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E-M:/ Sierra Club notifies USFWS intends to sue on wildlife grnts



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Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org
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Enviro-Mich:

 The following press release was put out today by Mackinac (Michigan) Chapter
of Sierra Club:



For Immediate Release                 Contact: Anne Woiwode 517- 484-2372
August 3, 1999                                 Marvin Roberson 414-332-6553
                                               Tom Buchele 312-759-3400


SIERRA CLUB TO SUE FEDS OVER STATE HABITAT GRANTS:
USFWS IGNORES LAW IN GIVING OUT $350 MILLION IN GRANTS 

Lansing, MI: Officials of the Sierra Club, the nation's largest grassroots
environmental organization, today announced that they will sue the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to halt systematic abuses of federal laws
intended to restore wildlife habitat. The Sierra Club's lawsuit would protect
America's f orests, wetlands and other wildlife habitat from illegal
clearcutting and manipu lation by bringing the nation's largest habitat
management program into complian ce with the Endangered Species Act and other
environmental laws.

At issue is how federal funds provided under the Pittman-Robertson Act ( the
Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937) are spent by states under
grants from the USFWS. The Pittman-Robertson Act was created to distribute
federal funds to states to improve and restore habitat for wild birds and
mammals. These funds are derived from taxes paid on guns, ammunition and
archery equipment.

According to the Sierra Club, activities in Michigan funded under the
Pittman-Robertson Act are having devastating effects on forests and wetlands,
including the clear cutting of large swaths of state-owned land.  The USFWS
has permitted the Michigan DNR, and possibly other state wildlife agencies,
to use Pittman-Robertson funds to pay for unsustainable and environmentally
damaging activities, immune from public scrutiny and in violation of federal
laws. The Sierra Club claims USFWS, which administers the program, has turned
a blind eye to this abuse, refusing to enforce the National Environmental
Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA) or the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA).

"For almost four years, Sierra Club has demanded that the abuses of the
Pittman Robertson program in Michigan be addressed, but the USFWS's has
steadfastly refused to enforce the applicable laws," said Anne Woiwode,
director of the Sierra Club's Michigan forest biodiversity project.  "The
USFWS claims that large-scale clear cutting and wetland manipulation paid for
with federal wildlife habitat improvement funding has no environmental
effects. This perverts the intention of the program," Woiwode said.

According to the 60-day notice of intent to sue filed with the USFWS today,
the Club's lawsuit will allege that for more than 25 years the agency's
Office of Federal Aid has systematically violated the ESA, NEPA and the
Pittman-Robertson Act in its administration of up to $350 million of annual
grants to states .

If successful, the challenge will set a national precedent. It is the first
suit of its kind ever brought.

"The USFWS acts as if the ESA and NEPA don't apply to Pittman-Robertson,"
said Marvin Roberson, forestry consultant to the Sierra Club's Mackinac
(Mich.) Chapter.  "They don't get to decide which laws they can enforce or
ignore."

In 1995 Michigan Sierra Club activists learned that USFWS was considering a
five year grant worth $35 million to the Michigan Department of Natural
Resources under the Pittman Robertson Act.  They were dismayed to learn that
the grant proposed massive management actions, including clear cutting 40,000
acres of Michigan State Forest land each year, while claiming the
environmental consequence of these actions were so insignificant as to
warrant no environmental review.  Federal law requires that  Environmental
Impact Statements (EIS) be prepared for federally-funded  projects that
"significantly effect" the environment.  Joined by two other environmental
organizations, the Michigan Sierra Club petitioned the USFWS to prepare an
EIS to disclose potential environmental effects of the activities proposed
prior to approving grant.

After almost four years of virtually fruitless negotiations with the USFWS,
the Sierra Club decided that litigation was the only way to force the agency
to comply with the laws.  The Sierra Club is seeking a swift resolution to
this case in order to assure that the flow of funds for legitimate wildlife
management activities is not interrupted while the federal government is
brought into compliance with its own laws.

"The USFWS thinks that using grants from federal habitat protection programs
for massive habitat manipulation, including clear cutting 40,000 acres of
forest land a year, is exempt from environmental review.  This is clearly
wrong and clearly illegal.  We think any reasonable federal court will
agree," Woiwode said.

The lawsuit will be filed in Federal Court at the end of the 60 day notice
period.  The Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago based public
interest law firm, will represent the Sierra Club.

#    #    #    #

Briefing Paper on Sierra Club's Pending Suit vs. USFWS on Wildlife Habitat
Grants August 3, 1999

The Sierra Club has filed a notice of intent to sue the US Fish & Wildlife
Service (USFWS) - Why?

The Sierra Club has compelling evidence that the USFWS has violated the
Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937(Pittman-Robertson Act), the
Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, and the National Environmental Policy
Act (NEPA) of 1970 in the process of providing grants to the Michigan
Department of Natural Resources for wildlife management restoration
activities throughout the state.

How have these laws been violated?

In a nutshell, the USFWS has not been clear enough about what actions will be
undertaken with approximately $7 million of grant money for wildlife habitat
management given to the Michigan DNR each year, what the results of that
management will be, and has not been forthright about the fact that some of
the results will likely cause damage to endangered species.  Below is a
summary of Sierra Club's concerns about violations under each of the three
laws cited.

The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 (Pittman-Robertson Act)

The Pittman-Robertson Act is a visionary bill passed by conservationists 62
years ago at a time when much of the nation's forests had been decimated by
over cutting, and wildlife habitat had been devastated. The Act seeks to
"restore habitat for wild birds and mammals" by imposing an excise tax on
guns, ammunition, and other hunting supplies, which is then apportioned to
states in grants administered by USFWS.    Approximately $350 million per
year is distributed to the states under the Pittman-Robertson Act, making it
the largest funding source for wildlife management in the country.

Most of the nation's state wildlife agencies were created as a result of this
program, which required states to have wildlife management agencies in order
to receive the funds and mandates states to dedicate all hunting license fees
to match the Pittman- Robertson funds.  The Act requires that for USFWS to
distribute the funds to the states, the federal agency must identify and
approve the work proposed to be done with the state's grant moneys, when and
how the work will be carried out, and what the results are expected to be.

The current USFWS grants to Michigan's DNR are so vague that it is nearly
impossible to tell how these federal dollars will be spent in Michigan, and
what the results will be.  In addition, Sierra Club contends that the work
approved almost always benefits overly abundant game animals such as
white-tailed deer, which are already at population levels well above
acceptable, while ignoring or harming the habitat needs of many other birds
and mammals.

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA)

NEPA is one of the most valuable tools for citizens to understand what are the
effects of programs and activities pursued or funded by the federal
government.  The statute requires that all federal agencies specify what
actions they propose to perform, including actions funded through federal
grants, and to document what will be the expected positive and negative
environmental consequences of those activities.  NEPA requires the
compilation of this information so that the agency can make informed
decisions regarding which action to pursue, and so that citizens can see what
are likely to be the environmental consequences of those actions.

In the case of Michigan's Pittman-Robertson grants, the USFWS has claimed that
none of the actions proposed to be carried out under the five-year,
approximately $35 million worth of grants deserve any environmental analysis
whatsoever, and that all of the activities are so inconsequential as to
deserve a "Categorical Exclusion."  The USFWS claim that all the activities
proposed qualify for Categorical Exclusion means the agency contends these
actions are insignificant enough to warrant exclusion from environmental
analysis, in specific the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement or
an Environmental Assessment as defined by NEPA.

This claim has been made by USFWS despite the fact that the Michigan projects
approved by USFWS fund activities include annual manipulation of 105,000
acres of wetlands and associated uplands and 40,000 acres of clearcuts per
year (62.5 squ are miles) on Michigan's State Forests. The amount of logging
approved is significantly more than the total logging activity on many
National Forests, which are required under NEPA to do environmental review. In
1997 USFWS admitted it had in fact violated procedural NEPA in issuing
Pittman Robertson grants in 1995 to Michigan, but USFWS has not fundamentally
changed the activities funded in grants approved since that time from those
approved in 1995, nor did USFWS change its contention that these programs were
Categorically Excluded from environmental analysis under NEPA.

The Sierra Club believes that if USFWS were to actually examine the results of
the proposed activities, it would be determined that the activities are
likely to be very harmful to a wide spectrum of plants, animals, and birds,
including some endangered species.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA)

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 requires that the federal government act in
manners which will not harm, and in fact will help, the recovery of species
which are determined to be at risk of becoming extinct or endangered. The
Sierra Club contends that the activities proposed under the Michigan
Pittman-Robertson grants will be detrimental to state or federally listed
threatened and endangered species by eliminating essential habitat for rare
species.  Of particular concern, Sierra Club points to the intensive cutting
of older white pine and northern hardwood forests under the Pittman-Robertson
grants.  These forest types are among the most endangered ecosystems in the
country, and provide habitat for many rare species of birds, plants and other
creatures. The USFWS has allowed logging and other management activities to
proceed in these areas without considering the expected effects on threatened
and endangered species and has ignored its mandate under the ESA to require
on the ground surveys and scientific review for the management activities
conducted under the Pittman-Robertson grants.

If the Michigan DNR is the agency which will be actually doing these
activities, why is the Sierra Club suing USFWS, and not MDNR?

With any grants program administered by the federal government, ultimate
responsibility to comply with federal environmental laws falls to the agency
administering the grants.  In this case, the MDNR asks the USFWS for money to
do certain activities. It is the responsibility of the USFWS, under the
Pittman-Robertson program, to determine whether or not the moneys should be
granted, what the environmental effects will be, and whether or not those
effects violate any other laws, such as ESA. Consequently, the responsible
agency in this situation is USFWS, and therefore, under the law, that is the
agency which must be sued to remedy th is problem.

In addition, USFWS administers approximately $350 million of grants under the
Pittman-Robertson Act each year, and it appears that the violations detected
in Michigan are present in many other states as well.  By bringing suit
regarding the grants in Michigan, the Sierra Club will seeking compliance
throughout the USFWS with laws governing administration of these funds.

The MDNR, however, is far from absolved on these concerns. While it is the
respo nsibility of USFWS to make sure that activities which are federally
funded meet the law, the Sierra Club has also been in long-term discussions
with MDNR regard ing whether or not many of the habitat manipulation
activities on state land vio late laws such as ESA and the Michigan ESA.

Is there anything wrong with habitat activities to benefit deer and other game
species?

Managing for healthy habitats and populations of deer and game animals is a
good idea, and one which the Sierra Club supports. However, managing for
populations of game animals which are so large as to be unhealthy, at the
expense of other species, whether endangered or not, is irresponsible and
illegal. Currently, Michigan has a deer population so out of control that
there were 66,000 car/deer accidents in Michigan last year alone. In
addition, large deer populations are a contributor to Michigan being the
location of the first ever recorded case of bovine tuberculosis in wild deer
populations. Also, overbrowsing by deer has resulted in the virtual ending of
northern white cedar as a commercial species.

Why is the Sierra Club suing, rather than working through negotiations and
other channels?

The Sierra Club has been in extensive discussions and correspondence with
USFWS since the fall of 1995 on this exact issue. The Club has pointed out
repeatedly to USFWS these violations, to no avail.  While the Sierra Club
regrets the necessity to sue the USFWS, we believe that this violation of the
law and potential harm to Michigan's resources warrant this action. The USFWS
has left the Sierra Club with a regrettable choice between bringing suit to
force compliance with the law and simply ignoring potentially irreparable harm
to Michigan's environment.

This briefing paper was prepared by the Michigan Forest Biodiversity Program
of the Sierra Club, 300 North Washington Square, Suite 411, Lansing, MI
48933.  Contact Anne Woiwode, Program Director at (517) 484-2372,  Marvin
Roberson, Program Consultant at (414) 332-6553, or Tom Buchele of the
Environmental Law and Policy Center at (312) 759-3400 for additional
information.

END



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