Archive | December, 2015

Section 7 Consultation Locations

New Endangered Species Study and Database

New study on section 7 consultations

We are pleased to announce the release of two products this Monday that will improve the public’s understanding of how federal agencies implement section 7 consultations under the Endangered Species Act.  First is the publication of our article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the results of all 88,290 consultations the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recorded from 2008 through April 2015.1  This is the most comprehensive study on FWS consultations, with many interesting findings:

  • Only 7.7% of the 88,290 consultations were formal.  The percentage was highest in 2008 (9.5%) and steadily declined to 6.3% in 2014.  The total number of consultations has also declined since 2008.

Types of Consultations Under the ESA Section 7 Process

    • Only two consultations resulted in “jeopardy” findings (0.029% of formal consultations).  One of those consultations also found “destruction or adverse modification” of critical habitat—the only instance of such a finding during our study period.  That consultation was redone in response to a lawsuit, and the revised consultation concluded no jeopardy or destruction/adverse modification.  All jeopardy/destruction/adverse modification findings were accompanied by reasonable and prudent alternatives, so none of the projects was stopped because of section 7.
    • The low percentage of jeopardy findings (0.029%) contrasts with the much higher percentages found in past studies: 8.9% from 1979-1981; 17.5% from 1987-1991; and 7.2% from 2005-2009 for FWS fish-related consultations.  The past studies are cited in our paper.

Jeopardy Findings from Section 7 Consultations

    • Although most consultations occurred in the eastern United States, formal consultations were concentrated in the western states (Florida is an exception).
    • The median duration of consultations was 13 days for informal and 62 days for formal.  Only 1,381 formal consultations exceeded the 135-day limit set in Services regulations, though we suspect many of those consultations were unusually complex and could not have avoided an extension.

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    • The most commonly consulted-on species is the Indiana bat (14,979 consultations), but the California red-legged frog is the most common species in formal consultations (722).  The Army Corps of Engineers has the highest number of informal and formal consultations.

Explore the consultation data online

Defenders strongly supports open data and transparency, especially when it comes to the ESA.  That’s why today we’re also releasing a web application for you to explore the FWS consultation data from our study.  The Section 7 Explorer is free to use and requires no registration.

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We all know that FWS has only a fraction of the resources it needs to properly implement the ESA.  Open data is one solution to this problem because it allows the public to help analyze how the ESA is implemented and to create tools like the Consultation Explorer.  With the insights that come from open data, the public can identify better ways to implement the ESA.  For example, our study suggests that regulated entities can shorten the duration of many formal consultations by relying more on programmatic consultations when appropriate.  The Services recently finalized their regulation on programmatic consultations.  If implemented properly, the regulation offers an opportunity to streamline consultations without sacrificing conservation outcomes.  Open data can inform this process.

Open data also allows us to rely less on anecdotes, case studies, and unsupported generalizations when forming opinions about the ESA.  It does so by providing the data to analyze how an entire provision of the ESA works, as we’ve done here.  Empowered by this information, we can all guard against the use of unrepresentative, cherry-picked stories about the ESA.

We hope you’ll join us in encouraging federal agencies to prioritize making their ESA data easily accessible to the public, including as part of the Obama Administration’s 2013 Executive Order on Open and Machine Readable Data.  You might also be interested in reading Professor Dave Owen’s insightful blog post on our study and database.

What’s next?

Our study and the Consultation Explorer are just the start of our extended work on using large datasets to improve the effectiveness of the ESA, while minimizing the transaction costs for regulated entities and the public.  We are now evaluating conservation measures in hundreds of formal consultations to determine the impacts of federal projects on species recovery.  The consultation data include latitude-longitude coordinates of over 40,000 consultations (see image below for example), and we are using satellite images to measure the amount of habitat disturbance that has actually occurred.  We will then apply this technique to millions of acres of designated critical habitat to help answer a longstanding question: to what extent has designation helped conserve species?

Section 7 Consultation Locations

Jacob Malcom, Endangered Species Policy and Science Analyst, led the analysis and publication of the section 7 study and created the Consultation Explorer. Ryan Covington, Conservation GIS Analyst, and Jacob created the map of consultation coordinates. Ya-Wei (Jake) Li, Senior Director of Endangered Species Conservation, wrote this update, with help from Jacob and KC Stover, Coordinator for Landscape Conservation and Endangered Species Conservation.

The Endangered Species Conservation Program at Defenders of Wildlife focuses on developing more effective and efficient ways to conserve endangered species, particularly under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Our approach is innovative, pragmatic, and multidisciplinary, with expertise in wildlife law, policy, science, and on-the-ground implementation.

If you would like to subscribe to periodic email updates like this one from the Endangered Species Program, please sign up at this link.  Updates will not exceed one a month.

If you have questions or comments on any aspects of our work, please email us at

1 The article also appears on the PNAS website:

Posted in ESA, Federal Policy, Imperiled Wildlife0 Comments

National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy: Climate Change

National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy: Climate Change


The National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy is a commendable effort to improve management of more than 60 million acres of the Sagebrush Sea, a little known, but vitally important landscape to fish and wildlife, recreation, western communities and sustainable economic development. In September 2015, the federal government released Records of Decision for 14 of 15 final sage-grouse plans prepared under the Planning Strategy. While no conservation strategy is perfect, given the level of management discretion and deference in the final plans, interpretation and implementation of the plans will be particularly important to their success or failure to conserve and recover sage-grouse and their habitat.

Defenders of Wildlife closely monitored development of key sage-grouse conservation measures throughout the four-year planning process. A number of issues remain unresolved in the Records of Decision (ROD) and approved resource management plan amendments (ARMPA). In this series of blog posts, Defenders will respectfully offer recommendations to address certain deficiencies in the final plans to improve conservation of sage-grouse and hundreds of other species that depend on sagebrush steppe. Although the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service were both involved in the Planning Strategy, our analyses and recommendations will focus on the BLM, which manages the majority of sage-grouse habitat on federal lands.

MANAGEMENT ISSUE: the BLM’s Records of Decision and approved resource management plan amendments fail to provide direction for addressing the effects of climate change on sage-grouse and their habitat.


     1. Acknowledge existing authority and direction to address climate change effects in land management planning.

     2. Develop and implement conservation strategies based on the best available science to ameliorate the impacts of climate change on sage-grouse and their habitat at appropriate geographic and temporal scales.

     3. Identify and adaptively manage climate refugia to conserve sage-grouse and other wildlife long-term.


THREAT: Climate change is a recognized threat to sage-grouse (Connelly et al. 2011: 556, Table 24.2; Blomberg et al. 2012; van Kooten et al. 2007) that is also predicted to have deleterious impacts on sagebrush steppe (Schlaepfer et al. 2012; Neilson et al. 2005).

EFFECT: Most climate change simulations predict sagebrush steppe will contract as mean temperatures increase and the frost line shifts northward (Blomberg et al. 2012; Neilson et al. 2005). In the worst case scenario, sagebrush species are simulated to contract to just 20 percent of current distribution (Wisdom et al. 2005: 206, citing Neilson et al. 2005). The largest remaining areas will be in southern Wyoming and in the gap between the northern and central Rocky Mountains, followed by areas along the northern edge of the Snake River Plateau and small patches in Washington, Oregon and Nevada (see Miller et al. 2011: 181, Fig. 10.19). Sagebrush steppe may also shift northward in response to increased temperatures (Schlaepfer et al. 2012; Shafer et al. 2001).

New research by the U.S. Geological Survey found that climate change is likely to eliminate over 11 percent of sage-grouse nesting habitat in what is otherwise expected to be a future stronghold for the species in southwestern Wyoming. The authors cautioned “[g]iven declining sage-grouse populations are suffering from other habitat degradation forces, a potential additional 11% loss of future habitat from climate change could be very detrimental to some populations” (Homer et al. 2015: 141).

DRAFT RESOURCE MANAGEMENT PLANS/SUB-REGIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENTS: All fourteen draft BLM sage-grouse plans released in May 2015 acknowledged that climate change presents challenges to resource management, and many listed climate change as a planning issue to be addressed in management alternatives. Several plans specifically identified sage-grouse as a species that may be harmed by climate change, including the HiLine draft resource management plan amendment. “[S]ensitive species in the planning area, such as greater sage-grouse, which are already stressed by declining habitat, increased development, and other factors, could experience additional pressures due to climate change” (draft HiLine: 260; 434).

MANAGEMENT DIRECTION: The President and the Secretary of the Interior have provided ample direction, and the BLM has developed associated policies, to address climate change effects in resource management planning.

Presidential Direction

  • Executive Order 13653, “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change”
  • Council of Environmental Quality (draft) guidance on considering the effects of climate change climate change in planning under the National Environmental Policy Act (CEQ Memo, 12-18-2014)

Department of the Interior

  • Secretarial Order 3289, “Addressing the Impacts of Climate Change on America’s Water, Land, and Other Natural and Cultural Resources” (Sec. Order 3289, Amend. 1)
  • Secretarial Order 3330, “Improving Mitigation Policies and Practices of the Department of the Interior” (Sec. Order 3330)
  • U.S. Department of the Interior manual chapter on climate change (U.S. DOI Manual 523 DM 1)
  • Bureau of Land Management Information Bulletin, “Landscape Approach to Managing Public Lands” (IB 2012-058)
  • Toevs et al. (2011) Bureau of Land Management Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring Strategy for Integrated Renewable Resources Management

MANAGEMENT PRESCRIPTIONS: Science-based measures for ameliorating the effects of climate change on species and landscapes include increasing the size and number of protected areas, maintaining and enhancing connectivity between protected areas, and identifying and protecting areas likely to retain suitable climate/habitat conditions in the future (even if not currently occupied by the species of concern). Management should also prevent the spread of invasive species, sustain ecosystem processes and functions, and restore degraded habitat to enhance ecosystem resilience to climate change (Chester et al. 2012; NFWPCAS 2012). These prescriptions were prepared and recommended by an interagency team of fish and wildlife managers and should be familiar to BLM.

Climate Change Consideration Areas

Conserving wildlife affected by climate change will require management that preserves and restores habitat resiliency and connectivity over the long-term. Recognizing this, BLM’s draft plan in Oregon presented an innovative and promising approach to address climate change effects on sage-grouse and their habitat. The preferred alternative proposed to designate a network of “Climate Change Consideration Areas” totaling 2.2 million acres of occupied and potential sage-grouse habitat in eastern Oregon to serve as climate change refugia for grouse and other wildlife (draft Oregon: 2-19 – 2-20). These areas, which are generally higher elevation with limited surface disturbance, were deemed most likely to provide the best available habitat to sage-grouse over the long-term based on climate change modeling (draft Oregon: 2-21). The draft plan prioritized Climate Change Consideration Areas for habitat restoration, off-site mitigation, conservation partnering, fire suppression, post-fire rehabilitation, and sage-grouse habitat and population monitoring and assessment (draft Oregon: 8-15 – 8-16). The draft even proposed changing the boundaries of Climate Change Consideration Areas over time as habitat shifts and sage-grouse populations move across the landscape (draft Oregon: 2-19).

Unfortunately, the concept of Climate Change Consideration Areas eroded through the planning process. The BLM carried it forward into the proposed final plan for Oregon (proposed final Oregon: 2-47 – 2-48; 2-48, Table 2-7), but with less detail, and the proposed final plan failed to list the conservation measures that may be applied in the areas (proposed final Oregon: 2-48). The designated areas then all but disappeared in the next and final phase of the process—while the umbrella Record of Decision for the Great Basin alluded to the designation of climate conservation areas in the Oregon plan (GB ROD: 1-33), the final plan itself included no mention of the areas.


PROPOSED FINAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT PLANS/SUB-REGIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENTS: Treatment of climate change in the proposed final plans was inconsistent and generally lacking. Despite the substantial, clear direction to federal agencies to account for the effects of climate change in management planning (see above), every one of the proposed final plans asserted that “[t]here is no BLM … resource program in the proposed plan addressing this threat” (proposed final Utah: 2-10, Table 2.1).

PROTEST RESOLUTION: The BLM issue reports for each responding to administrative protests submitted on the proposed final sage-grouse plans. Some of those reports acknowledged that the plans’ failure to address climate change as a protest-able issue, others did not. Even those reports that did recognize climate change as protest-able issue then summarily dismissed the protesters’ concerns, claiming they were inapplicable, unfounded or otherwise addressed in the final plans and/or Records of Decision.

RECORDS OF DECISION/APPROVED RESOURCE MANAGEMENT PLAN AMENDMENTS: The RODs did not improve on climate change management from the proposed final plans and the underlying ARMPAs scarcely mention climate change as a factor in sage-grouse conservation. In fact, some useful climate resilience provisions that had been proposed in earlier iterations of the plans were not carried through to the final versions (see box). None of the RODs or ARMPAs reference the President’s direction or the Secretary of Interior’s order on climate change, which is remarkable given the unprecedented attention the current administration has given the issue.

The failure of the BLM sage-grouse plans to acknowledge management direction and prescribe measures to address climate change is particularly concerning because the administration believes the agency has done so in partial fulfillment of its “Priority Agenda for Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources”  (White House 2015: 28). This makes it especially important for BLM to address climate change impacts (which might even require amending the ARMPAs) during the implementation phase of the planning process.

Mark Salvo is Senior Director for Landscape Conservation at Defenders of Wildlife.

Aimee Delach is Senior Policy Analyst for Climate Adaptation for the organization.

Posted in Imperiled Wildlife, Public LandsComments Off on National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy: Climate Change

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