Delaware Sierra Club supports improved endangered species regulations
Feb 6, 2013: One of the best performance indicators of sustainability and quality of life is our ability to maintain a high standard of living without causing the extinction of other species. When data indicates that we are failing to coexist with other species, we must take efforts to ensure their continued existence, as it is clear that we are not maintaining a sustainable environment for these species or for ourselves.
Every effort should be made to prevent the extinction of species due to human activities. The Sierra Club vigorously supports strong and vibrant regulations that protect wildlife, plants, and natural ecosystems. We thank DNREC for developing these proposed changes to Regulations 3916 Endangered Species. Many of the changes under consideration will enhance endangered species protections in Delaware. However, in some instances these regulations do not provide an adequate level of protection.
Possession: We support the proposed changes in Section 16.1.1 that remove the “intent to sell” language from this section. Doing so will strengthen the enforcement ability of the Department and remove such ambiguity as that created by the need to prove intent.
Criteria for Species Listing: Section 16.2.2 expands the criteria for species seriously threatened with extinction beyond those that are federally listed, globally rare, or declared endangered within the state to also include species that are rare or declining within the state or region, and those that are imminently threatened by natural and human factors. We support these added criteria to the regulations, as they provide an enhanced level of protection for wildlife in Delaware. However, the criteria should be strengthened to provide protection for threatened species, instead of waiting until the situation is critical. We therefore ask that a threatened category be added to the regulations.
Removal of Species: Section 16.2.1 provides DNREC with the ability to remove the designation of endangered from species of fish and wildlife that are no longer seriously threatened with extinction. However, the proposed regulations do not establish criteria for species removal or a process for public review prior to decision-making. We therefore request that DNREC include science-based criteria for decision-making and request that a public-hearing process be part of the regulations for the removal of species.
Section 16.2.3 of the regulations proposes the removal of several bird species from the endangered list in Delaware: Brown Creeper, Bald Eagle, Cooper's Hawk, Northern Parula, Loggerhead Shrike, and Red-headed Woodpecker. Prior to removing any species from the endangered list, we ask DNREC to provide a detailed scientific justification for the removal of species and a public hearing. Since science-based justification has not been provided prior to tonight’s hearing, we ask DNREC to withhold from delisting these species in this round of regulatory changes, and to instead to address the delisting of these species separately so that the public and the environmental community can have adequate time to review the scientific justification for their removal and have the ability to testify at a future public hearing.
Added Designation: We are particularly supportive of the inclusion of new species to the protection list. Whale species being added are Blue, Fin, Humpback, Northern Atlantic Right, Sei and Sperm whales. Delaware’s coastal waters are an important part of the native range of these whale species and deserve protection. We are also pleased to see that the Red Knot is added to the list, as this is an important bird of global significance that should be protected in Delaware (Baker et al., 2004; Morrison, Ross and Niles, 2004).
Inclusion of Plants: The proposed regulations do not provide consideration for threatened or endangered plants. The Delaware Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program’s most recent list of “Rare and Uncommon Vascular Plants of Delaware” (McAvoy, 2011) lists numerous plant species that are at a high risk of extirpation. These include numerous SI Rare Species that are “especially vulnerable to extirpation” and S2 Rare Species that “may be susceptible to becoming extirpated.”
That native plant species are not considered in the revised endangered and threatened species regulations is a concern. The numbers that support the inclusion of plants in the endangered species regulations are astonishing. Of the 1583 species of native flora in Delaware, 576 species, or 36%, are rare. 63 species, or 12% of the rare flora of Delaware, are known from only a single population in the state. 191 species, or 12% of Delaware’s full native flora, have not been reported in 20 or more years, or are known to be extirpated. 32 species of native flora in Delaware are globally rare, and 9 species are Federally listed as either Endangered, Threatened, or Candidate. There are 46 species of native flora in Delaware that are at the extreme northern limits of their distribution and 19 species of native plants in Delaware that are at the extreme southern limits of their distribution. The loss of these species would result in the extinction of locally distinct genotypes.
We therefore ask that plants be considered for listing in the regulations, and offer that the work of the Delaware Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program provides the scientific documentation necessary to proceed with plant listings immediately.
Habitat Protection: These regulations would be further enhanced if they included habitat protections for rare, threatened or endangered species. Regulations for endangered species without regulations to protect the habitat within which these species live offer an incomplete approach to endangered species management. We cannot protect any imperiled species without specific plans and authority to protect the habitat they depend upon. The Delaware Wildlife Action Plan documents the relationship between habitat protection and species conservation in Delaware, and even documents the origin of the Division of Fish and Wildlife “for the management of game animals and sport fish, and then for endangered species - and the habitats that sustain all of them” (Allen, Barkus and Bennett, 2006: 1-1).
Particular habitats in Delaware are especially vulnerable and represent the intimate connection between native wildlife protections and habitats. A variety of wildlife species are directly dependent on 136 species, or 12%, of Delaware’s rare flora. 27% of Delaware’s rare flora occur in non-tidal, freshwater wetlands and 28% of Delaware’s rare flora occur in upland forests and woodlands. 55% of Delaware’s rare flora are found in non-tidal, freshwater wetlands and upland forests and woodlands. To sum up these disturbing statistics, habitats are the core of Delaware’s biodiversity and should be at the center of endangered species protections. We therefore ask DNREC to immediately initiate a process for rule-making that addresses the need for habitat protection for endangered and threatened species in Delaware.
Take Prohibitions: These regulations do not provide prohibitions for the take of endangered species, and therefore do not protect listed species from being harmed, harassed, or killed through direct or indirect human actions. We ask DNREC to include take prohibitions in the regulations. Take provisions would provide a critical management tool and much-needed level of protection for imperiled species and the habitats they depend upon for their continued existence.
Penalties: These regulations do not specify penalties for violations. We therefore ask DNREC to include penalties as part of the regulations. As endangered and threatened species are those most at risk of extirpation or extinction, these penalties should be adequately rigorous to provide a deterrent for violating the regulations. We therefore suggest that felony penalties be included in the regulations.
Task Force: Title 7 Chapter 6 of the Delaware Code, the Endangered Species Act, has not been updated since the early 1990s and should be strengthened. In July 2012 the Delaware Sierra Club asked DNREC to establish a task force to develop improvements to the Endangered Species Act. We would like to use this as an opportunity to formally ask DNREC again to initiate an Endangered Species Task Force to develop ways to enhance the Endangered Species Act. Stronger endangered species protections are desperately needed in Delaware, and we ask DNREC to provide us with a proposed timeframe in which this task force can be organized and executed.
Public Notice: While this public hearing was posted on the Delaware.gov public meeting calendar, it was not posted on the DNREC Public Notices email distribution list, or on the DNREC Public Notices website. As the Public Notices email list and website are the standard practice for alerting the public and the environmental community of public hearings, we are concerned that this practice was not followed. We therefore ask for an extension of the public comment period for an additional two weeks, and we ask that this extension be advertised on the DNREC Public Notices email list and website.
Allen, Olin, Brianna Barkus, and Karen Bennett. 2006. "Delaware Wildlife Action Plan 2007-2017." Delaware Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife. Accessed February 4 2013.
Baker, Allan J., Patricia M. Gonzalez, Theunis Piersma, Lawrence Niles, Ines de Lima Serrano do Nascimento, Phillip W. Atkinson, Nigel A. Clark, Clive D. T. Minton, Mark K. Peck, and Geert Aarts. 2004. "Rapid Population Decline in Red Knots: Fitness Consequences of Decreased Refuelling Rates and Late Arrival in Delaware Bay." Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. 271: 875-882.
McAvoy, William A. 2011. "Rare and Uncommon Vascular Plants of Delaware." Delaware Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife. Accessed February 4 2013.
Morrison, R. I. Guy, R. Kenyon Ross, and Lawrence Niles. 2004. "Declines in Wintering Populations of Red Knots in Southern South America." The Condor 106: 60-70.