Natural Resources

Fall 2011 Natural Resources Law Class at UB

Asian Carp Threatening Great Lakes. November 28, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — nnarchus @ 7:34 pm

Two Asian Carp species, Silver and Bighead Carp were imported from China in the 1970’s escaped from their pens at fish farms in Arkansas and Kentucky. Because of how much the carp eat and how quickly they grow and reproduce, the foreign carp wreak havoc on the foreign eco-systems in the United States.

The Asian Carp eat plankton and algae that native fish and organisms need to survive. These native organisms have a hard time competing with these carp for survival. The Asian Carp have disrupted the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and other waterways in the region. The Asian Carp are making there way towards the Great Lakes, threatening one of the United States most valuable water resources.

The Resources Defense Council would like to erect barriers to separate Chicago waterways and Lake Michigan from the Mississippi to keep the Carp out. No major action can be taken until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases its comprehensive study into the blockage of aquatic pathways between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. The findings are due out in 2015.

This really makes me think about the negative impact foreign species can have on a stable ecosystem. Down below is a link to a report by ESPN:


Behind the scenes in the lives of captive wolves

Filed under: Uncategorized — joycelancen @ 2:21 am

“If you love dogs, you keep them close. But if you love wolves, you leave them wild,” says Ceiridwen Terrill a professor of science writing and environmental journalism, who spent 5 years exploring the world of captive wolves.

Terrill was inspired to start her quest after personally experiencing what it was like to be the owner of a wolf-dog hybrid. After four years of living together, she learned her pet could not stand confinement, and eventually had to put her down. Interviewing biologists and other experts is one of her tasks. In her studies, she finds that captive wolves don’t get a lot of attention, as the public tends to focus on the more than 60,000 wild wolves in North America. But the number of wolves and wolf-dog hybrids in captivity is much greater: about 1,500 pure wolves whose captivity is federally regulated, plus untold wolves kept by unlicensed individuals, and an estimated 300,000 wolf-dog hybrids.

People who keep or work with captive wolves are often trying to help the species. Motivated by a desire to ensure the long-term survival of wolves, they use science to educate the public about this elusive and intelligent creature — an icon of the wilderness, especially in the West. Many make personal sacrifices, running their facilities with a lot of love and very little money. But not all captive-wolf owners have conservation foremost in mind. Some are motivated by commerce, or by a yearning to possess “wildness.” Terrill writes, “It raises uncomfortable questions: At what point does kindness to animals morph into exploitation? What are the appropriate boundaries between humans and wolves? And why do we insist on testing the limits of those boundaries?”

Mission: Wolf, a remote 200-acre sanctuary nestled at the southern end of Colorado’s San Isabel National Forest, is where the Wolf & Wildlife Center hosts thousands of visitors each year in its mission to “educate the public … about the importance of wolves, coyote and (foxes) to our ecosystem.” It even takes wolves as “ambassadors” into classrooms and other public settings ranging from Colorado’s ski towns to inner-city Denver.

Another facility, the Wolf Education and Research Center, is a site in northern Idaho which keeps about seven wolves on 300 acres. Volunteers  “Get Face to Face with Wolves” as the slogan of the WERC states. A resident biologist at WERC who works with the Sawtooth pack of wolves inside WERC fences describes his job as “far from ideal”  yet, “the brutal extermination of wolves for unjustified reasons was a major rebellion platform for me and therefore I directed all my energy to fight for species that cannot defend themselves..”

Wild wolves first became protected in 1973 with the passage of the federal Endangered Species Act. Prior to this, people openly stole wolf pups from dens to supply the fur industry and zoos. Over the years, captive breeding has produced gray wolves and wolf-dog hybrids for the fur and pet trades, Hollywood, wildlife parks, and research and public education centers. There are even established genetic lines prized by private wolf and wolf-dog breeders. Even today, there remain no federal laws regulating possession of wolves.  Anyone who acquires an “animal care” license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service can breed, exhibit, sell and ship wolves, as long as they’re captive-bred, not wild-caught animals belonging to a population protected by federal or state endangered species laws. The license is easy to obtain; a set of vague regulations covers wolves, big cats, bears, rhinos and elephants, under the Animal Welfare Act, which Congress passed in 1966 and repeatedly amended to establish “minimum standards.”

It is clear that plenty of loopholes in the laws exist. Meanwhile, an unknown number of pure wolves are kept as pets; estimates range from the hundreds into the thousands. Inspections and enforcement of federal regulations — done by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — are limited. Terrill writes that one FWS agent told her, “There are fewer than 200 agents in the entire country. Captive wildlife protection is important, but it’s not our first priority. We go for the biggest bang for the buck and focus on the trade in wild-caught endangered species.”

The most ethical operations are nonprofits that provide a sanctuary for animals with nowhere else to go. These places try to educate visitors about wolf behavior and biology, hoping to win support for wild wolf conservation. Yet,  there’s also a business side to captive wolves, one that includes not only breeding, but also buying and selling the animals and using them for photo shoots and other enterprises. In the midst of this activity, there becomes a surplus of captive wolves.

Some people defend keeping captive wolves by saying the animals have never known anything different and don’t long for the outside world and that they feel safe in their enclosures. Yet while many captive-born, human-socialized wolves might act friendly and even loving toward people, those animals are still wild at a genetic level; their natural instincts have not been selectively bred out of them over multiple generations, as has been done with domestic dogs. They won’t display tame behavior reliably or pass such behavior on to their offspring. And everything in their evolution makes wolves want to run, not stay behind fences. In fact, nature has designed them to travel 30 to 50 miles a day.

Terrill notes that, “it’s tempting to think that setting captive wolves free would be kinder. But aside from the political furor that would erupt over any attempt to introduce still more wolves into their native habitats, releasing captives amounts to a death sentence, as biologist Heft explained after one wolf escaped from WERC.” Some wolves would lack a natural wariness of people and be shot as a threat when they drifted too close. And wild wolves, highly territorial animals, would likely see the strange wolves as intruders and kill them. Also, wolf pups learn to hunt from their parents, so former captives would probably lack the skills to hunt large prey like elk and moose; instead, they would likely go after easier targets like livestock.

To learn more about the issue, feel free to visit .


Riverbed Ownership Dispute in Montana

Filed under: Uncategorized — amytorna @ 1:50 am


Picture: Clark Fork River near Thompson Falls, Montana


           The U.S. Supreme Court is set to review a Montana Supreme Court ruling on December 7, 2011, regarding the navigability of 3 rivers in Montana.  The Montana Supreme Court found that the Clark Fork, Missouri and Madison rivers were all navigable and held that the state of Montana owned the riverbeds.  The Montana Court based its decision on the Navigability for Title Purposes Test which we discussed in class.  It looked to whether the rivers were navigable at the time Montana was admitted to the Union, and found that they were.

            This is debatable because there are certain areas of the rivers that appear to be best suited for whitewater rafting.  If you were to look at the Clark Fork River near Thompson Falls, you would see rapid waters cutting through large rocks.  One Montanan says, “Logically, you would say it’s not navigable.”    

            The issue of navigability started when Montanans began questioning whether the State was making the best use of its lands and generating enough revenue.  The focus fell on the fact that Montana wasn’t receiving compensation for use of the riverbeds.  A suit was filed against the State, alleging that it “‘failed to obtain full market value’ for the land upon which hydroelectric projects were located as required under state law.”  The issue then turned to whether the State owned the riverbeds.  

            The impact of the Montana Supreme Court ruling will be felt by companies like PPL Montana.  PPL owns 10 dams on the 3 rivers and will have to pay $40 million in rent for its use of the riverbeds.  PPL argues that the Montana Court should have determined the navigability of the rivers on a “piecemeal” basis and the federal government agrees.  The Obama Administration has also sided with PPL and one attorney suggests that the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court even agreed to hear the case, “doesn’t bode well” for the state of Montana. 

For more on this go to:


An Incentive to Conserve Private Forest Lands in New York November 27, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — npf3 @ 9:12 pm

If anyone owns or plans to own a tract of forest someday, she should know about New York Real Property Law-480-a:  Real Property Tax Exemption for Forest Land.  This is a New York law that promotes the growth of ‘forest crop’ by giving land owners an 80% discount on property taxes.  This law is perfect for landowners who want to keep large tracts of land undeveloped but might otherwise have difficulty paying property taxes. 

The law allows landowners to enroll any amount of forest land over fifty acres in the program.  The landowner works closely with a certified forester and the DEC to develop a management plan for a property.  That plan cultivates a stand of trees to facilitate growth.  This is not a tree farm. A stand of trees has to be naturally occurring.  Sometimes the designed plan requires the land owner to let nature take its course or it may require the landowner to thin parts of the forest to foster growth.  This depends largely on the make up of the forest and what stage of life it’s in.  In old growth forests, the plan often requires the owner to selectively log mature trees to make room for new growth.  The landowner can profit from the sale of the timber but must fork over 6% of the proceeds to the state.

The exemption only pays off in the long term.  Every year a taxpayer files for the exemption it binds them to follow the DEC management plan for ten subsequent years.  Failure to comply with the plan or early cancellation results in hefty penalties. 

This program is an interesting mix of public and private action that attempts to conserve forests across the state.  Its aim is not to conserve for any other purpose than to fully maximize timber production. Any other enjoyment or benefit is simply a by-product. 

To learn more, visit:


Testing on an Endangered Species?

Filed under: Uncategorized — amytorna @ 2:49 am


            According to the New York Times, the only two countries that conduct invasive research on chimpanzees are the central African nation of Gabon and the United States.  Animal protection organizations (including the Humane Society, the Jane Goodall Institute and the Wildlife Conservation Society) have petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list captive chimpanzees as endangered in an effort to stop research on chimpanzees in the United States. 

            Those that support testing on chimpanzees argue that ending the research would threaten human lives.  Chimps are especially valuable for research because they are so similar to humans.  According to Dr. Vandeberg, director of the Southwest National Primate Research Center in San Antonio, the development of drugs could be delayed for years if the research is stopped, which could lead to the death of millions of people.  He says that if human lives can be saved, “it would be grossly unethical not to do research.”

            On the other hand, those against testing on chimpanzees argue that the testing is expensive and subjects the chimpanzees to painful procedures and isolation. They argue that there are better alternatives that can save taxpayers millions of dollars per year.

            The FWS will make a decision as to whether the chimpanzees will be listed as an endangered species next September.

For more on this, go to:


One more story about the ESA and Dams November 22, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — npf3 @ 9:25 pm

Less than a month ago, Washington saw one of the largest dam breaches in history.  The Condit Dam was located on the White Salmon River, which is a tributary that eventually flows into the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.  It generated enough power to supply 7,000 homes.  The impediment held back around 27 million gallons of water.  When it was breached, it released 1.8 million cubic yards of sediment down the river.

The dam’s removal will restore the White Salmon River watershed back to its free flowing state.  For nearly 100 years the dam has blocked the waterway and prevented the seasonal runs of many native fish.  The runs have declined to the point that the Tule fall Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout are now protected under the Endangered Species Act. 

In 1996, NOAA Fisheries directed the owner, PacifiCore, to allow adequate passage for the threatened species.  The utility couldn’t find a more cost effective alternative to allow the fish passage, so they chose to blow up the dam. 

By next fall the dam will be completely removed.  The salmon should begin to rebound now that they have access to the cold water spawning grounds further upstream.  NOAA plans to monitor the progress.  As an added benefit, the breach opens up five more miles to kayaking and white water rafting enthusiasts.  The river currently supports an estimated 40,000 boaters each year.    

You can find great footage here:

There is no audio of the blast because it sent out a shock wave that would make listeners “bleed from their ears.”

For more information, go to:


New oil drilling leases in Alaska November 20, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — galenaduba @ 3:29 pm

Despite ominous reports from the National Oil Spill Commission and the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), both of which cite an inadequate regulatory structure as a cause of the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill, the Obama administration has announced plans to sell new offshore drilling leases on Alaska’s outer continental shelf.

The CSB, which has yet to finalize its investigation, reports that U.S. regulations are structured so that oil companies just need to comply with minimum safety requirements. Most nations that engage in oil and gas exploration compel companies to continually improve safety programs by establishing safety objectives. This system, known as the “safety case,” requires companies to outline the potential hazards of their rigs and then analyze safety measures and accident response protocols in response to the hazards they have identified.

Under the “safety case” system, safety is required. Companies have to propose measures to address hazards, and then they must justify why those measures are safe. I think that it would be very beneficial to require “safety” of oil companies, rather than having our government agencies try to determine minimum standards. For one thing, it puts the burden on oil companies to identify potential dangers. If new technology presented new hazards, for example, the company would be responsible for figuring out what they were and how they could be addressed. This process would keep safety programs current. In addition, this type of system would isolate safety concerns from political pressures. Whenever an agency proposes new regulations, whether they are in response to new technology or changed conditions, industry howls that onerous regulations are destroying jobs. Political pressure to avoid such conflicts would be mitigated if the responsibility was on the industry itself, rather than on the government to adapt safety protocols to changing circumstances.

Even though reports and commissions have identified problems in our regulatory structure, there have been no significant regulatory changes in the wake of the Gulf oil spill. And now we are planning to sell new leases in Alaska?  In our current political climate, I worry that a focus on “jobs” and an anti-regulatory fervor is leading us to environmental disaster.