Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

August 18, 2016

Dakota Access Pipeline Environmental Assessment Failed to List Endangered Butterfly

Stopping the pipeline, Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), that is. 
Environmental Assessment left out endangered Poweshiek Skipperling
By Renee Matlock
Censored News copyright
I am, first and foremost a mother.   I am also an Environmental Engineer.   I hold college degrees in Communications, Environmental Science, Engineering and Environmental Engineering.   When I see my social media being flooded with outrage over a particular environmental issue, I pay attention.  I, and about a dozen other, mostly Lakota, friends have spent a significant amount of time over the last few days researching, reading Environmental Assessments, investigating people and generally looking into the DAPL and going over information with the proverbial “fine-toothed comb” looking for a chink in the armor of DAPL.   Earlier this evening I found “it” – the “thing” I was looking for – the “thing” that could have a federal court issuing a stop work order.  

I must admit, it is a little “thing”.   But, it is a “little thing” with the power to bring DAPL to a screaming halt.  What is the “little thing” in question?   It is a little tiny butterfly called the Poweshiek skipperling.   When I say “tiny” – this little butterfly has a wingspan of roughly 1 inch.   They are very small as butterflies go.   Very easy to miss.   Very recently listed as an Endangered Species.  
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which maintains the list of Endangered Species nationally, the Poweshiek Skipperling is described as “dark brown above with some light orange along the wing margins and a lighter orange head.  The underside of the wings, which can be seen when it’s at rest, are dark to light brown with very prominent white veins that may make the wing look striped.” (USFWS, 2016).   The photo and description below is of a Poweshiek Skipperling.
(USFWS, 2016)

How can this tiny little butterfly bring a halt to DAPL?  One of the things required on a project like DAPL is something called an Environmental Assessment.  Environmental Assessments are written to introduce projects someone wants to build; discuss alternatives to the projects and the reasoning for the, stated, preferred action; discuss impacts on wildlife if the project is permitted; discuss the impact of the project on any endangered species and ways to mitigate potential harm to listed endangered species; discuss the geology, paleontology, mineral resources, geologic hazards, water and plant resources; plus, a whole lot of other information such as land use, cultural impacts, etc… .  The purpose of Environmental Assessments is to make the case for approving the projects in question.

Any project which crosses lands which the US Government owns must be approved by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in addition to the usual state regulatory agencies and, if the project crosses state lines, an “alphabet soup” of federal agencies as well. There are also Tribal considerations if a project goes across lands which are Reservations.   Getting approval for interstate projects is a time-consuming process but some projects are worth the headaches and the time necessary to obtain approval.   
Remember that cute little butterfly I talked about earlier?  The Environmental Assessment done by DAPL, both the draft version (963 pages) and the Final version (1,261 pages), fail to make any mention of the Poweshiek Skipperling, an endangered species in several states, including all four states DAPL is being constructed in.  The screen shots below are from the two Environmental Assessments, downloaded from USACE on 16 August, 2016.
(USACE, 2016)
Why is the lack of mention important?  Because FAILURE to take an endangered species into consideration is grounds for invalidating the permit to build the project in question.  USACE had “reason to know” in May that the species had been listed as Endangered and, had anyone at USACE or any other federal agency involved been paying attention, the permits would not have been issued absent the inclusion of the Poweshiek Skipperling in the Environmental Assessment.  
There are two ways the permits can be invalidated.  Either through Federal Court action or through forcing the agencies which approved the permits to cancel the permits.  In this instance, there is a hearing on 24 August, 2016 in Federal Court and another on 25 August, 2016 related to DAPL being allowed to continue.  
With any luck at all the Judge will issue a “Stop Work” order at the hearing on the 24th when the information can be presented to the court that an endangered species was not included in the Environmental Assessment and should have been.   If the Judge on the 24th does not issue the order, then perhaps the one on the 25th will.  
Perhaps.  Maybe.   
If neither of those two Judges do the right thing and issue a “stop work” order, then in addition to protests all along the route of the pipeline it will be necessary for WE THE PEOPLE to demand the agencies that work for us do OUR work…and cancel the permits.   

United States Fish and Wildlife Service (2016).  Poweshiek Skipperling Fact Sheet.  Retrieved from:  
United States Fish and Wildlife Service (2016). North Dakota Field Office Endangered Species List.  Retrieved from:
United States Army Corps of Engineers (2016). Environmental Assessment: Dakota Access Pipeline Project.  USACE Digital Library.   Retrieved from:
United States Army Corps of Engineers (2016). Environmental Assessment: Dakota Access Pipeline Project.  USACE Digital Library.   Retrieved from:


Tetuwan Okshila said...

For what reason and where is the hearing on the 25th? Is that the one in No Dakota that was postponed?

Anonymous said...

The one that was postponed to the 8th or 9th of September was the injunction on the protestors.

Renee Matlock said...

The hearing I reference on the 25th was scheduled in North Dakota however; it was postponed until early September.

ND cheapo said...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for finding out about this tiny beautiful creature and for all your hard work!

Glo said...

Thank you for your diligent investigation which discovered the plight of the Poweshiek Skipperling. What can we do to help?

Anonymous said...

For anyone still reading this, Powesheik skipperling is a strictly tallgrass prairie species and has never been known to occur where DAPL is proposed, thus why surveys were not conducted. Why survey for something that has never been there? All prairie is not the same. DAPL is proposed further west in ND, where mixed and shortgrass prairie habitats dominate. Dakota skipper, the other federally listed butterfly in the state which does occur in these areas, was surveyed for according to your documentation.