needing costly “emergency room” measures under the Endangered Species Act – truly an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Rather than defaulting to regulation and litigation, this bill saves America’s imperiled wildlife through collaborative and constructive voluntary partnerships. This collaborative approach to conservation is good for wildlife, good for taxpayers, good for landowners, good for business and good for America. Further, this bill builds on the successful restoration track records of state fish and wildlife agencies which for more than eight decades have successfully managed game species.
New Congressional House Majority Moves Against Environmental Safeguards
US House Rules Undermine Environment
New rules narrowly adopted in January 2023 for this session of the U.S. House of Representatives by the slim Republican majority will promote cuts to environmental and public health programs. Read more
EPA moves to cut power plant pollution:
Given that power plants are one of the most significant contributors to climate change, the recent announcement from federal officials is particularly significant for the South, whose communities bear the burden of hosting three power plants that top the nation's list for carbon-dioxide emissions. New limits on power plant pollution will help our people, our economies, and our environment. READ MORE
Conservation groups sue EPA over Clean Air Act enforcement failures to reduce regional haze affecting parks:
A coalition of environmental groups, including the National Parks Conservation Association, in the spring of 2023 sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to enforce the Regional Haze Rule required by the Clean Air Act. That failure could lead to "continued release of preventable haze-causing emissions that harm the health of our communities and blur landscapes at our most scenic national parks and wilderness areas," the groups maintain.
Read more in: https://apple.news/Aejxh5co_TfirBA-Olcr30Q
Humanity Will Wipe Out More Than A Quarter Of Earth’s Biodiversity In The Next 100 Years
Scientists predict what species will likely disappear in the next century due to humanity's impact on the planet. Read in Forbes: https://apple.news/AfkeJk1H3Tsm6Tb9XBYD38A
Over the past 50 years the Earth has lost an extraordinary number of its wildlife species and their populations, including loss of an estimated 3 billion birds in North America alone since 1970. It is critically urgent to take action to combat dual crises of biodiversity and habitat losses and the deleterious effects of climate change.
USGS North American Assessment of Biodiversity and Climate Change
A North American assessment of biodiversity and climate change is being organized by the US Geological Survey (USGS), in collaboration with Environment and Climate Change Canada and the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity/Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad(CONABIO), and in partnership with the Morris K. and Stewart L. Udall Foundation’s National Center for Environmental Conflict Resolution (NCECR). The assessment project will yield a report summarizing the state of knowledge concerning the linkages between biodiversity and climate change in context of existing law and policy, aimed primarily at public-sector and private-sector decision-makers. It will also be useful to the general public and the scientific community. The project is described in a Federal Register Notice released 8 May, 2023. The Notice seeks open-ended comments on a draft prospectus for the assessment, nominations (including self-nominations) to serve as assessment author/participants, and expressions of interest to serve on the assessment Guidance Committee. Both Guidance Committee members and Assessment Authors will represent a diversity of relevant technical, policy, and management expertise in biodiversity and climate change. The Guidance Committee, which will provide feedback and perspectives on report structure and content to author teams, will include professionals with experience working at the intersection of relevant science and its application by policymakers and land managers.
Maps locate concentrations of imperiled biodiversity in America at highest risk of extinction
Visit this New York Times article and maps (produced by NatureServe, The Nature Conservancy, and USGS) showing areas of highest concentrations in the US of imperiled animal and plant species and locations of the approximately thirteen percent of America where biodiversity is considered protected.
United Nations’ international scientific examination and report on Climate Change released August 9, 2021. The report, approved by 195 governments and based on more than 14,000 studies, is the most comprehensive summary to date of the physical science of climate change. It became a focal point when diplomats gathered in November 2021 at the U.N. summit on climate change in Glasgow to discuss how to increase efforts to reduce air and water emissions. See this New York Times article.
Humans have pushed the climate into ‘unprecedented’ territory, landmark U.N. report finds. The U.N. science group says humans caused “unprecedented” global warming, and only humans can prevent its ever-worsening. Read more in The Washington Post. The IPCC report represents the most comprehensive and conclusive "state of the science" on the climate crisis: why it is happening, what the impacts are and how much worse it could get. Read more on CNN.
Those of us who care about the environmental health and well-being of our country and region now have reason for guarded optimism. We envision better times ahead "when hope and history rhyme." We acted in defense as the past Trump Administration pursued the most aggressive anti-environmental onslaught of our lifetime, attempting to reverse 50 years of federal environmental protection programs, grants, policies, and laws. Public health–based standards for the waters we drink, the air we breathe, and the land that sustains us were attacked. The Trump administration's actions to diminish environmental protection and energy policies were dangerously short-sighted and caused long-lasting harm to communities and our natural heritage.
Fortunately public outcry often encouraged the US Congress to decline some of the worst of the Trump Administration's proposed federal budget cuts that would have imposed draconian reductions for most of our nation's environmental protection and conservation programs and agencies.
President Joe Biden's executive administration is attempting to reverse some of the worst damages imposed by the past Trump regime, including immediately rescinding President Trump's unilateral withdrawal of the US from the worldwide climate accord. There is hope for a better future as the Biden/Harris administration attempts to implement conservation priorities promising emerging opportunities to build and advance an inclusive, equitable, and resilient framework for protection of environmental resources and health and landscape conservation. But it will take years to remedy many of the Trump administration's anti-environmental rules and policies. There are many environmental rollbacks still on the books that need to be undone. Even during the final few "lame duck" weeks of the Trump Administration, those anti-environmental rollbacks of federal regulations and policies accelerated, including dramatic weakening of federal protection of endangered species and migratory birds. Trump's widespread removals and transfers of career agency managers will take time to remedy. See this article in the New York Times.
Restoring the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Paris Agreement on Climate Change… and more. These laws and treaties are absolutely essential to protecting the natural world we all rely on. One by one, they've been eroded… making it easier for polluters, industry, and large-scale developers to operate unchecked and damage our planet.
Remember that the U.S. president sets the agenda of the federal government, while Congress holds the "purse strings" and authorizes the budget.
We will alert you to opportunities and efforts to reverse environmental damages, and provide links to other partner organizations that are monitoring environmental federal proposals and actions, and are leading in response strategies. Many of our national and regional environmental protection organizations are leading efforts to reinstate essential programs and policies, and to remove bad ones. We recommend you stay abreast of these efforts, including those of the Southern Environmental Law Center.
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This is the opportunity to realize the future envisioned for landscape conservation. Environmental protection and landscape-scale conservation are recognized by the Biden Administration as vital in addressing long-term ecological and economic recovery. Indications are that the Biden administration is committed to advancing an agenda that prioritizes landscape level conservation, not only as an essential way to address pressing ecological issues, but also as a key path forward for: climate mitigation; building resiliency in natural and human communities; global bio-diversity protection; and as part of a commitment to inclusive conservation, shared management and equitable access to clean air and water and open spaces.
Defenders of natural resource conservation and environmental protection programs must be vigilant and register their concerns with their congressional representatives if we are to ensure continuation of federal funding for important environmental protection and natural resource conservation programs.
MANY PERILS DEMAND RESPONSE
Once-in-a-Generation Federal Investment:
Among landmark elements of the federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) enacted into law on August 16, 2022 (after being passed along strictly political party lines in both the US Senate and House) are great advances toward reducing the nation’s impacts on the Earth’s climate. The legislation includes tax breaks for electric vehicles and incentives to ramp up carbon-capture facilities, urge green hydrogen production, and boost U.S. manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines, and next-generation batteries. There is $369 billion in climate- and energy-related funding — much of it aimed at high-tech solutions to help nudge the world’s biggest historical emitter toward a greener future.
Climate action investments included in the IRA will produce positive results including these projects, which by 2030 will achieve in the United States:
Beyond those headline-making investments, the legislation acknowledges another essential part of the effort to combat climate change: nature—that given a chance, nature can be a profound ally in the fight against climate change. “It’s historic, without a doubt,” said Tom Cors, director of North America policy and government relations at The Nature Conservancy, who called new funding to protect forests and boost climate-friendly agriculture practices a “once-in-a-generation investment.”
The money set aside for “nature-based” climate solutions includes about $20 billion for agricultural conservation and $5 billion to safeguard forests around the country, according to the Congressional Research Service. While those numbers pale in comparison to other big-ticket items, many environmental advocates say such investments are critical in giving the nation a better shot at hitting long-term climate goals, and will serve as a reminder that taking care of the land has added benefits to wildlife and human health.
The 2023 FEDERAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT FUNDS MANY IMPORTANT ENVIRONMENTAL PROECTION ACTIONS
The omnibus federal appropriations legislation in the US Congress in its December 2022 "lame duck" session was passed by bipartisan majorities and was accepted and signed into law by President Biden. It regrettably omitted some desirable components but did fund some important environmental protection actions. Passed in the final days of 2022, the Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations bill includes big wins for climate and conservation, although it did not include other important legislation that would greatly benefit wildlife. Read more in this National Audubon Society assessment. Included in the appropriations bill, the Growing Climate Solutions Act recognizes the critical role that the agriculture and forestry sectors play in conservation and naturally storing carbon—will not only help to create a cleaner future for both people and wildlife, but will also preserve bird habitats, and help rural economies. Read more
Water Resources Modernized to Meet 21st Century Issues
Also passed by Congress in December 2022 was the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) which will help restore ecosystems like the Everglades, Great Lakes, and Mississippi River. The WRDA included key provisions directing the Army Corps to incorporate climate change into project planning and design. Read more
BIDEN ADMINISTRATION REVERSES TRUMP's REDUCTION OF WETLANDS -CLEAN WATER PROTECTION: reinstates longstanding clean water protections
The US Environmental Protection Agency's final rule issued in January 2023 defines “waters of the United States,” restores federal protections for streams, lakes, ponds and millions of acres of wetlands. EPA restored protections for America's waters and wetlands which had been threatened by the Trump Administration's "Dirty Water Rule." Read more: Federal rule reinstates longstanding clean water protections: Read in browser »
BIDEN ADMINSITRATION'S 2024 BUDGET PROPOSAL WOULD ADVANCE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION & CLIMATE CHANGE RESILIENCE
Although the probabilities of adoption by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is LOW, the Biden Budget Includes $24 Billion for Conservation and Climate. President Joe Biden’s budget proposal for 2024 includes billions of dollars spread across federal agencies to combat climate change, with a bulk of the investment going toward boosting conservation and disaster resilience, cutting pollution and advancing clean energy technologies, Emma Newburger reports for CNBC. Among the most ambitious of Biden’s funding requests is roughly $24 billion to help build communities’ resilience to climate-related disasters, including floods, wildfires, storms, extreme heat and drought.
PRESIDENT BIDEN'S CLIMATE CHANGE RESPONSE EXECUTIVE ORDERS CALL FOR CONSERVING 30% OF LAND AND WATERS BY 2030
President Biden in his first month in office released an executive order calling for conservation of 30% of the U.S. land base and public waters by 2030. "This bold '30x30' vision is firmly rooted in science, given that protected land is key to a healthy and secure future for all Americans. It will provide pure drinking water, healthy food, clean air, habitat for wildlife, and places for people to reflect, recreate, hunt and fish. Conserved land also provides protection from natural disasters, such as floods and droughts, and absorbs and keeps carbon from the Earth's atmosphere." (Andrew Bowman, Pres. & CEO of the Land Trust Alliance. More HERE.)
After President Biden set the goal of conserving 30 percent of the nation’s land and waters by 2030, an interagency team in early May laid out broad principles — but few details — for achieving that vision. The Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful report highlights one of the Biden administration’s central challenges: having committed to bold environmental goals, agency officials now face the more uncertain and contentious task of figuring out how to follow through on those ambitions.
Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful, the preliminary report to the National Climate Task Force, was developed by the U.S. Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Commerce, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and was released in early May 2021 on directive by President Biden. It recommends a decade-long national conservation effort that emphasizes a commitment to collaboration, support for voluntary and locally led conservation, and honoring of Tribal sovereignty and private property rights. The report outlines a locally led and voluntary nationwide conservation goal to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 as an important part of the solution to the problems of the disappearance of nature, climate change, and inequitable access to the outdoors. The report outlines steps the U.S. could take to safeguard key areas on land and in the sea to restore biodiversity, tackle climate change and make natural spaces more accessible to all Americans. (Read a summary of the “America the Beautiful” Initiative and find a link to the full report here. )
The Biden Administration in December 2021 released its first annual progress report on the America the Beautiful initiative and toward the goal of conserving at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. Also the recently-enacted federal Infrastructure Law promises to deliver significant new funding to accelerate the conservation and stewardship of our landscapes.
Inflation Reduction Act Funding for Climate-Smart Agriculture
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in early 2023 that it is making funding available for agricultural producers and forest landowners nationwide to participate in voluntary conservation programs and adopt climate-smart practices. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provided an additional $19.5 billion over five years for climate smart agriculture through several of the conservation programs that USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) implements. NRCS is making available $850 million in fiscal year 2023 for its oversubscribed conservation programs: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
“The Inflation Reduction Act provided a once-in-a-generation investment in conservation on working lands, and we want to work with agricultural and forest landowners to invest in climate-smart practices that create value and economic opportunities for producers,” said Department of Agriculture Vilsack, who spoke today at the National Association of Conservation Districts annual meeting. “We know that agriculture plays a critical role in the nation’s effort to address climate change, and we’re using this funding to bolster our existing programs, maximize climate benefits, and foster other environmental benefits across the landscape.”
The IRA funding includes an additional $8.45 billion for EQIP, $4.95 billion for RCPP, $3.25 billion for CSP, and $1.4 billion for ACEP. The increased funding levels begin in fiscal year 2023 and rapidly build over four years. These additional investments are estimated to help hundreds of thousands of farmers and ranchers apply conservation to millions of acres of land. Additionally, the IRA provides $300 million to quantify carbon sequestration and greenhouse gases (GHG) through the collection and use of field-based data to assess conservation outcomes. Information gained through this effort will be used to improve practices and technical assistance to customers. Further guidance on this important work will be provided as the implementation of this portion of the IRA continues.
For additional details on funding, timelines, and applying please click here.
Biden-Harris Administration Announces New Steps for Climate Resilience and Forest Conservation
In advance of 2023 Earth Day celebrations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced actions to foster forest conservation, enhance forest resilience to climate change, and inform policymaking on ensuring healthy forests on federally managed lands administered by the USDA Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Full Article here.
USDA Invests More than $48.6 Million to Manage Risks, Combat Climate Change
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will invest more than $48.6 in 2023 through the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership for projects that mitigate wildfire risk, improve water quality, and restore healthy forest ecosystems on public and private lands. Through the projects, USDA’s Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are working together with agricultural producers, forest landowners, and National Forest System lands to improve forest health using available Farm Bill conservation programs and other authorities. Read more.
Biden Administration Invests Nearly $10 Million for Reforestation with Forest Nursery and Native Seed PartnershipThe U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that nearly $10 million is being invested in forest nursery and native seed partnerships, thanks to funding from the Infrastructure Law. Of the total funding, $4.5 million is being invested in twenty-nine facilities from states, U.S. Island territories and commonwealths to modernize forest nurseries and $5.3 million will help increase native seed collection and native plant availability to restore and support resilient ecosystems on national forests and grasslands. These investments help build capacity across public and private lands to meet mounting reforestation demands and complement the recently announced $35 million investment in Forest Service nurseries in support of the National Forest System Reforestation Strategy (PDF, 7 MB).
According to The Nature Conservancy’s Reforestation Hub, it's estimated that up to 146 million acres of land in the U.S. could benefit from reforestation. This translates to a need for more than 75 billion trees. At their current level of production -- about 1.4 billion annually -- it would take more than 50 years for nurseries to meet that need.
NEW FEDERAL INFRASTRUCTURE LEGISLATION BENEFITS COASTAL AND MARINE RESOURCES - from the Partnership for Gulf Coast Land Conservation
Passage and enactment of the federal Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act in November 2021 will have great benefits for America’s coastal areas and marine and ocean resources. At a time when coastal communities are facing ever-mounting coastal hazards including sea-level rise, flooding, erosion, tsunamis, and increased coastal storm intensity and storm surge, the infrastructure bill provides critical investments to strengthen coastal communities and ensure their resilience into the future. Important benefits for coastal and marine resources provided by this legislation and its funding include:
WILDLIFE PROTECTION COMPONENTS IN RECENTLY ENACTED FEDERAL INFRASTRUCTURE LEGISLATION
The physical infrastructure funding package recently passed by the U.S. Congress and enacted by President Biden in November 2021 includes $350 million for wildlife crossing projects for highways across America! This is the first time in United States history there will be dedicated federal funding to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and is a game-changer for wildlife.
PROMISES IN "BUILD BACK BETTER" FEDERAL LEGISLATION
America’s environmental protection and conservation organizations were united and pleased with enactment of the federal Build Back Better Act. Its investments will protect and restore corridors of habitat for species of all kinds, safeguard coastlines where marine animals can thrive and prevent vast, pristine landscapes from being destroyed by oil and gas development. Envision a real and dramatic reduction in climate-harming emissions in this country as a result of meaningful investments in clean energy and climate-smart measures. The Build Back Better Act can make these a reality.
When combined with the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure package, the Build Back Better Act will make the largest investments in climate action in Congress’ history, putting the country squarely on the path to dramatically reduce emissions by 2030. This legislation is critical in our effort to protect communities from climate-fueled disasters and reduce pollution, and it provides a much-needed investment in clean water, clean energy, and natural infrastructure. It will provide resources for our country to recover threatened and endangered species, protect wildlife refuges, and strengthen the health of our forests and native grasslands.
DURING TIME OF PANDEMIC PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS, OUR NATURAL ENVIRONMENT WAS UNDER ASSAULT
While the "foxes guarded our hen house," the Trump Administration attacked and weakened many environmental protection regulations and programs. Actions among many that occurred during the pandemic and previous Trump Administration and that will take some time and effort to reverse, repair or ameliorate included:
BIDEN ADMINSTRATION MOVES TO RESTORE ENDANGERED SPECIES PROTECTION
U.S. officials in early June announced plans to restore protections for endangered species that were weakened under the Trump administration. In a joint statement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service said they would initiate processes in the coming months "to revise, rescind or reinstate" five Endangered Species Act regulations that were finalized late in 2020 under former President Donald Trump. The move is the latest by the administration of President Joe Biden to reverse Trump policies that loosened environmental regulations.
The reviews by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service are aimed at five Endangered Species Act regulations finalized by the Trump administration, including critical habitat designations and rules defining the scope of federal actions on endangered species. The Trump-era regulations opened the door to considering economic factors in decisions for species protections, weakened protections for critical habitat and left threatened species without guaranteed protections, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Speaking about the Biden administration's announcement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service principal deputy director Martha Williams declared that "the Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to working with diverse federal, Tribal, state and industry partners to not only protect and recover America’s imperiled wildlife but to ensure cornerstone laws like the Endangered Species Act are helping us meet 21st century challenges."
But changes to federal rules must undergo a public rulemaking process that can take months or years. Environmentalists applauded the move but implored the administration to move quickly.
COALITION DEFENDED WATER AGAINST TRUMP ADMINISTRATIONS' DIMINISHED REGULATIONS - NOT YET RESOLVED
More than a dozen environmental groups filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's rewrite of the rule defining waters subject to protection under the federal Clean Water Act in 2020. The Southern Environmental Law Center regionally led this defense team. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Army in 2020 issued the final replacement rule defining and radically reducing what waters are federally regulated under the Clean Water Act. SELC on behalf of the coalition filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina over the Trump administration’s “effort to gut clean water protections from wetlands and streams that feed drinking-water sources for 200 million Americans and 32 million people in the South, or seven out of ten Southerners.” Read more.
See also: Special Report: Wetlands In Peril
NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT
The Trump administration made radical changes to America's landmark environmental protection policies and restricted procedures for environmental impact assessments. The Trump Administration changed and reduced environmental impacts assessment requirements on government agencies and private industry receiving federal funding or permits. If litigation by environmental protection organizations is not successful, and if the Biden Administration cannot reverse course, we will have effectively lost one of our nation’s most important tools to ensure public oversight of federal projects that could harm the environment, such as logging, road building, and energy development. Read more. And learn more about these attacks on NEPA and additional resources with the National Environmental Policy Act Messaging Toolkit. Also Southern Environmental Law Center.
The Biden-reconstituted Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in late 2021 issued its Phase 1 proposed rule as the first step in a two-phase rulemaking process to reverse drastic National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rollbacks adopted by the Trump Administration and to improve NEPA implementation. CEQ is expected to issue the final Phase 1 NEPA rule soon, followed by a proposed Phase 2 NEPA rule expected around June. NEPA is the foundational law for ensuring that people have a voice in federal decision-making, guiding the environmental impact review process for major federal activities that impact the environment, public health, and livelihoods around the country.
TRUMP ERA REVISIONS GUTTED ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT
The Endangered Species Act is the world's strongest law for saving species from extinction. The Trump administration in early August 2019 finalized sweeping changes to the Act that weaken habitat protections, block climate change from being addressed as a threat to vanishing wildlife, and create new barriers to preventing extinctions. The Center for Biodiversity, National Audubon Society, and other defenders of vulnerable animal and plant species report that if their lawsuits are unsuccessful and Congress is unable to block, the changes will radically alter enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. These changes enable economic considerations to drive key conservation decisions: for the first time, concerns about potential lost revenue from ESA restrictions on mining, oil and gas drilling, or logging could influence decisions on whether a species merits protection. The new rules also limit the ability of regulators to take climate change into consideration when making listing assessments. In short, they endanger the very species the ESA was intended to protect. Read the National Audubon Society’s statement and more on Audubon's website.
CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY SUED TRUMP ADMINISTRATION IN DEFENSE OF ENDANGERED SPECIES
In 2020 the Center for Biological Diversity launched a lawsuit against President Donald Trump for illegally ordering federal agencies to harm wildlife. No other president has used executive powers to incite others to violate environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act — so the Center has taken unprecedented action. Its suit challenges Trump's recent executive order directing all federal agencies to exploit the Endangered Species Act's emergency provisions to rubber-stamp the approval of fossil fuel pipelines, oil and gas drilling, and other routine infrastructure projects.
"Inciting federal agencies to violate the Act is part of a pattern Trump's displayed throughout his presidency," said Kierán Suckling, the Center's executive director. "He's encouraging officials to ignore the rules and obey his whims. But he's not above the law." Get more information from The Hill and the Center for Biological Diversity. The Center for Biological Diversity has taken legal actions to force US Fish and Wildlife Service to save imperiled species in the southern U.S. READ MORE.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION GUTTED CLEAN WATER and WETLANDS PROTECTION REGULATIONS
The Clean Water Act--the federal law that protects water quality across the country--has been in place for 46 years. It's Section 404(c) serves as a vital tool to stop the most damaging harm to the nation’s rivers, streams, and wetlands. Yet the protections guaranteed by the Clean Water Act are in jeopardy, as the Act is under unprecedented assault. In addition to proposed elimination of regulations, the Trump Administration has proposed a federal budget which, if Congress accepts, will continue to slash core programs of the EPA such as monitoring streams and lakes, setting standards to protect them, and enforcing anti-pollution controls.
In early September 2019, the the Trump Administration, over massive objections from environmental protection defenders, finalized its rule to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule or "Waters of the US" Rule issued under the Obama Administration, which defined the waters that are protected by the Clean Water Act. This repeal is step one of the current administration's plan to repeal and replace the 2015 definition of "Waters of the US" with a much weaker, narrower definition that would leave an estimated one-fifth of the nation's streams and half of its wetlands unprotected from pollution and destruction under the Clean Water Act.
The EPA and Corps of Engineers' abandonment of the 2015 Clean Water Rule dramatically reduces the scope of waters protected by the Clean Water Act. This is the most significant weakening of Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands in history. A number of states attorney generals have filed opposition to the proposed weakening of national clean water and wetlands and stream damage regulations.
If and when another oil spill disaster occurs similar to the BP Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster (ten years ago) or the Exxon Valdez oil tanker sinking on the Alaska coast, under the Trump Administration's alterations of federal water pollution criteria NO penalties or remediation will be charged against the corporate polluter.
The Trump Administration's revised Clean Water rules made our nation’s water resources more vulnerable to pollution and destruction. This action will roll back federal protections for thousands of American waterways and wetlands. According to the National Wildlife Federation, the rollback stripped protection for 60 percent of all stream miles in the continental U.S. and also strip protection for half of the wetlands in the U.S. The Rule change imperils advances to protect water quality of many of America's rivers and estuaries, including the Chesapeake Bay and many others. The Trump Administration restricted the scope of the law and removed protections from millions of acres of wetlands and nearly two million miles of streams nationwide. Nowhere is the threat greater than in the southern states, which are not only rich in water and water-dependent native species, but also have some of the weakest and most poorly funded water quality programs, making our region especially vulnerable to loss of federal clean water protection safeguards. President Trump by Executive Order directed EPA to dismantle the Clean Water Rule that protected small streams, up to 110 thousand acres of wetlands, and critical habitats for our nation’s wildlife.
The Southern Environmental Law Center immediately filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the Trump administration's evisceration of the Clean Water Act. SELC expects a multiyear battle to defend our nation's key clean water safeguards against this unprecedented assault, and is committed to protect the South's drinking waters, natural biodiversity, and the rivers-lakes-and coastal waters essential to our way of life, economy, and environment.
Also, River Network, the national association of river protection organizations, responded to the relentless series of attacks on safeguards for clean water and healthy communities from the Trump Administration and Congress. River Network’s member organizations have been at the forefront of raising awareness and speaking up for the value of regulatory safeguards to their rivers and communities, and for protecting federal policies and clean water protections now at risk. Learn more about the federal policies at risk and how you can use RiverNetwork's Federal Budget Toolkit to support efforts to protect federal investments in local rivers and waters. The strategies and success stories give us hope.
PRESIDENT TRUMP CUT FUNDING FOR CLEAN WATER & RESTORATION
President Trump tried to make massive cuts to many environmental protection and water-related agencies and programs, including:
STATE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION PROGRAMS ALSO SUFFERED DEVASTATING FUNDING CUTS
The Environmental Integrity Project (a national nonprofit organization) in December, 2019, issued a report on state funding for environmental protection programs. The report, The Thin Green Line, looks at staffing levels and funding for environmental programs between 2008 and 2018 in the lower 48 states. In addition to providing funding and position numbers for each state, the report profiles five states -- including North Carolina. The report compares 2018 funding levels to both 2008 dollars and inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars. The percentage increase or decrease in funding calculated for each state represents the change from inflation-adjusted 2008 funding.
The report's funding and position numbers only reflect resources for environmental protection programs; the report did not include parks and recreation or fish and wildlife agencies. Budget numbers do not include infrastructure programs, such as the drinking water and wastewater loan and grant programs. The report excluded the capital spending because it varies year to year depending on grant cycles and does not support basic pollution control activities such as permitting, inspections and compliance actions.
Key findings related to North Carolina's environmental protection programs: adjusted for inflation, N.C. environmental programs experienced a 34% reduction in operating funds between 2008 and 2018. During the report period, N.C. environmental programs experienced one of the highest levels of cuts to both operating budgets and staff in the country. The legislature made significant reductions even as the state's population grew, the overall state budget increased and the state faced new environmental challenges. More HERE.
ONE MILLION OF EARTH'S SPECIES HURTLING TOWARD EXTINCTION
At least 1 million of the Earth's species will be extinct within the next few decades without immediate human intervention, according to the United Nations report released in early May 2019, which was authored and researched by an international panel of over 450 premiere conservation biologists who composed the Intergovernmental Science-Polity Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). This horrendous rate of extinction is due to a combination of human-caused land uses, pollution, climate change, population growth, and overfishing.
The new scientific assessment concludes that to slow this loss of the Earth's biodiversity and ecosystems, "transformational change" to the way society operates is demanded to put us back on course to meet global sustainable development targets. Species loss is accelerating to a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past--all due to humans. But it’s not too late to fix the problem, the report said.
The report relies heavily on research by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is composed of biologists who maintain a list of threatened species. The IUCN calculated in March 2019 that 27,159 species are threatened, endangered, or extinct in the wild out of nearly 100,000 species biologists examined in depth. That includes 1,223 mammal species, 1,492 bird species and 2,341 fish species. Nearly half the threatened species are plants. But scientists have only examined a small fraction of the estimated 8 million species on Earth.
The big picture: The IPBES findings are a first-ever global report on the state of nature, and is aimed at getting policy-makers, activists and others to understand that biodiversity must be a high global priority.
IMPACTS AND EFFECTS OF A CHANGED CLIMATE ARE WORSENING
Obviously hurricanes, floods, wildfires, droughts and wildly fluctuating weather events are intensifying, partially as a consequence of an altered world climate and unprecedentedly warm oceans and atmospheric temperatures. A United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warns the climate change crisis with compounding droughts and world food shortages is worse than previously understood: Read the full story and More .
The recent 2021 annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) global summit in Glasgow, Scotland, made incremental steps toward international commitments to take necessary remedial steps in response to the world climate crisis. Unlike the failure of the previous Trump administration, the U.S. Biden administration resumed a world response leadership role in combating the effects of a changing climate and reasserted America's commitment to help reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and methane gas, and rejoin
The more positive international commitments in the 2021 UN global climate change conference came after bleak reports had been issued. The annual U.N. Emissions Gap Report stated that the world economy is expected to blow past the 1.5 degree Celsius ceiling, with global temperatures on pace to rise by as much as 3.9 degrees Celsius by 2100. As global greenhouse gas emissions hit a record highs in 2019 and 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that thawing permafrost in the arctic region is releasing massive amounts of carbon emissions.
CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS on OCEANS "SWEEPING and SEVERE"
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in late September released on the state of the world’s oceans. It says the oceans are doing bad... REALLY BAD!
For decades, the ocean has been protecting us from ourselves. It’s been absorbing the vast majority of the heat we’ve added to the atmosphere through greenhouse gas emissions, essentially preventing the air from getting super hot. (We’ve known that for awhile, as this 2015 chart from Climate Central shows). But now, the new IPCC report says, the ocean’s health is utterly collapsing as a result of all the heat absorption. Worse, its capability for absorbing all that heat—and thus protecting us from living in an atmospheric hellscape—is running out. “The ocean has been acting like a sponge, absorbing heat and carbon dioxide to regulate global temperatures, but it can’t keep up,” IPCC vice chair Ko Barrett said on Wednesday. "The consequences for nature and humanity are sweeping and severe.” Read more in The New York Times.
President Biden in his first month in office released an executive order calling for conservation of 30% of the U.S. land base by 2030. This is an ambitious call to action, and we must rise to the challenge. Scientists have found we can slow climate change and protect nearly 75% of plant and animal species by conserving at least 30% of our land base by 2030. President Biden's new executive order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad aims to do just that. According to U.S. Geological Survey analysis, just 12% of land in the nation currently qualifies to meet this ambitious goal. That means we need to conserve another 18% of U.S. land — twice the size of the state of Texas — in nine years! This bold "30x30" vision is firmly rooted in science, in that protected land is key to a healthy and secure future for all Americans. It provides pure drinking water, healthy food, clean air, habitat for wildlife, and places for people to reflect, recreate, hunt, and fish. Conserved land also provides protection from natural disasters, such as floods and droughts, and absorbs and keeps carbon from the Earth's atmosphere.
CLOSING THE CONSERVATION FUNDING GAP
Accelerating losses of Earth’s biodiversity is well documented. The Nature Conservancy states that from 1970 to 2016 there was a nearly 70% average decline in populations of birds, amphibians, mammals, fish, and reptiles. Research suggests that by 2070, the Earth could lose another third or more of its species if immediate steps are not to taken to stop the extinctions. Human survival too is dependent on such action. The Nature Conservancy, with the Paulson Institute and Cornell University, has produced a report titled Financing Nature: Closing the Biodiversity Financing Gap (2020), which documents a great gap between need and current investment in preservation and maintenance of the world’s biodiversity. As of 2019, somewhere between $124 and $143 billion dollars (U.S.) were spent annually worldwide for maintaining and conserving nature and ecological systems. That sum needs to be more than quadrupled! To close the annual financing gap, we need to expand to somewhere between $598 billion and $824 billion per year by 2030. The Financing Nature report sets global dollar investment needs to meet conservation goals: to increase protection of land and marine habitats, to manage healthier forests, to reduce harm on biodiversity from agricultural and fishing practices, and to reduce water pollution. The report outlines three ways to fix the finance gap: by increasing government spending, by producing new revenue streams in ways that promote environmental benefits, and by increasing investments in conserving more natural lands and infrastructure. Read/download the report.
Biden Administration federal agencies move to Nature-Based Solutions following Roadmap for Climate Progress, Natural Resources Conservation, & Social Equity - "Investing in Nature to Solve Today's Challenges"
In late 2022 US President Biden's multi-agency National Climate Task Force issued a "Roadmap" that set forth guidelines to federal agencies for achieving climate, conservation and equity goals to help offset impacts of climate change and continual loss of nature, which endanger American communities, ecosystems, and infrastructure. These strategies are called "Nature-Based Solutions" (NbS). The guide contains summaries and links to 177 federal resources, tools, guidance and technical assistance on such nature-based solutions.
Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment in January 2023 hosted a webinar featuring a panel of federal agency spokespersons who explained the Administration's Nature-Based Solutions initiative --
The Nature-Based Solutions Roadmap for the United States. This was one of the webinar series Nature-Based Solutions: Current Issues, hosted by the National Ecosystem Services Partnership and the Resilience Roadmap Project. You can find a recording of the session here.
There were many resources highlighted by the webinar speakers and mentioned during the discussion. They are linked here for easy access:
If you would like to hear about future Duke University webinars, you can sign up for the National Ecosystem Services Partnership mailing list here.
Legislation was reintroduced in past Congressional session but not enacted to restore and strengthen the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which was seriously disabled by the Trump Administration (see more information below). There’s never been a more important time to safeguard birds from preventable hazards. Three billion birds have disappeared since 1970. Two out of three bird species are threatened by climate change consequences. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently attempting to reverse the rollback of the MBTA rules, but Congressional legislative action is needed as well. The new Migratory Bird Protection Act will strengthen protections for birds from industrial hazards and restore incentives to save birds from harm. The National Audubon Society urges you to take action and tell your U.S. Representative to support the Migratory Bird Protection Act to reinstate long-standing protections for North America’s birds. Please take a moment to write to your U.S. Representative and ask them to support the Migratory Bird Protection Act, and help give birds a fighting chance when they need it most.
BIDEN ADMINSTRATION’S EPA REVIVES CLIMATE CHANGE WEBSITE
The US Environmental Protection Agency has relaunched its climate change website under the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to take action on climate change and restore science, according to a news release. The website had been “archived” (i.e., deleted) in 2017 in the first year of the Trump administration. [The Washington Post reported that EPA’s climate change website deletion occurred within 24 hours of the People’s Climate March on the National Mall, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. That 2017 march was organized in opposition to Trump’s rollbacks of the Obama administration’s climate policies.]
EPA’s recently appointed director Michael Regan (formerly secretary of the North Carolina department of environmental quality) stated, “Climate facts are back on EPA’s website where they should be. Considering the urgency of this crisis, it’s critical that Americans have access to information and resources so that we can all play a role in protecting our environment, our health, and vulnerable communities. Trustworthy, science-based information is at the foundation of strong, achievable solutions.” READ MORE.
American Rescue Plan legislation reforms Climate Justice Policy reforms (from Interfaith Power & Light)
The $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill, the American Rescue Plan, approved by the Democratic majorities of the US House and Senate and signed into law by President Biden, contains much needed relief for struggling Americans, funding for vaccines and testing, and investment in stimulating our economy. It is the greatest expansion of the social safety net in decades; it is projected to lift 13 million Americans out of poverty, nearly half of them children. It also contained several climate justice priorities:
President Biden's "Civilian Climate Corp" public jobs program -- another element of the American Rescue Plan Act -- is reminiscent of President Franklin Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corp's "Tree Army" of the 1930s. READ MORE.
Great American Outdoors Act Approved by US Senate & House; Enacted!
While we were preoccupied with the global pandemic, a major legislative achievement occurred in the summer of 2020 with U.S. House of Representatives passage (310-107 bipartisan vote) of the Great American Outdoors Act, following the U.S. Senate’s passage (by bipartisan 73-25 vote) of this landmark secures full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and allocate millions to protecting public lands in each state. President Trump signed the legislation into law. This is realization of 50 years of endeavor by the conservation community: securing full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The Great American Outdoors Act represents the greatest federal investment in land conservation seen in many decades. It comes at a surreal and surprising time in the midst of pandemic and polarized politics, with the confluence of the support from President Trump, Senate and House leaderships and overwhelming bipartisan support in both the Senate and House.
Why is the Great American Outdoors Act so important? Because it permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which derives from a portion of federal revenues from fees on offshore oil drilling. LWCF funds projects that protect important land, water, and recreation areas that benefit all Americans. The law permanently commits $900 million per year to acquire land for federal, state, and local parks and forests and also provide $9.5 billion over the next five years for desperately needed repairs and facilities maintenance in national parks and forests and in other public lands.
Many dedicated advocates and conservation and community partners worked together for years to champion the permanent reauthorization and full funding of LWCF, which passed Congress with impressive bipartisan approval.
CONTROVERSIAL ATLANTIC COAST PIPELINE PROJECT HALTED
In a surprise move on the 2020 July 4th weekend, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy announced that they are abandoning the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project following growing opposition, spiraling costs, and a series of legal defeats. This is considered a tremendous victory for the people and communities that were in the 600-miles path of this risky project, for public lands, for landowners, and for all North Carolinians and Virginians who are no longer on the hook to pay for an $8 billion pipeline. The Southern Environmental Law Center and dozens of other organizations coalesced in opposition to the proposed pipeline construction. The editorial board of the Raleigh (NC) News & Observer newspaper hailed the decision, calling it a "new independence--a breakaway from the tyranny of fossil fuels in generating electricity, "saving us from a doomed investment in energy's past rather than its future, and providing the electric power corporations the opportunity to embrace a future in which generating electricity and protecting the planet are one and the same." See this engaging account of Virginians' battle against the proposed pipeline:
MIGRATORY BIRD ACT RESTRICTED - BUT DEFENSE MOUNTED
BIDEN ADMIN MOVES TO RESTORE AMERICA’S MIGRATORY BIRD PROTECTION (from National Audubon Society)
There is encouraging news for saving America’s best bird protection law. The Biden administration in March 2021 announced intent to revoke a Trump-era rule that gave a free pass to industries for bird deaths under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). On the same day when the rule of the Trump Administration formally went into effect, which guts the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by preventing the federal government from penalizing companies for arguably unintended but preventable killing of birds, the Biden Administration’s US Department of the Interior also announced that it would move quickly on a new rulemaking process to reinstate and strengthen protections for migratory birds. If the Trump Administration’s new rule had been in effect at the time of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill that killed over 100,000 birds and many other species of marine wildlife, none of the $100 million settlement payment would have been paid by the culpable industries. Read more HERE and HERE.
The MBTA has protected birds for more than a century. Passed in 1918 as a result of advocacy from Audubon chapters and supporters like you, the law serves as the foundation for bird conservation in our country. But the current rule implemented in the final weeks of the Trump Administration means that any “incidental” death—no matter how predictable, avoidable, or devastating to birds—is now exempt from enforcement under the law.
The National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation and others have been defending the landmark Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, now under attack by radical-right elements of Congress and the Trump Administration, which eliminated regulations and fines against corporate violators of that law. The U.S. hosts nearly 1000 species of birds. After a century of this critically important Migratory Bird Act and its defense of wildlife, the Trump administration abandoned the safeguards the law provides. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proposed a rule to exempt all “incidental takes”—bird deaths caused by industrial hazards—from MBTA enforcement. If this rule were in place in 2010, BP would have faced zero consequences for the more than one million birds killed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. With 3 billion birds lost in the past 50 years and two-thirds of North American species threatened by climate change alone, there’s never been a worse time to gut the MBTA. Read More.
The Trump Interior Department gutted enforcement of the MBTA, giving companies a free pass from responsibility for bird deaths from industrial hazards, including major oil spills. The Trump Administration moved through altered regulatory rules to make this bird-killing policy permanent. When the pandemic broke out across the United States, they rejected requests to postpone this unnecessary and harmful process, and shut down the public comment period. If and when another oil spill disaster occurs, similar to the BP Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster (ten years ago) which resulted in the deaths of an estimated one million birds and untold other marine species, under the Trump Administration's alterations of wildlife protection regulations NO penalties or remediation will be charged against the corporate polluter.
The Trump Interior Department fast-tracked its bird-killing policy.
Despite the health emergency and amidst national turmoil of the Covid19 pandemic, the Department of the Interior moved ahead to cement the elimination of bird protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The Trump Interior Department ignored widespread concerns and ramping up its attack on the MBTA. In its draft Environmental Impact Statement, the agency completely failed to address how devastating the rollback of the MBTA will be for birds, especially when recent studies have shown that we’ve lost 3 billion birds since 1970, and that two-thirds of our birds are threatened by climate change.
National Audubon Society, several other conservation groups, and eight states filed lawsuits challenging the U.S. Department of the Interior’s elimination of longstanding bird protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). Eight states joined the defense effort, filing suit against the administration to reinstate these vital protections. Their powerful efforts are lifting hopes for the future of this critical law—and for the 1,000-plus species it shields. In a significant ruling, a federal court rejected the government’s effort to dismiss the case, allowing it to move forward. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers recently introduced the new Migratory Bird Protection Act, which affirms decades of bipartisan practice and policy under the MBTA, upholds our international treaty obligations, and minimizes industrial hazards to birds by incentivizing best management practices.
Defense Mounted: the Audubon Society, several other conservation groups, and eight states filed lawsuits challenging the U.S. Department of the Interior’s elimination of longstanding bird protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). In early August 2020 a federal court ruled on the National Audubon vs. US Dept. of Interior lawsuit and threw out the administration's rollback of the MBTA, ruling the policy is contrary to the foundational 100-year-old bird protection law. The Department of the Interior's attempt to overturn decades of bipartisan precedent would say that the MBTA’s protections apply only to activities that purposefully kill birds. The federal court ruled that this interpretation was “contrary to the plain meaning of the MBTA.” For context, if the administration’s legal opinion had been in place in 2010, BP would have faced no consequences under the MBTA for the more than one million birds killed in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
This reality is underscored by the judge’s own words from the opening of the ruling: “It is not only a sin to kill a mockingbird, it is also a crime. That has been the letter of the law for the past century. But if the Department of the Interior has its way, many mockingbirds and other migratory birds that delight people and support ecosystems throughout the country will be killed without legal consequence.”
The long fight isn’t over yet—Congress needs to respond to this attack on America's birds and pass a permanent legislative fix to protect the MBTA from being weakened through administrative and regulatory changes. A proposed Migratory Bird Protection Act has been introduced in Congress to reinstate bird protections that were removed under this administration, and a key Congressional committee has quickly endorsed the vital legislation, voting to advance the bill in the U.S. House. Take action today by asking your U.S. Representatives to defend the MBTA from further rollback attempts by passing the Migratory Bird Protection Act. Urge your U.S. Representative to reverse this attack on bird protection.
WILDLIFE CONSERVATION CRISIS RESPONSES
We are facing a historic conservation crisis for birds and other wildlife. The widespread species decline could alter future opportunities for Americans to enjoy and benefit from these species, and the places they need to survive. The proposed Recovering America’s Wildlife Act responds to this crisis by directing much-needed financial resources to proactively conserve at-risk species identified by state fish and wildlife agencies. More than one third of all species are at risk of extinction, many within decades. With degraded habitat, invasive species and a shifting climate driving global biodiversity loss. That's why Congress must pass the Recovering America's Wildlife Act (RAWA) to fix drastic underfunding of local and state efforts to save struggling wildlife before it's too late. The Nature Conservancy appeals that if you agree, add your name to urge lawmakers to take action now. Read more, Take Action.
Thousands of species depend on the Endangered Species Act for survival (from Center for Biological Diversity)
The Endangered Species Act has been severely underfunded for decades and desperately needs more funding to combat the climate crisis, habitat loss, wildlife exploitation and pollution, which are pushing more animal and plant species to the brink. We call on Congress to double its funding for endangered species conservation to $592 million per year. We can't curb the extinction crisis without giving every species what it needs.
One million animal and plant species face extinction in the coming decades — and there simply isn't enough budgeted for their survival. The Endangered Species Act saves 99% of the species that are granted its powerful protection. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hundreds of endangered animals and plants receive less than $1,000 a year for their recovery. Many species receive no funding at all. Our proposal calls for every species listed under the Act to receive a minimum of $50,000 per year for recovery.
Wildlife can’t wait. Please tell Congress to fight the extinction crisis with all the tools available. Tell Congress to save life on Earth by fully funding species conservation. Take Action!
FWS Proposal to Streamline Conservation Agreements & Permitting
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in early 2023 proposed a rule to revise permitting under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to make the voluntary conservation agreement process clearer, easier, more efficient. ESA Section 10 permits allow for a variety of activities, some of which can benefit endangered species through innovation. ESA Section 10 permits have long been used to encourage Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances and Safe Harbor Agreements, which are voluntary landowner agreements designed to benefit candidates or listed species, respectively. This proposes changes to the Service’s permitting regulations to encourage more individuals and companies to engage in these voluntary programs, thereby generating greater conservation results overall. The Service also proposes technical and administrative changes to the regulations to reduce costs and time associated with negotiating and developing the required documents to support permit applications. These revisions do not significantly change the current implementation of the Section 10 program and do not expand the reach of species protections. For more information on the proposals and what they may mean to you as a landowner, Read More: ND OUT MORE HERE
Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 3742) was introduced in the US House as proposed legislation with more than 60 sponsors in 2019, that would have provided $1.4 billion in dedicated annual funding to state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies. We hope that similar legislation will be reintroduced in 2021. This funding would go toward conservation and monitoring of at-risk species, known in states as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN). Since 2000, state and tribal wildlife agencies have pulled from a much smaller funding stream known as the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program. This program is vulnerable to the whims of congressional appropriators each year, and is typically only funded at about $60 million annually. Such limited funding only provides state agencies with the ability to address a few of the SGCN-related projects deemed necessary within their conservation action blueprints, known as State Wildlife Action Plans. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act aims to drastically change this dynamic. This legislation would:
PLANT CONSERVATION NATIONAL LEGISLATION RE-PROPOSED
Legislation to enhance protection of American's native plants in 2020 was introduced in both houses of Congress but was not not enacted. A new legislative proposal must be made in the current Congressional session. The proposed legislation has been endorsed by nearly two thousand conservation groups. The Native Plant Conservation Campaign coalition submitted testimony on the proposed Botanical Sciences and Native Plant Materials Research, Restoration, and Promotion Act. The legislation would support:
AMERICA'S CONSERVATION ENHANCEMENT ACT and WETLANDS CONSERVATION ACT LEGISLATION MUST BE REINTRODUCED IN NEW 2021 CONGRESSIONAL SESSION
The North American Wetlands Conservation Act came a half-step closer to reauthorization in 2020– it passed out of the US Senate as part of the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act, but it was not enacted into law. A new effort will be launched in the 2021 Congressional session. For background, a stand-alone bill to reauthorize NAWCA passed out of the House and was amended in the Senate to add the other provisions in the America’s Conservation Easement Enhancement Act and passed on unanimous consent.
America’s Conservation Enhancement Act has been bipartisan legislation reauthorizing several important wildlife conservation programs, including The North American Wetlands Conservation Act, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Establishment Act and Chesapeake Bay Program. It also addresses the threats of emerging wildlife diseases and invasive species, and addresses protection for livestock from predators.
EPA and Army Take Action to Provide Certainty for the Definition of "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of the Army (the agencies) announced in late 2021 a proposed rule to re-establish the pre-2015 definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) which had been in place for decades, updated to reflect consideration of Supreme Court decisions. This action advances the agencies’ goal of establishing a durable definition of WOTUS that protects public health, the environment, and downstream communities while supporting economic opportunity, agriculture, and other industries that depend on clean water. This proposed rule would support a stable implementation of “waters of the United States” while the agencies continue to consult with states, Tribes, local governments, and a broad array of stakeholders in both the implementation of WOTUS and future regulatory actions. Additional information can be found here.
Can red wolves in eastern North Carolina come back from the brink of extinction again?
Once a US conservation success story, numbers in the wild have plummeted. A 2021 court decision that condemned the Trump-era US Fish and Wildlife Service's inaction has given hope for their survival. Read in The Guardian. In response to the court order and successful lawsuit by Southern Environmental Law Center and Network for Wildlife Conservation eight red wolves bred in captivity were added to the beleaguered remnant population in the USFWS Pocosin Lakes NWR in coastal North Carolina in the spring of 2021.
In November 2021 the Biden Administration reversed the Trump Administration move and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced, red wolves will continue to be protected in North Carolina. This decision is connected to wildlife conservation groups’ ongoing court challenge of USFWS’ 2018 decision to abandon red wolf support strategies in a coastal North Carolina recovery area. Those strategies include continued releases of captive-bred wolves to bolster the wild breeding population, as well as protecting the wolves outside the agency’s shrunken protection area. Red wolf management by the [USFWS] Red Wolf Recovery Program team will no longer be restricted to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Dare County bombing range. Instead, this decision recognizes the Service’s authority to release additional wolves and to conduct adaptive management across the five counties of the Albemarle Peninsula — Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrell, and Washington.”
The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the groups challenging the prior USFWS decision in court. Attorney Sierra Weaver said, “We’re pleased that the Fish and Wildlife Service is finally withdrawing its harmful proposal to remove protections for wild red wolves and drastically reduce their protected area. But the question remains: will the agency commit to proven conservation measures to save the world’s rarest wild wolves, including reintroductions?”