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*The following news reports/announcements (some longer than others) are from various media outlets and other organizations.

Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, Humane Society of the United States, Endangered Species Coalition, National Wolfwatcher Coalition, Environmental Law

Campaign Launched to Overhaul State Management of Wolves

Strategic, Analytical Tools Made Available to Wolf Advocates, State Agencies

PORTLAND, Ore.— (June 23, 2021)—A new set of planning guides and resources was released today by conservation groups working to improve state management of gray wolves and move agencies across the country away from traditional practices that largely focus on killing wolves.

States have long relied on public advisory groups to help develop initial wolf plans and update existing plans. But livestock and hunting representatives on these panels outnumber and overpower scientists and organizations that are advocating for the full recovery and welfare of wolves.

Such advocacy groups are a better reflection of public sentiment. Polls have shown a majority of Americans opposed the removal of federal protection from wolves and want to see the species thrive.

State processes for wolf management plan development can produce plans that don’t reflect the most recent developments in science and best practices for wolf management. These plans may contain limits on wolf population size and range that science indicates are far below what is necessary for a recovered wolf population. Flawed state management has resulted in deadly consequences for wolves, especially evident since the loss of Endangered Species Act Protections for wolves throughout most of the country this year.

The groups developed separate editions for agencies and wolf advocates, and these include hyperlinks to a comprehensive resource bank that summarizes the scientific literature. The groups’ new stewardship approach emphasizes coexistence with wolves and asks state wildlife agencies to adhere to the following key principles:

  • Acknowledge the intrinsic value of wolves;
  • Follow the best available science;
  • Respect Tribal treaty rights and cultural ties to wolves;
  • Uphold democratic processes for public involvement in wolf planning and stewardship;
  • Address livestock-wolf conflicts through proactive, nonlethal measures;
  • Prohibit recreational wolf-hunting and trapping;
  • Consider the ethical implications of any action affecting wolf individuals or families, including research and handling of wolves; and
  • Emphasize collaboration among agencies to secure funding for wolf conservation and public education.

“New wolf plans informed by science and ethics are needed now more than ever, as the disastrous winter wolf hunt in Wisconsin showed,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With these planning guides and resources, which give new tools to people trying to help secure a future for wolves, we’re hoping to chart a more hopeful course in states’ stewardship of these beloved animals.”

“Quite simply put, post-delisting, too many wolves are being killed and there is absolutely no justification for it. No scientific justification. No ethical justification. No public safety justification. No economic justification,” said Samantha Bruegger, wildlife coexistence campaigner at WildEarth Guardians. “It is our hope that these guides will be a resource to correct course and move toward proven coexistence solutions for wolves, rather than politicized persecution.”

“Too often when wolves lose their federal protections, states rush to open trophy hunting and trapping seasons that tear wolf families apart,” said Amanda Wight, program manager of wildlife protection at the Humane Society of the United States. “By focusing on coexistence and stewardship, these materials will help shift the paradigm away from killing wolves in response to hate and misinformation to developing wolf plans that are rooted in science, ethics and inclusivity.”

“In places like Colorado where wolf restoration is just beginning, these planning tools provide a foundation and an opportunity for both wildlife agencies and stakeholders to come together to learn from best practices in wolf management, and develop science-based wolf conservation plans,” said Lia Cheek, national field campaign director at the Endangered Species Coalition.

“These guides promote coexistence with wolves using facts and scientific data, not fears, myths and embellished tales,” said Nancy Warren, executive director and Great Lakes regional director for National Wolfwatcher Coalition.

“These guides are designed to provide state agency professionals and advocates an invaluable roadmap in line with today’s best available science, ethical values and democratic principles,” said Jodi Habush Sinykin, a Wisconsin attorney with expertise in environmental policy retained by the Endangered Species Coalition for this project. “It is fortunate timing that these resources are available now to states like Wisconsin and Michigan currently launching efforts to update their states’ wolf-management plans.”

The Wolf Conservation Planning editions and Resource Bank were crafted by representatives from five conservation groups and a lead researcher. Outside experts who were consulted include scientists from academia with expertise in wolf biology, ecology, behavior, social science, ethics, philosophy, livestock-wolf conflict, and wolf hunting and trapping; Tribal members from the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission; and staffers who currently or formerly worked for state or federal agencies on wolf recovery and conservation.

Background

In May 2011 Congress stripped gray wolves of federal Endangered Species Act protection in the northern Rockies and parts of adjoining states. In January 2021, a Trump administration rule went into effect that stripped federal protection from wolves throughout most of the remaining contiguous states. In all parts of the country except the Southwest, state agencies now have full management authority over wolves.

Following federal delisting in 2011, Montana and Idaho immediately instituted wolf-hunting and/or trapping, aggressively increasing these measures in successive years. This year, following the federal delisting everywhere else, Montana and Idaho both enacted legislation or regulations that vastly expand when, where and how wolves can be killed, with goals to kill off up to 85% to 90% of their current populations.

Also earlier this year, Wisconsin held a winter wolf hunt that killed at least 20% of its entire wolf population in less than three days during the height of wolf breeding season. Currently, Wisconsin wildlife managers are preparing for another wolf hunt this fall informed by an outdated state wolf management plan from 1999.

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Service Proposes Downlisting Smooth Coneflower From Endangered to Threatened Under Endangered Species Act

Following a thorough scientific review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is proposing to downlist the smooth coneflower from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A 4(d) rule that tailors protections while allowing activities that do not hinder its recovery is also being proposed. The proposal represents a significant recovery milestone for the plant following years of ESA-inspired partnerships across its range in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

The ESA defines endangered as a species that is currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range and threatened as likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. The proposed downlisting is another example of the power of conservation partnerships between federal, state and private stakeholders under the ESA.

“Having healthier and more abundant populations of smooth coneflower out in the wild is proof that by working collaboratively, we can rescue species from the brink and recover them,” said Leo Miranda, the Service’s Regional Director. “Our partners have done an amazing job at reducing threats to this plant which is helping pave the way to its recovery.”

When the Service listed the smooth coneflower as an endangered species in 1992, 39 populations had disappeared, and the 21 remaining populations were vulnerable and unstable. Since then, more populations have been discovered and conservation projects have been implemented with documented success. The Service has also funded research projects that have led to increased knowledge about the coneflower’s genetics, pollination ecology, and creation of seed banks.

Today, 44 distinct populations of smooth coneflower exist in Virginia (15), North Carolina (6), South Carolina (12) and Georgia (11). Sixteen of these 44 populations are considered healthy and occur within protected national forests and nature preserves where threats from habitat modification have been reduced.

When the coneflower was listed, the primary threats to it were fire suppression, development, invasive species and highway right-of-way maintenance activities such as pesticide application and mowing. Some threats still remain, including habitat loss, degradation, fragmentation and the effects of climate change, such as drought, which can be especially detrimental during the growing season.

The U.S. Forest Service manages smooth coneflower habitat within Chattahoochee National Forest, Sumter National Forest, George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, as well as at the Savannah River Site. Since its listing, the U.S. Forest Service has designated Special Management Areas for each of their populations, thereby limiting access to the plants. They use prescribed fire to maintain suitable habitat, helping ensure smooth coneflower populations thrive.

“Being consistent with periodic prescribed fires on a three-year rotation has been critical to the restoration of habitat for this species,” said Mike Brod, fire and natural resources staff officer at Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. “Often times, prescribed fire coupled with the manual cutting of competing vegetation is needed for this species to thrive. We have been implementing these treatments on the forest for well over a decade and are continuing to see these populations expand. Our success on the forest could not be possible without the support of many partners associated with the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance.” In addition to the U.S. Forest Service, other organizations collaborating on smooth coneflower conservation include the North Carolina Botanical Garden, North Carolina Plant Conservation Program, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, county governments, and numerous other partners. These groups monitor coneflower populations on a regular basis and also plant smooth coneflower to augment existing populations. Prescribed fire is used to reduce competition from woody species, eradicate invasive species, and promote smooth coneflower germination and growth.

In addition to the U.S. Forest Service, other organizations collaborating on smooth coneflower conservation include the North Carolina Botanical Garden, North Carolina Plant Conservation Program, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, county governments, and numerous other partners. These groups monitor coneflower populations on a regular basis and also plant smooth coneflower to augment existing populations. Prescribed fire is used to reduce competition from woody species, eradicate invasive species, and promote smooth coneflower germination and growth.

The proposed 4(d) rule for the plant will allow certain management actions that would otherwise be prohibited as long as they are conducted in the manner consistent with the recovery of the species. Prohibitions in the proposed 4(d) rule include importing or exporting; certain acts related to removing, damaging, and destroying; delivering, receiving, transporting, or shipping in interstate or foreign commerce in the course of commercial activity; or selling or offering for sale in interstate or foreign commerce. Exceptions include seeds of cultivated specimens and conservation efforts by any agent of the Service or State Conservation Agency operating in a conservation program pursuant to the terms of a cooperative agreement with the Service in accordance with section 6 of the ESA.

The public will have a 60-day period to comment on this proposal, which will end on August 23, 2021. To comment, go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Search for Docket Number FWS–R4–ES–2020–0063, which is the docket number for this action.

Find out more about smooth coneflower.

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The Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Challenges U.S. Failure to Protect Foreign Wildlife

Three Birds, Four Butterflies Await Urgently Needed Protections

WASHINGTON—(June 23, 2021)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to protect seven imperiled animals found outside U.S. borders. The animals include two beautiful Brazilian butterflies and a woodpecker threatened by U.S. jungle warfare training activities in Japan.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has acknowledged that all seven species warrant Endangered Species Act safeguards, but the Trump administration deemed protections “precluded” by other agency work. Yet the Service listed only eight foreign species throughout the Trump administration’s four-year tenure.

“Protecting these imperiled birds and butterflies would help fulfill the Biden administration’s promise of bold conservation action, both domestically and internationally,” said Sarah Uhlemann, International program director and an attorney at the Center. “The Fish and Wildlife Service should make good on those commitments by finally protecting these seven amazing animals and all others that need the Endangered Species Act’s safeguards.”

Some of the birds in the Center’s lawsuit have been on the Service’s “candidate” wait-list for over 30 years. The birds include the Okinawa woodpecker in Japan, the black-backed tanager of Brazil and the southern helmeted curassow from Bolivia. Four butterflies, including Brazil’s Fluminense swallowtail, are also wait-listed.

Scientists predict the world will lose a million species in coming decades without urgent and transformative action to combat habitat loss, over-exploitation and other threats. There are more than 600 foreign species covered by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The Act protects foreign endangered species by banning their import and sale, increasing awareness and providing financial assistance.

“As we suffer a heart-breaking extinction crisis, U.S. leadership can help save wildlife around the world,” said Uhlemann. “The Biden administration can reverse Trump’s dismal record and protect these and other deserving creatures now, before it’s too late.”

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Arizona.

Species Backgrounds

Okinawa woodpecker: Found only on the island of Okinawa in Japan, this woodpecker is one of the world’s rarest birds, with an estimated population of only 50 to 249 mature individuals. The species relies on old-growth forests, including forests located within the U.S. Marine Corps’ Jungle Warfare Training Center on Okinawa. Scientists requested the Okinawa woodpecker’s protection in 1980, and the Service deemed listing “warranted” in 1984. Yet the woodpecker has lingered on the “warranted but precluded” list for over 35 years.

Fluminense swallowtail: This beautiful butterfly has a tiny range near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Its coastal habitat is threatened by the draining of swamps, primarily for development. The species has also been found in the insect curio trade, a market that is notoriously hard to monitor. The Service received a petition to list the swallowtail in 1994 but has not yet proposed protections.

Black-backed tanager: This colorful bird with a turquoise breast and reddish head inhabits Brazil. Its rapid decline is likely due to habitat loss and fragmentation. It has also been found in the illegal cage-bird trade. The black-backed tanager has been wait-listed for protection since 1994.

Kaiser-i-Hind swallowtail: Inhabiting high-altitude Himalayan regions of Bhutan, China and India as well as Vietnam and Thailand, this rare butterfly is orange and iridescent green. It suffers from habitat destruction and is collected for the commercial trade, where it is highly valued. The Service received a petition to list the Kaiser-i-Hind swallowtail in 1994.

Southern helmeted curassow: This ground-inhabiting bird has a large, distinctive pale-blue casque on its head and is found only in central Bolivia. The species is threatened by hunting and habitat destruction, especially as “protected” land is converted to coca plantations, and the species lacks international trade protections. This curassow has lingered on the Service’s “warranted but precluded” list for over 25 years.

Jamaican kite swallowtail: The blue-green and black beauty is Jamaica’s most endangered butterfly. It is threatened by habitat loss and collection for trade, with a single specimen recently selling for $178. The Service received a petition to list the Jamaican kite swallowtail in 1994.

Harris’ mimic swallowtail: This mostly black butterfly has beautiful, white and rose-red markings. It inhabits only Brazil’s coastal Atlantic Forest region and is threatened by habitat destruction and collection for the curio trade. A single specimen recently sold for $2,200. The Service received a petition to list the Harris’ mimic swallowtail in 1994.

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KVEO-TV/ValleyCentral.com (Harlingen, TX)

Wildlife themed license plates focus on saving endangered species

Xochilt Lagunas, Posted: June 22, 2021

HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Conservation License Plate Program is focused on bringing a creative way for the public to take action but also showcase their support for endangered species.

TPWD’s program has raised about $10 million in the last 21 years for wildlife and habitat conservation in Texas. Recently the program announced its newest addition, the Monarch Butterfly conservation license plate.

TPWD’s Program Director, John Davis said Monarch butterflies are one of the many endangered species.  

According to Davis, the species was selected based on public interest and conservation need.

He said the Monarch license plate is available for the public at a cost of $30. Davis said $22 of that cost will go directly to their funding program.

“We use the funding for our conservation license plate funds to invest in research on the conservation partnerships,” he said.

TPWD said the Monarch butterfly design was chosen by the public last September; the winning design shows one large Monarch butterfly and three smaller ones flying off the license plate.

Davis said the goal of their program funding is to help the species thrive and be around for current and future generations.

Once a license plate is added to TPWD’s Conservation License Plate Program, it remains.

“Once a license plate becomes available for purchase it’s available from then on so this is not a limited time only,” he said.

TPWD said the license plate design appeals to those who garden, enjoy wildlife watching, or simply appreciate the beauty of Monarch butterflies.

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Sierra Sun Times (Mariposa, CA)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Publishes Birds of Conservation Concern 2021 – Report Identifies 269 Species for Highest Conservation Priorities

June 19, 2021 – In continuing proactive efforts to protect migratory birds, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its Birds of Conservation Concern 2021 report. The publication identifies 269 species of birds that represent high conservation priorities for the Service and deserve proactive attention. This science will be used for cooperative research, monitoring and management actions that can directly or indirectly affect migratory birds with the help of international, federal, state, Tribal and private partners.

“This report serves as an early warning indicator for bird species in trouble and will help stimulate the collaborative conservation action needed to bring back declining bird species well before they become threatened or endangered, said Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “Almost 3 billion birds have been lost in North America since 1970, and this scientific information will help focus conservation efforts where they are most needed.”

The species that appear in Birds of Conservation Concern 2021 include migratory bird species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that the Service considers to be in greatest need of conservation attention. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act directs the Service “to identify species, subspecies and populations of all migratory nongame birds that, without additional conservation actions, are likely to become candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).”

The Service’s goal is to eliminate the need for additional ESA protections for birds by implementing proactive management and conservation actions that sustain populations well above thresholds of endangerment.

The conservation assessment was based on several factors, including population abundance and trends, threats on breeding and nonbreeding grounds and size of breeding and nonbreeding ranges. It encompasses four distinct geographic scales: the Continental U.S., including Alaska; Pacific Ocean islands, including Hawaii; Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Navassa; and continental Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs) and Marine Bird Conservation Regions (MBCRs). Of the 269 species identified, 134 are of conservation concern at the Continental scale, 85 at the BCR scale, 30 on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and 33 on Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. The report was last updated in 2008.

Inclusion in the Birds of Conservation Concern 2021 does not constitute a finding that listing under the ESA is warranted, or that substantial information exists to indicate that listing under the ESA may be warranted.

The report and additional information is available online at https://www.fws.gov/birds/management/managed-species/birds-of-conservation-concern.php.

Source: USFWS

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California Trout

Klamath Salmon Now Listed On California Endangered Species List

 June 18, 2021

On June 16, after hours of debate and public testimony, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to approve the petition from the Karuk Tribe to list the Klamath-Trinity River Spring Chinook as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act.

The Karuk Tribe and the Salmon River Restoration Council (SRRC) jointly filed a petition to list Spring Chinook with the Commission in August 2018. The petition is based on the discovery of the genetic sequence that defines Spring Chinook as distinct from the more abundant Fall Chinook.  That data was published in 2017 by UC Davis Professor Michael Miller and colleagues.

Adding Spring Chinook to the CA Endangered Species List will allow agencies to prioritize funding for restoration and ensure any projects in the fish’s range will have to avoid adverse impacts to the population.

“The Spring Salmon are our relative that is facing extinction, and a part of our lifestyle, cultural longevity, and the survival of my people. These aspects, as well as many more, need to be addressed, and I’m thankful, proud and hopeful to have the public comment filled with Native voices advocating for future generations. This decision on the petition is a win, not a victory, but should give the people in the Basin hope and momentum for this ongoing fight,” said Hoopa Valley Tribal Member, Yurok descendant, and Karuk Spring Salmon Ceremonial Priest, Ryan Reed, in a recent Press Statement.

Small, self-sustaining populations of Klamath-Trinity Rivers Spring-Run Chinook Salmon remain primarily in the Salmon and South Fork Trinity rivers, where they are highly vulnerable to climate change, hybridization with hatchery-origin fish, and other stressors. (Read more about the species in CalTrout’s SOS II report.) CalTrout is dedicated to saving the now-listed species by prioritizing the removal of the four lowermost Klamath dams to restore access to historical cold water habitat.

In regard to the dams, another big happening came this month for the Klamath: a monumental decision to move dam removal forward was made with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approving the transfer of the license for the Lower Klamath Hydroelectric Project from PacifiCorp to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) and the states of Oregon and California, as co-licensees.

Both decisions- listing the spring chinook and approving the license transfer- are important acts to save the ailing Klamath Basin. Regina Chichizola, co-director of Save California Salmon, exclaimed, “We hope these actions demonstrate California and the Biden administration commitment to protecting and restoring the Klamath River before it is too late.”

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People

Over 30 Pelicans Found ‘Mutilated’ in California: ‘These Are Very Serious Injuries’

Stephanie Petit, June 18, 2021

A California wildlife organization is asking for help after over 30 brown pelicans were found with “very serious injuries.”

The Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach wrote in a statement on Wednesday that “someone is intentionally breaking Brown Pelican’s wings.”

They said around 32 pelicans have been “mutilated” between San Clemente and Huntington Beach in recent months, with 22 birds suffering compound fractures to their wings. “A compound fracture (also known as an “open fracture”) is a broken bone that is accompanied by breaks in the skin, causing the broken ends of the bone to come into contact with the outside environment,” they explained.

The cost of surgery and care for each bird will cost thousands of dollars, according to the group.

“These are very serious injuries that require emergency surgeries and long term care,” added veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth Wood.

“It was just wrong on every level,” Debbie Wayns, the nonprofit’s operations manager, told The New York Times. “There was no question that a person or persons did this.”

Of the 32 brown pelicans that the team have treated since March, only 10 have survived due to the “extensive injuries that have been brought to them,” Wayns said.

The Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center is offering a $500 reward for information, according to CNN.

Patrick Foy, public information officer for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told CNN on Thursday that the tip line had not yet received any calls. “No suspects, no motive and no evidence other than the injured pelicans,” he said.

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Daily Mail

Largest concentration of endangered garter snakes on record is found

Stacy Liberatore For Dailymail.com, June 17, 2021

The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is now home to the largest population of endangered garter snakes.

Known as ‘the most beautiful serpent in North America,’ this fantastically colored San Francisco garter snake was believed to have a population of just one or two thousand in the wild.

However, a study by the US Geological Survey and the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the 180-acre parcel of wetlands and uplands surrounding the airport host some 1,300 garter snakes.

Experts say this is the largest concentration of the snake ever to be discovered, which raises hope that the slithering creature’s once dwindling population is on the rebound.

The San Francisco garter snake is a stunning serpent with an orange head, turquoise-blue body and bold stripes of orange and red.

Full-size adults can reach three feet or more in length, and they primarily feed on California red-legged frogs.

These frogs have also been found living at the airport, which may be why more than 1,000 garter snakes have moved into the area.

The creatures are living at the West-of-Bayshore, which is a protected habitat that stretches 180 acres across undeveloped land located across the Bayshore Freeway from the San Francisco International Airport, according to CBS News.

And both the red-legged frog and garter snake are federally protected species.

SFO wildlife biologist Natalie Reeder told CBS: ‘These results validate the environmental stewardship programs we have in place, to ensure endangered species can survive and thrive at SFO.’

Airport officials have committed responsibility to manage the habitat, which also involves protecting species that call it home.

Garter snakes lost their natural habitat to agriculture, commercial and urban development and illegal collection (because of their beauty) led to the listing of the San Francisco garter snake as “threatened” in 1967, according to the Sacramento Fish & Wildlife Office.

‘Its limited range, only on the San Mateo Peninsula, makes this species more susceptible to habitat destruction, marsh and pond drainage, and the decline of its main food item, the California red-legged frog,’ SFO shared in a statement.

‘Through cooperative efforts with the resource agencies and management of the West-of-Bayshore property, SFO is striving to protect and conserve the populations of San Francisco garter snake and California red-legged frog that occur there.’

At one point most of the West-of-Bayshore parcel was part of the San Francisco bayland, which supported tidal salt marshes, sloughs, and seasonal wetlands.

The parcel was drained and used for agriculture until approximately 1969.

‘The property supports a diversity of aquatic and upland habitats including seasonal wetlands, freshwater marshes, constructed drainage canals, riparian woodlands, and annual grasslands, SFO shard in the statement.

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Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)

Mount Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan proposed for endangered species listing

Associated Press, June 15, 2021

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes listing a bird found in the North Cascades as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to the likelihood that climate change will shrink its high-elevation habitat throughout the state.

The Mount Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan is found in the Cascade Mountains from southern British Columbia to southern Washington, the Skagit Valley Herald reported. They are one of few animals that spend their entire lives on mountaintops. They move seasonally between snow-covered habitat and summer alpine meadows.

As temperatures continue to warm, the region’s snowpack will decline. Alpine meadows may also be at risk as conditions move tree lines to higher elevations.

“As the iconic alpine meadows of Washington diminish with climate change, this alpine bird … will be pushed out of the home it is specially adapted to,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Andrew LaValle said.

The state Department of Fish & Wildlife lists the Mount Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan as a species of greatest concern and as highly vulnerable to climate change.

The Fish and Wildlife Service proposal includes rules to protect the birds from types of intentional and unintentional harm, and states that a species recovery plan will be written after the listing becomes official.

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Courthouse News Service

Two Native California Species Slated for Endangered Species Review

The Temblor legless lizard and Santa Ana speckled dace have faced threats from climate change, wildfires development and invasive species — protected status could save their rapidly declining populations.

June 16, 2021, SAMANTHA HAWKINS

(CN) — Two native California species could be on their way to protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Wednesday: a legless lizard and a small minnow.

Both species are dwindling, as the Temblor legless lizard faces threats from oil and gas development in Temblor Range on the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, and the Santa Ana speckled dace have declined from the construction of dams and the introduction of invasive species.

“Fire, drought and reckless water policies have made life really tough for these little fish,” Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement. “We’ve already lost seven of California’s unique freshwater fish species to extinction, and we shouldn’t have to lose any more.”

The ruling now triggers status reviews for both species.

If the agency finds that the species warrant protection, regulations could be made to divert water from the dams in a way that is less harmful to the fish and efforts could be made to remove and control invasive species. In the case of the legless lizard, oil and gas development in its habitat could be halted — crucial to the highly sensitive lizard.

“It’s completely amazing that there are any left,” Tamara Stobel, a staff scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity said in a phone interview. “There are only four known locations where this species exists, and most of its habitat is surrounded by oil and gas wells.”

Each time a petition is filed to protect a threatened species, the Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to respond and decide if the species warrants a review. Because of a backlog of petitions — and sometimes due to political reasons — it often takes much longer. The petition for the dace was filed in May 2020 and the petition for the lizard was filed in October 2020.

Most species receive a status review, since petitions often include years of scientific data and surveys about the decline of a species. But it usually takes longer and requires more litigation to get the 90-day ruling, Miller said in a phone interview.

“I’m surprised that we got a 90-day ruling this fast. There’s usually a settlement agreement after a year, and it takes about 3-4 years from the time we petition to achieve protection — and that’s litigating every step of the way,” Miller said. “There are species that go extinct waiting for a decision.”

Miller says the Center has begun to push for more funding for the endangered species program, as the Biden administration seems to be more open to it than the Trump administration.

“These are pretty resilient fish,” Miller said. “We believe they will be able to come back.”

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The University of Utah (Salt Lake City)

What factors put Philippine birds at risk of extinction?

Paul Gabrielsen, University of Utah Communications, June16, 2021

The lush forests and more than 7,000 islands of the Philippines hold a rich diversity of life, with 258 bird species who live nowhere but the Philippine archipelago. A new study from University of Utah researchers suggests that, due to deforestation and habitat degradation, more bird species may be endangered than previously thought—including species that may not have been discovered yet. The study is published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

“Our study provides a roadmap for not only which species may warrant heightened conservation attention,” says Kyle Kittelberger, a doctoral student in the University of Utah School of Biological Sciences. “But which traits a species may have that can help inform if it may likely be more at risk of extinction.”

Birds of the Philippines

Located in Southeast Asia, the Philippines is considered a global biodiversity hotspot and one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, hosting nearly 600 bird species. A high proportion of the wildlife is endemic to the country, meaning that it is found nowhere else. The Philippines also hosts some of the highest richness of species recently identified as distinct from other closely related species, showing that scientists still have much to learn about the Philippine ecosystems.

Within the last decade the number of endemic species has risen from 172 to 258. This increase of 86 endemic species is more than all the endemic bird species in China (67) or India (75) and more than any country in South America or Africa.

Çağan Şekercioğlu, an associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences who has done ornithological field work in over 90 countries on all continents cannot forget his first visit to the islands.

“When I first visited the Philippines in 2008, I was awestruck by the diversity and especially the endemism of its avifauna but also greatly depressed by the rapid loss of habitat,” he says. Excursions into the field took hours due to extensive deforestation. “While looking for rare forest birds in the lowlands of Mindanao, we were literally trying to keep ahead of the loggers that were cutting down century-old rainforest trees within a couple hundred meters of us,” he adds. Despite that, in 13 days he saw 161 bird species he had never seen before—and still has 163 bird species to go.

Deforestation, habitat degradation and wildlife exploitation, however, threaten that biodiversity. Southeast Asia, the authors write, is forecast to lose over a third of its biodiversity over the next century. The Philippines in particular ranks eighth in the world for the number of globally threatened bird species.

“There is a pressing need to assess what traits make some species more at risk of extinction than others and to use this understanding to help inform conservation efforts,” Kittelberger says.

Traits of threatened birds

To understand the status of Philippine birds, the researchers first determined the bird traits most predictive of extinction risk by correlating bird species’ ecological and life-history traits, including body mass, diet, elevation range, and clutch size (the number of eggs laid in a nesting season) with their conservation status. A species endemic to the Philippines was significantly more likely to face an extinction risk, they found. Narrow elevation ranges, dependence on forests and high body mass also put birds at risk for extinction.

Then the researchers turned around and evaluated Philippine birds’ expected conservation status using those traits, comparing predicted conservation status with the IUCN Red List conservation designations. They found that 84 species were predicted to be in worse shape than their Red List designation, with 14 species predicted to be globally threatened (i.e. vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered) that aren’t currently classified as such.

“We predicted that the Philippine Serpent-eagle and Writhed Hornbill, two species that are not currently recognized as being globally threatened, are respectively endangered and critically endangered,” Kittelberger says. “We also predicted that the Palawan Peacock-pheasant, Calayan Rail and Philippine Eagle-owl, three species currently recognized internationally as being vulnerable, are likely endangered species. All these birds, therefore, warrant heightened conservation attention as they may be more threatened than currently believed.”

Lost before they’re found

Among the 84 species predicted to be more threatened, 12 were recently recognized as separate species, and three of those were predicted to be “vulnerable.”

“The Philippines have a very high level of endemism and it is currently estimated that there are twice as many bird species in the Philippines that have not yet been split and officially recognized, so there is a real risk of losing species before they are described,” Kittelberger says.

Kittelberger says that their research can be applied broadly to assess the conservation status of birds throughout the region.

“The most important thing that the Philippines can do to protect birds,” Kittelberger says, “is to address the high levels of deforestation, habitat degradation, and wildlife exploitation, and to increase land protection for wildlife and increase funding for conservation efforts.”

(Co-authors also include Montague H. C. Neate-Clegg, J. David Blount and Çağan Şekercioğlu of the U’s School of Biological Sciences, Mary Rose C. Posa of the California Botanic Garden and John McLaughlin of the University of California, Santa Barbara. The study was supported by the Christensen Fund.)

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Sierra Sun Times (Mariposa, CA) 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries to Propose Regulatory Revisions to Endangered Species Act

Pacific Fisher, June 15, 2021

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (together the “Services”) have released a plan to improve and strengthen implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The set of proposed actions follows Executive Order 13990, which directed all federal agencies to review and address agency actions during the last four years that conflict with Biden-Harris administration objectives, such as addressing climate change.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to working with diverse federal, Tribal, state and industry partners to not only protect and recover America’s imperiled wildlife but to ensure cornerstone laws like the Endangered Species Act are helping us meet 21st century challenges,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “We look forward to continuing these conservation collaborations and to ensuring our efforts are fully transparent and inclusive.”

As a result of this review, the Services will initiate rulemaking in the coming months to revise, rescind, or reinstate five ESA regulations finalized by the prior administration. These are:

●      Rescind regulations that revised Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS’) process for considering exclusions from  critical habitat designations: On December 17, 2020, the FWS revised the process they would follow when considering whether to exclude areas from critical habitat designation under section 4(b)(2) of the ESA. FWS will propose to rescind this regulation (85 FR 82376) in its entirety and revert to implementation of the joint FWS/NMFS regulations at 50 CFR 424.19 and the joint 2016 policy on 4(b)(2) exclusions.

●      Rescind regulatory definition of habitat: The Services will propose to rescind the final rule that defined the term “habitat” for the purposes of critical habitat designation (85 FR 81411; December 16, 2020). A regulatory definition is not required for the Services to designate critical habitat in compliance with a 2018 Supreme Court decision.

●      Revise regulations for listing species and designating critical habitat : The Services will propose revising the final rule (84 FR 45020; August 27, 2019) to reinstate prior language affirming that listing determinations are made “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination,” along with other potential revisions also under discussion.

●      Revise regulations for interagency cooperation: The Services will propose revisions to the final rule (84 FR 44976; August 27, 2019) which revised the regulations governing section 7 consultation. The Services will propose to revise the definition of “effects of the action” and associated provisions to that portion of the rule, with other potential revisions also under discussion.

●      Reinstate protections for species listed as threatened under ESA: FWS will propose to reinstate its “blanket 4(d) rule,” which was withdrawn by the previous administration (84 Fed. Reg. 44753; August 27, 2019). The blanket 4(d) rule establishes the default of automatically extending protections provided to endangered species to those listed as threatened, unless the Service adopts a species-specific 4(d) rule.

“NOAA Fisheries is committed to the protection, conservation, and recovery of endangered and threatened marine species,” said Paul Doremus, Acting Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “We are proud to work with a range of federal, Tribal, state and community partners to achieve conservation successes, and look forward to continuing these shared efforts through clear and transparent Endangered Species Act regulations.”

Each of these recommended actions will undergo a rigorous and transparent rulemaking process, including publication of a proposed rule in the Federal Register, a public comment period and coordination with federally recognized Tribes before being finalized.
Source: USFWS

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The Providence Journal (Providence, RI)

A secretive species: New population of one of RI’s most endangered animals discovered

Alex Kuffner, The Providence Journal, June 15, 2021

PROVIDENCE — The eastern spadefoot toad is a state-endangered animal in Rhode Island that is known to populate only a handful of sites around the state.

But a newly-employed detection technique is shedding light on the population of Rhode Island’s rarest toad while also upending historically-accepted notions of the behavior of what was thought to be a secretive species.

The confoundingly simple method of spotlighting at night has already led to the discovery of a new breeding colony in Westerly, and researchers plan to continue using it over the coming months to look for signs of the toad in other places across the state.

“It’s my hope that this technique will allow us to find additional populations of the species and use whatever tools are in our toolbelt to protect those populations,” said state herpetologist Scott Buchanan, of the state Department of Environmental Management.

Spotlighting is pretty much what it sounds like. Shine a bright light in an otherwise dark place and look for the reflection of that light in the eyes of whatever animals may be there.

It’s how Anne Devan-Song learned how to search for snakes and frogs in her native Singapore, so it seemed natural to do the same when she came to the University of Rhode Island in 2013 for a master’s degree in biology.

But it wasn’t until a few years later when she was working as a research associate under URI ecologist Nancy Karraker that her use of a headlamp to look for the “eye-shines” of animals started to yield unexpected results. While conducting night surveys for amphibians in Virginia, Devan-Song started finding astounding numbers of eastern spadefoot toads. 

The species isn’t endangered in Virginia, but the accepted wisdom was that toads could only be detected on the few rainy nights a year when they came out to mate in wetlands. A previous researcher years before found only a couple of spadefoots. Yet Devan-Song was spotting big groups of them on dry nights and in places deep within the forest.

“There were hundreds of eye-shines staring back at me,” she said.

Her results were so unexpected because the common belief among scientists was that the toads spent most of their lives in underground burrows hidden from predators. Nobody thought to search for them at night in upland areas.

Even Devan-Song questioned what she was seeing, but she followed her light to every toad she found and identified each one up close. It was a job made easier because spadefoots don’t flee when spotlighted but hunker down in place to try to hide.

She also talked to other experts on the species, and her findings started to make more sense. Spadefoots need to come up to the surface to hunt for insects and build up the energy stores they need for mating.

After returning to Rhode Island, she did some spotlighting for fun and found a spadefoot within 15 minutes of starting one night. She worked with Buchanan to search for the toads using the technique in a more organized way in some of the few places that remain in the state with suitable habitat. Over 10 nights last summer, they detected 42 toads in Westerly and Charlestown, almost equal to the total number of sightings in Rhode Island in the previous 70 years.

So when Devan-Song, now a PhD student at Oregon State University, published her research this month in the Journal of Herpetology, she titled it “Confirmation bias perpetuates century-old ecological misconception: evidence against ‘secretive’ behavior of eastern spadefoots.”

“People assume that they’re underground most of the time,” she said. “The novelty of our research is that you can detect them all year-round.”

It’s too soon to say whether the new technique will lead to a reassessment of the toad’s population in Rhode Island. The discovery of the toads in Westerly was a pleasant surprise. The numbers were robust and follow-up visits have found males and females and all life stages of toads, suggesting that they are breeding.

But even counting the new site, the species has been known to inhabit only half-a-dozen places in the state in recent years, though there is a long-term effort underway to create potential breeding pools for them in Richmond and elsewhere. 

“It is the case that this is an exceedingly rare species in Rhode Island,” Buchanan said. “That has not changed. I don’t expect that to change.”

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Skagit Valley Herald (Mt Vernon, WA)

Climate change may land North Cascades bird on endangered species list

By KIMBERLY CAUVEL, June 15, 2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes listing a bird found in the North Cascades as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to the likelihood that climate change will shrink its high-elevation habitat throughout the state.

The Mount Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan is found in the Cascade Mountains from southern British Columbia to southern Washington. The birds are one of few animals that spend their entire lives on mountaintops, and they move seasonally between snow-covered habitat and summer alpine meadows.

As temperatures continue to warm, the region’s snowpack will decline. Alpine meadows may also be at risk as conditions allow tree lines to climb to higher elevations.

“As the iconic alpine meadows of Washington diminish with climate change, this alpine bird … will be pushed out of the home it is specially adapted to,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Andrew LaValle said.

The state Department of Fish & Wildlife lists the Mount Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan as a species of greatest concern and as highly vulnerable to climate change.

The overall white-tailed ptarmigan species is part of the grouse family, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. There are several subspecies across North America, one of which is the Mount Rainier population.

A State Wildlife Action Plan published in 2015 estimated there could be about 1,000 of the birds in the Cascades.

Despite being named for Mount Rainier, the birds are more common in the North Cascades. According to the 2005 book “Birds of Washington,” the majority of sightings recorded between the 1960s and 1990s were in the North Cascades, and according to newer Fish and Wildlife Service data, 75% of sightings have taken place in the North Cascades.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, white-tailed ptarmigans camouflage with their mountain habitat, with their plumage turning white in winter and brown in summer to blend with snow or rock. Their tail feathers remain white year-round.

During the winter, the birds congregate in areas with soft snow and dig burrows that provide shelter. They migrate to higher elevations in the spring for breeding and nesting, and they go to the highest elevations — where temperatures are coolest and where rocky areas provide shelter — during the summer.

“Every part of this ptarmigan is adapted to help it thrive in a forbiddingly frigid climate, from its feathered, snowshoe-like talons to its seasonally changing plumage to its remarkable metabolic ability to gain body mass even throughout the harsh winters of its home,” a Center for Biological Diversity web page about the subspecies states. “But on a planet with a warming climate, these same adaptations could spell the bird’s doom.”

In 2010, the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species as threatened. The Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012 agreed that the listing might be warranted.

The Center for Biological Diversity is counting the proposed listing, which was filed Tuesday in the Federal Register, as a win, but expressed disappointment in a news release that more steps to protect the birds aren’t being taken.

“These beautiful winter birds are immediately threatened by our warming world,” the center’s Endangered Species Director Noah Greenwald said, also calling the birds “a canary in a coal mine.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service proposal includes rules to protect the birds from types of intentional and unintentional harm, and states that a species recovery plan will be written after the listing becomes official.

The agency is taking public comment, online and by mail, on the proposal through Aug. 16. Comment at regulations.gov or by mail to: Brad Thompson, State Supervisor, Washington Fish and Wildlife Office, 510 Desmond Drive SE, Lacey, 98506.

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NBC News

Gray wolf pups found in Colorado for first time since 1940s

“We welcome this historic den and the new wolf family to Colorado,” Gov. Jared Polis said.

By Hayley Vaughn, June 14, 2021

A litter of gray wolf pups has been spotted in Colorado for the first time in around 80 years, according to state wildlife officials.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife said last week that several staff members have observed at least three pups of the endangered species in June. The parents are believed to be M2101 and F1084, or John and Jane as they’re known by CPW, who were seen with the pups in the area north of Denver.

The gray wolf species was eradicated from Colorado in the 1940s and had not been seen again in the area since Jane arrived in the state in 2019 and John joined her in 2020. Now, the first pup siting marks a major milestone in the reintroduction of the species into the state.

In November, Coloradans voted on a ballot initiative that would require the state to work on a plan to reintroduce, restore and manage gray wolves in Colorado by no later than the end of 2023. With the most recent siting, Colorado officials announced that the restoration effort is well underway.

“Colorado is now home to our first wolf litter since the 1940s,” said Gov. Jared Polis in a statement. “We welcome this historic den and the new wolf family to Colorado. With voter passage last year of the initiative to require re-introduction of the wolf by the end of 2023, these pups will have plenty of potential mates when they grow up to start their own families.”

CPW staff say they will continue to monitor the pups from a safe distance, an estimated two miles from their den.

“Our hope is that we will eventually have photos to document this momentous occasion in Colorado’s incredible and diverse wildlife history, but not bothering them remains a paramount concern,” said CPW biologist Libbie Miller.

In October of 2020 it was announced that the gray wolf would be removed from federal protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) nationwide and the rule has since gone into effect as of January of 2021.

Even with the gray wolf no longer part of the federal list, they are still considered an endangered species by the state of Colorado. Capturing or killing a gray wolf in the state is punishable by a fine of $100,000, jail time and/or loss of hunting license.

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News Channel 8 (Tampa)

Manatees ‘endangered’? Congressman from Tampa Bay urges USFWS to upgrade manatee’s status

by: Daisy Ruth, Posted: June 14, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A U.S. congressman from the Tampa Bay area has called on the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to upgrade the manatee from its current “threatened” status to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.

Preliminary rates from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission indicate that a total of 782 manatees have died so far in 2021, compared to a total of 637 deaths in all of 2020. The five-year average of manatee deaths is 306, according to FWC. 

One are hit particularly hard is Indian River Lagoon, a 150-mile stretch of inland river system that runs partially through Brevard County. According to our sister station, WESH, Brevard County had seen 320 manatee deaths alone as of June 9.

“Manatees are beloved, iconic mammals in Florida,” Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., said. “We should provide these gentle giants with the highest levels of federal protection.”

The species was reclassified from endangered to threated in May 2017 – a move Buchanan opposed.

“In 2016, Buchanan formally objected to the FWS downgrading the manatee’s ESA designation from endangered to threatened, noting that the FWS may have been using outdated data to support the reduction in protection,” a press release from his office said.

8 On Your Side’s Daisy Ruth spoke with Patrick Rose, aquatic biologist and executive director of Save The Manatee Club, in March when the Unusual Mortality Event (UME) of manatees was first reported. 

Rose said the height of the problem stems from a lack of food for the mammals.

“For decades, there have been too many nutrients going into the northern Indian River Lagoon in particular. It finally kicked over to the point where seagrass started dying in large numbers, up to 50-some-thousand some acres,” he said. “It’s a sequence of events where too much nutrients led to harmful algae blooms, which shaded the seagrasses, caused the seagrasses to die, that reduced the forage available for manatees over many different years of decline.”

Save The Manatee Club and the FWC also note that it is illegal to give manatees food, even lettuce. There are different ways for the public to help save these gentle giants here in Florida.

To report a distressed or dead manatee, Floridians and visitors can go online to the FWC website or call 888-404-FWCC. Cell phone users can also call #FWC or *FWC.

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SciTech Daily

California Biodiversity “Hotspots” Threatened – Provide Habitat for Rare and Endangered Species

By SUNY COLLEGE OF ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE AND FORESTRY, JUNE 14, 2021

A study of woodland ecosystems that provide habitat for rare and endangered species along streams and rivers throughout California reveals that some of these ecologically important areas are inadvertently benefitting from water that humans are diverting for their own needs. Though it seems a short-term boon to these ecosystems, the artificial supply creates an unintended dependence on its bounty, threatens the long-term survival of natural communities and spotlights the need for changes in the way water is managed across the state.

“We need to be more intentional in incorporating ecosystem water needs when we manage water — both for aquatic organisms and species on land,” said Melissa Rohde, the lead author of a study published June 14, 2021 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). “These forest ecosystems are in a precarious state because we have disrupted the natural hydrologic processes that these plant species rely upon to support and sustain key life processes.”

In California’s seasonally dry Mediterranean climate, plants and animals are adapted to rely on precipitation and soil moisture recharge during the rainy winter and spring seasons for reproduction and growth during the typically dry summers. Once soil moisture is exhausted, tree species often found in stream corridors such as willows, cottonwoods and oaks, typically use groundwater from deeper depths. However, as Rohde, who led the study as a Ph.D. candidate at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) and scientist with The Nature Conservancy of California, and her colleagues discovered, the story was more complicated.

By analyzing five years of vegetation greenness data from satellite imagery, the researchers found that in some cases, these ecosystems were affected by “subsidies of water” delivered via human regulation of rivers, agricultural canals and discharges from wastewater treatment plants. That discovery, Rohde said, was a “mind bender.” Altered streamside woodlands in the most arid regions of the state stayed greener longer into the dry season and were less responsive to changes in groundwater levels than natural ecosystems.

Many of the most-altered stream ecosystems are in California’s Central Valley, the state’s agricultural hub, which produces a third of the produce for the United States. Since the Gold Rush in the 1850s, the massive human settlement that followed led to clearing of 95 percent of the natural floodplain woodlands across the region. These isolated and restricted riparian — or streamside — forests, now provide important habitat for threatened and endangered species..

As water is rerouted from rivers into canals to accommodate urbanization and the multibillion-dollar agricultural industry, it creates an artificially stable environment for riparian woodland ecosystems and a “live fast, die young” phenomenon favoring fast-growing trees that peak and then decline within a few decades. But other key ecosystem functions, such as the regeneration of new forest stands and their development over time, are being compromised by the extensive alterations to streamflow and to river channels, which are fixed in place and no longer create new floodplain areas where young trees can establish.

“We call these forests the ‘living dead’ because the forest floor is devoid of saplings and younger trees that can replace the mature trees when they die,” Rohde said. This has repercussions related to habitat for endangered species, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and climate change.

Rohde said, “California is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, containing more species than the rest of the United States and Canada combined. In the midst of the sixth mass extinction, the long-term sustainability of California’s river ecosystems and the preservation of the rare and endemic species that live within them now rely on the deliberate, coordinated management of resource and government agencies.” She and TNC will use the insights from the study to provide scientific guidance to California natural resource agencies for sustainably managing groundwater-dependent ecosystems throughout the state.

The research team conducted the PNAS study using publicly available online data and Google Earth Engine, an open-source tool for analyzing data from satellites and other global spatial datasets. “Our methods and findings open up a whole new world of interdisciplinary research possibilities and ways that water practitioners can consider ecosystem water needs to achieve sustainable water management,” Rohde said.

John Stella, an ESF professor and Rohde’s Ph.D. advisor, is the principal investigator on the National Science Foundation grant that funded the study. He said, “This work is groundbreaking because Melissa was able to combine several big datasets in an innovative way to understand how climate and water management interact to put these sensitive ecosystems at risk. Her findings are important for sustainably managing groundwater, not only throughout California, but in water-limited regions worldwide. By creatively harnessing and integrating these large environmental datasets, we can now answer resource management questions at a scale that was previously impossible.”

(Reference: 14 June 2021, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Other collaborators and authors on the paper are Dar Roberts of the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) and Michael Singer, who has an affiliation at UCSB and at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. Stella noted that this study is part of a $2.5 million suite of projects that he and these collaborators at UCSB and Cardiff have currently funded throughout the U.S. Southwest and France to develop water stress indicators for dryland riparian forest ecosystems threatened by climate change and increasing human water demand.)

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Honolulu Civil Beat

Why The Pandemic Made It Harder To Protect Birds From Hawaii’s Feral Cats

Pauses in cat sterilization efforts during the pandemic haven’t seemed to significantly affect populations, but it will be a while before the full impacts of 2020 are clear.

By Claire Caulfield, June 14, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic slowed conservation work across the state, including efforts to trap and sterilize cats that eat endangered birds.

Many conservationists feared there would be a major explosion in the number of cats as a result, posing a big risk to endangered birds, marine animals and even human health.

Although there is no official count of Hawaii’s feral cat population, neither the state, Humane Society or bird conservationists reported a dramatic increase in the population. Partly because of a spike in adoptions, increased pet food donations and because Hawaii’s economy didn’t experience the same long-term impacts that forced many people to abandon their pets after the 2008 financial crisis.

But many endangered species in Hawaii are “hanging on by a thread” and even a slight increase in the feral cat population could push some species to extinction.

“Although we might not yet realize the impact the 2020 hiatus has had — I’m worried,” said Chris Farmer, the Hawaii Program Director at the American Bird Conservancy.

Conservationists in Hawaii regularly hike to remote locations and install predator-proof fences, place game cameras and install traps to protect endangered birds that haven’t evolved to evade human-introduced predators like cats.

During the pandemic Farmer said work on the Big Island has been much slower because forest crews had to travel in separate cars, helicopters and ATVs, meaning fewer people could access remote areas where these birds live. Supply chain delays made it difficult or expensive to acquire essential gear.

Farmer doesn’t doubt that predators slipped through defenses during this time, which could impact the survival of entire species.

“We’re talking about species where they’re 100 or 1,000 individuals,” he said. “These are birds on the brink of extinction and it takes the dedicated efforts of dozens of people to allow them to recover.”

Cats are one of the top predators that contribute to biodiversity loss worldwide. Cat poop spreads a dangerous parasite throughout the watershed and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural resources considers feral and free-roaming cats a “top concern.”

A study found that in two years cats killed more than 250 native birds at Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge. Cats have contributed to the extinction of 63 species, including the Lanai Hookbill and Hawaiian Rail and have been found killing endangered seabirds in extremely remote locations.

Alex Dutcher, lead biologist and co-owner of Hallux Ecosystem Restoration, a company that manages predators like cats and rats in remote areas of Kauai, said that she’s seen first-hand how a single cat can have “devastating effects” on seabird colonies.

Hallux Ecosystem Restoration employees were considered essential workers, and much of their work is done outdoors so they were able to continue their work monitoring trail cameras and trapping and euthanizing cats that kill native birds throughout the pandemic.

Dutcher and co-owner Kyle Pias both have pet cats and stress the animals they’re targeting are feral animals in remote areas, not pets.

“They’ve never seen people before,” Dutcher said. “If we did interact with a cat that showed any semblance of friendliness … we would bring it down to the Humane Society but that has not happened so far.”

Last year a single cat killed 12 Newell’s Shearwaters, or aos, a critically endangered seabird endemic to Hawaii that nests on steep mountain slopes. The bird doesn’t breed until it’s 6 or 7 years old, so the loss of a single adult is impactful.

“It was devastating,” Pias said.

Cats also kill native species indirectly by excreting a deadly parasite called toxoplasma gondii. The parasite is only able to reproduce inside of a cat’s digestive tract, making cats a definitive host.

Toxoplasma gondii is one of the top killers of the Hawaiian goose, or nene, and has been found in other species like the Hawaii crow and red-footed booby. Marine animals like the endangered Hawaiian monk seal have also been killed by the parasite.

A recent study found that more than 40% of chickens on Kauai carry toxoplasma gondii, raising alarms about the prevalence of the parasite throughout the watershed.

Toxoplasma gondii can also impact humans, and infections can cause anything from flu-like symptoms to blindness and miscarriage.

“There is a real concern about both human and wildlife health impacts based on cats living in the wild,” said David Smith, who leads DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

The Hawaiian Humane Society hopes to decrease the feral cat population over time by trapping, sterilizing and releasing cats.

But it had to pause its trap-neuter-release program between March and June of 2020 to put in place new safety protocols and get supplies like face masks for veterinarians and volunteers.

According to Daniel Roselle, director of community relations for the Hawaiian Humane Society, the organization sterilized about 1,500 cats in fiscal year 2020. But it’s completed more than 5,000 sterilizations in fiscal year 2021, which is even up from the 2,800 cats sterilized in 2019.

“Our spay-neuter numbers have basically doubled in fiscal year 2021,” Roselle said.

He attributes the increase to the Humane Society’s new facility and the City and County of Honolulu eliminating sterilization fees. “And there was such a demand for adoption across all islands that we were firing on all cylinders to process adoptions.”

The Humane Society also gave away 61,000 pounds of pet food, allowing many people to keep pets in their homes instead of relinquishing them to the Humane Society or releasing them in the wild.

“We were really concerned but it’s been amazing how the community has really stepped up,” Roselle said, adding that cat owners can further help out by keeping their pet indoors.

“Cats are safer and healthier living inside the home,” he said. “It’s not a question of judgment but there’s risk of disease, risk of injury from cars … and we agree with conservationists that it’s not good for the environment.”

Debating Approaches

While DLNR also stresses the importance of keeping pet cats indoors, the department and many conservationists don’t support releasing cats back into the wild after sterilization.

“We don’t think that that’s a good animal management situation,” DLNR’s Smith said, citing research that programs to trap, neuter and release animals do not decrease feral cat populations. The department also tries to discourage people from leaving food out for free-roaming cats, especially on public lands or near wildlife sanctuaries. “My motto has always been: if you want this cat, great. Take it home.”

Unlike mongooses and rats, which are rarely kept as pets and are therefore euthanized without controversy — or stray dogs, which pose a more obvious public health threat and are therefore strongly regulated — Hawaii’s feral cat populations inspire heated debate.

“This problem wasn’t created overnight and it won’t be solved overnight,” said Roselle. “While we may not all agree on the solution, we definitely agree that we need to work together.”

Conservationists point to the Lanai Cat Sanctuary as a kill-free option that protects native wildlife while providing medical care and socialization to cats. But efforts to open sanctuaries on other islands have stalled due to lack of funds and difficulty finding a suitable location.

“We’re not blaming cats for what they do, but we have to recognize the harms that they cause in the environment and that they’ve been introduced by people,” said Grant Sizemore, director of invasive species programs at the American Bird Conservancy.

“We’re not talking about the extinction of cats, we’re talking about protecting life found nowhere else in the world. And once they’re gone, they’re gone forever,” he said. “You can either have cats roaming the Hawaiian landscape or we can have native birds, but unfortunately we can’t have both.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Arizona Plant Threatened by Rosemont Copper Mine Receives Endangered Species Protection

Beardless Chinchweed Gains 10,600 Acres of Protected Habitat

TUSCON, Ariz.—(June 14, 2021) Following a petition and lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the beardless chinchweed will receive protection as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Service designated 10,604 acres in Pima, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties in Arizona as protected critical habitat for the rare sunflower.

Beardless chinchweed is one of a dozen imperiled animals and plants threatened by the proposed Rosemont copper mine near Tucson, which would impact more than 145,000 acres of wildlife habitat.

“This fragile, dainty sunflower lends color to southern Arizona’s native grasslands and supports pollinating insects, so federal safeguards are very important,” said Michael Robinson at the Center. “Like other imperiled species living in the Santa Rita Mountains threatened by the proposed Rosemont mine, the chinchweed wouldn’t stand a chance without these Endangered Species Act protections.”

Beardless chinchweed is a tall, yellow flower whose six remaining populations occupy less than five acres. Some partially extend into the footprint of the proposed Rosemont mine and would be crushed by mining activities. Historically there were 21 populations known in Arizona and Mexico. The plant was last reported in Mexico in 1940.

The remaining populations in southern Arizona are now known across four mountain ranges: the Atascosa-Pajarito, Huachuca, Santa Rita and Canelo Hills. Five of those populations each include fewer than 50 plants. Just 992 individual beardless chinchweed plants occur in total.

The chinchweed was first identified as a candidate for federal listing in 1980. The Center filed a scientific petition to protect it in 2010. In addition to mining, the chinchweed is threatened by livestock grazing, the proliferation of nonnative plants, and the global climate emergency. This week’s extreme heatwave in southern Arizona and the associated long-term drought bode poorly for the chinchweed.

In 2016 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a workplan to address a backlog of more than 500 species awaiting protection decisions, but the Trump administration kept the agency from completing decisions for dozens of species every year of Trump’s tenure.

The Center sued the Trump administration in 2020 for failing to decide whether 241 plants and animals across the country should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit, filed in district court in Washington, D.C., is one of the largest ever under the Act.

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Study Finds

One of world’s most endangered whales species is getting smaller, scientists say

JUNE 13, 2021 by Study Finds

LA JOLLA, Calif. — One of the world’s most endangered species of whales has gotten notably smaller in recent years, reveals a new study. North Atlantic right whales have reduced in size by about a meter since the 1980s, say scientists.

Whales are largely protected from being hunted by man, but many populations’ numbers still remain far below what they once were. The new study, published in the journal Current Biology, suggests that, in addition to smaller population sizes, those whales that survive are struggling. As evidence, they found that right whales living in the North Atlantic today are “significantly shorter” than those born 30 to 40 years ago.

“On average, a whale born today is expected to reach a total length about a meter shorter than a whale born in 1980,” says Dr. Joshua Stewart, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in a statement.

He notes that represents an average decline in length of about seven percent, adding: “But that’s just the average — there are also some extreme cases where young whales are several meters shorter than expected. Major impacts on life history like this have been documented in heavily exploited commercial species, especially fish, but to our knowledge this is the first time these kinds of impacts are being recorded in a large mammal.”

Dr. Stewart and his colleagues wanted to document the challenges faced by right whales as indicated by changes in their life history characteristics, including size. Using aerial photogrammetry measurements collected from aircraft and remotely operated drones over a 20-year period, they looked for any changes in the body lengths of right whales.

“We were able to build on our previous work that used conventional aircraft in the early 2000s by adopting new drone technology to extend the time series in recent years,” explains Dr. John Durban, formerly with the NOAA, but now a Oregon State University. “In both cases, we were able to measure whales by flying a camera high above them, essentially giving them a health check without them knowing we were there.”

The researchers say that the whales were an “ideal” case study because they’ve been monitored consistently since the 1980s, with individual-level information on age and size and detailed records of attached-gear entanglements. The intensive monitoring made it possible to begin to evaluate the effects that severe and prolonged entanglements may have on the long-term fitness of individuals, as well as the potential effects of other stress factors such as vessel noise, ship strikes, and shifting prey availability.

“Fishing gear entanglements in this population are unfortunately fairly common, and entanglements resulting in attached gear and severe injuries have been generally increasing over the past several decades,” says Stewart. “Previous studies have shown that the increased drag from entangling gear requires right whales to spend a lot of extra energy just to go about their normal activities, and that is energy they might otherwise spend on growth or reproduction. In some cases, entanglements can be lethal, but it turns out that even sub-lethal entanglements can have lasting impacts on right whales.”

The data collected shows that serious entanglements in fishing gear are one stressor associated with shorter whales. Dr. Stewart suggests that the stunted growth may lead to reduced reproductive success and a greater likelihood of life-threatening gear entanglements. And he believes the findings in right whales may have implications for other species of large whales around the world.

“The smaller you are, the less energetic reserves you have, and the harder it might be to survive a serious entanglement or sustained food shortage,” he says. “So it’s possible that these life history changes could translate into population viability impacts. But this really makes me wonder about how large whales worldwide are being impacted by entanglements. This is by no means a problem unique to right whales – entanglements are a major threat for whales, marine mammals, and other marine species worldwide.

“Because North Atlantic right whales have this incredibly detailed dataset with known ages, sizes, entanglement histories, and so forth, we could directly examine how these impacts are affecting growth rates,” he continues. “My guess is that many other species are being similarly affected, but we just don’t have the ability to detect it in less well-studied populations.”

Based on their findings, the researchers call for stronger action to reduce the impacts of fishing gear and vessel operations.

“Implementing proven solutions such as reduced vessel speeds, lower breaking strength ropes, and ropeless fishing gear more broadly throughout their range are critical and urgent steps needed to stave off the extinction of this species,” adds study co-author Amy Knowlton, of the New England Aquarium.

Now the researchers plan to explore whether shorter female whales do indeed have fewer offspring.

(SWNS writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.)

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CNN

Scientists say 90% of the world’s open-ocean sharks died off in mystery extinction event 19 million years ago

By Alaa Elassar, CNN, June 13, 2021

About 19 million years ago, roughly 90% of the world’s open-ocean sharks died off, and scientists don’t know why.

The recent discovery left researchers stunned, unable to explain the immense loss or the reason behind the deaths of one of the ocean’s most powerful predators.

It began when scientist Elizabeth Sibert and her team were trying to learn more about the fish and shark abundance over the last 80 million years, according to a study released on June 3.

“We stumbled into this thing completely by accident because what we saw was everything was pretty stable until about 20 million years when sharks dropped off in abundance by over 90%,” Sibert, an oceanographer and paleontologist at Yale University, told CNN. “We found that sharks were doing incredibly well in the open ocean until this one moment in time when they virtually disappeared. We had no idea because no one had ever looked.”

At the time, there were 10 times more sharks swimming throughout the world’s oceans than we see today. The loss was also double the number of sharks that went extinct during the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction 66 million years ago “that wiped out three-quarters of the plant and animal species on Earth,” according to the study’s news release.

“We really, truly don’t know anything,” Sibert said. “This particular interval in Earth’s history isn’t all that well preserved in the deep sea sediments we look at. It’s hard to find suitable locations to do additional studies.”

Sibert and her team have few theories.

Since sharks are intimately tied to the environment they live in, it is likely there was an intense environmental change that wiped out millions of the species. It is unlikely the loss can be attributed to another predator unless it is one that has no existing fossil record.

“It’s possible something big happened, but whatever it was it was very rapid,” Sibert said. “The Earth’s system was able to correct it, but these big predators, these sharks that were living in the open ocean, must have been very susceptible to this rapid environmental change. But this is still just a hypothesis.”

The researchers do not know how much time it took to eradicate the sharks. It could have taken place in a single day, or maybe 50 years, or even 100,000 years, according to Sibert.

Since the sharks lived so deep in the ocean and far from land, and as the deep sea doesn’t preserve bodies in a way that can be lifted and exposed on land, the samples scientists found uncovered organisms they have never seen before.

While the fossils found confirmed it was sharks, the researchers have no way of knowing what the sharks looked like.

“Like most research endeavors, this first paper offers more questions than it can answer, and we plan on investigating the breadth of data denticles (v-shaped scales) offer through a varied set of lenses, from hydrodynamics to ecology,” said Leah Rubin, co-author of the study.

“The current state of declining shark populations is certainly cause for concern,” she said, “and this paper helps put these declines in the context of shark populations through the last 40 million years. This context is a vital first step in understanding what repercussions may follow dramatic declines in these top marine predators in modern times.”

The discovery has left researchers with many unanswered questions: Did this phenomonen impact other sharks in other parts of the ocean at the same moment? Did it impact other creatures living in the ocean or on land?

Most importantly, what exactly happened?

“We hope our study will spark interest in the rest of the scientific community to dig into this time interval,” Sibert said. “Something really big must have happened because it impacted this really incredible group of organisms that have been around and frankly surviving major global change for the past 400 millions years.”

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University of Washington (Seattle)

Endangered blue whales recorded off southwest coast of India

Hannah Hickey, UW News, June 9, 2021

Research from the University of Washington shows that endangered blue whales are present and singing off the southwest coast of India. The results suggest that conservation measures should include this region, which is considering expanding tourism.

Analysis of recordings from late 2018 to early 2020 in Lakshadweep, an archipelago of 36 low-lying islands west of the Indian state of Kerala, detected whales with a peak activity in April and May.

The study was published in May in the journal Marine Mammal Science.

“The presence of blue whales in Indian waters is well known from several strandings and some live sightings of blue whales,” said lead author Divya Panicker, a UW doctoral student in oceanography. “But basic questions such as where blue whales are found, what songs do they sing, what do they eat, how long do they spend in Indian waters and in what seasons are still largely a mystery.”

Answers to those questions will be important for the region, which is also experiencing effects of climate change.

“This study provides conclusive evidence for the persistent occurrence of blue whales in Lakshadweep,” Panicker said. “It is critical to answer these questions to draw up science-based management and conservation plans here.”

While enormous blue whales feed in the waters around Antarctica, smaller pygmy blue whale populations are known to inhabit the Indian Ocean, the third-largest ocean in the world.

In previous preliminary research, Panicker — who grew up in Cochin, India — talked to local fishers who reported seeing whale blows during the spring months.

But since whales surface only occasionally and sound waves travel well in water, the best way to study whales is the same way they communicate.

The typical blue whale song is a series of one to six low moans, each up to 20 seconds long, below the threshold of human hearing. The pattern and number of moans varies for different populations. Songs provide insights into this poorly studied population; a possible new song was recently reported in the central Indian Ocean and off the coasts of Madagascar and Oman.

For the new study, scuba divers placed underwater microphones at two ends of Kavaratti Island. Other studies in nearby waters suggested that the presence of blue whales would be seasonal, and recordings confirmed their presence between the winter and summer monsoons.

“Our study extends the known range of this song type a further 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) northwest of Sri Lanka,” Panicker said. “Our study provides the first evidence for northern Indian Ocean blue whale songs in Indian waters.”

The researchers believe that the whales are likely resident to the northern Indian Ocean, and come to the Lakshadweep atoll seasonally.

“The Indian Ocean is clearly important habitat for blue whales — an endangered species that is only very slowly recovering from 20th-century commercial and illegal whaling, especially in the Indian Ocean,” said senior author Kate Stafford, an oceanographer at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory.

Future work by another UW research group will use recordings of blue whales in the Indian Ocean to calculate their historic numbers and better understand how historic whaling affected different populations in this region.

This research was funded by the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research through its Marine Mammal and Biology Program.

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New York Post

Scientists saving endangered salmon get help from gene-slicing tool

By Associated Press, June 8, 2021

ANTIOCH, California, June 7 – A gene-editing tool that has led to new cancer therapies and a rapid test for COVID-19 is now helping scientists find endangered species of salmon in the San Francisco Bay.

The CRISPR-based Sherlock tool can identify four types of Chinook salmon, including Sacramento winter-run and Central Valley spring-run, which are both protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“The Chinook are a great fit actually because all of the runs, more or less, look the same,” said Andrea Schreier, an adjunct associate professor at the University of California Davis and coauthor of a study published last year in Molecular Ecology Resources that examined using this genetic identification on the endangered Delta smelt.

“They’re visually very similar and the current method we have to identify the different types is based on what length they are at a particular age and it’s not very accurate.”

Sherlock, which stands for Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter Unlocking, identifies the fish using their genomic sequence. Researchers begin by taking swabs of mucus from the fish and combining with reagents that will glow if certain snippets of DNA are present. The battery-powered fluorescent reader gives results in 30 minutes, ideal for field research.

By identifying the species, researchers believe they can better monitor population sizes and habitats.

With extreme drought gripping California, some rivers are too warm for the salmon to survive, forcing the state to truck 17 million young fish to the San Francisco Bay from hatcheries.

Emily Funk, an associate specialist who joined the team in July 2020, said the conservation angle drew her to the project.

“I think it’s important to preserve our ecosystems,” she said. “I hope we can save the fish in our oceans.”

Melinda Baerwald, an environmental program manager with the California Department of Water Resources and coauthor of the study, plans to deploy the technology at water pumping stations, which can impact endangered species.

“You don’t have to wait for weeks or in some cases months to find out the answer to if you’re impacting an endangered or threatened species,” she said, adding that they currently have to drive an hour and a half to a lab to confirm the identity of a species. “Instead, you can find out at the moment that you’re actually interacting with that species if you are affecting it.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

North Carolina Catfish, Salamander Protected Under Endangered Species Act

Carolina Madtom, Neuse River Waterdog Gain 1,036 Miles of Protected Habitat

ASHEVILLE, N.C.—June 8, 2021—Following a petition and lawsuits from the Center for Biological Diversity spanning a decade, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today finalized protection for the Carolina madtom catfish and Neuse River waterdog salamander under the Endangered Species Act.

“The Endangered Species Act is the most effective tool available to save plants and animals from extinction, so it’s good news that these special North Carolina creek critters now have the habitat safeguards they need to survive,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center.

The Carolina madtom, a small catfish from the Tar River basin, will be listed as endangered. More than 80% of the streams where it was once found are so degraded that the fish has already vanished from them or is not expected to persist.

The Neuse River waterdog, an aquatic salamander found only in the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico river basins, has been eliminated from 35% of its range. An additional 25% of its historical streams are in such poor condition that the waterdog is unlikely to survive there. The salamander will be listed as threatened with a “4(d) rule” that allows ongoing logging in its habitat if certain management practices are followed to protect streams from sediment pollution.

“Protecting streams and rivers for small fish and salamanders also helps protect the healthy water quality that people need for drinking water and recreation,” said Curry.

The Center and allies petitioned for protection of both species under the Act in 2010.

Both species are threatened by water pollution and by sediment that fills in spaces between and under rocks, which the animals need for nest sites and to hunt bottom-dwelling insects like mayfly and dragonfly larvae. Water pollution from development, logging and factory farms has contributed to range losses for both species.

Protected critical habitat for the Neuse River waterdog includes 779 river miles in Craven, Durham, Edgecombe, Franklin, Granville, Greene, Halifax, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, Nash, Orange, Person, Pitt, Wake, Warren, Wayne and Wilson counties.

Protected critical habitat for the Carolina madtom includes 257 river miles in Durham, Edgecombe, Franklin, Granville, Halifax, Johnston, Jones, Nash, Orange, Vance, Warren and Wilson counties.

The Carolina madtom is a stocky fish with three dark, saddle-shaped patches along its back and a black stripe along its side. Its scientific name, Noturus furiosus, translates to the “furious madtom” for the powerful sting its pectoral spines deliver to would-be predators. Madtoms are among the most ferociously armed catfish in North America.

The Neuse River waterdog is spotted with red, flame-like gills and can grow up to 9 inches long. It has a voracious appetite, and both parents actively guard their nests.

The Center is working to gain protection for hundreds of freshwater animals in the southeastern United States. The region is home to more species of salamanders, crayfish and freshwater mussels than anywhere else in the world, but many of them are at risk of extinction.

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Daily Mail

Great apes may lose 94 per cent of their habitat in Africa by 2050

Ian Randall For Mailonline, June 7, 2021

A ‘perfect storm’ of climate change, habitat loss and human population growth could cause great apes in Africa to lose up to 94 per cent of their homelands by 2050.

Researchers led from Liverpool John Moores University modelled how the apes will fair under both a business-as-usual and an optimistic, conservation-driven scenario.

Even if steps are taken to protect the primates, the team found that their habitat ranges will likely shrink by 84 per cent on top of the losses already experienced.

Great apes like gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos are already either endangered or critically endangered — but the changes they will face are ‘really bad’, the team said.

In fact, half of the habitat losses projected by the researcher’s models will occur in protected areas like national parks.

‘It’s a perfect storm for many of our closest genetic relatives, many of which are flagship species for conservation efforts within Africa and worldwide,’ primate ecologist Joana Carvalho of the Liverpool John Moores University told the Guardian.

‘If we add climate change to the current causes of territory loss, the picture looks devastating,’ she added.

In their study, Dr Carvalho and colleagues analysed data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on ape populations, threats and conservation actions at hundreds of different sites across Africa over two decades.

They then modelled the likely future impacts of global warming, habitat destruction and the impacts of humanity on ape populations under two scenarios — one where action is taken to protect apes from these influences, and one where such is not.

According to Dr Carvalho, the model comes with inherent uncertainties — but, she told the Guardian, ‘there is going to be change and not for the best. Even the ranges we see at the moment are much smaller than they have been.’

The researchers noted that the climate crisis will make many lowlands, the preferred habitats of most great ape species, drier, hotter and less hospitable.

As a result of this, great apes will likely end up preferring to migrate into upland areas, at least, where such are available.

Climate change, paper author and biologist Fiona Maisels of the Wildlife Conservation Society told the Guardian, will force ‘the different types of vegetation to essentially shift uphill.’

This, she added, ‘means that all animals — not only great apes — that depend on particular habitat types will be forced to move uphill or become locally extinct.’

‘But when the hills are low, many species will not be able to go higher than the land allows, and huge numbers of animals and plants will simply vanish.’

Compared to many other species, great apes are poor at migrating, as they have specific diets, low population densities and they reproduce slowly.

Because of this, Dr Carvalho told the Guardian, many of their species may not be able to adapt in time to their changing circumstances.

The team’s model found that projected range losses were not much better under the scenario where efforts were made to combat climate change, habitat loss and other human-driven influences on the apes.

Specifically, this still resulted in an 85 per cent loss in habitat extent, compared to 94 per cent under a ‘business as usual scenario’.

‘What is predicted is really bad,’ Dr Carvalho told the Guardian.

According to the researchers, the key to combatting range loss among the great apes going forward is to enable migration by creating links between places in which apes live — alongside creating new protected areas into which they can move.

As an example of quality conservation work already being undertaken, the team pointed to efforts in Gabon, central Africa, where farming, mining and road/rail construction is being focussed on already degraded areas, rather than intact forests.

However, the experts said, the greatest protection for the great apes might well come in the form of consumers from wealthy country demanding sustainably produced goods.

At present, the mining, palm oil and timber industries are among the greatest threats to great ape populations.

‘There must be global responsibility for stopping the decline of great apes,’ paper author and primate conservationist Hjalmar Kühl of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Leipzig told the Guardian.

‘All nations benefiting from these resources have a responsibility to ensure a better future for great apes, their habitats and the people living there.’

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Diversity and Distributions. 

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CBC News/British Columbia

Critics say B.C. old growth blockades underscore failure to deliver endangered species law

B.C. NDP campaigned in 2017 to enact a stand-alone law to protect 1,800 species in decline in province

Chad Pawson, CBC News. June 06, 2021

The discovery of a threatened species in the forest at the heart of the province’s latest logging conflict has critics calling out the B.C. NDP for not delivering on a 2017 campaign promise to enact provincial laws to protect animals at risk.

This spring, people on Vancouver Island found Western screech owls, a threatened species in B.C., near Cowichan Lake where protesters have been blocking logging activities to protect old growth trees.

Conservationists called on the province to take action to protect the birds by pausing logging activities in the area until the breeding season is over. The birds are known for their distinctive trills and hoots that speed up and sound like a bouncing ball.

Critics say a provincial endangered species act would give the animal’s survival prominence over industrial activities.

B.C. does have some policies, such as the Wildlife Act, to protect species that are threatened. But B.C. doesn’t have specific laws like most other provinces have, which include binding measures such as habitat protection or rehabilitation.

For example, current B.C. laws might protect trees from being cut down where a Western screech owl is nesting, but logging can still be permitted in and around the birds. Scientists say that’s not enough to keep the birds from being negatively affected.

At times the federal government has stepped in to invoke the federal Species at Risk Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act, like it did recently to protect hummingbird nests in Burnaby from being threatened by construction around the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Tara Martin, a UBC professor and conservation scientist, says B.C. has more species at risk than any other province and needs its own laws to adequately ensure their survival.

“We have 1,800 species in decline and the government was elected on a mandate to develop and implement a made-in-B.C. species legislation,” she said.

“Sadly, it’s failed to follow through on that.”

In 2017, the BC NDP said in its platform it would “bring in an endangered species law and harmonize other laws to ensure they are all working towards the goal of protecting our beautiful province.”

The province did begin a process to enact a law, which included input from scientists like Martin, but she said it eventually fizzled out due to pressure from industry.

“It really fell apart for one key reason, and that was a backlash from the forestry sector about protection of old growth forests for southern mountain caribou,” she said.

Sonia Furstenau, leader of the B.C. Green Party and the MLA for the Cowichan Valley, helped her party draft and table an endangered species act two months before the NDP was elected as a minority government in 2017 and gained support from her party.   

She says the anticipation of having the government pass its own law dissipated when it became clear it wasn’t a priority.

“It’s really disheartening to see yet another thing that this government promised fall off the edge of the table and be ignored,” Furstenau said.

Protecting land

In a statement, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy said protecting species at risk continues to be a priority, but did not say when legislation might come.

Instead it outlined consultation efforts made across the province through to 2018 around the protection and management of endangered species.

The ministry said B.C. has worked to protect land and leads the country with the highest percentage of protected areas, many of which are home to species at risk.

It also said that it will work with Indigenous communities and the federal government “to develop broader provincial approaches and policy tools to achieve positive outcomes for biodiversity and species recovery.”

“This will include consideration of legislative options,” the ministry said.

‘Broken promise’

Meanwhile, conservationists like the Wilderness Committee’s Charlotte Dawe say the discovery of Western screech owls in the area to be logged is an opportunity for the province to move faster on its promise from 2017.

“[John Horgan] promised us a law,” she said. “He got voted in on that law, he campaigned on it and it’s another broken promise. He doesn’t seem to understand the severity of the biodiversity crisis at all.”

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Newsweek

Seabirds Abandon Some 2,000 Eggs After Illegal Drone Crashes in Nesting Grounds

Caroline Tien, June 4, 2021

Despite its popularity, drone flight can have devastating consequences for bird life, as recent events in the Southern California city of Huntington Beach show.

On May 13, two of the aircraft were illegally flown over the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, a local estuary that plays host to thousands of breeding pairs of elegant terns every spring. Elegant terns, which spend their winters in South America and their summers on the West Coast of the U.S., bear a faint resemblance to seagulls and feed mainly on small fish. Unlike seagulls, however, they are considered vulnerable because they have few known nesting sites, according to the Audubon Society.

One of the drones malfunctioned and went down on the biggest nesting island in the reserve, spooking the adult birds present. Fearing attack by a predator or predators, every single one of them apparently fled the area, deserting their nests and the eggs within.

In total, an estimated 2,000 eggs were abandoned, according to The Orange County Register. Right now, the sand should be dotted with fluffy white hatchlings. Instead, it’s littered with shards of speckled shell.

The incident represents the largest-scale egg abandonment event that veteran employee Peter Knapp has seen in his 20 years of monitoring threatened and endangered species in the reserve, Melissa Loebl, an environmental scientist and the reserve’s manager, told the Register.

“In my career, I have never seen such devastation, so that was really hard,” Loebl said, according to ABC 7.

The other drone eventually crashed as well, scaring off another colony of elegant terns in the reserve. However, those birds eventually returned to their nests, according to the Register.

Drone operators are drawn to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve because the reserve’s elegant tern nesting sites are highly visible, Nick Molsberry, a warden for the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the Register.

“It’s ironic,” he said. “Drone owners are attracted by the nesting colonies of birds, and then their actions destroy it.”

The first drone remains on the nesting island, though Molsberry said he plans to examine the device’s memory card to see if he can figure out who it belongs to. The second was eventually claimed by someone who contacted the Department of Fish and Wildlife regarding its whereabouts, earning a citation for their trouble.

In addition to drones, elegant terns that nest in the reserve face threats from bicycles and dogs, particularly off-leash dogs, according to the Register.

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CNN

Biden administration plans to undo Trump-era curbs to Endangered Species Act protections

By Liz Stark, CNN,  June 4, 2021

(CNN)The Biden administration announced on Friday plans to review and revise a handful of Trump-era regulations that critics feared rolled back protections for endangered and threatened species.

The reviews, conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, are being cheered by environmental groups, which said the Trump administration rules would have allowed for more oil and gas drilling and limited how much regulators consider the impacts of the climate crisis, in addition to weakening protections on endangered species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which the National Marine Fisheries Service is a part of, said in Friday’s announcement that they will target five specific regulations, and their plan includes recommendations to rescind certain critical habitat regulations, as well as to reinstate some protections for species listed as “threatened” under the act.

The recommendations “will undergo a rigorous and transparent rulemaking process,” according to the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to working with diverse federal, Tribal, state and industry partners to not only protect and recover America’s imperiled wildlife but to ensure cornerstone laws like the Endangered Species Act are helping us meet 21st century challenges,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams in a statement. “We look forward to continuing these conservation collaborations and to ensuring our efforts are fully transparent and inclusive.”

Several environmental groups — some of which had sued the Trump administration over its changes to the Endangered Species Act’s implementation — praised Friday’s announcement as a step in the right direction but cautioned that urgent action is needed.

“We are currently in the midst of an unprecedented global extinction crisis, and endangered species have no time to waste,” the environmental group Earthjustice said in a statement. “We are grateful the Biden administration is moving to protect the most imperiled species by reversing the Trump-era rules, but time is of the essence. Each day that goes by is another day that puts our imperiled species and their habitats in danger.”

Rebecca Riley, managing director of the Nature Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, also said in a statement Friday: “The Services’ proposal reflects a clear change in direction from the previous administration. If finalized, the changes will mean stronger protections for species and their habitats at a time when habitat destruction, exploitation, and climate change threaten their existence more than ever.”

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Reuters

U.S. moves to restore endangered species protections weakened under Trump

June 4, 2021

U.S. officials on Friday announced plans to restore protections for endangered species that were weakened under the Trump administration.

In a statement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service said they would initiate processes in the coming months “to revise, rescind or reinstate” five Endangered Species Act regulations that were finalized under former President Donald Trump.

The move is the latest by the administration of President Joe Biden to reverse business-friendly Trump policies that loosened environmental regulations.

But changes to federal rules must undergo a public rulemaking process that can take months or years.

Environmentalists applauded the move but implored the administration to move quickly.

“We are currently in the midst of an unprecedented global extinction crisis, and endangered species have no time to waste,” environmental group Earthjustice, which sued to block the Trump-era rule revisions, said in a statement.

Changes implemented under Trump ended a practice that automatically conveyed the same protections for threatened species as for endangered species, and struck language that guides officials to ignore economic impacts of how animals should be safeguarded.

The 1970s-era Endangered Species Act is credited with bringing back from the brink of extinction animals such as bald eagles, gray whales and grizzly bears, but the law has long been a source of frustration for drilling, mining and other industries because listings can put vast areas of land off-limits to development.

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CNN

Right whales are smaller than they used to be, in part due to commercial fishing and changing oceans, study says

By Lauren M. Johnson, CNN, June 4, 2021

Scientists have found that, even though right whales are protected from direct catch, they are significantly shorter compared to 40 years ago due in part to commercial fishing, according to a new study.

The study — written by Joshua Stewart of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and his colleagues at the New England Aquarium, Oregon State University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution — documents the challenges faced by right whales as indicated by changes in their life history characteristics, including size, according to a news release.

“On average, a whale born today is expected to reach a total length about a meter shorter than a whale born in 1980,” Stewart said. “That represents an average decline in length of about 7%. But that’s just the average — there are also some extreme cases where young whales are several meters shorter than expected.”

The whales were an ideal case study because they’ve been monitored consistently since the 1980s, with individual-level information on age and size and detailed records of attached-gear entanglements, the release said.

“Major impacts on life history like this have been documented in heavily exploited commercial species, especially fishes, but to our knowledge this is the first time these kinds of impacts are being recorded in a large mammal,” Stewart said.

The researchers used aerial photogrammetry measurements collected from crewed aircraft and remotely operated drones over a 20-year period to look for changes in the whales’ body lengths. Besides the smaller sizes, researchers found that right whale populations are struggling to survive.

John Durban, from Oregon State University, said the researchers were able to build on their previous work that used conventional aircraft in the early 2000s by adopting new drone technology to extend the time series.

“In both cases, we were able to measure whales by flying a camera high above them, essentially giving them a health check without them knowing we were there,” he said.

The monitoring made it possible to see what effects severe and prolonged entanglements in nets and other fishing equipment had on the fitness of the right whales long term, as well as other environmental factors such as ship strikes and shifts in their food source.

“Previous studies have shown that the increased drag from entangling gear requires right whales to spend a lot of extra energy just to go about their normal activities, and that is energy they might otherwise spend on growth or reproduction,” Stewart said. “In some cases, entanglements can be lethal, but it turns out that even sub-lethal entanglements can have lasting impacts on right whales.”

The study found that the smaller the whale, the more likely an entanglement will become lethal, because the energy stored in the animal will be smaller. Based on the findings, the researchers call for stronger management actions to reduce the impacts of fishing gear and vessel operations.

The researchers also plan to study female right whales and see if reproduction is a negative factor to decreased size.

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Newsweek

Sri Lanka Disaster Could be Devastating for Endangered Turtles, Migratory Whales

Aila Slisco, June 4, 2021

Environmental experts are concerned that the sinking of a cargo ship off the coast of Sri Lanka on Wednesday could spell devastation for local wildlife including migratory whales and sea turtles.

The X-Press Pearl, which was carrying a large amount of harmful cargo including nitric acid and plastic, began to sink while it was being towed not long after a fire that had been burning for 12 days was finally extinguished. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told Newsweek on Thursday that pollution from the plastic in particular, tiny pellets known as “nurdles” that are the raw material used to produce plastic products, would “have immediate and long-term effects” on the local ecosystem.

“WWF is deeply concerned by the disastrous fire on a vessel that has swamped Sri Lanka’s coast with plastic pellets and caused one of the country’s worst marine disasters in history,” WWF said in a statement. “The container ship was transporting chemicals and the raw materials for plastic production. This tragic incident – inundating beaches on the west coast of Sri Lanka with tonnes of microplastics – will have immediate and long-term effects on this coastal ecosystem, as well as on local communities and businesses that depend on the ocean for their livelihoods.”

“Plastic pollution is a severe threat to critical ecological resources, including coral reefs, fish, and other coastal and marine life of Sri Lanka,” WWF continued. “Southern Sri Lanka has beaches and seagrass beds that are important nesting rookeries for marine turtles, and the area is home to migratory whales, all of which could be affected by toxic chemicals in the water or on the plastic nurdles.”

The waters surrounding Sri Lanka are a rich habitat for wildlife that could be seriously impacted by the incident, including blue whales, sperm whales, dolphins and sea turtles. A large variety of bird species and five of the planet’s eight species of sea turtles, including the enormous leatherback, are regular visitors to the island nation’s beaches. The disaster has already done significant damage, with a number of dead sea turtles, fish and birds reportedly spotted along the nurdle-covered southern coast of Sri Lanka.

The nurdles that are currently covering Sri Lankan beaches come from at least three tons believed to have leaked into the ocean from a total of over 85 tons that were onboard the Singapore-bound ship. A ship manifest shows that the X-Press Pearl was carrying at least 81 containers that were marked as “dangerous,” including the nurdles, 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals, according to the Associated Press.

WWF is calling for a legally binding treaty aimed at stopping plastic pollution. The organization says that plastic pollution been rapidly increasing and estimates that 11 million metric tons (about 12.1 million U.S. tons) of plastic leaks into the planet’s oceans every year, with the rate of pollution expected to quadruple by 2050. The global treaty would set pollution reduction targets and unify regulations around the world, which WWF says could help halt “devastating effects on people and the planet.”

The ship’s operator X-Press Feeders estimates that “most” of the cargo onboard “has been incinerated during the fire.” However, concerns that more chemicals or nurdles could leak into the ocean remain. The X-Press Pearl is also being monitored for signs of pollution from leaking oil in the ship’s fuel tanks, although none had been detected as of Thursday. Sri Lankan authorities have imposed a fishing ban on about 50 miles of coastline due to the pollution, a move that WWF noted would “impact fishermen and communities.”

“WWF stands in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka as they work to restore damaged ecosystems and disrupted livelihoods,” said the organization. “This highlights the critical link between healthy marine and coastal ecosystems and human well-being.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched to Reverse Trump Administration Denial of Endangered Species Protection to West Coast Fishers

Rare Forest Carnivores Are Threatened by Logging, Fire, Poisoning

PORTLAND, Ore.—June 2, 2021—Conservation groups filed a formal notice today of their intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its denial of Endangered Species Act protection to the majority of fishers on the West Coast.

Relatives of minks and otters, West Coast fishers once roamed forests from British Columbia to Southern California. Fishers throughout the West Coast range continue to face threats from intense logging, increased fire related to climate change and the use of toxic rodenticides by marijuana growers, which has caused a decline in their populations.

The Service’s May 2020 decision to deny the animals protection reversed previous determinations that West Coast fishers, from northern Washington to the southern Sierra, deserved protection as threatened.

“The Trump administration’s denial of protection to West Coast fishers disregarded the Service’s own findings and completely ignores key science on these amazing and elusive carnivores,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If the fisher’s going to survive and recover in this warming world, it needs Endangered Species Act protection now.”

The groups first petitioned for endangered species protection for West Coast fishers in 2000, leading to a 2004 determination by the Service that the fisher should be listed as threatened throughout its West Coast range.

Rather than provide that protection, however, the Service delayed it, arguing that it was precluded by listings of other species. The agency reaffirmed the fisher’s imperiled status in annual reviews through 2016, when it abruptly reversed course and denied protection.

After the groups successfully challenged that decision, the Service in 2020 granted protections to fishers in the southern Sierra Nevada, but nowhere else.

“The fisher has had to endure 20 years of political games, as the Service has repeatedly violated the law to placate the timber industry,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of EPIC. “It is sad that we are forced, once again, to go to court because the Service refuses to abide by its mandate.”

“The combination of widespread poisonings and extensive loss of habitat have fishers at death’s door,” said George Sexton, conservation director for the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “We refuse to see this iconic species disappear forever on our watch.”

The groups filing the notice were the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) and Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

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Concord Monitor (Concord, NH)

River herring, once eyed for endangered list, grow in counts

By PATRICK WHITTLE, Associated Press, 6/1/2021

A small fish that has been the subject of conservation efforts for years appears to be growing in number in the rivers of the East Coast.

River herring are critically important to coastal ecosystems because they serve as food for birds and larger fish. Regulators have described the fishes’ population as nearing historic lows because of dams, pollution, warming waters and other factors.

But years of effort to save them appear to be paying off. Preliminary counts of the fish from Maine to South Carolina in 2019 showed 2.7 million more fish than in 2015, according to documents provided by the regulatory Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The 2019 counts found more than 6.5 million fish.

The river herrings include two species of schooling fish, alewives and blueback herring, that have been fished in East Coast rivers for millennia. Harvesters of the fish said conservative management of the fishery in recent years, coupled with conservation efforts such as dam removal, have helped the fish spawn and grow in number.

“You’ve got to get the parents in the bedroom so the kids can go to school,” said Jeff Pierce, a longtime alewife fisherman and the president of Alewife Harvesters of Maine.

Herring have been used as a source of protein since long before British colonists first arrived on American shores, and the fish have still been harvested commercially in a handful of states in recent years. They’re used as bait and sometimes as food. Herring are often used as bait in big-money commercial fisheries such as the lobster industry.

Commercial catch of the fish has increased as the population has slowly recovered. Fishermen brought about 2.4 million pounds of the fish to docks in 2018 and increased that total to more than 3.2 million pounds in 2019, according to preliminary data from the Atlantic States commission.

They remain a species of concern in many states, including in New Hampshire, which prohibited the harvest of the species in April. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department said it triggered the closure because of the decline of spawning runs over the past two years.

But Maine, which is home to the largest commercial fishery for river herring, has seen positive trends in the fishes’ population, said Michael Brown, a scientist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources. He said the recovery of river herring stems back to the removal of the Edwards Dam in Augusta in 1999. That was the first large-scale restoration project, he said.

“Since that time, restoration projects on the Penobscot River and many smaller rivers now allow river herring to access traditional spawning habitat,” Brown said. “A result of the restoration activities is the expanding river herring resources we are seeing in Maine today. ”

Some environmental activists called for the fish to be listed under the Endangered Species Act as populations dwindled, but the federal government decided not to list the species in 2019.

Environmentalists said more dam removals will be needed to ensure that the fish continue to recover. River herring are a “critically important fish” because of their place in the food chain, said Nick Bennett, staff scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

“The fish have made a substantial comeback,” Bennett said.

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New York Times

California’s Monarch Butterflies Are Down 99%. Can This Plant Help?

A coalition of conservation groups have partnered with the state to add 30,000 milkweed plants in an attempt to restore the species’ population.

By Claire Fahy, June 1, 2021

Known for their windowpane wing design and bright orange color, Western monarch butterflies add a dash of magic to the California coast, where they spend the winter. Now a coalition of conservation groups, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the environmentalist organization River Partners are working together to extend a lifeline to the monarchs, whose population has been dwindling drastically.

The groups have embarked on an effort to add 30,000 milkweed plants across the state to provide the butterflies with places to breed and acquire the sustenance for migration.

The Western monarchs’ California population has fallen 99 percent since the 1980s, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. A major factor in that drop has been a decline in milkweed caused by farming and pesticide use. Milkweed is vital to monarchs as a place to lay eggs and as a food source for their caterpillars.

Monarch butterflies do something called “overwintering” on the coast of California — spending time there from October to March before migrating farther inland to breed.

Every year around Thanksgiving, volunteers count the migrating monarchs at the coastal overwintering sites, said Cheryl Schultz, a biology professor at Washington State University who works with the River Partners project. In 2019, 29,000 butterflies overwintered in California. A year later, that number was just 2,000, she said.

In response, California put forward a $1 million state-funded initiative to restore the Western monarchs’ natural habitat — and hopefully the population itself — by planting 600 acres of milkweed statewide.

“It’s going to take time for that habit to establish,” Dr. Schultz said. “It’s not like we can plant milkweed today and poof, you know, three months from now we have 40 functioning habits for monarchs. Different areas will take different amounts of time to come online.”

Although monarch butterflies are faced with extinction, the species is not federally protected because other species are a higher priority, federal officials announced in December.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, milkweed is a wildflower known for being “a mega food market for insects.” Almost 500 types of insects, including butterflies, feed on some part of the milkweed plant — its sap, leaves and flowers all provide nutrition.

Dr. Schultz said that, aside from being a source of food, milkweed contains cardenolides, enzymes that when digested by monarch caterpillars make them toxic to predators like birds.

California’s project is using three different varieties of milkweed: showy milkweed, narrowleaf milkweed, and a desert milkweed. Local nurseries were called upon to provide the milkweed plugs for the planting effort.

Not all types of milkweed are the answer to California’s butterfly crisis. Well-intentioned locals in California’s cities have started planting tropical milkweed in their gardens in an effort to help the monarchs. However, tropical milkweed is not native to California and doesn’t die out in winter, which confuses the monarchs’ migratory patterns. This could prevent them from re-entering the spring migration and breeding inland. Tropical milkweed can also carry a high disease load.

Recent conservation efforts in other states have proven effective. The Fender’s blue butterfly, found in Oregon, was listed as an endangered species in 2000, which motivated conservation groups, biologists, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to come together to understand the biology of the species.

“In combination with a lot of partnerships with the science and taking the time to actually get the conservation and get the actions on the ground, the population has now turned around,” Dr. Schultz said. “We’ve gone from 1,500 butterflies in the 1990s to 20,000 to 30,000 butterflies every year now. It’s fabulous. It’s really encouraging to see.”

Federal officials are now getting ready to reclassify the Fender’s blue butterfly as merely threatened.

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South China Morning Post

Most eel eaten in Hong Kong sushi restaurants is from endangered species, study finds

DNA analysis by University of Hong Kong finds nearly 90 per cent of eel served in 80 sushi restaurants is from endangered or critically endangered species

The results reflect the same pattern observed in grocers and convenience stores in Hong Kong, study’s lead author says

Kylie Knott, 1 June, 2021

Sushi restaurants are popular in Hong Kong, a city known for its vast food and beverage scene. But many diners may not realise they might be consuming an endangered species when they eat at one.

According to a study by researchers at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), almost 90 per cent of eel products sold at 80 randomly selected licensed sushi restaurants in the city come from critically endangered or endangered species.

The researchers used DNA analysis to examine eel products, including roasted eel and sushi, sold in the restaurants – all with permits obtained from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department – between May and June 2020.

Almost 50 per cent of the samples were identified as critically endangered European eel (Anguilla anguilla), a species under threat due to overexploitation fuelled by increased demand from Asia, in particular China and Japan, where it is considered a delicacy and aphrodisiac.

European eel is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), requiring export permits and inspection upon arrival in Hong Kong, under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance.

Of the 80 samples, 36 (45 per cent) were confirmed to be critically endangered European eel, while 29 samples (36 per cent) and five samples (6 per cent) were endangered American eel and Japanese eel, respectively.

WWF-HK says the results imply that illegal species exist in Hong Kong’s eel supply chains and it has called for urgent action to stop illegal wildlife trafficking. Hong Kong remains one of the largest hubs for the illegal wildlife trafficking industry, with wildlife seizures at record-breaking levels.

It is now calling on businesses to stop selling endangered eels and to better monitor the legality and traceability of its eel supply chains.

It also wants the Hong Kong government to improve its commodity coding systems so more accurate figures on the eel trade can be collected.

In February this year, HKU released a study that found thousands of species are traded legally through the city with inadequate traceability. At the core of the problem, it found, is a vague and broad code system used by customs officials globally to categorise species.

“The Hong Kong Harmonised System [HKHS] codes used for the eel trade are too general and only record products as Anguilla species commodities. However, those codes do not differentiate between the various Anguilla species and their life stages,” Jovy Chan, manager of wildlife conservation at WWF-HK, said.

“Thorough, specific and accurate trade data are crucial to facilitate and implement conservation action and policies for eel species. Apart from Cites-regulated European eels, some Asian countries/regions, for example the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan, have bans on the eel fry trade. The customs codes have a major role to play in gathering this data with regards to eel legality, traceability and sustainability issues.”

David Baker, from HKU’s Conservation Forensics laboratory and who led the eel study, says the results reflect the same pattern observed in other sectors of the retail markets, namely grocers and convenience stores.

“These different vendors are all linked to a limited number of suppliers,” says Baker. “Our hope is that working together with WWF, this evidence can lead to enhanced oversight at the distribution nodes, so that illegally sourced seafood products are not entering the market.”

Last year, HKU released a study that found almost half of retail eel products in Hong Kong supermarkets and convenience stores contained endangered European eels.

Based on DNA testing and published in Science Advances, the study found that almost half (45 per cent) of retail eel products – ranging from fillets to snack items from supermarkets and convenience stores across all districts – were derived from the critically endangered European eel species. The products were labelled only as “eel”.

“Consumers have a right to know where their food is coming from and if it is sourced in ethical and sustainable ways,” Baker says. “This issue is not limited to eels.”

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Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, MA)

Conservation groups: NOAA didn’t go far enough in protecting right whales in latest plan

Doug Fraser, Cape Cod Times, May 30, 2021

Conservation groups concerned the North Atlantic right whale is headed toward extinction are not happy with the federal protection plan announced Thursday,  saying it does not go far enough to reduce the threat from fisheries to levels where scientists think the whale population can recover.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had until Monday to comply with Judge James Boasberg’s ruling last August that they fully assess the impact of the lobster fishery on right whales — and come up with a plan to protect the world’s most endangered great whale.

NOAA released a biological opinion as required under the federal Endangered Species Act for 10 fisheries, including the lobster fishery, that found none of them were “likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any ESA (Endangered Species Act)-listed species.”

This finding included a phased-in approach over the next decade for the lobster industry, whose lines connecting pots on the ocean floor to marker buoys on the surface are considered the primary source of right whale entanglements.

Conservation groups say that with right whale population numbers continuing to decline, NOAA needs to take drastic measures to save the species that is numbered at approximately 350 whales, according to the New England Aquarium. A recent study by the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life found that known deaths represented just 36% of the total number dead from human causes each year. Anderson Center researchers found that 83% of right whales identified in their right whale catalog had been entangled once or multiple times.

The Humane Society of the United States was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit presided over by Boasberg. The society’s marine issues field director Sharon Young said Boasberg’s ruling required that NOAA come up with a plan that reduces serious injuries/mortalities to below one animal per year.

But the agency’s outline in the conservation framework that accompanied the biological opinion laid out steps that did not reach that number until 2030.

“It’s been frustrating. They have a legal obligation; it’s very clear, and the court made it clear to them that they had an obligation and they had to meet it,” Young said. But she said NOAA’s effort fell far short of what was required under the law.

“Not only did you not hit it out of the ballpark, you didn’t make it off the base and the ball landed at your feet. It’s disappointing to say the least; it’s tragic really,” she said.

Jane Davenport, a senior attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, said her organization was analyzing NOAA’s nearly 600-page biological opinion and wouldn’t comment other than to say that they were considering their options.

In justifying that delay, NOAA said it was evidence of its “commitment to implement measures that are necessary for the recovery of right whales, while providing … some flexibility for the fishing industry.”

The biological opinion included a conservation framework that called for a 60% reduction in right whale mortalities and serious injuries to 2.69 animals per year this year, and an additional 60% reduction in 2025 to reach 1.04 right whales per year and an 87% reduction in 2030 to reach less than two-tenths of a right whale — or less than one right whale killed by entanglement every five years.

In an email, NOAA spokesperson Allison Ferreira wrote that allowing fisheries in federal waters under the phased-in approach, including the lobster fishery, “will not result in an appreciable reduction in the likelihood of survival and recovery of North Atlantic right whales” when compared with shutting down all fisheries that could entangle whales.

Included in the biological opinion is a study released in January by NOAA researcher Daniel Linden that found even a 100% reduction in entanglements by U.S. pot and trap fisheries would still result in a greater than 50% chance of the right whale population continuing to decline. Deaths from Canadian fisheries as well as ship strikes would also have to be curtailed.

Ferreira said reevaluation of the plan would occur following lethal incidents in federal waters, and that evaluation of the effectiveness of the measures is mandated for 2023 and again in 2025. The actual plan that would implement measures such as reductions in the number of buoy lines, gear markings, and lower breaking strength ropes and devices, is expected in early September.

“By their plan, they will be allowing an excessive number of entanglements causing death to right whales for the next decade,” said Gib Brogan, senior campaign manager at Oceana. “It’s problematic; it’s dangerous for the whales. Instead of an honest assessment of what the fishery will look like this year, they looked far off into the distance, and that’s not what they need to be doing.”

Arthur “Sooky” Sawyer, president of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, said the measures to get a 60% reduction in right whale mortalities this year combined with another 60% reduction in 2023 would be hard for the lobster industry to survive. 

Massachusetts just implemented sweeping measures to close large areas of state waters and enact gear changes to make it easier for right whales to escape entanglement. That’s ahead of a case in U.S. District Court in Boston next month — in which animal rights activist Richard “Max” Strahan seeks to revoke all lobster licenses — that Sawyer said would have a greater impact on state lobster fishermen than the federal rules.

“If (Strahan) gets any type of victory in Massachusetts, he’ll do the same with Maine,” Sawyer said.

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VOCM News (St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador)

Two Bat Species Placed on Endangered List Due to Deadly Disease

May 29, 2021

The presence of white nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease that’s decimating bat populations throughout eastern North America, has prompted provincial government officials to add two local bat species to the Endangered Species list.

Senior Manager of Wildlife Research with the Department of Fisheries Forestry and Agriculture, Shelly Moores says the designation will provide greater protections for the Little Brown Bat and the Northern Bat.

She says it comes as the result of a recommendation from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, which started monitoring the status of bats in Nova Scotia dating back to 2011.

Based on that recommendation they started monitoring the situation involving bat populations in this province and when White Nose Syndrome was discovered here, they decided to take action.

Ecosystem Management Ecologist, Jessica Humber says White Nose Syndrome affects bats during their hibernation period, and “wakes them up” in mid-winter when food is scarce.

The animals will then start flying around looking for food and water, burning up precious fat stores and many end up dying on the landscape.

The Endangered Species designation will mean that the bats be properly handled by pest control companies and home owners who may find bats on their property.

(People can report any sick or dead bats by contacting the Wildlife Division at (709)637-2025, the toll-free bat hotline at 1-833-434-BATS (2287) or their local forestry and wildlife office.)

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The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)

Fish and Wildlife Service considers delisting threatened plant found only in the Carolinas

By Shamira McCray, May 29, 2021

The threatened dwarf-flowered heartleaf plant found only in the Carolinas has recovered so well that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to delist its status.

The plant was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1989 when there were only 24 known populations. But at least 119 populations now exist in Greenville, Spartanburg and Cherokee counties in South Carolina and 10 counties in North Carolina.

Conservation efforts by numerous groups contributed to the species’ recovery.

Gary Peeples, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Asheville Field Office, said the plants thrive in sandy, well-drained soils that run along stream areas. The heart-shaped leaves on the plant are dark green and grow from a buried stem. They rarely grow more than 6 inches tall.

Invasive species and development in the plant’s habitats led to its impairment.

“But thankfully, a lot of the folks that came along with that development stood up and were good stewards of the plant,” Peeples said.

In South Carolina, the state and Naturaland Trust worked to help protect the plant.

Other contributors include The Nature Conservancy, Foothills Conservancy, Catawba Lands Conservancy, the N.C. Department of Transportation and private landowners.

One of the largest populations of the species is at the Duke Energy facility on the Broad River in North Carolina. There is also a Facebook data center in the state that has a good population of the dwarf-flowered heartleaf. The company is voluntarily taking care of the plant on its property. 

A landfill in North Carolina even went as far as securing a conservation easement to protect the species.

“Thanks to the collaborative efforts of our many partners, from federal and state governments to industry and non-governmental organizations, this native plant can thrive for generations to come,” said Leo Miranda, regional director for the service.

Miranda said the species’ recovery is an excellent example of a conservation success story.

The service is allowing the public to comment on the proposal to delist the plant during a 60-day period that ends on July 25. Instructions on how to submit comments can be found at regulations.gov.

A final decision regarding the listing will be made once the comment period has ended.

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National Geographic

8 red wolves released into wild provide hope for critically endangered species

A look at America’s most endangered wolf, and how this news is “a step in the right direction” for the species.

By MEAGHAN MULHOLLAND, MAY 28, 2021

The world’s only wild population of red wolves just got eight more members. Four adult red wolves and four captive-born pups were released into a wildlife refuge in eastern North Carolina, raising hopes that this unique species can be pulled back from the brink of extinction—for the second time.

Red wolves are a critically endangered species, found nowhere else in the world but North Carolina, and their range includes two wildlife refuges and a patchwork of federal, state, and private lands. The total wild population is now estimated at around 20 to 25 animals, counting the eight animals just released.

The release of these eight red wolves was mandated by a court order. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), on behalf of several conservation groups, sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in fall 2020 over its failure to release more red wolves into the wild. The SELC argued that the lack of action was a violation of the Endangered Species Act. In January, a U.S. District Court Judge ordered the service to prepare a revised plan for imminent releases.

Ron Sutherland of the Wildlands Network, an environmental group, calls the most recent releases “a great step in the right direction,” although his organization had advocated for even more wolves to be released. He hopes the Fish and Wildlife Service will “start standing up for their own program again [and] recommit to working on the ground with the people of North Carolina with the goal of rescuing this population of red wolves.”

“Our goal is to work together to establish an implementation plan… to reach jointly established recovery goals for the red wolf,” says John Tirpak, associate regional director of ecological services with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Dedicated family

The four red wolf pups, born at the Akron Zoo, were placed within the den of a wild female in early May in the Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge, on the Albemarle-Pamlico peninsula in eastern North Carolina. This strategy, known as pup fostering, has been extremely successful for the species. It has a success rate near 100 percent, says Chris Lasher of the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, who is coordinator of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, a set of conservation measures designed to ensure the longevity and security of these animals as a species.

But it’s tricky work. The pups must be moved before they’re two weeks old, while their eyes are still closed, and handlers try to ensure they smell like their wild litter-mates, to help facilitate acceptance by their adoptive mother. In this case, the pups were flown to North Carolina from Akron, Ohio, requiring coordination and teamwork amongst zookeepers, government biologists, and other staff, including a volunteer pilot.

Joe Madison, director of the red wolf program in North Carolina for the Fish and Wildlife Service, reports that shortly after the foster pups were placed in the den, the wild wolf mother moved the whole litter to a new site, which is typical after any den disturbance. Scientists monitoring her movements with a tracking collar have found she continues to hang around the den, a good sign.

“All indications are that the captive-born pups have been successfully adopted,” Madison says.

Pup fostering works well for the species in part because “[they] are a very compassionate and dedicated family species,” Lasher says. “Mother red wolves are committed to raising a litter of puppies, no matter the size or makeup.” The process is useful because it helps to both increase red wolf numbers in the wild and enhances the genetic diversity of the population, by introducing new genes from captive red wolves. 

America’s wolf

Smaller than their cousins the gray wolves and slightly larger than coyotes, red wolves once roamed much of the Southeast—but widespread extermination campaigns, along with habitat loss, led to the decline of most apex predators in this country.

By 1980 red wolves were officially declared extinct in the wild. Shortly beforehand, a last few red wolves had been brought from the wild to Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, in Tacoma, Washington, to be bred under human care in an effort to preserve the species. In 1987, four breeding pairs descended from those original 14 animals were released into the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina as a first-of-its-kind experiment in “re-wilding.”

There were some initial challenges. “We spent a lot of time figuring out the technical aspects, how to release a predator on the landscape—things like acclimation pens,” notes Tirpak. But the population grew steadily. It peaked at about 120 in 2012, and between 2004 and 2014, stayed steady at around a hundred red wolves in several family packs.

Initially, red wolf reintroduction was largely seen as a success, “nothing short of a biological, political, and sociological miracle,” as author T. DeLene Beeland puts it in The Secret World of Red Wolves. It would serve as a model for the later reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone and Idaho, as well as for other predator reintroductions worldwide.

But the fast-growing coyote population in North Carolina, combined with deteriorating relations with locals, and a shift in long successful management strategies, would eventually contribute to the wild population of red wolves going into freefall.

In the 1990s, a small but vocal group of hunters and landowners, led by a property developer named Jett Ferebee who owns several thousand acres abutting the Pocosin Lakes Refuge, began to fiercely contest the red wolf recovery program. On websites, airplane banners, and highway billboards, Ferebee billed it as a “scandal,” a federal overreach infringing on people’s property rights and costing taxpayers millions. The red wolves have also been accused of decimating local deer populations—although no evidence supports these claims.

The five counties in the red wolf recovery area are among the poorest in the state, with an economy reliant on hunting and fishing and other outdoor activities, which could include ecotourism. But there has been rising anti-government sentiment in the region. A 2014 court settlement outlawed night hunting of coyotes in an attempt to curb red wolf fatalities, further fueling opposition to the wolves. (Young red wolves can be difficult to tell apart from coyotes, and some people felt it was unfair that they couldn’t hunt coyotes without limitations.)

On online hunting forums, red wolves have been branded “hybrids” and “mutants,” which is inaccurate since zoos carefully breed the animals to maintain genetic diversity. Though red wolves can and sometimes do breed with coyotes, this typically happens when there aren’t enough red wolf mates on the landscape. For a time there were scholarly debates over red wolf taxonomy, but an authoritative National Academy of Sciences study in 2019 declared them a distinct species, Canis rufus, and worthy of federal protection. (Read more: These rare wolves are unique species. Here’s why that matters.)

In 2015 the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission passed resolutions that severely hindered the federal government’s efforts to maintain the population. The agency ceased fostering pups at this time, and also stopped sterilizing coyotes—an effective method for controlling their numbers.

Inundated by requests to remove wolves, the Fish and Wildlife Service also granted some permits to kill wolves on private property, though red wolves have only killed seven domestic animals over the course of 30 years, and the owners were compensated. After 2014, the population dropped from around 100 to about 20 at the end of 2020, Madison says.

Sierra Weaver, attorney with the SELC, says that until the Fish and Wildlife Service caved to pressure and changed their policies, “they had a very successful management plan.” Acknowledging the more recent impetus to improve relations with locals, she cites the need for more law enforcement. Despite numerous red wolves being killed by gunshots in the past decade, there have been no prosecutions of those responsible.

Reason for hope

Just as red wolf pup fostering requires extensive planning and coordination with partners, teamwork will be essential moving forward if red wolves are to regain their footing in the wild, says Lasher. Moving forward, Fish and Wildlife  hopes to improve outreach and increase tolerance for red wolves, including a just launched landowner incentive program, Madison says. “Prey for the Pack” will assist landowners with habitat improvements in exchange for allowing red wolves to live on their land.

“This is an exciting first step,” Ramona McGee, an attorney with the SELC, says of the recent releases. “But more needs to be done [since] the population is still so small.” In 2019 and 2020, no litters were born in the wild. “It’s essential to ensure and facilitate [this] reproduction,” McGee adds.

Per the court order, the service will provide regular updates on its work and plans for future releases. This summer it will participate in the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan meeting, which brings together leaders from over 40 facilities that protect and breed the approximately 250 red wolves currently under human care.

“We look forward to continuing these efforts,” says Madison, “and to working cooperatively with local communities to garner support for our work and the survival of this remarkable species.”

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Newsweek

Endangered Seals Found Dead in Hawaii Were Killed by Humans, Officials Say

Ed Browne, May 28, 2021

U.S. officials are investigating the deaths of two endangered Hawaiian monk seals found on the island of Molokai, Hawaii.

The two animals, a 4-year-old male and a 3-year-old female, were found to have died due to human-inflicted trauma, Hawaiian news channel KHON2 reported citing National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials.

The seals were identified because of their tracking numbers. The animals were both born on the island and had been spotted in a healthy condition weeks before their deaths.

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered species of seal in the world. For decades their numbers had been shrinking and though they are now rising—thanks in part to recovery efforts—the current population is only a third of historic levels, according to the NOAA.

There are estimated to be 1,400 of the animals on the planet, with the majority of those living in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Hawaiian monk seals are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. People can be fined or jailed for harming them.

In 2018 an Alabama resident paid a $1,500 settlement just for touching one, in addition to harassing a sea turtle, on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i.

Despite this, Hawaiian monk seals have been repeatedly dying in what appear to be intentional killings. The NOAA calls such incidents “ongoing and of serious concern.”

The NOAA states at least seven of the animals have died in suspicious circumstances since 2009, KHON2 reported.

The administration adds that, as of 2018, most of the overall intentional killings had been from “blunt force trauma” while at least four had died from apparent gunshot wounds at that time.

Death by humans aside, other threats facing the Hawaiian monk seal include food limitation, being eaten by sharks, entanglement in fishing gear, and habitat loss.

They are also affected by disease, including toxoplasmosis—a parasitic infection. At least 13 deaths have been attributed to this.

Hawaiian monk seals tend to grow to between 400 and 600lbs and a length of 6 to 7ft. They can have a maximum age of more than 30 years.

They eat a variety of foods including fishes, squids, octopuses, and crustaceans like crabs. They tend to dive to the sea floor to forage, holding their breath as they do so.

NOAA officials are asking anyone with information about the two deaths to call them at (800)-852-1964.

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Big Country News (Clarkston, WA)

Idaho’s new Wolf Law Prompts Petition to Relist the Animals as Endangered

Nicole Blanchard, The Idaho Statesman, May 27, 2021

Critics of an Idaho wolf law approved earlier this month have launched a petition that could reinstate Endangered Species Act protections for wolves that were lifted a decade ago.

The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity announced Wednesday that they petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reinstate protections for wolves in a move prompted by laws in Idaho and Montana.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cannot stand by while Idaho and Montana order the extermination of wolves to appease the livestock industry and trophy hunters,” said Nicholas Arrivo, managing attorney for wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States, in the news release. “The agency must follow its obligation to reinstate federal protections, or risk wolves disappearing from the West again.”

Petitioners say they were prompted by Idaho Senate Bill 1211, which was introduced in early May, swiftly passed through the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Brad Little on May 10. The law expands wolf killing opportunities in the state, removing the current 15-per-year wolf limit on hunting and trapping. It also allows the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board to hire private contractors to kill wolves they deem a threat to livestock or wildlife.

The Idaho Statesman has reached out to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, for comment.

Idaho wolf law was controversial, heavily criticized

The law was met with numerous criticisms and was characterized as an effort to kill 90% of the state’s wolf population, which Fish and Game estimates around 1,500. It was also opposed by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, which has set hunting seasons and rules in Idaho for nearly a century. Other critics included hunters, hunting groups and wildlife biologists and managers.

Suzanne Stone, founder and executive director of the International Wildlife Coexistence Network, told the Statesman in a phone interview that she doesn’t think this will be the first challenge to Idaho’s law.

“I think this is going to be one of many petitions that will be coming forward as there are a lot of people who are concerned about Idaho’s violation of its agreement to manage wolves the way we manage bears and mountain lions,” said Stone, who is based in Boise.

Stone was among the individuals who signed an open letter urging Little to veto the bill. The letter raised concerns that the law could trigger sending wolf management back to the federal government by changing the terms under which Idaho took management of wolves.

Stone said she felt the Idaho Legislature “cried wolf” in its discussions of livestock depredation to justify the law. Stone said only a fraction of the state’s 2.73 million cows and sheep are killed by wolves each year and claimed it costs the state more to kill wolves than it would to compensate ranchers for their lost livestock. She also said legislators have not put money toward non-lethal depredation solutions, like those Stone uses in her work at the Wood River Wolf Project.

“It seems like this (law) isn’t about the livestock,” Stone said. “It seems like it’s about eradicating wolves from the Western landscape.”

Petitioners also criticized a recent Montana wolf law: House Bill 224, signed into law on April 8 by Gov. Greg Gianforte. The law expands hunting and trapping seasons for wolves in Montana.

Stone said both laws show that neither state has upheld its agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when it comes to wolf management.

“I think it’s clear that Idaho and now Montana have lost their privilege when it comes to managing wolves,” she said. “I don’t think you can trust states that have gone back on their word.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Agreement Reached to Speed Endangered Species Protection for Caribbean Lizards

Skinks Threatened by Habitat Destruction, Introduced Predators, Climate Change, Development Linked to Jeffrey Epstein

PETERSBURG, Fla.—(May 27, 2021)—The Center for Biological Diversity and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached an agreement today that requires the Service to make endangered species decisions for eight rare species of skink — a type of lizard — by Dec. 12, 2024.The skinks are found only on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and face extinction because of introduced predators, habitat destruction and climate change.

“Help is on the horizon for the rapidly vanishing lizards of the Caribbean islands,” said Elise Bennett, a Center attorney. “Rampant development and predators introduced by people have driven these fascinating skinks to the brink of extinction. And they face rising seas and storms of increasing intensity in the future. Endangered Species Act protection is the best chance we have to save them from the mounting threats to their survival.”

Today’s legal agreement follows the Center’s 2020 lawsuit challenging the Service’s failure to make timely Endangered Species determinations for the species. The findings are more than six years overdue.

Two of the skinks, the lesser Virgin Islands skink (Spondylurus semitaeniatus) and Virgin Islands bronze skink (S. sloanii), as well as the endangered Virgin Islands tree boa (Chilabothrus granti), are believed to occur on Great St. James. Jeffrey Epstein purchased the island in 2016 to construct a sprawling compound with two homes, cottages and various other buildings connected by private roads.

At least some of the construction has taken place without government permits. And since Epstein’s death, the fate of the island and the endangered animals who live there is uncertain.

In addition to habitat destruction and threats from non-native predators like cats, mongoose and rats, climate change is causing sea-level rise and extreme storm events like the deadly Category 5 Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, which damaged the limited habitat of these entirely island-dwelling species. As many of the skink’s islands are small and low in elevation, they are particularly vulnerable.

Background

Caribbean skinks, which can grow to be about 8 inches long, are unique among reptiles in having reproductive systems most like humans, including a placenta and live birth. They have cylindrical bodies, and most have ill-defined necks that, together with their sinuous movements and smooth, bronze-colored skin, make them look like stubby snakes with legs.

Scientists identified the skinks as separate species in a 2012 study. All are considered critically endangered or endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, and they are absent or extremely rare across most of their former ranges.

The Center petitioned to protect the skinks in 2014 with Dr. Renata Platenberg, an ecologist specializing in Caribbean reptiles.

Three of the species included in today’s notice are found within the territory of Puerto Rico: the Culebra skink (Culebra and the adjacent islet of Culebrita), Mona skink (Mona Island) and Puerto Rican skink (Puerto Rico and several of its satellite islands). The remaining five are found in the Virgin Islands: the greater St. Croix skink (St. Croix and its satellite Green Cay), lesser St. Croix skink (St. Croix), greater Virgin Islands skink (St. John and St. Thomas), Virgin Islands bronze skink (St. Thomas and several of its islets, several British Virgin Islands) and lesser Virgin Islands skink (St. Thomas and two adjacent islets, several British Virgin Islands).

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Audubon Press Room

Endangered Species Listing for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken “is the right call”

Adding the Lesser Prairie-Chicken to the Endangered Species List will not only help the bird, but the people who share its rangeland.

By National Audubon Society, May 26, 2021

SANTA FE, N.M. – The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced today that it is proposing to extend protection under the Endangered Species Act to the Lesser Prairie-Chicken. The FWS also announced it will split management of the populations between the northern and southern parts of its range, which includes portions of five states (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico). The endangered listing will only apply to the population in the bird’s southern range, which includes New Mexico and Texas, while the Northern population will be listed as threatened.

“After decades of working to avoid this moment for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken, this is the right call by the Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Jon Hayes, executive director of Audubon Southwest and vice president at the National Audubon Society. “Voluntary measures and agreements are important and commendable, but the science is telling us that if we don’t do more we’re going to lose these birds.”

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) prohibits anyone from harming an endangered species either directly or indirectly, it requires the development of a recovery plan for the species, and it generally requires the identification of critical habitat.

“This listing isn’t just about protecting the Lesser Prairie-Chicken, it’s also about improving the places we share with it,” said Hayes. “New federal investments and incentives for landowners resulting from today’s decision will make our grassland healthier, improve the infiltration of groundwater, sequester carbon, and make the rangeland more resilient overall. This is good for the bird and for ranchers, farmers, and communities who also depend on these resources.”

Audubon’s Conservation Ranching program supports market incentives for ranchers that manage their rangeland for bird habitat. Innovative partnerships like this provide a win-win solution for birds, like the Lesser Prairie-Chicken, and beef producers.

“Whether you’re a cow or a bird, you need healthy grass and soil,” said Hayes. “This is our opportunity to not only save this species, but do so while also bolstering rural economies and addressing the climate crisis.”

The Lesser Prairie-Chicken was first proposed for ESA listing in 1995. In the more than 25 years since that original petition, the bird has been through a roller coaster of listing decisions, court orders, and failed recovery efforts, all while the populations continue to plummet.

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Boise State Public Radio (Boise, ID)

Restore Federal Endangered Species Protections For Gray Wolves

Boise State Public Radio, By Troy Oppie, Published May 26, 2021

Multiple wildlife advocacy groups Wednesday officially petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to resume endangered species protection for gray wolves in the northern Rockies. The filing is a direct response to new legislation in Idaho and Montana expanding hunting and professional extermination efforts to reduce wolf populations.

The Center For Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and the National Humane Society and its lobbying arm, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, co-signed the petition. It says the drastic reduction of wolf populations violates the 2011 delisting agreement (authored in 2009) between the states and the federal government.

“I do think it’s pretty straightforward,” said Andrea Zaccardi, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The delisting agreement allows Fish and Wildlife to step in and resume federal protection of wolves if states make significant changes to species management plans.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service, in that rule,” Zaccardi said, “stated directly that if the states were to authorize unregulated killing of wolves in those states, that they would reconsider restoring protections and doing so on an emergency basis.”

Idaho’s wolf management plan, established in 2002, identifies a minimum number of 15 packs, about 150 wolves. Below that number, state Fish and Game managers would be required to take corrective action, and federal wildlife officials could take action as well.

Idaho’s new law takes effect July 1. Advocates don’t want wolf populations to get anywhere near those agreement minimums.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cannot stand by while Idaho and Montana order the extermination of wolves to appease the livestock industry and trophy hunters,” said Nicholas Arrivo, managing attorney for wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States in a press announcement.

“The agency must follow its obligation to reinstate federal protections, or risk wolves disappearing from the West again.”

The agency has up to 90 days to issue a preliminary response to the petition.

In April, The Center for Biological Diversity also asked the federal government to withhold approximately $18 million in annual wildlife management funding from Idaho.

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Newsweek

Galápagos Tortoise Feared Extinct for 112 Years Needs a Mate to Help Save Species

Ed Browne, May 26, 2021

Scientists have found a living relative of a species of tortoise long thought to have been extinct.

It has raised hopes the species could be revived if researchers can find a mate for the animal—a female Giant Tortoise discovered on Fernandina Island in Ecuador, which is part of the Galápagos Islands.

The tortoise, named Fern, was discovered in 2019 by researchers at the Galápagos National Park Directoriate (GNPD) and Galápagos Conservancy.

At that time, they had assumed Fern was related to the Fernandina Giant Tortoise species—the last example of which was recorded 112 years ago. But they needed evidence.

They took a blood sample from the animal and sent it to a team of geneticists at Yale University, who have confirmed that Fern is indeed related to the Fernandina Giant Tortoise, also known as Chelonoidis phantasticus. The species is native to the island.

While giant tortoise populations in general were severely impacted by hunting in the 19th century, Chelonoidis phantasticus is thought to have been almost wiped out by eruptions from the active volcano located on the island.

Now though, teams at the GNPD and Galápagos Conservancy are urgently planning a series of major expeditions to return to Fernandina Island to search for more members of the species.

There are signs that more are there. Park rangers have found tracks and feces left behind by at least two other tortoises on the Fernandina Volcano during the searches that uncovered Fern.

James Gibbs, vice president of science and conservation for the Galápagos Conservancy at the State University of New York, said in a statement: “Rediscovering this lost species may have occurred just in the nick of time to save it. We now urgently need to complete the search of the island to find other tortoises.”

If a male is found, researchers plan to place the two together in the hopes they could breed. Any young tortoises would then be reared in captivity before being returned to the island.

The situation recalls that of Lonesome George, a male giant tortoise who died in 2012 as the last known member of the species Chelonoidis abingdoni, also known as the Pinta tortoise. The species was hunted to dwindling numbers in the 1800s.

After Lonesome George was discovered in 1971 by Hungarian scientist József Vágvölgyi, researchers conducted extensive searches to find a female member of the species. None were found.

Regarding Fern, Danny Rueda Córdova, director of the Galápagos National Park Directorate, said in a statement: “We desperately want to avoid the fate of Lonesome George.”

He added the series of expeditions to Fernandina Island to search for more tortoises would begin in September 2021.

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UC Davis (Davis, CA)

Conservation Success Leads to New Challenges for Endangered Mountain Gorillas

As Gorilla Population Increases, So May Their Risk of Infectious Diseases

by UC Davis News and Media Relations, May 25, 2021

A study published today in Scientific Reports suggests that new health challenges may be emerging as a result of conservationists’ success in pulling mountain gorillas back from the brink of extinction.

The study, the first species-wide survey of parasite infections across the entire range of the mountain gorilla, was conducted by an international science team led by the Institute of Vertebrate Biology, Czech Academy of Sciences; University of Veterinary Sciences Brno, Czech Republic; Gorilla Doctors; and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. The work was conducted in collaboration with the protected area authorities of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (the Rwanda Development Board, the Uganda Wildlife Authority and l’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, respectively).

A growing concern

All mountain gorillas live in fully protected national parks in Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo, where the potential for spatial expansion is extremely limited due to dense human communities living nearby. Consequently, as gorilla population densities within the protected areas increase, their susceptibility to infectious diseases may also.

The Virunga mountain gorilla population has not increased uniformly across its habitat, possibly due to varying ecological conditions that are linked to different vegetation types. Additionally, in areas of the Virunga Massif where some of the highest growth rates occurred, the mountain gorillas experienced major changes in their social structure, leading to a threefold increase in group densities.

Clinical gastrointestinal diseases linked to helminths, a type of parasitic worm, have been recorded in mountain gorilla populations in both the Virunga Massif and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and may pose a threat to these endangered animals.

“Gastrointestinal disease from helminths is typically asymptomatic in wild non-human primates,” said first author Dr. Klara Petrzelkova, senior researcher at the Czech Academy of Sciences. “But host and extrinsic factors can alter transmission and susceptibility. This study has put a spotlight on these factors.”

Drivers and patterns

The study elucidates the drivers and patterns of helminth infections and provides a comprehensive foundation for future assessments of the impact of these parasites on gorilla population dynamics. Strongylid and tapeworm infections were quantified in fecal samples collected from night nests and from individually identified gorillas living in five social groups using fecal egg counts.

“Detecting significant differences in parasite burdens among gorilla family groups is critical information for guiding our decisions in providing life-saving veterinary care for this endangered species,” said Julius Nziza, head veterinarian in Rwanda for Gorilla Doctors, which is a collaboration of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and the University of California, Davis’ Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center.

Striking geographic differences in strongylid infections were detected, with higher egg counts measured mostly in gorillas living in areas where there has been a higher occurrence of gastrointestinal disease in gorillas. Differences in population growth rates across the Virunga Massif subpopulations and the Bwindi population, differences in the social structure of groups, especially in the Virungas, and differences in habitat characteristics (for example, vegetation types at altitudinal gradients) across the distribution range of mountain gorillas may explain observed differences in strongylid infections.

“The knowledge we acquired from this study will help develop future plans for protecting these endangered primates and their critical habitat” said Felix Ndagijimana of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

This highly collaborative study points to new challenges emerging as possible “side effects” of the remarkable conservation success of the past few decades. Unraveling the patterns of parasite infections in both gorilla populations, evaluating host exposure to infective parasite stages, and studying susceptibility to infection and its consequences on host health will be an important next step for the continued success and survival of this and other endangered animal species with small, isolated populations.

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Turtle Island Restoration Network

Dozens of Costa Rica Shark Species Designated as ‘Endangered’

By Turtle Island Restoration Network, May 25, 2021

In Costa Rica, the National System of Protected Areas (SINAC)—responsible for the administration of the nation’s national parks, conservation areas, and other protected areas in the country—published a new Official List of Endangered Species and with Reduced and Threatened Populations.

The updated list includes three species of hammerhead sharks, three species of thresher sharks, and the silky shark. All face the threat of extinction, and their inclusion on the list could make them protected by the Wildlife Conservation Law. Since 2017, sharks were not considered wildlife, but rather commercial species. Now they are listed as both.

The declaration of sharks as wildlife came on the heels of many efforts, including Turtle Island Restoration Network submitting a letter to the Legislative Assembly of the Republic of Costa Rica to support a bill that would return wildlife status to sharks in Costa Rica.

If protected under the Wildlife Conservation Law, sharks will no longer be subjected to extraction and commercialization in the country, and international commercialization of their products will also be outlawed. But they will still face pressure from illegal fishing—an estimated 100 million sharks die worldwide each year from fishing or human-caused deaths.

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Senator Dianne Feinstein

Feinstein, Padilla Call for More Resources to Protect Vulnerable Species from Extinction

Press Release–May 24, 2021

Washington–Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and a group of their colleagues today sent a letter advocating for increased funding for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Recovery Challenge Grant program. The letter was also signed by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

The letter to the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee highlights the success of the Recovery Challenge Grant program in helping restore the California condor population, which now number over 500 – rebounding from a recent low of just 22 birds. Increased funding of these proven public-private partnerships means the potential for more species to find a similar success story.

“While the Recovery Challenge Grant program has proven extremely effective, there are many more species in peril and the demand for these grants far exceeds the allocated funding,” the senators wrote. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received far more worthy applications than could be awarded. In order to ensure that species like the Southern Sea Otter, the Pacific Pocket Mouse, Eastern Indigo Snake, Ozark Hellbender, and Florida Panther do not disappear, we need additional investment in this program.

“The Recovery Challenge Grant program promises to power unique and impactful ­partnerships with groups like ours who are working to recover endangered and threatened species, including southern sea otters. Expanding this proven program will have meaningful impact on recovering America’s ocean keystone and ESA-listed species,” said Margaret Spring, Chief Conservation and Science Officer, Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“Recovery Challenge Grants have been instrumental in helping San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance bring species back from the brink to extinction, including the iconic California condor, whose numbers were as low as 22 in the 1980s and now soar to more than 500,” said Andrea Caldwell of the San Diego Wildlife Alliance.

Full text of the letter is available below:

The Honorable Jeff Merkley, Chair

The Honorable Lisa Murkowski, Ranking Member

Senate Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Merkley and Ranking Member Murkowski:

We write to request your continued support for endangered species recovery in the Fiscal Year 2022 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill. Specifically, we are requesting increased funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Recovery Challenge Grant program.

We thank the members of the subcommittee for establishing the Recovery Challenge Grant in Fiscal Year 2018 and for their continued support for this program. Recovery Challenge Grants are an important tool for addressing the extinction crisis threatening our nation. The Recovery Challenge leverages private sector funding through a required match, which means that every taxpayer dollar going towards endangered species recovery through this grant must be matched by at least an equal amount from grantees. These grants leverage the scientific expertise and resources of nonprofit partners in the field to promote faster and more efficient recovery of endangered and threatened species.

The Recovery Challenge Grant program has grown from a relatively small program, lending support to a few key species, to an important cooperative force benefiting the recovery of myriad species. In Fiscal Year 2020, the Recovery Challenge Grant program supported 39 partnerships across the country to recover endangered and threatened species such as critically endangered Hawaiian birds, Stellar’s eiders in Alaska, the American red wolf, Houston toads, and whooping cranes in the Eastern U.S.

One of the most iconic species supported by the Recovery Challenge Grant is the highly successful public-private partnership to save the California condor. Together, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, State agencies, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, The Peregrine Fund, Oregon Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, Ventana Wildlife Society, and several other nonprofit partners have provided critical genetic management, breeding, rearing, and releases into the wild to aid in the recovery of the iconic California condor. From a population low of 22 birds, the species is near being down-listed with a population that numbers more than 500 California condors, with more than 300 of which are living in the wild. The federal assistance provided by the Recovery Challenge Grant has helped make this recovery success story possible.

While the Recovery Challenge Grant program has proven extremely effective, there are many more species in peril and the demand for these grants far exceeds the allocated funding. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received far more worthy applications than could be awarded. In order to ensure that species like the Southern Sea Otter, the Pacific Pocket Mouse, Eastern Indigo Snake, Ozark Hellbender, and Florida Panther do not disappear, we need additional investment in this program.

As the Subcommittee develops the Fiscal Year 2022 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, we urge you provide continued funding for endangered species recovery and prioritize recovery efforts in which resources and partner expertise can be most effectively leveraged. Specifically, we request an increase for Endangered Species Act Recovery actions to $120 million and an increase for the Recovery Challenge Grant program to $20 million. This funding will enable critical recovery partnerships to sustain their work and expand to new species that are imperiled.

Thank you for your attention to this important request.

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EurekAlert

Endangered wallaby population bounces back after ferals fenced out

UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES, May 24, 2021 News Release

A population of bridled nailtail wallabies in Queensland has been brought back from the brink of extinction after conservation scientists led by UNSW Sydney successfully trialled an intervention technique never before used on land-based mammals.

Using a method known as ‘headstarting’, the researchers rounded up bridled nailtail wallabies under a certain size and placed them within a protected area where they could live until adulthood without the threat of their main predators – feral cats – before being released back into the wild.

In an article published today in Current Biology, the scientists describe how they decided on the strategy to protect only the juvenile wallabies from feral cats in Avocet Nature Refuge, south of Emerald in central Queensland, where they numbered just 16 in 2015.

Article lead author Alexandra Ross says juvenile wallabies under 3kg – or smaller than a rugby football – are easy prey for feral cats.

“Previous studies have shown that more than half of these young bridled nailtail wallabies were killed by feral cats before they could reach adulthood,” Ms Ross says.

“But when you look at the numbers of adults, the survival rate goes up to 80 per cent – which shows that size is a good predictor of survival.

“So we figured if we can just get them through that tough period – when they’re still little and an easy size for a cat to prey on – by putting them in feral-free protected areas, then we could make a positive difference to the population numbers.”

The results more than confirmed the scientists’ hunches. Of the 56 bridled nailtail wallabies that were raised within the headstart enclosure between 2015 and 2018, 89 per cent survived to be large enough to be let back into the wild. The 11 per cent that didn’t make it included one that needed to be euthanised due to injury, two found dead from accidents or unknown causes and four killed by birds of prey.

LESS EXPENSIVE, MORE EFFECTIVE

Professor Mike Letnic, a co-author on the article, says headstarting is a cost-effective intervention when compared to other more complex strategies involving the creation of large nature reserves after complete eradication of feral animals, like the one created in Sturt National Park in 2019.

“Aly’s [Ms Ross’s] headstarting project involved fencing off an area about 10 hectares which was big enough to hold about 30 or 40 wallabies at a time,” Prof. Letnic says.

“We’re basically growing them from football size to medicine ball size before releasing them back into the wild, which can take anywhere from a few months to a year.

“For the most part they’re fending for themselves in the headstart exclosure just like they do in the wild, except without the threat of feral animals. But they’re not completely protected – they can still get eaten by eagles which means there is still some predator recognition.”

Double the size

Ms Ross says the population of the bridled nailtail wallabies more than doubled following the three years of headstarting in Avocet Nature Refuge, which is the largest increase that had been observed in this particular population since monitoring began in 2011.

“Before we started the headstarting strategy, we estimated the core Avocet population at 16 individuals. When we did a recount in 2018 after three years of gradually releasing headstarted wallabies that had reached the right size, the estimate of the total population of bridled nailtail wallabies – both inside and outside the headstarting exclosure – was 47.

“This clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of the headstart exclosure as a conservation strategy.”

Worryingly, when Ms Ross and her fellow researchers crunched the numbers on how the population would fare without, or with varying lengths of headstarting scenarios – none, five years, 10 years, 20 years and 50 years – the projections found that extinction resulted once headstarting ceased – within a timeframe of two to 52 years.

“What this tells us is that until we find a way to eliminate feral cats in the wild, headstarting may be the only way to keep this population at a sustainable level.”

But the team’s implementation of the first headstarting project for a land-based mammal raises new hope for other potential endangered species in Australia – and potentially around the globe – where size of young may be factor in population survival.

“One of the great things about headstarting is it’s relatively cheap, doesn’t interfere too much with animals’ awareness of predators, and can get good results in a short time,” Ms Ross says.

“And there are plenty of other mammal species around the world that could benefit. Any species that is particularly vulnerable in the early life stage could potentially thrive under a headstarting strategy.”

Up until now, headstarting has been used with some success with birds, fish, reptiles, and seals, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t also be implemented for terrestrial mammals, Ms Ross and Prof. Letnic argue.

PREDATOR AWARENESS

Prof Letnic says one of the drawbacks with separating animals for longer periods in feral-free enclosures is that they unlearn their fear of predators on the outside. “After only a few years of being in a protected zone, evolution kicks in and animals start developing new ways to compete with one another. They tend to become bolder in an attempt to be first to the food. If they were then to be released back into the wild among feral animals, the bold ones end up getting eaten because they’ve lost that cautious awareness of predators.”

However, Ms Ross believes that headstarting could avoid this problem, as animals are only separated from predators for a few months or a year at the most. There is also minimal human interaction and the animals are still preyed upon by their natural predators, like eagles and snakes, ensuring they retain some predator awareness.

Her next study will examine the behaviour of the bridled nailtail wallabies once released from the headstarting exclosure and the length of time it took for them to fully integrate back into the wild.

BRIDLED NAILTAIL WALLABY – VITAL STATS

The bridled nailtail wallaby is a small macropod that grows up to a metre in length, half of which is the tail. It takes its name from the white ‘bridle’ line that runs down the back of the neck and shoulders and a tail spur about 3 to 6mm in length.

Bridled nailtail wallabies live mostly on succulent grasses, can grow to a weight of 8kg, with an average life-span of around six years in the wild.

Once the most common macropods at the time of European settlement, these nocturnal animals are now in critically low numbers in the wild after being hunted extensively for their fur in the early 1900s, and more recently, preyed upon by feral cats and foxes.

The species was even believed extinct from 1937 until 1973. It was only when a fencing contractor reported he’d seen a population of the wallabies living on a property near Dingo, Queensland – after reading about it in an article published in Woman’s Day – that the species was rediscovered.

After the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service confirmed its existence, the property near Dingo eventually became a nature reserve to ensure its ongoing survival.

There are believed to be only 500 of the animals living in the wild, and more than 2000 in captivity.

(Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.)

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Newsweek

100s of Dead Whales Are Washing up on the West Coast—Scientists Don’t Know Why

Ed Browne, May 24, 2021

A dead whale washed up on the shores of the San Francisco Bay Area late Friday, marking the 12th such incident in the region so far this year.

The death is just one of many in what scientists have called an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) along the west coast of North America. Since 2019, it has seen hundreds of gray whale deaths.

Reports on Friday, May 21, said the gray whale had washed up on Pacifica State Beach. It was a 47-foot male according to tissue samples, Giancarlo Rulli, a spokesman for The Marine Mammal Center, told CBS Sacramento.

Marine biologists often conduct an examination called a necrospy to try and find out more about what caused the whale to die. However, a necrospy was not possible in this case because the animal had been dead for too long.

The whale becomes the tenth gray whale to be reported dead in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2021, in addition to one pygmy sperm whale and a fin whale, according to Bay Area news outlet The Mercury News.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has said elevated numbers of gray whale strandings—in which whales get stranded on land—have taken place in the current UME since January 1, 2019, from Mexico through Alaska.

As of May 6, 2021, the NOAA reported a total of 454 gray whale strandings across Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. That figure will almost certainly have increased.

While it has not been possible to identify the cause of death for all of these animals, a number of them are suspected or determined to have been killed by ships.

The NOAA also said early findings have shown “evidence of emaciation” in several whales studied, meaning they appeared abnormally thin or weak. The agency said more research was needed because such findings are not consistent across all whales examined.

In April, researchers concluded that a fin whale that washed up near Fort Funston, California, on April 23 had probably died after it was struck by a ship. They found that the whale had suffered trauma to its neck.

That incident was the fifth whale death in the Bay Area in April alone.

Likewise, the gray whale which landed on the Pacifica State Beach on Friday is the fifth to be reported this month, The Mercury News reports.

A UME is defined by the Marine Mammal Protection Act as “a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response.”

Anyone who spots a stranded or floating whale should report it immediately, the NOAA states.

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Xinhuanet.com/Africa

Mozambique unveils 29 key biodiversity areas on Endangered Species Day

Source: Xinhua| 2021-05-22 23

MAPUTO, May 21 (Xinhua) — Mozambique unveiled 29 Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) that contribute to the resilience of natural systems in the country on Friday, which was also marked as the Endangered Species Day.

The mapped areas, 25 on land and 4 in the sea, occupy about 140,000 square kilometers in total and are pointed as key for the improvement and health of populations who depend on biodiversity-related income generation, according to the information revealed at the ceremony in Maputo.

“With their identification, Mozambique becomes the first country in the world to apply the new global standard of the International Union of Nature Conservation to all its territory. That standard allows the identification of the main planet locations for species and their habitats,” said the country’s Minister of Land and Environment Iveth Maibasse at the event.

The identification and mapping of the 29 KBAs was conducted by the Mozambican Ministry of Land and Environment with the partnership of the NGO Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the support from USAID.

The initiative was launched at a time when Mozambique has almost 500 endangered species, ranking 7th in the sub-Saharan region and 30th in the world.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Congress Introduces Bill to Save Endangered Butterflies, Fish, Plants, Mollusks

WASHINGTON—(May 20, 2021)–Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today reintroduced the Extinction Prevention Act of 2021, which would fund crucial conservation work for some of the most critically imperiled species in the United States.

The legislation would establish four grant programs that each provides $5 million per year. These targeted funds would provide urgently needed on-the-ground conservation actions to stabilize and save from extinction the four groups of endangered species at greatest risk of extinction: North American butterflies, freshwater mussels, desert fish and Hawaiian plants.

“It’s encouraging to see Congress begin to address the catastrophic loss of wildlife and plant life in this country,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Each year hundreds of endangered species get no money for recovery and slip further towards extinction. The emergency funding provided in this legislation is a desperately needed first step towards stemming the global extinction crisis.”

A 2016 study found that Congress only provides approximately 3.5% of the funding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s own scientists estimate is needed to recover species. But roughly 1 in 4 species receives less than $10,000 a year toward recovery.

“For so long our nation’s most imperiled animals and plants have been barely clinging to survival, fighting desperately to survive just one more day,” said Kurose. “This legislation offers them a glimmer of hope that help is on the way.”

The legislation would support programs like the Hawaiian Plant Extinction Prevention Program, which works to save more than 237 endangered plant species, each of which has fewer than 50 plants remaining in the wild. Since the program’s inception in 2003, no Hawaiian plants have gone extinct. But the Trump administration gutted nearly all funding for this program.

The bill’s introduction also coincides with Endangered Species Day, an annual event where thousands of people from around the world celebrate, learn about and take action to protect threatened and endangered species.

One such plan is Saving Life on Earth, a Center initiative that calls for a $100 billion investment to save species and the creation of new national monuments and parks, wildlife refuges and marine sanctuaries so that 30% of U.S. lands and waters are fully conserved and protected by 2030 and 50% by 2050.

Joining Blumenthal and Grijalva as sponsors of the Extinction Prevention Act are Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Reps. Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-CNMI), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Darren Soto (D-Fla.).

Background

North American butterflies: Of all the endangered species in the United States, butterflies are one of the fastest-declining groups, with several species on the verge of extinction. The Mount Charleston blue butterfly, Miami blue butterfly and Lange’s metalmark, for example, all have worldwide populations of fewer than 100 individuals. These and other species would benefit from captive propagation and habitat restoration well beyond what is currently occurring.

Southeast freshwater mussels: North America has the highest diversity of freshwater mussels in the world, but unfortunately much of this diversity is threatened. Freshwater mussels are the most endangered group of organisms in the United States; 70% are at risk of extinction, and 38 species have already been lost.

Southwest desert fish: The Southwest’s unique fish — found nowhere else on earth — have been decimated by a century of habitat degradation and nonnative fish introductions. More than 45 desert fish species are either endangered or threatened, and most have experienced drastic reductions in abundance and range.

Hawaiian plants: Hawaii has more endangered species than any other state, including more than 400 plants that make up one-quarter of all species protected under the Endangered Species Act. Many of these plants are barely hanging on in remote, difficult-to-reach cliffs and ravines where they are safe from human development and nonnative species. This legislation would help support programs like the Hawaiian Plant Extinction Prevention Program.

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Newsweek

Hundreds of Florida Manatees Dying Because of Starvation, Human Pollution

Ed Browne, May 20, 2021

Several hundred manatees have died off the coast of Florida this year, and scientists think human waste is crippling their food sources.

Manatees, also known as sea cows, are large aquatic mammals often found in shallow, slow moving rivers and coastal waters. In the U.S., they are mostly concentrated in Florida.

So far this year, 738 manatee deaths had been recorded as of late last week, according to figures from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, already surpassing 2020’s year-long figure of 637.

Martine de Wit, a veterinarian in the state’s marine mammal pathology lab, told the Tampa Bay Times there are cases of manatees suffering from the effects of starvation, and pointed to the loss of huge amounts of seagrass—a key part of the manatee’s diet.

Patrick Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, told Newsweek his organization is working to step up efforts to monitor the manatees’ health in association with local authorities—but fears the situation could worsen come next winter.

Rose said: “The rescues of sick and injured manatees is the first priority while we work to clean-up and restore the manatees’ essential aquatic habitat.

“Sadly, since the situation was allowed to deteriorate so dramatically, we could be facing an even more deadly scenario going into next winter and there truly is no time to waste in preventing such a recurrence.”

According to Rose, populations of seagrass have experienced “devastating losses” in the Indian River Lagoon, where up to 90 percent have been killed off by repeated algal blooms.

These blooms, he said, are being driven by human waste and pollutants entering the environment through sources such as poorly treated wastewater, septic drain fields, and stormwater runoff containing fertilizers and other pollutants.

Steve Murawski, a fisheries biologist and marine ecologist at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science, told Newsweek why increases in algal blooms can be a problem for sea grasses.

“The increase in algal blooms are related to coastal degradation and the increase in nutrients,” he said. “As algal blooms increase in frequency and duration, they tend to result in less sunlight reaching the bottom in shallow waters.

“Severe declines in submerged aquatic vegetation (SAVs) have been documented in numerous coastal estuaries including Chesapeake Bay, and are likely associated with light attenuation due to greater concentrations of algae in the water.

“Interestingly, starting about 30 years ago, a program to reduce nitrogen runoff in Tampa Bay by limiting fertilizer use in summer months and upgrading wastewater treatment was successful and resulted in large increases in SAVs in the Bay, which are food for manatees and habitat for many other species including fishes.”

Rose said that Floridians can help by contacting their local state and federal leaders and putting pressure on them to stop human pollution from driving further algae blooms and to remove excess nutrients that are already in the water.

He noted there is also an opportunity to call for water quality improvements in future infrastructure funding. President Joe Biden is due to announce his budget proposal May 28.

Rose added: “What is more basic than keeping human waste products from spoiling our aquatic ecosystems?”

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Southern Living

Scientists Rescue 70 Eggs from Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hit and Killed by Cars in Florida

Meghan Overdeep, May 19, 2021

Turtle researchers in Florida managed to find a silver lining in the tragic death of a sea turtle last week.

In the early hours of Wednesday, May 12, a disoriented 400-pound female loggerhead sea turtle was struck and killed by vehicles while trying to nest just south of Paradise Beach in Brevard County.

“In the case of this turtle, there were very clear signs on the beach that she had emerged from the ocean and tried several times to dig a nest,” Erin Seney, assistant research scientist with the University of Central Florida Marine Turtle Research Group, told Florida Today. “And as she moved along the beach, trying to find a spot where she could dig a nest to lay her eggs, she ended up going up over the dune where there was a ramp or pathway.”

“Unfortunately, she went up off the beach, wandered across a couple of yards, and ended up out in the road,” Seney explained.

Experts believe the turtle was having difficulty digging a nest due to her injured rear flippers. It’s likely she became confused by the lights of the road on her quest to find better sand.

“Staff are working with local partners to understand why this may have occurred and how it can be prevented from repeating over the remainder of the nesting season,” Michelle Kerr, spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told Click Orlando.

But it’s not all bad news for the turtle. Fortunately, researchers from the UCF Marine Turtle Research Group and an expert from the Brevard Zoo were able to collect 70 of her ready-to-lay eggs.

The rescued eggs were buried in a new nest chamber on the beach. They will be monitored for the next 45 to 55 days to see how many hatchlings emerge.

“For how big she was, she could be 50 to 60 years old. The chances of her surviving this long are very slim,” Jess Patterson, a coordinator for the Sea Turtle Healing Center Coordinator at Brevard Zoo, told Florida Today.

“The hope is that maybe we can pass on her legacy,” she added.

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Reuters

FWS must consider petition for wild horse’s protection – 9th Circuit

Sebastien Malo, May 17, 2021

A federal appeals court ruled on Monday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) wrongly refused to review an animal advocacy group’s bid to include a wild horse on the country’s list of imperiled species because its refusal hinged on a rule that is inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland said that, contrary to a lower court’s earlier ruling, the FWS violated the ESA when it rejected Friends of Animals’ petition to list the Pryor Mountain horse on grounds the group had not, per the 2016 “pre-file notice” rule, first notified states where the animal lives.

Spokespeople at the Department of the Interior and the Department of Justice declined to comment.

Friends of Animals’ general counsel, Michael Harris, said that the court’s ruling provides a path for protecting the free-roaming horse “from years of mismanagement by the federal government.”

Writing for the panel, U.S. District Judge John Tunheim, who sat by designation, said Montana federal Judge Susan Watters got it wrong when she sided with the FWS in 2020.

He said the FWS had acted unreasonably by rejecting the petition because Friends of Animals had not followed the regulation.

Tunheim said the pre-file notice rule creates a “procedural hurdle” that undercuts the ESA’s conservation goals.

The regulation was adopted to allow states to share data with federal agencies on a species that will be considered for special ESA protections after the filing of a citizen petition. The FWS has 90 days to study such petitions and determine whether they are worth pursuing.

Friends of Animals petitioned the FWS in 2017 over the Pryor Mountain horse, which is of unique Spanish genetic lineage and is found in Montana and Wyoming. It said the horse’s population was “critically small” and its survival at risk.

The group, which is represented by in-house lawyers, later sued the FWS after the agency tossed its submission because it lacked proof the petitioners had notified Montana and Wyoming.

Tunheim disagreed with the agency’s argument that it had used the pre-file notice rule in ways that align with Congress’ intent because it increased the efficiency of listing species.

The judge said that, rather, courts have “repeatedly admonished” as contrary to the ESA the soliciting of outside information during the initial petition-review period. The ESA directs the agency to make that assessment only on the basis of the petition’s content, Tunheim said.

“Here, the FWS used the pre-file notice rule to refuse to consider a petition that was properly submitted,” the judge wrote.

The panel remanded the case to the district court with instructions to enter a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.

Tunheim was joined by U.S. Circuit Court Judges Richard Paez and Paul Watford.

The case is Friends of Animals v. Deb Haaland, et al, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 20-35318.

For Friends of Animals: Michael Harris with Friends of Animals

For Deb Haaland, et al: Robert Lundman with the U.S. Department of Justice

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Nevada Current (Las Vegas)

Feds agree to decide if wildflower is endangered by end of month

By Jeniffer Solis,-May 17, 2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to make a determination on the listing of a rare Nevada wildflower as an endangered species by the end of the month.

Monday’s announcement comes after a federal judge on April 21 ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a determination on the listing within 30 days.

The service was sued by the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group, in September, demanding the federal government expedite a decision on listing Nevada’s rare Tiehm’s buckwheat as “endangered” or “threatened” after discovering wide-scale destruction to the plants that destroyed more than 40 percent of the total global population.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to issue a 12-month finding of whether a decision for the protection for the Tiehm’s buckwheat is warranted or not by May 31. If a listing is warranted, a proposed rule must be offered no later than Sept. 30. The agreement also states that the latest a proposed critical habitat rule could be published would be May 2, 2022.

Until recently, the species did not face significant threats due to its remote location. However, increased interest in mining around the state, particularly for lithium, has put the plant at risk.

An Australian mining company, Ioneer Corp., has proposed an open-pit lithium mine in Esmeralda County on the plant’s only known habitat. In a statement, Ioneer Managing Director Bernard Rowe said the decision by the federal court was “a welcome development” adding that the 12- month finding is not the final step in listing determination.

“We acknowledge and appreciate the valuable scientific work that is being undertaken by the federal agencies including the FWS and U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to ensure decisions made regarding this important species are based on the best available science. We are confident that the science strongly supports the coexistence of our vital lithium operation and Tiehm’s buckwheat,” Rowe said in a statement. “Should FWS determine that the plant be listed as an endangered species, this would not preclude the project being developed. The protection and conservation measures we will and are already putting in place will ensure the long-term viability of the population at Rhyolite Ridge and ioneer believes that these protection measures would be required irrespective of whether the plant is listed or not.”

“Tiehm’s buckwheat is staring down the barrel of extinction,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center. “The lifesaving protections of the Endangered Species Act are critical to keep this wildflower from being wiped out by a proposed mine. We look forward to Fish and Wildlife Service doing the right thing and swiftly giving this special wildflower the protection it deserves.”

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Independent Record (Helena, MT)

Montana gov signs legislation shaping grizzly management

Tom Kuglin, May 16, 2021

Gov. Greg Gianforte has signed two bills reshaping the state’s response to managing grizzly bears.

The governor recently signed Senate Bill 98 from Sen. Bruce “Butch” Gillespie, R-Ethridge, and Senate Bill 337 from Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta. The bills were two of a number of controversial wildlife bills pushed by Republicans, who hold strong majorities in both chambers, and have been signed into law by their fellow Republican governor.

Late last month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its first assessment of grizzlies in a decade. The assessment found that bear populations have increased, but that federal protections under the Endangered Species Act are still warranted.

SB 98 makes a declarative statement that grizzly bears should be delisted. The bill then says that under state law, a person who kills a grizzly bear that is attacking, killing or threatening to kill a person or livestock has an “absolute” defense against being charged with a crime.

Supporters of the bill included ranchers along the Rocky Mountain Front who have been outspoken as the bears expand east onto the plains.

But opponents of the bill pointed out that the “threatening” livestock provision conflicts with federal law. As long as the bears remain federally protected, state law is trumped. The bill could give ranchers a false impression of when they can and cannot shoot bears in defense of life or property, critics have said.

Gianforte announced the signing of SB 98 on Wednesday.

“Grizzly bear populations are recovered in Montana,” a spokesperson for the governor said. “If grizzly bear management is turned over to the state, this bill ensures Montanans can protect themselves and their livestock from growing predator populations.”

SB 337 also makes declarations that grizzly bears are recovered and should be put under state management. The bill then makes two important changes on how Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will respond to issues with the bears.

The first provision of SB 337 dictates that should FWP capture a bear, it may only relocate it to areas pre-approved by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The second provision of the bill restricts the state’s role in relocating bears captured during conflicts. Specifically, the bill allows FWP to respond to a conflict and capture a bear. If the bear is captured outside of a federal recovery zone, the law prohibits the state from relocating the animal, meaning federal authorities would be responsible for moving or euthanizing.

Supporters of the bill, which included FWP, said it delineates a clear process for how state wildlife managers will respond to conflicts.

Opponents contend that SB 337, as well as SB 98, will result in more grizzly bears being killed and thus harm the chances of federal delisting. In the case of SB 337, reduced state cooperation means an increased chance that captured bears will be euthanized. With SB 98, it would add an additional reason bears could be killed under state management.

Gianforte signed the bill in late April.

“With grizzly populations recovered in Montana, Governor Gianforte supports delisting the bear and turning over management to the state,” a spokesperson for the governor said. “Until that happens, this bill clarifies the respective state and federal responsibilities for grizzly bear management.”

Management of grizzly bears has long been debated in Montana and neighboring states of Idaho and Wyoming.

The Legislature also passed Senate Joint Resolution 18 during the recent session. The resolution calls for Montana’s congressional delegation to work to remove all grizzlies in Montana from the ESA and to exempt the decision from judicial review.

Federal officials have twice delisted grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, leaving intact threatened status in the rest of the state and throughout the remainder of the bears’ range in Wyoming and Idaho. Both times, those decisions have been overturned in federal court, returning the bears to the ESA.

In addition to the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide which hold the bulk of bears, smaller grizzly recovery zones with populations include the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk. The Bitterroot Mountains along the Montana-Idaho border are also a recovery zone, but currently void of resident bears and only see sporadic reports.

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California Department of Fish & Wildlife

Governor’s California Comeback Plan Includes Significant Increases for Fish and Wildlife

Proposed Plan Reflects Needs Shown by Multiyear Service Based Budgeting Project

May 14, 2021, by Ken Paglia

Governor Gavin Newsom today introduced his California Comeback Plan, which includes significant fiscal resources aimed to protect California’s diverse fish, wildlife and plant resources and the habitats on which they depend. The proposed budget increases show the Newsom Administration is deeply invested in California’s biodiversity both for its intrinsic, ecological value as well as for future generations of hunters, hikers, anglers, birders and outdoor enthusiasts.

The proposal increases the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) budget by $252.1 million and includes funds to safeguard California’s biodiversity, protect endangered species and their habitats, support the Cutting the Green Tape initiative, enhance drought preparedness through the water resilience package, increase renewable energy on land and in the ocean, cover payments for fishermen and women voluntarily transitioning out of the drift gill net shark and swordfish fishery, and address other CDFW’s budget shortfalls identified through years of in-depth budget analysis and research through the Service Based Budgeting (SBB) Project. Today’s proposal includes 216 staff positions to deliver services and safeguard fish and wildlife in California.

SBB is a budgeting approach that identifies the tasks needed to accomplish the mission of CDFW. Directed by the Legislature, and working with many diverse stakeholders, CDFW conducted one of the first and most comprehensive state agency reviews of its budget, tasks and labor needs. In a report to the Legislature in January, the SBB project clearly defined CDFW activities, tasks and resources required to deliver our mission. It is through the continued engagement by a wide range of stakeholders that CDFW was able to show needed resource increases that are reflected in this budget proposal.

The proposal also provides funding that will assist CDFW’s human-wildlife conflict program, which is exacerbated during times of drought when animals travel farther to seek out water sources. The plan provides monies for CDFW’s Law Enforcement Division as wildlife officers are nearly always the responders in human-wildlife conflicts. It also includes funding increases for monitoring and management on CDFW lands, and provides seed money to grow the CDFW wolf program, including a comprehensive reimbursement program that incentivizes non-lethal measures for livestock producers as California’s wolf population grows.

The proposal will allow CDFW to augment major efforts underway to increase access to our natural resources throughout California. This includes increasing access to our approximately 1.2 million acres of ecological reserves and wildlife areas across more than 700 properties in the state. These efforts also include increasing Tribal representation and care for cultural resources, and focusing on justice, equity, diversity and inclusion both within the CDFW workforce and among our constituents, with a vision of truly ensuring Nature for All and a California for All.

There is already some evidence suggesting these efforts are working. Through the pandemic, CDFW watched as hunting and fishing license sales increased significantly. CDFW issued nearly two million sport fishing licenses in 2020, an 11 percent increase from 2019. California hunter numbers also spiked. CDFW issued nearly 300,000 California hunting licenses in 2020, a nine percent increase from the previous year. Though it’s clear that much of this is credited to Californians seeking safe outdoor activities, it also correlates with our recent rededication to learning reasons behind previously decreasing license sales through the nationwide recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) effort. R3 aims to increase statewide hunting and fishing participation by collaborating with diverse stakeholders to transform barriers into opportunities. The Governor’s plan continues that vision by including funding to improve license purchasing technology and provide a mobile application to display fishing and hunting licenses.

The simultaneous increase in CDFW’s ability to provide additional access to lands and outdoor recreation, while enhancing the ability to conserve water resources, habitat and native species is the beginning of making California’s wild lands, fishing, hunting, birding, and many other outdoor activities available for all Californians.

Today’s proposal by the Governor is an historic moment for CDFW’s budget.

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The Detroit News

Scientists urge restoration of federal gray wolf protections

John Flesher, Associated Press, May13, 2021

Traverse City—A group of scientists urged the Biden administration Thursday to restore legal protections for gray wolves, saying their removal earlier this year was premature and that states are allowing too many of the animals to be killed.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dropped wolves in most of the lower 48 states from the endangered species list in January. The decision was among more than 100 Trump administration actions related to the environment that President Joe Biden ordered reviewed after taking office.

The move didn’t affect Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, where federal protections had been lifted years earlier and hunting is allowed. But it removed them elsewhere in the lower 48 states, including in the western Great Lakes and the Pacific Northwest that have wolf populations, and others where experts say the predators could migrate if shielded from human harassment.

The decision was premature because the species hasn’t fully recovered, 115 scientists argued in a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Martha Williams, principal deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. High numbers of state-approved killings since then have caused setbacks, the letter said.

“We’ve been shocked by the way states have been willing to go to all-out war against the wolves,” said John Vucetich, a professor of wildlife conservation at Michigan Technological University.

Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Vanessa Kauffman said the agency had no update on wolves. The agency has continued defending their removal from the endangered list against lawsuits filed by environmental groups.

Wolves were wiped out across most of the U.S. by the 1930s under government-sponsored poisoning and trapping campaigns. A remnant population in the western Great Lakes region has since expanded to some 4,400 animals in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

More than 2,000 occupy six states in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest after wolves from Canada were reintroduced in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park beginning 25 years ago.

Wisconsin had a court-ordered hunt in February in response to a lawsuit from a pro-hunting group. Participants killed 216 wolves – nearly one-fifth of the state’s population, far exceeding the state’s quota of 119. Another hunt is planned for this fall.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little last week signed into law a measure that could lead to killing 90% of the state’s 1,500 wolves with methods such as using night-vision equipment, chasing them on snowmobiles and ATVs and shooting them from helicopters. In Montana, proposed legislation would allow the use of bait, night-vision scopes and snares.

The states “have clearly indicated that they will manage wolves to the lowest allowable standards,” the scientists said in their letter.

“The recent politicization of wolf management in states like Idaho and Montana puts long-term recovery of wolves in jeopardy by reducing the probability of such dispersals,” said Jeremy Bruskotter, a wildlife policy professor at Ohio State University.

The Fish and Wildlife Service contends it’s not necessary for wolves to be in every place they once inhabited to be considered recovered.

Livestock farmers and ranchers contend wolf numbers are too high and threaten their livelihoods.

Lawyers representing the government and groups suing to restore federal protections agreed this month to a scheduling plan intended to get matter resolved before hunts that might take place this fall.

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Microsoft News/USA Today

‘Sickening’: Wildlife conservationists outraged after NRA head Wayne LaPierre shoots endangered elephant in Botswana

Grace Hauck, USA TODAY, April 28, 2021

Wildlife conservationists are outraged after video released by the New Yorker and The Trace on Tuesday shows the head of the National Rifle Association and his wife fatally shooting two endangered elephants in Botswana in 2013.

he news outlets said they obtained a copy of the video, which was originally filmed for an NRA-sponsored television series but never aired due to public relations concerns.

In the 10-minute video, Wayne LaPierre Jr., executive vice president of the NRA, can be seen shooting and wounding a savannah elephant his guides tracked for him in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. The video shows LaPierre failing to kill the animal with three shots at point-blank range as the animal lies immobile on the ground.

“You want to do it for him?” one of the guides finally says to another before one man fires the final shot.

Afterward, the guides pat LaPierre on the back, saying “well done,” “congratulations” and “That was one heck of an elephant hunt.”

The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Savannah elephants were recently moved to endangered status on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Endangered Species, a global authority on the status of species, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, a U.S.-based nonprofit working to protect endangered species.

“Savannah elephants were just declared endangered by international experts, and these intelligent beings certainly shouldn’t be used as paper targets by an inept marksman,” Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

“It’s sickening to see LaPierre’s brutal, clumsy slaughter of this beautiful creature. No animal should suffer like this. We’re in the midst of a poaching epidemic, and rich trophy hunters like the NRA chief are blasting away at elephants while the international community calls for stiffer penalties for poachers – what message does that send?”

The second half of the video shows guides helping Susan LaPierre to shoot another elephant. As she fires the first shot, the elephant falls to the ground. She fires another into the elephant’s stomach before cutting off the elephant’s tail and holding it up to the camera.

“Victory,” she says, adding, “That’s my elephant tail. Way cool.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a U.S.-based animal rights organization, called on Congress to “watch the video, condemn the murder of animals for their body parts by trophy addicts, and have the courage to reject NRA money.”

“Behind the NRA’s macho posturing are scared little men who pay tens of thousands of dollars for someone else to track elephants so that they can shoot them ineptly at close range,” PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in a statement, adding that the elephant “died horrifically.” 

The LaPierres’ hunting expedition came in the wake of the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, when a 20-year-old man fatally shot 20 children and six adults.

In response to the shooting, LaPierre made a speech calling on legislators to put police officers in every school and condemning “the media,” violent video games and music videos that portray “murder as a way of life.”

“And then they have the nerve to call it ‘entertainment,'” LaPierre said in the statement. “But is that what it really is? Isn’t fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography?”

LaPierre, a New York native, has been chief executive of the NRA since 1991. The organization, which boasts more than 5 million members, has faced financial and leadership turmoil, headlined by a public power struggle between LaPierre and NRA President Oliver North that ended in North’s ouster in 2019.

Last year, the New York attorney general, who is seeking to shut down the gun rights organization, accused LaPierre and three other NRA leaders of participating in a fraud scheme that contributed to $64 million in losses and financed lavish lifestyles featuring private jet travel to exclusive resorts. Earlier this year, a New York judge denied the NRA’s move to throw out the lawsuit, allowing it to move ahead in state court in Manhattan.

(This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘Sickening’: Wildlife conservationists outraged after NRA head Wayne LaPierre shoots endangered elephant in Botswana.)

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University of Washington News

Thousands of baby sea stars born at UW lab are sign of hope for endangered species

Michelle Ma and Kiyomi Taguchi, April 27, 2021

Just a few days shy of the first day of spring, scientists at Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island had reason to celebrate.

Dozens of juvenile sea stars, no bigger than a poppy seed, had successfully metamorphosed from floating larvae to mini star — the important first step toward becoming an adult. Between now and then, these sunflower sea stars, the largest sea star species in the world, will grow up to 24 arms and a colorful body the size of a serving platter.

These young animals represent the first attempt to raise sunflower sea stars in captivity. The species, once abundant from Alaska to Southern California, was nearly destroyed by a mysterious wasting disease that has affected many sea stars in the ocean, but none so catastrophic as the sunflower star. In December, the species was listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, prompting a new focus on recovery efforts — including captive breeding.

The project, a partnership between the University of Washington and The Nature Conservancy, aims to learn more about sunflower sea stars and explore eventual reintroduction to the wild, if determined to be advisable. The research team currently is raising sea stars in several phases of development, including newly born larvae, mini juveniles and fully grown adults.

“What we’re attempting to do here is to raise a new generation of sea stars in the lab,” said Jason Hodin, research scientist at Friday Harbor Labs who is leading the captive rearing efforts for the UW. “We’re hoping that our efforts can help in the process of recovery of the sunflower sea star and, ultimately, recovery of the health of ecosystems like the kelp forests that are under threat right now.”

Kelp forests are already facing increased pressure from marine heat wave events and, combined with exploding sea urchin populations, these threats contribute to an uncertain future for the kelp forest ecosystems that provide important habitat for thousands of marine animals while supporting coastal economies.

Before the wasting disease took hold in 2013, sunflower sea stars were common from Baja California, Mexico, to Alaska and were important predators, especially for purple sea urchins. Now, with 90% of the sunflower sea star population gone and other factors, sea urchins have multiplied and are feeding on, and decimating, kelp forests.

“The loss of this important predator has left an explosion of purple urchins unchecked and has contributed to devastated kelp forests along the West Coast, making this ecosystem more vulnerable and less resilient to the stressors it’s already facing,” said Norah Eddy, associate director of The Nature Conservancy’s California Oceans Program. Eddy and senior scientist Walter Heady are working with the UW team to advance the sea star captive breeding program.

The UW research team first collected about 30 healthy adult sea stars from among the last-known wild colonies in the Salish Sea. Each adult star has a unique color pattern and was named, affectionately, by researchers based on its physical characteristics. For example, “Clooney” is named for his silver hairlike features, “Fanta” is bright orange, and “Prince” boasts purple tips on each arm.

Every two days the adult stars devour wild mussels and clams collected near San Juan Island, and the researchers are confident the animals know when feeding time is based on their behavior and activity levels.

About a year ago, Hodin and collaborators successfully bred several adult stars, and they soon discovered the challenge of raising the early juvenile stages — a feat never previously accomplished for this species, and for very few types of sea stars at all. After a challenging year of trial and error, they saw 14 juveniles cross the one-year mark, proving the likelihood they will make it to adulthood. The stars are expected to be fully grown adults after two or three years, but even that isn’t certain for a species that has never before been grown in captivity and is hard observe over time in the wild.

“Unless an organism lays down signs of yearly growth, like tree rings, it’s hard to know how old it is,” Hodin said. “For sunflower stars, we’ll only know that through raising them in the lab or going out year after year to a population and trying to measure the same stars.”

This past January, the researchers applied what they had learned from the first round and successfully produced tens of thousands of new larvae. The tiny critters, living in mason jars and seen clearly only under a microscope, are being raised in varying water temperatures, in part to test whether the species can survive warmer ocean temperatures expected under climate change.

The first few larvae to undergo the dramatic metamorphosis process into juvenile form — essentially the mini version of an adult — were raised at warmer temperatures, which is a positive sign for the sunflower sea star to recover in the midst of a warming world, Hodin said.

“These are not typical ocean temperatures around here, and yet their apparent success indicates that the larvae at least are robust to temperature increases expected with climate change,” Hodin explained.

The first step of this project is to learn as much about the life cycle and biology of the sunflower sea star, which is only a step away from extinction in the wild. There are no specific plans for reintroduction yet, and any future effort would involve more discussion among scientists and permission from wildlife agencies, Hodin said.

“If we can raise them in the lab, it might be possible to reintroduce them to the wild in areas where they’ve disappeared,” he said. “In the meantime, we’re learning more every day from these first-ever lab-raised sunflower stars.”

(This research is funded by The Nature Conservancy. For more information, contact Hodin at larvador@uw.edu and Heady at wheady@tnc.org. If you’re interested in supporting the UW’s sunflower sea star captive rearing efforts, visit the “Stars for the Sea” giving page.)

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Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Variable Cuckoo Bumblebee

Pollinator Devastated by Pesticides, Loss of Host Species, Habitat

WASHINGTON—(April 27, 2021)—The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to grant Endangered Species Act protection to the critically endangered variable cuckoo bumblebee.

This foraging generalist, capable of pollinating a wide variety of plants, was once found in 28 states, mainly in the East. But it has not been seen since 1999.

The decline of the variable cuckoo is tied to pesticide use, habitat destruction and the decline of its host species, the American bumblebee, which is also gravely imperiled.

“This amazing cuckoo bumblebee could not need protection any more urgently,” said Jess Tyler, an entomologist and staff scientist at the Center. “It’s in a great danger of disappearing forever. With this petition we’re sounding the alarm, and we hope the Biden administration will step up to save this important pollinator.”

This distinctive bee is unusual — a social parasite or “cuckoo” species that takes over the nests of other bumblebees by subduing the resident queen and making the worker bees feed and care for its own young. In doing so, cuckoo bumblebees help keep host bumblebee populations diverse and healthy, including by reducing disease virulence.

The variable cuckoo bumblebee relies entirely on the success of its host species, the declining American bumblebee. The Center petitioned earlier this year for Endangered Species Act protection for the American bumblebee, which was once among the country’s most commonly observed bumblebees but has declined by an estimated 89%.

“Insects like this are quietly disappearing, and without them our world is a lonelier, less healthy and less interesting place,” said Tyler. “We need to take urgent action to turn around the heartbreaking extinction crisis, and listing this amazing bumblebee is an important step toward protecting pollinator biodiversity.”

Cuckoo bumblebees’ reliance on host species makes them especially vulnerable. Multiple, concurrent threats also degrade the variable cuckoo bumblebee’s health and habitat. Habitat loss and degradation limit the available nutrition from diverse pollen and nectar sources and weaken bumblebee immune systems. Pesticide use reduces survival and harms reproduction as well as immune systems. Weakened immune systems make the bees more susceptible to diseases that are spread by domesticated bumblebees and honeybees.

The variable cuckoo bumblebee can survive in a wide range of open habitats, including urban areas. They make their nests in pre-existing cavities like rodent burrows and rotten logs, or on the surface of the ground in large grass bunches.

The cuckoo was once common in states like Illinois, Kansas and Florida where it could be found in open grasslands and meadows. Although it was found mainly in the eastern United States, it was observed as far southwest as Arizona and as far northeast as New Hampshire.

It was last seen in Nebraska, Missouri and Florida.

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Reuters

Genetic study offers good news for endangered Sumatran rhinoceros

Will Dunham, April 26, 2021

A genome study involving the last remaining populations of the Sumatran rhinoceros – a solitary rainforest dweller – is providing what scientists called good news about the prospects of saving this critically endangered species from extinction.

The researchers said on Monday that their study found that the two existing wild populations of this rhino on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra boast unexpectedly good genetic health and surprisingly low levels of inbreeding.

Experts estimate that only about 80 of the rhinos remain after a separate population on the Malaysian Peninsula went extinct in recent years. The Sumatran rhinoceros – the closest living relative to the woolly rhinoceros that was among the notable species of the last Ice Age – is known for its two small horns and a thin coat of reddish-brown hair.

“With such small population sizes, we were expecting much higher inbreeding in extant populations of Sumatran rhinoceros. So these findings were good news to us,” said Nicolas Dussex, a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Sweden who helped lead the study published in the journal Nature Communications.

“Moreover, while the fate of the Malaysian population serves as a stark warning to what might happen to the two remaining populations on Sumatra and Borneo, our findings suggest that it may not be too late to find ways to preserve the genetic diversity of the species,” Dussex said.

The researchers sequenced the genomes of seven rhinos from Borneo, eight from Sumatra and six from the Malay Peninsula population that has been considered extinct since 2015.

The Sumatran rhinoceros is the smallest of the world’s five rhinoceros species, at around 1,540 to 1,760 pounds (700 to 800 kg). The elusive rainforest inhabitant, the most vocal rhino species, remains solitary except for mating and rearing offspring. It once had a wide range in Southeast Asia, from the foothills of the Himalayas down to Borneo and Sumatra.

Poaching and habitation destruction by humans have devastated its population, with its numbers falling by about 70% over the past two decades.

“When it comes to long-term survival of a species, genetic diversity is one of the key factors, as this enables adaptation to future environmental changes and diseases,” said Centre for Palaeogenetics doctoral student and study lead author Johanna von Seth. “So, the fact that a lot of diversity remains is very promising if we can manage to maintain it, of course assuming we can also reduce the impact of non-genetic factors.”

The researchers said steps such as translocating rhinos for mating – a costly and logistically challenging proposition – or using artificial insemination could enable a beneficial exchange of genes between the Borneo and Sumatra populations. This species has shown low reproductive success in captivity and faces a high risk of inbreeding – mating with close relatives – in the wild because of its small numbers.

Inbreeding creates a heightened risk of genetic flaws and reduced genetic diversity. Scientists had feared that reports of tumors and low fecundity among these rhinos were evidence of a dangerously inbred population.

“It’s important to remember that the Sumatran rhino is still on the verge of extinction due to non-genetic factors,” said Centre for Palaeogenetics evolutionary genetics professor and study co-author Love Dalén.

“So the hope, though little, that these results offer is that if we manage to solve the problems caused by habitat destruction and poaching, there is at least a chance that the survivors will not be doomed by their poor genetic status,” Dalén added.

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Public News Service

AZ Conservationists Back Bipartisan ‘Recovering America’s Wildlife Act’

By Mark Richardson, Producer, April 26, 2021

TUCSON, Ariz. — Conservation groups are hailing Congress’ new Recovering America’s Wildlife Act as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect at-risk species from what scientists warn could be a mass-extinction crisis.

The $1.4 billion measure would boost funding for the Wildlife Action Plan in Arizona and other states to help preserve thousands of vulnerable species.

Scott Garlid, executive director, Arizona Wildlife Federation, sees money from the Act as an investment to help thousands of already threatened or endangered animals and keep others off the list.

“We can pay a little bit now, and we can help the species that need it the most, or, if we choose not to do anything, these species are going to end up on the threatened and endangered list,” Garlid contended. “We’re going to face much more dire and expensive consequences down the road.”

An updated version of the bill filed in the U.S. House last week would fund conservation in all 50 states, restoring habitats, reintroducing native species and battling diseases. An additional $97 million is earmarked for wildlife preservation on tribal lands.

The bill has bipartisan support in Congress. Garlid noted the measure will help Arizona protect dozens of iconic species.

“Arizona is actually in a position to get a tremendous benefit from this,” Garlid remarked. “I think the last estimate was $34 million that would go to the Arizona Game and Fish Department to help them manage the species that they identified as species of greatest concern.”

Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, believes the Act will fund the type of cooperative efforts that, in past decades, helped preserve numerous species.

“The goal of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is to invest in that collaborative, on-the-ground conservation work that’s been so successful for species like deer and wild turkeys and elk,” O’Mara explained. “Using those same practices to restore the full diversity of wildlife.”

Funding from the Act will augment traditional wildlife revenue streams such as state hunting and fishing licenses and taxes on hunting and fishing gear. It is expected to create thousands of jobs both at wildlife agencies and in the outdoor-recreation industry.

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Fox 10/Phoenix

Endangered fin whale that washed ashore in San Francisco likely died from ship strike

By Lisa Fernandez, April 25, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO – Experts believe that an endangered fin whale that washed ashore in San Francisco this weekend died due to injuries sustained from a ship strike, scientists from The Marine Mammal Center said on Saturday.

They joined other scientists from the California Academy of Sciences and U.C. Santa Cruz and performed a necropsy at Fort Funston in San Francisco.

They said they discovered significant bruising and hemorrhaging to the muscle around the whale’s neck vertebrae, which they said was consistent with blunt force trauma after being hit by a ship.

The team identified the fin whale as a 46-foot juvenile male that was moderately decomposed based on the quality of its internal organs.

“Ship strikes are the biggest threat fin whales face, so this investigation helps us understand the challenges these animals face and inform decision-makers so we can safely share the ocean with marine wildlife,” said Barbie Halaska, necropsy manager for The Marine Mammal Center.

The whale’s death was reported to The Marine Mammal Center early Friday morning by the U.S. Coast Guard, the whale carcass was sighted a few miles offshore west of the Golden Gate Bridge.

By Friday night, the body landed at Fort Funston in San Francisco.

Although unfortunate, these deaths offer a unique opportunity for scientists to look more closely at these animals that are usually inaccessible to us, said Moe Flannery, senior collections manager of birds and mammals for the California Academy of Sciences.

The Marine Mammal Center has responded to six other fin whales in its 46-year history. Five of the six died from trauma due to a ship strike.

The fin whale is the second-largest species of whale and is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Fin whales are typically found offshore in deep waters.

When large vessels such as container ships are involved, the scientists said the ship’s crew may be unaware they have even hit a while.

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Goskagit.com (MT. Vernon, WA)

Feds begin five-year review of endangered Southern Resident orcas

By KIMBERLY CAUVEL, April 25, 2021

On Earth Day, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, also called NOAA Fisheries, published a notice in the Federal Register about one of Washington’s most talked-about species: Southern Resident orcas.

NOAA Fisheries is initiating a five-year status review of the orcas, which were listed as endangered in 2005 under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Since the 1990s, the number of orcas in the three family groups — called J, K and L pods — that make up the population has dropped from the high 90s to the low 70s. The orcas, also called killer whales, live along the West Coast and frequent the Salish Sea.

Since being listed as endangered in 2005, the population declined from 88 orcas to a recent low of 72, according to the Center for Whale Research and NOAA Fisheries. As of February, the population was estimated at 75 orcas, including some recently identified calves.

The Endangered Species Act requires five-year reviews to determine whether a species is recovering or remains at risk of extinction.

NOAA Fisheries is accepting public comment for 60 days on new information about the orcas that has become available since the last such review in 2016.

To inform the latest review, the public, government agencies, tribes, scientists, industry, environmental organizations and others may provide information for NOAA Fisheries to considering including about orca population trends, distribution, abundance, demographics, and genetics; habitat availability, distribution, and important features for conservation; threats; and conservation measures and needs.

Previous reviews completed in 2016 and in 2011 concluded no change was warranted. NOAA Fisheries has since deemed the orcas “one of nine marine species … most at risk of extinction in the near future.”

Comments will be accepted through June 21 online, by mail and by delivery, and must include docket number NOAA-NMFS-2021-0029. Comment online at: federalregister.gov/d/2021-08355. Comment by mail or delivery to: Lynne Barre, NMFS West Coast Region, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 9811

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King 5 TV (Seattle, WA)

Report: Washington wolf population continued to grow in 2020

Wildlife officials estimated the wolf population grew to 178 wolves in 29 packs in Washington. In 2019, it was estimated there were 145 wolves in 26 packs.

Associated Press, KING 5 Staff, April 23, 2021

OLYMPIA, Wash. —A new report from state officials says the wolf population in Washington state increased by an estimated 33 animals in 2020.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) released its annual wolf report Friday, saying the estimated wolf population grew to 178 wolves in 29 packs. In 2019, the agency estimated there were 145 wolves in 26 packs.

The state counted 132 wolves in areas managed by Fish and Wildlife and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation reported 46 wolves.

According to the report, four new packs formed in areas monitored by WDFW in 2020. The Navarre Pack formed in Okanogan County, the Vulcan Pack in Ferry County, the Onion Creek Pack in Stevens County, and wolves also reestablished in the area formerly occupied by the Skookum Pack in Pend Oreille County.

WDFW said it uses activities like track, aerial and camera surveys to conduct the annual population survey and look for new wolf packs. 

Seventy-nine percent of the known wolf packs in Washington were not involved in any known livestock depredation in 2020, while seven packs were, according to WDFW.

“WDFW staff, and partnering producers, non-government organizations, and county officials worked hard last grazing season at reducing wolf-livestock conflict,” said WDFW wolf policy lead Donny Martorello in a statement. “This coming grazing season we will pilot some newly innovated non-lethal tools and are working with producers, range riders, and landowners on action plans for deploying them.”

Sophia Ressler, with the Center for Biological Diversity, said they are happy to see the increase in the state’s wolf population, but more still needs to be done.

“The Department of Fish and Wildlife deserves credit for killing fewer wolves this year,” said Ressler in a statement. “But neighboring states are pushing massive wolf-killing bills and no wolves have made it to Washington’s third recovery zone, so it’s critical that our officials find and implement alternatives to killing wolves.”

Ressler pointed to bills going through Montana’s legislature that increase how, when and where wolves can be killed, including allowing the use of snares and paying hunters. Idaho is also considering legislation this session that would give hunters more ways to easily track and kill wolves.

WDFW said it documented 16 wolf mortalities during 2020, including eight legally harvested by tribal hunters, one killed by a vehicle, two of natural causes, one that was shot due to a perceived threat to human safety, one of unknown causes, and three lethally removed in response to wolf-caused livestock deaths.

Washington’s wolf population was almost wiped out in the 1930s, but the state documented a resident pack in 2008 and the number of wolves has increased every year since.

In January of this year, wolves were federally delisted from the Endangered Species Act and are currently managed statewide by WDFW as a state endangered species.

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Audubon

Critical Habitat Finally Designated for Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Although smaller area designated, Audubon encouraged by final rule.

By Karyn Stockdale, Western Water Initiative Senior Director, April 23, 2021

This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) published its final rule designating critical habitat for the western distinct population segment of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Audubon applauds this final rule—first proposed in 2014 and seven years in the making—for the careful consideration of the habitat needed for continued successful reproduction of this threatened species. In total, approximately 300,000 acres across seven western states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah—are now designated as critical habitat important for the recovery of this species.

As a priority species identified in Audubon’s Water and Birds in the Arid West: Habitats in Decline report, the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo is present in the western United States mainly during its breeding season from May through September. The cuckoos are about to arrive again. Migrating from Central and South America, its stuttering, croaking calls, audible at a great distance, are often heard on hot, humid afternoons, prompting people to sometimes call this bird the “rain crow.”

Sadly, this rule was driven by the severe decline in the population of Western Yellow-billed Cuckoos. Surveys coordinated by various state and federal agencies document fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs of the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo exist now throughout its range. In fact, the number of breeding pairs in California fell from 15,000 to only 40 in less than 100 years (Hughes 2015). Their steep population decline is linked to the loss of more than 90 percent of their breeding habitat. The USFWS focused on core breeding habitats where the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo “breeds consistently in relatively high numbers or is breeding in areas which are unique” for this designation and their conservation strategy.

This is why the Audubon network submitted more than 100,000 comments to the USFWS between two efforts in 2015 and 2019.

Water diversions, dams, and extended drought impacting southwestern river corridors have wiped out most of the cottonwood and willow forests that once lined the riverbanks—including the Colorado River and its many tributaries. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are still extremely vulnerable to additional habitat loss along streams and rivers.

Arizona remains the most important stronghold for breeding Western Yellow-billed Cuckoos. Although riparian habitats (including mesquite bosques) in Arizona have been significantly reduced, habitats in Arizona remain core to the distinct population segment of the cuckoo and need to be conserved to “enable western yellow-billed cuckoos to produce young that may eventually disperse to other parts of the DPS’s range.” For additional information on the recent USFWS decision on the petition to delist the DPS, see my September 2020 article on Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo Remains Federally Protected after Delisting Threat Falls Flat.

Although the acreage designated as critical habitat is reduced by approximately 195,000 acres from what was originally proposed, comments were considered with great care, the best available scientific data was appropriately reviewed, and Tribal sovereignty is respected. No Tribal lands were included in this designation and the USFWS states that they will continue to work on a government-to-government basis with Tribes for conservation of suitable habitat. The ESA authorizes the USFWS to exclude areas from the critical habitat designation if the benefits of excluding the areas outweigh the benefits of including the areas, unless exclusion of those areas would result in extinction of the species.

Some of the excluded lands are sites where partners, like Audubon and other conservation NGOs, have documented commitments to greater conservation measures on their land than would be available through the designation of critical habitat. Collaborative multi-stakeholder cooperative partnerships such as Audubon’s partnership with the International Boundary and Water Commission and Elephant Butte Irrigation District along the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico are prime examples. In the final rule, the USFWS noted Audubon’s Kern River Preserve in California is “well known by the public and managing agencies for its value and importance to the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo.”

Critical habitat designation can help focus management and conservation efforts on these areas of high value for Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Audubon recognizes that additional areas besides those identified as critical habitat may be important for this bird’s recovery. Audubon encourages a federally funded, multi-state, coordinated strategy to study and improve conditions for this bird. There is an urgent need for leadership from the USFWS to help address declining and vulnerable species by protecting, creating, restoring, and reconnecting habitat that will contribute to species recovery, adaptation, and resiliency in the face of climate change. Looking forward, the Endangered Species Act would be strengthened by reconsidering recently adopted rules under the Trump Administration that limited critical habitat to just currently occupied habitat, and a requirement that gave greater weight to economic costs against the potential benefits of designating critical habitat.

In this era of decreased river flows – and projections of even less water with climate change impacts – we must ask:  how can we improve flows in Southwestern rivers that provide regeneration of riparian habitats to benefit the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo?

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Courthouse News Service

Feds List Yangtze River Fish as Endangered

Overfishing and the construction of several dams in the Yangtze River Basin in China has depleted the numbers of the ancient sturgeon.

MATTHEW RENDA, April 23, 2021

(CN) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife approved the listing of the Yangtze sturgeon under the Endangered Species Act on Friday in an effort to stave off the accelerated decline of the ancient fish species also known as Dabry’s sturgeon.

“Loss of individuals due to overharvesting on the Yangtze River is the main factor that contributed to the historical decline of the species,” Fish and Wildlife said in a document published to the Federal Register. “Despite conservation efforts, this species is still currently in decline, due primarily to the effects of dams and bycatch.”

Dams in particular represent the more modern threat to the species. The Yangtze River is the longest in Asia, flowing 3,900 miles from the Tibetan Plateau in the west to the East China Sea near Shanghai in the east.

Formerly a free-flowing river, in 1981 the Chinese completed the Gezhouba Dam which cut off upstream migration of adult sturgeon from their spawning grounds.

“As a result of the construction of Gezhouba Dam, the species may have been extirpated in reaches below the dam,” the service said.

Farther downstream of the Gezhouba Dam, the Chinese government built the Three Gorges Dam, which was controversial with international environmental groups at the time. Begun in 2003 and finished in 2009, the dam has further restricted migration of adult sturgeon between their present habitat and their ancient spawning area.

The dam also rendered much of the rapidly flowing water upon which sturgeon depend into still water, which makes it more difficult for them to survive.

While the Three Gorges and Gezhouba Dams are two of the main impediments to a population rebound, the government continues to build dams in the Yangtze River Basin thanks to its topography, with the river starting high in the mountains and rushing toward sea level making it a prime location to generate hydroelectric power.

“The growth of dam construction in China has accelerated during the past decades,” the service said. “From the 1970s to the 1990s, an average of 4.4 large reservoirs (capacity greater than 0.1 kilometers cubed) were constructed per year. By the 2000s, this number had increased to an average construction rate of 11.8 large reservoirs per year.”

The Chinese government has been responsive to declining fish populations, enacting a 10-year fishing ban for sturgeon on the Yangtze River and attempting to introduce sturgeon born in captivity into its ancient habitat.

The results so far have been poor, with the introduced sturgeon lacking the ability to develop gonads and reproduce naturally in the river.

“Restocked sturgeons suffer from low fitness; most notably, they lack the ability to survive to reproductive age,” the service said. “Capture data obtained from the releases in 2010-2013 found that 95 days after restocking, no restocked sturgeons were caught either by researchers or by fishermen in the upper Yangtze River.”

The lack of catch indicates a poor survival rate for sturgeon born in captivity.

However, Chinese scientists are bullish on recovery, most notably because the water quality of the river has improved as the nation has taken environmental pollution more seriously in recent years.

“We conducted the release before the spawning season with a clear goal: to speed up the restoration of the Yangtze River sturgeon population,” Wei Qiwei, chief scientist at the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences, told China Daily.

The scientist spoke as the academy released 80 captive-bred sturgeon into the upper reaches of the Yangtze in January.

The Yangtze sturgeon is a relatively large fish, with adults up to four feet in length and weighing as much as 35 pounds. The fish has a triangular head, a long snout and tactile barbels at the front of its mouth to help it dig in the river sediment in quest for food. On the dorsal (top) side can be dark gray to yellow-gray. The underside of the fish is an opalescent white.

The Endangered Species Act often lists species that live outside the United States. While the federal government has no authority to manage or regulate wildlife in other countries it can outlaw the importation of such species, as is the case with the Yangtze sturgeon.

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The Chronicle (Centralia, WA)

After Devastating Fires, Washington Considers Moving Embattled Sage Grouse Onto the State Endangered Species List

April 22, 2021, Eli Francovich /The Spokesman-Review

GRAND COULEE — The sky was still the deep blue of early morning and dominated by the moon when Michael Schroeder leaned in and asked, over the wind, “Can you hear them?”

I listened. I heard the wind, and yes some undetermined noise above the gusts.

“Yeah, I think so,” I said. “There, right there,” he responded. “Oh, yes, definitely I hear them,” I lied.

Michael Atamian, another biologist with WDFW, isn’t fooled by my half-hearted deception.

“He’s been tuning his ears for these birds for decades,” he said of Schroeder. “You will hear them.”

We’re listening for the mating calls of male sage grouse. It’s early April and these small, shrub-loving birds are on the tail end of their annual stab at finding love — or at least a mate. To do so, they return to the same mating spot — called a lek — year after year. Once there, they primp, preen, dance and sing, all in the name of procreation, “performing their nuptials,” as botanist David Douglas called it.

A key part of that ritual is a sound so distinctive, so unlike any other noise, it’s beyond my abilities as a writer to describe accurately. But I’ll try.

As these birds strut and dance, they coo and inflate two large yellow throat sacs which produce a booming noise. It sounds a bit like a tennis ball being hit off a racket, but fuzzy and softer. Still, this noise can carry nearly  two miles.

None of which conveys properly how soothing — and utterly unique — the sound is.

I didn’t hear that noise, at least not at first.

But then, as the sun rose and the wind died, I heard it. Roughly 100 yards downhill, eight or so male sage grouse came into view. Late in the mating season, as it was, no females were in sight. Still, they continued to languorously flirt in hopes a female bird lingered.

A ritual repeated year after year in this exact spot.

With the light came another realization. As far as the eye could see — and in the shrublands of Eastern Washington that’s pretty far — there wasn’t a sage, much less a shrub — in sight.

“There used to be a lot of sagebrush here,” Atamian said. “Less than a year ago, it was a bunch of sagebrush.”

It all burned during the summer and fall of 2020, just 1 acre among more than 770,000 throughout Washington. Those blazes consumed roughly one-half million acres of shrub-steppe habitat, or roughly half the remaining sagebrush habitat in the state.

That’s bad news for many species that depend on the shrub-steppe ecosystem.

But for Washington’s sage grouse, it could be a death knell.

Prior to the 2020 fires, the birds were already in a precarious situation. The statewide population was estimated at 770 birds, living in only 8% of their historic range. Schroeder, a grouse biologist for WDFW, believes the fires destroyed half of the sage grouse’s remaining range.

That’s why the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission will vote Friday whether to list the sage grouse as a state endangered species. Currently, they are state-listed as a threatened species. If the nine-person commission uplists them, it will make it easier for the state to receive federal money, commissioner Kim Thorburn from Spokane said.

“It raises the visibility and the level of concern, and hopefully it’s something we can take to the feds,” Thorburn said.

Across the western United States, sage grouse are imperiled, although perhaps not quite as drastically as in Washington. Sage grouse populations have seen an 80% rangewide decline since 1965 and a nearly 40% decline since 2002, according to a 2021 report by the U.S. Geological Survey. As of 2015, there were an estimated 500,000 sage grouse left.

Washington has seen similar declines. At one point, there were 10.4 million acres of shrub-steppe in Eastern Washington, but when European settlers arrived, they cleared much of that historic range for farming and ranching. An estimated 20% of the original 10.4 million acres remains.

Historically, development and agriculture have been the primary threats to sage grouse, but in Washington there is a new danger — wildfire.

The burned area we stood near in early April is a good example, Schroeder said. Prior to the fires, this lek (mating spot) was near good rearing habitat. Female sage grouse lay their eggs in a ground nest hidden underneath sagebrush.

“Where is a female going to nest in an area that’s burned this bad?” Schroeder asked, gesturing to the emptied landscape. “They may go somewhere else. And if they go somewhere else, it’s possible that some of the males may go somewhere else.”

But “going somewhere else” is a difficult proposition. There are plenty of animals — hawks, coyotes, ravens and eagles to name a few — that prey upon sage grouse. In an intact ecosystem, the grouse would have some advantages. Despite their bulky appearance, they are good fliers and even better hiders.

But without sagebrush, much of their evolved advantages is gone. Not to mention that roads, farms and overgrazed land all fragment the birds’ habitat. During the winter, sage grouse rely almost entirely on sagebrush as a food source.

Sage grouse were state-listed as threatened in 1998, and a state recovery plan was completed in 2004. Under that plan, sage grouse population numbers have to fall below 650 birds to be eligible for uplisting. While the state doesn’t know how many birds died in the 2020 fires and subsequent winter, biologists have seen a decline.

“It’s clear that some of them must have died because the counts dropped fairly substantially,” Schroeder said.

“They either died in the fire or the lack of food over the winter,” Atamian said. “Good or bad, luckily the winter was not a hard winter.”

While fire has always been a natural part of the shrub-steppe ecosystem, the proliferation of invasive nonnative grasses — such as cheatgrass — has worsened the impacts of fires. Cheatgrass, in addition to providing little nutrition to native wildlife, is more prone to burning, contributing to a more frequent and severe fire season. Unlike faster-growing grasses, it can take decades for sagebrush to grow back.

“I think the fires the last several years, particularly last fall, really brought it home,” said Jay Kehne, Conservation Northwest’s Sagelands Program Lead. “It doesn’t take a lot of habitat loss to really make a difference.”

Moving sage grouse to a state endangered listing will help raise the alarm, Kehne said, making it easier to get money for habitat work.

“We have to get going,” he said. “Our time is limited.”

Kehne and Thorburn emphasized that the state listing is different from  a federal endangered species listing.

“Landowners are so afraid of having endangered species on their land because of the restrictions that occur,” Thorburn said. “But that doesn’t apply for state endangered. The reason we’re interested in it is kind of the opposite. It raises the visibility and the level of concern.”

In other regions, sage grouse have been a contentious species as oil and gas companies, alongside ranchers and farmers, pushed back against proposed federal endangered species listing. In 2015, the federal government opted not to  list sage grouse as endangered. Instead, the federal government announced the sage grouse agreement, a partnership between states ranchers and others. Since then, the overall sage grouse population has continued to decline.

The story is slightly different in Washington. Because of the vastness and interconnectedness of the habitat and because the state endangered species law is not nearly as strict as the federal one, Washington managers opted to work with landowners to try and preserve existing habitat. Fish and Wildlife commissioners received 1,257 written public comments in support of uplisting sage grouse and one against the proposal.

Programs like the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement is a voluntary federal program that provides private landowners with resources to conserve or enhance wildlife habitat.

Kehne also points to rangeland fire protection associations as another way to slow the losses. Roughly 365,000 acres in Washington aren’t in any fire district and have no dedicated fire agency responding to range fires. Kehne, and others, have asked the state Legislature to provide money and training to ranchers and farmers so they can form their own fire protection associations, thus responding more quickly to range fires.

Similar programs exist in Idaho and Oregon.

The legislation hasn’t gone anywhere in Washington, Kehne said.

“It would be another tool,” Kehne said. “And that’s what you need are tools.”

Tools and hope aside, the future is a bit grim for sage grouse in Washington. There is no denying it.

Yet, standing on a hill as the sun rises, the rhythm of these birds’ lives continued despite the devastation. It’s a poignant and inspiring sight.

Small. Alone. Surrounded by a landscape stripped of a plant they need to survive, these guys still dance, giving it their best shot. For some, that sight is enough motivation.

“As long as there are birds, we are going to keep trying,” Thorburn said.

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EIN Presswire

NEWS PROVIDED BY Texas Parks and Wildlife, April 22, 2021

Bipartisan Bill to Help Declining Wildlife Introduced on Earth Day in Congress

Bill Would Create New Jobs, Provide Outdoor Recreation Opportunities in Texas

AUSTIN — With as many as one-third of America’s fish and wildlife species on the brink of becoming threatened or endangered, a bill introduced April 22 on Earth Day in Congress seeks to reverse this trend, while creating thousands of new jobs and investing in the outdoor recreation economy. The bipartisan proposal has nationwide support from conservationists, hunters, anglers, businesspeople, and the outdoor recreation industry.

Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide $1.4 billion to state and tribal wildlife conservation initiatives to support at-risk wildlife populations and their habitats. The funding would come from existing revenues and would not require any new taxes.

Texas would receive more than $50 million per year for projects to conserve vulnerable wildlife like the much-loved Texas horned lizard, our state fish the Guadalupe bass, and many songbirds and coastal birds. This funding will also help recover species that are already endangered, such as sea turtles and the Whooping crane. The additional resources are urgently needed to aid fish and wildlife populations under increasing pressure from habitat loss, invasive species, emerging diseases, and extreme weather events in Texas and throughout the country.

Texas is home to more than 1,300 of the 12,000 species identified nationwide as Species of Greatest Conservation Need.  Recovering America’s Wildlife Act represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the course of history for declining wildlife and help prevent them from becoming endangered. If a species is in such bad shape that it qualifies for the “emergency room” measures of the Endangered Species Act, it is much more difficult—and more expensive—to recover the species. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That is the principle behind this bill.

Janice Bezanson of Texas Conservation Alliance notes that “the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would bring much-needed funding to Texas for projects designed to keep species off the endangered species list, without raising or creating new taxes. This legislation is good for wildlife, good for business, good for Texans.”

The Texas outdoor recreation economy generates 327,000 jobs, $14.4 billion in salaries and wages, and $3.5 billion in state and local tax revenue (Source: Outdoor Industry Association). This growing part of our economy relies on healthy fish and wildlife populations. This bill will put Americans to work restoring our nation’s wildlife heritage and would create an estimated 33,000 new jobs through tree planting, grassland restoration, habitat work, outdoor recreation projects, and wildlife management.

“Healthy fish and wildlife populations are the backbone of Texas’ fast-growing outdoor recreation economy, which includes hunting, angling, wildlife watching, kayaking, nature tourism, and hiking,” said John Shepperd, a spokesman for the Texas Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife. “Research has proven children do better in school when they have a connection to nature. Functioning ecosystems provide food, timber, pollination essential for agriculture, flood mitigation services, and clean water, which benefits all of us.”

State wildlife agencies will distribute the money through a competitive grants program.  Conservation groups, land trusts, researchers, zoos, nature centers and others will be able to apply for habitat restoration, land protection, research, establishing conservation easements, reintroducing wildlife, and other initiatives listed in each state’s Wildlife Action Plan.

Particularly beneficial for a private lands state like Texas, the funding could expand cost-sharing programs and technical guidance for private landowners to conduct voluntary wildlife and habitat stewardship activities on their property. It will also be used to fund educational programs and introduce more Texans to outdoor recreation opportunities—important now more than ever. Time in nature is proven to have numerous benefits to human health and mental wellbeing.

This bill is a reminder that when we work together, we can still accomplish great things. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act gained a lot of bipartisan support in the last congressional session; 185 Members of Congress cosponsored the House bill, including 14 Texans.

The Texas Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife is a coalition of more than 165 organizations and businesses formed to support this important legislation. Every citizen can help, by urging their Member of Congress to co-sponsor Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.

(You can learn more about the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and the Texas Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife and the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act by visiting http://www.txwildlifealliance.org.)

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NC State University (Raleigh, NC)

Endangered Key Deer Fawns Vulnerable to Heat Stress as Sea Level Rises, Study Finds

April 22, 2021, Andrew Moore

As rising seas destroy low-elevation habitats in South Florida, Key deer fawns could become more vulnerable to heat stress, according to a recently published study led by NC State University.

The study, which appeared in the February issue of the MDPI journal Diversity, found that Key deer fawns were most abundant in low-elevation habitats within the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key in Florida. It also found that adult females were most abundant in upland habitats.

Low-elevation habitats within the refuge mostly consist of dense wetland plant communities and provide important cover for fawns during the summer months, according to Julia Jacobs, the study’s lead author and a 2017 alumna who conducted the research as an undergraduate student at the College of Natural Resources.

“Key deer do not have natural predators on the island, so we predict that the cover is more important for thermal regulation during the hot Florida summers than it is for anti-predation protection,” Jacobs said.

Unfortunately, sea level is projected to rise by as much as 2.5 feet in the Keys and other parts of South Florida by 2060, inundating low-elevation habitats and leaving Key deer fawns vulnerable to heat stress.

“Previously the driving threat to Key deer was believed to be habitat loss with increased urbanization and increased fawn mortalities from motor vehicles, but now we understand that habitat loss from sea level rise might be more of a driving force in the coming years,” Jacobs said.

In a novel approach, Jacobs and her collaborators from the University of Florida and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences examined more than 350 images from over 50 camera traps throughout the National Key Deer Refuge in order to identify fawns and to estimate their abundance across various habitats.

“Using camera traps is a noninvasive method that has been used to determine population estimates for uniquely identifiable species,” Jacobs said. “During this study, we were able to determine that fawns are uniquely identifiable based on their spot pattern.”

The study’s results will ultimately help to guide management decisions for the Key deer population, especially as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers whether to remove the animals from the Endangered Species List.

Key deer, a subspecies of white-tailed deer endemic to the Florida Keys, experienced population declines in the 1950s due to habitat loss and hunting pressure, leading the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate approximately 8,000 acres in the Lower Keys as the National Key Deer Refuge. The agency later added the Key deer to the Endangered Species List in 1967, allowing the population to increase and stabilize. Still, fewer than 1,000 Key deer remain in the refuge.

Going forward, Jacobs and her collaborators plan to develop an educational outreach project for elementary school students. The project, called “Connecting the Spots,” will require students to examine photos of Key deer and to identify spot patterns.

“The students will talk about how many different deer they found and if they found multiple of the same deer,” Jacobs said. “This project encourages kids to slow down and look closely at the world around them and it shows how much fun science and conservation work can be.”

(This post was originally published in College of Natural Resources News.)

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NRDC

Proposed Bill Will Protect Imperiled Species as Planet Faces Extinction Crisis

Recovering America’s Wildlife Act Will Fund State and Tribal Conservation Efforts

Press Release, April 22, 2021

WASHINGTON – Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebraska) today reintroduced a revised version of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), as one-third of wildlife species in the U.S face extinction, and up to one million species throughout the planet could disappear forever due to human activity. The bill will allocate financial resources to states and tribes to manage wildlife, protect threatened and endangered species, and prevent species from becoming imperiled. The bill also prioritizes recreation and education projects that serve disadvantaged communities.  

Following is a quote from Dr. Sylvia Fallon, Senior Director of Wildlife at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

“We are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis with a million species facing extinction – some within decades. This bill aims to alleviate disaster with an infusion of resources for states and Tribes to protect species before they reach the brink of extinction and recover species already listed under the Endangered Species Act. Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would help avert the worst of the extinction crisis already upon us and help rescue our nation’s treasured wildlife.” 

Background

State fish and wildlife agencies have identified more than 12,000 species in desperate need of proactive conservation efforts in the United States, including more than 1,600 U.S. species listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will provide funding for states, tribes, endangered species, and plants. 

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Nevada Current

Judge gives feds 30 days to decide if wildflower is endangered

By Jeniffer Solis -April 21, 2021

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make a determination on the listing of a rare Nevada wildflower as an endangered species within the next 30 days.

The order comes after the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group, sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management in September, urging the agencies to list Nevada’s rare Tiehm’s buckwheat as “endangered” or “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act after discovering wide-scale destruction to the plants that destroyed more than 40 percent of the total global population.

Until recently, the species did not face significant threats due to its remote location. However, increased interest in mining around the state, particularly for lithium, has put the plant at risk.

An Australian mining company, Ioneer Corp., has proposed an open-pit lithium mine in Esmeralda County on the plant’s only known habitat, risking its extinction in the wild.

“Today’s ruling by the federal court in Nevada is not unexpected. Judge Mahan’s decision is simply focused on procedural issues, including the timing of FWS’s listing recommendation for Tiehm’s buckwheat, and in no way dictates an outcome of the FWS listing decision – it just requires them to propose a decision by a certain date,” said Ioneer managing director Bernard Rowe in a statement. “Throughout this process, ioneer has worked closely with all parties involved, including FWS and U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to ensure decisions made regarding this important species are based on the best available science. We are confident that the science strongly supports the coexistence of our vital lithium operation and Tiehm’s buckwheat.”

On Wednesday, U.S. District of Nevada Judge James Mahan ruled the Fish and Wildlife Service must issue an endangered species listing decision within 30 days, saying that the plant’s situation qualifies as an “emergency posing a significant risk to the well-being” of Tiehm’s buckwheat.

“We’re thrilled a federal judge agrees that Tiehm’s buckwheat is facing a dire emergency,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement. “This is one of the most endangered plants in the United States. The federal government now has to follow through and protect this species before Ioneer’s mine drives it to extinction.”

The Bureau of Land Management has already designated the plant as a “sensitive species” and Nevada is also considering the buckwheat for listing as a “fully protected species” under state statute.

More than 100 scientists and 15 conservation groups wrote a January letter urging the Biden administration to protect Tiehm’s buckwheat under the Endangered Species Act.

“Tiehm’s buckwheat is an emblem of the remarkable biodiversity that makes Nevada such a special place,” said Naomi Fraga, director of conservation at the California Botanic Garden in Claremont, who led the letter. With Wednesday’s ruling, the Fish and Wildlife Service has “no choice but to protect this plant under the Endangered Species Act. It clearly qualifies, and without those protections, it will be on a path to extinction.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Biden Administration Protects Endangered Pacific Humpback Whale Habitat

Final Rule Designates 116,098 Square Nautical Miles as Critical Habitat

SAN FRANCISCO— (April 20, 2021) The Biden administration issued a final rule today protecting 116,098 square nautical miles of the Pacific Ocean as critical habitat for three populations of endangered humpback whales. The rule could begin to help protect migrating whales from ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, and oil spills.

The action was prompted by a 2018 legal victory by the Center for Biological Diversity, Wishtoyo Foundation and Turtle Island Restoration Network. The groups had sued over the federal failure to designate critical habitat as required by the Endangered Species Act. The suit led the Trump administration to issue a proposed rule in 2019 and today’s final rule.

“Pacific humpbacks finally got the habitat protections they’ve needed for so long. Now we need to better protect humpbacks from ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear, their leading causes of death,” said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney with the Center. “To recover West Coast populations of these playful, majestic whales, we need mandatory ship speed limits and conversion of California’s deadly trap fisheries to ropeless gear.”

The biggest threats in humpback habitat are ships and fishing gear. The Center sued the federal government in January for failing to protect endangered whales from speeding ships using California ports. The organization is also co-sponsoring the California Whale Entanglement Prevention Act (Assembly Bill 534), which would require the state’s commercial Dungeness crab and other trap fisheries to convert to ropeless gear (also known as “on-demand” or “pop-up buoy” gear) by the end of 2025.

One population of endangered humpback whales that feeds off California’s coast contains fewer than 800 individuals, leaving them vulnerable to threats from humans. Today’s rule designates a total of 224,030 square nautical miles for the two endangered and one threatened populations, but overlapping habitat means 116,098 square nautical miles will be protected.

The rule designates 48,521 square nautical miles of critical habitat off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington for the humpback population that winters in Central America. The Mexico population got 116,098 square nautical miles in the North Pacific Ocean, including Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska — regions that also made up the 59,411 square nautical miles listed for the Western North Pacific humpback population.

“Today is a good day for humpback whales and the ocean all living things depend on,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Designating 116,000 square miles of critical habitat in the ocean is something to celebrate, but whales, turtles and dolphins still need additional protection from industrial fishing and ship strikes to recover and thrive, so we won’t be resting on our laurels.”

Critical habitat protection will help safeguard ocean areas essential for migrating and feeding. The designation will ensure that federally permitted activities do not destroy or harm important whale habitat. Evidence shows that endangered or threatened species that have protected critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as those without it.

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Earth.com

Counting critically endangered forest elephants

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com staff writer, April 17, 2021

A team of scientists led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has published a new method for counting African forest elephants. These elephants were recently recognized by the IUCN as being a critically endangered species that is distinct from African savannah elephants.

“The more accurately we can count forest elephants, the more we can measure whether conservation efforts are successful,” said study lead author Alice Laguardia.

“We are hopeful that the results of this study will help governments and conservation partners protect this Critically Endangered species throughout its range.”

The research is part of a larger initiative to conduct the first nationwide census for more than 30 years in Gabon, a country along the Atlantic coast of Central Africa.

Scientists typically use aerial surveys to count savannah elephants, but forest elephants cannot be detected so easily. To determine the best method to count them, the team compared the use of traditional methodologies with spatial capture-recapture (SCR) techniques.

“We compare DNA- and camera trap based-spatial capture-recapture approaches to the widely-used, dung-based line transect distance sampling (LTDS) method to assess their performance when applied to three relatively large populations of forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis,” explained the study authors.

The study showed that a method using camera traps for SCR and DNA sampling was the most accurate and least expensive way to count forest elephants.

Camera trap surveys were more precise on smaller scales but more expensive. The experts recommend that the use of both SCR methods, and their development, continue.

The researchers said that future findings and improvements should be compiled across studies to ensure their robust evolution as an option for monitoring the African forest elephant across its range and inform strategies and action for its conservation.

In recent years, forest elephants have been severely impacted by ivory poachers. A WCS census that was released in 2014 showed that forest elephants declined by 65 percent between 2002 and 2013. Through the new study, researchers can gain a better understanding of how many forest elephants remain and where they reside.

Gabon is considered the most important country for forest elephant conservation. Despite accounting for less than 15 percent of the species’ range, Gabon is thought to harbor more than 50 percent of the remaining forest elephant population.

Lee White is the Gabonese Minister of Water, Forests, the Seas, the Environment, charged with Climate Change & Land Use Planning.

“As long as ivory is a precious commodity, elephants will be at risk,” said White. “In Africa there is a clear link between environmental governance, peace and security. Countries that have lost their elephant populations have all too often descended into civil strife. Through the results of this study we hope to obtain a clear picture of the trend of poaching and elephant populations in all of Gabon.”

Ted Schmitt is the director of conservation at Vulcan Inc., a Seattle company that funded the research.

“Vulcan recognizes the significant role of accurate population data for conservation management and policy decisions,” said Schmitt.

“By providing timely census data, we can fill critical knowledge gaps and enable prioritization of conservation resources. We are pleased to be part of this effort with Wildlife Conservation Society and the government of Gabon to help preserve this important species.”

The study is published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.

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The World (Coos Bay, OR)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Seeks Public Comment Regarding Streaked Horned Lark Endangered Species Act Listing Status

Apr 16, 2021

After reviewing the best available scientific and commercial information, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to reaffirm the listing of the streaked horned lark as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The service is also proposing a revised special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA to provide for the conservation needs of the species. This announcement opens a 60-day public comment period.

The streaked horned lark is a small, ground nesting bird that makes its home in the Pacific Northwest. It has disappeared from much of its historical range, which used to extend from southern British Columbia to southwestern Oregon and is now located in only three regions of Oregon and Washington.

Streaked horned larks are impacted by ongoing habitat loss and degradation, land management activities, recreation and climate change. These factors, in combination with their small population size, have pushed the species into decline.

The birds nest on the ground in areas with low, sparse vegetation. Historically, their habitat was maintained by disturbances such as flooding or fire, but loss of natural disturbance regimes has made them depend on artificially maintained habitats, including agricultural lands, airports and dredged material placement sites.

“Our status review supports maintaining streaked horned lark as a threatened species,” said Robyn Thorson, regional director for the service’s Columbia-Pacific Northwest Region. “We are encouraged by existing conservation efforts and are committed to working with partners and stakeholders to recover this bird using a variety of ESA tools. The proposed 4(d) rule would encourage landowners to manage their landscape in a way that works for them while supporting the conservation needs of this species throughout its range.”

The service previously designated the lark as a threatened species with a 4(d) rule in 2013. This designation was subsequently legally challenged. The court remanded the rule for reconsideration, and the Service agreed to submit a new proposed listing rule that incorporated additional information.

The 60-day comment period allows the public to review and provide input on this proposal. The Service is seeking information about the biology, distribution, status and population trends of the species, as well as any additional information regarding the proposed 4(d) rule. All relevant materials received by June 14, 2021, will be considered.

Information on how to submit comments is available at http://www.regulations.gov by searching under docket number FWS–R9–ES–2020–0153. For more information about streaked horned lark, please visit http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/.

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Changing America

The desperate fight to save Canada’s last three spotted owls

The species relies on old-growth forests to roost, nest and forage.

By Joseph Guzman | April 16, 2021

The few remaining wild northern spotted owls in Canada are getting a new chance at survival.

The medium-sized owl is thought to have historically inhabited forests throughout southwestern British Columbia, western Washington and Oregon and parts of northwestern California.

But as the species relies on old-growth forests to roost, nest and forage, ongoing logging over the years has caused their numbers to nose dive.

The owl is considered endangered in Canada and biologists believe less than six owls remain in the wild in the southwestern corner of mainland British Columbia. Only three adult spotted owls have been located by researchers, including just one breeding pair. Prior to the beginning of industrial logging, an estimated 500 pairs of spotted owls lived in the region.

In response, researchers have been taking the pair’s chicks on occasion for a captive breeding program, and now, the Canadian and British Columbia governments have struck a deal to defer logging operations for at least a year in the few remaining old-growth forests the owls used to thrive in while permanent protections are developed, according to The Guardian.

The move earlier this year was applauded by conservation groups and the local Spô’zêm First Nation in British Columbia.

“Spô’zêm First Nation stands proud as we have further shown that with the right intentions, collaboration and productive dialogue great things are achievable,” Spô’zêm Nation Chief James Hobart said in a statement.

British Columbia ministry of environment said the agreement will help build on an existing plan to protect the species, which aims to protect 25 percent of Canada’s lands and waters by 2025. Environmentalists are pushing governments to protect enough forest habitat to accommodate 250 spotted owls.

The species is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in the U.S. Scientists estimate 1,200 pairs of owls in Oregon, 560 in northern California and 500 pairs in Washington.

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Fox 13/Tampa Bay

Environmental group sues federal government over protections for 20 endangered species

By Gillian Flaccus, April 15, 2021

PORTLAND, Ore. – An environmental group filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging the federal government has failed to act on petitions to protect nine species under the Endangered Species Act and hasn’t designated critical habitat for 11 other species that are already protected.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., by the Center for Biological Diversity lists a variety of plants, bees and animals from Oregon to Florida to Delaware and joins a previous lawsuit filed last year that listed 200 different species that were awaiting protection decisions.

The average waiting period for an imperiled species to get federal protection is 12 years, and 47 species have gone extinct waiting, said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the center.

The Endangered Species Act is incredibly successful at saving species from extinction, but only if they’re provided its protections in the first place,” he said. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing program is broken and badly in need of reform.”

Spokespeople from Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Department of Interior declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Included in the complaint are species from across the U.S. with sometimes fanciful names that are teetering on the brink of environmental disaster.

The beardless chinch weed, for example, is a perennial in the sunflower family. But there are only 387 individual plants left growing in the United States among oak woodlands and desert grasslands in Arizona. It has been proposed for a listing under the Endangered Species Act, but the federal government did not take action to finalize the listing in the required time period, Greenwald said.

The Franklin’s bumble bee in Oregon, the Hermes copper butterfly in California and the Sierra Nevada red fox are other species in that category, he said. The Franklin’s bumble bee hasn’t been seen in the wild since 2006.

Four other species are awaiting a decision on whether protection is warranted, including the Bethany Beach firefly in Delaware. The firefly species is only found within 1,500 feet of the shore, and its survival is affected by rising sea levels and increases in storm surges caused by climate change, as well as coastal development.

Seven plant species in Florida, a mussel called the Suwannee moccasin shell also found in Florida and a fish called the pearl darter in Mississippi are all waiting for federal wildlife agencies to designate critical habitat where they will be protected, Greenwald said.

In 2016, the Fish and Wildlife Service developed a work plan to address some of the more than 500 species waiting for protection. The agency failed to make dozens of decisions on federal protections for those species under the administration of President Donald Trump.

Last year alone, the agency failed to make decisions for 58 species identified in its work plan, according to environmentalists.

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CISION/PR Newswire

Shortfin Mako Shark Clears Hurdle Toward U.S. Endangered Species List

As Listing Petition Advances, Conservationists Repeat Call for Immediate North Atlantic Ban

News Provided by Shark Advocates International; The Ocean Foundation, April 15, 2021

WASHINGTON, April 15, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — The shortfin mako shark is a step closer to listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) as the Biden Administration prepares for international negotiations on protecting the exceptionally depleted North Atlantic population. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) today announced its “90-day finding” that a Defenders of Wildlife petition presents substantial information indicating ESA listing may be warranted. NMFS will commence a comprehensive status review at the same time that the agency considers its 2021 stance on a science-based international North Atlantic shortfin mako ban that has been stalled for years, due largely to U.S. opposition.

“North Atlantic shortfin mako depletion is among the world’s most pressing shark conservation crises, and the U.S. is critical to achieving the multilateral ban needed to stem the decline,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. “While in recent years the U.S. has been an obstacle to international Atlantic mako protections, the Biden Administration’s commitment to science and today’s filing – which highlights makos’ exceptional susceptibility to overfishing — give us hope that the government will change course and heed scientific advice in time to help save the beleaguered North Atlantic population from collapse.”

Scientists estimate that North Atlantic shortfin makos could take five decades to recover, even if fishing stops immediately. They began recommending a complete retention ban for this population in 2017. Canada and Senegal, with support from 15 other nations, have been leading an effort to secure the recommended ban under the International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) since 2019. Competing proposals from the U.S. and European Union have prevented consensus.

Makos are valued for meat, fins, and sport. They are fished by many nations yet not subject to international quotas. The U.S. has ranked fourth for North Atlantic shortfin mako landings in recent years. Makos are classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

ICCAT mako negotiations resume in May with an eye to reaching agreement in July. A final determination on ESA listing is due by January 2022.

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Sustainability Times

Size alone ‘did not cause ancient megafauna to go extinct’

By Sustainability Times on April 15, 2021

Around 40,000 years ago mega-sized animals disappeared from the ancient continent of Sahul, which comprised mainland Australia, Tasmania, New Guinea and numerous smaller adjacent islands.

What happened? Was climate change to blame? Or was it people who hunted them into extinction? Or both at the same time?

Scientists have been seeking to find the answers to these questions, and a team of researchers led by Prof. Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University set out to do the same.

For a new study the Australian team devised complex mathematical models to assess how susceptible different species were to extinction based on several of their features, including 13 extinct species of ancient megafauna and eight species alive today.

The experts created simulations by taking into account such variables as body size, weight, lifespan, survival rate and fertility to predict how likely the survival of the various species was under different environmental circumstances such as prolonged droughts and increased hunting by people.

Their findings show that species that grew slowly and had lower fertility rates like the giant wombat called Diprotodon were generally at higher risk of going extinct than those that were more fertile the marsupial predator thylacine, which survived into the early part of the 20th century in Australia.

That is no surprise as biologists have long predicted that. Yet just because these larger animals were more susceptible to extinction did not mean they went extinct as predicted, based on the actual fossil record.

“We found no clear relationship between a species’ inherent vulnerability to extinction — such as being slower and heavier and/or slower to reproduce — and the timing of its extinction in the fossil record,” Bradshaw explains. “In fact, we found that most of the living species used for comparison — such as short-beaked echidnas, emus, brush turkeys, and common wombats — were more susceptible on average than their now-extinct counterparts,” he adds.

The conclusion the scientists have drawn is that it was probably because of a complex array of environmental stressors that caused various species to go extinct and not a singular cause.

“The relative speed of different species to escape hunters, as well as whether or not a species dug protective burrows, also likely contributed to the mismatch between extinction susceptibility and timing,” observes Prof. Vera Weisbecker of Flinders University who was a co-author of the study.

“For example, fast-hopping red kangaroos still alive today might have had an escape advantage over some of the slower-striding short-faced kangaroos that went extinct,” she adds. “Small wombats that dug burrows might also have been more difficult for people to hunt than the bigger, non-burrowing megafauna.”

What their findings mean for today’s species is that it may not always be a straightforward matter to predict which endangered species are at highest risk.

“Our results support the notion that extinction risk can be high across all body sizes depending on a species’ particular ecology, meaning that predicting future extinctions from climate change and human impacts aren’t always straightforward based on the first principles of biology,” Bradshaw stresses.

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Naval Air Station Patuxent River Tester

Bats on base: Those flying, fuzzy, beneficial mammals

By Donna Cipolloni, NAS Patuxent River Public Affairs, April 15, 2021

Whether you view bats as palm-sized puppies or horror movie monsters, there’s no denying the flying, fuzzy mammals are ecologically and economically important across the globe, playing vital roles in insect control, seed dispersal, and pollination.

At NAS Patuxent River, the Environmental Planning and Conservation Department has conducted surveys to determine which species of the order Chiroptera — which translates to mean “hand-wing” — can be found onboard the air station.

“The main purpose for the surveys is to determine the presence or absence of bat species that are currently listed or petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA),” explained Pax River Natural Resources Specialist Jackie Smith. “Mist-netting and some acoustic recording was contracted out with additional acoustic recording conducted in-house by installation staff.”

To conduct the survey, fine mesh mist-nets are strung up and opened in the evenings for about a six-hour period, and checked periodically throughout the night before being closed up and reopened the following evening.

“Our [net] surveys are usually conducted for three nights at each site,” Smith said. “Data is collected from captured bats, such as weight, measurements, sex, and whether or not females are pregnant or nursing. They’re also checked for signs of white-nose syndrome [a deadly fungal disease that affects hibernating bats.] Then they’re set free.”

As for acoustic surveys, recorders are set up in areas where bats are expected to frequent either for food [insects] or water.

“We generally leave the recorders where they are until the batteries die, then we recover the units, download the data, recharge or replace the batteries and go again,” Smith noted. “We’ll have recorders out there anywhere from a week to 20 days. There is software that can identify most bats to species, and some bats just to genus [a closely related group of several species]. The contractor we use can examine the calls on a graph and determine the species when the software isn’t decisive.”

Bats onboard

With no caves on Pax River’s properties, bats will live in forested areas and may roost under bark or in leaf litter on the ground.

“There are also small maternal colonies that might roost in accessible attics,” Smith added. “We’re learning more about the potential to find them in abandoned buildings and large culverts.”

Smith noted natural resources (NR) personnel rarely get calls about bats in occupied buildings and prior to first starting formal bat surveys in 2012, most of the bat occurrences at Pax came from bats that had “fallen out” in hangars.

“They’d fly through the open hangar doors at night, chasing the insects that are drawn to the bright hangar lights, and then end up on the ground unable to get up and fly again,” Smith said. “Our staff would respond, collect the bats and put them on the side of a tree outside our office. When the bats were ready to move on later that day, they’d simply push off the tree and fly away.”

In fact, Smith noted, NR staff documented seven species that way: Big Brown Bat, Little Brown Bat, Eastern Red Bat, Silver-haired Bat, Evening Bat, Hoary Bat and Tri-colored Bat. Only one other species — the Southeastern Bat — has been added during the formal surveys.

Calls recorded on base, but not yet confirmed, may also come from the Northern Long-eared Bat, and the Indiana Bat.

Bats are in trouble

Since the winter of 2006-07, millions of North American bats have died from white-nose syndrome (WNS), and as of June 2019, bats with WNS have been confirmed in 33 states and seven Canadian provinces, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) website. WNS gets its name from the white fungus which infects the skin on the muzzle, ears, and wings of hibernating bats and was discovered by USGS scientists.

WNS was first documented in Maryland in an Allegany County cave in 2010 during a survey which found several dead bats and more than 200 visibly affected. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources website explains that bats with WNS use up their fat reserves before winter ends, likely the result of increased frequency of arousal during hibernation. Starving bats may begin to fly but die because their main food source, insects, are not active in cold weather. It is reported the disease has killed more than 6 million bats in the eastern United States.

Of the bat species positively identified at Pax River, two of them — the Little Brown Bat and Tri-colored Bat — have both been proposed for listing as endangered species. Both of the species recorded, but not yet confirmed, are already listed: the Northern Long-eared Bat as threatened, and the Indiana bat as endangered.

All 12 species of bats occurring in Maryland are considered to be Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

What to do if you encounter a bat

Under the Maryland Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act, bats receive protection. It is against the law to “take” any bat, which means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to engage in this conduct. For information on what to do if a bat enters your house, visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website at http://www.dnr.maryland.gov and search “Bats in Houses.”

On base, if personnel encounter a bat inside a structure, or one that seems unwell, do not handle it. Call the NR main number at (301) 342-3670 during working hours, or call base security after hours, as they have a call-back list for NR personnel.

While bats are potential carriers of rabies, the Centers for Disease Control website notes that most bats don’t have the disease. Even among bats submitted for rabies testing, only 6% were infected. However, rabies is a fatal disease and it is best to protect yourself from developing rabies through vaccination should you be bitten by a bat, or any animal that may have rabies.

“Don’t handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic,” Smith added. “It’s important to note that whenever we, as specialists, handle bats, either while deliberately catching them or when responding at a bat ‘fall-out’ or other incident, we always handle them with gloves on. We’re also vaccinated against the rabies virus.”

Overcoming their bad reputation

Bats have webbed wings and are the only mammal capable of true flight. Bats found in North America are small, with bodies typically less than five inches long, weigh less than ½ ounce, and have an 8- to 12-inch wingspan. Healthy bats try to avoid humans and are not purposely aggressive.

Smith, who finds bats “super cute,” noted that all of the bats found onboard Pax River are insect eaters, not fruit or nectar bats. A single bat can eat four to eight grams (the weight of a grape or two) of insects each night. That may not sound like a lot, but USGS notes that the loss of one million bats in the Northeast would probably result in between 660 and 1320 metric tons of insects no longer being eaten each year.

Bats locate each insect by echolocation, trap it with their wing or tail membranes, and reach down to take the insect into their mouth. This action, as well as the chase, results in the erratic flight most people are familiar with when they observe bats feeding in the evening. By eating insects, bats save U.S agriculture more than $3.7 billion per year, per USGS.

For more information on bats

To learn more about bats, their behavior, their importance, their control and much more, visit http://www.usgs.gov and search “Bats.” To learn specifically about Maryland bats, visit http://www.dnr.maryland.gov and search “Guide to Maryland’s Bats.” To find out more about endangered and threatened bats worldwide, visit Bat Conservation International at batcon.org.

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Courthouse News Service

Federal Wildlife Agency Agrees to List Florida Crayfish as Threatened

The Fish and Wildlife Service says it will act to protect thousands of acres of habitat to bolster dwindling crayfish populations in Florida.

Erika Williams, April 14, 2021

(CN) — After about a decade of legal pressure from environmental advocates, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday agreed to list the Panama City crayfish as a threatened species by December and released a proposal to protect over 7,000 acres of the creature’s critical habitat.

“The Panama City crayfish is in serious trouble, and we’re encouraged that today’s critical habitat proposal could help it get on the path to recovery,” Jaclyn Lopez, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Florida-based director, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Panama City crayfish swims and burrows in the wet flatwoods of northwestern Florida, feasting on dead animals, plants and decomposed organic matter. This species of semi-terrestrial crayfish is 2 inches long and has a brown body with stripes that stretch from its head to its tail.

In 2010, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the FWS to list the crayfish under the Endangered Species Act and filed a lawsuit three years later.

The nonprofit conservation group says the Panama City crayfish, which is listed as a state species of special concern, has lost most of its habitat due to factors like massive urban sprawl. According to the Florida Natural Areas Inventory, wetland drainage for development projects, tree cultivation, off-road vehicles, and pesticide and herbicide use have contributed to decimating its habitat.

The FWS proposed protection in 2018, but failed to follow through and finalize the creature’s threatened status, according to another lawsuit the Center for Biological Diversity filed last year in Washington federal court.

“Saving this crayfish means protecting the disappearing Florida wetlands that it calls home, and finalizing federal protection is a crucial step toward recovering this dwindling species and protecting its essential habitat,” Lopez said.

When a species is listed as threatened, the FWS is required by the Endangered Species Act to “issue any regulations deemed necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of such species.” The agency must also designate a critical habitat for the species, which for the Panama City crayfish will be more 7,177 acres in Bay County, Florida.

On Wednesday, the FWS opened a comment period on its proposal for 60 days and announced a public hearing and informational meeting to be held on May 4.

“The only way to save species like this little crayfish is to protect the places they live, and today’s proposal and agreement will help do that,” Lopez said.

Last year’s 12-page complaint lists the FWS and former Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt as defendants.  The department is now led by Democratic former Congresswoman Deb Haaland, who became the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history when the Senate confirmed her in a 51-40 vote in March.

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CTV World News

Are conservationists spreading pathogens to threatened species?

Kelly Macnamara, AFP News Staff, April 12, 2021

PARIS, FRANCE — Conservationists could inadvertently be killing endangered species with kindness by spreading “devastating” diseases and parasites as they relocate populations to protect them, researchers said Monday.

Scientists in Britain looked in particular at efforts to save threatened populations of mussels.

Freshwater mussels play an important role in the food web and in cleaning rivers and lakes, but many species around the world are in decline due to human activity, especially pollution.

The researchers said there is growing interest in shifting mussels to new locations to boost populations, or so they can be used as “biological filters” to improve water quality.

But “moving animals could introduce a disease to a new region, or expose the individuals being moved to a disease that they haven’t encountered before,” said lead author Joshua Brian, at the Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge.

“People move mussels and other animals around all the time, and they almost never stop to think about parasites or diseases first,” he told AFP.

In a study in the journal Conservation Letters, the researchers looked at 419 published reports of mussel relocation and noted a significant increase since the 1990s.

They found only 34 percent of these movements included a period of quarantine.

The authors identified four risk factors for parasite and disease spread: the number of infected individuals and size of the moved population; the density of the population after it is moved, since disease can spread faster through tightly packed groups; immunity levels; and the life cycle of the parasite or disease.

They said that while pathogen spread has not been well studied in mussels, evidence from other species illustrated the risks.

For example, the authors said a pack of wolves moved to Yellowstone National Park died after being exposed to parasites carried by local canines.

Researchers calculated that if a group of 50 mussels were moved from a population where five percent of the population had a particular pathogen, then there was a 92 percent chance that the pathogen would be transported in at least one individual.

“Given translocation sizes can often reach the thousands, there is high scope for moving and spreading even low-abundance pathogens,” the study said.

Brian said every animal or plant could be seen as a community of things that live on it — like viruses, bacteria, worms, ticks — that are “often invisible, but can have devastating consequences”.

“Before large-scale movements of animals occur, there needs to be an effort to understand these communities more,” he said.

‘ONLY TAKES ONE’

The report highlighted in particular the risks to mussels of a gonad-eating parasitic worm.

In a complex life cycle that involves mussels and fish, the larval stage of these tiny worms infects the mussel and clones itself, effectively turning the mussel into a “worm factory” and castrating it, said Brian.

Researchers warned in particular of the risk in captive breeding programmes where different mussel populations are brought together.

“We’ve seen that mixing different populations of mussels can allow widespread transmission of gonad-eating worms,” said senior author David Aldridge of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology.

“It only takes one infected mussel to spread this parasite, which in extreme cases can lead to collapse of an entire population.”

The report recommended that species are only relocated when absolutely necessary and conservationists make use of quarantine periods to stop pathogens spreading.

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Chesapeake Bay Magazine (Annapolis, MD)

FRESHWATER MUSSEL GETS ENDANGERED SPECIES PROTECTION

Meg Walburn Viviano, April 12, 2021

A freshwater mussel whose population has been in jeopardy since the early 1990s finally gets federal Endangered Species Act protection, thanks to legal action by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The yellow lance mussel lives in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. It is threatened by pollution from agriculture, logging, and urban development, according to the Center, as well as by climate change. There are only seven remaining populations, and 86 percent of the streams in their current range are classified as having low or very low water quality.

After the yellow lance was identified as needing federal protection in 1991, the Center petitioned for its protection in 2010 and filed a lawsuit in 2015 to prompt a decision. Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave Endangered Species Act protection to the mussel species.

“Freshwater mussels are North America’s most endangered group of animals, which tells us we have to take better care of our streams and rivers,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “Because the yellow lance is an indicator of water quality, protecting its habitat will directly benefit people, as well as other wildlife that rely on clean rivers.”

The yellow lance grows to be about 3.5 inches long and like other freshwater mussels, you can count their growth rings to determine their age. Some freshwater mussels live to be 100 years old. They filter the water as they eat, improving the water quality just as oysters do.

In Maryland, the yellow lance is found in the Patuxent Hawlings, and Potomac rivers, all in Montgomery and Howard counties. There are ten miles of critical habitat in all. In Virginia, it lives in the James and Rappahannock River basins.

While it’s already illegal to harm these protected mussels, critical habitat designation adds an additional layer of protection, requiring any federally funded or permitted project to consult with the Service to make sure mussel habitat is not harmed.

“Freshwater mussels are fascinating and important, and we owe it to future generations to protect them,” says Curry.

Bay Bulletin asked if it’s unusual for it to take so long for a species to get Endangered Species Act protection. Curry says it’s not.

“Unfortunately, it’s really common for imperiled species to wait a decade or longer to gain official protection under the Endangered Species Act once they’ve been identified as being in need of protection. Some species wait even longer. More than 45 species have gone extinct while waiting for their protection to be finalized,” Curry tells us.

You can read more about the yellow lance mussel at U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s species profile page: https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp0/profile/speciesProfile.action?spcode=F03I#crithab.

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ABC News

Tensions rise in water battle along Oregon-California line

A historic drought in a massive agricultural region straddling Northern California and southern Oregon could mean steep cuts to the water provided to hundreds of farmers to sustain endangered fish species

By GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press, April 12, 2021

PORTLAND, Ore. — One of the worst droughts in memory in a massive agricultural region straddling the California-Oregon border could mean steep cuts to irrigation water for hundreds of farmers this summer to sustain endangered fish species critical to local tribes.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees water allocations in the federally owned Klamath Project, is expected to announce this week how the season’s water will be divvied up after delaying the decision a month.

For the first time in 20 years, it’s possible that the 1,400 irrigators who have farmed for generations on 225,000 acres (91,000 hectares) of reclaimed farmland will get no water at all — or so little that farming wouldn’t be worth it. Several tribes in Oregon and California are equally desperate for water to sustain threatened and endangered species of fish central to their heritage.

A network of six wildlife refuges that make up the largest wetland complex west of the Mississippi River also depend on the project’s water, but will likely go dry this year.

The competing demands over a vanishing natural resource foreshadow a difficult and tense summer in a region where farmers, conservationists and tribes have engaged in years of legal battles over who has greater rights to an ever-dwindling water supply. Two of the tribes, the Klamath and Yurok, hold treaties guaranteeing the protection of their fisheries.

The last — and only — time that water was cut off for irrigators, in 2001, some family farms went out of business and a “bucket brigade” protest attracted 15,000 people who scooped water from the Klamath River and passed it, hand over hand, to a parched irrigation canal. The farmers-vs.-fish debate became a touchstone for Republicans who used the crisis to take aim at the Endangered Species Act, with one GOP lawmaker calling the irrigation shutoff a “poster child” for why changes were needed.

Tribes, for their part, say the fish are intertwined with their existence going back millennia. The Klamath believe the sucker fish — the first fish to return to the river after the winter — were created to provide for and sustain their people. Further downstream, the Yurok define the seasons by the fish runs.

“Some people say that because of those fish, our people are still here,” Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes, said of the sucker fish. “They’re the canary in the coal mine. If they die out, it shows you that something is going very wrong here in the Basin.”

This season, amid a pandemic and an ever-deeper partisan divide, some in the region fear what’s to come.

“I think that the majority of people understand that acts of violence and protest isn’t going to be productive, but at the same time people down here are being backed into a corner,” said Ben DuVal, a farmer and president of the Klamath Water Users Association. “There’s a lot of farms that need a good stable year this year — myself included — and we’re not going to get that this year. I’m questioning the future.”

The situation in the Klamath Basin was set in motion more than a century ago, when the U.S. government began drawing water from a network of shallow lakes and marshlands and funneling it into the dry desert uplands. Homesteads were offered by lottery to World War II veterans who grew hay, grain and potatoes and pastured cattle.

The project turned the region into an agricultural powerhouse — some of its potato farmers supply In ‘N Out burger — but permanently altered an intricate water system that spans hundreds of miles from southern Oregon to Northern California.

In 1988, two species of sucker fish were listed as endangered under federal law, and less than a decade later, coho salmon that spawn downstream from the reclamation project, in the lower Klamath River, were listed as threatened.

The water necessary to sustain the coho salmon downstream comes from Upper Klamath Lake — the main holding tank for the farmers’ irrigation system. At the same time, the sucker fish in the same lake need at least 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60 centimeters) of water covering the gravel beds that they use as spawning grounds.

In a year of extreme drought, there is not enough water to go around. Already this spring, the gravel beds that the sucker fish spawn in are dry and water gauges on Klamath River tributaries show the flow is the lowest in nearly a century. A decision late last summer to release water for irrigators, plus a hot, dry fall with almost no rain has compounded an already terrible situation.

“Given what I know about the hydrology, it’s just impossible for them to make everyone happy,” said Mike Belchik, a senior water policy analyst for the Yurok Tribe in Northern California. “There’s just not enough water.”

The Klamath Water Users Association sent a warning to its membership last week saying there would be “little to no water for irrigation from Upper Klamath Lake this year.” It is holding a public meeting Wednesday to provide more information.

Meanwhile, sucker fish in the Upper Klamath Lake are hovering near dried-up gravel beds, fruitlessly waiting for water levels to rise so they can lay eggs, said Alex Gonyaw, a senior fisheries biologist for the Klamath Tribes.

“You can see them sort of milling around out in the lake water. They’re desperately trying to get to this clean, constant lake water that they need,” he said. “It’s going to be like 2001. It’s going to be, hopefully not catastrophic but very, very stressful for people and fish.”

In 2001, the Bureau of Reclamation cut off water for 90 percent of the farms served by the Klamath Project when a drought cut water supply by two-thirds. The decision to do so went all the way to then-Vice President Dick Cheney and marked the first time farmers lost out to tribes and fish.

The water was held in Upper Klamath Lake for endangered sucker fish and allowed to run down the Klamath River for threatened coho salmon, rather than moving through the intricate series of canals to farms before dumping into wildlife refuges.

In previous severe droughts, including in the early 1990s, the federal government allowed more water to flow to farmers — a policy that contributed to the current crisis, said Jim McCarthy, of WaterWatch of Oregon.

Some are hoping this year’s crisis will help all the interested parties hash out a water-sharing compromise that could save both the ecology and economy of the Klamath River Basin before it collapses entirely.

“This is the reality of climate change. This is it. We can’t rely on historical water supplies anymore. We just can’t,” said Amy Cordalis, counsel for the Yurok Tribe and also a tribal member. “It’s no one’s fault. There’s no bad guy here — but I think we’d all do well to pray for rain.”

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Public News Service

FL Manatees Face Greater Threats to Habitat, Health

By Michayla Savitt, Public News Service, April 12, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — Polluted wastewater released into Tampa Bay at Piney Point in the last two weeks is only one threat to Florida manatees, as an increase in manatee deaths is under investigation on the state’s Atlantic coast.

The State of Florida has already documented 613 manatee deaths this year, and could see a record number of fatalities in 2021.

Now, a possible red tide from the Piney Point breach could release toxins that would kill manatees and seagrass, which they eat.

Liz Neville, senior Gulf Coast representative at Defenders of Wildlife, cited Florida’s systemic mismanagement of environment, lands and waterways as a culprit.

“The Piney Point disaster, as well as the ongoing manatee mortality event – which is linked to water pollution – really show that we have an urgent need to protect and restore our lands and waters, and natural habitat,” Neville contended.

Last week, the state Senate approved a $3 million addition to the state budget to help clean up the area.

Neville hopes lawmakers will prioritize manatees by enforcing and enhancing protections in the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act, both of which saw some aspects rolled back in recent years.

Elizabeth Fleming, senior Florida representative at Defenders of Wildlife, said the greatest long-term threats to manatees are the loss of habitat and warm-water areas as a result of land development.

“What we’ve seen this year is the double whammy of there being cold weather, so manatees going to these warm-water areas, many of them the artificial power plant sources of water,” Fleming outlined. “And then, when they needed to go and eat something nearby, their food source was gone.”

Conservation groups are working on restoration projects, such as the Great Florida Riverway, to give wildlife like manatees access to springs previously blocked by the dam and its impacts.

Fleming added her organization wants the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work with Florida on recovery efforts, to ensure the state doesn’t backtrack on progress to save the species.

“The manatee was downlisted in 2017 from an endangered species to a threatened species, Fleming recounted. “And that indicated good progress, but it does not mean that this animal is safe from ongoing and future threats, some of which we see are getting worse.”

This time of year, boaters are also being encouraged to pay close attention to avoid hitting manatees swimming from their winter habitats. Watercraft accidents account for more than 100 manatee deaths per year.

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DeeperBlue.com

40 Sharks, Rays Join The Endangered Species List

By Sam Helmy, April 12, 2021

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has announced an update to the classification status for 40 sharks and rays species, and it ain’t good news.

One of the 40 species, the Java sting ray, is believed to be possibly extinct now, while eight species have been placed on the Critically Endangered list. This means they are one small step away from joining the dinosaurs.

Commenting on the reclassification Andy Cornish, the leader of Sharks: Restoring the Balance, WWF’s global shark and ray conservation program, stated:

“The alarm-bells for sharks and rays could not be ringing louder. The sheer number and diversity of these animals facing extinction is staggering. Overfishing is by far the greatest threat and has to be reined in. The good news is that solutions to this crisis do exist. Governments and the regional fisheries management organizations, which manage fishing in the high seas, must act now and boldly to recover the most threatened species before it is too late.”

The new listings bring the global total to 355 sharks and rays that have been placed on the Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered lists.

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The Roanoke Times (Roanoke, VA)

Candy darter fish gets critical habitat designation, but remains in the path of Mountain Valley Pipeline

By Laurence Hammack, The Roanoke Times, April 10, 2021

ROANOKE — Nearly 370 miles of mountain streams in Virginia and West Virginia have been declared a critical habitat for the candy darter, a small, rainbow-colored fish that two years ago was listed as an endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said last week that the designation will carry conservation measures meant to lessen “the looming threat of losing one of North America’s most vivid freshwater fish.”

But it won’t stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline from crossing the streams — either buried in trenches dug along their bottoms or through tunnels bored beneath them — that lie in its path.

A biological opinion released by the Fish and Wildlife Service last September found that running a massive natural gas pipeline 303 miles through mostly rural terrain is not likely to jeopardize the candy darter and four other species.

While some steps have been taken and discussions with Mountain Valley continue, “we do not expect this [critical habitat] designation to result in additional conservation measures,” Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Meagan Racey wrote in an email.

Environmentalists say the pipeline could wipe out a species that has already seen its numbers decrease by half.

“There’s no way to ram a pipeline through the mountains without causing sediment to enter the streams indefinitely, and sediment destroys the darter’s habitat,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The 368 miles of critical habitat designated by the federal government include streams in Giles County and West Virginia that are part of the watersheds of the Gauley, Greenbrier and New rivers.

Candy darters — easily distinguishable by their vibrant teal, red and orange colors — prefer shallow, fast-flowing streams with rocky bottoms. The 2- to 3-inch fish are an important link to the aquatic food chain, feeding on insects before they are sometimes eaten by larger fish.

When stream pebbles and rocks become coated with sediment from mining, logging and other activities, it makes it harder for fish to find food and lay eggs. There are 17 surviving populations of the candy darter, down from 35 about a century ago, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is expected to dump more silt and sediment into streams. Since work began in 2018, environmental regulators in Virginia and West Virginia have cited the company with more than 300 violations of erosion and sedimentation control regulations.

Last October, the Center for Biological Diversity and six other environmental groups filed suit, asking the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the biological opinion. The Richmond-based appellate court denied a motion to stay the opinion while the case is pending, signaling a tough road ahead for the challengers.

Meanwhile, Mountain Valley is free to resume construction on most parts of the $6 billion project, which is over budget and behind schedule because of multiple legal challenges. Stream crossings are on hold while the joint venture of five energy companies seeks new permits from state and federal agencies.

The biological opinion “addresses all concerns related to the candy darter,” company spokesperson Natalie Cox said Friday, declining to elaborate.

Other threatened or endangered species that live in the pipeline’s route through Southwest Virginia include the Roanoke logperch, the Indiana and northern long-eared bats and the Virginia spiraea, a flowering plant that is a member of the rose family. Critical habitats for those species were established years ago, not long after they were listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Ventura County Star (Camarillo, CA)

California agency seeks more time to study endangered status for cougars

Cheri Carlson, Ventura County Star, April 9, 2021

The corpse was found by a creek, one of its front legs broken in multiple places.

Wildlife biologists said the mountain lion, found dead late last year, was the seventh radio-collared cougar presumed or known to have been killed in a vehicle collision in a nearly 20-year National Park Service study.

Vehicle strikes are one of the leading causes of death for the big cats living in the Santa Monica Mountains straddling Ventura and Los Angeles counties, where biologists believe the latest victim, dubbed P-78, was born.

Studies have shown that mountain lions in this region face steep odds because of growing urbanization and the many roadways lacing their territories. The obstacles have led to inbreeding, low genetic diversity and lions killing each other.

But P-78 did something many have not. He left.

Before he died, the cougar had managed to cross several highways and roads, likely in search of territory to claim his own. He was living in the eastern Santa Susana Mountains before his death, scientists said.

Dispersing gives young males a chance to avoid larger males and eventually establish their own territory, said Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

But in the Santa Monicas, most get stuck. A few that have managed to cross highways and leave, were later struck and killed on roads.

“They were able to disperse quite a ways, navigate this challenging landscape,” Riley said. “But, in the end, they weren’t able to actually find a territory of their own.”

Agency seeks extension

On Wednesday, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will seek a six-month extension on its review of whether to add protections for several mountain lion populations on the Central Coast and in Southern California, including the local population.

An extension would likely delay the report going to the California Fish and Game Commission until November. A year ago, the commission voted unanimously to give mountain lions temporary protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, triggering a year-long status review.

The study is expected to determine if mountain lions should be protected as endangered or threatened. Meanwhile, the cougars will get the same protections as species already listed. That means development projects from housing to roads may be required to take steps to lessen any impacts on the species.

Local authorities will need to coordinate with state wildlife experts to ensure they do not approve proposals that may jeopardize the mountain lion populations, said J.P. Rose, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Risk to genetic health

The center and the Mountain Lion Foundation petitioned the state to consider protecting the cougars in June 2019. The petition sought protection for six populations of mountain lions in the Santa Monica, Santa Ana, Santa Cruz, San Gabriel, and San Bernardino mountains.

At greatest risk, researchers say, is the population’s genetic health, and those in the Santa Monicas and Santa Anas may be at greatest peril.

Critics of such a listing say the protections would jeopardize ranchers’ ability to protect their livestock. While hunting mountain lions is illegal in California, the state can issue lethal “depredation” permits when a cougar kills or injures domestic animals or threatens public safety.

The permits can also be issued for nonlethal means of keeping mountain lions from returning to a property. It’s not clear how, or if, the candidate status affects these permits, but the state wildlife agency has said its staff would work through any issues.

Cougars face steep odds

Late last month, the National Park Service released details from a necropsy on P-78 that showed major injuries and exposure to rat poisons called anticoagulant rodenticides. He was first caught and outfitted with a GPS tracking collar in the Santa Monica Mountains in December 2019.

The following year, in late December, biologists received a mortality signal from his collar and found him by a creek near the Santa Clara River in Valencia. He was likely struck on a nearby road and limped down into the creek before he died, they said.

Since 2002, park biologists have studied mountain lions in and around the Santa Monicas to determine how they survive in the increasingly urban area.

Experts say preserving corridors for cougars to roam between the mountains and other remote areas is key to their survival. One study showed that just one mountain lion crossing into the Santa Monicas every few years would help increase genetic diversity.

A wildlife crossing proposed for Highway 101 in Agoura Hills would likely provide those connections. Rose, a co-author of the listing petition, said this week that P-78’s death “underscores the urgent need” for public investment in wildlife crossings.

Despite challenges, the Santa Monicas still seem to be high-quality mountain lion habitat, Riley said.  “I definitely am hopeful — especially if we can increase connectivity — that we can keep them around,” he said.

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PHYS-ORG

Biodiversity: We can map the biggest threats to endangered species in your local area

by Louise Mair and Philip McGowan, The Conversation, April 9, 2021

Since 1993, 15 species of bird and mammal are thought to have gone extinct, including China’s Yangtze river dolphin and the Pernambuco pygmy owl from Brazil. But these recent examples are a tiny fraction of what scientists estimate could disappear in the lifetimes of people living today. One million species spanning the full diversity of life on Earth are at risk of extinction.

Trying to comprehend this scale of loss can make the problem seem insurmountable. Having a plan of action can help overcome that sense of powerlessness, and in new research, we’ve created one.

We developed a tool that can help governments, businesses and even members of the public discover how to halt wildlife extinctions. We worked with an international team of more than 80 conservationists to produce the Species Threat Abatement and Restoration (STAR) metric—a number that measures how much certain actions are likely to help reduce the extinction risk for local species.

How it works

STAR uses data from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species to give each species a score based on their conservation status. Species that are “near threatened” according to the IUCN have a STAR score of 100, while species listed as “vulnerable” have a score of 200. A higher score denotes a species facing a greater risk of extinction.

A critically endangered species, such as the Ka’apor capuchin in Brazil, has a score of 400. Breaking this down reveals which threats most contribute to the species’ extinction risk, using data that quantifies their relative impacts. The greatest single threat to the Ka’apor capuchin is habitat loss due to expanding towns and cities. This contributes half of its extinction risk, and so accounts for 200 of the capuchin’s points. Hunting and the selective logging of fruit trees, which this monkey forages from, make up the remaining 200.

STAR scores for different species living nearby can be added up to give the local area a total score. This represents a combination of how many species are present and how threatened those species are, and it can also be broken down to reveal which threats contribute the most to extinction risks for species in that area.

We applied STAR to all 5,359 amphibian, bird and mammal species on the IUCN Red List and found that halting the destruction of habitat for crop production would reduce their average extinction risk by 24%. Protecting habitats affected by the livestock industry would reduce their risk by a further 9% globally.

The expansion of agriculture plays a major role in biodiversity loss, but this doesn’t mean that we should grow less food. Research has shown that combining more land-efficient farming practices with efforts to protect and restore habitats nearby can feed the world’s human population while conserving biodiversity. The STAR metric shows, at a 5km scale anywhere on Earth’s land surface, where the negative effects of farming are likely to be particularly severe, revealing areas that urgently need action to halt habitat loss.

Threats vary between countries, as you might expect. Halting habitat loss from arable and livestock farms in Brazil would reduce the extinction risk of species nationally by 41%, whereas in South Africa, the figure is 17%. One of the major threats to wildlife here is invasive species. Controlling and eradicating non-native species could reduce extinction risk in South Africa by 15%.

Tackling threats in biodiversity hotspots

Areas with very high STAR scores have lots of threatened species, and we might consider them particularly important for conservation. The country with the largest STAR score is Indonesia, where eliminating threats from farmland habitat loss, logging and hunting could reduce global species extinction risk by 7%. This is followed by Colombia (7%), Mexico (6%), Madagascar (6%) and Brazil (5%).

These five-highest scoring countries have much in common. In each, habitat loss due to crop production is the biggest threat and contributes at least a quarter of their national extinction risk. But in Brazil and Colombia, the next biggest threat is livestock farming, while in Indonesia, Mexico and Madagascar, it’s logging and the timber industry.

There are schemes already in place in some regions to try to tackle these threats. In Indonesia, oil palm plantations can be certified sustainable if they meet environmental and labor rights standards. Expanding and effectively implementing these schemes could significantly reduce species extinction risk in these countries, potentially by as much as 30% in Indonesia.

Local contributions to global conservation

While countries with high biodiversity have high STAR scores, wildlife conservation requires a global effort, and every country has an important contribution to make.

In the UK, there are over 30 birds and ten mammals threatened with extinction. Here in our home city of Newcastle in north-east England, the river Tyne hosts a particularly important breeding population of the kittiwake, while the bright-billed puffin breeds on the nearby Farne Islands.

Both of these seabirds are classified as “vulnerable” by the IUCN. Overfishing of the puffin’s prey, sandeels, contributes 25% to the species’ extinction risk and a further 22% comes from climate change. This shows how important national and international policies are for strengthening local efforts to protect endangered species.

We can even use STAR to measure local and national contributions towards the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s 2030 goal of halting biodiversity loss, so that everyone can be part of the global plan for conservation.

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The Center for Biological Diversity

 Yellow Lance Mussel Gains 319 River Miles of Lifesaving Habitat in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland

RALEIGH, N.C.—(April 7, 2021)—Following 10 years of advocacy and litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized protection today for 319 river miles of critical habitat for the threatened yellow lance freshwater mussel in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland.

“Freshwater mussels are the most important animals most people have never heard of, so it’s terrific news that the yellow lance now has more than 300 miles of protected habitat to save it from extinction,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center.

The yellow lance is threatened by pollution from agriculture, logging and urban development, as well as by climate change. The species has declined by 70% in the Coastal Plain region and by approximately 50% in both the Piedmont and the Mountain regions.

There are only seven remaining populations, none of which are considered highly resilient as 86% of the streams in the mussel’s current range have poor or very poor water quality.

The yellow lance was first identified as needing federal protection in 1991. The Center petitioned for its protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2010 and won protection for the species as “threatened” in 2018.

While it’s already illegal to harm these protected mussels, critical habitat designation adds an additional layer of protection, requiring any federally funded or permitted project to consult with the Service to make sure mussel habitat is not harmed.

Mussels improve water quality by filtering small particles from the water as they eat and breathe. Healthy mussel populations reduce the cost of treating water for human consumption.

“We’ve taken such poor care of our rivers and wetlands for so long that freshwater animals are now at the leading edge of the extinction crisis in the United States,” said Curry. “Protecting little-known wildlife like mussels and crayfish will not only help end extinction but will help keep rivers safe for drinking, fishing and recreation.”

In North Carolina the yellow lance is found in the Chowan, Neuse and Tar River watersheds. The Tar River population is the healthiest and is estimated to have moderate resiliency. In Virginia the yellow lance is found in the James and Rappahannock River basins, and in Maryland it’s found in the Chesapeake River Basin.

The protected habitat is found in Franklin, Granville, Halifax, Johnston, Nash, Vance, Wake and Warren counties, North Carolina; Brunswick, Craig, Culpeper, Dinwiddie, Fauquier, Louisa, Lunenburg, Madison, Nottoway, Orange and Rappahannock counties, Virginia; and Howard and Montgomery counties, Maryland.

Background

The yellow lance grows to around 3.5 inches in length, with a shell that’s more than twice as long as it is tall. Lance-shaped when viewed from the side, juveniles have bright-yellow shells that darken to brown or black with age, and the inside of the shell is iridescent white, salmon or blue.

More species of freshwater mussels are found in the southeastern United States than anywhere else in the world, but 75% of the region’s freshwater mussels are now imperiled. Thirty-six species have already been lost to extinction.

Once widely used to make buttons and jewelry, mussel shells, like trees, accumulate growth rings that can be used to determine their age. Freshwater mussels can live for 100 years, making them among the longest-lived invertebrates.

Mussels reproduce by making lures that looks like fish, crayfish, or worms; when their host fishes attempt to prey upon the lures, the mussels release their fertilized eggs onto the fish’s gills, sometimes clamping the fish’s face inside their shell. Juvenile mussels develop as parasites on the gills before dropping off to begin life on their own. The yellow lance’s host fish are the white shiner and pinewoods shiner.

In dirty water, the fish can’t see the mussel’s lure, so the mussel cannot reproduce. Dams can also separate mussels from their specific host fishes.

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Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

Federal judge orders rare New Mexico fish species could be listed as endangered

Adrian Hedden, April 6, 2020

In a reversal of a decision made during the previous federal administration, a federal judge ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) move forward with evaluating the status of a rare river fish in New Mexico and Arizona and potentially list it for federal protections under the Endangered Species Act.

The roundtail chub, a species of minnow, is known throughout the Lower Colorado River (LCR) basin, which encompasses most of the riverways in Arizona and the Gila and San Juan rivers in southwest and northwest New Mexico, respectively.

The Fish and Wildlife Service agreed a listing could be warranted in 2015, but withdrew its proposal in 2017, noting that there was no distinction between the roundtail and two other species: the Gila and headwater chubs.

That meant the roundtail could not be listed as it was not a recognized species, per a report in the Federal Register, and the Service said it might evaluate all three as the Gila chub in the future.

A federal listing could place restrictions on access to the rivers known as roundtail habitat and could impact land use throughout the range.

In a March 31 ruling, U.S. District Judge Jennifer Zipps for the District of Arizona deemed the roundtail was a distinct population segment (DPS) separate from the Gila and headwater and thus could be considered its own species and could be listed for protections as either threatened or endangered.

Zipps contended the Service did not include adequate reasoning that the roundtail could not be listed either because the species had recovered or that it was not a species at all.

She called on the Service to publish a 12-month finding as to if a listing could be warranted exactly one year after the ruling was issued.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity against the U.S. Department of Interior demanding the federal agency resume its evaluation of the roundtail as a distinct species.

“FWS improperly failed to consider whether the LCR basin roundtail chub population remained discrete, significant, and in danger of extinction after FWS’s acceptance of the taxonomic revision, and FWS failed to articulate a rational connection between the taxonomic revision and its decision not to consider listing the LCR basin roundtail chub DPS,” Zipps wrote in her decision.

“The Service could have explained that the best available science demonstrates that the LCR basin roundtail chub is no longer in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future. But the Service failed to do so, rendering the withdrawal arbitrary and capricious.”

Fish becoming increasingly rare in western states

The roundtail chub can grow up to 19 inches long, but usually average about 10 to 12 inches.

It is known to usually be olive gray in color, with silvery sides and a white belly.

Roundtails mature at about 2 to 3 years, per a report from the FWS, and live to about 7 years old.

When breeding, males develop red or orange coloration on the lower half of their cheeks and at the base of their fins.

They live in cool to warm waters through a wide range of elevations throughout the basin near areas of cover under boulder, cliffs or vegetation.

Historically, the roundtail was found throughout the basin from Wyoming to Arizona, and even into Mexico but has become increasingly rare.

Populations declined through habitat loss caused by human uses such as damming and diversions, mining, agriculture and other developments.

The Fish and Wildlife Service reported the roundtail chub today occupies only 18 percent of its historical range.

Legal battle over roundtail’s listing spans decades

In its notice of withdrawal for the proposed listing, the Fish and Wildlife Service cited a report from the Arizona Game and Fish Department that found “no morphological or genetic data” to distinguish between the Gila, headwater or roundtail chubs.

“These three fish are now considered by the Societies to be a single species, roundtail chub (Gila robusta) because data do not support recognition of three species,” read the FWS’ 2017 decision to withdraw the proposal.

In 1982, records show the Fish and Wildlife Service first identified the roundtail chub as in need of protection, but did not act for about 20 years.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a listing in 2003, then sued the Service the next year to compel a response.

The Service denied listing in 2006 but made the headwater chub a candidate and later denied its listing as well.

Later that year, the Center filed another lawsuit to overturn the denials and the Service announced the roundtail warranted protection but delayed the listing as it worked on listing other more prioritized species.

In 2011, the Center reached an agreement with the Service to move forward with listings for 757 species, including the roundtail and headwater chubs.

In a statement following the court’s decision that evaluations of the roundtail be resumed, Ryan Shannon, a staff attorney with the Center said the decision to withdrawal the proposed listing in 2017 was driven by politics under the Republican administration of President Donald Trump.

During his four-year tenure, Trump and his administration sought to rollback numerous environmental regulations and protections in favor of increased industrial uses such as extraction on public lands.

“We’re thrilled the court rejected the Trump administration’s cynical attempt to deny roundtail chubs the protections they need,” Shannon said. “This ruling recognizes the dire straits the chub is in and calls the Service to task for delaying safeguards for decades.”

He said protections must also be extended to several fish species native to the American Southwest as climate change and continual drought conditions have imperiled their habitats along the region’s rivers.

“The decision not to protect this fish was driven by politics, not science. There is no question that the roundtail chub is at immediate risk of extinction,” Shannon said. “Like most of the Southwest’s native fish, the roundtail chub desperately needs endangered species protection to have any chance at survival.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched Against Federal OK of Vernal Pool Destruction in Northern California

Stonegate Development Threatens Endangered Species in Chico

CHICO, Calif.—(April 5, 2021)—The Center for Biological Diversity notified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today of its intent to file a lawsuit challenging the permitting of a Northern California development that would harm endangered species.

The 314-acre Stonegate mixed-use project on the outskirts of Chico would destroy vernal pool habitat that is home to vernal pool fairy shrimp, vernal pool tadpole shrimp and the exceedingly rare Butte County meadowfoam, an endangered flower.

“It’s outrageous that federal agencies would greenlight the destruction of Chico habitat vital to these rare species that are clinging to survival,” said Ross Middlemiss, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We won’t sit by while officials ignore the science and push endangered vernal pool species like the Butte County meadowfoam to the edge of extinction.”

Today’s notice letter challenges the Army Corp’s approval of the project and counters the Fish and Wildlife Service’s claim that paving over and further fragmenting the listed species’ habitat will not jeopardize their continued survival.

The project site has been identified by the Service as a core recovery area for vernal pool species. The Butte County meadowfoam, found nowhere else in the world but Butte County, has only 21 distinct populations remaining. The project would destroy one population and further encroach on two others. The area also contains suitable habitat for the endangered giant garter snake but the agencies failed to even mention the species in reviewing the project.

“We hope this action makes the agencies reconsider their approach to development in the area and begin promoting endangered species recovery as the law requires,” said Middlemiss. “It’s all hands on deck to save these imperiled species, and these agencies play a critical role.”

NRDC

Global Leaders Urged to Sanction Mexico to Save Critically Endangered Porpoises

With 10 vaquita remaining, Mexico pushed to halt illegal fishing

NRDC News–April 01, 2021

WASHINGTON— In a series of letters delivered today, conservation groups urged the United States and international authorities to use sanctions to pressure Mexico to save the vaquita, whose population has dwindled to just 10 remaining animals. Despite repeated promises for decades, the Mexican government has failed to stop the use of deadly gillnets that are entangling, drowning and killing these porpoises — driving them to extinction.

“Only the strongest international pressure will force Mexico to get lethal fishing nets out of the water before these little porpoises disappear forever,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “For years, scientists, conservationists and local fishermen have asked the Mexican government to stop illegal fishing and finally save the vaquita. When the U.S. government finally embargoed seafood from the vaquita’s habitat, Mexico responded but still hasn’t stepped up enforcement. Time for real action is running out.”

In a letter sent to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) today, the groups urged authorities to suspend trade of hundreds of Mexican wildlife and plant species and products each year, including reptiles, orchids, spiders, sea cucumbers and certain shark species, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Mexico continues to violate CITES by allowing the trafficking of totoaba, a large, endangered fish. Illegal nets used to catch totoaba can drown the vaquita.

“The Mexican government has had ample notice and time to heed CITES’s warnings and recommendations but has failed to remedy its CITES violations regarding the totoaba and vaquita. Time is running out for the vaquita and there is no reason for CITES not to act now with the strongest measures possible,” said Clare Perry, ocean campaign leader of the Environmental Investigation Agency.

The groups also asked the U.S. government to continue its ban on Mexican seafood, including highly lucrative trawl-caught shrimp, imported from the vaquita’s habitat in the Upper Gulf of California. The third letter requests that the UNESCO World Heritage Committee maintain the vaquita’s habitat — part of a designated World Heritage site — as “in danger,” along with requiring the Mexican government to submit a detailed management plan.

“Mexico has repeatedly broken its promises to protect the vaquita from harm,” said DJ Schubert, wildlife biologist at the Animal Welfare Institute. “The situation under the current administration has reached a crisis level. Without decisive action and stringent enforcement of Mexico’s fishery regulations, the vaquita will go extinct on President López Obrador’s watch.”

Beginning in 2018, the United States banned seafood imports from the vaquita’s habitat in the Upper Gulf of California to pressure the Mexican government to improve its conservation efforts. In an attempt to reverse the U.S. embargo, Mexico issued new fishing regulations in September but failed to enforce the new rules. Conservationists have consistently documented hundreds of small boats, or pangas, illegally fishing or crossing the vaquita refuge.

“The extinction of the vaquita is squarely in the hands of Mexico’s government at this point,” said Zak Smith, a senior attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “They have failed to protect this porpoise, as they said they would, and now is the time for all of us to hold them accountable. Waiting another year is not an option.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched to Protect 10 Species Left in Regulatory Purgatory by Trump Administration

Monarch Butterfly, Spotted Owl, Gopher Tortoise Need Protection to Avoid Extinction

PORTLAND, Ore.—(April 1, 2021)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit today over the Trump administration’s failure to provide Endangered Species Act protection to 10 species it admitted needed them. The species that have been kept waiting are the monarch butterfly, eastern gopher tortoise, Peñasco least chipmunk, longfin smelt, three Texas mussels, magnificent ramshorn snail, bracted twistflower and northern spotted owl.

The Trump administration kept these species in regulatory purgatory, claiming that although they warranted protection, it didn’t have the resources to actually provide that protection. But it listed the fewest species of any administration since the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973. Just 25 species were protected as threatened or endangered during Trump’s tenure, leaving hundreds of highly vulnerable animals and plants without badly needed protection.

“The past four years were a dark period for endangered wildlife and the environment overall,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “We’re bringing this lawsuit to ensure these 10 species that so desperately need help are prioritized by the Biden administration, which has its work cut out for it to undo the incredible harm done under Trump.”

The Trump administration left many other species waiting for protection decisions as well. In 2016 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a workplan to address a portion of more than 500 species waiting for protection, but because of political interference failed to make dozens of findings set out in the plan every year, including 58 species in 2020.

The Center filed suit in Washington, D.C. in 2020 to also address these failures, seeking protections for more than 200 species from the workplan that await decisions. The Center hopes to work out a schedule with the Biden administration and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to ensure these species don’t go extinct.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Species Backgrounds

Monarch butterfly — Found to be warranted for protection Dec.16, monarchs are in steep decline due to pesticide spraying and habitat loss. The most recent population counts show a decline of 85% for the eastern U.S. population that overwinters in Mexico and a decline of 99% for monarchs west of the Rockies that overwinter in California. Both populations are well below the thresholds at which government scientists estimate their migrations could collapse.

Northern spotted owl — Protected as threatened in 1990, the northern spotted owl has continued to decline in the face of continued loss of old forests to logging and invasion of its habitat by barred owls. It was found to warrant uplisting to endangered in December but still awaits that upgrade.

Eastern gopher tortoise — Gopher tortoises have shovel-like front legs and strong, thick back legs to help them dig intricate burrows, which are used by more than 360 other species. In Louisiana, Mississippi and western Alabama they’re already protected under the Endangered Species Act, but those in eastern Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina still await protection. The tortoises need large, unfragmented, long-leaf pine forests to survive. They’re severely threatened by development-caused habitat loss and fragmentation, which limits food availability and options for burrow sites and exposes them to being crushed in their burrows during construction, run over by cars, or shot. They have been waiting for protection since 1982.

Longfin smelt — Longfin smelt were once one of the most abundant fishes in the San Francisco Bay and Delta; historically they were so common their numbers supported a commercial fishery. Due to poor management of California’s largest estuary ecosystem, which has allowed excessive water diversions and reduced freshwater flow into the Bay, the longfin smelt has undergone catastrophic declines in the past 20 years. It has been waiting for protection since 1994.

Magnificent ramshorn — This snail is endemic to the lower Cape Fear River Basin in North Carolina. It is currently extinct in the wild because of massive alteration of its historic habitats by dams, development and pollution. Two captive populations keep hope alive, but stream restoration is badly needed to restore it to the wild. It has been waiting for protection since 1984.

Texas fatmucket, Texas pimpleback and Texas fawnsfoot mussels — All three of these Texas mussels are threatened by a combination of dams, pollution and habitat loss and degradation. Protecting them would go a long way toward protecting the rivers the region’s people depend on for fresh water. They have been waiting for protection since 2007.

Peñasco least chipmunk — Limited to the Sacramento and White mountains of southwestern New Mexico, this chipmunk is threatened by the loss and degradation of mature ponderosa pine forests to logging, livestock grazing and development. It has been waiting for protection since 1982.

Bracted twistflower — This pretty, south-central Texas plant is primarily threatened by urban sprawl from Austin and San Antonio. It has been waiting for protection since 1975.

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Montana Free Press

Grizzlies in Lower 48 to retain threatened status

Future for bears still in flux as new U.S. Fish and Wildlife leadership develops strategy.

by Amanda Eggert, 04.01.2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the Endangered Species Act, is recommending that grizzly bears in the Lower 48 retain threatened status in the near-term, following the recent release of a five-year status review.

According to the report, grizzly bears in two regions — the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem — have made strong strides toward biological recovery, but concerns about limited habitat connectivity, human-caused mortality, motorized vehicle use in grizzly habitat, and uncertainty surrounding future conservation efforts factored into the decision to keep grizzly bears in the Lower 48 listed.

Agency spokesperson Joe Szuzwalak said FWS is still deciding on next steps following the report’s release. He said new leadership in the Biden administration is “just getting their hands around those issues.”

“We’ll hopefully have next steps on that in the coming months,” he said.

Szuzwalak also said FWS has been tracking a bill before the U.S. Senate that aims to delist bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, but won’t be taking a position on the measure as a federal agency.

Animals protected under the Endangered Species Act are typically delisted through FWS rulemaking, though there is precedent for delisting a species via Congressional action: gray wolves in Idaho and Montana were delisted in 2011 after Congress passed a budget bill rider sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.

The report’s release was met with frustration by the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit environmental group that’s been active in grizzly bear management issues for more than a dozen years. They say the plan lacks specificity and is overdue. (Assessments are supposed to be released every five years, but prior to this one, the agency hadn’t released one since 2011.)

“It’s frustrating that federal officials failed to provide specific and updated recovery recommendations in this long-overdue analysis of the grizzly bear’s progress toward recovery,” said CBD senior attorney Andrea Zaccardi in a press release emailed to Montana Free Press.

The report estimates that the Greater Yellowstone grizzly population numbers about 740, the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem has about 1,070 grizzlies, and there are 60 or fewer in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem. An estimated 53 bears roam the U.S. portion of the Selkirk Ecosystem. British Columbia’s estimate is still in progress. No known population exists in the Bitterroots or North Cascades.

The agency estimates there once were as many as 50,000 grizzly bears roaming the Lower 48. The bears currently occupy about 6% of their historic range in the contiguous U.S., an area that spanned 18 states stretching from Washington to Oklahoma.

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Field & Stream

USGS Report Finds 80 Percent Loss of Sage-Grouse Population

The new report cites decades-long declines and offers framework to save the greater sage-grouse

By BENJAMIN ALVA POLLEY, March 30, 2021

Each March, greater sage-grouse gather together at lek sites (breeding grounds) across the Great Basin. In groups of up to 50, the males strut their stuff in an ancient ritual display of stamina. Their tail feathers spike and fan out as they gulp in air, puffing up their white chest plumage and filling two yolk-like air sacs that rise with the inhale before their bodies drop and heads thrust forward with the exhale. The air sacs create a ‘wup’ sound that can be heard two miles away, attracting females that spend up to three weeks selecting the male that shows it has what it takes.

But this ancient mating dance so familiar to hunters and outdoor enthusiasts may not last.

A new report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows that this once-abundant game bird has declined 80 percent in the last six decades and nearly 40 percent since 2002. Climate change and human-caused habitat loss are the main driving factors behind the population decline. If trends aren’t reversed, scientists predict, up to 50 percent of sage-grouse leks could be gone in two decades. And in 56 years, 78 percent of leks could be functionally extinct with less than two breeding males at each lek.

Greater sage-grouse are an indicator species representing the health of the sagebrush ecosystem: as one declines, so will the other.

“The fact that we even considered listing sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act should be a concern to every sportsman and the entire public,” says Ed Arnett, Chief Scientist for Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, who is familiar with the report. “It means ecosystems are in trouble.”

This 326-page report is the most comprehensive collaborative study on greater sage-grouse populations ever done between state agencies and the federal government. The unprecedented level of collaboration between USGS scientists and colleagues created a framework to estimate population trends in the 11 western states of California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Going Forward, What Can Be Done For Sage-Grouse?

The report sets up a solution-based framework for state and federal land managers to look at range-wide trends and decide which tools to use to reverse trends. Resource managers can use this framework to evaluate site-specific conservation efforts and examine what’s behind disappearing habitats.

“It’s important they consider intact habitat and population health not only for greater sage-grouse, but other species dependent on sagebrush, like mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and the over 350 species sharing that habitat,” says John Gale, Conservation Director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

The report’s findings indicate greater sage-grouse populations are declining more rapidly in the western part of the Great Basin because of drought, fire, invasive species like cheatgrass, and development. While the decline has recently been less severe in eastern areas, range-wide population numbers indicate sage-grouse populations are less than a quarter of what they were 50 years ago. Western Wyoming was the only area remaining relatively stable.

The collaborative study included USGS, Colorado State University researchers, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, individual state wildlife agencies, and the Bureau of Land Management. These agencies compiled 60 years of data to create a range-wide database for greater sage-grouse breeding grounds to study population trends in different parts of the species’ range. Through this study, scientists learned sage-grouse populations fluctuate between highs and lows every 9.4 years because of precipitation patterns.

Researchers also developed a “Targeted Annual Warning System” to alert land managers when local populations begin to decline, with the goal of spurring action sooner rather than later.

“The Targeted Annual Warning System provides a tool for biologists and managers to respond more nimbly,” says Peter Coates, USGS scientist and lead author of the report. “It will help determine where conservation action may yield desired results for sage-grouse conservation.”

Procuring robust federal funding to implement restoration takes time, but action is needed immediately to improve habitat. The new warning system described in the report helps states and feds to decide what conservation actions—like habitat restoration or limiting hunting permits—need to be done, where, when, and how long.

“Our concern is not physical access, but the alarming fact that sage-grouse populations continue on a downward trend despite the conservation plans released in 2015,” Gale says. “Restoring habitat is urgent.”

Hopefully, through collaborative effort, it won’t be the last chance in our lifetimes to witness what’s been referred to as the most incredible mating ritual in all of North America.

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MASS Live (Springfield, MA)

Nearly 90 endangered right whales spotted off Cape Cod in single day in March

Boaters urged to slow down to avoid injuring endangered animal

By Jackson Cote, March 30, 2021

The federal government is urging boaters off the coast of Massachusetts to slow down to avoid injuring right whales, as dozens of the endangered mammals were spotted off Cape Cod in a single day earlier this month.

Eighty-nine North Atlantic right whales were sighted in Cape Cod Bay on March 21, the most documented in a single day in the 2021 season, according to the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS), a nonprofit dedicated to preserving marine mammals and ecosystems. That sightings included three mother-calf pairs, the organization noted.

The nonprofit began its day surveying the south of the bay from the air and found a large group of right whales offshore of Sandy Neck. All three mothers were seen feeding near the surface, maintaining contact with their calves nearby, the organization said.

Further north, more groups of right whales were discovered, one of whom, named Marlin, “appeared to be having the time of his life, tail-slapping at the surface,” according to the CCS.

“We’re excited to find out how food resources might differ between the southern end of the bay, where whales were mostly feeding, and further north, where there appeared to be less feeding activity,” the organization said.

With right whales migrating north and with the dozens sighted in Cape Cod Bay, it’s more important than ever that boaters slow down to avoid injuring the endangered animal as well as passengers and vessels, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) noted in a Facebook post Sunday.

Boaters have been urged to keep their speeds to 10 knots in all seasonal management areas and voluntary safe zones. The mandatory speed restriction is in effect in Cape Cod Bay until May 15.

“Any sized vessel can present a problem if it strikes a whale,” the NOAA said. “A vessel can leave an injured whale with wounds that make it vulnerable to other threats or even cause its death.”

The population of right whales has been steadily declining for the past decade, according to the NOAA. Researchers estimate there are only 356 left.

Two calves have already been struck by boats in U.S. waters this season alone, the NOAA said. One of the calves hasn’t been seen since it was struck by a vessel in mid-January off the coast of Georgia, and the other was found dead in June off the coast of New Jersey.

“Early evidence suggests that small vessels may have been involved in at least one of these collisions,” the NOAA said. “These recent losses remind us that more needs to be done to reduce the risk of vessel strike to right whales.”

On March 3, the CCS’s aerial surveillance team spotted a right whale named Millipede and her 3-month-old calf in Cape Cod Bay, marking the first mother-calf pair of the 2021 season seen in the waterbody.

The sighting of the calf came on a day the CCS spotted 57 right whales in the bay, bringing the total number of right whales seen this season to in the waterbody to more than 100, according to the nonprofit.

According to the CCS, the large number of right whales that have entered the bay, combined with the sighting of the first mother-calf pair of the year, demonstrates the increasing importance of Cape Cod Bay as a feeding and nursery ground for the last of the species.

“We weren’t expecting to sight a mom-calf pair this early in our season since we typically first see them arrive in late March/early April,” said CCS right whale researcher and aerial observer Brigid McKenna.

“Millipede is a common visitor to our waters, and in fact, our most recent sighting of her prior to this was last March when she was presumably pregnant with this calf,” McKenna added. “Her 2021 calf appeared to be quite healthy and independent – it spent more than 40 minutes far from its mother, which is something we do not see often at this age.”

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Noozhawk (Santa Barbara, CA)

Land Trust for Santa Barbara County Brokers Win-Win for Agribusiness, Endangered Species

SOURCE: KATIE SZABO for The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, March 30, 2021

The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County joined with private equity firm Homestead Capital and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a mitigation agreement that provides a clear pathway to develop vineyard on the 684-acre property, while it conserves 320-acres of prime habitat in the Purisima Hills important to many wildlife species, especially the federally endangered California tiger salamander.

Numerous farmers, ranchers and investors have come to view the presence of the seldom-seen California tiger salamander as an obstacle to agricultural operations, but a growing number of landowners see potential to balance agribusiness opportunities with conservation of critical habitat.

This conservation easement allows ranchers, farmers, vintners and others a cost-effective way to increase production on valuable parts of their land while they offset impacts by protecting other habitat for the rare amphibian.

The elusive salamanders live most of their lives in ground squirrel burrows, but they also depend on aquatic habitat — vernal ponds, natural sump,s and even stock ponds and some ag reservoirs.

The agreement protects a wildlife corridor connecting a regional system of upland habitat and breeding ponds vital for California tiger salamanders that are already protected by other conservation easements.

“The Endangered Species Act was key in providing a mechanism for collaboration between our agency and a private landowner,” said Rachel Henry, a fish and wildlife biologist with the service in Ventura.

“We worked with the Land Trust and the landowner to come up with an innovative project that not only provides great conservation benefit for the California tiger salamander, but also meets the needs and objectives of the local landowners,” Henry said.

The Yellow Foxtrot conservation easement protects grazing land and oak woodlands that are crucial to the salamander’s survival, while it ensures landowner’s rights to continue cattle ranching operations that are compatible with preservation of this endangered species.

These mutually beneficial relationships offer unexpected paths to innovative solutions, ultimately helping willing landowners increase their bottom line while helping to conserve habitat for wildlife.

The Land Trust continues to prioritize a long view of conservation outcomes for Santa Barbara County agriculture, wildlife and communities.

“We need to continue building strong partnerships that support thriving local economies and protect land for agriculture and habitat.” said Meredith Hendricks, Land Trust executive director. “The costs of not protecting natural resources for long-term resilience are astronomical, so are the costs of losing local agriculture that is essential to our food system.”

For more about the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, visit https://www.sblandtrust.org. For more about the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, a field station of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit http://www.fws.gov/ventura.

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Pennlilve.com (Mechanicsburg PA)

More than 10 percent of American fireflies nearing extinction

By Marcus Schneck, March 29, 2021

About 11 percent of the North American firefly species assessed in a recent study are threatened with extinction

Researchers from the Xerces Society, the ABQ BioPark and the Firefly Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature evaluated 128 firefly species and found that 14 are threatened with extinction.

Another 2 percent – 3 species – are “near threatened, while 33 percent are of “least concern” and “too little is known” about more than half of them “to assess whether they are secure or at risk.”

There are at least 167 species of firefly in the U.S. and Canada, but the researchers could find monitoring data on only 128 of them.

Of the 14 species that are threatened with extinction, the most threatened is the Bethany Beach firefly, which was categorized as critically endangered.

The species was petitioned for emergency Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Xerces Society in 2019. It received a positive 90-day finding and will undergo a full status assessment by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Another 7 were categorized as endangered, 6 as vulnerable and 2 as near threatened. Many of them have narrow geographic ranges, specific habitat requirements, and life history traits such as flightless females or bioluminescent courtship behaviors that make them more vulnerable to extinction.

Although the threats for each species vary, the main drivers of decline appear to be habitat loss and degradation, light pollution, and drought and sea level rise associated with climate change.

“These assessments — the first for fireflies — lay the groundwork for firefly conservation in the U.S. and Canada,” said Candace Fallon, a senior conservation biologist at the Xerces Society.

“With this information, we can now be more strategic about setting conservation priorities and addressing data gaps, working to protect the full diversity of fireflies and their habitats, from the common and widespread big dipper firefly to the threatened and little-known southwest spring firefly.”

The assessments highlight the need for species-specific conservation actions coupled with monitoring efforts to document long-term population trends for threatened species.

Additional research is also needed to properly assess the large number of species currently categorized as “data deficient.”

But the researchers found it encouraging that many of the species assessed are still thriving, and that the conservation actions needed to maintain populations and protect at-risk species are not limited to government entities or conservation organizations.

“The good news is that everyone can play a role in bolstering firefly populations,” said Anna Walker, BioPark Society species survival officer. “We can turn off lights at night to reduce our individual contributions to light pollution, we can participate in community science projects like Firefly Watch that gather data on firefly distribution and abundance, and we can support organizations that protect and restore the habitats that fireflies need.”

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Great Lakes Echo (Michigan State University)

New project conserves Ontario’s eight at-risk turtle species

By Chioma Lewis, March 29, 2021

Some at-risk turtles in Ontario won’t have to look both ways before crossing the road to avoid getting hit in traffic.

To protect the reptiles from highway mishaps and other threats, the Ontario Parks partnership team created the Turtle Protection Project last fall. The project includes installing passageways for turtles to safely cross the road.

Yes, one of the major threats to adult turtles is getting hit by cars. Other threats include habitat loss and deadly predators.

Ontario Parks is an Ontario government agency that protects and maintains a network of parks and protected areas.

The project aims to protect Ontario’s eight endangered turtle species.

The at risk turtle species are the Blanding’s turtle, eastern musk turtle, painted turtle, northern map turtle, snapping turtle, spiny softshell, spotted turtle and the eastern box turtle. That last one is extirpated, meaning the turtle is no longer present in the Ontario wild but lives elsewhere in the world.

The other seven species are classified as threatened, special concern or endangered. Species listed as endangered are at high risk of becoming extirpated.

Estimating the number of Ontario’s turtle species is difficult, said Gary Wheeler, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

“Many turtle species are difficult to survey, making it challenging to accurately assess local population abundance, even with a thorough search effort,” Wheeler said.

The project supports conservation efforts through community fundraising and activism, says Megan Birrell, a marketing intern at Ontario Parks. Donations fund turtle research and support on-the-ground protection.

Different turtle species are at different levels of risk, Birrell said.

“We’re able to combine the efforts of federal and provincial species-at-risk agencies, so they’re able to come together and help out even more,” Birrell said.

One project uses artificial nesting mounds in Algonquin Provincial Park in southeastern Ontario. Made of sand and gravel, the mounds mimic the natural sandy nesting sites chosen by turtles.

These nesting mounds provide adult turtles with secure places to lay their eggs, Birrell said.

“That helped us reduce predation and hatchling mortality.”

Other projects work toward installing nest coverings and wildlife crossings, or “ecopassages” that are tunnels and fencing that go around and under roads to provide opportunities for turtles and other wildlife to cross without colliding with vehicles.

As of March 2021, the project has raised almost $10,000 from corporate partners, Ontario Park visitors and the public.

“We are also always working on larger projects to kind of help forward the movement,” Birrell said. “We are very proud of all of the great work that’s been done with this project so far.”

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Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

Rio’s recovery: Endangered species listing for rare New Mexico fish

Adrian Hedden, March 28, 2021

A three-inch fish dwelling in the Pecos River in southeast New Mexico could see federal protections as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to investigate whether it should be listed as endangered.

The Rio Grande shiner was once known to live in drainage waters of the Rio Grande in New Mexico, Texas and Mexico, including headwaters in northern New Mexico down to the Rio Grande delta on the Texas coast.

In Mexico, it was believed to exist In the Rio San Juan, Rio Salado and Rio Conchos – all tributaries of the Rio Grande, known as the Rio Bravo del Norte in Mexico and flowing across the U.S.’ southern border.

Estimates show that the shiner could have once inhabited up to 2,600 river miles, but conservationists believe today it can only be found in about 500 miles in southeast New Mexico, meaning the fish has only 20 percent of its historic range. 

In January, Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Rio Grand Shiner as threatened or endangered which would trigger federal restrictions on land use in and around the shiner’s known habitat while a recovery plan was devised.

The Service issued a 90-day finding on Tuesday which found a listing could be warranted and required 12-month finding to be developed for a deeper study and potential final decision.

Tricia Snyder, Rio Grande campaigner at WildEarth Guardians said the depletion of the Rio Grande shiner’s habitat was indicative of failed management of the river itself.

She said a listing would be a step toward restoring the Rio Grande, and the diversity of habitats and species that depend on it.

“Generations of plant and wildlife communities have relied on this living river, now at the heart of the extinction crisis in the Southwestern US,” Snyder said. “Without a serious course correction in water management we risk permanent ecological damage and forever losing species like the Rio Grande shiner.”

A tiny fish with big implications for New Mexico’s imperiled river

The Rio Grande shiner grows to about 2.95 inches or 75 millimeters, per a report from Texas State University.

It is characterized as mostly silvery in color with lateral scales and a slender body.

The shiner prefers turbid or cloudy water with low flow speeds and downstream pools.

During mating season, they move to wide river channels with loose shifting sand.

Males nudge their female in the abdomen, eventually wrapping themselves around their prospective mate as eggs are expelled simultaneously with seminal fluid.

Several spawning episodes can occur, but the shiners typically take about a 10-minute break in between.

After the spawning process, the eggs develop as they flow down the river, requiring adequate currents to keep them safe from smothering sediment.

Much of the habitat needed for the Rio Grande Shiner to reproduce and flourish has disappeared in recent years, and it now only calls home small stretches of the Pecos River in Eddy, Chaves and De Baca counties in the drought-prone southern region of New Mexico.

In Texas, its historical range was almost entirely depleted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reporting a few individual fishes found in the Rio Grande in Maverick County along the Mexico border southeast of San Antonio.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed reduced stream flow, damming and human- or natural-cased water quality degradation as primary threats to the shiner.

Climate change, poor river management blamed for habitat destruction

The shiner was already listed as a “threatened” species by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in early 2020 but was not listed by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish as of its latest listing report for 2020.

“Large portions of the historical range of the Rio Grande shiner have been altered or destroyed,” read the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 90-day finding. “Reduced flow, increased salinity, and golden algae blooms have caused population losses from which the Rio Grande shiner have never fully recovered.

“The petition presents substantial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted due to the effects of habitat modification and destruction throughout the historical range of Rio Grande shiner.”

The Service also found that existing regulations and management practices on the Rio Grande were inadequate to protect the shiner and the resulting water depletion was so severe that water was transferred in from the San Juan River in four corners region of the northwest New Mexico.

“Laws and regulations surrounding water use in the Rio Grande basin are largely based on beneficial uses for human populations, and not focused on maintaining instream flows,” the finding read.

“The petition contains substantial information that the petitioned action may be warranted due to inadequate water laws and regulations that fail to prevent low flows and river drying.”

Other threats were human population growth along the river leading to increased water demands, along with climate change and reducing snowpacks in the mountains of northern New Mexico which melt and feed into the river.

“Decreases in snowpack and increases in temperature are likely to have detrimental effects on stream flow in rivers in the southwestern United States,” the finding read.

“The Rio Grande shiner is a short-lived species and prolonged disturbances due to climate change may cause diminished spawning success, leading to declines or extirpation of isolated populations.”

Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director with WildEarth Guardians said the federal government must take action to save the shiner and prevent further devastation to the once-mighty Rio Grande.

“In recent years, it has taken more than a decade for imperiled species to go through the entire ESA listing process and the Rio Grande shiner needs action much more swiftly to prevent its extinction,” she said.

“We are optimistic that a new administration understands the urgency of the biodiversity crisis and will devote more resources to ensure listing decisions are made while preventing extinction is still an option.”

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West Hawaii Today

FWS proposes downlisting Hawaiian stilt from endangered to threatened

By West Hawaii Today Staff, March 27, 2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to downlist the ae‘o, or Hawaiian stilt, from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The federal agency is seeking public comment on the proposed change in status for the ae‘o from through May 24.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) defines endangered as a species that is currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range and threatened as likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. The service said the proposed downlisting of the ae‘o is an example of the power of conservation partnerships between federal, state and private stakeholders under the ESA.

“The Service is proud of our record of partnering with diverse stakeholders to conserve and recover imperiled species,” said Regional Director Robyn Thorson. “We look forward to continuing the collaborations that have led to the improved status of the ae‘o and the countless other species that share its habitat.”

The ae‘o is a wading bird that lives on all the main Hawaiian Islands, except Kaho‘olawe. It was originally listed as endangered in 1970 due to destruction and alteration of habitat, hunting, introduced predatory animals and non-native birds and disease. Over the past three decades, diverse stakeholders have come together to manage the Hawaiian wetlands in ways compatible with the needs of the ae‘o and in addressing other threats. These efforts include the state working with national wildlife refuges to manage wetlands on behalf of the stilt and other species that share its habitat.

“State managed wetlands and national wildlife refuges have been essential for the recovery of the ae‘o. The State of Hawaii and other conservation partners have been key in helping the ae‘o move toward recovery, said Acting Service Field Supervisor Mary Abrams. “Protected wetlands and continued invasive predator control are essential for protecting the bird into the future.”

There are remaining challenges to recovery of the ae‘o, including non-native animal predation (e.g., mongooses, cats and rats), habitat loss, development, type C botulism and the effects of climate change. Survey data and a recent population viability analysis indicate that populations have been stable to increasing for several decades in the eight islands where it exists. These trends are expected to continue into the foreseeable future, as long as conservation efforts that include predator control and management of vegetation and water levels, continue.

Comments may be submitted electronically to the Federal eRulemaking portal at http://www.regulations.gov, or via U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R1–ES–2018–06571, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

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Fox News

Endangered California bird to be reintroduced to skies for first time in nearly 100 years

There are now more than 300 California condors in the wild

By Julia Musto | Fox News, March 26, 2021

The majestic California condor is set to soar through Pacific Northwest skies for the first time in nearly a century.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Yurok Tribe announced this week a final rule that will help facilitate the formation of a new release facility for the condors’ reintroduction to Yurork Ancestral Territory and Redwood National Park.

The facility, to be operated by the Northern California Condor Restoration Program, is in the northern portion of the species’ historic range.

Although California condors remain endangered, the new rule will designate the condors affiliated with the program as a nonessential, experimental population under the 1973 Endangered Species Act.

The groups assert the designation will provide the program with the necessary flexibility in managing the reintroduced birds, help to manage cooperative conservation and reduce the regulatory impact of reintroducing a federally listed species.

The California condor is a shining example of how a species can be brought back from the brink of extinction through the power of partnerships,” Paul Souza, regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s California-Great Basin Region, said in a release. “I would like to thank the Yurok Tribe, National Park Service, our state partners, and others, who were instrumental in this project. Together, we can help recover and conserve this magnificent species for future generations.”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the project plans to release four to six juvenile condors each year over the next 20 years.

The first condors could be released as early as fall 2021 or spring 2022, pending completion of the facility.

The Yurok Tribe, which is California’s largest federally recognized tribe and has traditionally considered the condor a sacred animal, has led the effort to return the species to the area for more than a decade.

In addition to community outreach, tribal members — who know the condors as “prey-go-neesh” — conducted extensive environmental assessments and contaminant analyses.

“For the last 20 years, the Yurok Tribe has been actively engaged in the restoration of the rivers, forests and prairies in our ancestral territory. The reintroduction of the condor is one component of this effort to reconstruct the diverse environmental conditions that once existed in our region,” Yurok Tribe Chairman Joseph L. James said in the release. “We are extremely proud of the fact that our future generations will not know a world without prey-go-neesh. We are excited to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Redwood National Park on the final stages of the project and beyond.”

The final rule exempts most incidental take of condors within the nonessential experimental population, provided that the take is not due to negligence.

That said, certain activities are prohibited within 656 feet of an occupied nest, including habitat alteration and significant visual or noise disturbance.

The California condor is the largest native North American bird, with a wingspan of almost 10 feet, and contemporarily ranged from western Canada to northern Mexico.

Condor populations all but disappeared by the end of the 1960s due to poaching and poisoning, and in 1967 the California condor — which can live for 60 years — was listed as an endangered species.

In 1982, there were just over 20 condors worldwide and five years later all condors were brought into a captive-breeding program in an attempt to save the species from total extinction.

In 1992, the same program began to release the giant scavengers into Southern California’s Los Padres National Forest and the flock has since been expanding its range, according to The Associated Press.

There are now more than 300 California condors in the wild.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Filed to Restore Endangered Species Protection to American Burying Beetles

Trump Administration Downlisting of Vanishing Insect Opens Remaining Habitat to Oil, Gas Developers

WASHINGTON—(March 25, 2021) The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today challenging the Trump administration’s downlisting of the American burying beetle from endangered to threatened. The lawsuit asks for the reinstatement of the beetle’s status as endangered because the species continues to face threats from climate change and habitat destruction that are pushing it to the brink of extinction.

The American burying beetle’s September downlisting came in response to a petition to delist the species from the Independent Petroleum Association of America. The group had direct access to Trump administration officials during the process. And although the downlisting was immediately opposed by leading American burying beetle biologists, the administration pushed it through, removing the legal impediment of habitat protections to oil and gas activities in Oklahoma.

“The Trump administration didn’t strip this beautiful orange-and-black beetle of protection because it was recovered, but as a gift to the oil and gas industry,” said Kristine Akland, a staff attorney at the Center. “Far from having recovered, the American burying beetle is even more endangered than it was when it was first protected in 1989 because of the linked effects of massively expanding oil and gas development and climate change.”

Researchers have called the American burying beetle’s decline “one of the most disastrous declines of an insect’s range ever to be recorded.” Once ubiquitous across the entire eastern United States, the beetle has been eliminated from more than 90% of its historic range. Reports published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predict that within the next 20 to 40 years, climate change and habitat destruction will cause the beetle to vanish from a further 59% of its current range.

“Not only does the downlisting provide the oil and gas industry with a free pass to destroy thousands of acres of beetle habitat, it completely disregards the beetles’ dwindling population,” said Akland. “We hope the Biden administration will reconsider the previous administration’s misbegotten decision and protect this vulnerable and important beetle again.”

Background

The American burying beetle is among the very few insects who care for their young. The largest carrion beetle in North America, it’s named for its unique reproductive behavior of burying vertebrate carcasses in soil and using them to feed those young. This serves important ecosystem functions of removing carrion and recycling nutrients.

The beetle’s decline is believed to be closely linked to that of the now-extinct passenger pigeon, once the most abundant bird on Earth, which provided carrion for the beetle.

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MarketWatch

Endangered species ‘success story’: American bald eagle population in lower 48 states exceeds 300,000

By Associated Press, March 25, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of American bald eagles has quadrupled since 2009, with more than 300,000 birds soaring over the lower 48 states, government scientists said in a report Wednesday.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said bald eagles, the national symbol that once teetered on the brink of extinction, have flourished in recent years, growing to more than 71,400 nesting pairs and an estimated 316,700 individual birds.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, in her first public appearance since being sworn in last week, hailed the eagle’s recovery and noted that the majestic, white-headed bird has always been considered sacred to Native American tribes and the United States generally.

“The strong return of this treasured bird reminds us of our nation’s shared resilience and the importance of being responsible stewards of our lands and waters that bind us together,” said Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary.

Bald eagles reached an all-time low of 417 known nesting pairs in 1963 in the lower 48 states. But after decades of protection, including banning the pesticide DDT and placement of the eagle on the endangered species list in more than 40 states, the bald eagle population has continued to grow. The bald eagle was removed from the list of threatened or endangered species in 2007.

“It is clear that the bald eagle population continues to thrive,” Haaland said, calling the bird’s recovery a “success story [that] is a testament to the enduring importance of the work of the Interior Department scientists and conservationists. This work could not have been done without teams of people collecting and analyzing decades’ worth of science … accurately estimating the bald eagle population here in the United States.”

The celebration of the bald eagle “is also a moment to reflect on the importance of the Endangered Species Act, a vital tool in the efforts to protect America’s wildlife,” Haaland said, calling the landmark 1973 law crucial to preventing the extinction of species such as the bald eagle or American bison.

Reiterating a pledge by President Joe Biden, Haaland said her department will review actions by the Trump administration “to undermine key provisions” of the endangered species law. She did not offer specifics, but environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers criticized the Trump administration for a range of actions, including reducing critical habitat for the northern spotted owl and lifting protections for gray wolves.

“We will be taking a closer look at all of those revisions and considering what steps to take to ensure that all of us — states, Indian tribes, private landowners and federal agencies — have the tools we need to conserve America’s natural heritage and strengthen our economy,” Haaland said.

“We have an obligation to do so because future generations must also experience our beautiful outdoors, the way many of us have been blessed,” she added.

Martha Williams, deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, called recovery of the bald eagle “one of the most remarkable conservation success stories of all time” and said she hopes all Americans get the chance to see a bald eagle in flight.

“They’re magnificent to see,” she said.

To estimate the bald eagle population in the lower 48 states, Fish and Wildlife Service biologists and observers conducted aerial surveys over a two-year period in 2018 and 2019. The agency also worked with the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology to acquire information on areas that were not practical to fly over as part of aerial surveys.

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The Guardian

African elephant recognised as two separate species – both endangered

‘Red list’ assessment of two separate African species exposes ‘critically endangered’ status of forest elephants, down 86% in 31 years

By Patrick Greenfield, Thu 25 Mar 2021

The first ever “red list” assessment of the African elephant as two separate species – the forest elephant and savanna elephant – has found that both are threatened with extinction, according to an updated review of the world’s most at-risk plants and animals.

Poaching and the “silent killer” of human-driven habitat loss have caused sharp declines, with forest elephant numbers falling by 86% in the past 31 years and savanna elephants by about 60% in the past half-century.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which compiles a regularly updated “red list” of at-risk plants and animals, has opted to assess the African mammal as two separate species following genetic studies of populations, which have found that the forest and savanna elephants split from each other 5–6m years ago, at about the same time humans separated from chimpanzees.

Savanna elephants troop to a water hole at the Amboseli national reserve at the foot of Kilimanjaro in Kenya. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty

The forest elephant has been classified by the IUCN as critically endangered, while the savanna elephant is listed as endangered. The African elephant had previously been categorised as vulnerable. Endangered and critically endangered are the lowest categories on the IUCN red list before a species is declared extinct in the wild.

Experts cautioned that while sub-populations of both species were thriving, the climate crisis, demand for ivory and the expansion of agriculture were persistent threats that were jeopardising their long-term survival.

Dr Kathleen Gobush, an elephant specialist who led a team of six IUCN assessors for the new classifications, told the Guardian: “Going from vulnerable to endangered and critically endangered shows a much higher risk of extinction. It doesn’t mean they’ll go extinct tomorrow but it’s a higher risk.

“This reclassification allows dedicated attention to each animal – the forest elephant and the savanna elephant – and then to tailor conservation plans according to each species’ needs, which are different.”

The most up-to-date survey from 2016 found that about 415,000 forest and savanna elephants remain on the continent. The majority of critically endangered forest elephants are in the Congo basin in Gabon, west Africa, while Botswana has the largest population of savanna elephants.

The new classifications could have significant consequences in conservation, science and politics as experts warn the forest elephant is understudied, with the savanna elephant dominating previous studies about African elephants. Leading international conservation bodies such as Cites, which regulates the international trade in endangered species, does not recognise the two types of African elephants as separate species.

Dr Ben Okita-Ouma, co-chair of the IUCN elephant group and head of monitoring for Save the Elephants, said: “As much as we may see that poaching has gone down in many countries, there is this silent killer of habitat fragmentation and habitat loss. During encroaching on elephant habitats, there are conflicts between elephants and people. In the process, elephants are killed.

“It is something that we need to really, really talk about. If you look at the data on the killing of elephants, we’re seeing a recent shift in terms of killing because of conflict instead of poaching.”

The change to the conservation status of African elephants is the most high-profile example of so-called cryptic species that appear similar to the human eye but are, in fact, separate and more than one.

Forest elephants are generally smaller in size, have oval-shaped ears, straighter tusks and longer gestation periods, while savanna elephants live in larger family groups, have bigger ears and different-shaped skulls, among other differences.

The habitat range of both species rarely crosses over in Africa, with savanna elephants preferring grasslands and deserts, while the forest elephant is mainly found in tropical rainforests.

But examples of breeding between forest and savanna elephants – known as hybridisation – had caused scientific disagreement over classifying the animals as separate species despite strong genetic indications that they were different.

A study commissioned by the IUCN of areas where forest and savanna elephants interact found limited evidence of hybridisation, prompting the organisation to make separate red list assessments for the first time.

Alfred Roca, a population genetic specialist at the University of Illinois who has published key studies on the differences between forest and savanna elephants, welcomed the move by the IUCN but said it had been a long time coming.

He had previously warned that not recognising the forest elephant as a separate species could be condemning it to extinction.

“I would hope that it would mean more attention is paid to the forest elephants. Forest and savanna elephants probably have a bigger separation than lions and tigers. They’re also responsible for the germination and the dispersal of plants in tropical forest as they eat a lot of fruit and seeds. Losing it would be a huge loss,” he said.

Writing in the Guardian, Gabon’s minister for water and forestry, Prof Lee White, said he could not imagine a world without elephants. Gabon is home to the majority of critically endangered forest elephants.

“We need urgently to harness this great love of elephants to the task of finding socially equitable solutions for their conservation. The future of both the forest and savanna elephants will be decided in the hearts of people in both developed and developing countries,” he writes.

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NRDC

Press Release—March 24, 2021

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s Denial of Crucial Habitat Protection to Endangered Rusty Patched Bumblebee

WASHINGTON—Conservation groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for refusing to designate critical habitat for the highly endangered rusty patched bumblebee.

Despite the bee’s disappearance from 87% of its native range, the Service announced in September that designating critical habitat for the species was “not prudent,” claiming that availability of habitat does not limit the bee’s conservation. This Trump administration decision contradicted the agency’s own findings that habitat loss and degradation have contributed to the bee’s decline, worsened by the widespread use of insecticides and herbicides that directly kill the bee and the wildflowers it needs to survive.

“Having to drag the Service to court at every step is getting old; they should just do right by the bee in the first place,” said Lucas Rhoads, staff attorney at NRDC. “The Service ignores obvious benefits of designating these areas and interprets the Endangered Species Act in a way that threatens habitat protections for other similar species. The Service has a major role in combatting the biodiversity crisis we face, and it can start by protecting imperiled species and their habitats as the ESA requires. We’re confident that our lawsuit will ensure that they do just that.”

Once common in the Midwest and Northeast, the rusty patched bumblebee was protected as endangered in 2017. In addition to habitat loss and degradation, climate change and disease have contributed to its decline. 

“The Service’s refusal to provide the habitat protections this gravely imperiled bee so desperately needs is a betrayal of its mission to protect endangered species,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This beautiful bumblebee was once common across much of the country. But if we don’t protect the places where it breeds and feeds, it’ll keep moving down the path to extinction.”

“In 2019, the rusty patched bumblebee was declared by our legislature as Minnesota’s ‘official bee,’ ” said Thomas E. Casey, board chair of Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas. “Certain areas of Minnesota are some of the last places on Earth where this bee can be found. We need to do everything we can to preserve and enhance habitat for this endangered pollinator.” 

The Endangered Species Act requires the Service to designate critical habitat for listed species, subject to narrow exceptions. Species without designated critical habitat are only half as likely to move toward recovery as species with critical habitat. 

The suit was brought by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas.

Background

The rusty patched bumblebee was protected under the Endangered Species Act in January 2017 after a petition from the Xerces Society followed by a lawsuit by NRDC. The Service then failed to designate critical habitat by the statutory deadline, prompting another lawsuit by NRDC in 2019. A legal settlement with NRDC required the agency to move forward with a critical habitat determination in summer of 2020.

The decline of the rusty patched bumblebee is part of a troubling trend of declines in many of the 4,000-plus species of native bees in the United States.

Native bees often provide more effective pollination of native plants than honeybees, which are not native to the United States. Wild pollinator declines across North America are caused by habitat loss, agricultural intensification, pesticide use, invasive non-native species, climate change and pathogens.

About 90% of wild plants and 75% of leading global food crops depend on animal pollinators for reproduction, and the great majority of that work is done by bees.

Despite the growing evidence of declining bee populations, the rusty patched bumblebee is the only bee in the continental United States currently protected under the Endangered Species Act.

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Public News Service

Cooperation Key to Restoring Wildlife Migrations

By Mark Richardson, Public News Service – CO

March 22, 2021

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Wildlife migrations are a part of the American West’s lore and history, but many of those centuries-old passages are now obstructed by the trappings of modern civilization.

There is new optimism renewed cooperation between state and federal agencies can identify and preserve seasonal migration routes in Colorado and other states.

At a virtual forum, people from public, private and native conservation groups discussed the need for joint programs and renewed funding.

Dan Gibbs, executive director for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said while humans are keenly aware of borders and boundaries, migrating animals don’t care.

“Just like wildfires don’t know the difference between federal, state, private, tribal lands, wildlife don’t know the difference either,” Gibbs pointed out. “So, we really need to have a better-coordinated effort between all different land managers.”

Participants cited a 2018 federal order on cooperation between federal and state officials as the key to opening blocked routes and constructing passageways to allow migrating species to bypass hazards like highways and rail lines.

Part of the optimism is driven by the Biden administration’s renewed interest in protecting wildlife and endangered species.

Lesli Allison, executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance, said getting buy-in from property owners is essential to any agreement.

“In the end, the economics are going to determine the fate of these places,” Allison acknowledged. “And we’ve got to be able to place sufficient value on the things that we want to conserve, that it’s economically feasible to conserve them.”

Julie Thorstenson, executive director of the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, noted tribal interests, which have been excluded from past agreements, must be part of any future solution.

“Tribes own or influence the management of nearly 140 million acres, including more than 730,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs, 10,000 miles of streams and rivers, and 18 million acres of forest,” Thorstenson outlined. “These lands provide habitat for more than 500 species listed as threatened or endangered.”

The session was part of a series of forums sponsored by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, aimed at developing sustainable policies to preserve wildlife migrations.

(Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.)

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Fox 13/Tampa Bay

Clearwater researchers play key role in saving critically endangered species

By FOX 13 News Staff, March 22, 2021

CLEARWATER, Fla. – With less than an estimated 400 North Atlantic right whales remaining, research and conservation programs are key to saving the critically endangered species. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute is playing a big role in studying their future.

“I study the North Atlantic right whales on their only known calving grounds for the species.  We’re trying to learn more about them, their population, their health assessment, and of course threats these animals could face,” said Melanie White, North Atlantic right whale conservation project manager.

Scientists like her have collected more than 20 years of aerial survey data on the species during its critical calving time in the Southeast.

“Researchers up and down the East Coast are trying to save this whale from extinction.  There are about 100 breeding females in the population and if trends continue with entanglements in fishing gear and vessel strikes, this population could go extinct in our lifetime,” White added.

Historically these whales become adults between the ages of 5 to 7 years old, but researchers say recently these animals are not giving birth until 9, 10, and 11 years old.

“We fly in small aircraft. There are three of us in the plane: two researchers looking out the windows and one person recording data the entire day.  We’re flying at 1,000 feet and 100 knots over the ocean looking for these whales.

“We’re looking for signs of disturbance or dark water or splashes.  They can be very difficult to see,” White explained.

The researchers photograph the whales to do a general health assessment. They check to make sure there haven’t been any big changes since their last sighting. 

“These whales are coming down to give birth to their young and nurse their young. We’re trying to make sure we know where they are. The whales are individually identified by the pattern of rough patches on their skin. It’s similar to the way humans are identified by their fingerprints,” White shared.

The data has led to reducing ship speeds and expanding habitat protection. CMA scientists warn mariners from North Carolina down to Florida about whale locations to avoid vessel strikes. They also alert rescuers about whales entangled in fishing gear.

“Again, there are not so many of these whales in the world,” White stated. “So, whatever we can do to try to help and save these whales, it just brings you back to the fact that we’re doing whatever we can do to protect these whales while they’re down here in their calving grounds.”

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University of Hawai’i News

Stranded endangered false killer whale divulges a dietary first

UH News, March 21, 2021

Researchers found something unexpected inside a rare false killer whale that stranded dead on Maui in February 2021, and it could ultimately help the endangered species. The whale was an insular false killer whale, the most critically endangered species of dolphins and whales in Hawaiian waters. While investigating it’s cause of death, the University of Hawaiʻi Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Lab found the remains of octopuses in its stomach, which was previously an unknown part of the species’ diet.

“Understanding their food habits is foundational to their biology and ecology and has relevance to fishery interactions (an identified threat to the population) and in defining critical habitat for this endangered species,” said Kristi West, lab director and an associate researcher at UH Mānoa’s Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology.

The UH lab conducted a necropsy, an animal autopsy, in cooperation with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service, to obtain biological samples and examine the individual for signs of cause of death and evidence of fishery interactions. Examining an insular false killer whale in Hawaiʻi is a rare opportunity for the UH lab, as the last stranding occurred in 2016.

The stomach contents in the recent stranding revealed the importance of a new food item, the pelagic octopus, to false killer whales in Hawaiʻi. The remains from 25 individual pelagic octopuses were identified among the stomach contents of this individual.

This effort is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

Population threats

There are three distinct populations of false killer whales that call Hawaiian water homes with one that is endangered.

The best estimate is that there are approximately 170 individual false killer whales remaining in the endangered insular main Hawaiian islands population. Fishery interactions and high pollutant loads have been identified as population threats. Most of the remaining individuals have been individually identified by their dorsal fin profile with sightings catalogued by Cascadia Research Collective. The stranded whale was matched to the catalog and represents a known individual first sighted off Maui in 2000.

“This work is only possible because of an extremely dedicated team of graduate students, undergraduate students and other program volunteers,” said West. “UH partners with collaborators such as Cascadia Research Collective, the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and NOAA Fisheries to maximize the information that can be obtained on false killer whales and the threats that they face.”

Examining stomach contents

The diet composition of endangered false killer whales is known from the stomach contents of previously stranded individuals and observations of live animals in the wild. Live false killer whales are most commonly observed by Cascadia Research Collective foraging on gamefish, including mahi-mahi, ono, aku and ʻahi. Prior stomach content analyses have identified gamefish such as ʻahi, mahi-mahi and the large diamondback squid as important to the species’ diet.

Future research on this animal will include stable isotope analysis, contaminant analysis and body condition assessment at the time of stranding through blubber examination. This is anticipated to provide further information to assess diet and predator prey relationships in the species, and to better understand the threat of pollutants and nutritional stress.

(If members of the public have the opportunity to take photos of this species, photo contributions to Cascadia Research Collective’s photo-ID catalog are useful for monitoring the population. Researchers also rely on public reporting of distressed or dead dolphins and whales. To report strandings, call the NOAA Fisheries hotline at 1(888) 256-9840.)

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Denver Post

As Colorado starts planning to bring back wolves, Rio Blanco County’s leaders say they won’t allow it

CPW is forming stakeholder groups to figure out how to restore the predator on public lands

By NOELLE PHILLIPS, The Denver Post, March 21, 2021

While Colorado is in the early planning stages of carrying out the voter-mandated reintroduction of the gray wolf, it’s already facing resistance from one rural county in the northwest corner of the state — and more are expected to join.

Rio Blanco County’s Board of County Commissioners last week approved a resolution declaring Rio Blanco a “Wolf Reintroduction Sanctuary County,” essentially daring Colorado Parks and Wildlife to bring the wolf back into the county under the state law passed by voters in November.

Rio Blanco officials are encouraging neighboring counties to follow their lead in allowing natural migration, but objecting to “artificially reintroduced wolves.”

“We are more alike than we are different,” board chairman Gary Moyer said. “Right now it feels like a war is being waged on rural Colorado, and they are coming at us from every direction. However, we are also stronger together, and it will be hard to ignore us if we are working together.”

County Attorney Tom Starr said Rio Blanco “would respect the natural migration of wolves. We’re just asking CPW pay attention to the science and the overwhelming desire expressed by our citizens in the vote to not introduce them artificially in our communities.”

Gray wolf populations are to be restored in Colorado after a November ballot measure that narrowly passed with the support of urban voters. In Rio Blanco County, voters opposed wolf reintroduction 3,148 to 437, according to state election data. The proposition was opposed by ranchers and farmers, who decried the power of the urban vote that drives so much of Colorado’s politics.

That urban-versus-rural battle will be on full display as CPW develops its plan to reintegrate wolves into the state.

On Thursday, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission discussed progress on the plan, which requires the state to have a sustainable number of wolves on Colorado public lands west of the Continental Divide by December 2023. Important details remain unknown, such as how many wolves will be brought to the state, which established wolf populations in other states will source Colorado’s packs and where they will be released.

To get there, CPW is setting up multiple advisory groups to help with planning, including a stakeholders group and a technical advisory group. The agency also is hiring a facilitator who will lead public meetings and guide public involvement in the planning and development of a public education program.

The commission still must figure out how to pay for the reintroduction and during Thursday’s meeting several commissioners said they did not want to fund the wolf project by increasing the cost of hunting and fishing licenses and other outdoor recreation fees.

Past planning for wolves’ arrival

In 2004, Colorado predicted wolves naturally would migrate to the state as their populations grew in Wyoming and Utah because of their protected status as an endangered species. At that time, the state established a volunteer task force to study what impacts the wolves would have and how the state could monitor their integration into the ecosystem.

The group wrote 70 recommendations, but with wolf migration slow to come those never came into play. Early in 2020, ahead of the vote on the reintroduction plan, wildlife officials confirmed the presence of a wolf pack in Colorado, likely for the first time since the 1930s.

Now, that task force’s recommendations will serve as a roadmap, although every aspect must be revisited, said Eric Odell, CPW’s species conservation program manager. The plan did not consider any efforts by humans to bring wolves back and much in Colorado’s landscape has changed in 17 years, he said.

Still, those recommendations offer hints at all the environmental, political, social and economic considerations to come, Odell said.

For example, the group said wolves should not have boundaries as long as they naturally migrated, and it recommended various types of technology for monitoring their movements. It said the state needed a plan in case wolves, who are predators, started impacting the populations of other species and how it would control that. And it recommended ranchers be reimbursed 100% for every confirmed loss of livestock and 50% for every probable loss, Odell said.

“The working group created a live-and-let-live policy,” he said.

Reid DeWalt, CPW’s assistant director for aquatic, terrestrial and natural resources, said there is a sense of urgency within the agency in its wolf planning. On March 1, 250 CPW employees participated in a virtual seminar on wolf management with Wyoming Fish and Game Department employees sharing their work, he said.

“Wolves are taking a lot time right now,” he said.

The CPW commission did not address how it will negotiate with those who oppose wolf reintroduction, but the plan already involves the inclusion of people with competing interests.

Multiple counties along the Western Slope have said they do not want wolves to be reintroduced. But Rio Blanco is the first to pass a formal resolution.

In an emailed statement, Travis Duncan, a CPW spokesman, wrote, “We are aware of Rio Blanco County’s recent resolution. Although state statute supersedes county resolutions, we hear their concerns. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has a long history working alongside our county partners and we are committed to ensuring that their concerns, ideas and questions are addressed throughout the planning process.”

But Starr, the Rio Blanco county attorney, believes the commission would have legal standing if CPW insists on placing wolves within the county’s boundaries. The resolution is consistent with the county’s natural resources plan and with county government’s right of self-determination of use of land within the county, he said.

Sanctuary counties in Colorado

In declaring itself a wolf reintroduction sanctuary, Rio Blanco’s commissioners borrowed a strategy used by several counties and towns in 2019 to oppose a gun law.

In 2019, a handful of Colorado counties and towns declared themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” because of a new state law that allowed judges to order the removal of guns owned by people determined to be safety risks. So far, no county has needed to legally defend its self-declared sanctuary status and one county sheriff in a Second Amendment sanctuary even used the law to confiscate the guns from a woman threatening to harm herself and law enforcement.

Rio Blanco’s officials argue wolf reintroduction could harm the county’s economy. Already the county is trying to recover from lost revenues due to the decline of the fossil fuel industry, something they blame on increased regulation. They say cattle, sheep and hay farming are an $18.8 million industry that would be threatened by wolves, which would prey on livestock.

And they fear wolves would reduce the big game populations that draw hunters and tourists to the region, Starr said. Outdoor recreation spending in the northwest region of Colorado exceeded $10 billion in 2017, according to a CPW report produced in 2018.

“Ag producers are under attack anyway and then to artificially introduce wolves in addition to those naturally migrating this way, it’s a stress and a real cost and an impediment to their success that the government is putting on them,” Starr said.

But wolves could find their way into Rio Blanco County without help from humans.

Already, a wolf pack has been identified in neighboring Moffatt County, which shares a northern border with Rio Blanco. Wolves have been sighted near the county line and county officials believe there has been a wolf sighting near Rangely, Starr said.

In February, CPW announced it had captured a gray wolf in North Park near the Wyoming border. Wildlife managers put a tracking collar on the 110-pound male and released him.

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Santa Fe New Mexican

Effort to restore jaguars in Southwest continues despite courtroom defeats

By Rick Ruggles, March 20, 2021

A large chunk of New Mexico and Arizona would provide attractive territory for a reintroduction of jaguars in the Southwest, numerous conservation groups said last week.

Their announcement indicates jaguar advocates won’t slink away after suffering a defeat in federal courts over a smaller swath of land laid out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Advocacy for predators like the jaguar inevitably prompts opposition from business interests such as the livestock industry. Twenty-three years after the reintroduction of the Mexican wolf to the Southwest, a battle appears likely over efforts to bring the jaguar back.

Michael Robinson of Silver City, a senior conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, said if it’s going to happen, reintroduction of jaguars to New Mexico probably is a long way off.

“There’s certainly no guarantees,” Robinson said. “So we’re talking about many years from now.”

Robinson’s organization and many others presented a new map of potential jaguar territory. Its size — 32,000 square miles in New Mexico and Arizona — is close to 27 times bigger than the territory identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The federal agency’s jaguar territory in the Southwest smacked into opposition from cattle ranchers. The New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, New Mexico Cattle Growers Association and New Mexico Federal Lands Council sued over it.

They argued the agency’s area was arbitrary, that the New Mexico portion was marginal habitat for jaguars, and that jaguars are so rarely seen in New Mexico it “cannot be essential for the conservation of the species.”

The New Mexico part of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s designated territory for jaguars failed to win the federal courts’ approval in 2020 and 2021.

Documents from the case indicate the rejection came in part because the agency failed to establish the territory was critical to jaguars’ recovery as a species.

Robinson said Friday the courts’ finding came because of “a procedural error” by the Fish and Wildlife Service and not because the territory isn’t critical habitat.

Numerous groups and researchers published a paper online last week with the Cambridge University Press that called for establishment of a jaguar recovery area in New Mexico and Arizona that is much larger than what the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed.

Bryan Bird, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife, said the new proposal can launch a discussion about restoring jaguars to the region.

“This is going to require all the different parties coming to the table to discuss it,” Bird said Friday.

“Defenders is known for its pragmatic approach to conservation.”

Randell Major, president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, wrote in an email Friday that his group opposes reintroduction of jaguars. Designating habitat for jaguars would create regulatory burdens for ranchers and farmers who work in that region, Major said.

Bird said he hoped the discussion of jaguars in the Southwest could be less contentious than that over the ongoing reintroduction effort for the Mexican gray wolf.

The Mexican wolf was listed as endangered in 1976.

A 1982 recovery plan was created, and the animal was reintroduced in 1998.

As of 2020, Bird said, the Mexican wolf included 114 wolves in New Mexico and 72 in Arizona.

Robinson said the 20 million-acre region in the new jaguar plan is good for the cats because they originally existed in it; there is plenty of public land on it; and there are large quantities of deer, javelinas and smaller mammals for jaguars to feed on.

The paper says a dozen models of jaguar recovery territory in the Southwest were compared to create the new territory. The finding “suggests not only a stronghold of potential habitat in Arizona and New Mexico, but a new opportunity to restore the great cat of the Americas.”

The jaguar, officially an endangered species, can exceed 210 pounds and now lives primarily in Central America and South America.

Robinson said the jaguar was chased out of North America during decades of extermination to protect livestock and to obtain pelts.

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Center for Biological Diversity

California Coastal Commission Orders End to Off-Roading at Oceano Dunes

California State Parks Must Phase Out Vehicles That Kill Protected Shorebirds

OCEANO, Calif.—(March 19, 2021) The California Coastal Commission voted unanimously (10-0) last night to completely phase out off-road vehicle use at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area over the next three years. The California Department of Parks and Recreation will be required to implement these coastal permit conditions, with a few minor amendments.

“I’m elated by the Coastal Commission’s long-overdue action to phase out destructive off-road vehicle use at Oceano Dunes,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This reprieve for endangered wildlife and coastal dunes habitat will allow the non-motorized public to enjoy our beach and dunes as well as reduce greenhouse gases and dust pollution.”

The commission found that off-road vehicle use at Oceano is not consistent with the Coastal Act and the Local Coastal Plan, due to ongoing damage to environmentally sensitive habitat areas and harm to endangered species, harmful impacts on air quality and public health, and for reasons of environmental and tribal justice.

The new permit conditions will end motorized vehicle use in dunes and beach areas that are breeding and foraging habitat for threatened western snowy plovers and California least terns. Off-road vehicles regularly killed and harassed protected shorebirds, caused nest abandonment and destroyed habitat.

The commission’s decision will phase out vehicles on the southern end of the beach and prohibit driving through Arroyo Grande Creek, which harbors imperiled fish species such as steelhead trout and tidewater goby. The beach between Grand Avenue and Pier Avenue will be open to street-legal vehicles and motorized campers, shifting this use away from habitat for sensitive species.

The permit will close the Pier Avenue vehicle entrance in Oceano. The entire park will continue to remain open for public uses such as swimming, surfing, equestrian, biking, hiking, fishing, birdwatching, and for vehicular and camping use on the northern beach.

The amendments to the staff recommendations were to: reduce the timeline for phasing out off-roading from five years to three years; end nighttime recreational riding but allow vehicles to drive at night in camping areas of the park; and extend a deadline for closure of the Pier Avenue entrance by one year, to July 1, 2022.

Significantly, the commission also told State Parks that its draft Public Works Plan, which contemplated massive coastal development and expanded off-road use, could not be approved under the Coastal Act.

The plan would have opened more dune habitat to off-road vehicles and slashed protected breeding areas for snowy plovers and least terns by one-third. It also proposed a 120-acre development near Oso Flaco Lake, including more off-roading, hundreds of campsites, huge parking lots, offices, residences and other infrastructure. This project would have driven off bird and wildlife species and degraded an important bird habitat area — the best birdwatching spot in San Luis Obispo County.

Background

The Center for Biological Diversity sued State Parks in 2020 for its violations of the Endangered Species Act in allowing off-road vehicles to kill and harm snowy plovers at Oceano Dunes. In 2020 the Center documented and exposed State Parks staff illegally interfering with the nesting of plovers at Oceano Dunes. Snowy plovers expanded their nesting and foraging areas while the beach was closed to vehicles during the COVID-19 crisis. The Coastal Commission sent State Parks a cease-and-desist letter.

State Parks is pursuing a “habitat conservation plan” under the Endangered Species Act, asking for a permit to kill and harm huge numbers of protected birds. State Parks released a draft plan in 2020 that would worsen conditions for snowy plovers, least terns and other endangered species. The plan prioritized off-road recreation over protection of wildlife and proposed opening additional sensitive dunes habitat to off-road vehicles. That plan could not legally be approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and will have to be revised, based on the latest Coastal Commission action.

Western snowy plovers are rare shorebirds that have been protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act since 1993. Although plover numbers along the West Coast are slowly increasing, the birds are still threatened by loss of nesting habitat, predation and disturbance by humans. The snowy plover population in the Central Coast, where Oceano Dunes is one of the most important breeding areas, is declining and has not yet met federal recovery goals. Providing more nesting and fledging habitat in the absence of off-road vehicles will benefit the birds.

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The Mercury News (San Jose, CA)

Endangered California condor lays egg in tree burned in Big Sur fire

The egg, which is expected to hatch April 24, is a hopeful sign, experts say, after 11 condors died in the Dolan Fire

By PAUL ROGERS, Bay Area News Group, March 19, 2021

Last fall, a wildfire raged across the scenic Big Sur coast, taking a major toll on one of America’s most high-profile projects to bring back endangered wildlife. The Dolan Fire killed 11 California condors and destroyed a research building, pens and other facilities that scientists had used to restore populations of the massive birds over the past 24 years.

But from the ashes an inspiring renewal is unfolding. A female condor named Redwood Queen has laid an egg in the top of a charred redwood tree that flames blackened in August. Her mate, a bird named Kingpin, died in the fire. But she has found another. Her return to the burned Big Sur landscape, and the new egg — which is set to hatch April 24 — is giving scientists and condor lovers new hope as spring arrives.

“These birds aren’t giving up. Neither are we,”  said Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, a nonprofit group in Monterey that helps lead efforts to restore condors.

Redwood Queen, who is 23 years old, laid the egg at the end of February. The nest sits in the cavity of a charred redwood tree about 60 feet above the ground in a remote location biologists keep secret in order to protect it.

“We all have a really strong sense of home. Animals do too,” said Colleen Kinzley, vice president of animal care, conservation and research at the Oakland Zoo. “That is her home. Going back and laying an egg there makes sense from a biological standpoint. It’s a place of security for her even though this bad thing happened.”

A year ago, Redwood Queen laid an egg in the same tree. It hatched into a chick. That bird, named Iniko, was being monitored by a remote camera when the flames approached. As the fire advanced, the parents fled. The four-month-old chick was feared lost.

“When the fire burned through it was really scary,” Sorenson said. “You could hear the crackling of the flames, and then the cord of the camera melted, and the picture went dead. People were worried for weeks.”

But when biologists returned, they found the chick still in the nest.

“Iniko just stayed in the tree cavity and survived,” Sorenson said. “If she would have jumped out he would have perished.”

The chick had a limp, however, and was moved to the Los Angeles Zoo out of an abundance of caution. She is scheduled to be released again into the wild later this year.

Other condors weren’t as lucky. Altogether, nine adults and two chicks died in the Dolan Fire, leaving the population of condors in Central California at 90, which includes birds along the coast and inland at Pinnacles National Park.

The fire also destroyed the release pens, research building, water tanks and solar power system at the Ventana Wildlife Society’s 80-acre facility in Big Sur. The group has so far raised $640,000 to rebuild it. Plans are being drawn up, and Sorenson said they hope to break ground by the end of this year.

“It will be bigger and nicer,” he said. “We will be able to do more work and release more condors.”

The recovery of California condors has been one of America’s greatest wildlife success stories.

The vulture-like birds have the largest wingspan of any bird in North America — up to 9 feet.

They once ranged from British Columbia to Mexico. But because of habitat loss, hunting and lead poisoning from eating dead deer and other animals containing hunters’ bullet fragments, the majestic birds reached a low of just 22 nationwide by the early 1980s.

In a desperate gamble to stave off extinction, federal biologists captured all remaining wild condors in 1987 and began breeding them in the Los Angeles Zoo, San Diego Zoo and other facilities. The birds’ offspring have been gradually released back to the wild. The first condors in modern times to born in the wild hatched in 2007. Every year on the Central Coast, about five to 10 eggs are laid. And about half survive.

Today the California condor population has grown to 504. Of those, 329 are in the wild, with 186 in California, 103 in Arizona around the Grand Canyon, and 40 in Baja Mexico. The remaining 175 live in captivity, including two males at the Oakland Zoo.

The Dolan Fire was a major setback to the species’ slow but steady recovery. The blaze began Aug. 18 in the Ventana Wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest, eventually burning 128,000 acres — an area four times the size of the city of San Francisco — across dry, steep terrain.

Since then, however, the program and the birds are bouncing back. Redwood Queen found a new mate, named Phoenix, who also survived a fire in 2008 as a chick, earning him his name. Toward the end of last year, the Ventana Wildlife Society released nine condors around San Simeon.

“Fire is a necessary part of our landscape,” Kinzley said. “Wildlife adapt. It can be challenging, but on the whole, these animals have evolved in this environment and there is renewal that comes after a fire.”

The main threat to condors remains lead poisoning, Sorenson noted. Even though former Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law phasing out lead bullets in hunting, not all hunters use copper and it is still hard to get. When hunters shoot deer or other animals and then leave parts behind, condors, bald eagles and other wildlife can develop lead poisoning by eating the dead animal later. The Oakland Zoo has a facility that x-rays condors and removes lead from their systems.

Sorenson said the new egg shows the tenacity of a species that has survived so much after coming so close to extinction.

“They are resilient,” he said. “Their habitat isn’t destroyed. It’s still there. They are still using the same trees. They aren’t going anywhere.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

New Mexico House of Representatives Approves Bill to Outlaw Traps, Wildlife Poisons on Public Land

SANTA FE, N.M.— (March 19, 2021) With a close 35-34 vote, the New Mexico House of Representatives yesterday approved the Wildlife Conservation and Public Safety Act, also known as “Roxy’s Law,” which would prohibit traps, snares and poisons on public lands.

The measure, Senate Bill 32, passed the New Mexico Senate by a vote of 23-16 last month, and now advances to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

“We are grateful to New Mexico legislators for taking this momentous step forward to make New Mexico’s public lands safer, more humane, more ethical and more beautiful,” said Jessica Johnson, Animal Protection Voters’ chief government affairs officer. “The Wildlife Conservation & Public Safety Act has received support from New Mexicans of all walks of life.”

Traps, snares and poisons are indiscriminate — they’re able to injure or kill non-target animals unlucky enough to trigger the devices. Nearly 150,000 native creatures have been killed by private trappers since 2008. The endangered Mexican gray wolf called Mia Tuk, for example, was caught in a trap and bludgeoned to death by a trapper in 2015. At least two wolves have been injured in traps in New Mexico in the past six months.

The victims of trapping, snares and poisons on public lands include more animals than the fur-bearing or destructive wildlife the devices are nominally set to ensnare. Roxy’s Law was named in honor of a beloved dog who, in 2018, was strangled to death by a trapper’s snare while hiking with her owner. Since the 2020-2021 trapping season began, at least 9 dogs been caught in privately set traps and snares on public land.

The most recent incidents occurred near Abeyta, Pecos, Rowe Mesa, Cloudcroft and Dixon and don’t include the unknown numbers who are not reported or tragically never found.

Roxy’s Law was sponsored by Sen. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales (D-Ranchos de Taos), Sen. Brenda McKenna (D-Corrales), Rep. Chris Chandler (D-Los Alamos) and Rep. Matthew McQueen (D-Galisteo). The bill was supported by a coalition of environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Animal Protection Voters, Conservation Voters New Mexico, Defenders of Wildlife, the Endangered Species Coalition, New Mexico Wild Action Fund, New Mexico Veterinary Medical Association, Project Coyote, the Southwest Environmental Center, the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians.

“Tonight’s final vote to ban leg-hold traps, snares and poisons on New Mexico public lands is historic. Starting April 1, 2022, we will know there will be fewer wolves, dogs, coyotes, cats, elk, fox, birds, beavers and other animals that will experience terror, pain, permanent injury and even death,” said Sen. Brenda McKenna. “We will not read about people retelling their excruciating experiences of trying to free their four-legged family members from the devices that are designed to incapacitate while they are on a hike at any of our public federal, state or municipal lands. I thank the bill co-sponsors, wildlife scientists and dedicated advocates who helped carry the baton to the finish line.”

“I am proud that we have passed Senate Bill 32 to end an archaic, cruel and unnecessary practice on public lands,” said Rep. Matthew McQueen. “I am grateful for the support of my colleagues and my co-sponsors for shepherding Senate Bill 32 through to the governor’s desk. This bill is supported by the majority of New Mexicans and will contribute to New Mexico’s bright outdoor recreation future.”

“The legislature’s thoughtful and humane vote will spare so many vulnerable animals,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity in Silver City. “Bobcats, foxes, badgers and ringtails play vital ecological roles and don’t deserve horrific deaths just so their pelts can be sold internationally. And I’m particularly grateful that banning these traps means we won’t see any new three-legged Mexican wolves limping through the Gila National Forest.”

“New Mexico’s wildlife is held in the public trust, yet it is currently being stripped from public lands, for private profit. S.B. 32 is a commonsense solution that allows the public to hunt, fish, hike and work on publicly owned lands without the danger of steel traps, snares, and poisons,” said Greg Peters, public lands and wildlife advocate with Conservation Voters New Mexico. “This bill allows New Mexico to modernize the state’s trapping regulations and adopt a progressive level of coexistence with wildlife, leading to a safer, more equitable approach to management of our natural resources. We are thankful for the leadership of the bill’s sponsors and for the support from House and Senate members who voted to pass this long-needed legislation.”

“The passage of Roxy’s Law is a victory for the recovery efforts of endangered Mexican gray wolves, and a huge win for the gente of New Mexico and their safety while enjoying public lands,” said Eddie Estrada, New Mexico field representative for the Endangered Species Coalition.

“New Mexico Wild supports the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which promotes the principles that wildlife is held in public trust, should not be commercialized, should be managed scientifically and should not be used frivolously. The use of traps on public lands is inconsistent with that model,” said Mark Allison, executive director of New Mexico Wild. “Traps have the potential to indiscriminately catch, maim or kill domestic pets and wildlife that are not intended to be caught, including the Mexican gray wolf. New Mexico needs to fully commit itself to implementing a science-driven, holistic, 21st century stewardship model for all wildlife and we are proud to support S.B. 32.”

“With this momentous legislation prohibiting traps, snares and poisons, the Land of Enchantment has joined a class of enlightenment along with more than 80 countries and a handful of other U.S. states,” said Michelle Lute, Ph.D. in wildlife science and national carnivore conservation manager for Project Coyote. “Thanks to the support of many champions for this bill from across New Mexico, wildlife management in our state is now more enlightened, science-based and effective in protecting wildlife and healthy ecosystems.”

“We are so proud that the New Mexico legislature stood up for compassion, wildlife conservation and public safety with the passage of Roxy’s law and we fervently hope the governor will now sign the bill into law recognizing the wishes of the majority of New Mexicans and bringing our state into line with our neighboring Arizona and Colorado,” said Mary Katherine Ray, wildlife chair for the Rio Grande Chapter Sierra Club.

“We are overwhelmed with gratitude for the legislators who supported this legislation and recognize the importance of safe and accessible public lands and the need to respect native wildlife on those lands,” said Chris Smith, southern Rockies wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “We look forward to Governor Lujan Grisham finalizing this bill’s journey and boosting New Mexico’s reputation with better wildlife policy.”

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PENNLive/Patriot-News (Mechanicsburg PA)

Endangered bats are target of federal forest program in Pennsylvania

By Marcus Schneck, Posted March 16, 2021

A federal program will be putting $300,000 on the ground to preserve and restore habitat for federally protected bats in Pennsylvania.

The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service will target the Healthy Forest Reserve Program funding at permanent forest easements with habitat restoration in Adams, Armstrong, Beaver Bedford, Berks, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Huntingdon, Mifflin, Snyder and York counties.

The effort will focus on preserving and restoring Indiana bat maternity colony and hibernacula habitat.

The HFRP is a voluntary program to assist landowners in restoring, enhancing and protecting forestland resources on private lands through permanent easements.

The program aims to promote the recovery of threatened and endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, improve plant and animal biodiversity, and enhance carbon sequestration.

Applications are due no later than April 30 through local county NRCS offices.

The Indiana bat is endangered in Pennsylvania and nationally. It measures 3.5-5.5 inches in length, with a wingspan of 9.5-10.5 inches, and weighs less than a half-ounce. The fur is pinkish brown, the wing membranes are dull brown, the face is pink.

Indiana bats are known to hibernate among the more numerous little brown bats, sometimes in large groups, in 18 mines and natural caves in 11 Pennsylvania counties. In spring and summer, the bats roost in trees, with females gathering in small maternity colonies, some in buildings but mostly in trees.

The bats eat a range of flying insects, which it hunts along gentle to moderate south-facing slopes covered by mixed oak or mixed northern hardwood forests.

It’s one of 11 species of bat in Pennsylvania.

Focusing on the federally protected Indiana and northern long-eared bats, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in late February finalized the State Lands Habitat Conservation Plan for Bats.

The plan covers 3.8 million acres of state-managed lands, with the 3 agencies working together to conserve the 2 species as they recover from the deadly white-nose syndrome and streamlining review of future forestry projects.

“Conserving, managing and improving Indiana bat and northern long-eared bat habitat is important in Pennsylvania, as bats play a critical role within the state and in forested ecosystems,” said DCNR Bureau of Forestry Director Ellen Shultzabarger.

“This habitat conservation plan allows DCNR and the Pennsylvania Game Commission to plan at a larger scale across state lands to allow for more effective management of forests and improved conservation of these bat species.”

The agencies have prepared a habitat conservation plan outlining how they will continue to maintain at least 3.5 million acres of various aged forest while managing a portion of the remaining acres through timber harvest and prescribed fire.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Northwest Senators Urged to Reject Rep. Simpson’s Disastrous Plan for Endangered Salmon

March, 16, 2021–PORTLAND, Ore.— A coalition of conservation, water policy, and agricultural sustainability groups representing millions of Americans is voicing the first environmental opposition to a proposed dam breaching deal that has, until now, garnered praise.

In a letter sent today to Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, the groups stated their opposition to Rep. Mike Simpson’s (R-Idaho) “Energy and Salmon Concept,” which proposes a deal to trade breaching the four Lower Snake River dams for the modern era’s most extensive rollbacks of protections for clean water, imperiled species and public health.

While the groups strongly support the removal of the four dams to help restore the region’s wild salmon and steelhead and recognize the need to assist those affected by the dams’ breaching, their letter explains that necessary changes “cannot be achieved by suspending the protections of our bedrock environmental laws for a generation or more, along with an unprecedented attack on environmental justice for millions of people that live across the Columbia River basin.”

“Rep. Simpson’s proposal is a nonstarter,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Lower Snake River dams need to be removed, but there’s no reason to package that with an extraordinary list of other actions that would irreparably damage clean water, human health, wildlife, and the communities that call the Columbia River basin home. If Rep. Simpson’s truly serious about saving the region’s salmon, and not just protecting and enriching polluters, as this proposal would, he should be strengthening our clean water, public health and species protection laws, not throwing them out the window.”

Today’s letter explains that Rep. Simpson’s proposal would suspend, for 25 years, basic accountability under the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act for the agricultural sector and would transfer water management across the Columbia Basin states to agribusiness. It would also give a 35-year extension of the operating licenses to over 80 other significant dams in the Columbia Basin while also exempting those dams from accountability for clean water and harmful impacts on wild salmon and other species.

“It’s great that Rep. Simpson has triggered a discussion, but his assumptions are dead wrong,” said John DeVoe, executive director of WaterWatch Oregon. “Clean water, environmental justice for people, and the protection of wild salmon must be the foundation of the path forward for the basin, not trading chips in a massive poker game.”

The proposal would also provide billions in assistance purportedly to offset the harm from breaching the dams, but unfortunately focuses those dollars on assisting special interests, including for the development of small modular nuclear reactors, hydrogen storage, and expanded factory farm operations like mega-dairies.

“This proposal would ensure a future for the basin that includes more polluted, hotter water in the basin’s rivers, the extinction of wild salmon runs, more toxic fish for people to eat, and no accountability for dams and agricultural special interests,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of the Wild Fish Conservancy. “What a terrible legacy this could leave for the next generation in the Columbia Basin.”

“We would not even be having this discussion about dam removal if it were not for our nation’s strong environmental laws,” said David Moskowitz, executive director of the Conservation Angler. “Now, Rep. Simpson proposes to take away these very same tools that can ensure protection of salmon and steelhead in other watersheds across the basin including the Willamette, Deschutes and Upper Columbia basins. It’s simply not acceptable to sacrifice all the basin’s other salmon for those in the Snake River.”

The letter concludes: “The current proposal sacrifices too much, fails to address major limiting factors in the survival of wild salmon, steelhead, and other species in the Columbia Basin, and would lock in a failed status quo or worse for much of the rest of the basin, while providing a financial and regulatory windfall for some of the very forces that are responsible, in large part, for the plight of these species and many of the most serious environmental justice issues in the basin.”

Groups signing the letter to the four senators opposing the Simpson Proposal include the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Partnership, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Deschutes River Alliance, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Native Fish Society, Northwest Environmental Advocates, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Oregon Wild, Spokane Riverkeeper, the Conservation Angler, WaterWatch of Oregon, Wild Fish Conservancy, Willamette Riverkeeper, and WildEarth Guardians.

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Courthouse News Service

Feds May Look at Spring-Run Chinook Salmon as Genetically Distinct

March 15, 2021, MATTHEW RENDA

Wildlife conservationists have been long making the case that spring-run Chinook salmon are a genetically distinct species from the ones that make their runs in the fall. If the federal government agrees, Endangered Species Act protections could follow.

(CN) — The National Marine Fisheries Service is considering whether the spring-run and fall-run Chinook salmon that occupy the rivers of Northern California and southern Oregon are genetically distinct.

The decision has huge implications for fish populations as the number of spring-run Chinook salmon has plunged to such depths it would almost certainly result in a listing under the Endangered Species Act if seen as a separate species.

“The science is in on that,” said Rich Nawa, an ecologist who petitioned the agency a year ago to consider the spring-run Chinook salmon as genetically distinct. “There are several papers so no one disputes the science, it’s just how to incorporate it into policy at this point.”

The fisheries service said Monday it will consider the new science as it analyses whether an update to its listing policy is warranted.

“We find that the petition presents substantial scientific and commercial information indicating the petitioned action may be warranted,” the agency said in a document.

The key word in the phrase is “may,” as a significant dispute exists in the scientific community whether the spring-run Chinook is what is referred to as an “evolutionarily significant unit.”

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz published a study last fall that said both the spring-run and fall-run Chinook are genetically similar and that any differences are tantamount to small differences in humans, like height and eye color.

“It’s like blue and brown eye color in humans — it just depends on what genotype you inherit from your parents,” said John Carlos Garza, a researcher with UC Santa Cruz and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Other researchers say they have detected the genetic marker that separates spring-run Chinook from their fall-run counterparts.

Spring-run Chinook behave differently, said Craig Tucker, a spokesman for the Karuk Tribe. For instance, spring-run chinook salmon enter the rivers of Northern California and southern Oregon during the spring runoff, when the rivers are swollen with snowmelt. The waters are cooler and historically the fish have used the higher water levels to reach places that fall-run Chinook salmon would be unable to after the rivers have shrunk to their post-summer levels.

“They spend a lot of time in freshwater,” Tucker said.

In fact, the fish spend the summer developing their reproductive organs before they spawn and die. Therefore the dams and reservoirs that have been installed at various points throughout the rivers of the West Coast create problems for spring-run Chinook that are unique and separate from their closely related cousins.

It also allows the fall-run species to outcompete the spring run since they both are able to reach the same spots in the river to reproduce.

It’s why Tucker thinks the dam removal on the Klamath River will help both salmon species immeasurably.

Dam removal looks inevitable as federal agencies are finalizing the environmental analyses required to pave the way to remove four dams on the Klamath River as soon as 2023.

“I am convinced it’s going to be a giant boon to fish in this basin,” Tucker said.

But Nawa said a listing of the spring-run Chinook salmon will also allow the federal agency to formulate conservation and recovery solutions specific to the species.

“We have to keep the spring-run Chinook salmon as a functioning population in the future,” Nawa said.

Chinook salmon are native to the northern Pacific Ocean and the river systems of western North America. They are anadromous fish, meaning they are born in freshwater, spend most of their lives in the ocean and then return to the freshwater systems of their birth to spawn and die.

The fish is a major staple in the diets of North Americans and contains spiritual and cultural significance to the many Native American tribes throughout the western part of North America.

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Mother Jones

The Senate Confirms Deb Haaland to Be the First Native American Cabinet Secretary in US History

Jackie Mogensen, Assistant Editor, March 15, 2021
In a historic vote on Monday afternoon, the Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Department of the Interior, New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, voting 51-40 to make her the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary.

The vote was largely split along party lines. Of the 51 senators voting in favor of Haaland’s confirmation, just four were Republicans: Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). No Democrats voted against the nomination. Nine senators, including three Democrats, did not vote.

The confirmation is a victory for environmental advocates. In her two years in Congress, Haaland backed efforts like the Green New Deal and “30 by 30,” a House effort to protect 30 percent of US land and ocean by 2030—positions that earned her a 98 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters. During her confirmation hearing in February, she pledged to be “a fierce advocate for our public lands” and to run a department that makes decisions “based on science.”

As I wrote earlier this month, conservationists are hoping that among Haaland’s first priorities will be reversing the Trump administration’s sweeping attacks on public lands and wildlife. “Following up on the Trump administration, it’s a tall order,” Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told me at the time. “He just did so much to undermine protections for endangered species and wildlife, that there’s just a lot of work to do.”

At the top of Haaland’s to-do list for protecting vulnerable species, environmental advocates told me, should be reversing Trump’s broad rollbacks to the Endangered Species Act:

Over four years, Trump’s administration issued five rules that redefined how the Endangered Species Act is interpreted, Greenwald says. The first three came as a set in 2019 and made sweeping changes to how species are protected and the act is enforced. “It was really a broad base attack on the law,” says Rebecca Riley, legal director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Nature Program. The changes were so broad—for instance, allowing officials to “compile and present” economic factors in listing decisions—that most species listed under the act or waiting to be listed would be affected in one way or another, advocates told me at the time. Some of those species included the grizzly bear, moose, and monarch butterfly.

The two other rollbacks, which were enacted in the final months of Trump’s presidency, focused specifically on habitat. As Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice whose work includes Endangered Species Act litigation, explains, the regulations “created more loopholes” for agencies to avoid issuing habitat protections—a change which “really cuts at the heart of the act,” Boyles says. “If [at-risk species] need anything, they need that habitat protected more than almost anything else.”

Environmental groups, some of which have sued the federal government over the rollbacks, are hoping all five rules will be reversed either through litigation or by putting new rules in place. As Interior secretary, “[Haaland] will have a lot of work ahead of her to restore the Endangered Species Act,” Riley says. “The Trump administration did everything they could to weaken the law.”

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KQED (San Francisco)

Environmental Groups Urge Feds to Reject Gas Drilling Project in North Bay Wetland

By Alice Woelfle, March 14, 2021

Local political leaders and a dozen Bay Area environmental groups are urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject a permit proposal for an exploratory natural gas drilling project in Suisun Marsh.

The 88,000-acre wetland in Solano County — the largest contiguous brackish marsh on the west coast of North America — lies near the North Bay cities of Fairfield and Benicia, at the mouth of the vast Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta where the salty waters of San Francisco Bay mix with river water to create an estuary ecosystem that is home to hundreds of species of birds, fish, amphibians and mammals, including river otter, tule elk and the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse.

The marsh provides habitat to bird species including the endangered California Ridgway’s Rail and the threatened California Black Rail, and is home to rare native plants like the Suisun Thistle, which only grows in Suisun Marsh. It’s also an important resting and feeding ground for thousands of migrating birds which use the Pacific flyway, making it a popular destination for birdwatching, hunting, hiking and canoeing.

The gas drilling permit was submitted by Sunset Exploration Inc., an East Bay oil and gas company based in nearby Brentwood. If approved, the project would create 100 feet of new road and a one-acre drilling pad built on the site of an abandoned, sealed well. If new drilling finds the well to be productive, the site would expand to include storage tanks and a mile and a half of new gas pipeline to connect with an existing pipeline.

In a Feb. 26 letter opposing the project sent to the Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of a dozen environmental groups — including the Sierra Club and San Francisco Baykeeper — Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney Hollin Kretzmann detailed the potential environmental damage the project could inflict on the marsh’s delicate habitat and on surrounding communities.

The letter notes the permit application lacks details of the location of the road, and which chemicals might be used for drilling and maintenance of the well. It also calls into question the permit’s assertion that drilling at an existing well site reduces impact to the marsh and contamination risks from other nearby existing wells:

When a new well is drilled…it can effect existing wells around it in ways ranging from soil and water contamination, to the [uncontrolled release] of gas that has migrated to the surface… Older and unused wells can create pathways for water contamination…especially those that were constructed decades ago with outdated technologies and standards.

Environmental groups are concerned that the newly proposed project could pave the way for more abandoned wells to come back online, potentially leading to accidents. There are many abandoned wells in the area, and new gas harvesting technology has made production more efficient in locations that were previously abandoned as unprofitable.

Twenty years ago there was enthusiasm in the oil and gas industry around potential reserves beneath Suisun Marsh and other locations in Solano County. In 2001, one natural gas executive said the area had “some of the most exciting opportunities in Northern California.” But renewable energy technology has also come a long way since then — and the negative environmental impacts of fossil fuels and climate change are now a major concern for a majority of Californians.

Suisun Marsh has been damaged by fossil fuel-related accidents before. In 2004, an oil pipeline running through the marsh ruptured, spilling nearly 124,000 gallons of diesel fuel. The spill caused significant damage to wildlife and the company responsible, Kinder Morgan Energy Company, paid over $1.1 million to clean up and restore the marsh.

Kretzmann called the new gas drilling proposal ridiculous.

“We know that we only have a limited amount of time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, phase out fossil fuel, and implement a just transition to a safer and more sustainable economy,” he said. “So the fact that we’re thinking about expanding our oil and gas footprint in the state, and allowing people to dig for new fossil fuels is just completely ridiculous.”

He said it’s not just the delicate wetland ecosystem that is in danger, but the health of the surrounding communities and the future of the local economy.

“We shouldn’t be in the business of propping up new fossil fuel infrastructure and exploration projects. We should be in the business of protecting the environment, protecting frontline communities and moving us away from fossil fuels.”

Air pollutants are emitted during every stage of gas development. Emissions from the flaring and venting of wells can include harmful chemicals like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and formaldehydes. The nearby cities of Suisun City, Fairfield and Vallejo – predominantly communities of color – are already disproportionately impacted by pollutants from nearby oil and gas facilities including Valero’s Benicia Refinery, Marathon’s Martinez Refinery in Pacheco, PBF Energy’s Martinez refinery and Chevron’s Richmond Refinery, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown, who opposes the project, said protecting the environment and transitioning away from fossil fuels is important to her constituents.

“Why are we doing this in the 21st century? We are putting so much time and effort into restoring and protecting Suisun Marsh. My constituents want open space and fresh air and clean water, not gas wells.”

She said her district is actively trying to make it easier for residents to reduce fossil fuel dependency.

“We are working on making a clean power option available to our residents,” Brown said. “We are working on installing more electric vehicle charging stations in our district, because so many people have electric cars, and also because we want to encourage more people to get them.”

In a public letter to the Army Corps on Feb. 24, Brown called for a public hearing and a full California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) impact study on the project. A public notice on the project issued by the Army Corps stated that the project does not qualify for an automatic environmental impact study.

Sahrye Cohen, the regulatory chief with the North Bay branch of the Army Corps, said in an interview with KQED that they’re still determining whether an environmental impact study will be necessary, and that the Corps will require Sunset Exploration Inc. to submit alternative plans that would mean less impact on the marsh.

“Can natural gas exploration be done in the Suisun Marsh in an area that has less impact on wetlands?” Cohen indicated the Corps would ask Sunset Exploration Inc. “Could you request that fill be half an acre instead of an acre? Could you situate it partially on an area that has already been filled in? What are your other options here that don’t involve putting fill in wetlands?”

The Clean Water Act requires the Army Corps to permit the least environmentally damaging plan, but Cohen said when it comes to surrounding communities, they usually fall outside the scope of the Corps’ jurisdiction which only covers actions that occur on waterways. Cohen said it usually doesn’t include a city five miles away.

“It all starts from, ‘What are they putting in the wetlands?’ then, ‘What are they proposing that adds onto that?'” she said. “There’s executive orders about environmental justice that we are going to look at for our analysis. But there is a scope limitation, so we don’t know how far that extends yet.”

Cohen was referencing potential stricter executive orders around environmental justice forthcoming from the Biden administration, but there are also several court cases that limit the scope of the Corps’ jurisdiction. The Corps has received a handful of similar requests for exploratory drilling in and around the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta in the last decade, and Cohen said most of them get approved after a discussion of how to reduce damage to wetlands and endangered species.

“I’ve been here for about 12 years,” she said. “I don’t know that we have denied a natural gas well exploratory permit.”

Cohen added that the Corps’ job is to decide, in consultation with agencies like the California Water Board and the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, whether a project is legally permissible. If it is legal, the permit is approved.

Supervisor Brown said that isn’t a good enough reason to “destroy” a wetland.

“Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right. I hope the Army Corps will take that into consideration and reject this project.”

The permit review process will take at least four months. Supervisor Brown, Hollin Kretzmann and other environmental groups said they will do whatever they can to fight the project every step of the way.

Sunset Exploration Inc. did not return requests for comment on this story.

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WWBT-TV

Oh, baby! New right whale calf spotted off the coast of North Carolina

The endangered right whale calf is the 17th documented calf of the 2020-2021 calving season

By Nick Russo | March 13, 2021

Richmond, Va. (WWBT) – In a hopeful sign for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, a newly born right whale calf has been spotted off the coast of North Carolina.

There have been 17 documented right whale calves in the 2020-2021 calving season, which typically runs from mid-November through mid-April. It is the best calving season for these endangered mammals since 2015. Only 22 calves were observed in the previous four calving seasons combined.

This most recent right whale calf was seen on March 11 off the coast of Lea-Hutaff Island, North Carolina by an aerial survey team from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium conducting right whale research.

The mother whale has been identified as catalog #3593 (she does not have a nickname). This elusive right whale was first seen in 2005 and has not been seen since 2015, which is unusual for a species that is researched yearly. Until now, scientists did not know the sex of the whale. Now that she has a calf, researchers can safely assume she is a female, and a first time mom!

Every winter, these right whales migrate south to the coast of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida to have their calves. In coming weeks with the arrival of spring, this mother/calf pair and other right whales will be migrating north to their spring/summer feeding grounds off the coast of New England and Canada.

The whales will pass east of Virginia on their migration journey, and boaters off the coast should slow down to 10 knots or less to prevent ship strikes.

Each calf represents a new hope for this critically endangered species, whose numbers have declined from about 483 whales in 2010 to an estimated 366 today. This decline is due to human activity, specifically entanglements in lobster/crab fishing gear and boat strikes. An “unusual mortality event” has been declared since 2017 with the death of 34 right whales in four years. An additional 15 whales are considered “seriously injured” and likely to die from their injuries.

In early March, a right whale nicknamed “Cottontail” was found dead off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was seen entangled in heavy fishing rope in October 2020, and disentanglement efforts were unsuccessful.

Another right whale was seen alive but entangled in fishing gear in Cape Cod Bay off the coast of Massachusetts this week. This female right whale is nicknamed “Snow Cone”, and was partially disentangled by the Center for Coastal Studies. Rescuers removed 300 feet of rope from the whale. Unfortunately, researchers believe rope remains stuck in her mouth. Snow Cone has been added to the list of seriously injured whales in the ongoing unusual mortality event. Snow Cone was a mother last year, but her calf was tragically killed in a ship strike off the coast of New Jersey.

One of the 17 right whale calves born this winter was killed when it was accidentally struck by a boat in February near St. Augustine, Florida. Boaters must stay at least 500 yards away from these endangered whales and should slow down in areas where whales may be present.

NOAA is considering additional rules to protect these critically endangered whales.

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Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, NC)

The government could release more endangered red wolves into the wild this year

Jonathan Drew, Associated Press, March 13, 2021

Government wildlife officials released two more critically endangered red wolves into the wild in North Carolina and could place several more captive-bred wolves into the habitat this year, according to a new plan submitted to a federal judge.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in the filing March 1 that it brought two male wolves from a Florida wildlife refuge, paired them with wild female wolves from North Carolina and let them loose in February. One of the male wolves was later killed by a car. The service said it also plans to release another captive-bred pair into the wild this summer and will aim to introduce captive-bred pups into any wild litters born in the breeding season that runs through May. Releases of captive-bred wolves had largely been halted by the government in recent years.

Wolf conservation groups responded that the government needs to move faster.

The plan was submitted to U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle, who ordered the agency in January to introduce more wolves into eastern North Carolina, the only place in the world where they roam free. At the time, Boyle noted that as few as seven red wolves remained in the wild. Another approximately 250 live in zoos and refuges as part of the captive-breeding program.

Boyle has given conservation groups suing the federal government two weeks to raise any objections to the new plan.

The officials who prepared the plan wrote that the federal agency “remains committed to reintroducing the red wolf into portions of its historical range and recovering the species in the wild.”

The officials also noted that they planned to proceed deliberately in moving captive-bred wolves to the wild in order to maintain a “a robust captive population” that’s genetically diverse. A spokesman for the agency didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking further comment.

An attorney who represents the conservation groups suing the government said the plan should go further.

“While we are still reviewing the agency’s plan and will formally respond with the court, we can say that it clearly falls far short of quickly releasing eight wolves, which plaintiffs requested to protect the wild population based on expert opinion and the service’s own past practice,” said Sierra Weaver of the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Ron Sutherland, a biologist with the Wildlands Network who’s not directly involved in the lawsuit, said he hopes the federal court will force the government to move more quickly with reintroductions. In a February letter to the government, he urged the release of 16 wolves.

“The release of the two wolves was a step in the right direction. It was not an ambitious step. But it was a step,” Sutherland said by phone.

Conservation groups took the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to court late last year with a lawsuit arguing that the federal wildlife officials had violated the Endangered Species Act through actions that included a decision in 2015 to stop releasing captive-bred wolves. Between that decision and the judge’s ruling in January, only one other captive-bred wolf had been released into the North Carolina wild.

Red wolves once occupied much of the Eastern U.S. but were driven to near extinction by trapping, hunting and habitat loss before they were reintroduced to North Carolina in 1987. The reintroduced population had grown to more than 100 but has fallen sharply in recent years. Their range is limited to five North Carolina counties.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Mexican Gray Wolf Numbers Rose to 186 in 2020

In 14% Increase, 23 New Wolves Now Roaming New Mexico, Arizona

March 12, 2021

SILVER CITY, N.M.— The U.S. population of endangered Mexican gray wolves grew by 23 animals, from 163 in in 2019 to 186 in 2020, according to a legal filing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The March 10 filing is part of the agency’s request for an extension of time to rewrite its 2015 Mexican wolf management rule, which the U.S. District Court in Arizona struck down in 2018.

“It’s gratifying that more Mexican wolves are roaming this little corner of the Southwest,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “But even as wolf howls echo in a few more canyons than before, this population is still vulnerable and needs more stringent protections and more effective releases from captivity to the wild.”

The increase of 23 wolves reflects scant population growth. Last spring 20 captive-born wolf pups were released into the wild to be raised by unrelated wolves to introduce genes from the more diverse captive population into the wild population. Six of those pups were known to still be alive through the end of the year.

Thirty-four wolves are known to have died in the wild in 2020, and five of those were shot dead by federal snipers in response to predation on cattle. Ten wolves were removed alive from the wild by federal trappers, though two ended up dying. In addition to the losses of those 44 wolves, several other radio-collared wolves disappeared during the year.

The Service is requesting a 14-month extension of its May 17, 2021 deadline to revise its 2015 wolf management rule, which was found to be illegal because the agency ignored scientists’ warnings that losses to the population would result in irreparable harm to the reintroduced wolf population’s genetic health.

The Service acknowledges that wolf releases from captivity and limiting mortality are necessary to increase the Mexican wolf’s genetic diversity. The 27% rate of wolf losses in 2020 exceeds the Service’s intended cap of 25% losses.

Releases from captivity consist solely of transferring newborn pups into the dens of wolves already in the wild. Since this practice began in 2016, 50 captive-born pups have been released and just 11 are known to be alive. Three released pups have matured, bred and raised pups of their own.

Conservationists have called upon the Service to release well-bonded wolf pairs with their dependent pups — family packs — from captivity into the wild. Wolves previously released in this manner survived at higher rates than pups separated from their mothers for release.

Background

Mexican gray wolves are the southernmost, smallest and most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf in North America. A federal wolf trapping and poisoning program on behalf of the livestock industry eliminated Mexican wolves from the U.S. Southwest by the 1930s, and actively prevented natural wolf recovery from Mexico. In 1950, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service extended that extermination program to Mexico, in the form of wolf poisons and instruction in their use, exported as foreign aid.

After the 1973 passage of the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the 1976 placement of the Mexican wolf on the endangered species list, five wolves were caught alive in Mexico for emergency captive breeding, and three of them were successfully bred. No other wolves were confirmed alive in the wild after the last was caught in 1980. Descendants of those three were later bred with descendants of three other wolves caught in previous decades in Mexico and one caught in 1959 in Arizona, for a total of seven wolves who contributed to their subspecies survival.

All 186 Mexican wolves in the U.S. Southwest today stem from the genetic equivalents of just two of those seven originators of the captive population. The Mexican wolves in captivity retain the genetic equivalents of three of those seven founding wolves.

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KULR-TV (Billings, MT)

Bill proposed to remove grizzlies from endangered species list

  • Zach Kaplan, Reporter, March 11, 2021

HELENA, Mont. – State senators voted early on in the legislative session to pass a bill that would remove grizzly bears from the federal endangered species list. Thursday, the House Agriculture Committee heard testimony on the bill.

This bill is seeking to address some of the issues that rural Montanans face when it comes to defending their land from grizzly bears.

Now those in favor of this bill say that would provide for more local control and less bureaucracy when it comes to handling issues as the grizzly population expands.

“You’re walking to your field and you’re trying to get to your center pivot and you encounter a grizzly bear. You’re not prepared for a grizzly bear,” Sweet Grass Rancher Maggie Nutter said. “You’re ready to go fix your pivot and, I can replace a cow, but I can’t replace my grandson and I can’t replace my husband.”

However, those who are against this bill raised questions about how ethical it is to deregulate the rules around hunting, and how it could cause legal problems for the state if it removes grizzlies from the list.

“We do recognize the issues around conflicts, which is why we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into conflict mitigation,” Erin Edge, who testified against the bill, said. “This bill is scientifically inaccurate and will harm the ongoing progress Montanans are making towards grizzly bear recovery and future delisting.”

Now this bill was actually tabled initially before being brought back into the legislative process. The bill passed the Senate on a 32-18 party-line vote back in mid-February.

From here, the committee will vote on this bill, and if passed by the full House body, it will go to the Governor’s desk.

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EurekAlert

Weakened protections led to more disappearances of endangered Mexican wolves

UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON, News Release, March 11, 2021

MADISON, Wis. — Mexican wolves in the American Southwest disappeared more quickly during periods of relaxed legal protections, almost certainly succumbing to poaching, according to new research published Wednesday.

Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that Mexican wolves were 121% more likely to disappear — despite high levels of monitoring through radio collars — when legal rulings permitted easier lethal and non-lethal removal of the protected wolves between 1998 and 2016. The disappearances were not due to legal removal, the researchers say, but instead were likely caused by poachers hiding evidence of their activities.

The findings suggest that consistently strong protections for endangered predators lead to reduced poaching, contrary to theories that legalizing lethal removal might reduce the motivation to poach. Instead, the scientists say, strong protections could signal both the value of endangered predators and the government’s intent to enforce protections. However, exactly how government policies ultimately influence poaching activity remains unclear.

“Top predators are very important to healthy ecosystems,” says Adrian Treves, a UW-Madison professor of environmental studies who oversaw the new research. “They are imperiled globally by human activities. And among human-caused mortality, poaching is the leading cause.”

Treves, graduate student Naomi Louchouarn and postdoctoral researcher Francisco Santiago-Ávila published their findings March 10 in the Royal Society Open Science journal. They collaborated with David Parsons, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent and a member the Project Coyote science advisory board, to perform the analysis.

The new report comes on the heels of the federal government’s delisting of the grey wolf in November 2020 under the Endangered Species Act, which reduced protections for the carnivores.

The Mexican wolf population, a subspecies of the grey wolf, is an ideal candidate for studying the effect of government policies. Thanks to intensive reintroduction efforts, more than half of the wolves are monitored through tracking collars, which provide high-quality data on the fate of individual wolves. Policies changed multiple times over roughly two decades, creating a natural experiment that researchers can use to observe how more relaxed or stringent protections affected wolf populations.

The Treves lab asked how two distinct changes in federal protections for Mexican wolves affected the mortality of the predators in the ensuing years. From 2005 to 2009, and again from 2015 until the end of the study period in 2016, federal regulators relaxed protections for the wolves. These new policies allowed agencies to more readily remove by lethal means wolves that were deemed threats to people or livestock. Public hunting was never legalized.

The researchers found that the only cause of lost wolves that changed significantly during times of reduced protections was a category known as lost-to-follow-up, or LTF. The LTF category includes all wolves that can no longer be accounted for. LTFs can be caused by radio collar battery failures, or by wolves migrating beyond the monitored area.

Yet, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found few, if any, migrants out of the recovery area and LTF events occurred significantly earlier than the expected battery life of radio collars. Those results mean that these two common causes of LTF status likely can’t account for the large increase in wolves lost-to-follow-up during years of relaxed protections. The Treves group also found no evidence of changes in diseases or climate that correlated with policy changes and would increase disappearances.

Instead, they believe that the increased risk of disappearance comes from poachers who act to hide their activities by destroying radio collars and hiding carcasses. Without that evidence, however, federal agencies can’t confirm a cause of death, forcing them to declare the wolves lost-to-follow-up.

Agency removal of wolves and confirmed poaching activities did not vary significantly based on policy period.

“The fact that these changes line up with these periods really tells you a lot. The wolves don’t understand that policy changed, but people do,” says Louchouarn. “Yet the disappearances did increase, so somebody was changing their behavior. These methods really helped us to make that connection to likely poaching.”

To reduce sources of bias, the researchers developed their methods and submitted them to peer review before completing their analysis. This pre-review encourages more transparent publishing of scientific findings, regardless of the final results.

“Our findings suggest that there is no evidence for the tolerance killing hypothesis, where allowing the killing of more individuals is going to increase the tolerance for the species and therefore reduce killings,” says Santiago-Ávila, who originally developed the data analysis methods to study Wisconsin’s wolf population. “There is a very minimal reduction in the poaching that gets reported. But that’s only because the poaching gets translated to lost individuals, which we believe represents underreported poaching.”

The researchers say government agencies should reassess their assumptions that lethal removal can ultimately lead to better outcomes for the wolves. Federal policies are developed based on scientific research, so reports like this one and a previous study of Wisconsin’s wolf population could help federal agencies reevaluate for the future.

“Protection is the thing that’s reducing poaching,” says Treves.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Rare Montana Plant

Thick-leaf Bladderpod Threatened by Gypsum Mining

BILLINGS, Mont. (March 11, 2021)— Conservation groups filed a petition today with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the thick-leaf bladderpod under the Endangered Species Act. The rare plant is found in a small area of southern Montana’s Pryor Desert, where it is supposed to be protected, but instead is under imminent threat by gypsum mining.

“This burly little plant survives in a harsh, cold desert, but it can’t survive mining,” said Tamara Strobel, a staff scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without protection under the Endangered Species Act, the thick-leaved bladderpod and its unique habitat will be lost forever.”

In 2009 the Bureau of Land Management nominated 2,606 acres as an “area of critical environmental concern” to protect the historic, archaeological and cultural values of the Gyp Springs area and the large concentration of sensitive plant species, including the bladderpod, found in the Pryor Desert. And in 2015 the agency recommended that the area be withdrawn from mineral leasing. But under the Trump administration, that did not occur.

Now the mining company Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua has plans to mine the area for gypsum, risking the survival of not only the bladderpod but also the imperiled greater sage grouse. The planned mining would also disturb Jurassic Period fossils and archaeological sites of value to the Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribes.

“The concentration of rare plants makes this a unique part of Montana,” said Peter Lesica, conservation chair of Montana Native Plant Society. “It is hard to imagine that BLM would allow mining on what they recently declared to be an ‘area of critical environmental concern.’ ”

“Rare plant species are an important example of the many natural and cultural treasures of the Pryor Mountains that need protecting,” said Dick Walton, spokesperson for the Pryors Coalition. “The Pryors are one of the Crow Tribe’s most sacred landscapes.”

The thick-leaf bladderpod is a rare, tiny, yellow-flowered plant only a few inches in size. It’s endemic to a specific substrate of reddish-pink soil made of limestone and sedimentary rock found only in a small area of the Pryor Desert.

The plant is dependent on cryptobiotic crusts, which are living soils made of blue-green algae, lichens, mosses, micro fungi and bacteria and are highly sensitive to disturbance. Once crushed by vehicles, such crusts can take hundreds of years to grow back — if at all.

Petitioners were the Center for Biological Diversity, Montana Native Plant Society and the Pryors Coalition.

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Associated Press

Florida on Pace for Record Number of Manatee Deaths in 2021

March 11, 2021

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A combination of cold weather, a decline in seagrass due to development and contaminated waterways have put Florida on pace for its highest number of manatee deaths in a decade.

The number of deaths, 432 so far this year, is nearly three times the five-year average of 146 deaths between Jan. 1 and March 5, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported, citing figures from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Last year, the state recorded 637 manatee deaths, and in 2019, 607.

“It’s this combination we have of cold weather, we have a reduction of where manatees can go, and in the places where manatees can go, as a consequence of human development and other activities, we have poor water quality which has resulted in these grass die-offs,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

The largest number of deaths is in Brevard County, with 179, the newspaper reported. Many of those deaths occurred along the Indian River, which is a common warm water gathering place, officials said. The manatees swim away to eat sea grass, which is their main source of food. But they aren’t finding as much, so they return hungry to the warmer water.

“A manatee will choose starvation over freezing to death,” Lopez said.

Officials said cold stress has accounted for 41 deaths so far. There were 52 cold-stress deaths among manatees in 2020, officials said.

Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, told the SunSentinel that typically manatees would stay in the Banana River or Mosquito Lagoon, in the northern end of the Indian River Lagoon. But the loss of sea grass there is forcing them into other areas.

The southern end of the Indian River Lagoon has suffered from a series of algal blooms and phytoplankton blooms, and the infusion of fresh water and nutrients from Lake Okeechobee has stressed that system and wiped out much of its sea grass, the newspaper reported.

Rose said there are probably more manatee deaths than the state has documented and the causes might not be accurately attributed.

While the state wildlife commission rescues sick and injured manatees, coronavirus pandemic-related personnel shortages and restrictions have meant that nearly 70% of the dead manatees have not had necropsies to determine their causes, Rose said.

“You’re always better off when you have a real scientific understanding of what’s actually happening,” he said.

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SeafoodSource

Entangled right whale dies off South Carolina coast

By Chris Chase, March 10, 2021

NOAA Fisheries has confirmed the apparent entanglement-related death of a North Atlantic right whale off the coast of South Carolina.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the North Atlantic right whale as “critically endangered” last year, making it one of the most endangered species on the planet. Currently, the species is experiencing what NOAA Fisheries calls an “unusual mortality event,” which has spanned from 2017 until current. In that time, with the death of the latest whale, 34 whales have died, and 14 are considered seriously injured.

Currently, less than 356 of the whales are estimated to survive today.

According to NOAA Fisheries, the whale – an 11-year-old male dubbed “Cottontail” – was first spotted as entangled on 20 October, 2020. Since that time, efforts to disentangle the whale proved unsuccessful, and it was found dead on 28 February.

“Due to the animal’s poor body condition and offshore location, teams mobilized early today to find the whale by boat. They collected biological samples, placed a tag on the whale to continue to track its location, and removed ropes entangling the animal,” NOAA Fisheries stated in a release. “This animal was spotted alive by aerial survey teams off Florida’s Treasure Coast a little over a week ago.”

The death adds to the growing pressure from nonprofits and environmental organizations on the shipping and fishing industries to do more to prevent future whale deaths.

“These whales must maneuver through an industrialized waterway dense with intense shipping traffic and an estimated one million commercial vertical fishing lines in the water column,” International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Director of Marine Mammal Rescue and Research Brian Sharp said. “This journey to their feeding grounds, which the species has taken for centuries, is becoming a journey of no return.”

Cottontail’s death, the organization said, is an example of why vertical lines pose a threat to the species’ survival.

“Cottontail’s demise is a perfect illustration of what we are trying to stop. No species can survive these types of injuries day after day,” IFAW Marine Campaigner CT Harry said. “We can attempt disentanglements and the like, but that does not solve the issue. We need collective action. We need 21st century technology to remove the threat of entanglement. We need an unwavering commitment to turn this situation around.”

In the U.S., a federal judge has ruled that the American lobster fishery is violating the endangered species act due to its lack of action to protect whales, a ruling that resulted in the Marine Stewardship Council suspending the Maine lobster fishery’s certification and NOAA Fisheries proposing new regulations to avoid a complete shutdown of it and other fisheries.

That proposal by NOAA Fisheries has garnered pushback from Maine Governor Janet Mills, and discussions surrounding the potential regulations are ongoing.  

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Center for Biological Diversity

Court Blocks Oil, Gas Extraction on Ohio’s Only National Forest

COLUMBUS, Ohio (March 9, 2021)― A federal judge blocked new oil and gas leasing and fracking in Ohio’s Wayne National Forest late Monday, following a ruling last year rebuking the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service for failing to consider threats to public health, endangered species and watersheds before opening more than 40,000 acres of the forest to fracking.

Pending completion of new environmental reviews, Monday’s order blocks new leases on the Wayne, prohibits new drilling permits and surface disturbance on existing leases, and prohibits water withdrawals from the Little Muskingum River for already-approved drilling.

“This is great news for the future of Ohio’s only national forest,” said Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re grateful the judge recognized the damage fracking could do to this spectacular forest. The order will protect our climate, endangered wildlife and drinking water for millions of people.”

U.S. District Judge Michael Watson said the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management had “demonstrated a disregard for the different types of impacts caused by fracking in the Forest. The agencies made decisions premised on a faulty foundation.”

“This is a victory for public health, for outdoor recreation, and for our climate. The court’s ruling means that, at least for the foreseeable future, a significant portion of the Wayne National Forest will be safe from oil and gas development. And this victory may ultimately be permanent given the Biden administration’s recent moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on federal public lands,” said Nathan Johnson, public lands director for the Ohio Environmental Council. “The Wayne is a public forest that we all own. Keeping its air and water clean, as well as its views intact, is a win that we can all celebrate.”

In May 2017 conservation groups sued the agencies over plans to permit fracking in the Wayne, saying federal officials had relied on an outdated plan and ignored significant environmental threats before approving the fracking.

“This victory, like the Wayne National Forest, belongs to all of us,” said Becca Pollard with the Sierra Club. “Permitting fracking anywhere is a threat to our health and clean air and water, and we’re relieved to see the judge rule in favor of protecting the forest. We look forward to working together to ensure that this decision is made permanent and we may continue to enjoy and explore Wayne National Forest.”

The BLM’s leasing plan would industrialize Ohio’s only national forest through road-building, well pads and gas lines, the lawsuit said. This would destroy Indiana bat habitat, pollute watersheds and water supplies that support millions of people, and endanger other federally protected species in the area.

Monday’s order comes as the Biden administration has paused federal oil and gas leasing, both onshore and offshore, pending a long-overdue climate review of the federal fossil fuel programs.

Background

Fossil fuel production on public lands causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate-policy proposals in recent years.

Oil, gas and coal extraction includes mines, well pads, gas lines, roads and other infrastructure that destroys habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Oil spills and other harms from offshore drilling have done immense damage to ocean wildlife and coastal communities. Fracking and mining also pollute watersheds and waterways that provide drinking water to millions of people.

Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution; those already leased to industry contain up to 43 billion tons. Pollution from already-leased fossil fuels on federal lands, if fully developed, would exhaust the U.S. carbon budget for keeping the world below a 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature increase.

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5 On Your Side (St. Louis, MO)

Missouri’s eastern hellbender salamanders get endangered species protections

Eastern hellbenders are North America’s largest salamanders, and river-dwelling hellbenders can grow more than 2 feet long

March 8, 2021

MISSOURI, USA — The Missouri population of North America’s largest salamanders now have greater protection.

On Monday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the Missouri distinct population of the eastern hellbender salamander as an endangered population under the federal Endangered Species Act, per a release from the Center for Biological Diversity.

The center had filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if the animals were not given the protection.

“While we’re happy to see the Missouri population of eastern hellbenders receive protection, the Service should have listed the species throughout its range,” said Brian Segee, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Hellbenders desperately need the protections of the Endangered Species Act not only in Missouri, but everywhere they’re found.”

Eastern hellbenders are North America’s largest salamanders, and river-dwelling hellbenders can grow more than 2 feet long. The Center for Biological Diversity said the species has been eliminated from much of its habitat due to sedimentation, dam construction, disease, habitat destruction and climate change.

The Missouri distinct population can be found in the east-central part of the state.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the salamanders can be found in the Big River, Big Piney River, Courtois Creek, Gasconade River, Huzzah Creek, Meramec River, Niangua River and the Osage Fork of the Gasconade River.

According to the center, in the last 20 years populations of Missouri eastern hellbenders have declined as much as 77% in the Big Piney River, Gasconade River and Niangua River. The population is expected to continue to decline.

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WGRZ-TV (Buffalo, NY)

2 the Outdoors: Bats developing resistance to white-nose syndrome

White-nose syndrome has devastated bat populations across North America.

BUFFALO, N.Y. (March 7) — White-nose syndrome is a disease caused by a fungus and has devastated bat populations across North America. First discovered in 2006 in Howe Caverns in Central New York, like a juggernaut, the disease has spread very rapidly through 35 states and Canada.

In less than two decades it has wreaked unimaginable damage to several species.

“The northern long-eared bat was actually put on the endangered species list,” said Karen Slote, a wildlife vet and rehabilitator. “Their populations in all of Northeast have declined by 99 percent, and the tricolored bat 98 percent they estimate in New York State. And our little brown bats, they used to be the most numerous bat in the whole North America, and after white-nose their populations are down 90 percent also.”

White-nose syndrome affects the wings and skin of cave dwelling bats, and disturbs their hibernation state, also known as torpor.

“Every time those bats are woken or aroused from torpor, they’re using massive amounts of their energy stores, so as they’re woken up, time and time again their energy is depleted and they can’t survive,” said Amanda Gabryszak, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

But there is a slight glimmer of hope for the future of bats. Slote says that they seem to be developing a resistance to the disease.

“What they think is happening is these bats are hibernating a little bit differently than the bats that didn’t make it,” Slote said. “They’re able to wake up less frequently, therefore burning less fat supplies. So these bats can make it through to the spring without using all their energy.”

Human life is adversely affected by the loss of bats. They are important to insect control.

“You’ve got bats that are taking care of the insects that potentially would overwhelm the environment,” Gabryszak said.

Slote adds, “A little brown bat can eat 1,000 mosquito sized insects in one hour.”

Humans were the likely cause of the spread of this disease, hikers spreading it from cave to cave. So maybe we can assist in their recovery by doing a few simple things to help their dwindling numbers.

Slote says planting native plants is a good way to start.

“Native plants will provide food for our native insects and that will provide food for our native bats,” Slote said.

Gabryszak believes part of the solution lies with humans.

“It’s largely our responsibility for bringing it here, so I think it’s really important for us to take a step back and for we as humans to check ourselves,” Gabryszak said.

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Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Study airs alarm as butterfly count declines in West

Scientists say climate change driving decrease; some fear ‘bugpocalypse’

by The Washington Post,| March 7, 2021

Hundreds of butterfly species across the American West are vanishing as the region becomes hotter, drier and more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, according to a study released Thursday.

From California to Montana, and from New Mexico to Washington state, the populations of a majority of 450 butterfly species are dropping, according to observations by professionals and amateurs stretching back to the 1970s.

The loss of butterflies across Western forests and prairies, like the similar drop in bumblebees nationwide, is troubling because both insects play a key role in pollinating crops and wildflowers. And the findings may add to fears among researchers of a broader die-off of insects that could be underway everywhere from Germany to Puerto Rico and beyond, a potential and debated “bugpocalypse” that threatens to upend ecosystems across the world.

In the United States, the alarming butterfly decline is most evident in Western areas where balmy summer temperatures creep well into the fall, drying out vegetation and potentially disturbing the seasonal cycles of butterflies as they prepare for cooler months.

“The influence of climate change is driving those declines, which makes sense because they’re so widespread,” said Matt Forister, a biology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno and co-author of the study published in the journal Science. “It has to be something geographically pervasive.”

Scientists have long known that roadways, farms and other human development are wiping out meadows and other habitat for butterflies, while pesticides have further culled their numbers. Conservationists have taken to cordoning off areas as butterfly sanctuaries, planting vegetation such as milkweed for monarch butterflies as they migrate from Mexico across the Lower 48.

But the fact that widespread warming is weighing on such large numbers of butterflies across a vast geographic area suggests a more dire situation that cannot be abated simply by setting aside habitat. While the populations of butterfly species can vary widely from year to year, the researchers found an annual 1.6% drop in butterfly numbers in the Western United States over the last four decades.

Put another way: A butterfly spotter going to the same site every year saw about 25% fewer butterflies on average than 20 years ago.

David Wagner, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut who was not involved with the latest research, said the new findings are startling because “this is one of the first global cases of declines occurring in wildlands, away from densely populated human-dominated landscapes, and the rate of 1.6% is calamitous.”

The best-known butterfly on the decline in the drought-plagued region is the once-ubiquitous monarch, which used to arrive in California in such abundance every spring they regularly formed “a golden carpet” on the ground and filled the skies with “orangy” clouds, as John Steinbeck once wrote.

Now those orange itinerants are showing up in far fewer numbers. Since 1990, about 970 million monarchs have disappeared, according to a 2015 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report.

Others species, such as the common cabbage white butterfly and the imperiled, multicolored Edith’s checkerspot, are on downward trends, too, according to the analysis from Forister and his team.

“Rare species, common species, widespread species, local species,” said Forister, each had “detectable declines.”

The formal scientific findings jibe with what many motorists driving across the West have noticed recently: fewer bugs splattered across the front of their cars than during past road trips. Entomologists even have a name for it: the “windshield phenomenon.”

Forister said he has seen it “personally because I’ve been driving back and forth over the mountains for 20 years” from Reno, Nev., and elsewhere on Interstate 80 to visit his parents in California’s Central Valley.

“It used to be that as soon as I showed up, my dad would get the hose out and obsessively clean the window,” Forister said. “He just doesn’t even do that anymore.”

The latest research is built on not only data collected by scientists across central California but observations across 10 other Western states scribbled into notebooks by butterfly enthusiasts out in the field or simply uploaded from smartphones by amateurs who make a hobby out of spotting rare species in their backyards.

“Even if you just took the professors that were on this paper, all of us, we couldn’t cover that geographic area,” said Katy Prudic, an entomologist at the University of Arizona who helps run one of the online butterfly database. “There’s just not enough of us. So this work, the comparison across the entire West, could not be done without citizen science.”

Not every type of butterfly is in decline. Some are finding an edge in environments dominated by humans. The bright-orange Gulf fritillary, for example, is thriving not on native plants but on flowers popular in home gardens, Forister said.

HENDRIX SCHOLAR CITES TRADEOFF

And climate change itself may be a boon to butterflies in some places outside of the arid West. Using some of the same data as Forister and his team, Matthew Moran, a biology professor at Hendrix College in Conway, is working on a paper that he says will show an uptick in butterflies in the southeastern United States, where climate change is leading to more precipitation and plant growth.

“They got a really strong climate signal,” Moran said of the study published Thursday. The Western United States, he said, is “one of the more rapidly changing places in the continent… . If you look at it more continentwide, you will see more balancing-out.”

Still, efforts by federal wildlife officials to protect those butterflies in danger of vanishing entirely have had limited success. Of the 31 butterflies protected under the Endangered Species Act, only three are increasing in number, according to Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group.

Conservationists have struggled to get other imperiled butterflies added to the endangered list. In December, the Trump administration declined to declare the monarch endangered, citing limited resources, even as wildlife officials admit the decline is severe enough to warrant federal protection.

And the Center for Biological Diversity has fought for years to get the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly, a native of New Mexico’s high-elevation meadows, listed as endangered, filing multiple petitions with the Fish and Wildlife Service, including a new one this week.

Even so, it could be too late. “Now they can barely find it,” Greenwald said. “It may be extinct.” 

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Minneapolis Star Tribune

US states look to step up wolf kills, pushed by Republicans

By MATTHEW BROWN and IRIS SAMUELS, Associated Press, MARCH 7, 2021

BILLINGS, Mont. — Payments for dead wolves. Unlimited hunting of the animals. Shooting wolves from the air.

Wolf hunting policies in some states are taking an aggressive turn, as Republican lawmakers and conservative hunting groups push to curb their numbers and propose tactics shunned by many wildlife managers.

In Montana, lawmakers are advancing measures to allow shooting wolves at night and payments to hunters reminiscent of bounties that widely exterminated the species last century. Idaho legislation would allow hunters to shoot them from motorized parachutes, ATVs or snowmobiles year-round with no limits in most areas.

And in Wisconsin, just weeks after President Donald Trump’s administration lifted protections for wolves in the Great Lakes region, hunters using hounds and trappers blew past the state’s harvest goal and killed almost twice as many as planned.

The timing of the Wisconsin hunt was bumped up following a lawsuit that raised concerns President Joe Biden’s administration would intervene to restore gray wolf protections. The group behind the suit has close links to Republican political circles including influential donors the Koch brothers and notable Trump loyalists — Kris Kobach, a former U.S. Senate candidate from Kansas, and rock star and gun rights advocate Ted Nugent.

Antipathy toward wolves for killing livestock and big game dates to early European settlement of the American West in the 1800s, and flared up again after wolf populations rebounded under federal protection. What’s emerging now is different: an increasingly politicized campaign to drive down wolf numbers sometimes using methods anathema to North American hunting traditions, according to former wildlife officials and advocates.

“It’s not a scientific approach to wildlife management. It’s management based on vengeance,” said Dan Vermillion, former chairman of Montana’s fish and wildlife commission. Vermillion and others said wolves were being used to stoke political outrage in the same way Second Amendment gun rights were used in recent elections to raise fears Democrats would restrict firearms.

Hanging in the balance is a decades-long initiative that brought back thousands of wolves in the Rocky Mountains, Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes regions. Considered among scientists and environmentalists a major conservation success, the predator’s return remains a sore point for ranchers whose livestock are sometimes attacked by wolves and hunters who consider wolf packs competition in the pursuit of elk, deer and other big game.

In Montana and Idaho, wolf numbers exploded after their reintroduction from Canada in the 1990s. Federal protections were lifted a decade ago. The states have been holding annual hunts since, and wildlife officials cite stable population levels as evidence of responsible wolf management.

That’s not satisfied hunting and livestock groups and their Republican allies in those legislatures, who contend 1,500 wolves in Idaho and 1,200 in Montana are damaging the livelihoods of big game outfitters and cattle and sheep producers.

“Too many wolves,” Republican state Sen. Bob Brown said of his mountainous district in northwest Montana. He’s sponsoring a bounty-like program that’s similar to one in Idaho and would reimburse hunting and trapping expenses through a private fund.

A separate measure from Brown would allow the use of bait and night-vision scopes. Another proposal would allow snares, which critics say are indiscriminate and can accidentally catch pets or other animals.

In response to concerns that the treatment of wolves will drive away tourists hoping to glimpse one in places like Montana’s Glacier National Park, Brown said their negative impact can’t be ignored.

“I certainly believe there are people who come to look at wolves,” he said. “But we are also hurting the outfitting industry.”

Critics including Democratic Sen. Pat Flowers, a former state wildlife department supervisor, warned of a significant toll on Montana’s wolf population. State Senate Minority Leader Jill Cohenour, also a Democrat, said the proposals would “take us right back to having them listed” as an endangered species.

Wolves lost federal species protections in the western Great Lakes in 2011, but they were re-imposed three years later under court order.

The Trump administration lifted protections again five days before the November election, when Interior Secretary David Bernhardt travelled to Minnesota to announce the move.

On President Joe Biden’s first day in office, the White House said it would review the wolf decision.

Wisconsin officials already were planning a hunt in November when Hunter Nation, founded in 2018, sued to force a hunt immediately. The group cited a possible return of protections by the Biden administration.

Hunter Nation boasts its led by “America’s greatest Hunters and Patriots” on its website, which also includes praise for Trump. Its leader, Luke Hilgemann, formerly served as CEO at Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group backed by industrialists Charles Koch and his deceased brother, David, that has spent tens of millions of dollars on Republican candidates.

Hunters and trappers killed at least 216 wolves of Wisconsin’s 1,100 wolves over three days, nearly doubling the state’s target of 119 animals and forcing an early shutdown of the season.

Hilgemann participated, and said in an interview that he chased a wolf with dogs for 60 miles (96 kilometers) but never caught it. It’s up to states to decide what kind of tactics they use, he said, while Hunter Nation will fight any attempt to halt the hunts. He said group has quickly grown to 20,000 members, but declined to divulge its financial supporters.

“Conservative, traditional American values of God, family and country — that’s what we intend to focus on,” Hilgemann said. “We need to get ahead of our predator populations including wolves. They will quickly expand their range. They reproduce quickly, spelling trouble for other wild game, livestock and pets.”

Adam Winkler, a UCLA Law professor specializing in gun policy, said the group’s messaging appears aimed at mobilizing hunters to get behind conservative causes.

“I’m not surprised we’re seeing hunting groups wrap themselves in the mantle of patriotism,” Winkler said. “Patriotism has become the watchword of the right.”

Former federal wildlife agent Carter Niemeyer, who killed wolves that preyed on cattle in the Northern Rockies and was later involved in restoration efforts, said wolves are too resilient to be easily eradicated. But he warned the tactics being used will alienate large segments of the public to hunting and trapping.

“They’re running them down with hound dogs,” he said. ” That’s wolf killing. That’s not wolf trapping or wolf hunting.”

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1380 KCIM (Carroll, Iowa)

Experts Say Creation Of Monarch Habitats Needed For Threatened Species

March 6, 2021

The recent monarch population report shows a marked decline in the number of adult monarch butterflies that had migrated to Mexico. There butterflies covered approximately five acres of forest canopy there, but that is about two acres smaller than last year.

Scientists are estimating the long-term average of 15 acres of occupied forest canopy is needed to sustain the eastern North America monarch population and its continental migration. The report notes there has been a loss of habitat in the United States, forest degradation in Mexico and extreme weather events contributing to the population decline over the past 25 years.

In December of last year, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) concluded the monarch butterfly should be added to the Endangered Species Act list of threatened and endangered species, but was precluded by work on higher-priority listing actions. The monarch now becomes a candidate for listing in 2024.

However, voluntary conservation efforts are being recommended within the upper Midwest. Establishing breeding habitats are of prime importance. Director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Kayla Lyon, says it is critical to act now in providing this habitat to minimize further declines in population. “Together, we can all do our part to provide the necessary habitat for those butterflies by simply planting milkweed or other native wildflowers not just on large landscapes, but even in our backyards and planters. We are proud of our continued partnerships that focus on providing this habitat on a larger scale on our publicly managed lands.”

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E & E News

Bipartisan bill targets global ‘extinction crisis’

Michael Doyle, E&E News reporter, March 4, 2021

A bipartisan pair of House members celebrated World Wildlife Day yesterday by reintroducing their “Critically Endangered Animals Conservation Act,” a measure targeting aid to vulnerable species around the globe.

The legislation authored by California Democrat Jared Huffman and Florida Republican Vern Buchanan would establish the Critically Endangered Animals Conservation Fund and authorize $5 million annually for five years.

It would be administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the existing Multinational Species Conservation Funds.

“The alarming acceleration in species extinction has serious consequences not only for ecosystems and wildlife, but for our economies, communities, and the future generations that will be robbed of the rich biodiversity and species we depend on today,” Huffman said.

In particular, the new fund would assist overseas efforts on behalf of animals included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species as either endangered or critically endangered. Advocates say the world is facing an “extinction crisis.”

A similar bill introduced last Congress gathered 27 co-sponsors and received a subcommittee hearing in 2019.

“Allowing a species to become extinct is a tragedy we should do everything in our power to prevent,” Buchanan said, adding that “the competitive grant program created by this bill will ensure that every dollar goes towards worthwhile projects that protect endangered wildlife.”

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Endangered Species Coalition

Artwork Submission Request/Exhibition Announced

March 4, 2021

The Endangered Species Coalition is pleased to announce our current Call to Artists, Submergence: Going Below the Surface with Orca and Salmon.

This call is open to visual artists, writers, and audio-video artists age 16 or above. US and International submissions accepted.  Submissions are due by April 1, 2021.

Works submitted will be considered for inclusion in a juried exhibition at Jack Straw Cultural Center in Seattle, WA during the month of June 2021, Orca Month.

For complete guidelines and submission requirements, please visit https://www.endangered.org/artists/

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NEWS PROVIDED BY The Orangutan Project

The Orangutan Project calls for urgent assistance to protect Critically Endangered species from COVID-19 poaching surge

Non-partisan orangutan welfare organization commits to raising $100,000 by March 31 to resource critical anti-poaching and wildlife protection patrols

NEW YORK, March 4, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — The Orangutan Project, an organization focused on securing the survival of orangutans and other critically endangered species, is calling for urgent help to resource additional wildlife protection patrols in the wake of disturbing increases in poaching and illegal logging across Indonesia.

The spate is believed to be driven by criminal poaching networks, who’ve become more audacious during COVID-19 lockdowns, and are taking advantage of restrictions to law enforcement caused by the pandemic. Increasing numbers of people are also resorting to poaching and logging to supplement their income during the economic downturn.

In response, The Orangutan Project is striving to raise more than $100,000 during March to resource community-based patrol teams to protect vulnerable wildlife.

Their patrols include safeguarding habitat from illegal logging, resourcing anti-poaching and snare removal patrols, and providing urgent medical assistance for wildlife found trapped and injured in poaching snares.

The appeal also extends to the resourcing of rescue teams, who patrol regional locations in search of orangutans stolen from dwindling forests and “sold on” by the illegal wildlife trade, often for as little as $30.

“Critically endangered orangutans, tigers, elephants and subsistence farmers, are now all struggling to survive in remnant forests,” said Leif Cocks, founder of The Orangutan Project. “Over 80% of native forest in Sumatra and Borneo have been cleared for large plantations.  When you add in a global pandemic which has plunged more than two million Indonesians back into poverty, you can see why we’re facing a crisis. Critically endangered species will always lose out because their populations are no longer large enough to withstand poaching or further habitat loss.”

Over the next 10 years, The Orangutan Project and their key partners aim to legally secure up to eight viable ecosystems to secure populations of critically endangered orangutans, tigers and elephants.

However, the very nature of the extinction crisis means multiple tasks have to be worked on simultaneously or they will simply run out of time.

“We’re urgently raising funds for multiple projects to give critically endangered species a fighting chance of survival,” said Cocks. “In the immediate sense, we need to vigilantly patrol remaining rainforests now, so we still have thriving ecosystems left to help legally secure when this pandemic is finally under control.”

The Orangutan Project is urgently raising funds for emergency patrols throughout the month of March. Donations to this appeal will be directed to patrols across Indonesia and will help to safeguard critically endangered species from poaching and forest encroachment.

The patrol teams also locate and remove snares and provide urgent medical assistance and rescues for wildlife caught in snares, and work with subsistence farmers on ways to protect crops and livestock without resorting to snares and traps.

To contribute to this urgent appeal please visit: http://www.theorangutanproject.org

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CITES Release

UN World Wildlife Day highlights role of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities’ livelihoods and knowledge in the conservation of forests species and ecosystems

Representatives of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, Governments, civil society and the private sector came together to celebrate the role of forest communities and their experiences in conserving the world’s forests.

Geneva/Jackson Hole, WY/Rome/New York, 3 March 2021 – For the first-ever virtual celebration of the United Nations World Wildlife Day, representatives of UN Member States, UN System organizations, international and non-governmental organizations, Indigenous Peoples and Local communities, and youth took part in an online event marking the Day.

World Wildlife Day is celebrated this year under the theme “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet”, highlighting the link between the livelihoods, knowledge and experiences of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities who rely on forests, and the conservation of these ecosystems and the wildlife they harbor.

In her welcoming words to speakers and viewers following the event online, Ms. Ivonne Higuero, Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, underlined the importance of this year’s celebration, with its focus on the communities that rely on forests and their wildlife and who have historically acted as their primary custodians. She said the aim of the event was to give a voice to these important stakeholders by sharing their forest conservation knowledge and experiences to inspire the establishment of truly sustainable models of interaction with the planet´s ecosystems and wildlife.

For the first of the remarks at the high-level opening, His Excellency Mr. Federico Tenorio Calderón, Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation of Peru, spoke about the immense value of the Amazon Rainforest for the livelihoods of the communities inhabiting it. Minister Tenorio Calderón emphasized that sustainable use of wildlife not only ensures the survival of species, but also generates the means for the livelihoods of communities that share their habitats.

Ms. Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation and President of the National Congress of American Indians, spoke of the efforts of Indigenous Peoples and Local communities to preserve the knowledge that has sustained them for millennia.

In her remarks, Ms. Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention for Biological Diversity, said that recognizing the knowledge, innovations and practices of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities ensures participatory environmental governance for the protection of forests and wildlife.

His Excellency Mr. António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, closed the high-level opening with a heartfelt plea to governments, businesses and people everywhere to scale up efforts to conserve forests and forest species, and to support and listen to the voices of forest communities. He called this an urgent step towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Two panel discussions brought together experts from around the world, first to explore the role of the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities in the conservation and sustainable use of forests. The second panel looked at the opportunities for inclusive and sustainable economic growth and employment through the sustainable use of forests.

The first panel was opened with a message from Ms. Nemonte Nenquimo, founder of the Ecuadorian organization Alianza Ceibo and laureate of the 2020 Equator Prize , who set the scene by illustrating her community’s efforts to sustainably use and conserve forest biodiversity for future generations. The panel was moderated by CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero.

Speakers on this panel included Ms. Amy Fraenkel, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species; Ms. Iliana Monterroso of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR); Mr. Leif John Fosse, representing the Norwegian International Climate and Forest Initiative; Ms. Dilys Roe, Chair of the IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULI); and Mr. Kynan Tegar, a youth speaker, filmmaker and member of the Indigenous Community of Dayak Iban in Sungai Utik Longhouse, West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

The panelists shared their personal and professional experiences with community-led efforts towards the sustainable use of forests and forest species, and how these contributed to the conservation of these ecosystems.

The second panel opened with a message from another 2020 Equator Prize Laureate, Mr. Albert Lotana Lokasola, Founder and President of Vie Sauvage, an organization based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mr. Lokasola gave highlights of their efforts to combine conservation of endemic forest species in the Congo basin, while also providing sustainable economic opportunities to local communities. The panel moderator was Ms. Adriana Dinu, Deputy Director of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

This panel featured Mr. Mateus Mutemba, Director General of the National Administration of the Conservation Areas (ANAC), the CITES Management Authority for Mozambique; Ms. Emmanuela Shinta, CEO & Executive Director of the Ranu Welum Foundation; Mr. Ewald Rametsteiner, Deputy Director of the Forestry Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); and Ms. Cindy L. Squires, Executive Director of the International Wood Products Association.

These Panelists explored opportunities for inclusive and sustainable economic growth and employment opportunities for local and indigenous communities generated by models geared towards sustainable use.

For the sixth year running, Jackson Wild™, the CITES Secretariat and UNDP teamed for a Film Showcase based on this year’s theme. The contest attracted nearly 300 entries which brought to life a wide array of compelling stories about the work of communities involved in conserving forests and sustaining themselves through the essential ecosystem services provided by forests and wildlife.

The 11 winning films were unveiled by Ms. Lisa Samford, Executive Director of Jackson Wild™, and CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero.

The celebration was also marked by the announcement of the winner of the third World Wildlife Day Youth Art Contest, organized by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the CITES Secretariat, and UNDP.

With over 500 entries, the contest saw school-age children and young artists from over 50 countries produce some truly inspirational works of art, illustrating the deep relationship between people, forests and forest wildlife.

The winner of the Youth Art Contest (Ka Yi Siu), was also unveiled during the World Wildlife Day virtual celebration, introduced by Ms. Dia Mirza, actor, producer, IFAW Global Ambassador and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador, and Mr. Azzedine Downes, IFAW President and CEO.

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Calgary Herald

Eagle numbers soar in Calgary

By Carol Patterson, March 3, 2021

Sightings of bald eagles in Calgary have been soaring in recent weeks, with some birdwatchers spotting as many as 20 of them in a single day along the Bow River near the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

Bald eagle numbers “have increased over time,” says Phil Cram, who co-ordinates Calgary’s Christmas Bird Count, a bird census done each December by volunteer observers.

That number has generally been on the rise since the count began in 1952, Cram says, noting, “This year’s number, 39, was a bounce back from a slight decline over the previous few years.”

Nature Calgary volunteer Howard Heffler says there may be more overwintering bald eagles in Calgary “because there is more open water and hence more overwintering waterfowl, their principal food source.” Finding a weak or dead duck to eat can be the difference between an eagle living long enough to grow its signature white-feathered cap or dying before its first birthday.

Pandemic travel restrictions have led to this being a perfect time for anyone to give birding a try in their own communities. COVID-19 may have put a spike through safari travel dreams, but Calgary serves up plenty of fauna drama, especially suitable when marking World Wildlife Day March 3.  Celebrating the 1973 United Nations General Assembly’s signature on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) to protect threatened species, the day commemorates conservation of the world’s vulnerable creatures.

Most people have seen a bald eagle even if it’s only on the U.S. official seal, but few realize bald eagles made the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1973 because of illegal hunting, habitat destruction and DDT contamination. Fortunately, bald eagle populations have recovered and while some live year-round in Calgary, many more arrive each winter as northern rivers and lakes freeze.

These snowbirds sport white heads, but only upon maturity. Juveniles are dark brown or mottled in colour, causing them to be mistaken for golden eagles.

However, if you’re strolling along the Bow River and see a very large, dark-coloured raptor chances are you’re watching a young bald eagle. Golden eagles, sometimes called “lions of the sky” are also dark coloured, but unlikely to be found in cities.

In winter, bald eagles are attracted to Calgary because the Bow River doesn’t freeze over and there’s less chance of starving to death. Researchers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have discovered as many as 50 per cent of bald eagle fledglings won’t survive their first winter.

Colin Weir — founder of Coaldale’s Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation, the province’s first privately licenced raptor rescue and conservation organization — explains the challenges young birds face: “One of the big problems for the immature birds is having to move into a totally new area and experiencing different climatic conditions.

“They might be coming from an area in northern Alberta where fish is plentiful and there’s big lakes and they’re moving into southern Alberta with frozen rivers and lakes, where hunting opportunities are few,” he says. “That’s when they start scavenging for road-killed animals on side of the road.”

This can lead to catastrophic collisions between eagles and cars. Weir has rescued many injured birds, including a golden eagle that arrived in the back seat of a mini-van. It survived, but due to its injuries couldn’t go back to the wild. It became an ambassador greeting summer visitors at the foundation, but fortunately, each year many injured eagles are rehabilitated back to optimum health and released.

Wandering Calgary pathways, it’s possible to see evidence of eagle hunts — skeletons and feathers littering the ice shelf, or hundreds of bird tracks concentrated in one place, hinting at a battle between predators over a carcass.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology online database of bird sightings — eBird.org — confirms that there may indeed be more birds in the sky, not just more eyes looking. This winter and last, there were several days where bird watchers recorded over a dozen bald eagles near Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, although Calgarian Andrew Hart’s January 28, 2012 exceptional tally of 51 bald eagles on a single day in Carburn Park hasn’t been matched.

Weir has also noticed more eagles this year and suggested, “I think the reason there’s so many eagles so highly visible this winter is there was obviously a really good hatch (last summer), but they are increasing in numbers and expanding their range.

“We’ve started to get calls of nesting eagles around Drumheller and High River where previously you’d just hear about them farther west on mountain rivers and lakes,” says Weir. “The winter has been pretty mild. Places where there’s open water on the rivers, it’s like going to a buffet restaurant for them.

It’s not just bald eagles coming to Calgary and area. An hour’s drive west of the city, golden eagles have already started migrating north along mountain ridges. Golden eagles can snatch prey as large as young bighorn sheep or mountain goats off mountain cliffs, but shy away from humans.

In March 1992, professional field ornithologist and former paleontologist and geologist Peter Sherrington spotted a golden eagle while doing a bird survey in Kananaskis Country. Then another and another flew overhead.

Curious to know more, he returned two days later, counting 247 golden eagles in an afternoon. Although the flyway had been known to First Nations, he’d discovered a migratory route undescribed by modern scientists. He founded the citizen-science project Rocky Mountain Eagle Research Foundation, which continues to monitor raptor migration each spring and fall.

Since that first sighting, volunteers have counted 101,656 golden eagles and bird-lovers can be found in any weather, looking at the sky over K-Country’s Hay Meadows, Mt. Lorette Site.

This year’s count started March 1 and anyone interested in the migration is invited to stop by to watch eagles or talk to the eagle-spotters. Although birds are hard to observe without binoculars, it’s still possible to see how eagles use mountain thermals to make flying easier as they take advantage of the north-south alignment of the Rocky Mountains.

“It’s the only large population of golden eagles with a defined migratory pathway,” says Rosemary Power, count co-ordinator.

To increase chances of seeing eagles Power recommends timing your visit for a day, “that suggests there will be some warming temperatures.”

“You don’t want a day with wind warnings,” she says. “A high overcast sky is ideal because they’re easier to spot.”

And then there are days that serve up dramatic sightings.

“If we have a series of bad days, birds aren’t moving,” says Power. “When it improves, they’re all on their way. Last year we saw 170 golden eagles on a good day. Eight or 10 years ago, we would have seen 300. I’ve seen over 500 on a day, but that’s rare.”

It’s possible the drop in eagle numbers is due to cyclical fluctuations in snowshoe hare populations — a staple in golden eagle diets — or climate change, both of which can alter routes, but researchers don’t know for sure.

“It’s part of the reason we keep counting,” says Power.

At the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation near Lethbridge, Weir is also observing population changes linked to weather: “One thing we underestimate for all creatures is the challenges of surviving different swings in climate.”

It’s fortunate that while the pandemic has curtailed human travel plans there are still people helping migrating wildlife so we have something to celebrate at home.

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Center for Biological Diversity

March 2, 2021

Congress Urged to Boost Funding for Endangered Species Conservation by $300 Million

WASHINGTON— More than 170 groups today urged Congress to significantly increase the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget for endangered species conservation from $291.7 million to $592.1 million — an increase of about $300 million over last year’s budget.

According to the Service’s own data, hundreds of endangered animals and plants receive less than $1,000 a year for their recovery. Many species receive no funding at all from the agency.

“We can’t possibly begin to combat, let alone reverse, the global extinction crisis if our nation’s strongest conservation law is operating on a shoestring budget,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Congress must fully fund the Endangered Species Act so that we don’t lose even one more animal or plant forever.”

As today’s letter notes, to make up for lost ground and support the Biden administration’s commitment to address the threat of climate change to biodiversity, the Service requires a budget of $592.1 million, distributed across five programs, starting in fiscal year 2022. Critically, this includes ensuring that every listed species receives a minimum of $50,000 per year for recovery.

“The science is clear: Species are being lost faster than ever before in human history,” said Dr. Jacob Malcom, director of the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders of Wildlife. “The science also shows what works to save species: funding. We urge Congress to fully fund the ESA so that the most vulnerable species have a fighting chance at survival and recovery.”

Scientists have sounded the alarm that unless urgent action is taken, 1 million animal and plant species face extinction in the coming decades due to threats of habitat loss, climate change, wildlife exploitation, pollution and other human activities. Just last week, a new report found that as many as one-third of global freshwater fish are in danger of extinction.

Today’s letter, joined by groups including Earthjustice, NRDC and the Sierra Club, notes that “the Endangered Species Act is one of the best tools we have to stem the current wildlife extinction crisis.”

For more than 45 years, despite being chronically and severely underfunded, the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected, and worked to recover, many of the most imperiled species in the United States.

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Science Daily

Wolf social group dynamics matter for infectious disease spread, models suggest

Source: Penn State, March 2, 2021

By modeling wolves in Yellowstone National Park, researchers have discovered that how a population is organized into social groups affects the spread of infectious diseases within the population. The findings may be applicable to any social species and could be useful in the protection of endangered species that suffer from disease invasion.

Like other social carnivores, wolves tend to form territorial social groups that are often aggressive toward each other and may lead to fatalities. During these encounters, infectious diseases — like mange and canine distemper — can spread between groups, which can further reduce the number of individuals in a group.

“Previous social group-disease models have assumed that groups do not change throughout the course of an infection, when in reality, this is unlikely to be true,” said Ellen Brandell, a recently graduated doctoral student in biology, Penn State. “Individuals within groups may die, become infected and recover at different rates, and the group may split into multiple groups or multiple groups could combine into one. Our models account for these processes and provide a foundation for exploring relationships for many social species that have varying levels of social complexity.”

The researchers used demographic data from two decades of Yellowstone wolf research to create models for examining the effects of sarcoptic mange and canine distemper virus on wolves that accounts for both within-group and between-group processes. The models assume that disease processes, such as transmission rates, vary among groups and within groups.

The models also allow for the incorporation of Allee effects, a phenomenon in which a group has a greater survival rate when there are more individuals in the group.

“Allee effects are especially important in social species that require assistance from others beyond reproduction to survive; for example, in animals that defend themselves from predators and hunt for prey as a group,” said Peter Hudson, Willaman Professor of Biology, Penn State. “When pathogens kill individuals, this can cause the growth rate of small groups to slow, or even collapse, which, in turn can cause the greater population to decline in size.”

The team’s model results, which appeared March 1 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed that pathogens reduce population size mainly through a reduction in the number of groups since those individuals are transmitting the disease to each other to a greater extent than they are to other groups within the overall population. At the same time, Allee effects are exacerbated within infected groups, which further reduces the probability of pathogen spread outside of groups as infected groups die out quickly. As a result, uninfected groups in the population grow slightly larger.

“This occurs because the rate of aggression between groups is reduced when the presence of the pathogen decreases the number of groups, which then allows healthy surviving groups to increase in size as they suffer lower rates of aggression,” said Hudson.

However, the team found that the total population size is reduced as a result of the introduction of pathogens.

“In other words,” added Brandell, “when a pathogen is in a population, we might see fewer, larger groups, but the overall population size is still reduced.”

Importantly, the models demonstrated that low pathogen prevalence at the population level can mask high levels of prevalence within infected groups.

“This finding emphasizes the need for representative sampling in socially structured populations as pathogen outbreaks in unsampled groups can be missed,” said Brandell. “Wildlife researchers and managers should sample from many groups in a population in order to accurately depict disease prevalence. For social carnivores, this means sampling across a larger area and monitoring many groups in a population.”

Hudson emphasized the importance of recognizing that population-level prevalence tends to be lower than the number of groups infected and the level of infection experienced by individuals in infected groups.

“This issue should be a central consideration when wildlife disease biologists are analyzing and interpreting prevalence and seroprevalence data,” he said. “It may be especially helpful in the protection of endangered species, such as African wild dogs.”

Other authors on the paper include Andrew Dobson, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, Princeton University; Paul Cross, disease ecologist, U.S. Geological Survey; and Douglas Smith, senior wildlife biology, Yellowstone National Park.

The U.S. Geological Survey and the National Science Foundation supported this research.

(Journal Reference: Ellen E. Brandell, Andrew P. Dobson, Peter J. Hudson, Paul C. Cross, Douglas W. Smith. A metapopulation model of social group dynamics and disease applied to Yellowstone wolves. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021; 118 (10): e2020023118 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2020023118)

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The Guardian

Wind power company vows to help save critically endangered California condor

The condor, a vulture threatened by giant wind turbines, may be helped by energy company’s breeding project.

Richard Luscombe, 1 Mar. 2021

An energy company in California is teaming up with federal wildlife officials and the Oregon Zoo in an innovative project to ease the plight of the mighty, soaring condor, a critically endangered species of vulture threatened by giant wind turbines in the Tehachapi mountains north-east of Los Angeles.

Avangrid Renewables, which operates 126 turbines as part of its Manzana wind power project, will finance the breeding of birds in captivity to replace any that might be killed by the 252ft diameter turbine blades.

The company will be “working with a captive breeding facility to fund the breeding of additional condors for release into the wild”, according to a statement by Scott Sobiech, field supervisor for the US Fish and Wildlife (FWS) service’s Carlsbad and Palm Springs office, and reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The California condor, North America’s largest flying land bird with a 9.5ft wingspan, remains critically endangered, having been brought back from the edge of extinction four decades ago to a current population of about 518 birds in the wild, according to FWS.

There is no record of any condors having been killed at the Manzana plant, which opened in 2012. But the breeding initiative reflects the increasing threat to the species.

“Our goal is to minimize the risk of mortalities. We see this as a win for condors,” Amy Parsons, Avangrid’s operations wildlife compliance manager, said.

About 100 California condors currently inhabit the region in Kern county where the turbines are located, all the product of a captive breeding program established by the FWS in 1987, when barely two dozen of the birds remained.

The service began releasing birds back into the wild in 1992, and by 2008 numbers of wild condors overtook those in captivity for the first time in decades. The Times said some condors have recently been found roosting near Yosemite national park, 300 miles north of the Manzana power plant, for the first time in half a century.

The threat to wildlife from renewable energy turbines has been a growing concern for environmentalists. In 2013, a study by the Wildlife Society into bird and bat fatalities at California’s Altamont Pass wind resource area projected 573,000 bird deaths a year nationally, including 83,000 raptors, and 888,000 bat fatalities.

The proposed Avangrid mitigation project anticipates incidental fatal injuries of up to two free-flying adult condors and the loss of their two chicks or two eggs over 30 years, the Times reported.

The company will pay $527,000 over three years to produce six condors at the Oregon Zoo’s Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation, one of four facilities that breed condors. The Avangrid Foundation has previously funded the purchase of freezers and other equipment at the venue.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Sacramento Mountains Checkerspot Butterfly

Imperiled Butterfly Nearly Extinct After Years of Being Denied Protection

March 1, 2021

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition today seeking Endangered Species Act protection for imperiled Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterflies. The orange-and-black checkered butterflies are found only in high-elevation meadows around the village of Cloudcroft, in the Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico.

The Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly has been declining since the Forest Service began formal surveys in 1999. By 2012 the butterfly occupied half the number of monitored sites it had formerly occupied, and it has continued to decline precipitously. Today it is virtually undetected throughout its range, leading the Forest Service to conclude that it is likely the most endangered butterfly in the United States, with a non-trivial probability of imminent extinction.

In response to a 1999 petition from the Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly as endangered due to habitat loss, fragmentation, degradation, drought, wildfire and overcollection. Unfortunately, the Service withdrew that proposal in 2004 based on a voluntary conservation plan that lacked real teeth; it denied a subsequent listing petition in 2009, allowing threats to the butterfly to continue unabated.

“The sharp decline of the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly is alarming,” said Dr. Tara Cornelisse, an entomologist and senior scientist at the Center. “Clearly the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s two-decade refusal to protect this pretty butterfly has contributed to its demise. We hope it’s not too late to save it.”

The situation described in the Service’s 2001 listing proposal was so dire that the agency recommended endangered status and the designation of all suitable habitats, including unoccupied habitats and dispersal corridors, as critical habitat.

Over the past 20 years, the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly has continued to decline. No caterpillars and only a handful of adults have been observed in the past three years, despite expanded search efforts. The butterfly is still threatened by habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation via livestock grazing, motorized recreation, invasive species, fire suppression and climate change.

“By reversing their own conclusions and ignoring this butterfly’s plight, the Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to protect this imperiled species,” said Cornelisse. “The Endangered Species Act works, but only if species are protected in the first place. Too often the fear of political backlash influences the agency’s decisions and keeps it from doing its job to save species.”

To give the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly a chance at survival, the Fish and Wildlife Service must list it as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and designate critical habitat immediately.

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Jackson Hole News & Guide (Jackson, WY)

2020 grizzly count slips; humans involved in most deaths

By Angus M. Thuermer Jr. / WyoFile.com, Feb. 27, 2021

The Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population fell by 10 bears from 2019 to 2020 and now numbers 727, according to new estimates from an interagency team of scientists.

The figure accounts for the grizzly bear population in the 19,270-square-mile demographic monitoring area in and around Yellowstone National Park. Bears in that area are monitored under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act.

The decline — about 1.4% — is no reason to worry about the population’s size, a top team biologist wrote.

“There is no biological significance to a 10-bear difference in the estimate from one year to the next (up or down), considering the inherent variation in these estimates,” Frank van Manen, supervisory research wildlife biologist with U.S. Geological Survey’s Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, wrote in an email.

The estimate meets the 500-bear goal necessary to qualify as a recovered population under the Endangered Species Act, although managers seek a buffer above the figure.

Grizzlies remain listed as a threatened species while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service resolves court-specified deficiencies in plans to remove federal protections.

The 2020 summary is a factual report, van Manen wrote, not a policy document that determines whether numbers meet ESA population recovery goals.

The IGBST will release the full annual report later in the year.

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News Press (Fort Myers, FL)

Wildlife commissioners add eastern black rail to endangered and threatened species list

Chad Gillis, Fort Myers News-Press, Feb. 27, 2021

The state added one of the most elusive wetland birds in Florida to its endangered and threatened species this week.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioners met Thursday and Friday online, adopting the eastern black rail in order to be consistent with federal protections.

“The proposed rule change will update the Florida Endangered and Threatened Species List to reflect the federal changes, updating the status of the American burying beetle to threatened and adding the eastern black rail as threatened,” the FWC staff report reads. “The proposed rule change is for the purpose of maintaining consistency among state and federal lists of protected species.”

The bird was added to the state’s list of endangered and threatened species as part of the consent agenda, and there was no discussion about this topic during the meetings.

Rarely seen or heard, the black rail’s habitat is disappearing rapidly as climate change and development continue to destroy wetlands.

“This is a good thing,” said James Beever, a former state biologist who observed the birds in the wild. “They should also designate critical habitat areas for it.”

Beever was not at the meeting.

Rising sea levels are pushing many coastal wetland areas inland as waters rise.

Plus, some of the birds’ preferred habitat has already been converted to homes and golf course communities.

“They stay to the dense overhead vegetation and are like mice in the marsh moving through runnels and very reluctant to fly,” Bryan Watts, director of the College of William and Mary’s Center for Conservation Biology told The News-Press recently.

The birds were first listed in the science community in the mid-1700s after being discovered in the Caribbean, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Protected under various federal laws in several states, the black rail is also called little black rail, the little red-eyed crake, and the black crake.

“One of four subspecies of black rail, the eastern black rail is broadly distributed, living in salt and freshwater marshes in portions of the United States, Central America, and South America,” says a U.S. Fish and Wildlife report on the black rail. “Partially migratory, the eastern subspecies winters in the southern part of its breeding range.”

These wetland specialists prefer tidal marsh areas but will also use wet farms.

Not a lot else is known about these birds, although scientists have documented that it migrates within its home range.

Historically, black rails bred from the Caribbean north to the Atlantic Coast.

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KDKA-2 (Pittsburg)

Researchers In London Using Thermal Imaging To Potentially Help Endangered Elephants

February 26, 2021

CBS LOCAL) – A new idea to save elephants starts with a camera – a thermal camera, that is.

Researchers at Zoological Society of London (ZSL) Whipsnade Zoo, the UK’s largest zoo, hope those images will help protect the endangered species in the wild.

“We needed a way to detect elephants in the dark. That was the real true need of this project,” says conservation tech specialist Alasdair Davies.

Tech specialists like Davies have been training a camera to recognize the shape of an elephant from its body heat.

“That’s every elephant bottom, ear shape, leg configuration, you name it. We have to teach the camera what an elephant looks like,” he says.

More than 30,000 images later, it’s learned to detect the animal and send a warning. Conservationists plan to put the cameras in parts of Africa and Asia where elephants and people often clash.

“A family can put it out in the middle of the night if they’re worried elephants may be in the area, go to sleep peacefully and safely and know they’re gonna get an alert or the local authorities will get an alert,” says Davies.

As the elephant’s habitat shrinks, they’re running out of room to roam, destroying crops and damaging property.

Scientists hope to eventually deploy thousands of cameras to help the animals live in harmony with their neighbors.

Scientists hope this technology could be used to help other endangered species like tigers in the future.

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Herald & News (Klamath Falls, OR)

Klamath Tribes to debut new endangered species documentary in March

By Kurt Liedtke For the Herald and News, Feb. 26, 2021

“Killing the Klamath,” a documentary produced by Klamath Tribes to profile the ongoing fight to save endangered fish species from extinction, will premiere on PBS on Thursday, March 18, according to a news release.

The film is a detailed examination to showcase the efforts to save indigenous sucker fish species, known by Klamath Tribes as C’waam and Koptu, which have become endangered through population declines as a result of numerous factors and explores potential solutions.

Told by Klamath tribal leaders, elders and scientists who have been attempting to save the species from extinction; the film considers causes, consequences, and potential solutions to toxic algae blooms and low water levels in Upper Klamath Lake that have threatened their survival.

The Shortnose Sucker and Lost River Sucker (C’waam and Koptu) were added to the Endangered Species list in 1988 amidst rapid population declines. The fish species were once caught by the thousands as a mainstay diet of the Tribes. Today the species have been the centerpiece of controversy in the battle over water conservation and agriculture between Klamath Tribes and water irrigators in the Klamath Basin.

The film “Killing the Klamath” will premiere on Thursday, March 18 at 8:30 p.m. on Southern Oregon PBS. It will re-air on Saturday, March 20 at 7 p.m., and on Sunday, March 21 at 2:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

(For a trailer and more information visit http://www.sopbs.org.)

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California Department of Fish & Wildlife

Wildlife Conservation Board Funds Environmental Improvement and Acquisition Projects

February 25, 2021 by Amanda McDermott

At its Feb. 25, 2021 quarterly meeting, the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) approved approximately $33.97 million in grants to help restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat throughout California. Some of the 39 approved projects will benefit fish and wildlife — including some endangered species — while others will provide public access to important natural resources. Several projects will also demonstrate the importance of protecting working landscapes that integrate economic, social and environmental stewardship practices beneficial to the environment, landowners and the local community.

Funding for these projects comes from a combination of sources including the Habitat Conservation Fund and bond measures approved by voters to help preserve and protect California’s natural resources.

Funded projects include:

*A $400,000 grant to Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy for a cooperative project with the National Park Service and Marin County Parks to enhance historic monarch butterfly overwintering habitat and breeding sites at various sites within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Marin County Parks in Marin County.

*A $120,000 grant to the California Waterfowl Association for a cooperative project with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to refurbish a public access kiosk, educational signage and hunter access parking lot; and resurface an Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant trail to a viewing platform located on CDFW’s Los Banos and North Grasslands Wildlife Areas approximately five miles northeast of Los Banos in Merced County.

*A $2 million grant to Truckee Donner Land Trust for a cooperative project with the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) to acquire in fee approximately 25 acres of land to preserve riparian and wildlife corridors and habitat linkages, and to provide wildlife-oriented, public-use opportunities in the town of Truckee in Nevada County.

*A $4.24 million grant to Mariposa County Resource Conservation District for a cooperative project with the National Parks Service, UC Berkeley, California Office of Emergency Services and Yosemite Conservancy to enhance forest health and reduce hazardous fuels through selective thinning activities on approximately 2,153 acres of mixed conifer forest in Yosemite National Park and the community of Yosemite West approximately five miles west of El Portal in Mariposa County.

*A $5 million grant to Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District for a cooperative project with Caltrans to develop designs and environmental documentation for a wildlife undercrossing and regional trail overcrossing of Highway 17 six miles south of Los Gatos in Santa Clara County.

*An $802,000 grant to the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency to restore habitat and alter transportation infrastructure to improve the ability of wildlife to safely cross SR-152 and to improve highway safety for drivers by minimizing vehicle collisions with wildlife near Pacheco Creek eight miles north of Hollister in Santa Clara County.

*A $1.64 million grant to the City of Sacramento to acquire in fee approximately 29 acres for the protection of wildlife habitat and to increase public access adjacent to the American River near Sutter’s Landing within the city of Sacramento in Sacramento County.

*A $4.75 million grant to Trust for Public Land for a cooperative project with CNRA and the Ventura Land Trust to acquire in fee approximately 29 acres of riparian and floodplain habitat along the Ventura River and to provide the potential for wildlife-oriented, public-use opportunities near Ventura in Ventura County.

For more information about the WCB please visit wcb.ca.gov.

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Coast Reporter (Sechelt, BC)

Logging delay agreement for B.C. old-growth tree stand helps endangered spotted owls

An agreement to delay logging in an old-growth stand of British Columbia forest has given a one-year reprieve to one of Canada’s most endangered species.

By Bob Weber, The Canadian Press, February 25, 2021

An agreement to delay logging in an old-growth stand of British Columbia forest has given a one-year reprieve to one of Canada’s most endangered species.

Governments now have to come up with a permanent way to protect the vanishing spotted owl and other endangered species in the province, said Kegan Pepper-Smith of Ecojustice, which has been pushing the federal government on the issue.

“We need to reimagine an approach that protects (species) and their habitat with legally enforceable measures.”

Just a tiny handful of spotted owls remains. Estimates suggest there are three left in the wild, with one breeding pair in the forests around Spuzzum in south-central B.C.

On Thursday, B.C., the federal government and the Spuzzum First Nation announced a deal to hold off logging that watershed for a year while the governments continue working on a recovery plan for the owls.

It’s part of a larger deal the two governments are developing to help the province preserve biodiversity.

“These first pilot projects will strengthen habitat protection for the threatened species which depend on it, such as the spotted owl, and help build a systemic approach to protection of biodiversity,” B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said in a release.

Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the so-called Nature Plan will help the two jurisdictions co-operate on preserving species before their situation becomes as desperate as the spotted owl’s.

“Often the federal government gets drawn into these conversations because the decline in the species has become so dramatic it’s under threat of extinction,” he said. “Those are always tough conversations. 

“With this agreement, what we’re saying is let’s try and get out in front of some of these things.”

Wilkinson said the plan could become a model of how the federal government works with other provinces.

B.C. has a captive breeding program that now has 28 spotted owls whose offspring will be released into protected habitats.

Pepper-Smith called the deal encouraging, but said both Ottawa and the province have a long way to go before the medium-sized, dark brown owl is fully protected.

“(Critical) habitat has never been identified,” he said. “How can they say they’ve protected habitat if they’ve never appropriately defined it?”

Wilkinson said that habitat will be identified by the end of the deferral.

“What we hope to do is update and complete a recovery strategy that will also delineate what we’re going to do in terms of long-term protection in critical habitat.”

B.C. claims there are about 281,000 hectares of protected spotted owl habitat. Pepper-Smith disputes that, saying much of that land is subject to logging.

Ecojustice would also like to see progress on the Nature Plan. Pepper-Smith points out that B.C. has more endangered species than any other province.

Thursday’s announcement is a good start, he said.

“There’s some hopeful language. There’s discussion of pilot projects and funding and moving forward on a pan-Canadian approach to transforming species at risk protection and conservation.”

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California Department of Fish & Game

Dispersing Gray Wolf Travels from Oregon to the Central Sierra Nevada

February 25, 2021

Another GPS-collared gray wolf has dispersed from Oregon into California. The wolf, known as OR-93, has traveled farther south in California than the collared wolves that have preceded him.

OR-93 is a young male that dispersed from Oregon’s White River pack, southeast of Mt. Hood. He was fitted with a tracking collar by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs within the White River pack’s territory in June 2020. Like many young wolves, he subsequently left his pack in search of a new territory and/or a mate.

After arriving in Modoc County in early February 2021, he quickly passed through portions of numerous California counties before arriving this week in Alpine County, between the trans-Sierra State Highways 4 and 108. He then moved just into Mono County, putting him hundreds of miles from the Oregon state line and his natal territory. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will continue to monitor his whereabouts with the cooperation of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

OR-93 is the 16th gray wolf documented to have dispersed into California, and most of those animals have traveled from Oregon. One of those dispersing wolves, OR-54, traveled as far south as the Lake Tahoe Basin before returning north. The others have primarily traveled, and sometimes settled, in the California’s northernmost counties.

The first wolf known in California since the 1920s, OR-7, first visited in late 2011. Since then, the state has seen the formation of two packs. The Shasta Pack in Siskiyou County had five pups in 2015 before disappearing late that year. The Lassen Pack, which occupies parts of Lassen and Plumas counties, has produced pups each year from 2017 to 2020. Additionally, a new pair of wolves has recently been documented in Siskiyou County and CDFW biologists believe it is likely they will produce pups this spring.

CDFW is working to monitor and conserve California’s small wolf population and is collaborating with livestock producers and diverse stakeholders to minimize wolf-livestock conflicts. Gray wolves are currently listed as endangered pursuant to California’s Endangered Species Act (CESA). Their management in California is guided by CESA as well as CDFW’s Conservation Plan for Gray Wolves in California, finalized in 2016. More information is available on CDFW’s wolf webpage at: wildlife.ca.gov/conservation/mammals/gray-wolf.

CDFW encourages those who see wolves to detail their sightings on its online reporting site: wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Gray-Wolf/Sighting-Report.

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SciTechDaily

Western Chimpanzees – a Critically Endangered Species – Share Overlapping Territories With Humans

By UNIVERSITY OF EXETER, February 25, 2021

Chimpanzees and humans “overlap” in their use of forests and even villages, new research shows.

Scientists used camera traps to track the movements of western chimpanzees — a critically endangered species — in Guinea-Bissau.

Chimpanzees used areas away from villages and agriculture more intensively, but entered land used by humans to get fruit — especially when wild fruits were scarce.

Researchers from the University of Exeter and Oxford Brookes University say the approach used in this study could help to inform a “coexistence strategy” for chimpanzees and humans.

“Understanding how wildlife balance the risks and rewards of entering environments used by humans is crucial to developing strategies to reduce risks of negative interactions, including disease transmission and aggression by animals or humans,” said lead author Dr. Elena Bersacola, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“Using 12 months of data from 21 camera traps, our study produced hotspot maps that show how humans and chimpanzees overlap in their use of forests, villages and cultivated areas.”

Chimpanzee use of space was linked to the availability of naturalized oil-palm fruit, and the study also shows that chimpanzees access high-risk orange, lime, and papaya fruits in response to nutritional necessity rather than preference alone.

The study used a “landscape of fear” framework, based on the idea that animals learn about risks and the resulting fear shapes their decisions over where and when to feed, travel, and rest.

Researchers are increasingly incorporating humans as agents for shaping the wildlife’s landscapes of fear.

The team in this study were cautious not to let the chimpanzees become “habituated” (used to humans, and therefore not fearful).

“Elena got around this problem by setting up a patchwork of camera traps throughout one chimpanzee community’s home range and monitoring their use of space,” said Dr. Kimberley Hockings, of the University of Exeter.

“The methods and analyses Elena used are new and exciting and have helped us understand human-chimpanzee coexistence across the landscape.

“This is important because western chimpanzees are critically endangered and these shared landscapes are crucial for their persistence.

“These methods can also be applied to other threatened wildlife that are being pushed into ever-increasing human-impacted landscapes across the globe.”

Professor Catherine Hill, of Oxford Brookes University, said: “Our modeling approach generates fine-resolution space-time output maps, which can be scaled-up to identify human-wildlife interaction hotspots.

“Our method provides the necessary tools to understand and more effectively manage human-wildlife coexistence at different spatial scales, including the management of resources important to both.”

(Reference: “Chimpanzees balance resources and risk in an anthropogenic landscape of fear” 25 February 2021, Scientific Reports.)

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Center for Biological Diversity

February 25, 2021

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Endangered Wildlife, Plants From Dangerous Smog

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to assess harms to endangered plants and animals when determining the national air pollution standard for smog.

The lawsuit seeks to ensure that the EPA consults with the expert agencies responsible for wildlife and plant protection to ensure its action does not drive any endangered species extinct.

Today’s suit is similar to the lawsuit the Center filed earlier this month regarding the air pollution standard for soot, or particulate matter. The two lawsuits are the first seeking to force the EPA to consider threats to endangered species when establishing safe thresholds for air pollution.

“It really should come as no surprise that the science shows plants and animals, especially those on the brink of extinction, need clean air,” said Robert Ukeiley, a senior attorney at the Center. “By making sure our clean-air standards are actually protecting our most endangered species, the EPA will be taking a vital step in improving air quality for everyone, especially the millions of people suffering from chronic health challenges like asthma and heart disease.”

Smog, also called ground-level ozone, is a known threat to imperiled plants and wildlife. Research has linked it to harm in numerous endangered species, including whooping cranes and all the other 102 bird species protected under the Endangered Species Act. Yet despite its legal mandate to consider the impacts of agency actions on endangered species, the EPA has refused to consider how ozone might affect these species.

In addition to directly limiting damage to lungs, controlling smog also reduces acid rain and excess nitrogen in the soil. Even when these don’t directly harm animals, they can harm the plants they rely on, as is the case for the rapidly disappearing monarch butterfly.

Smog mainly comes from the mining, drilling and burning of coal, oil and methane gas as well as from industrial agriculture, which heavily relies on fossil fuel inputs. Shifting off fossil fuel use is the best way to end dangerous levels of smog in the air we breathe, but the EPA’s standard for smog does not advance this change.

Today’s (2/25/21) lawsuit was filed in the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Science Daily

Don’t focus on genetic diversity to save our species

February 23, 2021, University of Adelaide

Scientists have challenged the common assumption that genetic diversity of a species is a key indicator of extinction risk. The scientists demonstrate that there is no simple relationship between genetic diversity and species survival. But researchers conclude the focus shouldn’t be on genetic diversity anyway; it should be on habitat protection.

Scientists at the University of Adelaide have challenged the common assumption that genetic diversity of a species is a key indicator of extinction risk.

Published in the journal PNAS, the scientists demonstrate that there is no simple relationship between genetic diversity and species survival. But, Dr Joao Teixeira and Dr Christian Huber from the University of Adelaide’s School of Biological Sciences conclude, the focus shouldn’t be on genetic diversity anyway; it should be on habitat protection.

“Nature is being destroyed by humans at a rate never seen before,” says computational biologist Dr Huber. “We burn forests, over-fish our seas and destroy wild areas and it’s estimated that about one million species are threatened with extinction, some within decades.

“Although researchers agree that this rapid decline of species numbers has to be stopped, how that’s best tackled is still open to debate.

“Conservation geneticists consider genetic diversity as an important way to assess if a species is threatened by extinction. The view is that as long as individuals are genetically different from each other (having high genetic diversity), there will always be individuals with the right genetic makeup to survive under adverse conditions. On the other hand, if a species shows little genetic diversity, it’s believed that the species is fragile and likely to become extinct.”

Dr Teixeira and Dr Huber have compiled a wide range of evidence from laboratory experiments, field studies, and evolutionary theory which suggests a need for re-evaluation on the measurement and interpretation of genetic diversity for conservation.

“In this paper, we’ve shown that this simple relationship between genetic diversity and survival is often wrong,” says population geneticist Dr Teixeira. “Most of the genetic diversity within a genome is ‘neutral’, meaning that it neither improves nor diminishes an individual’s ability to survive or produce offspring. On the other hand, the genetic diversity that does affect survival is found in very specific regions of the genome and is not at all correlated with genome-wide genetic diversity.

“Researchers need to investigate for each species individually which genetic mutations allow the species to thrive and which mutations lead to diseases that can threaten the species. There is certainly no simple ‘one-size-fits-all’ measure of extinction risk.”

The authors finally warn that, although genetics can play an important role in certain cases, fixating on genetic diversity shifts much-needed focus away from the much bigger problem: habitat destruction.

“Since the year 2000, wildlife habitat about eight times the area of the UK has been lost,” says Dr Huber. “Without habitat, there is no wildlife. And without wildlife and the ecosystem services that humans rely on, we are ultimately risking our own security and survival here on Earth.”

Story Source: Materials provided by University of Adelaide. Original written by Kelly Brown.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Wolf kill reaches 69% of the statewide quota in less than two days, prompting the DNR to close the season Wednesday

Paul A. Smith, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 23, 2021

Even before it began, the 2021 Wisconsin gray wolf hunting and trapping season was unprecedented for its brevity and timing – scheduled to last no more than seven days and held during the wolves’ breeding season.

Results have shown the planned length was unnecessarily generous.

In just the first 39 hours of the season, hunters and trappers registered 82 wolves and exceeded the kill goals in two of six management zones.

The results prompted the Department of Natural Resources to announce closures to all six management zones effective Wednesday.

The kill was nine wolves in Zone 1, 21 in Zone 2, 16 in Zone 3, zero in Zone 4, 18 in Zone 5 and 18 in Zone 6, according to the DNR. The data reflect kills reported as of 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Hunters and trappers are required to report their wolf harvests within 24 hours of the time of kill.

The kill of 82 animals represented 69% of the statewide, season-long harvest quota of 119 wolves.

Tuesday morning the DNR announced closures of zones 2, 5 and 6 effective 10 a.m. Wednesday. Then, as more wolf registrations rolled in, the agency in mid-afternoon announced zones 1, 3 and 4 would be shut down at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Even with the planned closures, it’s likely more zones will exceed their specific kill targets and the state goal also will be surpassed.

The DNR rules allowed hunters to use dogs to pursue wolves, to use bait and to hunt at night. Trappers could use foot-hold traps or cable restraints.

During the three previous regulated wolf seasons, hunters and trappers took about two months to kill 117 wolves in 2012, 257 in 2013 and 154 in 2014.

Those hunts ended in late December.

“I’m a little bit surprised with how quickly (this season) went,” said George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. “I think the snow had a lot to do with it and conditions were good. The use of hounds and trapping have had high success in the past, and it’s likely they did this week, too.”

The wolf was removed from protections of the federal Endangered Species Act on Jan. 4 and returned to state control. The DNR had planned to begin the next wolf season in November, but a lawsuit brought by a hunting advocacy group forced the agency to hold one this month.

State statute says the DNR shall hold a wolf season beginning in early November and ending on the last day of February when the species is not on the endangered or threatened species list.

This is the first wolf hunt in Wisconsin history held during the wolf breeding season. Wolf advocates have expressed concerns about disruption to pack dynamics and killing of pregnant females during this time.

Wolves were native to Wisconsin but were deliberately extirpated by the 1960s through unregulated hunting, poisoning and bounties.

The species made a steady comeback beginning in the 1970s under protections, including the Endangered Species Act. Wisconsin had 1,195 wolves in 256 packs in late winter 2020, according to a DNR estimate. Both numbers are modern-era highs.

The DNR did not release any additional details Tuesday, such as method of kill used to take the 82 wolves, the sex and age of the animals or if any citations had been issued.

Interest in the season was high; the DNR sold 27,151 wolf applications at $10 each. The DNR selected 2,380 hunters and trappers (20 times the quota of 119 wolves) through a drawing.

As of Tuesday morning, 1,486 licenses (1,465 resident, 21 nonresident) had been sold, according to the DNR. The cost is $49 for Wisconsin residents, $251 for nonresidents.

Revenue from applications and licenses is used to pay for wolf management and wolf depredation, primarily to livestock producers and dog owners.

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Missouri considering removing falcon from state endangered list

The Joplin Globe, Mo., Tue, February 23, 2021

Feb. 23—The Missouri Conservation Commission is taking public comment this month on a proposal to remove the peregrine falcon from the state’s endangered species list.

Populations of falcons and other raptors plummeted during the 1940s through the 1960s as a result of the use of pesticides such as DDT. The peregrine was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1970 and on the Missouri endangered species list in 1974. Peregrine falcons were removed from the federal endangered species list in 1999.

Joe DeBold, who leads the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Peregrine Falcon Recovery Working Group, said in a statement recently: “Our Missouri peregrine falcon recovery goal of 12 breeding pairs in the state was exceeded in 2013 and now stands at 14 known active breeding pairs distributed across seven counties. Peregrines will remain a species of conservation concern in the state. If the breeding population declines below seven breeding pairs, MDC will work with conservation partners to determine if expanded monitoring or protection is needed.”

MDC state ornithologist Sarah Kendrick said each of the state’s 14 breeding pairs use artificial nest boxes in urban areas around Kansas City and St. Louis.

“They seem to prefer the nest boxes over natural nesting sites in the state on rocky cliffs and bluffs on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. This may be due to an abundance of food in the form of urban pigeons,” Kendrick said in a statement.

Kendrick added that two breeding peregrine pairs have been documented successfully nesting since 2012 along the rocky bluffs on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, so peregrines could start using natural nesting sites in Missouri.

MDC also is proposing a regulation change to the Wildlife Code of Missouri that would allow the limited capture of young migratory falcons for use in falconry.

MDC is taking public comment on the status and regulation changes for peregrine falcons March 2-31 online at mdc.mo.gov/about-regulations/wildlife-code-missouri/proposed-regulation-changes. You also can send comments by mail to: Regulations Committee Chairman, Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102.

MDC will review all comments received and present a final proposal for a final vote by the Commission this summer. If approved, the regulation change will become effective Aug. 30.

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Oregon Public Broadcasting

Biden administration will reconsider northern spotted owl forest protection rollbacks

By Monica Samayoa (OPB), Feb. 22, 2021

The U.S. Interior Department is delaying and reviewing the Trump administration’s last-minute roll-back of federal protections for the imperiled northern spotted owl, which called for slashing protections from millions of acres of Northwest forests.

On Jan. 15, just days before leaving office, the Trump administration published a final rule revising Endangered Species Act protections for the northern spotted owl. The rule lifted critical-habitat protections for the bird from 3.4 million acres in Oregon, Washington and California. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s had proposed a far more modest revision, seeking to remove critical habitat status from a little over 200,000 acres in 15 counties in Oregon.

Earlier this month, Western Democrats led by Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley sent a letter to the Interior Department requesting an immediate federal review into the decision to slash millions of acres of the owls’ critical habitat. The letter also questioned whether the previous Interior Secretary David Bernhardt ignored scientific recommendations made by staff.

“David Bernhardt ended his corrupt and destructive tenure at Interior with this parting blow to science and the public interest, raising even more questions about scientific meddling by Trump political appointees,” Wyden said in an emailed statement. “I’m glad to see Biden’s Interior understands the urgency of stopping this dangerous rule from going into effect and is committed to science, not corporate interests.”

Wyden said he hopes other Trump administration rollbacks will be permanently reversed to protect the northern spotted owl and other threatened species.

On Monday, the Interior Department said it will be reviewing the changes and delaying the effective date of the rule from March 16 to April 15.

“Robust critical habitat protections are essential to ensuring the survival of the northern spotted owl. The Trump administration’s arbitrary and sweeping reduction of protected areas was conducted without public input or scientific basis. Interior is reviewing the Trump administration’s rollback of northern spotted owl critical habitat designations to adequately protect this threatened species and the habitat it needs for recovery,” U.S. Department of Interior spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

The Center for Biological Diversity’s Endangered Species Director Noah Greenwald said it’s clear, based on the timing of the Trump administration decision last month, that it wasn’t driven by science provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“I don’t have a smoking gun document that says that but I think it’s hard to interpret the chain of events in any other way,” He said.

Greenwald said the next steps most likely would lead to a new rulemaking process. Something that could at least take a year to finish.

A spokesperson for the American Forest Resources Council, which represents forest-products companies in the Pacific Northwest, Northern California and Montana, declined to comment.

In December, protection efforts for the northern spotted owl received a separate blow to the species’ chances for recovery when the former administration declined to “uplist” the owl from threatened status to endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the species warranted uplisting but it considered other species on the list to be higher priorities.

A notice is expected to be published in the Federal Register in the next few days.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Court Upholds Protection for California’s Western Joshua Trees

Judge Rejects Effort to Strip State Endangered Species Act Safeguards

February 22, 2021

FRESNO, Calif.— A Fresno County Superior Court judge has rejected an effort by construction and real estate interests, along with the city of Hesperia, to strip away legal protections that currently apply to the imperiled western Joshua tree.

“This is a critical victory for these beautiful trees and their fragile desert ecosystem,” said Brendan Cummings, the Center for Biological Diversity’s conservation director and a Joshua Tree resident. “If Joshua trees are to survive the inhospitable climate we’re giving them, the most important thing we must do is protect their habitat, and this decision ensures recent protections will remain in place.”

On September 22, 2020, the California Fish and Game Commission unanimously voted to grant western Joshua trees candidate status under the California Endangered Species Act, giving them legal protection during a yearlong review to determine whether the species should be formally protected. The commission’s protection decision came in response to a petition from the Center.

On October 21, 2020, a coalition of interests opposed to protection of the Joshua tree filed a lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court seeking to overturn the commission’s decision and moved to set aside the tree’s candidate status. In her ruling last week rejecting the stay request, Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan found that “it is clear to the court that a stay would be against the public interest.”

In rejecting arguments that threats to the species are not immediate, the court found “that the Joshua tree is under a real, significant and immediate threat from development, fire, drought, and climate change.”

The growing popularity of Joshua Tree National Park has spurred a building boom in Joshua Tree and adjacent communities, resulting in the widespread cutting down of the namesake trees to make way for vacation rentals and second homes. Recent state protection makes killing Joshua trees illegal absent special permits. Among the entities seeking to overturn state protection of western Joshua trees is the High Desert Association of Realtors.

“It’s a sad irony that the very real estate agents marketing the iconic beauty of Joshua trees are also leading the charge to kill them,” said Cummings. “Fortunately, their misguided and selfish lawsuit was not successful.”

The Fish and Game Commission is scheduled to make a final decision on listing the western Joshua tree as a threatened species by the end of the year. If the species wins permanent protection, state and local agencies will have to manage threats to them, including developing a recovery plan outlining a strategy to protect the species in the face of climate change and other threats.

Background

While the direct killing of western Joshua trees by developers is the most visible threat, climate change and fire are also pushing the species towards extinction. Recent studies show Joshua trees are dying off because of hotter, drier conditions, with very few younger trees becoming established. Even greater changes are projected over the coming decades. Scientists in 2019 projected that the Joshua tree will be largely gone from its namesake national park by the end of the century.

Prolonged droughts are projected to be more frequent and intense over the coming decades, shrinking the species’ range and leading to more tree deaths. Higher elevations, where Joshua trees might survive increasing temperatures and drying conditions, are at risk of fire due to invasive non-native grasses.

Approximately 40% of the western Joshua tree’s range in California is on private land, with only a tiny fraction protected from development. Current projections show that virtually all this habitat will be lost without stronger legal protections for the trees.

Joshua trees comprise two distinct species, the western Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) and the eastern Joshua tree (Y. jaegeriana). The two species occupy different areas of the desert, are genetically and morphologically distinguishable, and have different pollinating moths. Only the western species is currently protected under the California Endangered Species Act.

“Before state protections went into effect, developers were bulldozing Joshua trees by the thousands to build roads, powerlines, strip malls and vacation rentals,” said Cummings. “If these beautiful plants are to have any hope of surviving in a warming world, we have to stop killing them. The California Endangered Species Act may be the only hope for saving these iconic symbols of the Mojave Desert.”

The lawsuit was filed by the California Construction and Industrial Materials Association, California Business Properties Association, California Cattlemen’s Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, California Manufacturers and Technology Association, High Desert Association of Realtors and the city of Hesperia. The Center and the solar company Terra-Gen separately intervened in the lawsuit to defend the commission’s decision.

The case is California Business Properties Association v. California Fish and Game Commission, Case # 20CECG03125.

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SeafoodSource

Canada announces new 2021 measures to protect endangered right whales

By Chris Chase, February 22, 2021

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Canada has announced a plan to better protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale in 2021, carrying over several measures from 2020 and adding new requirements.

Protection of the North Atlantic right whale – one of the most-endangered species on the planet, with roughly 366 individuals remaining – has been an ongoing issue for fisheries in both eastern Canada and the Northeastern U.S. as gear entanglements have been linked to whale deaths. Those ongoing conflicts resulted in a U.S. court declaring the American lobster fishery in violation of the Endangered Species Act, and prompted U.S. senators, in 2019, to call on Canada to do more to protect the species.

In 2020, Canada took a number of measures intended to protect the whales in the country’s waters, many of which are being carried over into 2021. Included are strategic fishery closures in areas where a right whale is visually or acoustically detected, in an area of approximately 2,000 square kilometers around the area of the detection, for 15 days.

New for 2021, the right whale will need to be acoustically or visually detected in the area during days nine to 15 of the closure before an extension is triggered. In the Bay of Fundy and areas in the Roseway and Grand Manan basins, if a whale is detected again, a 15-day extension is triggered. In the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, if a whale is detected a second time, a season-long closure of the area will be implemented, effectively closing the area to fishing until 15 November, 2021.

Two flights with no detection of whales are required to reopen an area. If flights cannot be made, the area will remain closed until flights can safely take place.

Outside of the “dynamic zone,” closures will be on case-by-case basis, DFO said.

In addition to closures, DFO is requiring gear markings on all fixed-gear fisheries in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, with mandatory reporting for lost gear. Any contact between a marine mammal and fishing gear or a vessel must be reported.

The DFO is also allowing trials of “whale-safe” gear, including the authorization of ropeless gear in closed areas.

One change in 2021 is that rope weak-points will not need to be implemented by the end of the year. Previously, DFO was requiring harvesters to implement weak rope or breaking points by the end of 2021 – that deadline has been pushed back to 2022.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many harvesters were unable to conduct on-the-water tests for safe and effective ways to implement this requirement,” DFO said in a release.

Another new measure this year is the establishment of a new working group of industry, scientists, and department officials which will meet regularly to discuss ongoing issues regarding right whale fisheries management.

It isn’t just fisheries that have new restrictions related to right whales. The country enacted mandatory speed limits for commercial vessels in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Those limits include a mandatory speed restriction of 10 knots, established for 15 days when a right whale is detected in one of the dynamic shipping zones in the shipping lands north and south of Anticosti Island, and includes other speed limits in seasonal management areas and trial slowdowns in the Cabot Strait. Any vessels found violating those restrictions will be issued fines of up to CAD 250,000 (USD 198,000, EUR 163,000).

Those measures will be carried over into 2021, with a few additions. The mandatory restricted area “in and near the Shediac Valley” will be refined to better protect whales that are anticipated to be present in greater numbers in the summer months, and the speed-limit exemption in waters of less than 20 fathoms will be expanded to all commercial fishing vessels.

The measures were welcomed by conservation groups, but some are calling for greater efforts to protect the highly endangered species.

“Entanglement is a serious animal welfare issue, and it is clear that the North Atlantic right whale population cannot even sustain one single death or serious injury each year if the species is to survive,” Animal Welfare Institute Marine Animal Consultant Kate O’Connell said. “Both Canada and the United States must take the necessary actions to ensure that all human-caused threats to these whales are eliminated.” 

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The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction, CO)

Bill: Reintroduce wolves only in counties that said OK

By Charles Ashby, Feb. 21, 2021

A handful of state lawmakers are crying wolf over a proposal to reintroduce the carnivorous species into Colorado.

Under House Bill 1037, introduced into the Colorado Legislature last week, the gray wolf could only be introduced into those counties where voters approved Proposition 114 on last fall’s ballot, which called for the reintroduction of the animals by 2023.

But because that proposition, which Colorado voters narrowly approved 51% to 49%, limits the reintroduction to counties west of the Continental Divide, few places would actually see them if the bill gets passed.

That’s because voters in only five Western Slope counties said “yes” to the controversial idea.

The bill also would exempt any areas where there are listed or a potential listing of any threatened or endangered species, or in counties where voters approve having them in a local election.

Rep. Matt Soper said reintroducing the wolves anywhere in the state will not only hurt Colorado’s outdoor recreation, but is fraught with unknown damage to the ranching industry.

“Wolves will be detrimental to the hunting, fishing, ranching and outdoor recreation industries of western Colorado,” the Delta Republican said. “As the apex predator with no competition, wolf packs will wipe out herds and endangered species. Wolves are a threat to western Colorado’s economies and way of life.”

The Western Slope counties whose voters approved the proposition, which is not a constitutional amendment and therefore can be altered by lawmakers with a simple majority vote, include Pitkin, Summit, San Miguel, San Juan and La Plata counties. Each has more registered Democrats than Republicans.

A majority of voters in eight other counties, all on the Front Range, also approved the proposition. Six of them — Larimer, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Adams and Arapahoe counties — have more Democrats, and approved it overwhelmingly. Two — Jefferson and El Paso counties — are Republican counties, whose voters approved it by slim margins.

The bill, which has yet to be heard in committee, has much support, but only among Republicans so far, who are a minority in both houses.

Soper’s Senate sponsors of the bill include Sens. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, and Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale. His House co-sponsors include Reps. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, and Perry Will, R-New Castle.

The bill also includes three lawmakers from the Eastern Plains: Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Reps. Rod Pelton, R-Cheyenne Wells, and Richard Holtorf, R-Akron.

The bill is to get its first committee hearing in the House Energy & Environment Committee on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Will and Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, introduced a bill Thursday limiting how wolves could be introduced.

Under their measure, SB105, introduction couldn’t begin until 2024, and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources would have to implement an environment impact analysis before any animals could be relocated to Colorado.

A third bill, introduced by Will, Rankin and Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, would limit any expenditures by the department on reintroducing wolves to come from the state’s general fund, rather than monies the department received from severance taxes and other fees.

That measure, HB1040, also would include any reimbursements to cattle ranchers for any loss in their herds caused by wolves, which is called for in the proposition.

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Bradenton Herald (Bradenton, FL)

Louisiana challenges California ban on alligator products

By JANET MCCONNAUGHEY, Associated Press, February 20, 2021

(NEW ORLEANS) In the Trump administration’s last days, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a change to rules protecting alligators – a change that opponents consider an end run around the chance that Louisiana might lose a federal court challenge to California’s ban on alligator products.

The government is taking comments until March 22 on the proposal to remove 12 words that let states regulate sales or transfers of “any American alligator specimen” within their boundaries.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries supports the change and credits the great armored lizard’s comeback largely to private conservation prompted by commerce. The proposed rule goes beyond a request by state Attorney General Jeff Landry to have gator hides exempted from control of states where sales take place.

But opponents say the proposal is an effort to boost the chances of lawsuits filed by state of Louisiana and companies in California, Florida and Texas against the state of California over its decision to ban the import and sale of alligator products.

Louisiana had no comment on that allegation.

Brendan Cummings, conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said that while the proposed rule would “technically” affect only alligators, it could set a much broader precedent on the boundaries of state and federal wildlife management. The center is a nonprofit organization supporting California’s side of the case.

Under the present rule, “the feds set the floor but not the ceiling on protection,” Cummings said.

In Louisiana, landowners can charge alligator farmers who want to collect eggs from their land. That gives them a reason to keep marshes and swampland in good shape, helping a large number of species that are still endangered, threatened or being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act, the state says.

Louisiana is arguing, however, that private landowners’ conservation efforts are largely responsible for the rebound of the American alligator and its removal from the endangered species list.

“California’s law will hinder these proven conservation methods and, in our view, violates federal law and the constitution,” the state Wildlife and Fisheries Department said in an emailed statement.

After generations of unregulated hunting, alligator numbers had dropped precipitously in the mid-1900s. Alabama barred hunting them in 1941. Florida followed in 1961 and Louisiana in 1962. Federal protection began in 1967.

Louisiana estimates there are now 2 million wild alligators in the state and another 900,000 on alligator farms, which collect eggs from the wild and return 10% of the captive-raised reptiles once they’re big enough to have no wild predators.

The program has been so successful that about 1,000 “nuisance alligators” — gators that are more than 4 feet long and threaten people, livestock or pets — are removed each year in the state. Gators also show up on golf links during New Orleans’ PGA tournament.

American alligators are still listed as threatened to ensure regulation of products that could easily be mistaken for those from endangered Chinese alligators — the only other alligator species — or from crocodiles that also are endangered or threatened.

After years of exempting alligators from its ban on dealing in endangered or threatened species, California lawmakers in 2019 voted to ban importing or possessing “the dead body, or a part or product thereof, of a crocodile or alligator.” It was to take effect at the start of 2020.

Companies in California, Florida and Texas sued California. Louisiana — joined by a large landowner and a landowners’ association — filed a second suit, saying the ban could hurt alligator and crocodile populations by disrupting support for well-functioning conservation and regulatory programs that depend on sales of alligator products.

Chief District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller combined the two lawsuits and has halted enforcement of California’s law while the case is in court. The current schedule calls for a motion requesting a decision without a full trial to be filed by April 30, with the last of several additional briefs due by July 30.

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NBC News

Scientists clone the first U.S. endangered species

A black-footed ferret was duplicated from the genes of an animal that died more than 30 years ago.

By The Associated Press, February 18, 2021

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Scientists have cloned the first U.S. endangered species, a black-footed ferret duplicated from the genes of an animal that died over 30 years ago.

The slinky predator named Elizabeth Ann, born Dec. 10 and announced Thursday, is cute as a button. But watch out — unlike the domestic ferret foster mom who carried her into the world, she’s wild at heart.

“You might have been handling a black-footed ferret kit and then they try to take your finger off the next day,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service black-footed ferret recovery coordinator Pete Gober said Thursday. “She’s holding her own.”

Elizabeth Ann was born and is being raised at a Fish and Wildlife Service black-footed ferret breeding facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. She’s a genetic copy of a ferret named Willa who died in 1988 and whose remains were frozen in the early days of DNA technology.

Cloning eventually could bring back extinct species such as the passenger pigeon. For now, the technique holds promise for helping endangered species including a Mongolian wild horse that was cloned and last summer born at a Texas facility.

“Biotechnology and genomic data can really make a difference on the ground with conservation efforts,” said Ben Novak, lead scientist with Revive & Restore, a biotechnology-focused conservation nonprofit that coordinated the ferret and horse clonings.

Black-footed ferrets are a type of weasel easily recognized by dark eye markings resembling a robber’s mask. Charismatic and nocturnal, they feed exclusively on prairie dogs while living in the midst of the rodents’ sometimes vast burrow colonies.

Even before cloning, black-footed ferrets were a conservation success story. They were thought extinct — victims of habitat loss as ranchers shot and poisoned off prairie dog colonies that made rangelands less suitable for cattle — until a ranch dog named Shep brought a dead one home in Wyoming in 1981.

Scientists gathered the remaining population for a captive breeding program that has released thousands of ferrets at dozens of sites in the western U.S., Canada and Mexico since the 1990s.

Lack of genetic diversity presents an ongoing risk. All ferrets reintroduced so far are the descendants of just seven closely related animals — genetic similarity that makes today’s ferrets potentially susceptible to intestinal parasites and diseases such as sylvatic plague.

Willa could have passed along her genes the usual way, too, but a male born to her named Cody “didn’t do his job” and her lineage died out, said Gober.

When Willa died, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department sent her tissues to a “frozen zoo” run by San Diego Zoo Global that maintains cells from more than 1,100 species and subspecies worldwide. Eventually scientists may be able to modify those genes to help cloned animals survive.

“With these cloning techniques, you can basically freeze time and regenerate those cells,” Gober said. “We’re far from it now as far as tinkering with the genome to confer any genetic resistance, but that’s a possibility in the future.”

Cloning makes a new plant or animal by copying the genes of an existing animal. Texas-based Viagen, a company that clones pet cats for $35,000 and dogs for $50,000, cloned a Przewalski’s horse, a wild horse species from Mongolia born last summer.

Similar to the black-footed ferret, the 2,000 or so surviving Przewalski’s horses are descendants of just a dozen animals.

Viagen also cloned Willa through coordination by Revive & Restore, a wildlife conservation organization focused on biotechnology. Besides cloning, the nonprofit in Sausalito, California, promotes genetic research into imperiled life forms ranging from sea stars to jaguars.

“How can we actually apply some of those advances in science for conservation? Because conservation needs more tools in the toolbox. That’s our whole motivation. Cloning is just one of the tools,” said Revive & Restore co-founder and executive director Ryan Phelan.

Elizabeth Ann was born to a tame domestic ferret, which avoided putting a rare black-footed ferret at risk. Two unrelated domestic ferrets also were born by cesarian section; a second clone didn’t survive.

Elizabeth Ann and future clones of Willa will form a new line of black-footed ferrets that will remain in Fort Collins for study. There currently are no plans to release them into the wild, said Gober.

Novak, the lead scientist at Revive & Restore, calls himself the group’s “passenger pigeon guy” for his work to someday bring back the once common bird that has been extinct for over a century. Cloning birds is considered far more challenging than mammals because of their eggs, yet the group’s projects even include trying to bring back a woolly mammoth, a creature extinct for thousands of years.

The seven-year effort to clone a black-footed ferret was far less theoretical, he said, and shows how biotechnology can help conservation now. In December, Novak loaded up a camper and drove to Fort Collins with his family to see the results firsthand.

“I absolutely had to see our beautiful clone in person,” Novak said. “There’s just nothing more incredible than that.”

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Firstpost

International Wildlife Trade is Causing Over 60 Percent Species on Earth to Go Extinct

Press Trust of India, FEB. 18, 2021

International wildlife trade is causing declines of over 60 percent in the abundance of species on the planet, say scientists who call for more research on the impacts of this severe threat across the world. The scientists, including those from the University of Sheffield in the UK, found that wildlife trade is causing declines of around 62 percent in the abundance of species, with endangered species suffering losses of over 80 percent. Although there are policies managing trade, the study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, warned that without enough research on the effects of wildlife trade these policies cannot claim to safeguard species.

According to the researchers, at least 100 million plants and animals are internationally trafficked each year and the international wildlife trade is said to be worth between USD 4-20 billion per year. Citing some examples, they said wildlife trade continues to impact the decline of African elephants due to the ivory trade and the demise of pangolin species across Africa and Asia.

The research called for better protective measures for threatened species and management of trade with trade still driving declines of 56 percent in protected areas.

“Thousands of species are traded for pets, traditional medicines, and luxury foods, but how this impacts species’ abundances in the wild was unknown,” said David Edwards, Professor of Conservation Science at the University of Sheffield.

While the declines in abundance are worse for species being traded as pets, the scientists said these are also caused by trade for bushmeat.

“Our research draws together high-quality field studies to reveal a shocking reduction in most traded species, driving many locally extinct,” said Edwards, one of the corresponding authors of the study.

The scientists believe trapping drives particularly severe declines in species at high risk of extinction and those traded for pets.

“Such high levels of offtake suggests trade is often unsustainable, yet a lot of trade is conducted legally. As a society, we urgently need to reflect upon our desire for exotic pets and the efficacy of legal frameworks designed to prevent species declines,” Edwards said.

According to the scientists, an understanding of how wildlife trade is impacting species is severely lacking in developed nations, and for many commonly traded wildlife groups, despite it being one of their biggest drivers of species extinction.

“Where extraction for wildlife trade occurs we found large declines in species abundances. This highlights the key role global wildlife trade plays in species extinction risk,” said Oscar Morton, lead author of the research from the University of Sheffield.

Without effective management, Morton believes such trade will continue to threaten wildlife.

“For such a severe threat to global wildlife, we uncovered concerningly limited data on the impacts of wildlife trade in Asia, North America and Europe, as well as a lack of data for many amphibians, invertebrates, cacti and orchids, despite these groups often being traded,” he added.

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Q13 Fox (Seattle)

More than 4,500 cold-stunned sea turtles rescued from frigid Texas waters

By Kelly Hayes, February 17, 2021

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas – Volunteers in Texas have rescued about 4,500 cold-stunned sea turtles from frigid waters this week. The endangered turtles are among a number of animal species that have been gravely threatened by record-cold temperatures in the state.

Sea turtles can become “cold-stunned” when water temperatures drop to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit or below, experts say. They become comatose as their heart rate drops, losing their ability to swim or even hold their head above water.

“They are literally stunned. Despite their instincts telling them to raise their necks and breathe, they literally can’t — and they drown in the water,” said Wendy Knight, the executive director of Sea Turtle Inc., a nonprofit rescue group in South Padre Island, Texas.

Sea turtles are one of the most iconic animals found in the area. It’s also the only location in Texas where nests from all five of the sea turtle species that live in the Gulf of Mexico have been found — and all of these are listed under the Endangered Species Act as “endangered” or “threatened.”

Sea Turtle Inc., with the help of volunteers, raced to save thousands of turtles since the onset of the deadly winter storm sent temperatures plummeting to freezing levels in South Texas. The cold-blooded reptiles were rescued by people along the shoreline and in boats, transported to indoor facilities and stored on tarps in warmer temperatures. One boat captain even took volunteers out and saved more than 100 turtles alone.

But the facility also lost power this week, along with millions of other residents seeking to warm their homes during the unusually frigid temperatures. The demand overwhelmed the state’s power grid and resulted in rolling blackouts across the region.

Fearing that a bad situation could turn into a tragedy, the rescue group put out a call for help to the community. Many offered to help, including SpaceX, which has a launch site and production facility in nearby Boca Chica and has developed an educational relationship with the rescue group. SpaceX donated a large generator to help warm the beleaguered turtles up.

“We have for a while now trained their employees on how to patrol and watch for sea turtles,” Knight said. “There is even a cold-stun team of volunteers at SpaceX.”

Once the Sea Turtle Inc. campus ran out of room with more than 500 turtles, the local South Padre Island Convention Centre also offered its facility as overflow — now housing roughly 4,000 of the marine animals.

“As of today, we’re at probably 4,500-4,600 right now,” Knight said Wednesday afternoon.

For comparison, the rescue group has protected 1,800 cold-stunned turtles over the past decade. “This one event is 4,500, so it is amazing,” Knight added.

Some of the turtles have begun to move and “wake up” as their bodies warm up, but the staff won’t know for a couple of days how badly the animals have been injured. Some severe cases can lead to pneumonia.

“We’re really going to know what we’re dealing with probably by Friday or Saturday, as far as how many are doing well and will be released, versus how many don’t make it,” Knight said.

Sea Turtle Inc., found in 1977, not only works to rescue and rehabilitate injured sea turtles, but also to educate the public and assist with conservation efforts. Prior to the severe winter weather, the nonprofit’s hospital already housed many turtles hurt from boat strikes and litter in the ocean. It also has five resident turtles between 100 to 300 pounds, living in 350,000 gallons of water.

Knight said the much-needed generator from SpaceX “has put a band-aid on a critical wound,” noting that the facility still needs additional help from the power grid to maintain its mission.

“Without a doubt, this event coupled with the withholding of the electric and the power, this could have been catastrophic. It could have wiped out a decade or more worth of our work,” she added.

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Science

Aquariums hatch unusual plan to save endangered zebra shark

By Catherine M. Allchin, Feb. 17, 2021

A leopard can’t change its spots, and a zebra can’t change its stripes. But the zebra shark has long delighted ocean divers and aquarium visitors with its ability to transform the white bands it is born with into spots as it grows. Now, the endangered shark is grabbing attention for another reason: It’s at the center of an unprecedented effort to rebuild a wild shark population using eggs from aquariums.

“It is very important to us to protect and preserve this unique and charismatic species,” says Charlie Heatubun, a botanist at the University of Papua, Manokwari, and head of Indonesia’s West Papua Research and Development Agency, which is participating in the project.

The distinctive zebra shark (Stegostoma tigrinum, also known as the Indo-Pacific leopard shark) was a popular attraction for snorkelers and divers in Southeast Asia a few decades ago. Considered harmless to humans, the sharks are slow moving and spend most of their time in shallow reef habitats. In recent years, the shark fin trade has decimated S. tigrinum populations. In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) elevated the shark to endangered on its Red List, and it is now likely locally extinct in several areas in Indonesia.

At the same time, zebra sharks are thriving in aquariums around the world. In fact, the animals do so well in captivity that aquariums keep males and females separated to prevent unintentional breeding and production of unwanted eggs. That ready supply of eggs, however, has provided conservationists with an opportunity to repopulate the species in the wild, the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) announced recently.

Scientists say the effort, Stegostoma tigrinum Augmentation and Recovery, is the first time such a recovery strategy has been tried for elasmobranch fishes, which include sharks and rays. Most shark species give birth to live young, but about 40% of species, including the zebra shark, lay eggs. And because the eggs have hardy, leathery cases, researchers consider them good prospects for trans-Pacific air travel.

Later this year, participating aquariums plan to send about a dozen eggs to conservation sites in Raja Ampat in West Papua. The egg cases will be shipped in checked luggage, with seawater changed at stops along the way to maintain a target temperature. Within a few months, after the pups hatch and are big enough (about 70 centimeters) and able to forage for food, researchers will attach acoustic monitoring tags and release them in marine protected areas.

In anticipation of the new arrivals, the West Papua provincial government is working with aquariums to train shark husbandry professionals and build hatcheries. “It’s a privilege to be the first place for this project,” says Heatubun, whose team, along with other local partners, will manage the introductions.

The goal is to introduce several hundred sharks over time, to bring numbers back and allow the Indonesian populations to become self-sustaining. The multinational partnership—made up of conservation groups, government entities, aquariums, and academic institutions—is working with IUCN officials to determine how many eggs will be needed. Researchers are also planning to monitor the introduced animals, using tags and diver surveys. Each adult has a unique spot pattern, which will make identification easier.

The effort ultimately hopes to expand to other areas, likely first in Indonesia. And in a bid to raise the odds of success, AZA-accredited aquariums are trying to collect eggs from captive zebra sharks that are genetically similar to wild sharks in the areas where the releases will occur. But that’s not always possible. For example, few zebra sharks remain in the Raja Ampat archipelago, so scientists now have no samples from that location.

There isn’t time to wait for exact genetic matches, says Erin Meyer, director of conservation programs and partnerships at the Seattle Aquarium. “This species is not recovering in Raja Ampat like other shark and ray species, and we have the opportunity to save it from extinction,” she says. “We’re concerned about waiting.”

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Oregon Public Broadcasting

Oregon wolves could be expanding their range into California

By Erik Neumann (Jefferson Public Radio), Feb. 16, 2021

Several wolves recently crossed state lines from established packs in Oregon into California. Experts say dispersing wolves could expand territory and strengthen the species’ genetic diversity.

Last week, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife identified OR-93, a wolf traveling from the White River Pack in Oregon’s Warm Springs Reservation area to Lassen County, California. And in December, a member of Oregon’s Mt. Emily Pack known as OR-85 was caught on camera in Siskiyou County, California, with another unidentified wolf.

The presence of a second wolf could be significant for California’s small wolf population, according to Kent Laudon, a wolf specialist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“We’re pretty close to being certain that it is a female,” said Laudon, of the second wolf. “And then if all that stays the same, there’s a high likelihood that we’ll have pups in April. And that will be the second reproducing pack in California.”

The presence of the other wolf, OR-93 from the White River Pack, is also significant since it traveled to Lassen County, California, all the way from Wasco County, in north-central Oregon. Genetic diversity spread across large areas will help species better survive, according to Amaroq Weiss, senior West Coast wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The wolves that are wandering across Oregon and coming down to California are basically ground-truthing what scientists have told us and literature that [has] examined where is a good habitat for wolves,” Weiss said.

Neither the Siskiyou County wolf liaison who works with local ranchers or a representative from the California Cattleman’s Association was available to comment.

According to Laudon with CDFW, wolves can range across hundreds and even thousands of miles once dispersed from their original pack. But once they mate and form a new pack they stay in one area.

“Of those wolves that are doing that, whether collared or not, are finding each other and pair-bonding and reproducing, that part starts to become very significant,” he said.

The pair in Siskiyou County has a current range of about 350 square miles, Laudon said.

There are currently 158 known wolves in Oregon and eight in California, according to Weiss with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Wolves were recently delisted from protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. That move by the Trump administration is being challenged in court. Wolves are still protected under California’s state Endangered Species Act and in Oregon by state statute.

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News 21/ktvz.com (Bend, OR)

California condor eggs laid at Oregon Zoo boost recovery for the endangered species

By CNN Newsource, Published February 16, 2021

First, California condors nearly went extinct from poaching, lead poisoning and habitat destruction.

Then the California wildfires last summer threatened to devastate their recovering wild population.

Now, hope is on the horizon as the critically endangered species has added nine eggs to their numbers since January 15. The most recent egg came on February 7.

Laid at the Oregon Zoo’s Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation, the eggs are a much-needed boost for the species’ survival. Nine eggs over the span of a month are the largest amount the condor breeding season has seen in the center’s 18-year history.

Dr. Kelly Flaminio, who oversees the Oregon Zoo condor recovery efforts, told CNN these eggs are a promising first step in rebuilding condor populations on the West coast.

“I can’t stress enough how important each individual is in this program,” Flaminio said.

“It’s not only about increasing the number of birds we have total, it’s about increasing the number of birds we can get into the wild that reach breeding age so we can have more breeding happening in the wild. That’s the key to gaining a sustainable population.”‘

Condors generally lay eggs during January and February and produce one egg per year, Flaminio said, adding that the eggs came earlier than usual this year.

The zoo often uses a process called “double-clutching” to produce two eggs. Double clutching occurs when an egg is transferred from one parent to a surrogate parent so the first mother is stimulated to lay a second egg.

Though the eggs are a good first step, it’s not guaranteed that all nine are fertile, meaning they might not all hatch. The first chick would come sometime in March following a 54 to 58 day incubation period, Flaminio said.

Recovery efforts were slowed by California fires

The Oregon Zoo is one of several institutions working with US Fish and Wildlife to increase wild condor populations in California, Utah and Arizona.

Breeding in captivity has steadily increased condor numbers over the past several decades. The 1000th California condor hatched in 2019, CNN has reported. At the time, there were more condors in the wild than in captivity.

By comparison, only 22 total birds remained in 1982 when the species was nearly extinct.

The California condor remains critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. One large source of danger that remains is lead poisoning, which occurs when a condor eats the carcass of a shot animal that contains fragments of lead bullets.

Last year, wildfires in California threatened wild populations in the area. California fires destroyed the Ventana Wildlife Society‘s Big Sur Sanctuary for condor research in August, CNN has reported.

About 500 condors were in the wild during the last count prior to the fires. Because of the damaged surveillance equipment, Flaminio said they don’t know exactly how many wild condors were lost last year.

“Our goal is to produce as many chicks as we can every year to just get that wild population higher and higher,” she said.

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Marin Independent Journal

California to appeal court ruling on bumblebee protections

By WILL HOUSTON, published February 15, 2021

California wildlife regulators plan to challenge a recent court ruling that found the state lacks authority to protect insects under the Endangered Species Act.

The Sacramento County Superior Court ruling in December called on the California Fish and Game Commission to rescind its 2019 vote to consider placing four species of bumblebees under endangered species protections. The four species — Western, Franklin’s, Crotch’s and Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees — have experienced dramatic declines in their populations from a combination of pesticides, disease, loss of habitat and development.

The Western bumblebee was once commonly found in Marin County and the Bay Area but has declined significantly since the late 1970s.

A cohort of agricultural organizations filed a lawsuit, arguing the state’s endangered species protections do not extend to insects and would impede farming activities for fear of accidentally killing a protected bee. The superior court agreed with their arguments in a ruling in December.

The state and three environmental organizations, including the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, filed a notice to appeal earlier this month. They argue bumblebees can be protected under the law’s definition of “fish,” which includes the broad category of invertebrates.

“There certainly is a strong case to be made that the Legislature intended to include insects when they established the California Endangered Species Act, which was intended broadly to protect biodiversity in the state and to prevent species from going extinct,” said Sarina Jepsen, endangered species program director with the Xerces organization. “It’s just absurd to think that a law that is intended to broadly protect biodiversity should exclude more than three-quarters of life on this planet.”

Protecting bees under the law could help set a precedent to protect other insects also experiencing alarming population crashes, Jepsen said.

“There are other species like monarch butterflies whose populations in the western United States and really in California have just tanked this last year and are really close to extinction,” Jepsen said. “Being able to be protected under the California Endangered Species Act would be a game-changer for monarch butterflies as well.”

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife does not comment on pending litigation, said Jordan Traverso, a department official.

The California Farm Bureau Federation was one of six agricultural groups that challenged the commission’s consideration to protect the bees. Sunshine Saldivar, the federation’s associate counsel, said listing insects under the state’s Endangered Species Act doesn’t hold up from both a legal and practical standpoint. No insects have been listed since the state’s endangered species laws were first approved in 1970.

“It would create this fear in farmers and ranchers to do their job when they can’t even distinguish a bumblebee’s species,” Saldivar said. “It’s not like an animal like a mountain lion or something else where you can clearly tell what it is and how to not kill it, where you can kill a bee very easily.”

The Endangered Species Act prohibits any killing or harm of the protected species and imposes large fines or even prison time to offenders based on the circumstances. Applying this “one-size-fits-all” tool to insects could inhibit not only harvesting operations for farmers but also impact other projects from affordable housing to transit development, Saldivar said. The farm groups said they have been meeting with state officials to develop alternative strategies to protect the bees.

“It’s kind of difficult to understand why the state is expending more resources in advancing these arguments that they’ve already pursued and that have the potential to ultimately harm the farm community during the pandemic,” Saldivar said.

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The University of Sheffield News

15 February 2021

Wildlife trade drives declines of over 60% in species abundance, according to new research

International wildlife trade is causing declines of over 60 per cent in the abundance of species but there is little research on the impacts of this severe threat to global wildlife, according to researchers.

*New research from a team of international scientists has found declines of over 60 per cent in the abundance of species and over 80 per cent in endangered species as a result of legal and illegal wildlife trade

*100 million plants and animals are internationally trafficked each year for pets, traditional medicines and luxury foods, with the international wildlife trade worth between $4-20 billion per year

*Findings highlight lack of research on the impact of trade compared to other key drivers of extinction like deforestation and overhunting

*Research calls for the need for better protective measures for threatened species and management of trade

A team of scientists at the University of Sheffield, the University of Florida, and Norwegian University of Life Sciences have found that wildlife trade is causing declines of around 62 per cent in the abundance of species, with endangered species suffering declines of over 80 per cent. Although there are policies managing trade, without enough research on the effects of wildlife trade these policies cannot claim to safeguard species.

At least 100 million plants and animals are internationally trafficked each year and the international wildlife trade is said to be worth between $4-20 billion per year. Notable examples of how trade impacts species are the decline of African elephants due to the ivory trade and the demise of pangolin species across Africa and Asia.

The findings also highlight the need for better protective measures for threatened species and management of trade, with trade still driving declines of 56 per cent in protected areas.

Professor David Edwards, Professor of Conservation Science at the University of Sheffield, said: “Thousands of species are traded for pets, traditional medicines, and luxury foods, but how this impacts species’ abundances in the wild was unknown. Our research draws together high-quality field studies to reveal a shocking reduction in most traded species, driving many locally extinct.

“Trapping drives particularly severe declines in species at high risk of extinction and those traded for pets. Such high levels of offtake suggests trade is often unsustainable, yet a lot of trade is conducted legally. As a society, we urgently need to reflect upon our desire for exotic pets and the efficacy of legal frameworks designed to prevent species declines.”

The researchers also found that understanding of how wildlife trade is impacting species is severely lacking in developed nations, and for many commonly traded wildlife groups, despite it being one of their biggest drivers of species extinction.

Oscar Morton, lead author of the research from the University of Sheffield, said: “Where extraction for wildlife trade occurs we found large declines in species abundances. This highlights the key role global wildlife trade plays in species extinction risk. Without effective management such trade will continue to threaten wildlife.

“For such a severe threat to global wildlife, we uncovered concerningly limited data on the impacts of wildlife trade in Asia, North America and Europe, as well as a lack of data for many amphibians, invertebrates, cacti and orchids, despite these groups often being traded.”

The team found that the declines in abundance were worse for species being traded as pets, but declines were also caused by trade for bushmeat.

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The Guardian

Trump’s California water plan troubled federal biologists. They were sidelined

Exclusive: Although scientists recommended otherwise, Trump officials favored political allies over endangered wildlife, internal emails show

February 13, 2021

Federal scientists and regulators repeatedly complained they were sidelined by Donald Trump’s administration when they warned of risks to wildlife posed by a California water management plan, according to newly unveiled documents.

The plan, finalized in late 2019, favored the former president’s political allies – farmers upset with environmental protections that kept them from receiving more irrigation water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the hub of California’s water network.

A top California fisheries regulator questioned whether officials with the Trump administration were violating her agency’s “scientific integrity” policy and warned her boss that the administration’s methodology “definitely raises a flag”. A scientist said he feared “the pendulum was always going to swing in the favor of political decisions”. Another vowed to stand up for science even if “someone tries to bury it”.

These blunt exchanges are among 350 pages of emails, memos and meeting notes filed in federal court in Sacramento by California officials in December that provide evidence of political meddling in federal environmental regulation in California. They are part of a lawsuit from the state to overturn the Trump administration’s rewrite of rules for how California’s increasingly scarce water supplies are shared. The plan now could be overturned by the courts or by a review launched by President Joe Biden.

Jared Huffman, a California Democratic congressman who sits on the House natural resources committee, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, called some of the revelations “blatantly illegal” and “textbook illegal”.

“Frankly we all knew they were going to find a way to do this. The surprising part is that they were so overt and ham-handed about it,” Huffman said.

Trump promised to deliver

At issue was the federal plan to divide water between the state’s Central Valley farmers and its river ecosystems, which support fish protected by endangered species laws. Under law, the US government is supposed to rely on a trove of scientific data to strike a balance between the two. But in this case, a federal official urged scientists to help green-light bigger water deliveries to agriculture.

California’s water problems are increasingly the norm across the American west, where communities from Idaho to Arizona are grappling with persistent and worsening drought conditions. The allotment of this shrinking supply of water is becoming a political question of existential importance for thirsty industries, imperiled wildlife and urban dwellers who some day could be forced into rationing.

In 2016, Trump promised farmers at a Fresno campaign rally he would “solve your water problem” and stop environmentalists from “taking the water and shoving it out to sea”. Two years later, he issued an executive order that called for “maximizing water supply deliveries” to farmers.

The state’s two most important rivers, the Sacramento and San Joaquin, converge into an enormous freshwater estuary. Much of the water is allowed to flow to the Pacific, but giant pumps operated by the state and the federal government’s Central Valley Project siphon a significant portion and ship it to farms in the San Joaquin Valley and more than 20 million southern Californians and Silicon Valley residents.

Powerful agricultural groups have seen their deliveries curtailed over the decades to protect fish. They brought their concerns to Trump, and he turned to David Bernhardt, the head of the interior department and a former lobbyist for the Westlands Water District, an influential farm-irrigation district in the San Joaquin Valley.

Federal agency scientists are required under federal law to review any changes to how the Central Valley’s water delivery system is managed to ensure no further harm comes to the species.

Scientists say shipping more water to the Central Valley over the years has contributed to the decline of the delta ecosystem and brought smelt, Chinook salmon and other species to the brink of extinction. The pumps are so powerful that they can reverse the river flows within the estuary, diverting migratory fish into the paths of predatory fish and the pumps themselves.

In the spring of 2019, a few months after Trump issued his order to maximize water deliveries, federal scientists were rushing to complete the legally required study of how Trump’s plan would affect endangered fish that live and migrate through the delta’s fragile estuary. They had to decide whether to issue a species “jeopardy opinion”, meaning the fish’s continued existence would have been jeopardized by the Trump plan. That could have thwarted the effort to move more water to farmers.

Paul Souza, a regional director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service who is still in his position under the Biden administration, didn’t want that to happen. In the May 2019 meeting, Souza told his colleagues that the “goal” of their reviews was “no J”, a reference to a jeopardy opinion, according to the meeting notes. “That is the objective,” Souza said, “and the schedule does not allow time for a J.”

“No one,” he added later in the meeting, “would ask anyone in this room to do something that lacks in integrity.”

Regulators and scientists push back

Two weeks after that meeting, Maria Rea, a senior policy adviser with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Sacramento, sent her boss an email complaining that the interior department was halting her from sending scientific data out for peer review, a common practice among scientists. That “definitely raises a flag with respect to scientific integrity”, she wrote.

A month later, Cathy Marcinkevage, an agency branch chief, sent her colleagues a link to a news story about a federal scientist being forbidden from testifying before Congress about climate change. Marcinkevage wrote that the story left her with a familiar feeling, but she vowed to “do the right thing” even if “someone else tries to bury” her work.

On 1 July, the scientists issued their report, saying the Trump water plan would hurt endangered and threatened Chinook salmon and steelhead, as well as endangered killer whales that depend on the fish for their food supply.

Independently, the fisheries biologist Howard Brown wrote a five-page memo arguing that his team had delivered an honest, scientifically based conclusion in spite of political interference.

“From the beginning of this consultation it was clear to me that the pendulum was always going to swing in the favor of political decisions,” he wrote.

Two days after the report, the Trump administration directed a “strike team” to rewrite the scientists’ findings.

Gone were the warnings that salmon and whales would suffer. The new version, finalized in the fall of 2019, loosened the rules to free up more water deliveries to farmers, as Trump had demanded.

Critics say Souza, in encouraging his colleagues to approve the administration’s plan by pursuing a pre-ordained outcome during their environmental review, may have violated the Endangered Species Act.

Dan Rohlf, an endangered species law expert and professor at Lewis and Clark Law School in Oregon, said Souza’s actions might also have violated federal procedural rules. During environmental reviews, federal agencies are supposed to “start with facts, go through an analysis, then reach a conclusion”, he said. What happened here was basically the opposite, he said.

Doug Obegi, a water attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council – which is challenging the Trump decisions – called the process revealed by the records “incredibly disturbing”.

Souza insisted in October 2019 there had been no political interference. The final decision, he told reporters in a conference call, was the product of “career conservation professionals”.

The Biden administration’s interior department and the National Marine Fisheries Service declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. The US Fish and Wildlife Service declined an interview request on Souza’s behalf.

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myMOinfo.com

Peregrine Falcon Expected To Be Removed From Missouri’s Endangered List

FEB. 12, 2021

(Jefferson City) The Missouri Conservation Commission is giving initial approval to remove the peregrine falcon from the state’s endangered species list.

Peregrine falcon populations plummeted nationwide from the 1940s to the 1960s due to pesticides like D.D.T.

The peregrine was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1970 and Missouri’s list in 1974.

The falcons were removed from the federal endangered species list in 1999.

The world’s fastest bird has made a comeback in Missouri with 14 known active breeding pairs prompting its removal from the state list.

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BBC News

‘Hedge trimmer’ fish facing global extinction

By Helen Briggs, BBC Environment correspondent, February 12, 2021

They are the most extraordinary of fish, resembling “hedge trimmers with fins”.

The sawfish, which is a kind of ray, is also among the most endangered of the fish living in the oceans.

Once found along the coastlines of 90 countries, the animals are now presumed extinct in more than half of these, according to a new study.

They are vanishing due to habitat loss and entanglement in fishing nets, experts have said.

Their “saws”, which evolved to sense and attack prey, have now become a liability, making them prone to being caught up in fishing gear.

“Through the plight of sawfish, we are documenting the first cases of a wide-ranging marine fish being driven to local extinction by overfishing,” said Prof Nick Dulvy of Simon Fraser University (SFU) in British Columbia, Canada.

Of the five species of sawfish, three are critically endangered, while two are listed as endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Previously widespread, the sawfish are now presumed extinct in 55 nations, the study said.

There are 18 countries where at least one species of sawfish is missing, and 28 more where two species have disappeared.

The list of countries where sawfish are extinct now includes China, Iraq, Haiti, Japan, Timor-Leste, El Salvador, Taiwan, Djibouti and Brunei.

The US and Australia appear to be the last strongholds for the species, regarded as “lifeboat nations,” where sawfish are better protected.

The study, published in Science Advances, also identified eight nations where urgent action could make a big contribution to saving the species through conservation efforts.

These are Cuba, Tanzania, Colombia, Madagascar, Panama, Brazil, Mexico and Sri Lanka.

“While the situation is dire, we hope to offset the bad news by highlighting our informed identification of these priority nations with hope for saving sawfish in their waters,” said Helen Yan of SFU.

She said it is still possible to restore sawfish to more than 70% of their historical range, “if we act now”.

International trade in sawfish is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, but targeted and accidental killings still occur.

Sawfish fins and teeth are sold as trophies, food or medicine, and as spurs for cockfighting.

Sonja Fordham, a researcher of the study and president of Shark Advocates International, said there were opportunities to “bring these extraordinary animals back from the brink”.

But she warned that in too many places, “we’re running out of time to save them”.

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Mongabay

Nearly one-third of all oak species threatened with extinction, report says

by Liz Kimbrough on 12 February 2021

*Nearly one-third of all oak species (31%) are considered threatened with extinction, according to a new report.

*Of all 430 species of oaks, the highest number of species under threat are found in China, Mexico, Vietnam, and the United States, respectively.

*Globally, agriculture poses the biggest threat to oaks. Urban development, climate change, invasive species, plant diseases, and human disturbance have also strained oaks globally. And in Latin America, which has the highest number of endemic oak species, the use of oak for charcoal is a threat.

*Many of the threats to oaks must be tackled with “transformative systemic change,” but individual actions such as monitoring the oaks in your area, donating to local conservation NGOs, spreading awareness, and switching to more efficient fuels and stoves that do not rely on charcoal could relieve some of the pressures on threatened species.

The priest class of the ancient European Celtic societies drew their name, the Druids, from the word for oak, revered as “the tree of life.” The Greek god Zeus and the Norse god Thor are both associated with the mighty oak. And today, under the oak-lined avenues of New Orleans, groups of Mardi Gras revelers dedicate their debauchery to the gnarled, wooded giants. But oaks, deeply rooted in mythos and prized for their strength, are now in peril.

Nearly one-third of all oak species (31%) are considered threatened with extinction, according to a new report,The Red List of Oaks 2020, compiled by The Morton Arboretum and the IUCN’s Global Tree Specialist Group. The report, which details the most current conservation status of all 430 species of oaks (Quercus), is the result of five years of research by more than a hundred researchers around the globe.

“[T]hey are found in nearly every ecosystem on Earth: from deserts to coastal shores and lowlands, from high mountain tops to river valleys, cloud forests, alluvial plains, prairie grasslands, and tropical jungles,” Béatrice Chassé, editor of International Oaks, writes in the introduction to the report. “And yet, in spite of their extraordinary evolutionary and ecological success that spans fifty-six million years, today many of them have dubious futures.”

The researchers found that, under the IUCN Red List criteria, 32 species of oaks are critically endangered, 57 species are endangered, and 23 are vulnerable to extinction. The highest number of oak species under threat are found in China, Mexico, Vietnam, and the United States, respectively. China, with more than 13% of its natural forests covered in oak, has the highest proportion of imperiled species.

Globally, agriculture poses the biggest threat to oaks. As land is cleared to make way for farms and cattle pasture, forests are lost as collateral damage. Acorns, the seeds of oaks, are valued for their high nutrition and sometimes used for cattle and pig feed, leaving few to regenerate into trees. Urban development, climate change, invasive species, plant diseases, and human disturbance have also strained oaks globally.

The conversion of oak wood into charcoal for cooking is also a major threat to oak species in Latin America, including Mexico, home to the highest number of endemic oaks.

Assessing the conservation status of all plant species by 2020 was one of the 16 targets laid out in the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, created and adopted by the U.N. and other intergovernmental agencies. These targets, as well as the Aichi Targets, a set of larger biodiversity goals set by the Convention on Biological Diversity, have not been met.

The Global Tree Assessment, coordinated by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) has spearheaded much of the effort to appraise and report on the conservation status of tree species. The work of The Morton Arboretum and its collaborators to assess the state of oaks contributes to these larger biodiversity initiatives and is an important step toward understanding how and where to protect oaks.

“More than 2,300 species of bird, mosses, fungi, insects, lichens and mammals are recorded as using native oaks for food and shelter in the U.K., and the same will be true for the 113 species of oak now threatened with extinction,” Paul Smith, secretary-general of BGCI, said in a statement. “The loss of just one of these tree species has catastrophic consequences for hundreds of other species.”

In general, oaks are difficult to conserve because their seeds cannot be stored in seed banks, Murphy Westwood, director of global tree conservation at The Morton Arboretum, told Mongabay. Seeds must be dried for long-term storage, and acorns, the large seeds of oaks, do not survive this drying process. Therefore, it is up to botanical gardens and grassroots organizations to maintain a “living genebank,” keeping hundreds of species alive in different locations around the world. This mammoth effort is being coordinated by BGCI under the Global Conservation Consortium for Oak (GCCO).

Many of the threats to oaks, and to all species on Earth, must be tackled with “transformative systemic change across the world, across sectors, across industries and across governments,” Westwood said, “but that shouldn’t overshadow the impact that small grassroots movements can have.”

Monitoring the oaks in your area, volunteering for conservation projects, donating to local conservation NGOs, and spreading awareness are all things that individuals can do. And in areas where oaks are used for charcoal, systems of selective harvesting or switching to more efficient fuels and stoves could relieve some of the pressure.

“So, for some of these species, there’s nothing we can do. They will go extinct,” Westwood said. “But there are certainly species, habitats, and regions where we still have time …We still have a chance and we’re doing what we can to make things happen …There are a lot of unsung heroes out there doing the work.”

Citation:

Carrero, C., Jerome, D., Beckman, E., Byrne, A., Coombes, A. J., Deng, M., … Westwood, M. (2020). The Red List of Oaks 2020. The Morton Arboretum. Lisle, IL.

Banner image:  An oak tree Tiergarten in Berlin by Staffan Cederborg via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Liz Kimbrough is a staff writer for Mongabay. 

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Harvard Law Today

Scientists and law professors urge Biden to pull unlawful Endangered Species Act rules

Group led by Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Program petitions the president to immediately rescind key policies that restrict the government’s consideration of harms from greenhouse gas emissions on protected animals

By HLS News Staff, February 12, 2021

More than two dozen leading scientists and law professors led by Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Program and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned President Joe Biden today to immediately rescind key policies that restrict the government’s consideration of harms from greenhouse gas emissions on animals such as the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act.

Prominent leaders including Michael E. Mann, Aradhna Tripati, Thomas E. Lovejoy, John D. Leshy, and Deborah A. Sivas urged Biden to revoke the rules to make good on his executive order pledge for the government to “deploy the full capacity of its agencies to combat the climate crisis.”

“Ignoring greenhouse gases leaves the government blindfolded in its effort to protect threatened species,” said signatory Dr. Stuart Pimm, a conservation scientist at Duke University. “If he’s serious about protecting wildlife threatened by the climate crisis, from the Pacific walrus to unique birds of the Florida Everglades, President Biden has to revoke these damaging rules.”

The policies at issue include the “Bernhardt Memorandum” restricting the consideration of greenhouse emissions under the Endangered Species Act, issued by the George W. Bush administration, and regulations issued by the Trump administration in 2019 to enshrine the harmful and illegal approach.

Agencies have relied on the policies to ignore the effects of greenhouse gases and climate change when deciding whether to protect species by listing them as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and when deciding whether their agency actions may harm listed species, as required by the law.

The Center’s climate science director, Dr. Shaye Wolf, pointed to the polar bear as an example of how the rules have weakened climate action.

“If not for these policies, the polar bear would have greater protection under the Endangered Species Act and agencies would have another mechanism to consider and reduce carbon emissions,” Wolf said. “Greenhouse gases are no different from mercury, pesticides or anything else that accumulates in the land, air or water and harms species. It’s simply ridiculous not to take them into account.”

While the Act bars any federal agency from “jeopardizing the continued existence” of any listed species or “adversely modifying” designated “critical habitat,” agencies have routinely ignored these requirements.

Under the Trump administration, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation admitted that rolling back the Obama administration clean car standards would lead to nearly 1 billion metric tons of additional greenhouse gas pollution through the end of the decade. Yet, they refused to examine the effect of that pollution on polar bears and other listed species.

“Given the evidence showing that climate change harms endangered and threatened species — and definitely hastens their demise — these policies are directly contrary to the purposes of the Endangered Species Act,” said Elizabeth MeLampy ’21, the Harvard Law student who took the lead in drafting the request. “As a law student preparing to practice animal and environmental law during the Earth’s sixth mass extinction, I’m counting on President Biden to use every tool to make sure our coral reefs, our songbirds, and all the other glorious creatures living on Earth are still around for the next generation.”

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Environment Maine

Fixing the Trump-era rollbacks to the Endangered Species Act

Out of the gates, here’s what President Biden did for America’s wildlife

2/11/2021 | Alex Petersen Conservation America Campaign, Advocate

Wildlife in the United States and around the globe is in peril. The UN biodiversity conference warns that one million species are at risk of extinction. There are 3 billion fewer birds in the skies in North American than in 1970, and scientists project that up to 30% of America’s wildlife species are at risk of extinction within decades.

The situation is dire, but on January 20th we got some good news.

On his first day, President Joe Biden signed a string of executive orders to roll back some of the previous administration’s worst attacks on the environment. In a move that may have been overshadowed by rejoining the Paris Climate accord and blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, Pres. Biden put up for review eight actions by the last administration that had scaled back the Endangered Species Act, which has for decades been one of our most effective environmental laws, with an incredible track record at preventing extinction.

If you want to dig deeper, here is a breakdown of each of those rollbacks:

  1. “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Revised Designation of Critical Habitat for the Northern Owl,” 86 Fed. Reg. 4820 (January 15, 2021).

This rule, finalized in the last week of the Trump administration, reduces critical habitat protections for northern spotted owls by 3.4 million acres — an area nearly the size of Connecticut. Critical habitat protections have been key to the conservation of the owls as well as old growth forests that northern spotted owls need to survive.

  1. “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Regulations for Designating Critical Habitat, 85 Fed. Reg. 82376 (December 18, 2020).

This rule mandates that the Fish and Wildlife Service consider the economic impacts and vaguely defined “community impacts” of protecting critical habitat in certain areas, based in part on the speculative valuation of industry experts. In other words, this rule essentially puts a thumb on the scale in favor of developers looking to block habitat protections for endangered species. And as the name suggests, critical habitat protections really are an essential part of why the Endangered Species Act works; species can only survive and thrive when they are in their habitat.

  1. “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Finding for the Monarch Butterfly,” 85 Fed. Reg. 81813 (December 17, 2020).

This rule, perplexingly, acknowledges that the status of monarch butterflies warrants listing under the Endangered Species Act, but finds that listing of the butterflies is “precluded by work on higher priority listing actions.” Basically, the former administration argued that it didn’t have the resources to protect these butterflies, even though the science merits their protection. Our take? Extinction is forever and the monarch needs protections quickly, as this butterfly species has seen a dramatic decline over the past several decades.

  1. “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Regulations for Listing Endangered and Threatened Species and Designating Critical Habitat,” 85 Fed. Reg. 81411 (December 16, 2020).

This rule redefines “critical habitat” so that protections will only exist for places where a species lives today or for areas that, if unchanged, could host the species. The shifting of this definition means that locations that could one day become habitat, or that could be restored to become a suitable habitat, wouldn’t be protected.

Many endangered species occupy only a tiny fraction of their former range and need much larger areas — often outside their current habitat — in order to survive and thrive in the long term. As the climate changes, it’s essential that we protect certain areas so species can shift their range in response. This rule will undermine those efforts.

  1. “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Eleven Species Not Warranted for Listing as Endangered or Threatened Species,” 85 Fed. Reg. 78029 (December 3, 2020).

This rule determined that it is not warranted at this time to list 11 species, including: the Doll’s daisy; Puget Oregonian; Rocky Mountain monkeyflower; southern white-tailed ptarmigan; tidewater amphipod; tufted puffin; Hamlin Valley pyrg; longitudinal gland pyrg; sub-globose snake pyrg; the Johnson Springs Wetland Complex population of relict dace; and the Clear Lake hitch. Some of these decisions not to list could be warranted due to species recovery. But Biden’s review will make sure that none of these species still need protection.

  1. “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removing the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) From the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife,” 85 Fed. Reg 69778 (November 3, 2020).

This rule delists the gray wolf from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, leaving their stewardship to the states. Once common throughout much of the lower 48 states, then nearly erased from all of them, gray wolves were an early success story for the Endangered Species Act. Thanks to reintroduction efforts in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s, there are now roughly 6,000 wolves in the continental U.S.

But when the wolves were delisted in 2011 in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan for a three-year window, an estimated 1,500 individuals from this keystone species were killed before protections were restored. To repeat this mistake would be devastating to the gray wolves in the lower 48.

  1. “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Regulations for Listing Species and Designating Critical Habitat,” 84 Fed. Reg. 45020 (August 27, 2019).

This new rule makes it easier to remove a species from Endangered Species Act protections. Additionally, it raises the standard for how imminent a risk must be for a species to qualify as a threatened species — an especially problematic change for species at risk of climate disruption. The rule mandates that the secretary of commerce or interior can only designate an unoccupied area as critical habitat if:

  1. a) protecting all areas currently occupied by the species would be insufficient
  2. b) the unoccupied area currently has biological features that are essential for the conservation of the species.

Essentially, this rule is a three-pronged attack on the ESA: it makes it harder for species to get protected, easier for those protections to be removed, and it waters down the value of those protections.

  1. “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Regulations for Interagency Cooperation,” 84 Fed. Reg. 44976 (August 27, 2019).

The Endangered Species Act requires that government agencies confer with the Departments of Interior or Department of Commerce if any agency action might harm a threatened or endangered species. This rule makes a number of technical changes that lessen the requirements for other agencies when consulting with DOI/DOC, and lowers the standard for what would be considered harmful. Basically, other government agencies don’t have to be as careful about avoiding harm to an endangered species.

There’s at least one other Trump rollback of the Endangered Species Act that needs to be fixed.

We are hopeful that the Biden administration will reinstate a longstanding policy that both Republican and Democratic administration’s had followed for decades before it was rescinded in 2019. The “blanket rule,” as some call it, mandates that when a species is newly classified as threatened, it automatically starts with the same protections dedicated to an endangered species, unless a review determines otherwise. Under Trump, this standard went away. The new process at best delays and at worst reduces protections for threatened species.

Undoing the last four years of attacks on the ESA is the first necessary step to fixing the biodiversity crisis. But we can’t stop there. Other conservation measures will be needed, but it’s good to see Pres. Biden’s strong start.

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CISION/PRWeb

Assemblymember Bonta Introduces AB 534 to Protect Endangered Sea Life

The Whale Entanglement Prevention Act would require ropeless crabbing gear by 2025, ensuring California’s leadership role in whale protection around the world.

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. (PRWEB) FEBRUARY 10, 2021

While California has long been a leader in wildlife conservation and sustainable fishing operations, our crabbing industry continues to use antiquated trapping gear that needlessly kills or injures endangered whales and sea turtles. These crabbing operations deploy pots or traps with vertical lines that frequently entangle whales and other marine life. That’s why today, Assemblymember Rob Bonta, along with cosponsors Social Compassion in Legislation and The Center for Biological Diversity have introduced AB 534, The Whale Entanglement Prevention Act. This bill will require the California Dungeness crabbing community, and other trap fisheries, to use ropeless gear by November 1, 2025, effectively making California a leader in whale protection.

“California is a global leader in technology and innovation, yet we continue to crab with archaic technology that puts our cherished marine wildlife at risk,” said Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland). “As we move into the future, we can have both productive crabbing operations and oceans that are safe for whales and sea turtles. Whale-safe ropeless crabbing gear is already available; now we’re just implementing a deadline that crabbers can work with to make the necessary transition. That’s why I’ve authored this vital bill, which reaffirms California’s commitment to ocean conservation and sustainable crabbing operations, while also making the state a leader in crabbing technology that can be exported and used around the world.”

“It is heartbreaking to see so many whale entanglements happening off the coast of California. I have been documenting the entanglement issue and the fight to save whales by advocating that ropeless gear be adopted by the state trap fisheries,” said Leah Sturgis, Vice President of Wildlife Protection, Social Compassion in Legislation. “It’s unbelievable that we have tolerated the loss of so much marine life, in particular the endangered pacific blue whale, of which there are only a few thousand left. So many lives could be saved with the use of this technology.”

Due to changing ocean conditions, entanglements in commercial and recreational crabbing are harming California’s marine life, including threatened and endangered whales and sea turtles. When a whale gets tangled in crabbing gear, it often drowns because it cannot reach the surface to breathe. Entanglements also cause these animals to suffer painful injuries or die lingering deaths when ropes wrap through their mouths or around their tails and flippers, cutting into their flesh and bones, and impairing their ability to feed or swim.

Following several years of record-breaking numbers of entanglements reported off California, the Department of Fish and Wildlife recently enacted regulations to reduce the number of endangered blue whales, humpback whales, and leatherback sea turtles getting entangled in commercial Dungeness crabbing gear. However, the regulations have not eliminated entanglement risk and rely heavily on constant data collection and analysis to inform the implementation of potential risk-reduction measures. This may only trigger management actions after entanglements occur and rely on closures—including delaying the start of the season or ending it early—as the primary way to reduce risk which creates uncertainty for crabbers about where and when they’ll be able to crab.

“Whales and other marine life have long been exploited by humans, nearing the point of extinction,” said Judie Mancuso, CEO and founder of Social Compassion in Legislation. “It’s time we prioritize and protect our most magnificent ocean creatures and put whale entanglements in the past.”

Ropeless gear (also known as “pop-up” or “buoyless” gear) is the only way to eliminate entanglement risk while permitting crabbing to continue. The gear allows traps on the seafloor to be remotely called to the surface and removes the static vertical lines in the water column that entangle whales, sea turtles, and other animals. Specifically, the ropeless system—either a stowed rope and buoy or a lift bag—sits on the seafloor attached to trap and contains an acoustic modem and GPS that records its location. When fishers return to that location, a signal from a second paired modem on their boat using high-frequency sound waves triggers the buoy or a lift bag to come to the surface. The traps can then be hauled up using traditional crabbing practices.

Various types of ropeless crabbing gear are currently being tested in Canada and on the East and West Coasts of the United States, and such gear is used in a lobster fishery in Australia. California, already a global center for technological innovation, has an opportunity to play a leading role in promoting gear that will save whales, sea turtles, and other animals here and around the world. Given the fatal impacts of entanglements on a variety of marine species and the economic harm closures can cause on commercial crabbers, requiring the use of ropeless gear in all trap and pot fisheries managed by California should be required as soon as possible.

“Deadly entanglements of whales and sea turtles is a serious problem with a simple solution: ropeless crabbing gear,” said Kristen Monsell, Oceans Legal Director, Center for Biological Diversity. “California has been plagued by a rising number of horrific whale entanglements in recent years. Now we can lead the way in helping the crabbing industry convert to more humane new technologies and nurture an innovative new industry.”

AB 534 is Authored by:

Assemblymember Rob Bonta represents the 18th Assembly District, which includes the cities of Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro and is the Assistant Majority Leader. For more information on Assemblywoman Rob Bonta, visit https://a18.asmdc.org/.

AB 534 is Cosponsored by:

Social Compassion in Legislation’s (SCIL) mission is to save and protect animals in the wild, on the farm, and in homes through public policy advocacy in California and beyond. SCIL works closely with legislators to sponsor compassionate legislation and steer regulations that affect animals, as well as fight legislation that does harm. The non-profit partners with other organizations aligned with their values to amplify a voice for the voiceless. To learn more about SCIL and current legislations, please visit https://socialcompassioninlegislation.org/.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. For more information, please visit https://biologicaldiversity.org/.

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Center for Biological Diversity

News Release, February 9, 2021

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Endangered Wildlife, Plants From Dangerous Soot

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to assess harm to endangered plants and animals when determining the national air pollution standard for soot.

This suit, which is the first of its kind, seeks to ensure that the EPA consults with agencies responsible for wildlife and plant protection to ensure its action does not drive any endangered species to extinction.

Soot, also known as fine particulate matter, is a known threat to imperiled wildlife. Research has linked it to harm in numerous endangered species, including whooping cranes, desert tortoises and small mammals like the critically imperiled Preble’s meadow jumping mouse. And yet despite its legal mandate to consider the impacts of agency actions on endangered species, the EPA refused to consider how soot might affect these species.

“The science is very clear that soot may cause devastating harm to vulnerable plants and animals,” said Robert Ukeiley, a senior attorney at the Center. “The EPA ignored the law when it failed to make sure soot in our air and water won’t drive endangered species to extinction, and we’re going to hold it accountable.”

Soot leads to acid rain and excess nitrogen in the soil. Even when this doesn’t directly harm animals, it can harm the plants they rely on, as could be the case for the Quino checkerspot butterfly.

Soot mainly comes from the mining, drilling and burning of coal, oil and methane gas. Because soot, which is less than 1/30th the size of a single human hair, does not normally exist in nature, animals have not evolved any protective measures against it. Transitioning away from fossil fuel use is the best way to end dangerous levels of soot in our skies, but the EPA’s standard for soot does not advance this change.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.

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The Wrap

Jane Goodall-Inspired Kids Series About Endangered Species Set at Apple TV+

Live-action/CGI blended series centers on a 10-year-old girl who idolizes the chimpanzee specialist

Reid Nakamura, February 8, 2021

Jane Goodall, the renowned primatologist and chimpanzee specialist, is the inspiration for a new kids series ordered by Apple TV+, the streamer announced Monday.

The series, titled “Jane,” centers on a 10-year-old girl named Jane Garcia. Its description from Apple TV+ reads: “Through pretend play, Jane and her trusty teammates work to protect an endangered animal in each mission-driven episode because, according to her idol, ‘Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help, can they be saved.’”

According to Apple, “Jane” will blend live-action and CGI elements.

The series hails from creator J.J. Johnson and Sinking Ship Entertainment, the company behind kids series like “Odd Squad,” “Dino Dan” and Apple’s recent “Ghostwriter” reboot. The Jane Goodall Institute also executive produces.

“Television programs that enrich and inspire, as well as entertain, can give children hope and motivate them and their families,” Goodall said in a statement. “That’s why I’m thrilled that Apple TV+ and Sinking Ship Entertainment will work with the Jane Goodall Institute to develop a new children’s program that will do just that.”

“Jane” joins a growing kids’ programming slate at Apple TV+, which includes projects like “Ghostwriter,” “Helpsters” and “The Snoopy Show,” as well as the upcoming “Fraggle Rock” and “Harriet the Spy” series.

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BBC News

Whale threats from fishing gear ‘underestimated’

By Helen Briggs, BBC Environment correspondent, Feb. 8, 2021

The risk that whales can get entangled in fishing nets appears to have been underestimated, according to a new study.

As many as 60% of blue whales in Canada’s Gulf of St Lawrence have come into contact with fishing ropes and nets, based on scarring seen on photographs snapped by drones.

Entanglement rates were similar in another ocean giant, the fin whale.

Whales can suffocate or starve after getting tied up in fishing gear.

An estimated 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises a year die after being injured in nets or lines designed to target other species.

Reports of very large whales getting trapped in fishing gear are rare compared with smaller species, leading to the assumption that they aren’t as much at risk.

But a new study, led by experts at the University of St Andrews, Fife, casts doubt on this idea.

The researchers analysed images taken by drones of blue and fin whales in Canada’s Gulf of St Lawrence – an important summer feeding ground for whales.

Scars on the tails of the whales suggest that 60% of blue whales studied and about half of fin whales had been entangled in nets at some point in their life.

The researchers say more data is needed to assess the risks, as deaths from entanglement could tip some whale populations into decline.

“These results will require a review of every recovery plan and strategy in which, so far, fishing was not listed as a significant threat for these two species,” said Dr Christian Ramp of the University of St Andrews.

In right and humpback whales, between 60% and 80% of the mammals have been entangled at least once in their lifetime.

For the larger whales, like blue and fin, it had been previously assumed that this number was only around one in 10, because they are stronger and live further offshore, away from fishing fleets.

Using drones, the team observed that at least 55% of the fin whales had scars from entanglement, and the range for the blue whales was similarly high at 40-60%.

The research is published in the journal Endangered Species Research.

Whales face myriad threats from human actions, including plastic pollution, loss of habitat and prey, climate change and collisions with ships.

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New York Times

In the Oceans, the Volume Is Rising as Never Before

A new review of the scientific literature confirms that anthropogenic noise is becoming unbearable for undersea life.

By Sabrina Imbler, Published Feb. 4, 2021, Updated Feb. 8, 2021

Although clown fish are conceived on coral reefs, they spend the first part of their lives as larvae drifting in the open ocean. The fish are not yet orange, striped or even capable of swimming. They are still plankton, a term that comes from the Greek word for “wanderer,” and wander they do, drifting at the mercy of the currents in an oceanic rumspringa.

When the baby clown fish grow big enough to swim against the tide, they high-tail it home. The fish can’t see the reef, but they can hear its snapping, grunting, gurgling, popping and croaking. These noises make up the soundscape of a healthy reef, and larval fish rely on these soundscapes to find their way back to the reefs, where they will spend the rest of their lives — that is, if they can hear them.

But humans — and their ships, seismic surveys, air guns, pile drivers, dynamite fishing, drilling platforms, speedboats and even surfing — have made the ocean an unbearably noisy place for marine life, according to a sweeping review of the prevalence and intensity of the impacts of anthropogenic ocean noise published on Thursday in the journal Science. The paper, a collaboration among 25 authors from across the globe and various fields of marine acoustics, is the largest synthesis of evidence on the effects of oceanic noise pollution.

“They hit the nail on the head,” said Kerri Seger, a senior scientist at Applied Ocean Sciences who was not involved with the research. “By the third page, I was like, ‘I’m going to send this to my students.’”

Anthropogenic noise often drowns out the natural soundscapes, putting marine life under immense stress. In the case of baby clown fish, the noise can even doom them to wander the seas without direction, unable to find their way home.

“The cycle is broken,” said Carlos Duarte, a marine ecologist at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia and the lead author on the paper. “The soundtrack of home is now hard to hear, and in many cases has disappeared.”

Drowning out the signals

In the ocean, visual cues disappear after tens of yards, and chemical cues dissipate after hundreds of yards. But sound can travel thousands of miles and link animals across oceanic basins and in darkness, Dr. Duarte said. As a result, many marine species are impeccably adapted to detect and communicate with sound. Dolphins call one another by unique names. Toadfish hum. Bearded seals trill. Whales sing.

Scientists have been aware of underwater anthropogenic noise, and how far it propagates, for around a century, according to Christine Erbe, the director of the Center for Marine Science and Technology at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, and an author on the paper. But early research on how noise might affect marine life focused on how individual large animals responded to temporary noise sources, such as a whale taking a detour around oil rigs during its migration.

The new study maps out how underwater noise affects countless groups of marine life, including zooplankton and jellyfish. “The extent of the problem of noise pollution has only recently dawned on us,” Dr. Erbe wrote in an email.

The idea for the paper came to Dr. Duarte seven years ago. He had been aware of the importance of ocean sound for much of his long career as an ecologist, but he felt that the issue was not recognized on a global scale. Dr. Duarte found that the scientific community that focused on ocean soundscapes was relatively small and siloed, with marine mammal vocalizations in one corner, and underwater seismic activity, acoustic tomography and policymakers in other, distant corners. “We’ve all been on our little gold rushes,” said Steve Simpson, a marine biologist at the University of Exeter in England and an author on the paper.

Dr. Duarte wanted to bring together the various corners to synthesize all the evidence they had gathered into a single conversation; maybe something this grand would finally result in policy changes.

The authors screened more than 10,000 papers to ensure they captured every tendril of marine acoustics research from the past few decades, according to Dr. Simpson. Patterns quickly emerged demonstrating the detrimental effects that noise has on almost all marine life. “With all that research, you realize you know more than you think you know,” he said.

Dr. Simpson has studied underwater bioacoustics — how fish and marine invertebrates perceive their environment and communicate through sound — for 20 years. Out in the field, he became accustomed to waiting for a passing ship to rumble by before going back to work studying the fish. “I realized, ‘Oh wait, these fish experience ships coming by every day,’” he said.

Marine life can adapt to noise pollution by swimming, crawling or oozing away from it, which means some animals are more successful than others. Whales can learn to skirt busy shipping lanes and fish can dodge the thrum of an approaching fishing vessel, but benthic creatures like slow-moving sea cucumbers have little recourse.

If the noise settles in more permanently, some animals simply leave for good. When acoustic harassment devices were installed to deter seals from preying on salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago in British Columbia, killer whale populations declined significantly until the devices were removed, according to a 2002 study.

These forced evacuations reduce population sizes as more animals give up territory and compete for the same pools of resources. And certain species that are bound to limited biogeographic ranges, such as the endangered Maui dolphin, have nowhere else to go. “Animals can’t avoid the sound because it’s everywhere,” Dr. Duarte said.

Even temporary sounds can cause chronic hearing damage in the sea creatures unlucky enough to be caught in the acoustic wake. Both fish and marine mammals have hair cells, sensory receptors for hearing. Fish can regrow these cells, but marine mammals probably cannot.

Luckily, unlike greenhouse gases or chemicals, sound is a relatively controllable pollutant. “Noise is about the easiest problem to solve in the ocean,” Dr. Simpson said. “We know exactly what causes noise, we know where it is, and we know how to stop it.”

In search of quiet

Many solutions to anthropogenic noise pollution already exist, and are even quite simple. “Slow down, move the shipping lane, avoid sensitive areas, change propellers,” Dr. Simpson said. Many ships rely on propellers that cause a great deal of cavitation: Tiny bubbles form around the propeller blade and produce a horrible screeching noise. But quieter designs exist, or are in the works.

“Propeller design is a very fast-moving technological space,” Dr. Simpson said. Other innovations include bubble curtains, which can wrap around a pile driver and insulate the sound.

The researchers also flagged deep-sea mining as an emergent industry that could become a major source of underwater noise, and suggested that new technologies could be designed to minimize sound before commercial mining starts.

The authors hope the review connects with policymakers, who have historically ignored noise as a significant anthropogenic stressor on marine life. The United Nations Law of the Sea B.B.N.J. agreement, a document that manages biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, does not mention noise among its list of cumulative impacts.

The U.N.’s 14th sustainable development goal, which focuses on underwater life, does not explicitly mention noise, according to Dr. Seger of Applied Ocean Sciences. “The U.N. had an ocean noise week where they sat down and listened to it and then went on to another topic,” she said.

The paper in Science went through three rounds of editing, the last of which occurred after Covid-19 had created many unplanned experiments: Shipping activity slowed down, the oceans fell relatively silent, and marine mammals and sharks returned to previously noisy waterways where they were rarely seen. “Recovery can be almost immediate,” Dr. Duarte said.

Alive with sound

A healthy ocean is not a silent ocean — hail crackling into white-crested waves, glaciers thudding into water, gases burbling from hydrothermal vents, and countless creatures chittering, rasping and singing are all signs of a normal environment. One of the 20 authors on the paper is the multimedia artist Jana Winderen, who created a six-minute audio track that shifts from a healthy ocean — the calls of bearded seals, snapping crustaceans and rain — to a disturbed ocean, with motorboats and pile driving.

A year ago, while studying invasive species in sea grass meadows in waters near Greece, Dr. Duarte was just about to come up for air when he heard a horrendous rumble above him: “a huge warship on top of me, going at full speed.” He stayed glued to the seafloor until the navy vessel passed, careful to slow down his breathing and not deplete his tank. Around 10 minutes later, the sound ebbed and Dr. Duarte was able to come up safely for air. “I have sympathy for these creatures,” he said.

When warships and other anthropogenic noises cease, sea grass meadows have a soundscape entirely their own. In the daytime, the photosynthesizing meadows generate tiny bubbles of oxygen that wobble up the water column, growing until they burst. All together, the bubble blasts make a scintillating sound like many little bells, beckoning larval fish to come home.

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The Hindu

Bolivia probes deaths of 35 endangered condors

February 8, 2021

Bolivian environmental authorities on Sunday announced an investigation into the apparent poisoning of 35 Andean condors in a rural community, one of the most devastating such cases for the endangered species.

“It is an irreparable injury to our nature and the species,” the environment and water ministry said.

Deputy environment minister Magin Herrera confirmed 35 dead condors had been discovered in the rural community of Laderas Norte, in the southern department of Tarija.

This loss is extremely serious, because we are talking about condors that could represent 0.5 percent of the world’s condor population,” said Diego Mendez, a biologist linked to a raptor research program, according to the news site Pagina Siete.

The massive Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), which calls the South American mountain range home, has a 3.5-meter (11.5-foot) wingspan, making it one of the largest flying birds.

Globally, there are some 6,700 condors but numbers are declining. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the condor as “near threatened” on its watch list.

Authorities believe the birds were poisoned, possibly several days ago, though it is not clear if the species had been targeted.

“There is a probability of poisoning directed at them or other animals, but since condors are scavengers, they still succumb,” Mendez said.

This is the largest case of its kind known in Bolivia and against an endangered species.

“We condemn the act, we want it to be investigated. It is an act that hurts us. In this department, condors live and coexist with the (rural) communities without any problem,” Tarija governor Adrian Oliva told reporters.

(The case was initially reported via social media.)

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Edhat Santa Barbara

REP. CARBAJAL URGES PROTECTION OF MONARCH BUTTERFLIES

Source: Office of Rep. Carbajal, February 7, 2021

[Last week], Rep. Salud Carbajal, Rep. Jimmy Panetta, and Sen. Jeff Merkley wrote to the Principal Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expressing concern with the recent decision to forego listing the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act and urging substantial investments in monarch conservation efforts so this crucial pollinator does not go extinct before protections are in place.

This monarch butterfly faces growing threats from the loss of milkweed and habitat, global climate change, and disease. The most recent population count for monarch butterflies shows a 99.9% decline in population for monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains, which overwinter in California. Just two decades ago, roughly 1.2 million monarchs overwintered in California. This year, that number is down to 1,914. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service itself estimates that there is a 96-100% probability that the population of western monarch butterflies will collapse within 50 years.

On December 17, 2020 the Service announced that listing the monarch as endangered or threatened was warranted but was precluded by higher priority species. This decision effectively puts the monarch butterfly on a waiting list but denies the species immediate protection. Some species have been on the waiting list for decades and, in fact, 47 species have gone extinct while waiting for their protection to be finalized.

“If the monarch’s precipitous decline continues, the Service must make prompt use of its emergency listing procedure to ensure its survival,” the lawmakers wrote. “To ensure the monarch does not become the 48th species to go extinct while on the candidate list, we urge the Service to make substantial investments in bold conservation actions that not only prevent the butterfly from further decline but also ensure long-term population stability.”

The letter garnered support from 43 conservation organizations, including the Center for Biological Diversity.

“We’re so grateful for the leadership of Reps. Carbajal and Panetta and Senator Merkley, who recognize that time is running out for America’s most iconic butterfly,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Monarchs can no longer afford inaction. Without emergency help, these beautiful orange and black butterflies are on a sure path toward extinction. We need to be doing everything we can to save them and fight the extinction crisis. This letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes that urgency.”

Groups who have endorsed the letter:

Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Welfare Institute, Asheville Alternatives to Pesticides, Beyond Pesticides, Born Free USA, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Conservation Council For Hawaii, Conservation Northwest, Earthjustice, Endangered Species Coalition, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, Environmental Center of San Diego, Environmental Protection Information Center, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf & Wildlife, Gaviota Coast Conservancy, Great Lakes Wildlife Alliance, Heartwood, International Marine, Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute, Juniata Valley Audubon Society, Kansas Rural Center, Klamath Forest Alliance, LEAD for Pollinators, Inc., Maine Audubon, Maryland Pesticide Education Network, Mass Audubon, Natural Resources Defense Council, New Hampshire Audubon, Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, NY4WHALES, Oceanic Preservation Society, Pelican Island Audubon Society, Pesticide Action Network, Resource Renewal Institute, Save Our Allegheny Ridges, Toxic Free North Carolina, Turtle Island Restoration Network, UNI Center for Energy & Environmental Education, Western Watersheds Project, Wild Farm Alliance, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

(Rep. Salud Carbajal represents California’s 24th congressional district, encompassing Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and part of Ventura County.)

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Marin Independent Journal (San Rafael, CA)

Marin County endangered salmon runs concern surveyors

By WILL HOUSTON, February 6, 2021

Marin County’s endangered coho salmon made the best of what is shaping up to be another record dry year for California.

While an average-sized run returned to Lagunitas Creek this winter to spawn and lay their eggs, it wasn’t a run that thrilled researchers and surveyors.

“It was about what we expected,” said Eric Ettlinger, a Marin Municipal Water District aquatic ecologist. “I wouldn’t describe it as a pleasant surprise.”

But the 152 coho salmon egg nests, known as redds, found in Lagunitas Creek and its tributaries this season is a significant improvement from the disastrous run from the prior year, when only 44 redds were found.

Lagunitas Creek, which runs from its headwaters on Mount Tamalpais and flows into Tomales Bay, hosts the largest remaining population of coho salmon from the northern end of Monterey Bay to Mendocino County. Listed as a federally endangered species, coho salmon have dwindled primarily from habitat loss caused by land-use changes and development that caused creeks to fill in with sediment and tributaries to be blocked by dams.

A federal recovery target seeks to restore the run size to more than 1,600 redds for three consecutive years. But in 25 years of monitoring, the counts have never reached half that amount.

Still, this year’s run of spawners returning to Lagunitas Creek was larger than their parent generation, Ettlinger said. Coho salmon have a three-year life cycle. After hatching, the young salmon rear in freshwater for about 18 months to fatten up and grow before swimming out to the ocean as smolts. About another year and a half will pass before the salmon return to the same creek they were born in to spawn and then die.

Most of the salmon egg nests were laid in the main stem of Lagunitas Creek because the lack of rain did not allow much passage into tributaries such as San Geronimo Creek and Devil’s Gulch.

“In the summer all of the juvenile fish are going to be kind of crowded in Lagunitas Creek and there will be very few anywhere else in the watershed,” Ettlinger said.

There is a risk to having all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak, especially with two months remaining in the rainy season. While many are hopeful for a good dousing of rain, a heavy storm poses a danger to salmon eggs and young salmon that hatch. Strong, swift currents resulting from a downpour can scour the creekbed and wash away the nests and young rearing fish.

At the same time, spawners looking for prime spots for their nests might dig up nests that were already laid in the gravel, Ettlinger said.

In recent years, groups such as the Olema-based Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, or SPAWN, have been working to restore lost floodplains that once existed along the creek. These floodplains and channels give salmon a refuge from the swift, deadly current and offer hiding places from predators.

Along San Geronimo Creek where much of this restoration work has been completed, only 13 redds were found as of Friday. Todd Steiner, executive director of SPAWN, said there was not enough rain to allow many fish passage up the Inkwells waterfalls at the confluence of San Geronimo and Lagunitas creeks near the Leo Cronin Fish Viewing Area.

“It’s incredible how little rain we have even after these weeks of big storms and over 3 inches of rain,” Steiner said. “The creeks have gone down back down to almost summertime levels. The question is, what happens now? We need the rain but we don’t want it to fall all at once, and there is hardly any in the forecast.”

More fish rearing in Lagunitas Creek will have the benefit of dam water releases to sustain flows, which are not possible on San Geronimo Creek. However, if the dry conditions continue, the water district can consider tapering down its flow releases to conserve enough water.

The situation for coho salmon on Redwood Creek farther south is even worse. Only one redd and one adult female coho were found on the creek by surveyors with the National Park Service as of last week — a “dismal” finding, said park service fishery biologist Mike Reichmuth.

“We estimated around 3,000 coho smolts left Redwood Creek during the spring of 2019 so I would have expected to see around 50 coho returning, and instead it is looking like we have less than a 1% return rate,” he said. “As we get further into February it is less likely that Redwood Creek will see any additional coho return this season.”

Redwood Creek has not had a strong showing of returning spawners in recent years. In some years, surveyors found no salmon eggs at all. The park has been conducting several large-scale restoration projects along the creek to improve coho spawning and survival.

Additionally, the federal government stopped releasing hatchery salmon into Redwood Creek that had been used in an effort to recover the run.

Now attention is on the runs of threatened steelhead trout making their way into the tributaries.

“We believe the coho run is over for the year,” Steiner said. “There may have been a few stragglers that came up on this last series of rain. No personal sightings of that, but steelhead are definitely in the system.”

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Express (London)

Whale discovered stranded on Florida coast is new species and already endangered

By TOM FISH, Feb. 5, 2021

WHALE watchers have discovered a new species of the leviathan, after one of the mysterious beasts was found washed-up on the Gulf of Mexico shore.

The species of baleen whale, called Rice’s whale, has been classified – however, the category of creature is already thought to be threatened with extinction. A 38ft-long (11.5m) whale was found washed ashore in the Florida Everglades almost two years ago, but has only now been confirmed to be a distinct and – worryingly – endangered species.

When the behemoth’s dead body washed-up — underweight with a piece of plastic wedged in its gut — experts immediately suspected it was a subspecies of the Bryde’s whale.

This is a baleen whale species of a group including humpback and blue whales – a subspecies known as Rice’s whale.

However, following genetic analysis of other Rice’s whales along with an examination of the skull from the Everglades whale, researchers understand the Rice’s whale is actually an entirely new species roaming the Gulf of Mexico.

Experts have now warned there are fewer than 100 of the newly-discovered whale left in existence.

A statement on the NOAA Fisheries site said: “The new species retains its protected status under the Endangered Species Act as it was previously listed as an endangered subspecies (Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale).

“It is also protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“To date, there are fewer than 100 of these whales remaining, making them critically endangered.”

The researchers concluded the whales they spotted were evidence “of an un-described species of Balaenoptera from the Gulf of Mexico”, after examining records of the Bryde’s whale in the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean.

The lead study author Dr Patricia Rosel and co-author, Dr Lynsey Wilcox, of Southeast Fisheries Science Center, actually first completed the genetic tests on these whales in 2008.

At this time, they found the Rice’s whale’s skull was different than Bryde’s whales.

Rice’s whales are known recognised as having slightly differently proportions to Bryde’s whales.

Dr Rosel said: “The size and shape of the skull is similar to the other members of the Bryde’s whale complex.

“The distinguishing characteristics are in the shape and orientations of several bones in the top of the skull that are located around the blowhole.”

They can weigh up to 60,000 pounds (27,21kg) and grow up to 42ft (12.8m) long, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Bryde’s whales, in comparison, have been known to grow more than of 5ft (15.2m) and weigh more than 55,000 pounds (24,947kg).

Dr Rosel and her colleagues think the whales in the new species can live approximately 60 years.

However, because so few remain in existence, researchers require further observation of the creatures to confirm their life expectancy.

Last year, Dr Rosel worked with Dr Tadasu Yamada, a scientist from the National Museum of Nature and Science in Japan.

They were together able to make a closer examination of the type specimen of the whale at the Smithsonian and identify differences that distinguish it from other whale species.

Genetic data provided “a second line of evidence” supporting the species’ uniqueness.

The whales now likely face significant manmade threats to their existence.

These can range from oil spills, ocean debris, vessel strikes and the possibility of becoming trapped in fishing gear.

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Reuters

China adds more than 500 species to wildlife protection list

By Reuters Staff, February 5, 2021

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China has added 517 species to its list of major protected wild animals, part of its campaign in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to end the wild animal trade and destruction of habitats.

A joint statement on Friday by the forestry and agriculture ministries said adjusting the list had become “extremely urgent” because of recent changes in China’s wildlife situation. A total of 980 wild animals are now under state protection.

The ministries promised to work with local governments to identify and protect the habitats of the animals added to the list, which include the endangered large-spotted civet and several species of birds that have dwindled in number in recent years.

Those who hunt and traffic the animals face fines and even custodial sentences for “level one” protected species, such as the critically endangered panda, pangolin and Yangtze finless porpoise.

China has been trying to crack down on the wildlife trade since January 2020, after the first cases of COVID-19 were linked to a seafood market in the central city of Wuhan that was known to sell exotic animal species.

Scientists speculate that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could have crossed into humans from bats through an intermediary species, with pangolins often identified as a potential candidate.

China has also promised to step up efforts to protect forests and wetlands, and to seal off nature reserves behind “ecological protection red lines” in a bid to reduce human exposure to virus spillovers.

China’s parliament announced plans to implement a permanent nationwide ban on wildlife trade and trafficking in February, though it left big loopholes for the captive breeding of animals traded for fur or used in traditional Chinese medicine.

In the first nine months of 2020, China prosecuted more than 15,000 people for wildlife crimes, up 66% from the same period a year earlier, state prosecutors said.

(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by William Mallard)

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The Daytona Beach News-Journal

13 right whale mom-calf pairs spotted this year, including 4 pairs in Volusia-Flagler

Abigail Mercer, February 4, 2021

Thirteen North Atlantic right whale mother-calf pairs have been spotted of the southeast Atlantic Ocean coast this season — offering a glimmer of hope for the animals, after recent years of lower births.

Nine of those pairs were spotted off Florida’s coast, including four pairs spotted off Volusia and Flagler counties. Researchers say they are thrilled. Years of low birthing numbers have been a great cause for concern for the species, as estimates suggest there could be as few as 360 right whales left.

Ralph Bundy, a co-researcher and drone pilot with the Marineland Right Whale Project, said many of the spotted whales were seen because of a predominantly westerly wind, which smooths the ocean surface and makes it easier for people to view them from the shoreline.

“We don’t really have a good understanding of why some years are better than others,” he said. “Maybe the population is healthier, or less threatened if you will. Critters don’t tend to repopulate if they’re stressed, or if the environment is harsh.”

Because female right whales consistently giving birth around every 10 years, the species has been dying faster than they can reproduce. In 2018, out of the roughly 100 females who are able to give birth, not a single calf was identified. In 2020, there were 10 births.

It’s a promising sign that 13 calves that have been born so far this year, Bundy said, especially since there are still two more months in the typical right whale calving season.

The critically endangered right whales travel in the winter from the Canadian and New England coasts to the Southeast to give birth to their calves, and then return north in the spring.

According to the Marineland Right Whale Project, there is documentation of right whales living more than 60 years. Adult right whales can grow to 46 feet long and weigh up to 150,000 pounds, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Local right whales

Last Wednesday, Bundy also spotted 8-year-old female right whale Pilgrim, alongside a 13-year-old male in Ormond-By-The-Sea. He said it’s very unusual for males to come down the coast during calving season, and although he’s not sure why it’s happening, it’s a good thing.

“Unfortunately the whales don’t talk to us, so we have to put things together ourselves,” he said. “I’ve never seen male-female pair. That’s another sign that things might be doing better.”

Nicknamed “Chiminea,” right whale #4040 and her calf were first spotted Dec. 20 off Flagler Beach. Since then, they’ve vacationed in the area, wandering through Palm Coast, Daytona Beach Shores, Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach and Canaveral National Seashore.

The pair was first spotted on Dec. 4 off Cumberland Island, Georgia, and the calf is 13-year-old Chiminea’s first.

It’s somewhat unusual for right whales to spend lengthy periods of time in the same general area. But while researchers were curious as to why the right whales remain off Volusia and Flagler County beaches, Julie Albert, right whale coordinator with the Marine Resources Council, said Chiminea and her calf seem to be in good health.

“Just because we don’t see it very often, doesn’t mean it’s not normal. It’s not common, but at the same time, we’ve kept tabs on her every single day for two weeks. There’s no evidence that she’s injured, all their behaviors are normal,” Albert said in an early January interview. “There’s really no reason for us to worry about anything.”

Aside from Chiminea, a right whale nicknamed “Millipede” and her calf were spotted in Ponce Inlet Dec. 10.

“All of the calves look quite good now,” Bundy said. “I watched Chiminea and her calf a little bit ago. She’s got a lot of scarring, but the calf looked very vigorous. All of them are active and fat, if you will, which is a good thing.”

Right whale dangers

Chiminea has evidence of becoming entangled in fishing lines or being hit by a boat, Bundy said. After flying his drone over the whale and her calf, he said there were clear markings on the thin part of her tail that leads up to her fluke.

Scarring on right whales from boat strikes or entanglements, unfortunately, are common. Interaction with humans is the single largest threat to the endangered species. Fishing gear entanglement and boat strikes are the greatest hazards for the creatures. Right whale advocates are working to educate fishermen on methods like using ropeless fishing gear, Bundy said.

“We’re really just trying to get out there and talk to people about these options. Entanglement is so dangerous,” he said. “Advocacy for these animals is important, and right now, that’s where we’re focusing.”

It’s illegal for anyone to be within 500 yards of a right whale in any direction, including drones in the air, on a boat, or even on a paddleboard, according to NOAA. This is partly because the whales spend the majority of their time at or a few feet below the surface of the water, leaving them more susceptible to human interference.

Albert said that human presence can alter a right whale’s mood. They get stressed out, just like humans do. If anyone sees what they think is a right whale, they should call the Marine Resources Council right whale hotline at 888-979-4253.

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FOX 40

New pair of wolves spotted in Northern California

by: Associated Press, Posted: Feb. 3, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A male wolf collared by Oregon wildlife officials last year has been spotted in Northern California with another wolf, likely a female with whom he is likely to start a new pack, a California wildlife official said.

Kent Laudon, California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s wolf specialist, said Tuesday OR-85 was spotted in December along with a companion by a game camera in Siskiyou County.

“We’re pretty sure it’s a female that has been traveling all over the place with the collared male wolf, and they seem to be establishing a territory,” Laudon said.

Biologists will collect samples of the uncollared wolf’s fur, feces and urine to determine its original pack. OR-85, a black-furred wolf, is from Oregon’s Mt. Emily Pack and was collared there last February. He entered Modoc County, on the border with Oregon, on November 3.

If the wolves are able to start a new family, it will be only the third known pack spotted in Northern California since the species went extinct there in 1924.

The Lassen Pack was first spotted in 2017 in Lassen County in northeastern California. A pack of seven wolves was seen in Shasta County in 2015 but vanished within a year. The animals are presumed dead.

Gray wolves were eradicated in California early in the last century because of their perceived threat to livestock. Their reappearance in the state has riled ranchers, who say wolves have preyed on their livestock on public or private land.

Wolves are protected under California’s Endangered Species Act. Trump administration officials in November stripped Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in most of the U.S., ending longstanding federal safeguards and putting states and tribes in charge of overseeing the predators.

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The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)

Democrats urge investigation into removal of owl protections

By Sara Cline, Associated Press/Report for America

PORTLAND, ORE./February 03, 2021

Eight Democratic lawmakers called Tuesday for an investigation into “potential scientific meddling” by the Trump administration in its rule to remove critical habitat protections for the imperiled northern spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest.

The group of federal lawmakers, led by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, says former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt “appeared to unilaterally act” on his way out of office to remove millions of acres of protected habitat designated for the owl.

“In less than two brief years under David Bernhardt’s leadership, the department has been mired in one ethical scandal after another,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Interior Department Inspector General Mark Greenblatt seeking a review.

“Bernhardt and his loyalists have demonstrated a willingness to insert themselves into the scientific process in order to achieve preferred policy outcomes, withhold information from the public, and even mislead Congress,” the letter said.

In mid-January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under then-President Donald Trump announced it would remove 3.4 million acres (1.4 million hectares) in Oregon, Washington state and Northern California from federal protections.

The lawmakers called that decision “as bewildering as it is damaging.” Fish and Wildlife, which is overseen by the Interior Department, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the letter.

Environmentalists accused Fish and Wildlife of taking a parting shot at protections designed to help restore the owl in favor of the timber industry. The tiny owl is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and was rejected for an upgrade to endangered status last year by the agency despite losing nearly 4% of its population annually.

Timber groups applauded the decision. Loss of the ability to log in areas protected for the spotted owl has devastated rural communities, experts say.

“While the Biden administration has taken actions to mitigate the effects of this rule, we ask that you quickly review this decision and to determine whether USFWS contradicted or ignored scientific recommendations made by career staff,” lawmakers wrote to the inspector general.

The northern spotted owl, which prefers to nest in old-growth forests, received federal protections in 1990 — a listing that dramatically redrew the economic landscape for the Pacific Northwest timber industry and launched a decadeslong battle between environmentalists and loggers. Old-growth Douglas firs, many 100 to 200 years old, that are preferred by the owl are also of great value to loggers.

After the owl got protections, U.S. officials halted logging on millions of acres of old-growth forests on federal lands to protect the bird’s habitat. But the population kept declining. It faces another threat: competition from the barred owl.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has since said the northern spotted owl warrants the more robust “endangered” status because of continued population declines but refused to grant it last year, saying other species took higher priority.

Joining Wyden in the request for an inspector general’s review were U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Patty Murray of Washington as well as U.S. Reps. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Jared Huffman of California.

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Center for Biological Diversity

February 3, 2021 Release

Biden Administration Urged to Reverse Trump Failures on Foreign Wildlife Protections

13 Birds, 5 Butterflies, Clam Awaiting Urgently Needed Safeguards

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice today urging the Biden administration to protect 19 imperiled species found outside U.S. borders. The animals include a beautiful Brazilian butterfly and a woodpecker threatened by U.S. jungle warfare training activities in Okinawa.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has acknowledged that all 19 species warrant Endangered Species Act safeguards, but the Trump administration deemed protections “precluded” by other work. That other work included listing only eight foreign species throughout the Trump administration’s four-year tenure. Yet the 19 species and many other foreign species are awaiting decisions from the Service.

Among the 19 animals, 13 birds await protection; some have been on the Service’s “candidate” wait-list for almost 35 years. The birds include Japan’s Okinawa woodpecker, the black-backed tanager of Brazil and the yellow-browed toucanet of Peru. Five butterflies, including Brazil’s Fluminense swallowtail, and the Colorado Delta clam from Mexico are also wait-listed.

“The Biden administration’s bold early actions are already demonstrating a commitment to the environment, so we’re hoping these imperiled animals get prompt consideration,” said Sarah Uhlemann, International Program director and an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “As we suffer a heart-breaking extinction crisis, U.S. leadership can help save wildlife around the world. The Biden administration can reverse the Trump administration’s dismal record and protect these and other deserving creatures now, before it’s too late.”

Scientists predict the world will lose a million species in coming decades without urgent and transformative action to combat habitat loss, over-exploitation and other threats. There are more than 600 foreign species covered by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The Act protects endangered species by banning their import and sale, increasing awareness and sometimes providing financial assistance.

Species Backgrounds

Okinawa woodpecker: Found only on the island of Okinawa in Japan, this woodpecker is one of the world’s rarest birds, with an estimated population of only 50-249 mature individuals. The species relies on old-growth forests, including forests located within the U.S. Marine Corps’ Jungle Warfare Training Center on Okinawa. Scientists requested the Okinawa woodpecker’s protection in 1980, and the Service deemed listing “warranted” in 1984. Yet the woodpecker has lingered on the “warranted but precluded” list for almost 35 years.

Fluminense swallowtail: This beautiful butterfly has a tiny range near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Its coastal swamp habitat is threatened by the draining of swamps for development and agricultural conversion. The species has also been found in the insect curio trade, a market that is notoriously hard to monitor. The Fish and Wildlife Service received a petition to list the swallowtail in 1994 but has not yet proposed protections.

Colorado Delta clam: Once abundant in the Colorado River estuary in Mexico’s Gulf of California, the Colorado Delta clam has undergone massive declines because of drastically reduced Colorado River flows from the United States. It has been awaiting protection since 2013.

Black-backed tanager: This colorful bird with a turquoise breast and reddish head inhabits Brazil. Its rapid decline is likely due to habitat loss and fragmentation. It has also been found in the illegal cage-bird trade. The black-backed tanager has been wait-listed for protection since 1994.

Kaiser-i-Hind swallowtail: Inhabiting high-altitude Himalayan regions of Bhutan, China and India as well as Vietnam and Thailand, this rare butterfly is orange and iridescent green. It suffers from habitat destruction and is collected for the commercial trade, where it is highly valued. The Kaiser-i-Hind swallowtail has been on the candidate wait-list since 1994.

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Yahoo Singapore News

AI could help us identify endangered species

February 1, 2021

British scientists have just unveiled a new tool for identifying and monitoring endangered wildlife around the world. It currently consists of an artificial intelligence system to count elephants in Africa based on satellite photos.

This technology combines satellite imagery with artificial intelligence to recognize and count elephants moving through Africa’s forests and grasslands.

The first tests involve animals living in southern Africa and use images from the WorldView-3 and WorldView-4 satellites. It should be noted that this type of satellite can produce more than 5,000 sq km of images with unparalleled precision in a matter of minutes.

Elephants were chosen for these initial tests due to the fact that they are the largest land animal in the world, and therefore in theory the easiest to spot. The aim of this method is to be even more precise than the census carried out by humans, generally by low altitude planes or helicopters, but above all to do so without having to approach the animals and therefore without disturbing them in their natural environment. This technology also has no borders and can therefore follow the animals even when they move from one country to another, which is more problematic on land.

Regular monitoring is fundamental to the efforts of saving a species, the aim being to be able to map populations and anticipate their evolution. According to those in charge of this research program, the first results match up with human detection capabilities, which therefore opens up tremendous prospects in other parts of the world, where endangered species are much less monitored.

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Center for Biological Diversity

News Release—February 1, 2021

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for American Bumblebee

President Biden Urged to Prevent Extinction of Once-common Bumblebee Devastated by Habitat Loss, Pesticides, Disease

WASHINGTON— Conservation groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to grant Endangered Species Act protection to the American bumblebee.

The petition was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Bombus Pollinator Association of Law Students of Albany Law School.

Once among the nation’s most commonly observed bumblebees from coast to coast, the bee has declined by an estimated 89% in just the past 20 years.

“We’re asking President Biden to be the hero that steps up and saves the American bumblebee from extinction,” said Jess Tyler, an entomologist and staff scientist at the Center. “It’s unthinkable that we would carelessly allow this fuzzy, black-and-yellow beauty to disappear forever.”

The highly adaptable forager was once a common sight across grasslands, fields and open spaces in 47 of the lower 48 states. But habitat loss, pesticides, disease, climate change and competition from honeybees have contributed to the insect’s dramatic decline, including its disappearance from eight states.

The states that have seen some of the largest declines of the bee over the past two decades are the same states that have seen the largest increases in use of the neonicotinoid pesticides that are well documented to harm such pollinators.

In New York state, the American bumblebee has declined an estimated 99% from historic levels, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. In Illinois, where the bee once represented 1 in 4 bumblebee sightings, it has disappeared from the northern part of the state and, overall, is down an estimated 74% since 2004.

First described before the United States won its independence, American bumblebees are known by their distinctive black-and-yellow, furry color pattern. They’re social insects who live in colonies that can number in the hundreds, with workers and a single queen. They make their nests in pre-existing cavities like rodent burrows and rotten logs, or on the surface of the ground in large grass bunches.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re forced to call upon the Endangered Species Act to protect a species so fundamental to human and ecosystem health,” said Keith Hirokawa, a professor of law at Albany Law School. “It is our hope that the Biden administration grasps the gravity of this moment.”

The bee is a foraging generalist that provides essential pollination services to a wide variety of plants, native and cultivated, across its vast range. Its largest remaining populations are in the southern Great Plains and Southeast, but the bees are also found in southwestern deserts and historically as far north as North Dakota and Maine.

They can survive in a wide range of habitats, including urban areas. The loss of such a wide-ranging generalist would have considerable consequences for entire ecosystems and crop production.

“Pollinators such as the American bumblebee are essential if we intend to combat climate change successfully,” said Claire Burke, a student at Albany Law School. “Without Bombus pensylvanicus spanning 47 of the lower 48 states, vegetation at the heart of the food chain for animals and humans will be hard pressed to reproduce and survive.”

The species’ decline has been driven by multiple concurrent threats. Habitat loss and degradation are limiting nutrition from diverse pollen and nectar sources and weakening bumblebee immune systems. Pesticide use reduces survival and harms reproduction as well as immune systems, and weakened immune systems make the bees more susceptible to diseases that are spread by domesticated bumblebees and honeybees.

“There’s no question that human activities have pushed this bee toward extinction, so we have the ability to wake up, reverse course, and save it,” said Tyler. “But this late in the game, it’s going to take the powerful tools provided only by the Endangered Species Act to get the job done. Anything short of that and we risk losing this iconic part of the American landscape forever.”

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Grist

Biden faces call to heal environmental and cultural scars of Trump’s border wall

By Nina Lakhani on Jan. 31, 2021

This story was originally published by The Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Border communities and environmentalists are urging Joe Biden to take immediate steps to remediate the environmental and cultural destruction caused by construction of the border wall during the previous administration.

Donald Trump sequestered $15 billion — most of it from military funds — to partially fulfill an anti-immigration campaign promise to build a “big beautiful wall” along the southern border with Mexico.

As a result, hundreds of miles of the borderlands — including sacred Native American sites and protected public lands — have been bulldozed, blasted, and parched over the past four years, with little environmental assessment or oversight thanks to waivers suspending dozens of federal laws in order to expedite construction.

Biden ordered construction to pause on his first day in office, but community leaders and experts consulted by the Guardian warned that urgent action is needed to stop the damage to fragile biodiverse landscapes and scarce water sources getting worse. They are urging Biden to:

*Cancel the outstanding contracts, most of which the Army Corps of Engineers awarded to a handful of firms with little transparency. Top officials at these firms are regular donors to the Republican Party. The Government Accountability Office will soon publish its audit of the army corps’ role in the wall including the contracts and status of construction.

*Deploy a team of experts including hydrologists, ecologists, zoologists, botanists, and community and tribal advocates to assess the damage, and formulate a plan to restore critical habitat, waterways, wildlife migration corridors, and tribal cultural sites.

*Tearing down the wall where safe to do so, and allocate federal funds for the clean-up to ensure hundreds of tons of metal, concrete and barbed wire are safely disposed of.

*Rescind the waivers which suspended 84 federal laws that mandate protections relating to clean air and water, endangered species, public lands, contracts, and the rights of Native Americans.

*Withdraw scores of lawsuits against private landowners on the border that seek to strip them of their land through eminent domain.

“We need coordinated rapid assessments to figure out what can be restored, and identify the most critical areas in order to contain the spread of the damage to waterways, soils, wildlife, and native species caused by the largest experiment in American history. It’s a ticking clock,” said Gary Nabhan, a Franciscan brother and ecologist with the Healing the Border project.

“It’s a disaster, a mess, the suspended laws must be put back on the books to give border communities equal protection, and every section looked at carefully so that it can be torn down in a coordinated and responsible way, and the damage addressed immediately,” said Dan Mills, the Sierra Club’s borderlands program manager.

About 455 miles of the 30-foot metal wall (out of the promised 738 miles) was completed by the time Biden took office, mostly paid for by tax dollars earmarked for defense and counter-drug programs which Trump diverted by declaring a national emergency in early 2019.

An estimated $11.5 billion of contracts were signed and construction forged ahead despite multiple ongoing lawsuits challenging the constitutional basis of Trump’s executive orders. The supreme court will next month consider a case brought by the Sierra Club, ACLU, and the Southern Border Communities Commission which claims diverting billions of dollars from the Department of Defense against the will of Congress was illegal.

The impact has been disastrous.

The barrier has restricted access to floodplains that dozens of small, impoverished desert communities dotted along the Rio Grande, southeast of El Paso, relied upon for drinking, sanitation, and livestock. Local people are struggling to find enough water as extreme heat events rise in frequency and intensity as a result of global heating.

In addition, tens of millions of gallons of groundwater was pumped out to mix concrete, draining springs, rivers, and wetlands in fragile ecological areas already blighted by prolonged drought linked to the climate crisis.

At Quitobaquito Springs in Organ Pipe Cactus national park in Pima County, Arizona, 40 species of migratory birds, including the glossy ibis, sandpipers, and shorebirds that were registered every year between 2016 and 2019, did not return last year.

Rescuing groundwater sources — a rare and precious commodity in the desert — must be the priority as global heating means droughts and extreme temperatures are expected to continue, according to the experts consulted by the Guardian.

In Mission, Texas, a historic church and cemeteries — the final resting place for Native Americans, war veterans, freed slaves, and Christian abolitionists who shaped the cultural, spiritual, and racial history of the Rio Grande Valley — have been marooned in between the 30-foot barrier and the international border.

“It was a complete waste of money and poorly thought out, and is a constant unsightly reminder of Trump’s ugly approach to Latin America. The wall should never have gone up, we tried to fight it, and now it will be very difficult to undo,” said Sylvia Ramirez, 73, a retired professor, whose ancestors are buried in the cemeteries.

“We have an obligation to borderland communities, tribal nations, and wildlife to assess the harm and remedy and restore what we can. The federal government at the very least owes us that,“ said Laiken Jordahl, a borderlands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not respond to questions about how it planned to assess and remediate the damage caused to habitat, endangered wildlife, and border communities.

Biden’s executive proclamation on inauguration day ordered construction of the wall to pause as soon as possible, and no later than seven days. The legality of the funding and contracts is being reviewed.

CBP and the army corps told the Guardian that construction had been suspended in compliance with the president’s order. “[The army corps] has suspended work on all border infrastructure projects for DoD and DHS until further notice. Under this suspension, contractors are still required by the terms of their contracts to maintain a safe and secure job site, but all work in furtherance of construction has been suspended.”

Yet last weekend, advocates and photographers found crews working as usual at multiple sites in Arizona, including inside national parks and monuments.

“It’s a lie, I saw huge bulldozers digging up dirt on mountainsides, the crews were carving out new sections in some places and moving steel bollards closer to installation sites in others,” said John Kurc, a filmmaker and photographer who has been documenting the building of the wall from California to Texas.

Native Americans are accustomed to broken promises by the federal government.

The Tohono O’odham have resided in what is now southern and central Arizona and northern Mexico since time immemorial. The 1853 Gadsden Purchase divided the Tohono O’odham’s traditional lands and separated their communities. Today, their reservation includes 62 miles of international border, with 2,000 of its 34,000 members in Mexico.

While the wall does not traverse the reservation, construction destroyed ancient spiritual trails and multiple sacred burial sites, as well as vegetation such as centuries-old cacti, which are revered by tribal members.

Just as at Organ Pipe, at least 50 water courses have been blocked by the wall and about 10,000 sacred mature cacti were culled; only a fraction were successfully transplanted as promised.

Last year, peaceful protesters were teargassed and fired on with rubber bullets and detained while trying to halt the destruction of sacred sites.

“As caretakers of this land, the plants, and our four-legged brothers and sisters, the damage caused by the stroke of a pen in the name of border security feels like a razor-sharp knife across our hearts, it’s irreparable and hurts more than you could ever imagine,” said Verlon Jose, governor of the traditional leaders of the O’odham in Mexico and former vice-chair of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

“We have a glimmer of hope with the Biden administration but this needs to be followed by action, cancel the contracts and consult with environmentalists and tribal folks, as the law requires the federal government to do, so that we can start to heal the border.”

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WYFF4 (Greenville, SC)

Shark and ray populations have dropped 70% and are nearing ‘point of no return,’ study warns

By Jessie Yeung, CNN, January 30, 2021

Some species of sharks and rays could disappear from our seas altogether after a sharp drop in their numbers due to overfishing in the past 50 years.

A study published Wednesday in the journal Nature found that shark and ray populations fell by 71.1% from 1970 to 2018.

“Knowing that this is a global figure, the findings are stark,” said Nick Dulvy, a biologist at the Simon Fraser University and a co-author of the study. “If we don’t do anything, it will be too late. It’s much worse than other animal populations we’ve been looking at.”

Of all 31 species of oceanic sharks and rays, 24 are now threatened with extinction, several of which are classed as critically endangered — the highest threatened category.

“It’s an incredible rate of decline, steeper than most elephant and rhino declines, and those animals are iconic in driving conservation efforts on land,” Dulvey said.

In the study, researchers used two major biodiversity indicators — the Red List Index, a list measuring extinction risk, and the Living Planet Index, a dataset measuring changes in population abundance — to map out the rate of change of species populations over the decades.

Their results revealed “an alarming, ongoing, worldwide decline in oceanic shark populations across the world’s largest ecosystem over the past half-century, resulting in an unprecedented increase in the risk of extinction of these species,” said the study.

Factors like human disturbances and climate change place pressure on these species — but overfishing is by far the largest threat, and relative fishing pressure (which takes populations into account) has increased 18-fold since 1970, the study found.

Sharks in particular are fished for their meat, fins, gill plates and liver oil — they were so heavily hunted during the peak of overfishing in the early 2000s that between 63 million and 273 million sharks were killed every year, the study found.

In Asia, shark fin is a prized ingredient for shark fin soup, long viewed as a status symbol at Chinese dinners and banquets. A 2018 study in the journal Marine Policy found that in Hong Kong, the “world’s biggest shark trading hub,” shark fin imports have doubled since 1960.

Sharks are also particularly vulnerable to over-exploitation due to their low population growth rates and long generation times — in some shark species it can take several years, even decades between the birth of an individual and the birth of its first offspring. Rays, too, have faced rapid depletion and local extinction due to overfishing in their historical habitats.

There are some encouraging signs for specific species — the white shark, which had seen a population crash in the 20th century, is now showing signs of recovery in several regions thanks to government bans and policies, the report said. Hammerhead sharks are also rebuilding their populations in the Northwest Atlantic, due to strict quotas in U.S. marine territories.

However, the threat of overfishing far outpaces any trade regulations or sustainable fisheries management, researchers warned.

Few countries have imposed catch limits specific to oceanic sharks, and fewer yet have been able to rebuild populations that were shattered by overfishing in the past century. Despite governments signing international treaties, weak implementation has failed to effectively restrict trade or retention of these species, the report said.

“We can see the alarming consequences of overfishing in the ocean through the dramatic declines of some of its most iconic inhabitants,” said Nathan Pacoureau, the paper’s lead author.

“It’s something policy makers can no longer ignore. Countries should work toward new international shark and ray protections, but can start immediately by fulfilling the obligations already agreed internationally.”

The study urged immediate reform to “prevent shark population collapses” and the potentially disastrous consequences for their ecological systems.

Specifically, researchers called on governments to adopt catch limits for oceanic sharks that can support sustainable fisheries, and bans on shark or ray retention — actions that are crucial to saving these shrinking populations “before depletion reaches a point of no return.”

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DLNR/USFWS JOINT NEWS RELEASE

Endangered Hawaiian Yellow-Faced Bees Threatened by Invasive Ants

Posted on Jan 28, 2021 in Latest News, Newsroom

(Honolulu) – Researchers with the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Coastal Program (USFWS) have discovered the endangered Hawaiian yellow-faced bee, (Hylaeus anthracinus) is being threatened by invasive ants. These findings are the subject of a new paper being published in the open-access journal, NeoBiota.

Invasive species such as ants have adverse, often catastrophic impacts on Hawaiian ecosystems and wildlife, including native insects like Hawaiian yellow-faced bees. This happens by way of direct predation and indirectly via competition. The USFWS Pacific Islands Coastal Program and DLNR are working collaboratively to understand the factors contributing to species declines and develop solutions to stabilize and recover these unique species.

The importance of saving these insects is crucial as less than 5% of insects in Hawaiian coastal areas are native to the islands. Hawaiian yellow-faced bees are one of a very few native insects that survive in lowland areas in the main Hawaiian Islands. Though once abundant in coastal areas, this Hawaiian yellow-faced bee (Hylaeus anthracinus)persists in healthy populations in only a few areas on O’ahu. The majority of the 63 known species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees have experienced significant declines in range and population and many have not been seen in recent years. In 2016, seven species received federal protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The collaboration between USFWS Pacific Islands Coastal Program and DOFAW evaluated the effects of invasive ants on nesting Hawaiian yellow-faced bees using artificial nest blocks that allowed researchers to observe and track nest construction and development. The blocks are made from pieces of 2’x 4’ and holes were drilled in each to match dimensions the bees are known to use.

The wooden blocks were placed in pairs at 22 points, encompassing three sites on the north and east sides of O’ahu. One block in each pair was treated with a sticky barrier (akin to petroleum jelly) to prevent access by ants while the second block remained untreated.

It was discovered that 70% of nests in untreated or “control” blocks were invaded by ants. Nests in treated blocks (protected from ants) were more likely to produce at least one adult than nests in untreated blocks (with no barrier).

Cynthia King, DOFAW’s State Entomologist said, “In addition to habitat loss, invasive ants are suspected of causing range reductions and population declines, especially in coastal areas where ants are more abundant. The negative impacts of invasive ants are also amplified across native ecosystems, because the loss of native pollinators can also result in the loss of unique native plant species.”

“Invasive ants are one of a multitude of threats this species faces. You can help protect our native bees by protecting coastal vegetation and staying on trails, keeping motorized vehicles off the vegetation, and not using coastal vegetation and coral rubble for fires or fire pits – they may contain yellow-faced bee nests,” said Sheldon Plentovich, USFWS Pacific Islands Coastal Program Coordinator. “There are ongoing opportunities to get involved and help the bees by volunteering with invasive species control programs and coastal restoration projects. Hawaiian yellow-faced bees are Hawaii’s only native bees and it is important we work together to protect them.”

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Congressman Joe Neguse (Colorado’s 2nd District) Press Release

January 28, 2021

CONGRESSMAN JOE NEGUSE REINTRODUCES RESOLUTION CALLING FOR NATIONAL BIODIVERSITY STRATEGY

Washington D.C.—Congressman Joe Neguse, Congressman Alan Lowenthal and Chair of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife Jared Huffman, today, announced the reintroduction of their resolution to create a national biodiversity strategy.

The U.S. and the globe currently face an unprecedented biodiversity crisis, driven largely by human activity. Recent scientific studies have confirmed human-driven activities are significantly damaging Earth’s ecosystems, altering marine environments, exploiting wildlife and plant species, accelerating climate change and polluting air, land and water. As well, the decline of biodiversity disproportionately impacts indigenous and other communities that rely on nature for essential services.

The resolution, led by Congressman Neguse, calls for a national commitment to addressing the biodiversity crisis by establishing a strategy that would ideally be developed through an interagency process announced by the president in an Executive Order. The Strategy process would encourage agencies to identify and pursue a full range of actions within existing laws and policies and encourage consideration of new ones. It would also promote accountability and progress in addressing the biodiversity crisis through a new quadrennial assessment.

“The decline of biodiversity presents a direct threat to the security, health and well-being of our communities and our planet. Human-caused activity has led to the damage of ecosystems, the exploitation of wildlife, increased pollution and the acceleration of climate change,” said Congressman Joe Neguse. “It is our hope that the Biden Administration would use our resolution as a roadmap for establishing a robust, whole-of-government approach to protect our ecosystems, our wildlife and tackle the biodiversity crisis. The United States ought to be playing a global leadership role on these issues, and with President Joe Biden in office we have the opportunity to do so.”

“The decline in biodiversity is not just a crisis for ecosystems and wildlife, but for the well-being of our communities and planet as a whole,” said Congressman Huffman. “Our resolution would make the U.S. a leader in the charge to ensure that future generations can live in a world as rich in biodiversity as we do today.”

“A national biodiversity strategy is critically important to protecting habitat. From the United Nation’s Biodiversity and Ecosystem Global Assessment Report and other similar reports, we know that human activity has devastated wild habitat and ecosystems on land and at sea. Worse yet, we know that if we do not do anything to correct this now, even more severe impacts are yet to come,” said Congressman Alan Lowenthal. “It is imperative that we work to correct this immediately—not only to protect the world’s disappearing biodiversity but because the impacts to our environment and climate also impact our economies, human health, and our ability to live on this planet. Yesterday, President Biden signed an executive order which aims to conserve 30 percent of our land and water by 2030, a tremendous first step toward a national biodiversity strategy. I encourage all of my colleagues in Congress to support this resolution.”

The resolution is supported by 60+ Colorado-based and national groups working on wildlife protection and conservation. As well it is supported by leading scientists in the field.

“With a new administration comes renewed hope of establishing a National Biodiversity Strategy,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. “By establishing a National Biodiversity Strategy, needed now more than ever, we can focus our commitment to addressing wildlife and habitat loss and tackling species extinction. Defenders of Wildlife thanks Rep. Neguse for his leadership on this issue and urges Congress to adopt this legislation.”

“We commend Rep. Neguse for taking on this crisis. A national biodiversity strategy must establish a bold, science-based, and inclusive vision that repairs and strengthens our existing backbone of environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act and also sets a new course for our country,” said Addie Haughey, Legislative Director at Earthjustice. “This isn’t just about the nearly one million animals and plants at risk of extinction. This is about people, communities, and rebuilding a more biodiverse and resilient future. We already know the damage we are causing, now let’s do something about it.”

The resolution lays out key areas that a national biodiversity strategy should include direction on, including:

*Setting a national goal of protecting at least 30% of United States lands and water to conserve biodiversity and address climate change by 2030;

*Affirming the need to protect threatened, endangered, and at-risk species from further extinction;

*Climate adaptation and mitigation strategies for biodiversity;

*Joining and leading international agreements to combat climate change, such as the Paris Agreement;

*Establishing climate corridors for conservation of species affected by climate change;

*The rapid build-out of renewable energy;

*Reviewing existing, laws and programs that are relevant to addressing threats of biodiversity;

*Advancing conservation in coordination with State and Tribal governments;

*Incorporating indigenous knowledge;

*Means to ensure equitable access to nature; and

*Establishing regular monitoring, reporting, research and development and adequate funding for conservation efforts.

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NRDC

Court Settlement: EPA Must Evaluate Impacts of Harmful Pesticide on Imperiled Species

News Release, January 28, 2021

CHICAGO – NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have reached an agreement that requires the agency to evaluate the impacts of imidacloprid, one of the most commonly used neonicotinoid pesticides, on endangered and threatened bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife as required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The agreement sets a deadline for the Agency to do its ESA analysis of imidacloprid, to settle part of a lawsuit brought by NRDC. Neonicotinoids, including imidacloprid, have been implicated in bee die-offs and found to have significant impacts on a wide range of species. 

The following is a quote from Rebecca Riley, Legal Director for the nature team at NRDC. 

“EPA has ignored its duty to consider the impact of the pesticide imidacloprid on endangered species for decades. This agreement ensures EPA will finally have to evaluate the harm it causes to birds, bees, and other endangered species and take steps to mitigate its effects. But this isn’t over. The agency still has not agreed to carry out the mandatory Endangered Species Act analyses for two other neonicotinoid pesticides, so we will keep fighting until they do.”   

EPA’s review could result in new, more stringent restrictions on the use of imidacloprid to better protect listed species.  

The complaint and partial settlement agreement can be viewed here: 

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Science

Most high-seas shark species now threatened with extinction

By Erik Stokstad, Jan. 27, 2021

Shark populations in the high seas have fallen by 71% since 1970, researchers have found. The main cause is overfishing, which has put three-quarters of these species at risk of extinction.

“It’s the first big picture” of the decline in sharks, says Nuno Queiroz, a marine ecologist at the Research Center in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources who was not involved with the research. The new global perspective, he says, “gives you an idea how pervasive the fishing has been.”

Humans have hunted sharks for centuries for their meat and fins. A related group of fish, the rays, are caught for their gills, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Studies have identified severe regional declines of specific species, such as the loss of scalloped hammerhead sharks in the northwest Atlantic Ocean, but no one had compiled trends in all oceans.

In the new study, shark experts took a look at 31 species of oceanic sharks and rays—all of the species that live in the open ocean. (The group is now analyzing coastal sharks and rays and reef-dwelling species.) With long-term data from fisheries and research surveys, the scientists calculated how populations have changed since 1970, a widely used benchmark.

“Some of the declines are staggering,” says Nicholas Dulvy, a conservation biologist at Simon Fraser University and co-leader of the effort. Dusky sharks, for example, have dwindled by 72%, the researchers report today in Nature.

Only one-third of the 31 species were threatened in 1980, the researchers determined by looking at data from that time. Now, three-quarters are at risk of disappearing. “I was just shocked,” Dulvy says. “It has gotten bad very rapidly in the last decade.”

The reason: too much fishing. Compared with 1970, boats today are bigger and do more fishing with gear that catches a lot of sharks, such as long lines of baited hooks. And many sharks have always been vulnerable to depletion because they take years to reach reproductive maturity.

The good news is that fishing regulations can help species recover, such as bans on the landing of sharks. The white shark, for example, is bouncing back off the U.S. east and west coasts because of that kind of protection. For less endangered species, lessening the amount of catch can help significantly.

“The U.S. is one of the only countries that’s been really successful in reversing sharp population declines through management,” says co-author Sonja Fordham, president of Shark Advocates International. “It’s difficult; there’s intense pressure from the fishing industry to protect short term economic interests.”

Fordham hopes the new findings will be a “loud wake-up call” to governments and fisheries managers to protect sharks from overfishing.

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Release Date: January 26, 2021

CBP Intercepts Endangered Plant Species In Honolulu

  Plants and seeds concealed in FedEx package

HONOLULU— U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists (CBPAS) stationed in Honolulu intercepted a FedEx package from Malaysia containing nine Nepenthes species carnivorous plants and a seed pod concealed in a foil wrapped bundle.  Endangered plant species require special permits and documentation for import into the U.S.

“CBP works closely with our international partners to curtail the illegal trade of protected and endangered species, “said Richard F. Di Nucci, CBP Director of Field Operations in San Francisco.

The international shipment of Nepthenes sp. is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement between governments to ensure that international trade in certain specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

The species is endangered because the wild population has been over harvested. Although there is a Nepenthes species that inhabits bogs in the U.S. (The American Pitcher Plant), the plants seized by CBP are indigenous to Malaysia and Greater Asia.

Upon close examination of the shipment, the roots of the plants were wrapped in damp paper towels indicating intent and preparation for replanting. The shipment of plants was not accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate, USDA plant permit or CITES documentation and was seized by CBP under 7 CFR 319.37.

The plants were turned over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for final disposition.

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EurekAlert

Southern Africa’s most endangered shark just extended its range by 2,000 kilometers

WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY News Release, Jan. 26, 2021

MAPUTO, Mozambique (January 26, 2021) – A team of marine scientists led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has confirmed that southern Africa’s most threatened endemic shark – the Critically Endangered shorttail nurse shark (Pseudoginglymostoma brevicaudatum) – has been found to occur in Mozambique; a finding that represents a range extension of more than 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles).

Publishing their findings in the journal Marine Biodiversity, the team said that the discovery was based on several records of the shark including underwater video surveys collected in 2019, recent photos of shore-based sport anglers’ catches, and the identification of a specimen collected in 1967.

The diminutive shorttail nurse shark reaches lengths of approximately 75 centimeters (30 inches). Owing to its strong association with coral reefs, it is under particular threat from overexploitation by coastal fisheries and habitat degradation, and is suspected to have declined by more than 80 percent over the last 30 years.

The scientists say that the findings expand the species range southward from the coast of Tanzania by some 2,200 kilometers (1,367 miles) and 1,100 kilometers (683 miles) westward from Madagascar across the Mozambique Channel.

One of the records of the shark, from Mozambique’s Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve, suggests that the species benefits from some degree of protection within a large coastal marine protected area (MPA). The authors though warn that the species range within Mozambique may span a large proportion of the country’s unprotected coral reef habitat.

Said Rhett Bennett, WCS Shark and Ray Conservation Program Manager, Madagascar & Western Indian Ocean: “The shorttail nurse shark is under threat within much of its Mozambique range. There are no species recovery plans in place for the species and no specific regulations pertaining to its harvest, other than a listing on the Kenya threatened and protected species list.”

The authors recommend that the species should be considered for legal protection in Mozambique and throughout its limited range. In addition, they say it should be better monitored, and subject to improved management measures to reduce targeted and incidental catch.

WCS works on shark conservation around the world. The majority of the global trade in both shark fins, and other products such as meat, remains unregulated, pushing many species toward extinction. In 2019, at CITES CoP18, WCS helped lead efforts to expand the protection of sharks from unsustainable trade.

The work was conducted in partnership with the Mozambique Instituto Nacional de Investigação Pesqueira, and the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity.

Aspects of this project were funded by the Shark Conservation Fund, a philanthropic collaborative pooling expertise and resources to meet the threats facing the world’s sharks and rays. The Shark Conservation Fund is a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

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WBRZ-TV (Baton Rouge, LA)

Unique whale species recently discovered in Gulf already nearing extinction

January 26, 2021, News Source: The Advocate, By: WBRZ Staff

The Gulf of Mexico’s waters are teeming with life, some of it yet to be fully understood or even discovered by scientists.

Biologists couldn’t help but note the never-ending nature of such scientific discoveries as they were recently surprised to learn new information about a unique species of whale found in the Gulf.

According to The Advocate, a new study headed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revealed that what experts once believed were Gulf-residing Bryde’s whales are actually a completely different species of whale.

Experts say the creatures are a unique species found only in the Gulf. But celebrations of the discovery were muted due to the added fact that the unique whales are nearly extinct.

The Advocate reports that only about 33 of the whales are likely alive today, according to the most recent NOAA estimate, and they prefer the deep, dark waters of DeSoto Canyon, one of the busiest commercial areas of the Gulf, where cargo ships and oil drilling pose a threat to the animals.

A looming problem lies in the recent relaxation of rules that allow deep-penetration seismic blasts in  search of oil and gas deposits at the Gulf’s bottom. The Advocate reports that seismic airgun survey technology has revealed a bonanza of overlooked oil deposits, but its use can disorient, injure or kill various marine animals. The Gulf’s small and struggling population of sperm whales will be harmed 13,000 times per year, and the Rice’s whales will be harassed more times than its entire remaining population of 33 individuals, a recent NOAA assessment of the new seismic survey rules found.

“What this means is you have one of the rarest, most endangered whales in your backyard,” said Michael Jasny, a marine mammal protection expert with the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s a great gift, and it’s a great responsibility.”

The whale now christened as “Rice’s whale,” in honor of biologist Dale Rice, also bears the scientific name ‘Balaenoptera ricei.’

The Advocate reports that Bryde’s whale was granted protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in April 2019 and Rice’s whale will retain its protected status under the ESA and will also receive protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, NOAA officials said.

Officials hope the unique species of whale will survive and eventually be able to thrive in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This whale is part of what makes the Gulf unique,” Jasny said. “Hopefully naming this new species will help people recognize that there is a magnificent creature in the Gulf of Mexico, and it’s worth saving.”

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NRDC

NRDC Files Lawsuit to Protect Endangered Gray Wolf

January 25, 2021

WASHINGTON – NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) today, for its unlawful removal of gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) list. The lawsuit asks the court to throw out the USFWS’s decision to remove gray wolves from the ESA list and reinstate federal protections.

“We had no other option but to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its missteps in removing gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act,” said Sylvia Fallon, Senior Director of Wildlife at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “We urged the last Administration to maintain federal protection for wolves and to implement a national wolf recovery plan. Instead, they removed protections that are critical to the future of the species at a time when they are still missing from much of their original habitat, and as the planet faces a biodiversity crisis that threatens the fate of humanity.”

Background

In 2019, the USFWS announced its second proposal in five years to strip gray wolves of Endangered Species Act protections in the Lower 48 states. Late last year, it finalized the rule, eliminating protections for gray wolves with the exception of Mexican wolves in the Southwest. Gray wolves once roamed nearly all of the continental United States, but the wolf’s perceived threat to livestock and to humans made the creature a perpetual target. By the middle of the 20th century, wolves significantly declined from most states with the help of federally funded extermination programs. 

Wolves remain endangered throughout significant portions of their range and delisting gray wolves prematurely prevents their nationwide recovery. Federal protections for wolves should remain in place until wolves have recovered in areas such as the Central Rockies, along the Pacific Coast, and the Northeast, where there is still significant suitable habitat but where wolf populations remain low. 

The federal government recognized the species as endangered in the 1970s, but it failed to complete a national recovery plan as required under the Endangered Species Act. Gray wolf advocates have repeatedly petitioned the USFWS to develop a recovery plan, but the agency has instead focused on recovering isolated populations of wolves. Once those populations began to recover, the USFWS tried to remove ESA protections from each population group, instead of addressing wolf recovery throughout the entire continental United States. 

Earlier this month, environmental advocates filed two lawsuits against the Trump Administration’s decision to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act. These cases – represented by attorneys with Earthjustice and Western Environmental Law Center – describe many of the same catastrophic flaws in the USFWS’s delisting analysis that are highlighted in today’s NRDC lawsuit.   

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Mongabay

6% of Earth’s protected land is used to grow crops, study finds

by Morgan Erickson-Davis on 23 January 2021

*Protected areas supposedly safeguard the planet’s vulnerable inhabitants – including 83% of its endangered species.

*A new study reveals that cropland takes up 13.6% of the planet’s ice-free surface area and overlaps with 6% of its protected areas.

*While some species are at home in agricultural fields, many are not – particularly the endangered species many protected areas were created to safeguard.

*The study’s authors call for national and international sustainability goals to implement a more holistic, data-driven approach when it comes to improving food security and preserving habitat.

Covering around 13% of Earth’s surface and harboring an estimated 83% of its endangered wildlife, protected areas are tasked with an outsize responsibility to safeguard vulnerable species, as well as many Indigenous communities. But mounting evidence suggests protected areas may not be living up to their name, with around a third of the planet’s protected land area under intense pressure from human activity. Now, a new study reveals 6% of the world’s protected land has been cleared and converted to crop fields.

The study, published this week in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted by researchers Varsha Vijay of the University of Maryland’s National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center and Paul R. Armsworth of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis at the University of Tennessee. Vijay and Armsworth combined data on protected areas, cropland, biodiversity levels, biomes, human density and income to see just how much of the planet’s agricultural land is coming at the expense of protected habitat and the factors that play into this.

Their analysis revealed that cropland takes up 13.6% of the planet’s ice-free surface area and overlaps with 6% of its protected area. They write that while most of this activity is happening in protected areas that are designated muti-use – which means limited and regulated land conversion is legally allowed – “worryingly, we find that 22% of cropland in protected occurs in areas of strict protection,” which include nature reserves, wilderness areas, national monuments, protected landscapes and national parks.

The study indicates that northern latitudes have larger proportions of cropland in protected areas overall, but that much of that cropland had been converted from forest before protected areas were established around it. Meanwhile, tropical and subtropical locations experienced bigger recent surges of cropland conversion. This, the authors write, raises “concerns for cropland expansion into protected and unprotected conservation priority areas.”

While some species are at home in agricultural fields, most are not – particularly specialist species that require particular foods to survive (versus generalists, like raccoons, that can eat pretty much anything they come across). And research has shown that an endangered species is more often than not a specialist.

Vijay and Armsworth’s findings come as nations and international agencies prepare to establish conservation goals for the coming decade and revamp existing ones, and as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) attempt to claw their way up from setbacks due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the SDGs acknowledge the importance of biodiversity and human health by including specific goals for improving both habitat conservation and food security, “conservation and development planning are still often treated as independent processes,” Armsworth said in a statement.

The study took advantage of multiple recent datasets and “represents the most comprehensive assessment of the extent and distribution of global cropland inside protected areas,” Vijay and Armsworth write in their study; Vijay added that similar methods could be used to help governments achieve their conservation and development sustainability targets.

“Rapid advances in data availability provide exciting opportunities for bringing the two processes together,” Vijay said.

Lucas Joppa, Microsoft chief environmental officer and an expert on protected area effectiveness who was not involved in the study, added his voice to the chorus urging a reformed approach.

“The findings of this study emphasize the need to move beyond area-based conservation targets and develop quantitative measures to improve conservation outcomes in protected areas,” Joppa said, “especially in areas of high food insecurity and biodiversity.”

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High Plains Journal

January 23, 2021

Water rights lawsuit filed by Audubon of Kansas

Audubon of Kansas recently filed suit in federal court to restore the water rights belonging to the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Audubon of Kansas is a nonprofit environmental organization with more than 4,000 members concentrated in Kansas, Nebraska, and the central Great Plains. Defendants are David Bernhardt, secretary of the interior, and other federal and state officials, who have failed over many years to protect the refuge’s water priority, which dates to 1957.

Quivira NWR encompasses 22,135 acres and lies mostly in Stafford County, southeast of Great Bend. It is a wetland of international importance and provides sanctuary to a wide variety of waterfowl, shore birds and other wetland species, several of them listed as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. For example, the refuge is a key stopover point for the federally endangered Whooping Crane as it migrates annually between its breeding grounds in Canada and its wintering grounds on the Texas coast. The refuge annually attracts thousands of bird watchers, hunters, and other recreation seekers.

Quivira NWR has suffered from a shortage of water for the last 34 years, because of excessive groundwater pumping upstream in the Rattlesnake Creek basin by irrigators, whose water rights are junior to that of the refuge. These facts were documented most recently in 2016 by the state’s chief engineer for water resources.

The U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Kansas secretary of agriculture and the chief engineer have not restored the water to which the refuge is entitled.

AOK’s lawsuit seeks an injunction, a declaratory judgment and an order of mandamus to compel these officials to do their duties as required by law.

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News Tribune (Jefferson City, MO)

Missouri to remove peregrine falcons from state endangered species list

by Jeff Haldiman, Jan. 22 2021

The Missouri Conservation Commission gave initial approval Friday to remove the peregrine falcon from the state’s endangered species list while keeping it a species of conservation concern.

The vote came after a proposed status and regulation change from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Peregrine falcon populations plummeted nationwide during the 1940s through the 1960s due to the widespread use of pesticides such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane in their food chain, according to an MDC news release. The peregrine was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1970 and on the Missouri state-endangered species list in 1974. Peregrines were removed from the federal endangered species list in 1999 due to restoration efforts but have remained on the Missouri state-endangered species list since.

MDC’s Peregrine Falcon Recovery Working Group has been studying the world’s fastest bird and has determined the state’s population and distribution of peregrine falcons warrant the delisting as a state endangered species, said MDC Urban Wildlife Biologist and Falcon Recovery Lead Joe DeBold.

“Our Missouri peregrine falcon recovery goal of 12 breeding pairs in the state was exceeded in 2013 and now stands at 14 known active breeding pairs distributed across seven counties,” DeBold said in MDC’s news release. “Peregrines will remain a species of conservation concern in the state. If the breeding population declines below seven breeding pairs, MDC will work with conservation partners to determine if expanded monitoring or protection is needed.”

DeBold said while human activities once harmed the birds through the widespread use of pesticides in their food chain, human efforts have also helped bring them back.

“All of our 14 peregrine breeding pairs in Missouri use artificial nest boxes in our urban areas around Kansas City or St. Louis,” MDC State Ornithologist Sarah Kendrick explained. “They seem to prefer the nest boxes over natural nesting sites in the state on rocky cliffs and bluffs on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. This may be due to an abundance of food in the form of urban pigeons.”

Kendrick added two breeding peregrine pairs have been documented successfully nesting since 2012 along the rocky bluffs on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River north of the greater St. Louis area, so peregrines may start using natural nesting sites in Missouri.

In addition to the bird’s removal from the state endangered species list, MDC is proposing a regulation change to the Wildlife Code of Missouri that would allow the limited capture of young migratory falcons for use in falconry. The allowance for falconers to capture a limited number of birds is based on authorization from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The proposed regulation change would allow a statewide total maximum of five permits annually for the capture of one young, wild, migrant falcon. Only those with a Master Falconer Permit may capture a falcon.

“Only hatch-year or first-year birds from northern breeding populations that migrate through Missouri would be allowed to be captured. Adult falcons will not be allowed to be taken for falconry,” DeBold said. “All peregrine falcons hatched in Missouri are banded with metal federal bird bands. If a peregrine captured in Missouri for falconry has any sort of state, federal, or other band from Missouri or elsewhere, the bird must be released immediately.”

MDC invites public comment on the status and regulation changes for peregrine falcons March 2-31 at mdc.mo.gov/about-regulations/wildlife-code-missouri/ proposed-regulation-changes and by mail to Regulations Committee Chairman, Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180.

MDC will review all comments received and present a final proposal for a final vote by the Conservation Commission this summer. If approved, the regulation change will become effective Aug. 30.

(More information about peregrine falcons can be found on MDC’s Field Guide at nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/peregrine-falcon.)

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Oregon Public Broadcasting

Biden pumps the brakes on more than 100 Trump environmental policy decisions

By Monica Samayoa (OPB) and Bradley W. Parks (OPB), Portland, Ore. Jan. 22, 2021

Many of Donald Trump’s actions on endangered species, energy, hazardous chemicals and more are on hold as President Joe Biden takes office.

The Biden administration has laid out a roadmap for undoing many of the environmental actions of his predecessor, some of which were approved or enacted within the past six months.

President Joe Biden, hours after he was sworn in Wednesday, issued an executive order to start a process that could lead to amendments or even reversals of many of Donald Trump’s nearly 200 environmental policy decisions.

The president’s order pauses implementation of more than 100 policies while they are under review. Many of them directly affect the Pacific Northwest, and some unraveled compromises that took years, even decades, to reach.

“It’s gonna take some time for the agencies to undo all the damage Trump did, but we will see changes here in the Northwest,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper. “It’s not guaranteed that Biden’s going to be a great environmental president, and we need to keep the pressure on.”

Biden also vowed to ensure that the United States rejoins the Paris Climate Accord.

Western Environmental Law Center Wildlands Program director and staff attorney Susan Jane Brown said the process of a new administration reviewing current policies to make sure they are consistent with their own priorities is normal, but that the president will have to do more than sign executive orders to make changes.

“What it will take to rollback the rollback is more process, more rulemaking,” Brown said. “There are a series of steps that have to take place.”

Brown said that process could take months or even years to finish, but also includes the opportunity for public comment.

NEPA

One of the major policies under review is the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, which the Trump administration altered last summer. It eliminated environmental impact reports for certain projects and shortened the amount of time these evaluations must be under review. It also reduced the opportunities for public input.

Brown said that Oregon has not seen the full impact of these changes yet, but that it’s only a matter of time.

“In the meantime we are falling further and further behind on the real work that needs to get done,” Brown said. “It’s just disappointing, it’s a missed opportunity frankly because we have to focus on fixing rather than building.”

Lawson Fite, the general counsel for the American Forest Resource Council, said he is optimistic that a thorough review of the policies will reaffirm most if not all of the actions under review.

“We’re hoping for a successful Biden administration and want results in Oregon that support our rural communities and that encourage sustainable activities like forestry,” Fite said.

Energy

Many of the Trump administration’s actions on energy sought to expand use and extraction of coal, oil and natural gas.

Notably, the administration scissored out of the Clean Water Act a provision that allowed state and tribal governments to reject federal permit decisions on fossil fuel projects. It’s a power that’s been used locally to stop coal projects and the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas pipeline and export terminal.

“That’s a very important state power that the Trump administration tried to take away,” said VandenHeuvel with Columbia Riverkeeper.

Emissions standards, fuel-efficient vehicle regulations, fossil fuels transport — all of those and more are on the table for review.

Wildlife

The Trump administration loosened restrictions on grazing, oil and gas drilling, and mining on greater sage grouse habitat across the Intermountain West. That decision threatens to spoil a deal reached in 2015 to protect the grouse while keeping the bird off the federal endangered species list, but it will be relatively easy to overturn.

Trump also used his final weeks in office to issue a raft of Endangered Species Act decisions that left Northwest wildlife without protections they’ve had for decades.

Populations for the northern spotted owl in Washington, Oregon and Northern California and monarch butterfly across the West have steadily declined. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said both species warrant more protections, but declined to grant them at the end of last year. Adding to that, the administration chopped the owl’s critical habitat protections by 3.4 million acres in January.

The agency removed the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list entirely, which conservation organizations have called premature. Gray wolves have regained feeble footholds in many states, but are without significant protection in some.

Each of those decisions faces legal challenges.

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Science Daily

Indigenous lands: A haven for wildlife

January 21, 2021, University of Queensland

Indigenous peoples’ lands may harbour a significant proportion of threatened and endangered species globally, according to University of Queensland-led research.

UQ’s Dr Chris O’Bryan and his team conducted the first comprehensive analysis of land mammal composition across mapped Indigenous lands.

“These lands cover more than one-quarter of the Earth, of which a significant proportion is still free from industrial-level human impacts,” Dr O’Bryan said.

“As a result, Indigenous peoples and their lands are crucial for the long-term persistence of the planet’s biodiversity and ecosystem services.

“Despite this, we know relatively little about what animals, including highly imperilled species, may reside in or depend on these lands.”

The team overlayed maps of Indigenous peoples’ lands and habitat data for 4,460 species assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to estimate the overlap of each species.

“We picked mammals as a bellwether indicator of biodiversity protection,” Dr O’Bryan said.

“This is because there’s more data about the suitable habitat of mammals and there is evidence to suggest that patterns observed in mammals may reflect other forms of biodiversity.

“In other words, if mammals are absent, other animals are likely to be absent as well.

“We’re hoping this study provides future opportunities for applying our methodology to other animal groups.

“We discovered that 2,175 mammal species — about half of the total species tracked — have at least 10 per cent of their ranges in Indigenous peoples’ lands.

“And 646 species — or 14 per cent — have more than half of their ranges within these lands.

“Amazingly, for threatened species in particular, 413 — or about 41 per cent of threatened species tracked — occur in Indigenous peoples’ lands.

“The endangered red panda (Ailurus fulgens) and the tiger (Panthera tigris) of Southeast Asia have more than half their habitat within such lands.

“In Australia, the critically endangered northern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii) has 100 per cent of its habitat in these lands.”

Dr O’Bryan said the work showed the importance of Indigenous peoples’ lands.

“These areas are critical for the successful implementation of international conservation and sustainable development agendas,” he said.

“Representatives of Indigenous peoples are engaging in global environmental forums and national and local collaboration frameworks, which are critical for equitable and effective cross-cultural conservation activities to be negotiated.

“Greater recognition and support for Indigenous people’s rights to, and relationships with, their lands needs to continue, and this pressing imperative needs to balance Indigenous self-determination and biodiversity conservation.

“Only through rights-based, equitable and respectful partnerships with Indigenous peoples, will it be possible to ensure the long-term and equitable conservation of biodiversity.”

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Yale Environment 360

January 21, 2021

A New Way to Track Endangered Wildlife Populations from Space

Scientists have developed a new technique for remotely surveying elephants and other wildlife that is quicker and has the same accuracy as human counts done on the ground or in low-flying airplanes. The system, which uses satellite images and deep learning, could help improve the monitoring of endangered species in habitats across the globe.

The research, led by scientists at the University of Bath and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, created a computer algorithm to analyze high-resolution satellite images and detect African elephants in both grasslands and forests.

African elephant populations have rapidly declined in the past century, with just 40,000 to 50,000 left in the wild. But on-the-ground or airplane surveys to monitor elephant numbers are expensive and time-consuming. Because satellites can collect over 1,900 square miles of imagery every few minutes, they eliminate the risk of double counting and speed up the process from weeks to a just a few days. Using satellites also cuts down on the logistics of monitoring species populations that cross international borders.

“Accurate monitoring is essential if we’re to save the species,” Olga Isupova, a computer scientist at the University of Bath who co-authored the research, said in a statement. “We need to know where the animals are and how many there are.”

Scientists have previously developed ways to monitor wildlife populations using satellite images, but they were limited to homogenous habitats, such as tracking whales in the open ocean. The new method is able to count elephants in mixed ecosystems, such as savannah and forests, where tree cover previously would have made satellite tracking difficult. The researchers argue the technology, published in the journal Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, could help make tracking wildlife populations much easier, including for species much smaller than elephants.

“Satellite imagery resolution increases every couple of years, and with every increase we will be able to see smaller things in greater detail,” Isupova said, adding: “Other researchers have managed to detect black albatross nests against snow. No doubt the contrast of black and white made it easier, but that doesn’t change the fact that an albatross nest is one-eleventh the size of an elephant.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

January 21, 2021

Shortfin Mako Shark, Warty Sea Cucumber Protection Sought in Mexico

LA PAZ, Mexico— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition today seeking protection for the shortfin mako shark and warty sea cucumber under Mexico’s Standard NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2010, the nation’s list of species at risk. The Mexican fishing industry catches thousands of both species every year.

Today’s legal action seeks protections under NOM-059 outside the normal window that Mexico’s Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) formally opens to receive such proposals. Semarnat opens the process for species proposals every five years, though the agency typically fails to meet even that extended schedule. Semarnat’s practice creates long delays in species’ protections.

“These animals are in serious trouble, and they can’t wait years for the Mexican government to consider whether they deserve protection,” said Alejandro Olivera, senior scientist and Mexico representative for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Last time it took 10 years for Semarnat to update the list of endangered species. We’re in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, with species around the globe facing accelerating rates of extinction. From iconic mako sharks to little-known sea cucumbers, these imperiled creatures need safeguards now.”

The Center’s petition also requests listing of three hammerhead shark species, following another petition submitted by the organization last year.

Strong scientific evidence demonstrates that mako sharks and warty sea cucumbers urgently need protection, as already recognized internationally. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies shortfin mako sharks (lsurus oxyrinchus) as “endangered” globally and warty sea cucumbers (Parastichopus parvimensis) as “vulnerable” to extinction.

Yet in Mexico none of these imperiled wildlife species have sufficient protection and can be directly targeted for fishing. If the sharks and warty sea cucumber are added to NOM-059, Semarnat will be able to issue measures and regulations to ensure sustainable fishing, including limits on catching hatchlings, juveniles and pregnant females to ensure the populations’ recovery.

The warty sea cucumber is currently managed through fishing permits in Mexico and in the U.S. state of California. IUCN estimates that the sea cucumber’s population has declined by approximately 50% in Baja California and at least 30% in California over the past 20 years.

It is estimated that the species faces a decline of 30% to 40% throughout its entire range. The Center’s assessment of the species finds it “threatened.”

Mako sharks are also declining, facing a 50% to 79% population reduction over 75 years. Due to the mako shark’s decline and vulnerability to overfishing, as well as degradation of their habitat, in 2019, makos were included in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to monitor and limit trade. Mexico is a Party to CITES and officially cosponsored the CITES mako trade proposal, yet the country has failed to acknowledge domestic threats to the sharks.

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Associated Press

Monarch butterfly population moves closer to extinction

By OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ, January 19, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The number of western monarch butterflies wintering along the California coast has plummeted precipitously to a record low, putting the orange-and-black insects closer to extinction, researchers announced Tuesday.

An annual winter count by the Xerces Society recorded fewer than 2,000 butterflies, a massive decline from the tens of thousands tallied in recent years and the millions that clustered in trees from Northern California’s Marin County to San Diego County in the south in the 1980s.

Western monarch butterflies head south from the Pacific Northwest to California each winter, returning to the same places and even the same trees, where they cluster to keep warm. The monarchs generally arrive in California at the beginning of November and spread across the country once warmer weather arrives in March.

On the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, another monarch population travels from southern Canada and the northeastern United States across thousands of miles to spend the winter in central Mexico. Scientists estimate the monarch population in the eastern U.S. has fallen about 80% since the mid-1990s, but the drop-off in the western U.S. has been even steeper.

The Xerces Society, a nonprofit environmental organization that focuses on the conservation of invertebrates, recorded about 29,000 butterflies in its annual survey last winter. That was not much different than the tally the winter before, when an all-time low of 27,000 monarchs were counted.

But the count this year is dismal. At iconic monarch wintering sites in the city of Pacific Grove, volunteers didn’t see a single butterfly this winter. Other well-known locations, such as Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove and Natural Bridges State Park, only hosted a few hundred butterflies, researchers said.

“These sites normally host thousands of butterflies, and their absence this year was heartbreaking for volunteers and visitors flocking to these locales hoping to catch a glimpse of the awe-inspiring clusters of monarch butterflies,” said Sarina Jepsen, director of endangered species at the Xerces Society.

Scientists say the butterflies are at critically low levels in western states because of destruction to their milkweed habitat along their migratory route as housing expands into their territory and use of pesticides and herbicides increases.

Researchers also have noted the effect of climate change. Along with farming, climate change is one of the main drivers of the monarch’s threatened extinction, disrupting an annual 3,000-mile (4,828-kilometer) migration synched to springtime and the blossoming of wildflowers. Massive wildfires throughout the U.S. West last year may have influenced their breeding and migration, researchers said.

A 2017 study by Washington State University researchers predicted that if the monarch population dropped below 30,000, the species would likely go extinct in the next few decades if nothing is done to save them.

Monarch butterflies lack state and federal legal protection to keep their habitat from being destroyed or degraded. In December, federal officials declared the monarch butterfly “a candidate” for threatened or endangered status but said no action would be taken for several years because of the many other species awaiting that designation.

The Xerces Society said it will keep pursuing protection for the monarch and work with a wide variety of partners “to implement science-based conservation actions urgently needed to help the iconic and beloved western monarch butterfly migration.”

People can help the colorful insects by planting early-blooming flowers and milkweed to fuel migrating monarchs on their paths to other states, the Xerces Society said.

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Arizona State University

New tool can help predict species at risk of vulnerability or extinction

Better risk identification will give ecologists more management options

January 18, 2021

More than 3,000 animal species in the world today are considered endangered, with hundreds more categorized as vulnerable. Currently, ecologists don’t have reliable tools to predict when a species may become at risk.

A new paper published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, “Management implications of long transients in ecological systems,” focuses on the transient nature of species and ecosystem stability and illustrates how management practices can be adjusted to better prepare for possible system flips. Some helpful modeling approaches are also offered, including one tool that may help identify potentially endangered populations.

Ying-Cheng Lai, a professor of electrical engineering and physics at Arizona State University, focused on the mathematical modeling process of the research.

“The Mexican gray wolf is an example of an endangered species that is experiencing a population resurgence in some areas, yet remains vulnerable in others,” Lai said. “The predator-prey relationship between the Mexican gray wolf and elk, mule, white-tailed deer, pronghorn, javelina, rabbits and other small mammals is an example of how interspecies relationships can affect endangerment. In a general predator-prey relationship, a significant reduction in the prey population can make the predator endangered.

“These kinds of interactions, plus other factors such as the species decay rate, migration, the capacity of the habitat, and random disturbances, are included in the mathematical prediction model,” Lai continued, “and it turns out that, more common than usually thought, the system evolution dynamics can just be transient. Transients in ecosystems can be good or bad, and we want to develop control strategies to sustain the good ones and eliminate the bad ones.”

Risks that go undetected until the species is already shifting from stable to vulnerable present the greatest challenges.

“A species or an ecosystem may seem perfectly stable when it unpredictably becomes vulnerable, even in the absence of an obvious stressor,” said Tessa Francis, lead ecosystem ecologist at the Puget Sound Institute, University of Washington Tacoma, managing director of the Ocean Modeling Forum, University of Washington, and lead author of the paper. “In some cases, modeling interactions between species or ecosystem dynamics can help managers identify potential corrective actions to take before the species or system collapses.”  

Alan Hastings, a theoretical ecologist at University of California, Davis and an external faculty member at the Santa Fe Institute, notes that, “as we apply these mathematical models to understanding systems on realistic, ecologic time scales, we unveil new approaches and ideas for adaptive management.

“The goal is to develop management strategies to both extend positive ecosystems as long as possible and to design recovery systems to support resurgence from vulnerable states,” Hastings said. “Over time, as successful predictions are incorporated into the mathematical model, the tool will become more accurate.”

But mathematical models are not a panacea, cautions Francis.

“While models can be useful in playing out ‘what ifs’ and understanding hypothetical consequences of management interventions, just as important is changing the way we view ecosystems and admitting that things are often less stable than they appear.”

Additional contributors to the research include: Karen C. Abbott, Case Western Reserve University; Kim Cuddington, University of Waterloo; Gabriel Gellner, University of Guelph; Andrew Morozov, University of Leicester, Russian Academy of Sciences; Sergei Petrovskii, University of Leicester; and Mary Lou Zeeman, Bowdoin College.

The team, with sponsorship from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) through the University of Tennessee, has been working together as a study group named “NIMBioS Working Group: Long Transients and Ecological Forecasting.” The group has produced a number of papers focused on developing mathematical models to understand long transients in ecosystems.

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Fox40 TV (Sacramento)

California AG, multistate coalition seek to overturn Trump administration’s rollback of Endangered Species Act protections

by: FOX40 Web Desk, Posted: Jan 18, 2021

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and two state attorneys general filed a motion to challenge the Trump administration’s rollback of Endangered Species Act Protections.

In filing the motion, Becerra, as well as Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, the administration’s changes to the Endangered Species Act in 2019 should be overturned.

“From the California condor to the humpback whale, California is home to more than 300 endangered and threatened species. These precious fish and wildlife deserve our protection. That’s why we’re filing a motion today asking the court to set aside the Trump Administration’s disastrous attempt to weaken federal protections for endangered species.” —CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL XAVIER BECERRA

The multistate coalition also argued that the administration’s actions violate violate the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

Attorneys General Becerra, Healey, and Frosh are joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia, as well as the City if New York, in their defense of the Endangered Species Act.

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KFOR-TV & KAUT (Oklahoma City)

‘Spectacular’ bright-orange bat species discovered

by: Michelle Robertson, Nexstar Media Wire, Jan 17, 2021

Myotis nimbaensisis a new species of bat named for the mountain range in which it is found, the Nimba Mountains in West Africa.© Bat Conservation International

(NEXSTAR) – Scientists have announced the discovery of a new bat species, found high in the mountains of West Africa.

With its big ears and retracting wings, the new species certainly looks similar to its previously described bat comrades. But one thing makes Myotis nimbaensis stand out from the pack: It boasts bright orange fur and black wings.

“This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” said Dr. Winifred Frick, the Chief Scientist at Bat Conservation International.

There are currently 1,400 known species of bats. But the discovery of the bright-orange bat in Guinea is particularly exceptional.

“It’s such a rare opportunity to discover a bat that hasn’t been previously described,” Frick said. “And it’s such a spectacular animal … This particular bat is one of the showiest in terms of its beautiful fur and wings.”

The bat was found while researchers were working on a critically endangered bat in the Nimba mountain range of Guinea. Its shock of bright fur instantly caught researchers eyes as it flew out of an abandoned mining tunnel.

The tunnels, Frick said, were built in the 1970s to explore an ore deposit. These days, “They make really great bat homes.”

There’s more to discovering a new species than garnering street cred.

According to Frick, “Knowing what species are in different areas and documenting biodiversity is such an important part of protecting species.”

“Knowing where species live — and making sure we protect these natural habitats — is part of the work we do for conservation and for people.”

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Science X/PhysOrg.com

Interior strips protections for owl species on decline

by Benjamin J. Hulac, January 14, 2021

The Interior Department said it will eliminate from federal protection more than 3 million acres in California, Oregon and Washington vital to the northern spotted owl, a species considered endangered under federal law.

In a draft rule published Wednesday as much of the nation was glued to impeachment proceedings, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a division of Interior, said it was excluding about 3.5 million acres of “critical habitat” established for the owls. Environmental groups warned that the move could spell the extinction of the species and immediately threatened lawsuits to block the action.

The excluded habitat is more than 16 times larger than the 205,000 acres the administration proposed in August 2020.

“These commonsense revisions ensure we are continuing to recover the northern spotted owl while being a good neighbor to rural communities within the critical habitat,” said USFWS Director Aurelia Skipwith.

About 42 percent of the species’ critical habitat will be excluded under the rule, according to the Western Environmental Law Center. The decision ignores research from federal scientists, placing the northern spotted owl on the precipice of extinction, according to Susan Jane Brown, an attorney at the center.

Included in a flurry of deregulatory steps the Trump administration has taken before it gives up power, the move runs counter to advice from federal biologists who warned last year that lost habitat is driving the decline of the raptors.

The rule could be subject to the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to strike down regulations finalized in the waning months of an administration. Experts place the cutoff point for adoption of such rules in mid-May, before which they would likely be outside the scope of that law.

Democrats are expected to use their Senate control to strike down many Trump-era regulatory changes. Simple majorities are required for the CRA, and if Democrats are unable to get any GOP support, they would be able to break 50-50 deadlocks with the vote of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

“Habitat loss was the primary factor leading to the listing of the northern spotted owl as a threatened species, and it continues to be a stressor on the subspecies due to the lag effects of past habitat loss, continued timber harvest, wildfire, and a minor amount from insect and forest disease outbreaks,” the service said in an assessment of the birds dated Dec. 15.

In that assessment, the service said federal protection under the Endangered Species Act should be ratcheted up, not down, for the birds.

“Based on our review of the best available scientific and commercial information pertaining to the factors affecting the northern spotted owl, we find that the stressors acting on the subspecies and its habitat, particularly rangewide competition from the nonnative barred owl and high-severity wildfire, are of such imminence, intensity, and magnitude to indicate that the northern spotted owl is now in danger of extinction throughout all of its range,” the document reads.

The authors added, in part, that “we find that listing the northern spotted owl as an endangered species is warranted throughout all of its range.”

Last week, Interior said it would no longer hold petroleum and other industries legally liable for killing migratory birds as long as they did not mean to.

The executive branch has also pushed for sweeping changes to the Endangered Species Act, which applies to plants and animals, during the Trump era.

In July, Interior, joined by the Commerce Department, argued that the definition of habitat under the ESA, signed into law in 1973 by President Richard Nixon, should be narrowed.

Then in October, Interior lifted protections under the ESA for gray wolves, a long-held goal of hunters and Republican members of Congress. USFWS said it would monitor the animals for five years before turning management over to states and tribes.

Logging led to the widespread loss of forests and the protective dense canopies they provided, leading to the listing under the ESA of the northern spotted owl in the 1990s. Interior listed the owl as threatened following a court order in 1990, citing declining population and habitat, among other factors.

“Here in southern Oregon this is a death sentence for owls,” said George Sexton, conservation director for Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “This decision is intended to speed the clearcutting of the last remaining fragments of old-growth forests on Bureau of Land Management public lands.”

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Oregon Public Broadcasting

Gray wolf to get its day in court after removal from endangered species list

The buzzer-beating removal of Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf has led to multiple lawsuits against the Trump administration.

By Bradley W. Parks (OPB), Bend, Ore. Jan. 14, 2021

Environmental groups have filed a flurry of lawsuits against the Trump administration over its removal of Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed the wolf from the endangered species list last week. The rule applies to all gray wolves in the lower 48 states, except for experimental packs of Mexican gray wolves living in the American Southwest.

The Fish and Wildlife Service argues that gray wolves do not, by law, constitute a species and thus must be removed from the endangered species list. The lawsuits allege the administration acted prematurely and ignored the best available science in its decision.

“It was laughable on its face when we saw that argument, and we were kind of blown away that they made it,” said Nick Cady, legal director for Cascadia Wildlands, which is a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits.

In its final rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service argues that it was only focused on protecting gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes regions all along; any wolves in the rest of the lower 48 states are just vagabonds.

Because the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes populations have rebounded, the agency claims, gray wolves no longer warrant protection under the law.

Plaintiffs argue that’s bogus.

“The Service’s rule relies on the premise that alleged recovery in one region (the Great Lakes) is sufficient to delist a species formerly distributed across the entire continent,” reads one lawsuit. (Gray wolves in the Northern Rockies had lost all federal protection by the early 2010s.)

The suit argues that gray wolves are functionally extinct from about 85% of their historical range and still need federal protection.

The U.S. gray wolf population has slowly rebounded since the wolves were listed under the Endangered Species Act in the 1970s, but their foothold in many parts of the country remains feeble. Gray wolves number less than 200 each in Oregon and Washington. California has just a handful.

Gray wolf management and conservation approaches vary by state. West Coast states all have protection and conservation plans that include hunting and trapping bans.

“Those protections don’t exist in Idaho and Montana and Wyoming,” Cady said. “And what we’ve seen there is mass hunting of wolves and bounties even — and bounties are what led to wolf eradication or near-eradication in the first place.”

In a statement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service defended its decision to delist the gray wolf.

“After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery,” the statement reads. “This action reflects the determination that this species is neither a threatened nor endangered species based on the specific factors Congress has laid out in the law.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

January 13, 2021

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration Failure to Develop Recovery Plans for Two Critically Imperiled Salamanders

Frosted, Reticulated Flatwoods Salamanders Need Plans to Recover in Southeastern Coastal Plain

PANAMA CITY, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Healthy Gulf sued the Trump administration today for failing to issue recovery plans for the critically endangered reticulated and frosted flatwoods salamanders.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court for the District of Columbia, notes that the salamanders continue to decline across their range and suffer from ongoing habitat loss and degradation, despite being originally listed under the Endangered Species Act more than 20 years ago. Recovery plans would help stop these declines and support species recovery by comprehensively guiding conservation activities, including habitat restoration and management.

“It’s heartbreaking that flatwoods salamanders have continued to suffer for more than two decades while waiting for their chance at recovery,” said Elise Bennett, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These beautiful salamanders need recovery plans now if we want to bring them back from the brink of extinction.”

Reticulated and frosted flatwoods salamanders were historically found throughout the once-extensive longleaf pine forests of the coastal plain in Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. But today they’re limited to a handful of small populations in the latter three states. Habitat destruction and poor forest management continue to drive them toward extinction. They are also threated by climate change, which is creating stronger storms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Frosted flatwoods salamander populations suffered significant losses in 2018 when Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm, pushed 10 feet of seawater across the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, once considered a stronghold for the species.

“Sadly, these salamanders’ populations are continuing to decline while the federal government delays publishing and implementing a recovery plan,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf. “And they will continue to decline unless the Fish and Wildlife Service not just publishes, but implements, a recovery plan that protects their habitat.”

Recovery plans are the main tool for identifying actions necessary to save endangered species from extinction and eventually end the need to protect them under the Endangered Species Act. Research by the Center has found that species with dedicated recovery plans for two or more years are far more likely to be improving than those without.

Background

The reticulated flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma bishopi) and frosted flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum) are black to chocolate-black salamanders, with light gray lines and specks that form a cross-banded pattern across their backs. Both species occupy longleaf pine-slash pine flatwoods in the lower southeastern coastal plain. The animals spend most of their lives underground, in crayfish burrows, root channels or burrows of their own making. They emerge in the early winter rains to breed in small, isolated seasonal wetlands.

Once prevalent throughout Alabama, Florida and Georgia, the reticulated flatwoods salamander has not been observed in Alabama in approximately 35 years. In 2009 this species was struggling to survive in 20 small, isolated populations, and by 2015 was only known to occur in six populations. The frosted flatwoods salamander was found in 25 tenuous populations in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in 2009, and by 2015 this estimate was reduced to only nine known populations.

Because of these precipitous declines, in 2019 Fish and Wildlife Service biologists recommended reclassifying the frosted flatwoods salamander from threatened to endangered.

More than 80% of their habitat has been destroyed, and the remnants of pine flatwood areas are typically fragmented and degraded. These species continue to be threatened by fire suppression, drought, off-road vehicle use and disease.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the flatwoods salamander as a federally threatened species in 1999. As a result of a taxonomic reclassification of the species, in 2008 the Service recognized the flatwoods salamander as two distinct species. In 2009 the agency finalized its determination of endangered status for the reticulated flatwoods salamander, while retaining a threatened status for the frosted flatwoods salamander.

In response to a Center lawsuit, the Service in February 2009 designated 4,453 acres of protected critical habitat for the reticulated flatwoods salamander and 22,970 acres for the frosted flatwoods salamander.

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The Hill

Endangered Species rollback faced early pushback within administration, emails show

BY RACHEL FRAZIN – 01/13/21

The U.S. agency responsible for marine fisheries considered pulling out of a recent Trump administration rollback of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) over a disagreement with political appointees at the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), according to emails obtained by The Hill.

The emails from a Freedom of Information Act request show that during last year’s rulemaking process, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) considered withdrawing its support for a joint rule with FWS that makes it harder for areas to receive critical habitat protections.

The emails, though heavily redacted, reveal that NMFS officials were concerned with the “course” chosen by Trump officials at FWS in pursuing the rollback.

NMFS, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), appeared ready to back out in April.

“We appear to be at a fork in the road,” FWS assistant director for ecological services Gary Frazer wrote to agency director Aurelia Skipwith.

The next paragraph in the email was redacted, but Frazer added that NMFS and NOAA would “stay on board” if FWS was open to working through White House Office of Management and Budget comments and “willing to consider substantive changes to the draft.”

A day later, Frazer wrote to FWS colleagues that he “heard back from the director” and that “she and the rest of the political team understand that this course may cause NMFS and NOAA to withdraw from this rulemaking.”

Spokespeople for NMFS and FWS, which is part of the Interior Department, declined to provide specifics on what caused the dispute.

Critics say the emails indicate that efforts by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to roll back the ESA have encountered pushback, even within the administration.

“Interior under Dave Bernhardt is just gunning to gut the ESA, and the fact that clearly they were proposing things that were a bridge too far even for the Trump NOAA and National Fisheries Service is pretty telling,” said David Henkin, an attorney with Earthjustice.

The emails showed that FWS officials even started making contingency plans in case they lost support from NMFS.

Frazer told agency officials to get information about whether “converting this to a FWS-only rule” will impact its location in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Ultimately, both agencies jointly issued the habitat definition rule. It was finalized last month.

Spokespeople for both agencies declined to say how a resolution was reached or if any changes were made to the rule, which narrows the definition of a habitat under the ESA.

In order for an area to be classified as a critical habitat for endangered species and receive protections under the ESA, it must first be classified as a habitat.

The new rule, which was first proposed over the summer, says a habitat must be an area that can currently support species.

Environmentalists argue the revised definition ignores factors that could alter landscapes, including climate change, and the government needs to be able to protect land that could support species in the future.

Supporters of the change have argued that the previous rule was too burdensome on farmers and other industries.

An FWS spokesperson said the rule “importantly brings the ESA into the 21st century by more effectively balancing science-based conservation with common-sense policymaking.”

Shortly after issuing the rule, FWS alone issued a related one that further excluded certain areas from habitat protections under the ESA.

That rule said FWS can exclude an area from critical habitat protections if an analysis determined there are more benefits to taking no protective action.

Those analyses could prove beneficial to companies who want to use the land for other purposes, and opponents argued that the evidence they can consider could tip the scale in favor of industry.

FWS spokespeople would not say why that rule was issued separately by the agency.

Environmentalists say it’s unusual that the second rule does not also apply to NMFS-designated habitats.

“I don’t know of any substantive, material conservation-related reason why … exclusions would apply differently” said Jacob Malcom, director of Defenders of Wildlife’s Center for Conservation Innovation.

Malcom added that he believes the habitat rulemaking is part of a larger pattern of putting politics over science in the Trump administration.

“I don’t think that it matters what the domain is, whether it’s endangered species or climate or clean water or clean air where they haven’t done everything they can to remove science from the process,” he said.

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Montana Public Radio

BNSF Plan Aims To Reduce Train-Related Grizzly Bear Deaths

By NICK MOTT • JAN 12, 2021

The BNSF Railway Company Tuesday published a long-awaited habitat conservation plan intended to reduce grizzly bear mortalities in Northwest Montana.

Eight grizzlies were killed on railroads in near Glacier National Park in 2019, the most of any year on record. Those bears are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. That same year, conservation groups threatened to sue, alleging those railway-related deaths violated a part of the ESA that prohibits all killing of protected animals, even if it’s accidental.

That’s just the latest in two decades of legal threats over railroads and grizzly conservation, says Courtney Wallace, a spokesperson with BNSF.

“Over the last 20 years, we’ve been working with state, federal and tribal officials, really, to get a good plan in place that helps reduce grizzly mortalities caused by trains. And so this is a culmination of those efforts.”

The plan requests that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issue a special permit that allows 18 bears to be killed, without penalty to BNSF, on about 200 miles of train tracks that run along the southern border of Glacier, over the next seven years.

In exchange, BNSF pledges about $2 million over the same time period for measures that will help reduce other kinds of grizzly mortality. That includes funding for more bear managers at Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and the Blackfeet Nation, along with money for conflict reduction measures like electric fencing, bear-proof waste containers, and education and outreach.

Ordinarily, plans like this one would receive lengthy analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act. But this one received “categorical exclusion,” usually reserved for projects that don’t have a significant environmental impact. That means federal agencies get to skip environmental impact statements and other studies that come along with the NEPA process.

Sarah McMillan, conservation director at WildEarth Guardians, says there are promising measures in the plan, but it allows too many grizzlies to die on train tracks.

“Giving them permission to kill 18 grizzly bears over seven years and considering it a categorically excluded activity is kind of shocking to me.”

The plan will be administered by the Montana Outdoor Legacy Foundation, and it’s open to public comment until February 11.

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Star-Tribune

Recovered Midwestern bird soars off endangered species list

By JOHN FLESHER Associated Press, JANUARY 12, 2021 

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The interior least tern, a hardy Midwestern bird that survived a craze for its plumage and dam-building that destroyed much of its habitat, has soared off the endangered species list.

Federal officials said Tuesday that 35 years of legal protection and habitat restoration efforts had brought the tern back from the brink of extinction.

“Dozens of states, federal agencies, tribes, businesses and conservation groups have worked tirelessly over the course of three decades to successfully recover these birds,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Aurelia Skipwith said.

The smallest members of the tern family, weighing less than 2 ounces (56 grams), they feed mostly on small fish and build nests on the ground. While most least terns are considered seabirds, some species live by rivers, lakes and wetlands.

Their most important nesting areas are along more than 2,800 miles (4,500 kilometers) of river channels in the Great Plains and the Lower Mississippi Valley. They migrate to the Caribbean and South America for the winter.

Their numbers plummeted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when their feathers became a popular feature of women’s hats.

Then came a wave of dam and levee construction and other engineering measures to control Middle America’s great rivers — particularly the Missouri and the Mississippi. Those structures wiped out much of the bird’s shoreline habitat.

When listed as endangered in 1985 as a distinct population segment, fewer than 2,000 interior least terns remained, along with a few dozen nesting sites.

The Army Corps of Engineers played a key role in the bird’s recovery, changing river management strategies and placing dredged material to create new nesting and dwelling spots for terns and other imperiled shorebirds such as the piping plover.

The steps paid off. The interior least tern’s population is now estimated at more than 18,000, with about 480 nesting sites available in 18 states.

The Endangered Species Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor the tern for at least five years to make sure its numbers remain stable.

The engineering changes have drawn criticism and legal action from some Missouri River farmers, who contend they have worsened flooding since the mid-2000s.

But the Army Corps says it will continue conservation and monitoring efforts in an area affecting about 80% of the tern’s breeding population.

Its partnership with other agencies and nonprofits has shown that “we can protect and recover an endangered species while continuing to provide critical navigation and flood control benefits to the nation,” said Major General Diana Holland, Commander of the Mississippi Valley Division of the Corps.

The Corps and the Fish and Wildlife Service teamed with the American Bird Conservancy to develop a computer modeling system to track the bird’s status with and without continued management in certain areas.

States known to have colonies of the terns include: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.

Environmental groups that sometimes have opposed dropping species from the endangered list supported the removal of the interior least tern.

“We consider it an Endangered Species Act success story for sure,” said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity.

But he cautioned that vigilance was needed to make sure the bird’s river habitat remains secure.

“Scientists are warning that we’re in danger of losing 1 million species to extinction,” Greenwald said. “Efforts to manage rivers in a more natural way are the kinds of things we need to do to avoid the extinction crisis.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

January 11, 2021

$5,000 Reward Offered for Info on ‘TRUMP’ Writing on Florida Manatee’s Back

PETERSBURG, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity today announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in an incident involving a threatened Florida manatee in north Florida’s Homosassa River. A statement issued late today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that someone apparently scratched the word TRUMP into algae on the animal’s back.

“Manatees aren’t billboards, and people shouldn’t be messing with these sensitive and imperiled animals for any reason,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center. “However this political graffiti was put on this manatee, it’s a crime to interfere with these creatures, which are protected under multiple federal laws.”

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began investigating after the manatee was discovered Sunday. Anyone with information can call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation hotline at (888) 404-3922.

Protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1963, manatees are slow-moving plant eaters with no natural enemies. Most years boat mortality makes up about 20% of known human-caused deaths.

Harassment of a manatee is a federal criminal offense punishable by a $50,000 fine and up to one year in prison.

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Courthouse News Service

White House Readies New Lame-Duck Gut of Endangered Species Rules

The change allows agencies to duck environmental compliance reviews for projects on federal land even when there’s evidence the project will harm endangered species.

January 11, 2021, MARTIN MACIAS Jr.

(CN) — The Trump administration announced a new rule Monday that would allow the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to continue logging or road building projects even if they threaten endangered animals or plants.

Both agencies manage a combined 438 million acres of federal lands through actions that both protect fragile environments and administer development projects deemed economically beneficial to the nation.

Under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the agencies must consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife to review development projects to ensure they’re consistent with land management plans and won’t harm endangered or threatened species protected by the law.

But under the proposed rule, agencies would no longer be required to ensure compliance with land management plans “if new information reveals effects of the plan on listed species or critical habitat in a manner or to an extent not previously considered, provided that any subsequent actions taken pursuant to the plan will be subject to a separate Section 7 consultation if those actions may affect listed species or critical habitat.”

The change would involve cases where new information was not previously considered regarding how land management plans or development authorized under them harms a protected plant or animal, including harm tied to effects of climate change.

Section 7’s review requirement has played a pivotal role in understanding how development projects may be negatively affecting plants and animals.

In 2017, new scientific studies on oil drilling projects and climate change forced the Bureau of Land Management to review how related projects were disrupting four endangered fish species living under their protection.

Details of the proposed change, which is set to be published Tuesday in the Federal Register, said the new rule aims to promote consistent and efficient interagency action.

“This proposed regulatory revision would improve the efficiency of the consultation process while ensuring consideration of new information prior to the implementation of actions that may affect listed species or critical habitat,” the proposal said.

For nearly five decades, the Endangered Species Act has been the primary U.S. policy tool for preventing a torrent of wildlife extinction and conserving both threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats they live in.

Under the 1973 law, federal agencies must consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that their actions don’t jeopardize the safety of plants and animals listed for protection.

The Trump administration has slowly stripped fundamental elements of the landmark legislation, including by issuing new rules in 2019 that it said would undo “unnecessary regulatory burdens” while maintaining safeguards for wildlife species.

The new rules allow economic factors to be considered when agencies are deciding whether to list species for protection under the act and also make it more difficult to protect areas where endangered wildlife is not found.

Conservationists and scientists have said the Endangered Species Act should be bolstered further by the Biden administration and that it will take more than reversing Trump’s regressive policy changes to avoid future environmental catastrophe.

Reacting to the proposed rule Monday, conservation groups said the change could bring destructive logging, drilling and road making projects to protected critical habitats. In a statement, Stephanie Kurose of the Center for Biological Diversity denounced the outgoing Trump administration’s last-ditch rulemaking.

“As the last act of the most anti-wildlife administration in history, Trump is telling agencies to stick their heads in the sand and ignore science about the threats to endangered species,” said Kurose, senior policy specialist at the center. “Our most imperiled wildlife will suffer for decades just so polluters and special interests can keep destroying our public lands.”

In a statement, the center said the new rule mirrors legislation introduced in 2017 by Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana called the Litigation Relief for Forest Management Projects Act.

The bill sought to overturn the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. U.S. Forest Service, which held that the ESA requires the Forest Service to ensure its actions and authorized projects don’t harm protected species.

“After everything that has happened in the past week, it’s disgraceful that this administration continues to wage its destructive war on wildlife,” said Kurose.

Public comment on the proposed rule, under its docket number FWS‒HQ‒ES‒2020–0102, will be accepted for 30 days.

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Sustainability Times

Racing to save golden lion tamarins from an epidemic

By Sustainability Times on January 11, 2021

It is not just people who are suffering from a viral outbreak right now. So are endangered golden lion tamarins, whose survival is at stake. The culprit is yellow fever, a mosquito-borne disease which first appeared among the primates in Brazil two years ago.

Conservationists are racing against time to provide them with a vaccine, but another outbreak has been slowing down those efforts: Covid-19.

As their name suggests, the small primates, which are endemic to Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, bear a passing resemblance with their orangey manes to African male lions. Also called marmosets, the New World monkeys grow only to 22 centimeters (without their lengthy tails) and weigh a mere 800 grams.

Because of their diminutive size and distinctive looks, which many people find adorable, they have become popular as exotic pets, which poses another threat to their survival in the wild. Golden lion tamarins, which are classified as endangered animal by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), were almost driven into extinction by a combination of threats such as habitat loss and poaching for  the exotic pet trade.

Faced by these threats, the population of tamarins in the wild plunged to a mere few hundred in the 1960s and 1970s, causing them to be listed as critically endangered. However, the species has managed to bounce back thanks to concerted conservation efforts, including captive-breeding programs for releasing marmosets back into their natural habitats.

As part of targeted conservation initiatives a number of the primates have been relocated from fragmented habitats into larger and undisturbed forests. These efforts have succeeded in growing their numbers while also ensuring genetic diversity in wild populations so that by 2014 wild tamarins numbered about 3,700 individuals.

Then disaster struck. In late 2016 Brazil experienced a severe outbreak of yellow fever, which by 2018 began to sicken tamarins in what came as a surprise to conservationists. In fact, golden lion tamarins proved to be even more vulnerable to the disease than people are.

“[W]e didn’t know if the [animals] were susceptible to the disease, even after four decades of working with the tamarins, but we now understand that they are even more susceptible to it than humans,” explains Carlos Ramon Ruiz-Miranda, president of the Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado (the Golden Lion Tamarin Association).

The mosquito-born disease has caused the population of the monkeys to plummet by a third in just two years. Their survival now depends on whether they can acquire immunity to yellow fever either naturally or by help of a vaccine administered to them by people.

Conservationists have decided that inoculation was the safest option and a vaccine is now available for just that purpose. Yet vaccinating the small animals is easier said than done.

Individual golden lion tamarins can be located in a forest within a few days by a small research team equipped with radio transmitters, but a team with no such equipment can take up to two months to find them.

Once they are captured in a special trap, the primates are sedated so experts can perform a check-up on their health and administer the vaccine for yellow fever. At least several hundred tamarins need to be vaccinated to protect their populations against yellow fever.

However, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, to which governments have responded by severely restricting the movement of people, has been slowing things down with the vaccination process mired in red tape.

“We were very frustrated and irritated with the bureaucracy,” says Ruiz-Miranda. “We were making weekly calls to try to get something going with the vaccination and to have a quick response to the realization we had lost the tamarins.”

Time is of the essence in a race to save the tamarins from any further ravages of the disease within their ranks. “The smaller the population, the higher the probability that any small catastrophic event could wipe them out,” Ruiz-Miranda warns. “If nothing is done, we could start seeing local extinctions.”

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NJ Spotlight News

NJ bald eagle population soars to record; nesting pairs now in all 21 counties

Recovery driven by DDT ban, rigorous regulation and volunteer monitoring of nest sites

JON HURDLE, January 11, 2021

New Jersey’s population of bald eagles rose to a record high and spread to all 21 counties last year, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. Their revival is thanks to a federal ban on the toxic chemical DDT, long-term protections by state biologists and a network of volunteers who monitor the nests of the iconic birds.

There are now 220 nesting pairs that raised 307 young in 2020, including a record increase of 36 new nests, the DEP said last week.

Those stats represent a strong comeback after the number of eagles dropped to a single nesting pair in the late 1970s because of the toxic insecticide DDT, which made shells so thin they could not be incubated or failed to hatch for other reasons. The chemical was banned by the federal government in 1972 because of its harmful effects on wildlife, including bald eagles.

The birds were also threatened by habitat loss, human disturbance and even hunting, although those pressures have been eased by several conservation laws to protect the species, helped by intensive monitoring of nest sites.

The eagles have landed

About half of the current nests are in Cumberland, Salem and Cape May counties, near to the Delaware Bay and its tributary rivers, where the birds can hunt for fish. Of the new nests, 22 were found in South Jersey, with seven each in central and northern regions; the last county to host a nest was Essex, the DEP said.

“New Jersey’s abundant and growing bald eagle population is a great success story that shows our wildlife conservation work and partnerships are effective,” said soon-to-retire DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe, in a statement. “Thanks to the hard work of our wildlife conservationists, a commitment to using the best science and our collaboration with our partners, the growing eagle population that has expanded statewide is proof that we have a healthy environment for wildlife.”

The DEP’s work includes mapping the sites of all nests so that their presence can be considered when officials make land-use decisions, said Kathy Clark, Supervising Zoologist with DEP’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program.

The DEP monitors the habitat where the birds hunt, and can apply regulations to those areas too, Clark said. Since about three-quarters of eagle nests are on private land, the DEP also works with landowners to minimize human disturbance to nesting sites, and to sustain favorable habitat.

A nest-monitoring program managed by the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey uses about 100 volunteers to observe nests and report the birds’ behavior to DEP biologists. In 2020, volunteers determined that 210 nests raised an average of 1.46 young, above the level of 1 per nest that’s needed to maintain a stable population.

David Wheeler, executive director of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation, said the eagle’s recovery is an inspiring example. “The bald eagle’s return illustrates what is possible for many other rare species when you bring together proactive wildlife management, strong public investment and the unparalleled dedication of biologists and volunteers.”

Although the federal DDT ban began to bring the bird back from the brink of extinction in New Jersey, its recovery has been very largely driven by the DEP, said Eric Stiles, executive director of New Jersey Audubon.

“This is an amazing story New Jersey should celebrate,” he said. “It took banning DDT, passage of the Endangered Species Act and then thousands of dedicated professionals, both paid and volunteers, working tirelessly to bring the species back.”

The conservation effort has been helped by the bird’s status as the national emblem and its majestic appearance, helping to build public support, Stiles said. He said private landowners are often eager to help protect the bird if it nests on their property.

“When I found out that a bald eagle nest was located on a farm, I was so happy because they were so proud of the bald eagles, he said. “That was the best-case scenario.”

The bird’s iconic status also helps explain its spread throughout New Jersey, including in some densely populated and highly urbanized areas, Stiles said. “I have yet to meet a person who sees a bald eagle, and doesn’t put down their phone, and just gaze in amazement,” he said.

Larry Niles, a former DEP scientist, led the department’s eagle-conservation program in the early 1980s, in part by introducing young birds that had been captured from nests in Canada, raised by humans in New Jersey for about a month, and then released.

Conning eagles for their own good

Niles, now an independent wildlife biologist, also took eggs from New Jersey’s only bald eagle nest at the time – at Bear Swamp in Cumberland County – before their shells were broken by unsuspecting parents during incubation. He substituted fake eggs so that the parents continued to nest; artificially incubated and hatched the real eggs, and then put the young birds in the nest in place of the fake eggs.

“We would climb back up the tree weeks later, take the fake eggs out and then put in the chicks, and then the adults just thought that the eggs hatched,” he said. After about five years, the nest became productive again when the older female died and was replaced by a younger that was not contaminated with DDT.

The early conservation program also included a lawsuit filed by the DEP against the developer of a new port on South Jersey’s Cohansey River, where only the second pair of eagles were starting to nest. The DEP won its case on the grounds that the project would have violated the federal Endangered Species Act, Niles recalled.

He said the state has been rigorous in using regulation to protect not only nest sites but also the bird’s foraging grounds. “It’s a really good expression of how committed the state is to protecting its important ecological resources,” he said.

The eagle’s recovery is also a sign that the environment, at least in the bird’s habitat, is clean enough to sustain it, Niles said.

“The eagle reflects the environmental quality of the area around it, and because it has such a large need, it’s a good way of gauging the protection of the land itself,” he said.

But however successful the state has been in using regulation to protect the bird, its recovery could not have happened without the many volunteers who have monitored nest sites and worked to protect foraging areas.

“No one could afford that kind of protection unless it was driven by volunteers,” he said.

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Quad-City Times

Group goes to bat for endangered species

By Alma Gaul, January 10, 2021

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice last week of its intent to sue the outgoing Interior Secretary for delaying protection for 11 species that have been identified as warranting endangered status but  placed on a candidate list instead.

These species include the monarch butterfly.

Others are the eastern gopher tortoise, Peñasco least chipmunk, longfin smelt, Colorado Delta clam, three Texas mussels, magnificent ramshorn snail, bracted twistflower and northern spotted owl.

To protect these species will require funding, new leadership at the Fish and Wildlife Service — the agency that recommends species for listing — and a renewed commitment to science, according to a news release from the center, a national, nonprofit conservation based in Portland, Oregon.

Earlier this year the center filed suit in Washington, D.C., over more than 200 species from the Fish and Wildlife Service workplan that await decisions.

Here’s a closer look at the recent 11 species.

Monarch butterfly: The butterfly was found to be warranted for protecting on Dec.16, 2020.

The most recent population counts show a decline of 85% for the eastern U.S. population that overwinters in Mexico and a decline of 99% for monarchs west of the Rockies, which overwinter in California, the center said. Both populations are well below the thresholds at which government scientists estimate the migrations could collapse.

Eastern gopher tortoise: Gopher tortoises have shovel-like front legs and strong, thick back legs to help them dig intricate burrows, which are used by more than 360 other species. Gopher tortoises in Louisiana, Mississippi and western Alabama are already protected under the Endangered Species Act, but those in eastern Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina still await protection. The tortoises need large, unfragmented, long-leaf pine forests to survive. They have been waiting for protection since 1982.

Longfin smelt: These were once one of the most abundant fishes in the San Francisco Bay and Delta; historically they were so common that their numbers supported a commercial fishery. Due to poor management of California’s largest estuary ecosystem, which has allowed excessive water diversions and reduced freshwater flow into the Bay, the longfin smelt has undergone catastrophic declines in the past 20 years. It has been waiting for protection since 1994.

Northern spotted owl: Listed as threatened in 1990, the northern spotted owl has continued to decline in the face of continued loss of old forests to logging and invasion of its habitat by barred owls. It was found to warrant uplisting to endangered in December 2020, but awaits that upgrade in its protection.

Magnificent ramshorn: This snail is endemic to the lower Cape Fear River Basin in North Carolina. It is currently extinct in the wild because of massive alteration of its historic habitats by dams, development and pollution. Two captive populations keep hope alive, but stream restoration is needed to restore it to the wild. It has been waiting for protection since 1984.

Colorado Delta clam: Once abundant in the Colorado River estuary in the Gulf of California in Mexico, the Colorado Delta clam has undergone massive declines in response to drastically reduced Colorado River flows from the United States. It has been waiting for protection since 2019.

Texas fatmucket, Texas pimpleback and Texas fawnsfoot mussels: All three of these Texas mussels are threatened by a combination of dams, pollution and habitat loss and degradation. Protecting them would go a long way toward protecting the rivers people depend on for fresh water. They have been waiting for protection since 2007.

Peñasco least chipmunk: Limited to the Sacramento and White mountains of southwestern New Mexico, this chipmunk is threatened by the loss and degradation of mature ponderosa pine forests to logging, livestock grazing and development. It has been waiting for protection since 1982.

Bracted twistflower: This south-central Texas plant is primarily threatened by urban sprawl from Austin and San Antonio. It has been waiting for protection since 1975.

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Fox 2 Now (St. Louis, MO)

Illegal fishing nets kill sea turtles in waters off South Texas near maritime boundary line

by: Sandra Sanchez, Posted: Jan 8, 2021

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (Border Report) — Dozens of sea turtles have been killed recently off South Texas waters due to gill-netting — a fishing practice that is illegal in U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but one that happens when Mexican fishing vessels slip north, which is happening with more frequency, officials said.

In December, 49 dead sea turtles were found off the South Texas beaches of South Padre Island and Boca Chica Beach, Wendy Knight, executive director of the nonprofit organization Sea Turtle Inc., told Border Report.

Necropsy reports done on the juvenile green turtles found that they died due “to forced submersion, which is drowning,” Knight said.

The Padre Island National Seashore Division of Sea Turtle Science & Recovery has posted on its Facebook page gruesome photos of the turtles with the green plastic gill-netting choking the amphibians around the neck and fins.

“Biologists hypothesize that some or all were captured due to illegal gill netting in nearshore Gulf of Mexico waters off the South Texas coast. The U.S. Coast Guard and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department capture several vessels illegally entering U.S. waters from Mexico for fishing each year, and those numbers have increased in recent years,” according to the Dec. 30 post.

Sea turtles, all of which are listed as threatened or endangered species, are protected by federal laws and the U.S. Coast Guard is increasing monitoring “hotspot stranding areas and recovery of this deadly fishing gear and any entangled sea turtles,” the federal organization wrote.

Knight said a few necropsy reports are still outstanding “but they all appear to be relative to the same issue.”

This comes a year after over 100 sea turtles were found dead in November and December 2019, all attributed to illegal gill-net fishing tied back to Mexican nationals using illegal netting in U.S. waters, Knight said.

“We did have this same issue happen last year (2019) almost about the same time,” Knight said. “And the Coast Guard actually caught and arrested illegal gill-fishers out in the ocean, thanks to increased patrols.”

Foggy winter weather helps to provide cover that allows fishermen to slip north and deploy illegal fishing devices.

“It’s about this time of year, I think the fog contributes to it. It gives them kind of a place to hide,” Knight said. “In the issue last year (2019) it was Mexican nationals coming across international waters.”

Knight said that the recent turtle drownings have not yet been identified with any group of fishermen. “They did also find gill-nets in the water and were able to collect those and get those out of the way. But we have not identified who or where the fishers came from. But this looks exactly like you think it does,” she said.

Knight said turtles are not the only sea creatures that get trapped in the netting; dolphins and other large marine life that require breath also die in the nets “and are stuck in the nets until they drown.”

Earlier this month, two fishermen were injured off Mexico’s Baja California coast when they rammed their small boat into a larger vessel in the waters to protect the endangered vaquita porpoise, which was being threatened by banned gill nets in the Gulf of California. Only as few as a dozen vaquitas are believed to remain, making them the world’s most endangered marine mammal. Gill-net fishing has been banned in the Gulf of California waters since 2017.

A report by the Brookings Institute in September criticized the Mexican government for being unable to regulate gill-net fishing off Baja California. “Mexico’s very long coastline and a fishing fleet involving over 100,000 small vessels, known as pangas, makes enforcement on the seas and on land that serves as launching places of fishermen challenging. Illegal fishing is estimated to account for between 45% and — a staggering — 90% of official fish production in Mexico,” according to the report.

Sea Turtle Inc., along with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, volunteers, residents and local businesses work to help locate any sea turtles affected by illegal fishing nets. A 24-hour hotline for sightings in South Texas can be reached at 956-243-4361.

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Honolulu Civil Beat

Monk Seal Killings On Kauai Highlight Human Threat To Endangered Species

A new study found that human activity was to blame for more than half of all known seal deaths in the islands over the past quarter century.

By Allan Parachini, January 7, 2021

ANAHOLA, Kauai — The suspicious deaths of three Hawaiian monk seals on Kauai beaches — including one that officials believe was shot and another beaten — late last year highlight the dangers threatening the recovery of the endangered species.

While the recent deaths remain under investigation, a new study found that human activity ranging from deliberate killings to fishing hooks was to blame for more than half of all known seal deaths in the islands over the past quarter century.

The first seal was found dead with apparent gunshot wounds in September while the second was believed to have been beaten to death in November, according to information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The third was found on Dec. 2 in the same area as the other two near Kauai’s Anahola Beach Park.

Staffing limitations related to the COVID-19 pandemic and other resource shortages have delayed completion of full investigations in all three cases, according to NOAA.

The agency also has offered a $20,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible.

But a Native Hawaiian community activist here who follows marine mammal issues and has been used as a resource by investigators trying to determine who killed the seals said the animals remain the subject of community hostility.

Many community members cling to mistaken beliefs that monk seals compete with local fishermen and consume a significant portion of what could be their catch, said Nalani Kaneakua, the Anahola activist.

Some community members also dispute whether the monk seal is accurately called a native animal, despite the fact that the seal’s presence through hundreds of years of Hawaiian history has been clearly documented.

That remains true, she said, even after years of public education programming designed to neutralize erroneous assumptions.

“I went down to the beach and talked to a lot of the local boys and their uncles,” she said. “They hate the seals. I shared hard core facts and figures with them. They still don’t buy it. These monk seals date back to the time of creation of the Hawaiian Islands.

“It’s heartbreaking every time I hear about one of these deaths. I tell them: ‘The seal is more Hawaiian than you are.’ Our culture has become so disconnected that they forget that the seal is one of us.”

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered seal species and is protected under the Endangered Species Act and Hawaii state law, meaning it is illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap or otherwise harm them.

In a newly published paper in the journal Marine Mammal Science, a research team found causes attributable to human activity are responsible for more than half of the 114 deaths of seals that occurred in the main Hawaiian Islands between 1992 and 2019.

These so-called anthropogenic causes of death include beatings and other types of deliberate killings, drownings caused by entanglement in things like fishing nets and seals who die after swallowing fish hooks.

Seals occasionally drown for natural reasons, but fishing gear entanglement has emerged as one of the most lethal risks the animals face in the wild.

The team also argued that toxoplasmosis — which accounted for 14% of the seal deaths — should be classified as caused by humans as it’s caused by ingestion of a parasite common to house cat feces.

Monk seals sometimes ingest the feline waste after it washes off the islands. The researchers cautioned that toxoplasmosis may not be the cause of all such deaths as a small number of other pathogens can be responsible.

Only about 300 of the estimated seal population of about 1,400 live on Hawaii’s inhabited islands. The vast majority live in the remote Northwest Hawaiian Islands and have far less human contact.

However, the large corps of monk seal volunteer observers and full-time staff on Oahu and Kauai make monitoring the Main Hawaiian Islands population far more straightforward.

The research team included a Honolulu-based NOAA veterinarian who is considered to be one of the most knowledgeable experts in the field. Others on the team were a Montana-based biological consultant, a University of Hawaii researcher at the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and Marine Mammal Pathology Services, based in Olney, Maryland.

The NOAA veterinarian, Dr. Michelle Barbieri, urged caution in evaluating the three suspicious seal deaths, saying the public needs to understand that deliberate killings are only part of a broader picture of human-caused seal fatalities.

“I think we’re still putting these three most recent deaths in context,” Barbieri said in a phone interview last month. “We have an ongoing investigation. It would be premature to lump them together one way or another.”

The condition of the seal carcasses often frustrates investigators since they may be badly decomposed by the time they’re found, making it impossible to identify a specific cause of death. Even when there is a necropsy — the animal equivalent of an autopsy — the situation may still be unclear. Cases of trauma may not be entirely straightforward, she said.

“Grossly, we might see something that appears consistent with hemorrhage. What the pathologist sees (from tissue samples taken during the necropsy) is whether that hemorrhage happened before the seal died,” she said. “It’s a very layered process. It doesn’t end with the necropsy.”

An example of that type of challenge came in 2015 when a seemingly well-nourished dead male seal was found on a beach here. Volunteers and a veterinarian who works for the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources responded, initially isolating the carcass as if the site was a crime scene.

When turned over, the seal had a severe wound on the bottom of the head. Initially, it was assumed to be from a machete blow, but months of subsequent investigation determined that the cause of death was a propeller strike — the first such death recorded in at least 20 years.

Kaneakua agreed that the apparent deliberate killings are but a small fraction of all the deaths of seals. She said she once intervened with a fisherman who thought seals were taking a lot of the catch from his nets. She helped him make slight changes in how he set the nets and the problem was solved, she said.

“I’m from this area. I’m always on the beach. I’m dumbfounded. I don’t know why, who, what. I do know the seals are not well-received. I don’t know why,” she said.

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Oregon Public Broadcasting

The fate of Oregon’s gray wolves is now in the state’s hands

Gray wolves now have no federal protection in Oregon and the rest of the lower 48 states. The only thing standing in the way of their recovery is us.

By Bradley W. Parks (OPB), Bend, Ore.–Jan. 7, 2021

Gray wolves have had protection under the Endangered Species Act almost as long as there’s been an Endangered Species Act. Now, the wolves are walking in the world without the federal government’s protective shields they once wore.

The Trump administration announced in October that it would remove all remaining Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the lower 48 states, a move that had been in the works since March 2019. The decision exempts experimental packs of Mexican gray wolves living in Arizona and New Mexico.

When that decision took effect Monday, it formally shifted conservation and management of gray wolves entirely to state and tribal governments.

“At this point, I would not expect major changes,” said Michelle Dennehy, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It’s kind of business as usual for wolf management in Oregon.”

The question is whether business as usual can aid in the continued recovery of gray wolves in Oregon while also keeping the livestock industry happy. Before Monday, Oregon’s gray wolves were federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state. (Those in the easternmost third lost protection in 2011.)

History of hostility

The Trump administration hailed delisting as a symbol of gray wolves’ remarkable comeback. Conservation groups have challenged the decision in court, calling it premature.

The U.S. gray wolf population has steadily climbed in the past half-century, but they still occupy only a fraction of their historical range. Gray wolves have a tenuous grip on stability, which is true in Oregon as well.

“Across Oregon, there’s just a huge gap in the species’ presence,” said Danielle Moser, wildlife program director for Oregon Wild.

The most recent count shows 158 gray wolves in Oregon as of 2019. The majority of them live in the northeast corner of the state, having come over from Idaho. The number is a drastic improvement from the 14 gray wolves counted statewide a decade earlier, but research suggests Oregon could support about 10 times its current gray wolf population.

Humans have proven hostile to gray wolves throughout history. Livestock depredation led white settlers to wage war on the keystone species for hundreds of years. Wolves were the target of colonial and, later on, territorial and state bounties.

“Wolves have quite a sordid history in this country,” Moser said. “Wolves were hunted, they were extirpated, they were poisoned, everything you can think of. They were trapped pretty much out of existence.”

Apex predators like gray wolves are critically important to ecological health. They help control the population of other mammals like deer and elk, which in turn helps many plant species, so on and so forth.

As OPB reported in 2015, wolves can live just about anywhere and eat just about anything. The upward population trend of the past several years can continue pretty easily in theory.

The only thing standing in the way is us.

Canis lupus versus cattle

Gray wolves lost state-level endangered-species status in 2015, but they still have some protections under the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. Hunting and trapping of gray wolves remains banned statewide.

However, the removal of federal Endangered Species Act protections opens up gray wolves in Western Oregon to “lethal control” — a euphemism for being killed by government agents — in cases of chronic depredation. In other words, if a wolf eats too much livestock, time’s up for said wolf.

Rodger Huffman is a La Grande-area rancher who co-chairs the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association wolf task force.

“In the case of cattle versus wolf, cattle are gonna lose every time,” Huffman said.

Oregon does not require landowners to use non-lethal methods for deterring wolves such as fencing or flagging. Dennehy, with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the state will not kill wolves unless non-lethal measures prove unsuccessful.

More gray wolves does not necessarily translate to more conflict with livestock. The growth rate of the gray wolf population has far outpaced any increase in the rate of confirmed livestock depredation incidents in Oregon.

Huffman said having the option for lethal control, however, helps livestock producers and operators defend their businesses from “chronic offenders.”

“We’re just asking for a little relief,” Huffman said. “We’re not unrealistic in thinking that we’re ever going to get total removal.”

The Department of Fish and Wildlife didn’t kill any wolves for depredation in 2019, the year of its most recent annual report. It has killed 16 wolves total since 2009.

Losing federal protections still carries a lot of heft. Moser said it’s unclear how the state conservation and management plan will work in the western half of Oregon where wolf packs are smaller and human population centers are larger.

“Quite frankly, in the past, it’s been questionable how ODFW would approach species management,” said Oregon Wild’s Moser, “and so I guess this is an opportunity for them to really prove to Oregonians that they really care about wolves.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

News Release—January 7, 2020

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Firefly, Bees, Poppy Under Endangered Species Act

Trump Administration Drags Feet as Insects Show Dangerous Global Declines

OAKLAND, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice today of its intent to sue the Trump administration for failing to protect four imperiled insects and one plant under the Endangered Species Act.

The insects are the Bethany Beach firefly, Franklin’s bumblebee, Gulf Coast solitary bee and Mojave poppy bee, a solitary and specialist pollinator that depends on a plant species called the Las Vegas bearpoppy, also named in the notice.

A growing body of evidence is exposing alarming global declines in insects caused by habitat loss, pesticides, climate change and other threats. Recent evidence shows 40% of insect species could soon be facing extinction.

“Insects play vital roles that keep our world functioning, but they’re declining by about 10% per decade, nearly twice as fast as other animals,” said Dr. Tara Cornelisse, an entomologist and senior scientist at the Center. “We can’t stand by while the Trump administration delays lifesaving protections to some of the most imperiled creatures around.”

Following the Center’s petitions to protect the firefly, solitary bees and poppy as endangered, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found the species may warrant protection under the Act. But it failed to make a listing determination within the required 12-month period. It also failed to finalize its August 2019 proposed rule to protect the Franklin’s bumblebee as endangered.

Long delays in protecting species under the Act have been a persistent problem for decades. On average species have waited 12 years for protection during the Act’s 40-plus-year history, and at least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

“The Endangered Species Act is incredibly successful at preventing extinctions and is a key tool for reversing declines of threatened insects and the species they depend on,” said Cornelisse. “But these five species can’t wait 12 years. The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to take swift action to give them the full protections they need to survive.”

In 2016 the Fish and Wildlife Service developed a workplan to address a portion of the more than 500 species waiting for protection. But because of interference from the Trump administration, the agency has failed to make dozens of findings every year since. In 2020 the Trump Fish and Wildlife Service failed to make decisions for 58 species identified in its workplan.

Last year the Center filed suit in Washington, D.C. over more than 200 species from the workplan that await decisions, including dozens of insects. In addition to the five species included in today’s notice, the Center plans to initiate lawsuits for another 15 species waiting for listing and 89 species waiting for designation of critical habitat.

The Center hopes to work out a schedule with the Biden administration to ensure these species get protection and avoid extinction.

Species Highlights

Bethany Beach firefly — This dangerously imperiled firefly has been documented at only seven sites along the Delaware coast, virtually all of them smaller than a football field.

Gulf Coast solitary bee — This bee has been documented at only six locations in Florida, and the last state-wide count documented only 47 of the pollinators.

The firefly and the bee face similar threats of urban development, pesticides and climate change-driven sea-level rise.

Franklin’s bumblebee — Although once common throughout southern Oregon and Northern California, the bumblebee began declining precipitously in 1998 and was last seen in 2006. It may already be extinct due to pathogens, pesticides and small population sizes.

Mojave poppy bee — Once widespread across the Mojave Desert, the Mojave poppy bee is now found in only seven locations in Nevada’s Clark County. In its remaining habitat, the specialist pollinator only feeds its offspring pollen from the equally imperiled Las Vegas bearpoppy.

Las Vegas bearpoppy — Over the past 20 years the rare flower has disappeared across more than half of its range, and dramatically decreased in nearly 90% of the remaining areas.

Both the poppy bee and the poppy are threatened by Las Vegas urban sprawl, gypsum mining, grazing, non-native honeybees and poorly managed off-highway vehicle use.

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The Seattle Times

A new population of blue whales was discovered hiding in the Indian Ocean

Jan. 5, 2021, By Katherine J. Wu

The New York Times

Weighing up to 380,000 pounds and stretching some 100 feet long, the blue whale — the largest creature to have ever lived on Earth — might at first seem difficult for human eyes and ears to miss.

But a previously unknown population of the leviathans has long been lurking in the Indian Ocean, leaving scientists none the wiser, new research suggests.

The covert cadre of whales, described in a paper published late last year in the journal Endangered Species Research, has its own signature anthem: a slow, bellowing ballad that’s distinct from any other whale song ever described. It joins only a dozen or so other blue whale songs that have been documented, each the calling card of a unique population.

“It’s like hearing different songs within a genre — Stevie Ray Vaughan versus B.B. King,” said Salvatore Cerchio, a marine mammal biologist at the African Aquatic Conservation Fund in Massachusetts and the study’s lead author. “It’s all blues, but you know the different styles.”

The find is “a great reminder that our oceans are still this very unexplored place,” said Asha de Vos, a marine biologist who has studied blue whales in the Indian Ocean but was not involved in the new study.

Cerchio and his colleagues first tuned into the whales’ newfound song while in scientific pursuit of a pod of Omura’s whales off the coast of Madagascar several years ago. After hearing the rumblings of blue whales via a recorder planted on the coastal shelf, the researchers decided to drop their instruments into deeper water in the hopes of eavesdropping further.

“If you put a hydrophone somewhere no one has put a hydrophone before, you’re going to discover something,” Cerchio said.

A number of blue whale populations, each with its own characteristic croon, have long been known to visit this pocket of the Indian Ocean, Cerchio said. But one of the songs that crackled through the team’s Madagascar recordings was unlike any the researchers had heard.

By 2018, the team had picked up on several more instances of the new whales’ now-recognizable refrain. Partnerships with other researchers soon revealed that the distinctive calls had been detected at another recording outpost off the coast of Oman, in the Arabian Sea, where the sounds seem particularly prevalent. Another windfall came later that year when Cerchio learned that colleagues in Australia had heard the whales crooning the same song in the central Indian Ocean, near the Chagos Archipelago.

Data amassed from the three sites, each separated from the others by hundreds or thousands of miles, painted a rough portrait of a pod of whales moseying about in the Indian Ocean’s northwest and perhaps beyond.

Using acoustic data to pin down a new population is, by nature, indirect, like dusting for fingerprints at the scene of a crime. But Alex Carbaugh-Rutland, who studies blue whales at Texas A&M University and was not involved in the study, said the results “were very sound, no pun intended.”

The researchers ruled out the possibility that the songs could be attributed to other species of whales. And side-by-side comparisons of the new blue whale tune with others showed convincingly that the northwestern Indian Ocean variety was distinct, Carbaugh-Rutland said. “I think it’s really compelling evidence,” he said, drawing a comparison to linguistic dialects.

Genetic samples would help clinch the case, he added. But blue whales, which spend most of their time far from shore, are difficult to study. Whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries also culled hundreds of thousands from their ranks; an estimated 10,000 to 25,000 blue whales are thought to remain.

Not much is known about blue whale songs, although most researchers think that they help males woo their mates, as is the case with closely related species. That can make any modifications to a cetacean melody fairly high stakes, de Vos said: “If two populations can’t talk to each other, over time, they’re going to grow apart.”

Eventually, populations with different takes on a tune might splinter into subspecies, with their own behaviors and quirks. There’s not yet evidence to show that has happened with these blue whales, nor much information on what might have driven them apart from their southerly kin. But even if the whales in this new group don’t yet formally occupy a new branch on the tree of life, they are worth getting to know.

“What things like this show us is that there are different populations, with different adaptations, with potentially different needs,” de Vos said. To conserve the world’s blue whales, she said, “there’s not one single protection measure that’s going to work.”

(This story was originally published at nytimes.com.)

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National Law Review

Federal Wildlife Agencies Issue Final Regulatory Definition of “Habitat”

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

A December 2020 final rule defining “habitat” could have important consequences for future designations of lands and waters as “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Designation of critical habitat by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service (jointly, the “Services”) can affect projects that require federal agency permits or funding, because ESA section 7 requires federal agencies to ensure through consultation with the Services that their actions are not likely to adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.

On December 16, 2020, the Services adopted, for the first time, a regulatory definition of habitat, as follows:

For the purposes of designating critical habitat only, habitat is the abiotic and biotic setting that currently or periodically contains the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.

85 Fed. Reg. 81,411 (Dec. 16, 2020) (to be codified at 50 C.F.R. § 424.02). This definition will become effective January 15, 2021 and will apply to proposals by the Services to designate areas as critical habitat after January 15. The Services do not intend to reevaluate any prior critical habitat designations on the basis of this rule.

The final definition responds to the US Supreme Court’s November 27, 2018, unanimous decision in Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 139 S. Ct. 361 (2018), which held an area is eligible for designation as critical habitat under the ESA only if the area is actually habitat for that species. For additional background on Weyerhaeuser Co. and the Services’ initial efforts to address Weyerhaeuser, including the Services’ proposed definition of habitat, see our September 16, 2020 blog post .

In response to comments on the Services’ proposal and upon further consideration, the Services’ final definition modifies the proposed definition and proposed alternative definition and further clarifies the regulatory scope of habitat. The key aspects of the final definition include the following:

Introductory Phrase. The Services added the introductory phrase: ‘‘For the purposes of designating critical habitat only,’’ to explicitly limit the definition’s applicability to the designation of critical habitat. This clarification is intended to address concerns about the potential for the definition to apply to other sections of the ESA or other federal programs that use the term “habitat.”

“Abiotic and Biotic Setting.” The Services replaced the proposal’s phrase “physical places” with “abiotic and biotic setting” to capture a broader set of characteristics, conditions, and processes (i.e., habitat is more than simply a physical location), and to address concerns that natural spatial and temporal variations in habitat were not encompassed in the proposed definition. Abiotic refers to non-living characteristics such as soil, water, temperature, or physical processes. Biotic refers to living features such as specific plant communities or prey species. The Services chose not to use the ESA’s statutory phrase “physical or biological features” to avoid overlap between statutory language regarding occupied critical habitat and this broader regulatory definition. The use of “abiotic and biotic setting” is also intended to avoid using the undefined term “attributes” from the Services’ proposal, but it is intended to be inclusive of “physical or biological features.”

“Currently or Periodically.” The Services included “periodically,” in the final definition, to clarify that habitat includes ephemeral habitat – areas that may be variable both temporally and spatially, such as areas prone to seasonal flooding and dynamic riverine sandbars that may develop during certain times of the year. In other words, these are areas where the resources and conditions are not consistently present, but appear at regular intervals. The definition, therefore, excludes areas that do not currently or periodically contain the requisite resources and conditions, even if they could in the future after restoration activities or other changes.

“Resources or Conditions.” The final rule replaces the phrase “existing attributes” in the proposal, which the Services state was found to be vague, poorly defined, or confusing by commenters, with “resources or conditions.” This phrase clarifies that the habitat definition includes all qualities of an area that can make that area important to the species, such as dynamic processes (e.g., riverine sand bar formation or fire disturbance), a set of environmental conditions (e.g., temperature, pH, and salinity), or any characteristics that can satisfy life-history needs (e.g., food, shelter).

“Necessary to Support.” The Services’ proposal solicited comments on the phrases “depend upon to carry out” and “use to carry out” one or more life processes and which phrase better describes the relationship between species and their habitat. Commenters offered criticisms of both phrases. Thus, instead, the Services decided to use the phrase “necessary to support.” The Services note that this phrase is intended to convey its common meaning and better demonstrates how the habitat definition includes areas that would qualify as occupied and unoccupied critical habitat.

“One or More Life Processes.” The phrase “one or more life processes” includes areas used only during particular seasons (e.g., for migratory species) or phases in the species’ life cycle (e.g., as fresh-water spawning habitat). This phrase is intended to have the common biological meaning, including a series of functions such as movement, respiration, growth, reproduction, excretion and nutrition that are essential to sustain a living being.

Unoccupied Areas. The definition is broad enough to include currently unoccupied areas that meet the definition of “critical habitat.” For example, an area where a species has been extirpated may nonetheless provide the abiotic and biotic setting that currently or periodically contains the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.

Overall, the Services state that the rule is intended to help clarify what features will be considered habitat for a species when considering the potential designation of critical habitat for that species.

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Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB)

Group to sue interior secretary for delaying protection of spotted owl, other species

The Center for Biological Diversity alleges the Trump administration has failed to make “expeditious progress” on species awaiting protection under the Endangered Species Act.

By Bradley W. Parks (OPB), Bend, Ore. Jan. 5, 2021

The Center for Biological Diversity plans to sue outgoing Interior Secretary David Bernhardt over Endangered Species Act decisions on the northern spotted owl, monarch butterfly and other species.

The court filing alleges Bernhardt has unlawfully delayed protections for the owl, butterfly and nine other species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its director, Aurelia Skipwith, are also named in the lawsuit.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had to use lawsuits to get species protected more than one would hope,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Species have ended up waiting decades for protection, so we’ve had to step in and sue to get species protected.”

The northern spotted owl is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. It faces extinction due to the loss of old growth forests and the invasion of the barred owl in the Pacific Northwest and northern California. The Fish and Wildlife Service says the spotted owl’s continued decline warrants uplisting the species to endangered.

However, the agency decided against reclassifying the spotted owl in December, saying other species were higher priorities.

The Fish and Wildlife Service similarly precluded the monarch butterfly, which has suffered habitat degradation and population decline across the American West, from listing as a threatened species.

The Endangered Species Act allows the Fish and Wildlife Service to delay listing decisions only if it is making “expeditious progress” on its backlog of hundreds of species awaiting protections. The lawsuit alleges the agency has failed to justify its decisions on the owl and the butterfly given the relatively few listing decisions it’s made since President Donald Trump took office.

“The Trump administration has only listed 25 species in four years, which is the fewest number of any administration since the act was passed,” Greenwald said.

Greenwald said his group hopes to work with the incoming Biden administration on creating a schedule for listing decisions at a faster pace.

The Fish and Wildlife Service maintained in an emailed statement that other species were of higher priority than the 11 named in the lawsuit, including the spotted owl and monarch butterfly.

“We will undertake a thorough review of all available data to determine whether to proceed with a proposed listing rule for these candidate species,” the statement reads. “As a result, we may propose to list the species or conclude that listing is no longer warranted.”

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EcoWatch

Trump Admin Removes Gray Wolves From Endangered Species List Despite ‘Meager Numbers’

 By Common Dreams| Jan. 05, 2021

Posted by Brett Wilkins

Wildlife advocates on Monday accused the Trump administration of “willful ignorance” after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act after 45 years of protection, even though experts say the animals are far from out of the proverbial woods.

USFWS announced the rule change — one of over 100 regulatory rollbacks recently pushed through by the Trump administration — in October. The move will allow state authorities to treat the canines as predators and kill or protect them according to their laws.

In South Dakota, for example, hunters, trappers, landowners, and livestock producers are now permitted to kill gray wolves after obtaining the necessary paperwork, which includes a predator/varmint, furbearer, or hunting license. Landowners on their own property and minors under the age of 16 are exempt from licensing requirements.

In neighboring Minnesota, gray wolves will retain a higher level of protection in the northern part of the state — owners of livestock and other animals can kill wolves that pose an “immediate threat” — while in the southern two-thirds of the state people can shoot wolves that they believe pose any threat to livestock, as long as they surrender the carcass.

In Oregon, on the other hand, “wolves remain protected throughout the state,” according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Hunting and trapping of wolves remains prohibited statewide.”

Last September, Common Dreams reported that an analysis of deregulation in some Western states revealed that a record-breaking 570 wolves, including dozens of pups, were brutally killed in Idaho over a recent one-year period.

“Tragically, we know how this will play out when states ‘manage’ wolves, as we have seen in the northern Rocky Mountain region in which they were previously delisted,” Samantha Bruegger, wildlife coexistence campaigner for WildEarth Guardians, said in reaction to Monday’s delisting.

Bruegger cited the Idaho killings, as well as the situation in Washington, where last year “the state slaughtered an entire pack of wolves due to supposed conflicts with ranching interests,” as proof that “without federal protections, wolves are vulnerable to the whims and politics of state management.”

Monday’s delisting comes despite the enduring precarity of wolf populations throughout much of the country. According to the most recent USFWS data, there are only 108 wolves in Washington state, 158 in Oregon, and 15 in California, while wolves are “functionally extinct” in Nevada, Utah, and Colorado.

“These meager numbers lay the groundwork for a legal challenge planned by WildEarth Guardians with a coalition of conservation groups to be filed later this month,” said Bruegger.

Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement that “the delisting of gray wolves is the latest causality of the Trump administration’s willful ignorance of the biodiversity crisis and scientific facts.”

“Even with [President Donald] Trump’s days in office dwindling, the long-term impact of illegitimate decisions like the wolf delisting will take years to correct,” Larris added. “Guardians is committed to challenging this decision in court, while working across political channels to ensure wolves receive as much protection as possible at the state level in the interim.”

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Herald-Dispatch.com (Huntington, WV)

Captive rearing may help take two WV crayfish off the endangered list

By John McCoy, HD Media, Jan. 4, 2021

Strange as it might seem, a bridge-replacement project in Southern West Virginia might have provided the key to preserving two endangered crayfish species.

The new bridge, a railroad trestle that carries a Norfolk Southern mainline over the Tug Fork River near Matewan, was built in 2019. But before work could begin on the project, scientists had to ensure construction wouldn’t harm the federally endangered Big Sandy crayfish.

The solution involved capturing crayfish from the river, holding them until all the work was done, and then releasing them back into the wild. Along the way, scientists discovered a new approach for hatching and rearing crayfish in captivity — an approach that could bode well for other endangered crayfish species.

David Foltz, a senior mussel and crayfish biologist with Weirton-based Edge Engineering and Science, said the process began in 2017, when railroad officials began pre-construction planning to replace the bridge.

“Before they could proceed, they had to survey the area for endangered mussels, endangered bats and endangered crayfish,” Foltz explained. “We went down there and did the three surveys. We didn’t find any endangered bats or mussels, but we did find two Big Sandy crayfish.

“Since the species is federally listed, the railroad had two alternatives — move the project, or go through formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They couldn’t move the bridge, so they went into consultation.”

In 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Service told Norfolk Southern it could proceed, but only if scientists collected 50 Big Sandy crayfish from the site, temporarily housed them off-site, and released them back into the wild after the bridge work was finished.

“The goal was to remove any animals that might have [been killed or harmed] by the in-stream construction work,” Foltz said. “Getting 50 of them seemed like a daunting task, given that we only collected two when we sampled there.

“But we very quickly hit that number, and eventually ended up with 80. We started radio-tagging and releasing the ones that were large enough to carry a transmitter.”

Foltz enlisted students from West Liberty University’s Crayfish Conservation Laboratory to help with the collection and monitoring efforts. Some of the crayfish were taken to the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery for safekeeping, and some were taken to the lab at West Liberty.

While construction took place, Foltz and the students tracked the movements of crayfish they had radio-tagged.

“We were there tracking once every 10 days from June through October of 2019,” he said. “We continued that until all the in-stream construction was finished.”

Shortly after construction ended, Foltz started to write a report about the project’s progress.

“In the process of doing that, we realized that a lot of the females we had collected and brought in had actually dropped eggs,” he recalled.

Closer examination revealed that some of the females that hadn’t yet borne eggs were ready to. Foltz and Zac Loughman, the West Liberty professor who heads up the Crayfish Conservation Laboratory, set about making sure they did.

“David had brought us some animals, and they’d already deposited eggs at the hatchery,” Loughman said. “We knew we were getting more than 50 crayfish then. When I looked at the females that hadn’t dropped eggs, I could see ‘glair’ under their abdomens — white patches that indicate a female is capable of extruding eggs.

“I was like, ‘Holy Moses, what’s going on here?’ Well, we had a lot of them drop eggs. We went from 50 crayfish to hundreds of them.”

Fortunately for the newborns, the people at West Liberty knew a bit about rearing crayfish in captivity. They’d done it with other species, and it didn’t take them long to figure out how to do it with their Big Sandy cousins.

“We had so many baby crayfish we didn’t have room for them all,” Loughman said. “We had to send a bunch of them to White Sulphur Springs, and the staff there worked out a special diet for them.”

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The Abbotsford News (Abbotsford, B.C.)

 Scientists worry B.C. hatchery fish threatening endangered wild chinook

Latest assessments identify more southern populations at risk of extinction

QUINN BENDER, Jan. 2, 2021

More chinook salmon populations have landed on the endangered species list in B.C.

Among 28 southern groups now assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), only two remain “not at risk.”

“Some of them are not in good shape at all,” said COSEWIC chair John Reynolds.

“It’s risky to predict the future with salmon, because sometimes they surprise us in a good way, but a lot of it will have to do with what people decide they want to do about it. If people want to commit the time and resources, deciding the benefits of recovering these species are greater than the cost, then their future could be different.”

Adding to 2018 assessments on 16 populations, this year COSEWIC focused on 12 southern groups whose numbers are significantly augmented by large-scale hatcheries. Counting only the wild fish, four populations are endangered — the most dire category prior to extinction in the wild— three are threatened, and one is of special concern. As in 2018, just one is not at risk. Three remote populations are data deficient.

With many salmon runs experiencing the lowest returns on record, there has been mounting public pressure for the federal government to step up hatchery production through the Salmonid Enhancement Program.

But conservation groups and scientists are sounding the alarm on the long-term consequences of high-volume hatcheries. Because the genes of fish change rapidly to suit their environment, the biggest concern is fish reared under ideal hatchery conditions will pass on inferior traits. After successive generations, the population could be unfit for the wild.

“If you end up swamping a stream with hatchery genes, I don’t think that is a good recipe for long-term survival of the population, unless you’re prepared to perpetually keep putting out fish from hatcheries. That’s not what DFO’s policy is though. It’s to put wild salmon first,” Reynolds said.

He stressed small community hatcheries have a negligible impact on wild salmon and often benefit smaller depleted runs. The 23 federally-controlled hatcheries of concern release hundreds of millions of juvenile salmon per year.

COSEWIC released its conclusions in November. The detailed findings will not be available until the fall of 2021.

Until then, the actual numbers of wild versus hatchery fish in the latest assessments is unclear, but Reynolds said the competition is “significant — the proportion of hatchery fish can be quite high.”

Importance to fisheries

B.C.’s iconic chinook salmon have high cultural value to First Nations, and are also an economic driver worth hundreds of millions of dollars to both the tourism and commercial fishing industries. The human appetite for chinook is also in competition with more than 100 marine and land animals that favour the food source.

Predation, climate change, salmon farms and over-fishing are often blamed for cumulative impacts on chinook mortality.

The Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF) is undertaking a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind analysis in B.C. on the impacts of hatcheries, and whether they’re meeting their objectives. PSF Science advisor Brian Riddell emphasized the need for limiting hatchery fish to 30 per cent of a stock, and approaching the unique needs of each wild population individually.

“You can’t have everything at once. You can’t substantially increase the numbers without having an effect on the productivity of the natural stock. But you can have a more balanced approach and gradually restore the population but you have to protect the integrity of the local genetic adaptations.”

Both the recreational and commercial fishing sectors are vocal supporters of hatchery production. Sport fishing groups, who say they are unfairly targeted with angling restrictions, are also pushing for the tagging of all hatchery chinook so they can more easily target the fish and potentially enjoy more openings.

Joy Thorkelson, president of the United Fishermen And Allied Workers’ Union agreed, adding all species of hatchery fish are vital to the commercial sector.

“If there wasn’t a hatchery there wouldn’t be any fish,” she said. “As habitat has been destroyed there’s been more populations that are at risk, but they’ve been replaced by hatchery fish so we can continue to catch food. All of the major fisheries depend on hatchery fish to varying degrees.”

Government concerns

B.C.’s new parliamentary secretary for fisheries and oceans, Fin Donnelly, has been given a list of mandates to protect and conserve wild salmon populations, including the order to “support innovation in fish hatcheries”.

Aaron Hill, executive director for the Watershed Watch Salmon Society worries this will translate to a robust hatchery program that caters to the economic needs of fisheries, and not the needs of the wild fish themselves.

In a phone interview, Donnelly shared the concern of hatchery genes being passed to wild populations through federally controlled, large-scale hatcheries, but the strategic use of small hatcheries will remain an important component in provincial efforts to rebuild stocks.

“Community hatcheries and target-based hatcheries—we see it provincially as part of the solution. They play an important role, not just in what they do for salmon rearing, but in education and community engagement.”

The PSF’s scientific review of hatchery impacts will play a critical role in informing the province’s approach, Donnelly added.

The full COSEWIC study will be formally submitted to the environment ministry in the fall of 2021, at which time the Species at Risk Act listing process will begin for the assessed chinook populations.

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San Diego Union Tribune

Judge: Groups can’t challenge endangered species plans

JAN. 1, 2021

JACKSON, Wyo. —  An environmental group has no legal standing to challenge the specifics of recovery plans for endangered species, a judge in Montana has ruled.

The case began with a 2014 petition by the Center for Biological Diversity that asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revise and update its then-21-year-old species recovery plan for threatened grizzly bears in the contiguous United States.

Federal wildlife managers declined and the Center took the issue to court. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ruled Dec. 23 that endangered species recovery plans are guidelines, not rules that can be challenged in court.

“Notwithstanding the merits of the Center’s claim that the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) Service is simply not doing enough to protect the grizzly bear, Congress has authorized only limited avenues for judicial review of administrative action, none of which are available in this case,” Christensen wrote.

While the case was brought against the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, several other entities intervened including the states of Wyoming and Idaho along with farm and ranch groups. The Mountain States Legal Foundation represented the Wyoming Stock Growers.

“The stakes in this case were very high,” the Mountain States Legal Foundation said in a news release on Tuesday. “While this case directly involved the grizzly bear in the Lower 48 states, a loss in this case would have opened the floodgates for new litigation over hundreds of other species as well.”

In its 2014 petition, the Center for Biological Diversity asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to update its recovery plan and add several new areas of historic grizzly bear range as potential recovery areas. In a 2011 status review, the wildlife service had said areas in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and southern Washington should be evaluated for their potential for grizzly bear recovery areas.

The Center also asked the agency to take into account new research on road density and new techniques to connect recovery areas in updating its recovery plans.

Although Fish and Wildlife denied the 2014 petition, the agency did update recovery plans for grizzlies in the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, a federal grizzly bear biologist concluded that reintroduction of grizzly bears in Colorado’s San Juan and California’s Sierra Nevada ranges would likely fail due to a lack of core habitat.

The Center for Biological Diversity argued in court that federal wildlife officials did not update the population monitoring requirements in the recovery plan for the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk recovery areas in Montana, Idaho, Washington and into Canada, even though the agency noted such an update was needed.

“A court may review a recovery plan to the extent that it is missing on of the required plan components,” the court order states, “but it may not entertain disagreements with the agency concerning the substance of those components.”

Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Jackson Hole News & Guide the organization is “talking internally about whether or not to appeal that ruling.”

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EcoWatch

503 New Species Identified in 2020, Including Endangered Monkey

 By Emily Denny, Dec. 31, 2020

A lungless worm salamander, an armored slug and a critically endangered monkey were a few of 503 new species identified this year by scientists at London’s National History Museum.

“Once again, an end of year tally of new species has revealed a remarkable diversity of life forms and minerals hitherto undescribed,” Dr. Tim Littlewood, executive director of science at the museum, told the National History Museum. “The Museum’s collection of specimens provide a resource within which to find new species as well as a reference set to recognize specimens and species as new.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the museum was closed to the public for part of the year. Yet, scientists, researchers, curators and associates continued to study the species’ forms and structures and share their findings with the rest of the scientific community, Ken Norris, head of life sciences at the Natural History Museum, told CNN.

“You’re asking whether or not that new specimen is sufficiently different from anything else that’s been seen before to be regarded as a new species,” he said. “So you’re describing it for the first time.”

As biodiversity rapidly declines across the globe, identifying new species comes with a time constraint, Littlewood noted in an article by the National History Museum.

“In a year when the global mass of biodiversity is being outweighed by human-made mass it feels like a race to document what we are losing,” he shared.

Since 1900, the abundance of native species in land-based habitats has decreased by at least 20 percent, according to findings outlined in a United Nations Report. Over 40 percent amphibian species, nearly 33 percent reef-forming corals and over a third of all marine animals are threatened.

“503 newly discovered species reminds us we represent a single, inquisitive, and immensely powerful species with the fate of many others in our hands,” Littlewood added.

Among the hundreds of species identified was a monkey called the Popa langur, found on the extinct Mount Popa volcano in Myanmar. According to the National History Museum, the skin and skull of the monkey were collected over 100 years ago.

Scientists analyzed the coloration of the Popa langur’s skin and bones and sampled its genetics to compare it to related species.

“Monkeys are one of the most iconic groups of mammals, and these specimens have been in the collections for over a hundred years,” Roberto Portela Miguez, the senior curator in charge of mammals at the museum and involved in identifying the new species, told the National History Museum. “But we didn’t have the tools or the expertise to do this work before.”

The Popa langur is considered to be critically endangered with only 200 to 260 individuals remaining in the wild, according to The Guardian. As Myanmar rapidly develops, the monkeys are threatened by decreased forest habitats and increased hunting.

Naming the species, Miguez thinks, will help in its conservation. “The hope is that by giving this species the scientific status and notoriety it merits, there will be even more concerted efforts in protecting this area and the few other remaining populations,” he told the National History Museum.

“It has been a good year for discovering more amphibian and reptile species,” The Guardian reported, noting the scientist’s identification of a crested lizard from Borneo, two new species of frog and nine new snakes.

“At the moment we think that as a basic guess maybe 20% of life has been described in some shape or form,” Norris told CNN, expecting to identify hundreds of new species in the new year.

“Our understanding of the natural world’s diversity is negligible and yet we depend on its systems, interconnectedness and complexity for food, water, climate resilience and the air we breathe,” Littlewood told the National History Museum. “Revealing new and undescribed species not only sustains our awe of the natural world, it further reveals what we stand to lose and helps estimate the diversity we may lose even before it’s discovered.”

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Southern Environmental Law Center

Trump administration finalizes rule narrowing habitat protected by Endangered Species Act

December 30, 2020

In its final days in office, the Trump administration is continuing its assault on environmental regulations. The administration finalized a rule in the last days of the year that will weaken the Endangered Species Act by making it more difficult to protect areas as critical habitat for threatened and endangered species.

The rule establishes a narrow definition of “habitat” — a term that Congress and regulators have never thought needed defining in the 50 years since the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, was passed.

For purposes of defining critical habitat under the ESA, the rule limits habitat to areas that contain “the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.” The problem is, the final rule excludes habitat areas needed to ensure recovery of imperiled species, according to SELC Staff Attorney Ramona McGee.

“The final definition remains very focused on whether an area could support a species today,” said McGee. “This could exclude important habitat from protection—including habitat that might become important as an endangered or threatened species shifts its range in response to climate change, as well as habitat that is currently degraded or fragmented and requires restoration to support imperiled species.”

The final rule’s limitation of this definition to the critical habitat context appears to restrict its reach somewhat, compared to the two more broadly defined alternatives originally proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service.

“The good news is the agencies at least heard our concerns about how the earlier, proposed definitions were not limited to critical habitat,” said McGee. “But this rule change could still have severe consequences for ecosystems across the Southeast. Defining habitat by regulation is unnecessary. The Endangered Species Act has seen 50 years of extraordinary success without it.”

Habitat conservation is a vital component of protecting species from extinction. Habitat degradation and loss is the leading cause of extinction. Keeping degraded habitat from being eligible for critical protections could seriously undermine the conservation and recovery of at-risk species. Erosion controls and development in the Southeast have already damaged places vital to coastal species’ survival—including shorebirds like piping plovers, beach mice like the Alabama beach mouse, and sea turtles like loggerhead turtles.

Similarly, many species’ historic habitat ranges will shift as a result of climate change, but the new definition will prevent federal officials from designating areas that are likely to become habitat in the near future due to climate change. Birds, reptiles, amphibians, marine species, cold-water aquatic species, and high-elevation species will be particularly susceptible to climate-change driven range shifts.

Across the Southeast, there are currently 255 species that receive protections under the Endangered Species Act by their classification as endangered (176), threatened (76), or experimental populations (32).

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Canada’s National Observer

Ontario’s endangered species changes could cause local extinctions, researchers say

By Emma McIntosh, December 28th 2020

The Ontario government’s 2019 move to weaken protections for endangered species could lead to local extinctions for some at-risk creatures, researchers have found.

The Progressive Conservatives’ changes included lesser protections for species that also exist outside the province, and a mechanism allowing industry to pay a fee to destroy key habitats and rebuild them elsewhere. The new rules threaten to undermine conservation of species at risk beyond Ontario, the peer-reviewed analytical essay, published this month in the scientific journal Facets, found.

“If (the provincial government) decides to not protect species in Ontario, this can ultimately affect the overall global resilience of the species and increase the overall likelihood of extinction,” said Nico Muñoz, a co-author of the article and a PhD candidate supervised by Simon Fraser and Western universities.

“That’s the scientific reason I see a problem here.”

Failing to protect species in southern Ontario would leave them vulnerable to local extinction, or extirpation, in an area where their potential to eventually recover is already limited. Over 80 per cent of the forests that once blanketed the landscape have been replaced with urban development and agriculture, Muñoz said, and the region has one of the highest densities of species at risk in the country. The world is also in the midst of an extinction crisis.

One example is the case of the spotted turtle, a creature the size of two and a half golf tees that can be recognized by its smooth black shell speckled with yellow-orange markings. There are only about 2,000 of them left in Ontario, mostly in scattered wetlands along Georgian Bay and the north shore of Lake Erie, but they are far more abundant to the south, in the eastern United States.

Muñoz and co-author Debora S. Obrist, a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser, analyzed the ranges of 152 species listed as endangered or threatened under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act and found 121 of them followed a pattern similar to that of the spotted turtle.

Even though there might be healthy populations of some species elsewhere, dwindling northern populations are becoming more crucial, Muñoz said. As the planet warms due to the climate crisis and human development encroaches on more southern habitats, many plants and animals are shifting north, making populations on the periphery more important to the health of the species overall.

Those northerly creatures and plants are often genetically distinct from their southern cousins, specially suited to a harsher environment. Allowing them to go locally extinct in Ontario is likely to lessen species’ overall chances of survival, Muñoz added.

“In Ontario, we have so many species that are at their northern range limits,” Muñoz said. “They’re on that leading edge of this northward shift. So ensuring that species persists here, it’s vital for ensuring that they persist anywhere.”

The office of Ontario Environment Minister Jeff Yurek acknowledged questions from Canada’s National Observer but did not provide answers.

When the government first announced it was planning changes to endangered species protections, it said the province hoped to find “efficiencies for businesses.” Later, after the changes were passed, then-environment minister Rod Phillips said Ontario was “committed to ensuring Ontario’s best-in-class endangered and threatened species protections.”

“I fully appreciate that species protections and conservation can at times be at odds with business interests and economic opportunity, and appreciate that the government has a responsibility to balance these two pursuits,” Muñoz said.

“But the whole reason we need this law to begin with is because that balance has been out of whack for so long, both in Ontario and more generally. We have a lot of species that are at risk of loss here, and we have a responsibility to prevent that.”

How well endangered species fare will depend on how the government implements the changes, some of which have “ambiguous” wording, Muñoz said.

For example, the 2019 version of the law says the province must consider the “biologically relevant geographic range” of a species when classifying it. The government could choose to interpret that as the range that is relevant to subpopulations in Ontario, a perspective that would retain protections for many species at risk, Muñoz added. But if the government interprets it to mean the species as a whole, dozens of them may be delisted.

“When you read the new clauses, the wording is very ambiguous,” he said.

Beyond their biological importance, endangered species in Ontario are also of emotional value, Muñoz said. They’re part of the forests we walk through, the creeks and lakes we splashed in as children, the stories we pass on to the next generation.

“The nature around us is part of our identity,” Muñoz said.

“This value that species have is very much local in that it doesn’t matter how abundant the species may be in eastern United States. That has value here. I think a lot of people would agree that what’s around us is important, and we have a responsibility to account for the way we affect it.”

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Oklahoma’s News 4 (Oklahoma City)

Oklahomans take action ahead of possible Endangered Species Act listing for monarchs

by: Hunter McEachern, Dec. 28, 2020

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Monarchs flutter through our state twice a year on their migratory path. However, their dwindling numbers are causing some concern. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that in four years time, the butterflies could be added to the Endangered Species Act listing.

“Unfortunately the monarch populations have been drastically declining over the last decade,” said Katie Hawk, with The Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma and Okies for Monarchs. “Just this last year we unfortunately received some sad news that the monarch populations that travel here through Oklahoma did decrease again by another 53 percent as compared to last year’s numbers.”

For years, Oklahomans have been putting in the work to increase those numbers.

In 2016, Okies for Monarchs, along with over 40 organizations, developed a statewide action plan to build awareness and help install more pollinator habitats throughout Oklahoma.

“We had a shortage of seeds and plants available throughout the state, so we worked with nurseries to increase their inventory, as well,” said Hawk. “Other entities such as the Oklahoma City Zoo and The Nature Conservancy have done a number of outreach activities with the public, such as gardening, planting activities for families, for kids, making seed balls together.”

Hawk recommends posting a sign stating what the wildflowers are for to avoid complaints from neighbors.

“Signage helps to educate others as to what your intent is and what it is that you’re doing,” said Hawk. “Without the signage it’s very easy for us to think that this is just an unkept area.”

The planting of milkweed and other wildflowers will bring in the monarchs, as well as other pollinators, such as bees and birds.

“Native pollinator habitats also help to increase water filtration as well as reduce erosion and increase water quality,” said Hawk. “So when you’re helping to save the monarchs, you’re actually helping a number of our native species, as well as our water quality.”

Hawk said there is still a lot of work to be done to help build up the monarch population.

“We’re calling on all Oklahomans, all businesses, all agencies, all organizations,” said Hawk. “There’s something we can all do, doesn’t matter how small of a garden you have or if it’s just in containers on your front porch. If you plant it, they will come.”

In 2024, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intends to propose listing the monarch if it is still warranted at that time.

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National Parks Traveler

Survey Shows Consumers Are Worried About Environmental Degradation

By NPT Staff, – December 28th, 2020

Climate change and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic topped the concerns of 2,000 Americans who were asked to name the global issue that most concerned them on a daily basis. Most troubling to them of specific environmental issues were ocean garbage and water pollution, though habitat destruction was not far behind.

When asked which problem they would like to solve in an instant, water pollution was cited by 50 percent of the respondents, while 47.5 percent also wanted to solve the plight of endangered species and clean up the Pacific “Garbage Patch.”

The survey was conducted for Nature’s Logic, a pet food company, and the answers trended towards a desire to see a cleaner, more sustainable world. Deforestation, rising sea levels, natural resource depletion all ranked among the environmental problems cited by 41 percent or more of the respondents.

Interestingly, though, overfishing and the loss of biodiversity was cited as a concern by just 29 percent of those surveyed.

More than 40 percent voiced the need for companies to use renewable energy in their operations.

Nature’s Logic CEO David Yaskulka interpreted the results as a call by consumers for companies to be both more transparent in listing the ingredients of their products, and to stick to natural ingredients.

“Brands should make it easy for consumers to make better choices – like keeping synthetic ingredients out of food or using more environmentally-friendly packaging,” said Yaskulka. “And using easy-to-read environmental certifications on the packaging goes a long way in helping consumers decide which products to choose.”

According to the survey, 39.5 percent of the respondents said they “strongly agree” with the statement that they have made personal choices to reduce their environmental impact. Another 36 percent somewhat agreed with that statement.

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Reporter Newspapers (Sandy Springs, GA)

Researchers ask public to report wintertime sightings of monarch butterflies

Posted by John Ruch, Dec. 27, 2020

Researchers are asking for the public to report wintertime sightings of monarch butterflies in an attempt to better understand the famous, yet now threatened, insects.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the monarch belongs on the federal list of threatened and endangered species, but will not be yet due to pending work on other, more pressing candidates. That decision has been controversial, as national media have reported.

The familiar orange-and-black monarchs are known for their seasonal mass migrations, where they fly south to Mexico in the winter and fly north to the U.S. and Canada in the spring to breed. Scientists have found declining populations in those locations, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

According to DNR, not all monarchs make that migration. Some breed through the winter in the southern U.S. and there are “scattered reports” of some butterflies spending the winter in the region “in a non-productive state,” the DNR said in a press release.

To better understand the monarchs’ behavior and what it might mean for the survival of the species, a coalition of agencies is asking members of the public throughout the South to report any monarch sightings that happen in December through March.

Partners in the “citizen science” program include the DNR, the University of Georgia, the Wisconsin-based migration-tracking group Journey North and Monarchs Across Georgia, a program of Roswell-based Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia.

For more information and details on submitting reports online, see the Journey North website at journeynorth.org.

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The St. Helens Chronicle (St. Helens, OR)

Critically Endangered: ‘Iconic’ sea star now listed

The Chronicle Online.com, December 27, 2020

You may remember finding them attached to rocks in the surf along Oregon’s beaches.

Now, the iconic sunflower sea star is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The listing follows a groundbreaking population study led by Oregon State University and The Nature Conservancy.

“These sea stars used to be easy to find and were a hit with students and divers because they are unforgettable – they can be as big as a trash bin lid with 20 slimy arms covered in suction cups,” said OSU’s Sarah Gravem, a research associate in the College of Science and the lead author on the study. “Unfortunately, your chances of finding one now are next to nothing in most of the contiguous United States – this listing is one step above extinction – and I don’t think they’re coming back without help like captive rearing and reintroduction and reducing direct harvest and accidental harvest.”

More than 60 institutions joined Oregon State and The Nature Conservancy in the population study on the sunflower sea star, known scientifically as Pycnopodia helianthoides, which plays an important role in maintaining kelp forests, and thus sustaining marine life, along the West Coast from Alaska to Baja, California.

Populations of the sunflower sea star suffered dramatic crashes because of a marine wildlife epidemic event, referred to as sea star wasting syndrome, that began in 2013.

Scientists used more than 61,000 population surveys from 31 datasets to calculate a 90.6% decline in the sunflower sea stars and estimated that as many as 5.75 billion animals died from the disease, whose cause has not been determined.

Moreover, the research produced no indications of population recovery in any region in the five to seven years since the outbreak.

Sunflower sea stars are now nearly absent in Mexico as well as the contiguous United States, the scientists say. No stars have been seen in Mexico since 2016, none in California since 2018, and only a handful in Oregon and Washington since 2018.

Sunflower sea stars are a key predator of purple sea urchins and the sea star decline has helped fuel an explosion in the urchin population in many regions. An overabundance of urchins is linked to a decline in kelp forests already facing pressure from marine heat wave events, making the future uncertain for ecosystems that provide habitat for thousands of marine animals and help support coastal economies.

“Because most people aren’t out in the ocean every day, we don’t realize how much it’s being changed and impacted by humans,” said study co-author Sara Hamilton, a Ph.D. candidate in the OSU College of Science. “We need to think creatively about how to keep our ocean healthy. While drawing down carbon emissions is the most pressing need, rebuilding key predator populations, like the sunflower sea star, can be an important piece of the puzzle too.”

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is an important resource for guiding conservation action and policy decisions, assessing the risk of extinction of a species should no conservation action be taken. Species are assigned to one of eight categories of threat based on criteria linked to population trend, population size and structure and geographic range.

Species listed as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable are collectively described as threatened.

(This story has been submitted by OSU.)

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Boston Herald

New population of blue whales, largest animals on Earth, discovered in western Indian Ocean

By MARIE SZANISZLO | Boston Herald, December 26, 2020

A New England Aquarium researcher played a key part on an international team that has discovered what it believes to be a new population of the largest animals on Earth.

Every group of blue whales, who can grow to 100 feet long, sings its own unique song. And in a recent paper in the journal Endangered Species Research, the scientists describe a new song, heard from the Arabian Sea coast of Oman and the central and southwest Indian Ocean.

Salvatore Cerchio, director of the African Aquatic Conservation Fund’s Cetacean Program and visiting scientist at the New England Aquarium, first recorded the song in 2017 and knew it was one that had never been described.

“It was quite remarkable to find a whale song in your data that was completely unique, never before reported, and recognize it as a blue whale,” Cerchio said. “To think there was a population out there that no one knew about until 2017 — well, it kind of blows your mind.”

In 2018, he and other researchers created a stir when they reported the finding to the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission, which was assessing the status of blue whale populations in the Indian Ocean.

Researchers have long known that a unique population of blue whales lives in the northern Indian Ocean but assumed that whales in the Arabian Sea belonged to the same population that has been studied off Sri Lanka and that travels into the southcentral Indian Ocean.

“One of the things this paper shows is what we thought was one population is actually two, each of them smaller than what was originally thought,” said Peter Corkeron, chairman of the Kraus Marine Mammal Conservation Program at the New England Aquarium.

“We have to operate on the idea that they are endangered because the Soviets hunted them nearly to extinction in the 1960s. It was illegal, but they did it for meal and for oil,” Corkeron said. “How is it that we can treat such magnificent animals like this? What does it say about us if we let them disappear?”

Blue whale populations have only begun to recover in recent decades after a global moratorium on commercial whaling, Cerchio said, but they face newer challenges of expanding petroleum and fishing industries in the region.

“We’re hoping this discovery will raise the profile of blue whales because there needs to be more research and actions taken to protect them,” Cerchio said. “These are extraordinary animals that are at our mercy in a lot of ways. And the task for us is to learn how to become better stewards of them.”

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Tampa Bay Times

Most Florida panthers found dead in 2020 were killed by cars

The death toll appeared on track to finish slightly below recent years.

By Zachary T. Sampson, Dec. 25, 2020

At least 20 Florida panthers died in 2020, almost all of them because of people.

One was killed by another panther, according to data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Another was hit by a train. A person killed one panther intentionally, leaving its body mutilated on the side of a road near Immokalee.

Every other cat found dead this year was felled by a typical culprit: cars.

The toll, updated as of Thursday morning, appeared on track to finish lower than recent years — 27 in 2019 and 30 the year before.

“We typically say the number of panther fatalities and roadkill are increased with the increase in panther population size,” said Dave Onorato, a panther biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Under that logic, a lower death count might spell a bad turn for the endangered species. “It’s plausible. We don’t want to make too much of it yet, but it certainly gets our attention,” Onorato said.

Florida panthers are the only puma still roaming east of the Mississippi River. Their former range across the American Southeast has shrunk to a corner of the lower Florida peninsula. Scientists estimate between 120 and 230 adults live in the wild.

“For the most part we think the population is holding steady and stable,” Onorato said. “Signs don’t seem to show that it’s increasing at the moment.”

Environmentalists say the low numbers, and variability in the population estimate, mean the panther remains extremely at-risk.

“The panther is like this patient that’s in a bed in (the intensive care unit) and is in stable condition,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “You’re not going to send the panther home. … Any wrong turn can put it at risk of plummeting into extinction.”

One complicating factor for the 2020 figures is that biologists have tracked fewer panthers with radio collars than usual, according to Onorato. Their work, he said, has been hampered in part by the pandemic. Scientists have documented infections of the coronavirus in large cats.

“We don’t want to be the ones responsible for transmitting (a disease) to panthers,” Onorato said.

Among researchers’ current focus is a mysterious neurological disorder in panthers, which is visible in animals hobbled by weak back legs. Onorato said biologists don’t know what causes feline leukomyelopathy, referred to in shorthand as “FLM.” At least one animal with evidence of symptoms was recently spotted around the Big Cypress National Preserve, he said, prompting researchers to position more cameras on public land in hopes of documenting the disorder’s prevalence.

The greatest challenge for panthers, environmentalists say, is the squeeze of development.

“We’re heading toward a habitat that’s just too small to sustain a big cat,” said Matthew Schwartz, director of the South Florida Wildlands Association.

He and other advocates spent much of 2020 fighting a proposed toll road expansion, which could bring a new highway near panther habitat. The leader of The Nature Conservancy in Florida called it an “existential threat.”

Proponents of the toll road say it would spur development in rural Florida. But those rural areas, environmentalists say, offer crucial habitat for animals like the panther. Committees studying different segments of the road project suggested the state avoid environmentally sensitive areas.

“It really would open up the spine of Florida,” said Lopez, of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Frankly there’s no additional space for the panther to go. … Each panther needs a ton of habitat to hunt and reproduce successfully.”

Some nature advocates say they are skeptical of the idea that more panther deaths in the past have been a sign of a growing population. They wonder if lower death numbers in 2020 might show what would happen with fewer drivers in panther territory. People, they say, could have stayed at home more during the pandemic.

Bradley Cornell, a Southwest Florida policy associate for Audubon Florida, said panther deaths are a reminder of the importance of preserving conservation land and big ranches as habitat in the middle of the state where the animals could expand.

“Are we going to keep them as a zoo species that we have to highly manage in this confined area of Southwest Florida?”

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The Guardian

Even slow-moving boats likely to kill endangered right whales in a collision, study finds

Canadian government’s speed restrictions are not enough to prevent deaths of endangered animals, researchers say

December 24, 2020

For North Atlantic right whales, collisions with large cargo vessels are one of the deadliest threats to an endangered population. But new research from Canada has found even under the government’s current maritime speed restrictions, strikes are likely to be fatal.

In a new paper published in Marine Mammal Science, biologists found that collisions between large vessels and whales at a speed of just 10 knots had an 80% chance of producing a fatality.

“Speed restrictions do reduce the probability of lethality if a vessel strike occurs, but they’re just not doing it enough. We need to be cautious in thinking that we’ve solved the problem when the reality is that we haven’t,” said the study’s lead author, Sean Brillant, a conservation biologist for the Canadian Wildlife Federation and adjunct professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

According to estimates, only 356 North Atlantic right whales remain. Most of their deaths are caused by human action.

In recent years, the Canadian government has taken steps to reduce whale fatalities, including limiting the speed of large ships and closing commercial fishing areas where the whales are often spotted.

In addition to demonstrating that collisions are often fatal at relatively slow speeds, Brillant and his team were surprised to find that smaller vessels like lobster boats still had a chance of killing whales if the two collided.

“If you put two objects of similar sizes and one of them is soft and squishy and the other one doesn’t break form when it collides with something, the chances of a serious injury are pretty good,” said Brillant.

The government’s transportation agency, Transport Canada, and commercial fishermen have been interested in the findings, said Brillant. Transport Canada requires that smaller ships – those more than 13 meters long – reduce speeds, probably reflecting the new information.

While researchers identified a “threshold speed” of 5 knots for large cargo ships as the point at which collisions lessen the chance of being fatal, slow speeds make it difficult for large ships to maintain safe control.

And the physics of large vessels means speed restrictions alone aren’t enough to ward off the threat of extinction.

Instead, the federal government and marine industries need to be more ambitious in how they respond to the prospect of more fatalities, says Brillant, acknowledging that further action is a “difficult prospect”.

As well as closing off shipping to areas frequented by the whales, he points to early warning systems or rethinking how ships are constructed as ways of lessening the chance that human action – or inaction – kills right whales.

“We obviously need to evolve our industries on the ocean in a way that doesn’t accidentally drive species to extinction,” said Brillant. “Just because it’s being done by mistake doesn’t mean it’s an acceptable outcome.”

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Audubon

Government Proposes First Take Permit for Condor Deaths at a Wind Farm

As endangered California Condors recover, they are veering toward wind turbines. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing for the inevitable.

By Hannah Waters, Senior Editor, Audubon magazine, Dec. 23, 2020

The California Condor is perhaps America’s most iconic endangered species and conservation success story. In the 1980s, the wild population dwindled to just 25 birds, which were brought into captivity as a last resort. By the end of 2019, 337 California Condors soared over the West Coast. It’s still an endangered species, but biologists’ hard work rearing condor chicks and releasing them to the wild has paid off. The population continues to recover and expand.

But the condors may soon be a victim of their own success. This week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the federal agency charged with protecting condors and other endangered species, announced a draft plan five years in the making to allow an energy company to kill a small number of condors at a southern California wind farm. To get the permit, which would apply only to condors killed incidentally (as opposed to intentionally), the company would have to fund efforts, costing millions of dollars, to both prevent condor-turbine collisions and ensure more condors are released to the wild.

The plan is not final, and the agency is seeking public opinion on the proposal through February 5, 2021. While it is almost certainly going to spark a firestorm among conservation advocates, the plan is also an acknowledgement of an uncomfortable truth: that conservationists’ goals—expanding renewable energy to address climate change and recovering endangered species—are not always in alignment. Indeed, the condors and wind turbines appear to be on a collision course.

California Condors once ranged across North America. But a bevy of human impacts, including shooting, poisoning, egg collecting, and lead poisoning from ammo, largely driven by European colonizers, squeezed the birds into a narrower and narrower range. FWS listed the species as federally endangered in 1967 and launched a captive-breeding program in 1982. By 1987, after the last wild California Condors were brought into captivity, the birds were extinct in the wild.

Since then, the species has undergone a remarkable comeback. Biologists figured out how to get the massive raptors to breed in captivity, and by the late 1990s around 20 young condors were produced every year and released to the wild. The birds have since recolonized Baja California, Mexico, northern Arizona, southern Utah, southern California, and central California. Next year, the Yurok Tribe in partnership with FWS plans to release the first condors in northern California.

The potential condor-turbine collision site addressed in the new draft plan is in southern California’s Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County. Since 1992, FWS biologists have released captive-bred condors 75 miles to the west of here, at Sespe Condor Sanctuary within the Los Padres National Forest. As the population has grown—up to 99 individuals in 2019 from six in 1992—the condors’ range has expanded, too. In 2017, GPS transmitters showed that the wide-ranging scavengers soared across 17,500 square miles of southern California territory—a range expansion of 7,000 square miles in five years.

That expansion has pushed them into a dangerous area: the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains, where the spinning rotors of more than 4,000 wind turbines put the scavengers at risk of collision. The Tehachapi Wind Resource Area, a patchwork of wind farms owned by around a dozen private companies, produces more than half of California’s wind energy. The first turbines were built here in 1986, and more have been added through the years. Last year Amazon proposed a new addition to meet its climate change goals.

The draft permit plan published by FWS this week aims to address the coming conflict at the Manzana Wind Power Project, which encompasses 126 turbines in the Tehachapi wind area. The draft plan is a first test of a larger strategy to address condor mortality at wind farms in southern California and beyond, as recovering populations expand into industrial areas that have already been developed

“These wind projects are not proposed projects: They’re out there, producing renewable energy today. Whether or not we issue these permits, the turbines will be spinning tomorrow,” says Peter Sanzenbacher, a FWS wildlife biologist who’s been working on the Tehachapi condor problem since 2016. “We are trying to get out ahead of this.”

The permit would allow Manzana to incidentally “take” (legalese for kill, harass, or harm) two free-flying California Condors, and two associated eggs or chicks that could die in the nest as a result, over the next 30 years. To date, there are no known condor deaths caused by collision with wind turbines in Tehachapi or anywhere else in the country. But large raptors, including Golden Eagles, have died after colliding with turbines here.

To compensate for these losses, Manzana will commit to protecting southern California’s condors from its turbines for 30 years. They have a head start: In 2018, the company installed a geofence around their property, which tracks GPS-tagged condors in the area. If a tagged condor enters a defined danger zone around the wind farm, third-party contractors located 20 miles away alert Manzana so they can shut down turbines near the approaching condor. In 2019, 81 percent of the southern California population was outfitted with GPS tags. If the draft plan is approved, this geofence will no longer be voluntary for the company, and instead will become mandatory for 30 years. In addition, staff will monitor the farm for dead livestock (which graze in the area) and other carcasses that might attract condors, to swiftly hide or remove them.

As part of the draft plan, Manzana will also provide funding to help rear new condors at the Oregon Zoo to replace any killed by their turbines. Right now, the zoo has two full-time staff working with 11 pairs of breeding condors to produce chicks for release. Under the mitigation scheme, Manzana will fund an additional full-time condor keeper at the zoo, which would allow them to support more breeding condor pairs. The draft plan proposes that the wind operator fund this position until this staffer rears and releases six additional adult condors into the wild.

The draft plan puts the cost of maintaining the geofence for 30 years at Manzana $8.5 million. Funding an Oregon Zoo condor keeper will cost just over $500,000 over five years.

The condor-turbine collision course puts bird conservationists in a tricky situation, too. Climate change is a significant threat to bird populations and species nationwide. A 2019 report from the National Audubon Society found that 389 bird species could see their ranges shrink significantly as climate change alters their habitats, placing them at risk of extinction. That makes installing wind energy and other renewable energy sources to replace fossil fuels, which emit the carbon emissions warming Earth’s atmosphere, a top priority for many environmentalists. But they must walk a tightrope because wind turbine blades can kill birds, so facilities must be installed in the correct places, away from important bird migration corridors and habitat.

Audubon’s science and clean energy teams are currently analyzing the new documents. “The Fish and Wildlife Service and Avangrid Renewables [the owner of the Manzana Wind Project] have been keeping Audubon informed on the progress of this application for almost a year, so we were expecting this—although not as a holiday present,” says Garry George, director of Audubon’s Clean Energy Initiative. “We’ll file comments on the permit application in early February. Audubon has a long history of working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the recovery of condors in California.”

This draft permit also points to larger issues around endangered species planning and habitat designation. The condors had been released in the Los Padres National Forest on an ongoing basis for 20 years when Manzana Wind began its operations not far away. Yet the wind farm was built anyway, seemingly blind to the incoming collision if California Condors successfully reestablished the population.

“It doesn’t seem like a good place to have put one in the first place. Wind developers aren’t paying sufficient attention to these issues ahead of time,” says Mike Parr, president of the American Bird Conservancy. “The only way a species can recover is by occupying habitat they are not currently living in. If you’ve already filled that habitat with wind turbines, how are they going to recover?”

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The Daily Chronicle (Centralia, WA)

New Whale-Watching Restrictions Enacted to Protect Southern Resident Orcas

Lynda V. Mapes / The Seattle Times, Dec. 22, 2020

New rules that significantly restrict whale watching of endangered southern resident orcas have been adopted by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The rules include a mandatory no-go zone for commercial whale-watch tours along the west side of San Juan Island year-round, except for a 100-yard wide corridor next to the shore for commercial kayak tours.

The rules also impose a three-month, July to September season when commercial viewing of the endangered orcas by motorized tours at closer range than half a nautical mile is limited to two, two-hour daily periods. Watching during those windows was further limited to three tour boats per group of orcas at any one time.

Watching calves younger than one year old is prohibited. If vulnerable orcas, such as thin, sick or injured animals, are discovered in the population, they too could be set off limits for tours by emergency rulemaking.

The rules also set license application processes for commercial whale watching as well as requirements for reporting and training.

Recreational boaters under existing rules must stay at least 300 yards from southern resident killer whales and at least 400 yards out of their path or behind the whales. They must also cut their speed to 7 knots within a half-mile of southern resident orcas.

Listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2005, there are only 74 southern resident orcas left. Primary risks identified so far to their survival include noise and disturbance from vessels; a lack of adequate, quality chinook salmon; and pollutants.

The rules adopted Friday were several years in the making and created the state’s first licensing system for the industry.

The rules are intended to reduce the impact of vessel noise and disturbance on the orcas’ ability to feed, rest and socialize. Orcas hunt by sound. Underwater noise and boat disturbance make it more difficult for them to find already scarce food. Noise also forces orcas to expend more energy to communicate with one another, raising their voices to be heard.

The rules will take effect in early 2021 and affect only viewing of endangered southern resident orcas. Tours of humpback and gray whales and the far more numerous transient, or Bigg’s killer whales, may continue as before.

More than 4,000 people contacted the commission in support of more strict whale-watching rules to protect the southern residents. Only about 200 comments opposed tougher regulations.

The Pacific Whale Watch Association on Monday issued a news release stating the new rules would hamper the tour operators’ ability to provide a “sentinel role” on the water for the at-risk whales.

The nonprofit Orca Conservancy also argued the new rules will expose the whales to more noise from clueless recreational boaters and create a greater risk of vessel strike because of the reduction in professional whale-watch tours.

However, a report on the best available science on the effect of the tours by the Washington State Academy of Sciences Committee on Acoustics and Disturbance found there was insufficient evidence the tours play a sentinel role. Further research is needed to determine if the tours benefit the whales as operators claim — or in fact are a magnet for more noise and disturbance, the academy found.

The disturbance is consequential, according to a report prepared for the commission by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Commercial whale-watch boats make up more than half the boats in the vicinity of orcas, and the effect of vessel presence increases with boat numbers, the department found.

The only vote against the new rules came from a commissioner who wanted only one boat to be allowed in the presence of the orcas at a time, rather than three.

Amy Windrope, deputy director for the WDFW, said the rulemaking process was science-based and balanced the value of the whale-