Sunday, March 06, 2005

Fish and Wildlife agrees to review petition on pygmy rabbit

Canada goslings
Fish and Wildlife agrees to review petition on pygmy rabbit:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to decide by May 16 whether threats to the North American pygmy rabbit warrant a yearlong review that could lead to protection under the Endangered Species Act.

A similar review was given to the greater sage grouse, which shares the rabbits' habitat. It was completed Jan. 7, when Fish and Wildlife officials opted against protection for that species.

Five groups, including Western Watersheds Project and Advocates for the West, are now focusing on the tiny rabbit that's small enough to fit into the palm of a hand. They say it's also at risk, citing habitat damage from livestock grazing, off-road vehicles and oil and gas development on public lands.

“In this case, the pygmy rabbit is an indicator of the collapse of hundreds of millions of acres of sage-steppe ecosystem,” Jon Marvel of Western Watersheds said in an interview.
What's intriguing is that the sage grouse and the pygmy rabbit share the habitat, and are both in similar danger.

I didn't blog much on the grouse decision, because 10,000 Birds did such a good job. I thought I had blogged this article on the process, though. The upshot is that Interior Department biologists' recommendations to list the sage grouse was rewritten by a supervisor without scientific training in wildlife management.

So, I bet there are a bunch of other species in the area which are endangered by habitat loss and habitat change in the area. This is a theme that has run through a lot of my coverage of environmental issues. I bet these aren't the only two species being protected here, either. I bet that if the pygmy rabbit isn't listed, there'll be another petition after that.

Some will say that that's cheating, or people gaming the system. It isn't. All of these species are on the edge, and all for the same reason. Protection for any one of them will also benefit all the others, so this is a strategy that minimizes bureaucracy. Instead of getting hundreds of species of plants, insects, shrews and mice listed, they get a few recognizable species and list them. Protecting them protects the habitat for all the species, at no additional cost.

The problem with the current system is that people feel like conservationists are sneaking things through back channels and loopholes. An endangered habitat act would supplement the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by offering a mechanism to protect the habitat and fundamental functioning of the ecosystem.

The Westerner links (approvingly) to a bizarre rant against excluding invasive birds from Migratory Bird Treaty protections. I don't quite follow the argument, but apparently it's wrong to protect some birds and not others, purely based on whether a species is native. And it's wrong to make these changes through the legislative process. I can only assume that the author wants equal protection for all species and all regulation to be entirely based on judicial rulings and bureaucratic decisions.

Invasive species are evil. They operate without ecological context, without native predators or disease, and overtake native species, disrupting ecosystems. Starlings and house sparrows steal nesting sites from native bird species. If we're to protect native sparrows, we have to be able to kill house sparrows. If we want to protect trumpeter swans, we need to regulate mute swan populations.

Good conservationists know that you have to kill some things in order to protect other things. It's a shame, some of the things getting killed are cute, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You have to sacrifice a few feral cats to protect quail and warblers. Some cute baby swans have to die to protect other cute baby swans.

Swan Swan H.” by R.E.M. from the album Lifes Rich Pageant (1986, 2:49).