This Week In Biodiversity: Congress Enters The Sage-Grouse Battle

Steve Zwick

Congress became an official participant in the greater sage-grouse debate when its latest spending bill blocked funding for an Endangered Species Act listing for the bird. Reaction to the decision has been mixed with conservationists and agency officials indicating the voluntary incentives and the state level conservation plans as solid means to protect the grouse without a federal listing status.

23 December 2014 | Greetings! This month, the sage-grouse wars raged on, with Congress – never one to pass on a fight – getting involved.The spending bill passed by the US Congress last week included the following provision:
Sage-Grouse Sec. 122. None of the funds made available by this or any other Act may be used by the Secretary of the Interior to write or issue pursuant to section 4 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1533) –


(1) A proposed rule for greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus)
(2) A proposed rule for the Columbia basin distinct population segment of greater sage-grouse;
(3) A final rule for the bi-state distinct population segment of greater sage-grouse; or
(4) A final rule for Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus) 
While mainstream conservationists balk at this Congressional rider, some say it gives the conservation community time to demonstrate that voluntary incentives can work, such as Habitat Exchanges in Colorado and Nevada.


Interior Spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw told Ecosystem Marketplace that while they weren’t happy about the Congressional intrusion, the bill doesn’t stop the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) from continuing to collect data and conduct analysis around a final decision, nor does it have implications for local and state plans or partnerships.


So will it be conflict or collaboration? We’re starting to get whiplash. Counties in Oregon recently hammered out a new multi-county Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances with USFWS. Meanwhile the Nevada Association of Counties, miners, and ranchers are suing the federal government over the 2011 agreement USFWS made with conservation groups that blocked the agency from considering “warranted but not precluded” when deciding whether to list a number of candidate species, including the greater sage-grouse. And the Center for Biological Diversity is suing the USFWS for listing the Gunnison sage-grouse bird as ‘threatened’ versus ‘endangered’ based on voluntary conservation actions.


This month we also have a number of terrific Opinion pieces from Bobby Cochran (on why nature matters for human health), William Coleman (on the “Farmer Brown” problem – or how mitigation prices can help EPA fix its penalty fees), and Carlos Ferreira (on why we need to make the offsets case to consumers). We’d love to hear what you think.


Happy holidays – and see you in 2015!

—The Ecosystem Marketplace Team

If you have comments or would like to submit news stories, write to us at [email protected].

EM Exclusives

Budget Deal Leaves Sage Grouse In Limbo. Can Private Conservation Do The Trick?

The US government may have averted another shutdown with the passage of the Congressional spending bill last week. But a short paragraph nestled within the 1,603 page document was a provision to withhold funding for the Department of Interior to decide on the sage grouse’s endangered status.


Grouse habitats have declined significantly through the years, to the point where the Department of Interior (DOI) must decide whether or not to list the species as endangered by September 2015.


Over at the Interior Department, Spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw had harsh words for the uninvited Congressional intrusion, but said that, in the long term, it will make little difference to the department’s conservation work regarding the sage grouse.


And while mainstream conservationists balk at this Congressional rider, some practitioners cautiously view this as an opportunity to change the impeding conflict over the sage-grouse.

– Keep reading at Ecosystem Marketplace.

When COPs Converge: The Biodiversity And Climate Link

Biodiversity and climate are intertwined in the physical realm though separate in the policy world. But during the ongoing climate COP in Lima, a diverse group of scientists and policymakers presented a declaration assessing current knowledge on connections between biodiversity vulnerabilities and climate change with the objective of increased integrated activity on the inter-linked issues.


“Biodiversity is affected by climate change and in turn affects the carbon balance of ecosystems,” says Holm Tiessen, the Executive Director of the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI), a research organization that spearheaded the creation of this declaration presented to COP 20 President, Manuel Pulgar Vidal. The declaration called for integrative research on biodiversity and climate change noting connections between the two issues.

– Learn more.

Opinion: Confirming What We Already Know: Human Health Is Linked To Nature

Chronic conditions kill, disable, and ruin the quality of life of millions of Americans. Indeed, more than one-third of U.S. adults are now obese, incurring $148 billion in medical costs annually and contributing to 18% of U.S. adult deaths in recent years. Our healthcare costs are the highest per capita in the world. And that amount keeps increasing.


But consider an alternative. Consider a forest trail. Consider a fresh breeze. Consider the robust body of evidence linking human health to nature.


On both the quantitative and qualitative levels, we increasingly understand how more time outdoors improves our well-being. And this is spurring health professionals across the country to recognize something our ancestors accepted as fact. To that end, 30 leading health officials, academics and nature-focused nonprofits have issued theWingspread Declaration on Health and Nature.

– Keep reading here.

Opinion: Solving The Farmer Brown Problem: How The Cost Of Mitigation Credits Can Help The EPA Reach Right Penalty Price

Last month, the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) announced its intention to levy penalties in the case of a California central valley almond farmer who seems to have knowingly bulldozed 33 acres of rare vernal pool habitat in an effort to expand his orchard operations.


My guess is that farmer Edward Brown is crying about the EPA action…all the way to the bank.


If we run the numbers according to current market prices for vernal pool credits, we can see that Farmer Brown has won the day. The EPA penalties will cost him $1.2 million in round numbers. If he had done as the Corps directed and bought 33 mitigation credits priced at $200-300,000 each, he would have spent $7-$10 million. By violating the law, destroying the habitat and subjecting himself to EPA justice, Brown has saved something like $7 million.

– Read it at Ecosystem Marketplace.

Opinion: Biodiversity Offsets As Corporate Responsibility: Opportunity Or Paradox?

A visit to the SpeciesBanking website confirms what specialists have known for some time: that the practice of offsetting impacts to biodiversity is widespread. And while national, regional and local practices vary widely, one point is clear: offsetting is an increasingly important mechanism for conservation as more and more companies use them to mitigate their biodiversity impacts.


However, few firms are choosing to offset as a way to manage their image and show consumers that they are environmentally-responsible companies. Biodiversity offsets has the potential to implement high quality conservation in the face of encroaching development. But, unless it’s under attack, the concept remains almost unheard of among consumers. This is a big problem, according to a researcher on the subject who says growth and regulatory support depends on public opinion. And this unawareness at the consumer level could be impacting the sector’s ability to expand.

– Read the opinion piece here.

Mitigation News

Voluntary Conservation Continues to Ruffle Feathers

At the bare minimum, farmers and ranchers in the US West hope that Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs) will exclude them from USFWS restrictions and regulations should the bird be listed under the Endangered Species Act. But contention over these measures, which allow landowners to perform land-use activities beneficial to a species in exchange for exclusion from future regulations, continues.


The Center for Biological Diversity is suing the USFWS for listing the Gunnison sage-grouse bird as ‘threatened’ versus ‘endangered’ based on voluntary conservation actions. Meanwhile environmental organizations argue the CCAAs perform only minimal conservation and aren’t sufficient in ensuring a viable healthy species population.

– Get the full story from the Capital Press.

Adjustments to Florida Mitigation Bank Causes a Big Stir

Disagreement surrounds the development of a parcel of land in Florida’s Volusia and Brevard counties. The Sierra Club is taking legal action against a regional water management agency that approved an investment company’s development agenda on an area deemed as part of a massive mitigation bank. The investment bank says their permit allows for them to remove acreage from the bank and that the removed part wasn’t an active area of the bank. Regardless, the Sierra Club says the development is harmful to the bank and the regional agency doesn’t have the authority to release conservation easements.

– Keep reading.

Environmental Funds Look to Play Ball with the Extractive Industry

At last month’s World Parks Congress, participants took a closer look at environmental funds specifically looking at how they could engage earlier and more often with extractive industries. The benefits of a stronger relationship between the two are sizable. Industries like mining and oil could channel some of their revenue into these funds to benefit wildlife in areas surrounding their operations. In turn, a closer relationship with the funds could also perhaps help these industries lessen their impact on local biodiversity.

– Read more at Forbes.

ICMM Passes their Biodiversity Midterms, But Get Some Homework

A new report prepared for the International Council for Mining and Metals (ICMM) found that ICMM members have greater focus and more specific commitments on biodiversity conservation than their non-ICMM peers. The Biodiversity Performance Review was commissioned by ICMM and the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It includes recommendations for further engagement including developing a business case for biodiversity offsets, working with NGOs to align definitions of high biodiversity value areas, and minimum requirements for risk and impact assessments.

– Learn more.
– Get a copy of the report.

Mitigation Roundup


Rethinking Deforestation and Water Connections

Surprising new research out of Australia found that deforestation doesn’t always have a negative impact on wetlands and in some cases, can result in an increase in biodiversity and water flow. Analyzing data from a pool of 245,000 global wetlands, report authors found that forests act like biological pumps and transport water into the atmosphere reducing the amount available for wetlands, rivers and groundwater. The authors say this study is a key tool when making decisions related to reforestation, wetlands and water quality.

&nndash; Learn more here.

A Good Report Card for Myanmar’s Nature Reserve

Myanmar’s Taninthayi Nature Reserve Project got a favorable review from the nation’s Forest Department and the environmental organization, Wildlife Conservation Society. The project, which engages private companies in funding the creation and management of a protected area, is a public-private partnership and unique to Myanmar. It helps companies manage their development impacts on biodiversity in sensitive ecosystems although the project doesn’t meet biodiversity offsetting standards. If proven successful, the model could spread and be used in other parts of the country.

– Learn more from the Biodiversity Consultancy.

I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think it Means

Market-based conservation is viewed as having great potential for alleviating big environmental challenges like deforestation but the diverseness of the term is creating such confusion, it’s stalling progress on the policy front. A study analyzing data related to market-based instruments (MBIs) found that many peer-reviewed articles on MBIs had little to do with actual markets. Several payments for ecosystem services projects act more like subsidies-with a government as a payment provider-than market mechanisms. Distinct definitions and stricter use of the term should result in greater clarity on the issue, but report authors note the difficulty in categorizing MBIs as many of them are multidimensional.

– Learn more at the CIFOR blog.

Thinking Green Means Managing Green

Recent studies have found simply labeling an area as protected doesn’t ensure a positive outcome. Proper management is required. Last month during the World Parks Congress, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) highlighted the importance of good governance by unveiling its Green List, a compilation of 23 of the world’s best managed protected areas that result in favorable ecosystems for biodiversity. The Green List and initiatives like it encourages the type of international cooperation that is necessary for achieving global biodiversity targets.

– Keep reading.



Program Manager

The Nature Conservancy – Washington DC, USA

The Program Manager directs and manages all aspects of key science-based programs that are essential to developing thought leadership in select TNC science staff, to building community between staff scientists and the broader science community, and to support scientific development and leadership within The Nature Conservancy on key conservation and conservation science issues. S/he serves as principal contact for these key programs and, through her/his program leadership, helps establish the Conservancy as a major scientific thought leadership organization.


The Program Manager defines priorities and long-term strategies for TNC’s science thought-leadership training and post-doctoral programs, with an eye to increasing the diversity of scientists in thought leadership positions. S/he creates a culture of innovation, adaptive learning, risk-taking and cohort supportiveness within these programs. S/he initiates and develops key partnerships with mentors and public and private organizations that spur participants within these programs and across the programs as a whole to maximum impact. S/he directs and manages the programs’ ongoing activities, specifically:


  • Developing curricula for early- and mid-career science staff that increases the rigor, impact and effectiveness of their scientific research, improves their communication skills, promotes their ability to lead conservation through new ideas to better practices and more effective partnerships, and raises their profile in the external science community.
  • Developing curricula for post-doctoral scholars that improves ability to conduct cutting-edge science that is useful for conservation, increases understanding of academic and NGO cultures, improves communication effectiveness in multiple media forms, and builds community among young conservation scientists and the broader conservation science and practice communities.
  • Coordinates communications trainings and curricula with The Conservancy’s Science Communications Department
  • Growing a network of university partners that establishes The Conservancy’s science staff and post-doctoral fellows as top notch colleagues, and improves opportunity creation for university partners to inform Conservancy practice on the ground
  • Organizing and running workshops and conferences for the key programs that provide opportunities for participants to build community with each other and to benefit from interactions with program mentors.
  • Bringing a fresh lens and inspiring creativity to all activities.
  • Creating and identifying opportunities to use the programs to create a more inclusive and diverse conservation community.

– Learn more here.



2015 National Mitigation & Ecosystem Banking Conference

The 2015 National Mitigation & Ecosystem Banking Conference, scheduled for May 5-8, 2015, in Orlando, Florida is the only national conference that brings together key players in this industry, and offers quality hands-on sessions and training as well as important regulatory updates. Proven to be “the” place to gain insights, explore new markets and learn from sessions, the 2015 Conference will continue its focus on educational content – both advanced and basic sessions as well as moderated exchanges and a variety of mini workshops that help to connect bankers, regulators, users and others involved in this industry. Pre and post- event workshops include Primer 101, Stream Banking, Long-Term Stewardship, Financing & Valuation and more. Hear perspectives from bankers, regulators and users, get updated on regulations, legislation and legal challenges, participate in field trips and benefit from the many opportunities to network! With a high attendance this past year, we anticipate a record attendance in Orlando and encourage you to make plans to submit to present, attend, even sponsor or exhibit! Orlando FL, USA. 5-8 May 2015.

– Learn more here.

Steve Zwick is a freelance writer and produces the Bionic Planet podcast. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace, and prior to that he covered European business for Time Magazine and Fortune Magazine and produced the award-winning program Money Talks on Deutsche Welle Radio in Bonn, Germany.

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