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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Michigan Tech Professor John Vucetich testifies before Senate Committee: S. 1514 would weaken Endangered Species Act, strip wolves of protection

By Michele Bourdieu

 Michigan wolf. (File photo courtesy National Wolfwatcher Coalition)

HOUGHTON -- John Vucetich -- Michigan Tech professor in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science and co-director, with Michigan Tech Professor Rolf Peterson, of the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose study -- recently returned from Washington, DC, after testifying before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works at the July 19 Legislative Hearing on S. 1514, the Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation (HELP) for Wildlife Act.

This bill would strip wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, Wyoming, and Wisconsin of all of their Endangered Species Act protections and prevent judges from ever reviewing that action. It has now passed out of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and could be voted on at any time.

The bill is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators taking aim at these wolves and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Senators Barrasso (R-WY), Boozman (R-AR), Capito (R-WV), Cardin (D-MD), Baldwin (D-WI), and Klobuchar (D-MN) have signed onto this legislation that would put these wolves in the crosshairs of hunters and weaken the ESA.

In his testimony before the committee, Vucetich, a population biologist who is interested in the philosophy and ethics of ecological and conservation science, stated several reasons why this bill, S. 1514, should be opposed or amended.

"It includes some positive provisions, but its most important effect would be to undermine the Endangered Species Act and subvert the conservation of wolves," Vucetich told the Senate committee. "Wolves are valuable to ecosystems and most people recognize that wildlife -- including wolves -- possess value in their own right. Public support for wolves and wolf conservation, in particular, is very high. Public support for the Endangered Species Act is also high -- among both liberal and conservative constituents."

In his 15-page, well documented written statement to the committee, Vucetich states that wolf conservation in the United States is vital -- not only for the health of ecosystems but also for what they represent.

"If the bald eagle is sacred as a symbol of our national spirit, then wolves are sacred as a symbol of our relationship with nature on the whole," he writes.

Public support for wolves, ESA

Vucetich refers to sociological research showing that fewer than 10 percent of Americans are very opposed to wolves and that attitudes toward wolves have become increasingly positive over the past several decades. He also cites data that confirm strong support for the Endangered Species Act.

Vucetich gives examples that show why people have false impressions about wolves, including the misconception that they threaten human safety, while the truth is that wolves avoid people.*

"Incidents of wolves harming people are incredibly rare," he notes. "In the 21st century only two known deaths have been attributed to wild wolves in all of North America."

No deaths from wolves have been reported in the conterminous United States and more Americans are killed by bees or dogs or deer-car collisions than by wolves, he adds.

Vucetich also mentions some hunters are opposed to wolves because they feel wolves reduce the number of deer for them to hunt. He points out that, in fact, deer are too plentiful and more of a danger to human safety because of the number of deer-vehicle accidents.

Deer threaten human safety, property, agriculture

"For example, in Michigan, deer kill eight humans and injure another 1300 in deer-vehicle collisions each year," Vucetich says. "Deer ruin private property through more than 100 deer-vehicle collisions each day. Deer also cause significant damage to two important sectors of agriculture -- crop production and forestry. There are also rising concerns about chronic wasting disease in deer. Whatever effect wolves would have on deer would be an overall benefit."

While wolves have been a threat to livestock, Vucetich cites statistics that show these threats are often exaggerated; for example, a 2011 US Dept. of Agriculture report showing wolf depredation of cattle represents less than half of one percent of all losses. He also mentions the case in Michigan where a F.O.I.A. request and investigative journalism showed that most wolf depredations of livestock were attributable to one livestock owner who was eventually charged with violating animal welfare laws.**

Nonlethal vs. lethal control

Vucetich notes that nonlethal methods for controlling wolves have been effective, while lethal methods may be less effective than supposed and are controversial.

"There is a suite of nonlethal methods and strategies that have been effectively used," he says. "These include: nonlethal predator deterrents such as livestock guarding dogs, fencing and fladry; increasing human presence on the landscape through range riders; use of scare tactics and alarms; best management practices for livestock and land such as changing grazing strategies and removing carcasses."***

Wolf hunting not scientific

According to Vucetich, wolf hunting, motivated in part by state game and fish agencies’ interest to satisfy deer hunters, does not make sense. He challenges several reasons people give for wanting to hunt wolves: hatred of wolves, trophy hunting, protecting livestock and competition for deer.

Vucetich says both hatred and trophy hunting are bad reasons for hunting wolves, since wolves have ecological value. Hunting wolves to protect livestock is not scientific, he adds.

"Michigan’s government promoted wolf hunting through egregious misuse of science and disdain for basic principles of democracy," Vucetich writes. "Voting records indicate, in part, that citizens are aware of and do not support such abuses in the service of wolf hunting."

As for competition for deer, Vucetich notes, "Put simply, wolves do not represent significant competition with hunters for deer. Hunter success is influenced by factors aside from wolves, such as winter severity."

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

In December 2011, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) delisted gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes region from the ESA. In December 2014 a federal court rejected that delisting and ordered FWS to restore Endangered Species Act protections to those wolves.

"The broader pattern of court decisions indicate that the ESA requires a species to be well distributed throughout its historic range," Vucetich says. "Today wolves occupy about 15 percent of their former range (in the lower 48 states)."

In a recent interview with Keweenaw Now, Vucetich explained that the legal definition of an endangered species is "a species that is at risk of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range."

A second interpretation of the ESA, favored by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and state governments, is that ESA requirements have nothing to do with geographic range but just the risk of extinction, Vucetich added.

"What we're talking about is that we -- as Americans -- cannot agree on whether wolves should be considered endangered or not," he said. "The reason there is uncertainty is that we -- the American people -- are uncertain about the law."

For Vucetich, the reason wolves should not be delisted is the 15 percent -- indicating wolves are not well distributed throughout their historic range.

In his statement to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Vucetich states the following: "Addressing this concern would require the FWS to:

(i)    Develop policy on 'significant portion of range' that is consistent with the ESA. I believe the courts will eventually decide that the current Fish and Wildlife Service policy on this topic is inconsistent with the ESA. ('Significant portion of its range' is a key phrase in the legal definition of endangered species.)
(ii)    Develop a robust national plan for wolf conservation and recovery."

In his conclusion, Vucetich calls for support of the ESA and wolf conservation.

"Our relationship with wolves is a bellweather for our relationship with nature and the nation’s natural resources," Vucetich writes. "For similar reasons, our treatment of wolves through the U.S. Endangered Species Act, 1973 (ESA) is also a bellweather for how we will treat the ESA in general and for the hundreds of species whose well-being depends on ESA protection."

In a July 26, 2017, press release, the Center for Biological Diversity also states reasons for opposing Senate Bill S. 1514.

"The bill weakens the Endangered Species Act by blocking any further judicial review of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 decision to end federal protections for wolves," the Center says. "Since they were driven to near-extinction by hunters and trappers in the early 20th century, gray wolves still occupy only 15 percent of their historical range in the contiguous United States. And between 2011, when their protection was removed, and 2014, when a federal court restored that protection, more than 1,500 animals were killed."

Inset photo: Professor John Vucetich. (Photo courtesy Michigan Technological University)

Editor's Notes:

* In his July 19 testimony before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (article 3.2), John Vucetich gives examples from Michigan of a state senator and a state official who gave false accounts of wolves threatening humans in order to gain support for their anti-wolf agenda. Click here to read Vucetich's entire testimony.

** For background on this issue, see research on wolf depredation in Michigan by Nancy Warren, National Wolfwatcher Coalition Great Lakes Regional director, in our Aug. 25, 2013, article, "Wolf advocates kick off second petition drive, seek referendum on Michigan wolf hunt law."

*** According to Wikipedia, "Fladry is a line of rope mounted along the top of a fence, from which are suspended strips of fabric or colored flags that will flap in a breeze, intended to deter wolves from crossing the fence-line."

Friday, July 28, 2017

Senators Stabenow, Peters comment on Senate health care vote

WASHINGTON, DC -- Both Michigan US Senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, issued statements today after the Republican attempts to repeal health care failed in the Senate.

According to The Hill, "The Senate rejected a scaled-back ObamaCare repeal bill in the early hours of Friday in a shocking vote that marks a major defeat for GOP leaders and the seven-year effort to repeal the healthcare law.

"The Senate voted 49-51 against the 'skinny' bill, which would have repealed ObamaCare's individual and employer mandates and defunded Planned Parenthood."*

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) released this statement: "Over the past few months, so many people in Michigan and across the country shared their stories, made phone calls, and spoke out against the Republican health care bill. Because of these actions, the Republican attempts to take away health care from millions of Americans failed tonight. It's now important that we work on a bipartisan basis to find solutions that lower health care costs and improve care."

U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), released the following statement: "Thanks to the advocacy and hard work of Michiganders and people across the country, Republican efforts to pass a health care bill that would hike premiums and strip health care coverage from millions of hardworking families failed last night. I hope we can finally move forward and work together in a public and bipartisan manner to find much-needed solutions that will help lower costs and improve health care for people in Michigan and across the country."

* Click here to read the article, "Senate ObamaCare repeal bill falls in shocking vote," posted early this morning in The Hill.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

MDEQ to hold public informational meeting, hearing on L'Anse Warden plant permits July 26; comment deadline is July 26

During the Sept. 28, 2016, MDEQ public hearing on the L'Anse Warden Electric Company's proposed Consent Order and proposed Permit to Install (PTI), Linda Rulison (standing at right), Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK) president, presents comments to MDEQ officials. The hearing was held in L'Anse High School. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

LANSING -- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is holding a public comment period until July 26, 2017, and a public hearing on Wednesday, July 26, 2017, for L'Anse Warden Electric Company's (LWEC) proposed temporary combustion of engineered fuel pellets in their existing boiler.

Purpose of public comment period and hearing

The temporary combustion period will be for a maximum of 180 days. The "biomass" facility is located at 157 South Main Street, L'Anse, Michigan. The public comment period and hearing are to allow all interested parties the opportunity to comment on the MDEQ's proposed conditional approval of a Permit to Install (PTI). According to MDEQ, it has been preliminarily determined that the temporary combustion of engineered fuel pellets in the boiler will not violate any of the MDEQ's rules nor the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

The L'Anse Warden Electric Company (LWEC) "biomass" plant in L'Anse, Michigan, has been the subject of citizen complaints about pollution, especially non-compliance with air quality standards. At right is the Falls River, which flows into Lake Superior. (Keweenaw Now file photo © and courtesy Horst Schmidt)

The fuel pellets are made of non-recyclable paper, label, and packaging waste. LWEC wants to replace a portion of the current fuel mix that is typically combusted in the boiler with the fuel pellets. To continue to comply with their existing emission limits, and to reduce emissions of acid gases such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and hydrogen chloride (HCl), LWEC is proposing to install an additional type of pollution control, called sorbent injection. The sorbent injection system will directly inject a material into the boiler's exhaust stream prior to the particulate control device. The material will neutralize a portion of the acid gas emissions.*

The MDEQ is also holding a simultaneous public comment period for a proposed draft Renewable Operating Permit (ROP) renewal application, No. MI-ROP-B4260-20XX, for L'Anse Warden Electric Company. Information concerning the ROP renewal comment period is available here. 

An informational session and public hearing will be held on Wednesday, July 26, 2017, at the L'Anse High School, 201 North 4th Street, L'Anse, Michigan. The informational session will begin at 6 p.m., at which time the AQD staff will be available to answer questions. The public hearing will begin at 7 p.m. This information session and public hearing will address both the PTI application and the ROP renewal application. The sole purpose of the public hearing will be to take formal testimony on the record.

Following the Sept. 7, 2016, MDEQ informational meeting on the L'Anse Warden plant, FOLK members Doug Welker, left, and Catherine Andrews chat with DEQ Toxicologist Michael Depa, right, and DEQ Permitting Engineer John Vial, both from the Air Quality Division Lansing office. The purpose of last year's meeting, held at L'Anse High School, was to take questions from the public related to the Administrative Consent Order based on the company's permit violations of Hydrogen Chloride (HCL) emission limits and fugitive dust in the community. Click here for Keweenaw Now's video report on that meeting. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

Individuals needing accommodations for effective participation at the hearing should contact Ms. Lisa Shooltz at 517-284-6793 one week in advance to request mobility, visual, hearing, or other assistance.

MDEQ Fact Sheets, Permit Conditions

Copies of the MDEQ's fact sheet(s) and proposed permit conditions are available for review at the following locations, or you may request a copy be mailed to you by calling 517-284-6793. Please reference PTI Application Number 53-17:
MARQUETTE: MDEQ, AQD, 1504 West Washington Street, (Phone: 906-250-5124)
LANSING: MDEQ, AQD, Constitution Hall, 525West Allegan Street, (Phone: 517-284-6793)
VILLAGE OF L'ANSE: Village Hall, 101 North Main Street (Phone: 906-524-6116)

The public is encouraged to present written views on the proposed permit action. Written comments should be sent to Ms. Annette Switzer, Permit Section Manager, MDEQ, AQD, P.O. Box 30260, Lansing, Michigan, 48909-7760. Comments may also be submitted from the webpage (click on "Submit Comment" under the L'Anse Warden Electric Company, Permit to Install No. 53-17 listing). All statements received by July 26, 2017, will be considered by the decision-maker prior to final permit action.

After careful review  of  any  relevant  comments  made  during  the public comment period and hearing, the MDEQ's Air Quality Division (AQD) may make the appropriate changes to the draft ROP and submit it to the EPA to begin their 45-day review of the permit.

The  AQD  will  review  all  comments  received during  the  public  comment  period  and  public  hearing and  will  decide  whether  to  approve  or  deny  the proposed PTI and draft ROP. If approved, the AQD may decide to add or change permit conditions based on the comments.*

* Click here for MDEQ Air Quality Division's current Proposed Project Summary for the L'Anse Warden Plant.