Author: Paul S. Weiland

The Northern California Guides and Sportsmen’s Association (NCGASA) has filed a petition for regulatory change with the California Fish and Game Commission that would alter sport fishing such that only striped bass within a 10-inch size range could be legally harvested. Stripers less than 20 inches would be protected from harvest, as would stripers larger than 30 inches. The existing regulations allow anglers to keep any fish 18 inches or greater in length. The stated purpose of the proposed change to a “slot limit” is to contribute to the conservation of striped bass — to grow the population in the San Francisco Estuary and its tributary rivers and to boost […]
If conservation scientists agree on one big thing, it’s that the destruction and fragmentation and degradation of habitats are the dominant threats to the persistence of most imperiled species.  Congress recognized that fact a half century ago in the purpose statement to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) – that is, “to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved.” In that light it is curious that the principal focus of the ESA is on species rather than their habitats. Concurrent with a determination to list a species as endangered or threatened under the ESA, Congress instructs the Fish and Wildlife Service […]
This past week a number of federal, state, and local agencies took a significant first step toward negotiation of Voluntary Agreements (VAs) that could be the basis for implementing updated water quality objectives for California’s Bay-Delta. This is a notable milestone but much work remains. The participating agencies must agree upon the details of the VAs, and ultimately, the State Water Resources Control Board must consider whether to adopt the VAs as the means to implement the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. The memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by the VA parties, and the term sheet attached to the MOU, explain the intent of those parties to present VAs to […]
For the past three decades, the federal and California governments and diverse stakeholders have looked to scientists to explain the causes of the long-term population declines in fish species native to California’s Bay-Delta in an effort to chart a course to conserve those species. Water agencies across the State have invested billions of dollars in data collection and scientific research with the hope of finding clear answers to vexing problems stemming from more than a century of large-scale environmental change to the Pacific Coast’s most expansive estuary. Armed with a sense of urgency, regulatory agencies have felt the compulsion to act. “Clean narratives” sometimes supplied by scientists, but more often […]
Recently, at the direction of the Biden White House, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service proposed to rescind a Trump-era rule that defines the term “habitat” for the purpose of informing the designation of “critical habitat” by those two agencies under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). While the federal wildlife agencies offer certain rationales for the proposed rescission, there is no question that the primary motivation is to provide discretion to federal wildlife agency regions, offices, and line staff to make ad hoc determinations regarding the meaning of the term “habitat.” This shift away from an explicit definition of habitat that provides for transparency and consistency […]
On his first day in office, January 20, 2021, President Biden issued an Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.  In that Order, the President stated that “the Federal Government must be guided by the best science and be protected by processes that ensure the integrity of Federal decision-making.”  He went on to direct all federal agencies to address federal actions during the prior four years that conflict with that objective.  In an accompanying list of agency actions for review, the President identified precisely two biological opinions that his Administration would review to determine if they were “guided by the best science” and adopted […]
Recently, the Interagency Ecological Program (IEP) — an interagency consortium charged “to provide and integrate relevant and timely ecological information for management of the Bay-Delta” — released a report presenting data and studies regarding a major conservation action for delta smelt, referred to as the Fall X2 Action. The Fall X2 Action purports to benefit the delta smelt during the autumn by increasing outflow through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta during that period in years where there is above normal precipitation in the preceding winter and spring.  Increasing outflow through the Delta moves the position of the tidally influenced low-salinity zone westward. The federal and state wildlife agencies contend that this action […]
The California Endangered Species Act (CESA) is one of the most impor- tant legal tools available to the Fish and Game Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife to protect the State’s wildlife resources. The listing process, together with the prohibitions in section 2080 of the Fish and Game Code, are the law’s regulatory teeth. At the same time, because any interested person can petition to list a species, the listing process invites citizen participation in the regulatory scheme. Listing decisions can be the difference between persistence and extinction of a species. They can also cause severe economic disruption and, for this reason, should in our view be made with […]
Recently, Courthouse News Service reported on a case pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit involving dredging of portions of the San Francisco Estuary and impacts from those activities on fishes protected under state and federal Endangered Species Acts. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, faced with the never-ending challenge of keeping shipping corridors open to large vessels in the San Francisco Bay, the Delta, and lower Sacramento and the San Joaquin rivers, have an ongoing consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intended to minimize dredging impacts on longfin smelt, delta smelt, steelhead, and several Chinook salmon runs. The Corps […]
Delta smelt have nearly ceased to appear in “pelagic” fish surveys carried out in their narrow geographic range in the upper San Francisco Estuary. As trawl-generated index values for delta smelt have declined over the past quarter century – understand there is no reliable estimate of the size of the delta smelt population — the chorus of voices advocating for captive rearing and releases of the species has grown louder. When in 2019 the Bureau of Reclamation proposed to include development of a conservation hatchery as a component of its ongoing operation of the federal Central Valley Project, it was building on work to culture delta smelt that was initiated […]
Conceptual models help us to understand the world around us without becoming overwhelmed with its complexity. Societal use of conceptual models is pervasive. Corporate organizational charts offer means to understand and express relationships within the business entity. Road maps represent transportation systems and the built environment. Depictions of food webs give insights into ecosystem structure, function, and composition. Conceptual ecological models are a specialized subset of conceptual models generally intended to describe the environmental factors that affect an ecological community, a species, or a population.  Conceptual ecological models are useful in a variety of contexts ranging from development of research proposals and monitoring schemes, to regulatory decision-making applied in the development […]
At this point there is well over a quarter century of research in the field of conservation biology assessing the wisdom of using surrogate species to guide conservation planning. Time and again researchers have warned of the risks associated with poorly informed use of surrogates, indicators, or proxy measures. A very recent example is an investigation by Fang Wang and colleagues, The hidden risk of using umbrella species as conservation surrogates: A spatio-temporal approach, published in Biological Conservation.   Wang and his colleagues evaluate use of the giant panda as an umbrella species to protect sympatric mammals, evaluating the panda and eight other mammal species using camera trap data, remote sensing […]
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