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Mother Jones

Wolf-Killing Campaigns in Idaho and Montana May Have Just Backfired

Fish and Wildlife is threatening to re-invoke Endangered Species Act protection.

CHRIS D’ANGELO and ROQUE PLANAS, September 21, 2021

(This story was originally published by Huffpost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.)

New laws liberalizing the hunting and trapping of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies might warrant putting the animals back under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this past Wednesday.

Backed by the ranching industry, which views wolves as a growing liability in states with extensive cattle and sheep grazing, both Idaho and Montana enacted laws earlier this year making it easier to hunt and trap wolves, legalizing tactics previously reserved for far more numerous animals, such as wild pigs, raccoons and coyotes.

But that strategy now looks like it might backfire. Conservation and wildlife advocacy groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a pair of petitions requesting that the agency re-list gray wolves as threatened or endangered in light of new laws passed in Idaho and Montana to drastically reduce wolf populations. FWS announced Wednesday that its initial review found petitioners presented “substantial information that potential increases in human-caused mortality may pose a threat to the gray wolf in the western U.S.”

“The Service also finds that new regulatory mechanisms in Idaho and Montana may be inadequate to address this threat,” the agency said in its release. The review is expected to take a year to complete.

The pending decision promises to reignite longstanding tensions among the federal government, Western states and outside groups over who gets to manage gray wolves and how many the region should support.

The gray wolf was largely eradicated from the mainland United States, largely due to government extermination campaigns waged on behalf of ranchers trying to reduce livestock losses. The federal government reintroduced them to the Northern Rockies in 1995. For years, they remained federally protected under the Endangered Species Act, and their resurgence is one of the landmark conservation law’s biggest success stories.

But their recovery also set off years of legal wrangling as state governments sought the ability to manage them as any other non-protected species―including controlling their numbers through hunting and trapping.

Ultimately, states won that control. But hunting and trapping have not contained wolf numbers as efficiently as either state officials hoped or advocates feared. Instead, wildlife officials offered hunters and trappers more tags and extended seasons while wolf populations steadily grew.

The state management plans enacted when Idaho and Montana took control over their wolves call for populations of 150 in each state. Idaho’s wolf population tops 1,500 in Idaho and 1,100 in Montana today.

“Wolves are more than recovered in our state, reaching a population 10 times larger than what was required in the state recovery plan, and are now thriving in our ecosystems,” Chyla Wilson, a spokesperson for the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, wrote in an email to HuffPost. “Due to the high success of wolf populations, Idaho is now able to manage them utilizing tools we already have in place in the state for other species, such as coyotes.”

Exasperated Republican legislators, facing complaints from both ranchers and hunting outfitters worried about wolves’ toll on big game animals, tried to overstep the authority of state agencies by creating laws specifically to manage wolves. Idaho went furthest, letting hunters kill wolves at night or from motor vehicles, allowing contract killing for wolves and getting rid of the limit on wolf tags that an individual can buy.

A group of 30 former wildlife officials wrote a letter in April criticizing the proposal for snatching wildlife management authority away from trained biologists and putting it the hands of politicians in the state legislature. Idaho Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever opposed the bill.

Montana passed several more conservative laws with the same intent: squelching wolf numbers faster than state agencies seemed capable of without legislative prodding.

Environmental groups celebrated Wednesday’s news, though it fell short of their hope to halt this year’s wolf hunts.

“Anti-wolf policies in Idaho and Montana could wipe out wolves and erase decades of wolf recovery,” Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “We’re glad that federal officials have started a review, but wolves are under the gun now, so they need protection right away.”

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NPR/WFYI/PBS (Indianapolis)

Court Sets Deadline For Decision On Lake Sturgeon Endangered Species Listing

REBECCA THIELE, September 20, 2021

A federal court has ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether to make the lake sturgeon a federally protected species.

The ancient species of fish lives in the Great Lakes as well as the Mississippi and Ohio River basins. It’s already endangered in Indiana because of issues like pollution and the construction of dams — which prevent them from reaching their spawning areas.

Multiple environmental groups in the state filed a lawsuit last year urging the Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether to list the fish under the Endangered Species Act. Now the court has given the agency three years to make that decision. Attorney Mark Templeton directs the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School and represented plaintiffs in the case.

“It can’t keep pushing that date back further, arguing about lack of resources or other important species or things like that. So we are glad to have a firm, fixed date,” he said.

Templeton said advocates involved in the case would have liked to have seen a faster timeline of 12 months.

According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the East Fork of the White River is home to the last population of the Ohio River basin variety of lake sturgeon. Brant Fisher is the non-game aquatic biologist for the DNR’s division of fish and wildlife. He said the Ohio River basin variety of might be better suited to more southern states than other populations of lake sturgeon.

“So I think it’s always important to try to maintain some of that uniqueness of the genetic material within any species,” Fisher said.

Gary Moody is the director of Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers. He said he hopes listing the fish under the Endangered Species Act will finally lead to the removal of Williams Dam near Bedford — giving the Ohio River basin population room to thrive.

“To allow the sturgeon there to roam up river and repopulate and expand their populations,” Moody said.

If the Fish and Wildlife Service does decide to list the lake sturgeon under the Endangered Species Act, it will likely be at least another year before the agency issues its final rule.

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Field and Stream

Wyoming Asks Federal Government to Delist Grizzlies from Endangered Species Act

The move could open the door for the return of grizzly bear hunting to the Lower 48

BY Sage Marshall | UPDATED Sept. 20, 2021

The state of Wyoming is planning to submit an official request to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to remove grizzly bears in the broader Yellowstone ecosystem from Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections. After submitting the formal request, the USFWS will have 90 days to determine whether delisting might be warranted—and then if so, another year to officially act on the matter. If removed from the ESA, grizzly bear management would revert to state control, effectively paving the way for the return of grizzly bear hunting to the Lower 48. The move would likely impact grizzly management in Montana and Idaho, as well as Wyoming, but not in any other states.

“This is a notable day of celebration not only for the grizzly bear but for Wyoming,” Governor Mark Gordon said in a press conference, as reported by the Cody Enterprise. “The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear has met and exceeded all scientific benchmarks for recovery. We have proved time and time again that we are experts in wildlife conservation for our state’s valued and iconic species. It’s time for grizzly bears to be returned fully to the states for management, as our citizens have supported recovery efforts and seen monumental success.”

When grizzly bears were originally listed under the ESA in the Lower 48 in 1975, there were only between 700 and 800 bruins in the continental U.S. Today, there are over 2,000 animals, including healthy and sus tainable bear populations in the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Divide ecosystem bear restoration units. However, this March, the USFWS recommended keeping grizzlies listed as a threatened species after a 5-year review, chiefly because the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak ecosystems have vulnerable grizzly populations, and the Bitterroot or North Cascade ecosystems still lack resident grizzly populations entirely.

Wyoming’s latest effort comes after the USFWS twice tried to delist grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem in the past 15 years. Both of these attempts were overturned in federal court after lawsuits from animal rights and environmental organizations. A similar response would be expected if the USFWS moves forward with Wyoming’s request. The Center for Biological Diversity already released a blistering statement from Senior Attorney Andrea Zaccardi.

“Federal officials should reject this outrageous request, which aims to turn Wyoming’s imperiled grizzly bears into trophy hunting targets,” she said. “Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana have shown repeatedly that they’ll do anything to appease special interests like the agricultural industry and trapping associations. These states just can’t be trusted to manage grizzly bears.”

Grizzly bears are both larger and more aggressive than black bears. A recent F&S investigation details a jump in bear-human conflict, which includes incidents involving food, pets, and property, partly because of an increase in bear populations and partly because of the increase in people living and recreating in bear country.

In an interview that took place before the news broke on Wyoming’s plan to ask the U.S. to remove grizzlies from the ESA, long-time Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Grizzly Bear Management Specialist Kevin Frey commented on the increased bear-human conflict in the area:

“For grizzly bears, we have documented an increase in the number of human-bear conflicts in areas like the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, where they have expanded their range about three-fold over four decades and increasingly occupy areas where human use and influence on the landscape is greater,” he said.

“We worked hard for geez, 40 years, to get them to recovery level,” Frey added. “We’ve met all the criteria years ago. What hangs up the delisting are concerns over other factors, but we’ve met the recovery requirements. With the safeguards that we have in place to make sure that the population doesn’t get into trouble and crash again, I think it’s fine. Yeah, grizzly bears should be delisted.”

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FLAGLERLIVE.com (Palm Coast, FL)

Arbor Day Post-Mortem: One-Third of the World’s Tree Species Face Extinction

SEPTEMBER 19, 2021, By Adrian Newton

One in three of the world’s tree species are  at risk of becoming extinct, according to a recent report by the Global Tree Assessment – the first attempt to estimate the conservation status of all of Earth’s trees.

Well-known species, including magnolias, oaks and maples are among those at risk. More than 400 species have fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the wild, and 142 tree species are already extinct. Human activity is the overwhelming culprit, especially forest clearance for farming, logging for timber and the spread of invasive pests and diseases.

When myself and colleagues first came up with the idea of a worldwide assessment of tree species in 2015, it seemed like an impossible task. Back then, nobody even knew how many there were, let alone how they were all faring. The first task was to make a list of all tree species that have been described in scientific literature. It turns out there are nearly 60,000, most of which live in tropical forests, and scientists continue to describe new species each year.

We then had to determine which of these are under threat of extinction. Given the huge number of species, this was a much bigger task than any conservation assessment undertaken previously. We created a global network of more than 500 experts, each assessing the species they were most familiar with, and the report is the result of that enormous collaborative effort which took five years to complete.

There are twice as many threatened tree species globally than threatened mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles combined. But trees are also food and habitat for at least half of the Earth’s known land-based plants and animals. Losing tree species can cause cascades of extinction among the many species that depend on them.

Trees are very valuable to people too. More than one-fifth are used as a source of food, fuel, timber or medicine. Others have important cultural and religious value. Worryingly, some of the most useful and significant species are among those facing extinction. Here are five of them.

Dipterocarps

Dipterocarps belong to a large family of timber trees, comprising 680 species, most of which are found in the tropical forests of south Asia. Related to hibiscus plants, most dipterocarps are tall with evergreen leaves and winged seeds. They are often the most abundant trees in the canopy of forests where they occur.

These trees possess high-quality timber, worth around US$170 per cubic metre (£123). Over US$3.5 billion worth of dipterocarp timber is exported each year from the island of Borneo alone, where 182 species are threatened with extinction, including the tallest known tropical tree, Shorea faguetiana.

Agarwood

Agarwood is fragrant and produces a highly valuable resin called aloes, used in perfumes and incense. It is one of the most valuable raw materials in the world, worth up to US$100,000 a kg and with a global trade valued at US$32 billion.

The production of this resinous wood is stimulated when these trees are attacked by a fungus. Overharvesting of the resin has led to more than 20 species being threatened, including the main source of agarwood, Aquilaria malaccensis.

African Cherry

Prunus africana has bark containing a range of compounds which can reduce inflammation, making it useful for treating a range of diseases, including malaria, kidney disease and prostate disorders. The international trade in the bark is valued at US$200 million, but overharvesting has meant this species is threatened throughout its range in central and southern Africa.

Mahogany

Swietenia macrophylla is one of the most valuable tropical hardwoods, valued for making furniture and musical instruments such as guitars. Mahogany wood is durable and has a beautiful colour. A single tree can be worth many thousands of dollars.

Native to the tropical forests of the Americas, mahogany was one of the first trees to be listed as an endangered species, owing to widespread illegal logging.

Pacific yew

Taxus brevifolia is the source of the anti-cancer drug Paclitaxel, which has a global trade worth over US$100 million. Native to the Pacific Northwest of North America, this evergreen conifer is now categorised as Near Threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), primarily because of logging. Other yew species, which are also a source of this drug, are even more threatened, such as Taxus contorta in the Himalayas.

While individual trees are important for both humans and wildlife, the collective value of forest ecosystems is far higher. Forests cover approximately 31% of the world’s land surface and their total economic value has been estimated at around US$150 trillion. Forests contain around 50% of the world’s terrestrial carbon and help provide 75% of its accessible freshwater. These benefits could be lost if tree species go extinct.

As well as supporting wildlife and people, tree diversity can help forests cope with disturbance. For example, having a diverse range of tree species in a forest reduces the damage that plant-eating insects can do, and makes the ecosystem more resilient to drought.

As tree species die out, forest ecosystems are placed at greater risk of collapse. Conserving both forests and the tree species they contain can combat climate change and preserve biodiversity. The world must urgently protect threatened trees, restore degraded forests and ensure that the harvesting of useful tree species is sustainable.

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CBC News/British Columbia

3 ‘critically endangered’ B.C. killer whales are pregnant, scientists say

3 pregnancies discovered in the southern resident orcas’ J pod could help save the species

David P. Ball, CBC News, Posted: Sept. 19, 2021

Three critically endangered killer whales that frequent B.C.’s waters are now pregnant.

That’s according to aerial drone research by scientists in Washington state, and it has researchers in B.C. hopeful that the three mothers-to-be will overcome tough odds and help bring their species back from the brink.

The three presumed pregnancies were discovered by two scientists in the U.S., Holly Fearnbach and John Durban, who collaborate often with B.C. experts, said the director of Ocean Wise’s marine mammals research group.

“It’s pretty exciting and it’s very significant,” Lance Barrett-Lennard told CBC News. “The southern resident population of which [the] J-pod belongs to is critically endangered.”

“In most years they have no reproduction at all. So having three pregnancies is good, it’s exciting. This is what the pod needs.”

There are currently only 74 southern resident orcas left, down from more than 90 in the 1970s. The three pregnancies are in what scientists call the “J-pod,” a group of southern resident killer whales. Members of the pod are named starting with the letter “J” and a number; the three mothers-to-be are J19, J36 and J37.

University of British Columbia researcher Josh McInnes, with the marine mammal research unit at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, said that although killer whales have a high rate of miscarriages and infant mortality, he and other researchers are “excited” and “hopeful” at least some of the three pregnancies will help rebuild the endangered species’ population.

“Having three calves being born that could possibly survive … it might just help a little,” he said. “The first year is critical; killer whales have a 50-50 chance of survival especially in the first year.”

But he cautioned that neonatal mortality of killer whale calves is “quite high” alongside miscarriages, and many of the threats to orca survival continue to put them at risk. But the recently discovered pregnancies appear to be fairly advanced in their terms.

“Fingers crossed that they are successful and the calves survive,” he said.

A series of miscarriages have made headlines in recent years, raising fears of the continued decline of the orcas. With such a small overall population, the risks of collapse are real.

In 2018, one female orca, J35, carried her stillborn baby for more than two weeks in the water in what experts called a “tour of grief.” But two years later, she gave birth to a healthy baby.

Barrett-Lennard described the U.S. scientists behind the discovery as “colleagues and friends” who often work with him to advance aerial imagery research, using drones just 30 metres above the water’s surface.

“The use of drones has revolutionized everything,” he explained. “It supplies us with very high-resolution photographs…. One can see the edges of the whales pretty well and measure their total length and shape … and of course we can detect pregnancies fairly early.”

Southern resident orcas are listed as “endangered” by the Canadian and U.S. governments, as their salmon food sources dwindle and shipping traffic creates noise and often-deadly animal collisions. Southern resident killer whales are distinct from northern resident populations, as well as transient orcas.

In June, the federal government issued an interim order for the protection of southern resident orcas, boosting existing regulations impacting shipping traffic in B.C. waters where the species is known to travel.

“The population is small and declining, and the decline is expected to continue,” the federal government states in its species profile of the orcas. “There are forecasts of continued low abundance of Chinook Salmon. Southern residents are also threatened by increasing physical and acoustical disturbance, oil spills and contaminants.”

Noise pollution along busy shipping routes impedes the orcas’ use of echo-location to hunt as well as their communication within their pod.

Barrett-Lennard described the situation as “death by a thousand cuts.”

The two Washington researchers involved in the study, as well as the U.S. government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, could not be reached by time of publication.

“The southern residents are iconic for us,” McInnes said, “and we’re really hoping that there’s some survival for the new calves ahead.”

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Cherokee Phoenix (Tahlequah, OK)

US tribes demand emergency protection for wolves

The Associated Press, 9/18/21

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Dozens of American Indian tribes asked the Biden administration Tuesday to immediately enact emergency protections for gray wolves, saying states have become too aggressive in hunting the animal.

Groups representing the tribes sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland asking her to act quickly on an emergency petition they filed in May to relist the wolf as endangered or threatened. They also asked Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico and the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency, to relist the wolf on an emergency basis for 240 days, ensuring immediate protection.

The groups say that states have enacted “anti-wolf” policies that present “a real potential of decimating wolf populations.”

The letter doesn’t name any specific states or polices. But Izzy Baird, a spokeswoman for Relist Wolves Coalition, which has been working with tribal nations on the issue, noted in an email that Wisconsin hunters went over their kill quota of 119 by almost 100 animals during that state’s spring season; Montana allows hunters to kill up to 10 wolves each and allows private payments for dead wolves reminiscent of bounties; and that an Idaho law passed in July allows hunters to kill up to 90% of that state’s wolves.

The letter notes that wolves play a key role in a host of American Indian tribes’ cultures and accuses the federal government of failing to listen to their concerns about removing the wolf from the endangered species list in January.

“Had either the Trump or Biden Administrations consulted tribal nations, as treaty and trust responsibilities require, they would have heard that as a sacred creature, the wolf is an integral part of the land-based identity that shapes our communities, beliefs, customs and traditions,” the letter said. “The land, and all that it contains, is our temple.”

Wolves across most of the contiguous United States were stripped of federal Endangered Species Act protections in the final days of the Trump administration. Wolves in the Northern Rockies region — including Idaho, Montana and Wyoming and portions of Washington state, Oregon and Utah – lost protections a decade ago under former President Barack Obama.

The groups include the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the Association on American Indian Affairs, the Navajo Nation, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, the Native Justice Coalition, the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association and the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona.

Department of the Interior spokesman Tyler Cherry declined comment on the letter.

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County 17 (Gillette, WY)

Gordon optimistic grizzlies will be removed from Endangered Species Act

By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily, September 17, 2021

(this story originally appeared on Cowboy State Daily)

Wyoming will try once again to gain the authority to manage the grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Gov. Mark Gordon said Thursday he is confident the federal government will side with the state.

Referring several times to the catchphrase “Follow the science” used frequently by the Biden administration, Gordon announced during a news conference the state is filing a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to win the right to manage the bears inside its borders.

“I am optimistic,” he said. “If this administration, which continues to talk about the science and how we need to follow the science, Wyoming has the very best science so I’ll take them at their word.”

During his news conference, Gordon said the state will submit a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking for Yellowstone grizzlies to be removed from the endangered species list, clearing the way for state management of the animals. The Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to issue a recommendation on the petition and then will have a full year to make a decision on the request.

Grizzly bears were removed briefly from the endangered species list in 2017, but a federal judge ordered them to be returned to the list, returning management of the animals to the federal government.

Agreement

There is agreement between the state and federal government on some of the requirements to remove the bears from the list.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does consider Yellowstone’s grizzlies “biologically recovered,” with the bear’s population meeting recovery goals in 2003.

Today, estimates set the number of grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem at more than 1,000 — which is nearly 10 times what it was when the bear was first listed under the Endangered Species Act.

And this doesn’t count the number of bears outside of the area, which is believed to be significant.

The push for delisting has been ongoing for years.

In 2015, President Obama’s Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said he was in favor of it.

Two years later, delisting did occur under the Trump administration, but only briefly. The courts intervened, relisted the animal, and management authority went back to the federal government.

Changes

Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik said the State of Wyoming has addressed the concerns expressed by the court in its 2017 ruling, giving him confidence the State will be victorious.

“We were very, very close to the finish line [in 2017],” Nesvik said. “I think if we make these changes, I’m optimistic that once they evaluate the petition based on science and its merits, that we will prevail.”

Those changes, according to a release from the governor’s office, include:

Amending grizzly bear management policies that will adjust the annual management and mortality targets.

Using the updated population model now adopted by grizzly bear experts.

Ensuring the bear’s long-term genetic health and providing for translocation of bears into the population, as needed to maintain genetic diversity.

Geography

The third point, however, does not mean other parts of Wyoming could see a reintroduction of the grizzly.

Nesvik said only the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is large enough to sustain the population.

“Frankly, there’s really not a lot of other places where grizzly bears could do well and be successful because of other uses,” he said pointing to the Big Horn mountains as an example.

Because of the agricultural and recreational interests, there’s not enough space there, he said, that would keep the grizzly “out of trouble.”

“Grizzly bears need large tracts of unroaded areas, without a lot of other use in order to be successful. If they get close to those other kind of human uses, they find themselves in trouble,” he said.

That trouble can lead to death, Nesvik said stating that the department has had to kill up to 35 grizzlies per year.

Management

Through sound management practices, including hunting, the grizzly population can be managed at a sustainable level and fewer negative interactions with humans would likely occur, he said.

Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich praised the governor on Thursday.

“I applaud the governor for his actions today,” Ulrich said. “The grizzly has successfully rebounded to the point where they are encroaching on areas that just can’t handle it. I wouldn’t be surprised if grizzlies will be roaming the streets of Pinedale soon if we don’t manage them correctly.”

Others weren’t as supportive. Award-winning wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen told the Casper Star-Tribune if delisting occurs, a legal battle would probably result.

“We’ll fight it again, just like we have the last two or three times,” he said. “It’s just frustrating that we keep going through this,” he said.

Federal Support

The governor has a lot of support in Washington. Members of the congressional delegations from Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho are in favor of the move — even on the Democratic side.

Back in April, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, told Montana Public Radio, “The grizzly populations in Yellowstone and the Northern Continental Divide are recovered, and the folks at Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks have shown they are more than capable of managing the Yellowstone grizzlies.”

Wyoming’s delegation — U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, are also unanimous in their support of removing the grizzly from the endangered species act.

Cheney introduced legislation called the “Grizzly Bear State Management Act of 2021,” which would empower states to manage their grizzly populations based on science. Barrasso and Lummis have offered the same legislation in the Senate.

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Pinedale Roundup (Pinedale, WY)

Feds consider relisting wolf as endangered species

By: Mark Davis, Powell Tribune via Wyoming News Exchange, Posted Sept. 16, 2021

POWELL — Responding to concerns from environmental groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday that it will study whether gray wolves in Wyoming and elsewhere in the West should be relisted as a threatened or endangered species.

In May and July, a slew of organizations — including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, the Sierra Club, the Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians — filed two petitions with the Secretary of the Interior.

The groups claim new laws in the states of Idaho and Montana will “drastically reduce their wolf populations.”

On Wednesday, the Fish and Wildlife Service said the petitions presented “substantial, credible information” that relisting the species may be warranted and that the agency will conduct a status review.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., immediately denounced the decision.

“Today’s actions are just more of the endless political antics from Washington bureaucrats and extreme environmentalists who have no interest in doing what’s right for Wyoming,” Barrasso said in a statement. “Wyoming, not Washington, continues to be in the best position to manage the state’s wolf population.”

Officials at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department could not be reached for comment before the Tribune’s deadline.

According to the May petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and Humane Society of the United States, hunters, trappers and private contractors in Idaho can kill up to 90 percent of the state’s estimated 1,500 wolves, using new — and highly effective — methods of hunting previously unavailable.

In Montana, new rules could pave the way for killing approximately 85 percent of the population, currently reported to be at 1,200 wolves, the groups charge.

“Unless the Service restores federal protections, the region’s wolves will soon lose decades of progress toward recovery,” the petition says.

Bonnie Rice, senior representative with Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, said the goal of Montana’s and Idaho’s “extreme” new laws is to decimate wolf populations in the northern Rockies.

“It makes no sense to allow wolves to be driven back to the brink of extinction and reverse over 40 years of wolf recovery efforts,” she said.

The groups asked the federal government to immediately protect gray wolves in the Northern Rockies with emergency listing authority, but the service did not grant that request.

“I’m hopeful that wolves will eventually get the protection they deserve, but the Fish and Wildlife Service should have stopped the wolf-killing now,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The service says it did find the petitions provided substantial information that potential increases in human-caused mortality may pose a threat to the gray wolf in the western U.S. The Service also said the new regulatory mechanisms in Idaho and Montana may be inadequate to address threats.

“Therefore, the Service finds that gray wolves in the western U.S. may warrant listing,” the agency wrote.

Fish and Wildlife’s next steps will “include in-depth status reviews and analyses using the best available science and information to arrive at a 12-month finding on whether listing is warranted.”

When the Trump administration removed all gray wolves in the contiguous United States from protections in 2020, several groups threatened legal action.

Under one of President Joe Biden’s first executive orders, federal agencies were asked to review controversial actions taken by the Trump administration — including stripping federal protections from gray wolves.

In August, the Biden administration said it was sticking by the decision to lift protections for gray wolves across most of the U.S. But federal wildlife officials said there was growing concern over aggressive wolf hunting seasons adopted for the predators.

In May, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said that the state’s gray wolf populations have remained stable and are at “healthy levels.”

At the end of 2020, there were at least 327 wolves in Wyoming, marking the 19th straight year in which wolf numbers remained above minimum delisting criteria. The Game and Fish said the figures also showed “the way the presence of the animal has become integrated into the broader ecosystem.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lake Sturgeon Will Get Endangered Species Decision in 2024

CHICAGO—(September 15, 2021)—A federal court has ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make a determination by 2024 whether imperiled populations of lake sturgeon will be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Millions of these giant, ancient fish once lived in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin, but today the population is less than 1% of historic levels.

“We look forward to a decision on endangered or threatened status, which would provide a huge benefit to these swimming fossils known as lake sturgeon,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Sturgeon are ancient survivors, but they need our help to adapt to climate change and deal with past damage to their river and lake habitats. We need to remove key dams to allow sturgeon to repopulate more of their former rivers.”

Lake sturgeon live primarily in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basin. There are thought to be distinct and isolated lake sturgeon populations in Lake Superior, western Lake Michigan, the upper Mississippi River basin and the Ohio River basin.

The lake sturgeon is an ancient fish that swam with dinosaurs 200 million years ago. Lake sturgeon can live for up to 100 years, grow more than 8 feet long and weigh nearly 300 pounds. Their numbers have declined more than 99% over the past century because of overfishing, dams and pollution. The United States now has fewer than a dozen large and stable lake sturgeon populations that spawn more than 1,000 adult fish.

“With this ruling, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can no longer skirt its legal obligation to make this important listing determination,” said Mark Templeton, clinical professor and director of the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, whose lawyers and students represent the environmental plaintiffs.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned in 2018 for a “threatened” listing under the Endangered Species Act for all lake sturgeon in the country, or alternatively for separate listings of distinct populations as threatened or endangered. The Service made an initial finding in August 2019 that protecting the lake sturgeon may be warranted, but the agency missed a 12-month deadline for determining whether protection is in fact warranted.

The Center, along with Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers, Hoosier Environmental Council, and Prairie Rivers Network, filed a lawsuit in 2020 to speed the listing process. The organizations were represented by the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School.

Background

Before commercial fisheries decimated sturgeon runs in the late 1800s, more than 15 million lake sturgeon lived in the Great Lakes. Lake sturgeon are now reduced to less than 1% of their historic numbers, with limited natural recovery of most remaining spawning populations.

Dams and hydroelectric facilities continue to harm lake sturgeon by blocking access to spawning habitat, fragmenting sturgeon populations and altering stream flows. Other threats to sturgeon include river dredging and channelization, habitat fragmentation, climate change and invasive species.

Many states and tribal organizations are working to restore sturgeon spawning populations. Most states within the fish’s range now prohibit or limit harvest. Although many current restoration efforts are aimed at bringing lake sturgeon back to rivers and tributaries where they once spawned, depleted sturgeon populations take many decades to recover, and the vast majority of former spawning runs have been lost.

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CoastalView.com (Carpinteria, CA)

FEMA to protect endangered species, settles with environmental groups

CVN Report, Sept. 15, 2021

A coalition of environmental groups announced on Tuesday that they had reached a settlement agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under which FEMA agreed to expedite environmental reviews of the impacts of its National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) on all endangered species in California, according to a press release from Santa Barbara Channelkeeper.

In February 2020, six organizations – the Ecological Rights Foundation, Our Children’s Earth Foundation, San Diego Coastkeeper, Orange County Coastkeeper, San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper, and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper – filed a lawsuit against FEMA.

The lawsuit alleged that FEMA had violated the requirements of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) by failing to consult with wildlife agencies to ensure that the implementation of the NFIP in six counties – San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego – does not jeopardize or destroy endangered species habitat.

Previously, FEMA’s policies incentivized infilling of critical endangered species habitat. Landowners seeking to construct buildings in flood plains (i.e., low-lying areas near waterways) are required to purchase flood insurance. To exempt themselves from flood insurance requirements, landowners were able to petition FEMA for revisions of the official flood plain maps.

To move a property out of the floodplain, landowners could propose adding layers of fill to the land to artificially raise the elevation of the property. In doing so, critical endangered species habitats were sometimes destroyed. Until now, FEMA has not been required to consider the impacts that its flood insurance program has on endangered species. In Santa Barbara County alone, FEMA has implemented at least 528 revisions to the 100-year floodplain maps.

Given the substantial overlap between the 100-year floodplain and designated critical habitat for endangered species, the six organizations alleged in their lawsuit that a substantial number of map revisions has occurred within areas throughout California that are designated as critical habitat for ESA-listed species and therefore, have adversely impacted those species or critical habitats. The coalition of environmental organizations requested that FEMA conduct a Biological Evaluation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a new process that accounts for endangered species.

Under the settlement agreement, FEMA will expedite its endangered species review of the NFIP’s effect on all endangered species in California.

“This review effort should lead NMFS and USFWS to impose new species protective measures on the NFIP, a program which has had the federal government essentially subsidizing destruction of endangered species habitat with little oversight or review,” stated a press release from Santa Barbara Channelkeeper.

Christopher Sproul of Environmental Advocates served as lead counsel for the environmental groups.

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Australian Broadcasting Corporation (Sydney)

Endangered eastern barred bandicoot rescued from the brink of extinction

By Melissa Brown, Posted14 Sept. 2021

An endangered marsupial considered extinct in the wild for three decades has become the first Australian species to have its conservation status changed.

The eastern barred bandicoot remains on the endangered species list but new populations are thriving after successful breeding and release programs.

The nocturnal species was once common on the grassy plains of south-west Victoria but  was decimated by foxes, cats and loss of habitat due to farming.

Numbers dwindled to around 150 in just one area near Hamilton, until conservation groups and government agencies set up the eastern barred bandicoot recovery team in 1988.

Zoos Victoria threatened species biologist Amy Coetsee said decades of efforts had allowed the bandicoot to be reclassified, which she said was a first for an Australian species that was considered extinct in the wild.

“Eastern barred bandicoots actually make our job easy so they’ve got some traits that make them easy to re-introduce,” Dr Coetsee said.

“They breed quickly — they have a 12-and-a-half day pregnancy so they can have up to five litters a year — and they’re also really adaptable to different habitat conditions and when we release them, we don’t have to do any supplementary feeding, they will eat anything and everything they come across.”

The bandicoots were re-introduced at four fenced-in sites near Melbourne and south-west Victoria, including near Skipton and Dunkeld, where populations were protected by maremmas under Zoos Victoria’s Guardian Dogs program.

But Dr Coetsee said the greatest success came when bandicoots that had been bred in captivity were released into fox-free reserves on Phillip, Churchill and French islands.

“We know that they can establish populations in the presence of feral cats,” she said.

“But they can’t establish or sustain populations, in areas where there’s even just one fox. Foxes won’t just kill for food. They will just kill because they can catch the animal.”

It is estimated there are now around 1,500 eastern barred bandicoots in the wild.

The Environment Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, has paid tribute to all those involved in the effort.

“It is a wonderful story, it is an important story, it points not just to government investments but that fantastic strong collaboration of scientists, researchers, communities and volunteers that have come together to get this fantastic outcome,” she said.

“Community volunteers have played a big role at many of the reintroduction sites, helping check fences, count bandicoots and remove weeds and pests.”

Zoo breeding program ends

The changed status enables Zoos Victoria to end its 30-year captive breeding program.

Dr Coetsee said it felt great to no longer be needed.

“We’ve got established populations at four fenced sites and three island sites,” she said.

“We’re confident that this species is not going extinct.”

And she said it was not just the species that had benefited from three decades of work.

“We call them ecosystem engineers. They’re digging for foods, so worms and beetle grubs,” Dr Coetsee said.

“In one night in winter when the soils are moist and easy to dig, they can turn over 13 kilos of soil.

“That’s improving soil health so they’re really important to have in the ecosystem.”

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PENNLive.com (Mechanicsburg PA)

Study finds that illegal cannabis farms endanger wildlife

By Claudia Dimuro |September 13, 2021

A new study has found that illegal cannabis farms threaten the wildlife of the area in which the plant is cultivated.

Focusing on sites discovered in California and southern Oregon, the study lists three main already-endangered species which this illicit weed farming negatively effects and the greater implications of how it may harm the environment as a whole.

Published on the Public Library of Science’s PLOS One website, the study was led by Greta Wengert of the Integral Ecology Research Center in California. Together with a band of colleagues, Wengert was able to build cultivation site distribution models of nearly 1,500 illegal cannabis farms and note their environmental impact by observing the growth likelihood of three select species: the Pacific fisher, the Humboldt marten, and the northern spotted owl.

What they found was that these creatures—all of which are listed under the Endangered Species Act—are put at great risk due to the farm’s destruction of their habitats as well as their use of pesticides.

“Trespass cannabis cultivation seems to have increased rapidly in the western United States in the past decade, although this may be due to increased awareness of the issue rather than actual increase in trespass cultivation,” reads the study’s conclusion. “The sheer scope of the problem and the large amount of both legal and banned pesticides associated with them raises serious concerns about human safety, environmental damage, degradation of public lands, and poisoning of wildlife.”

Science Daily highlights how the authors affirm that finding and cleaning up such contaminated sites should a high priority for both conservationists and land managers.

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USA Today

Komodo dragons are now classified as an endangered species, and climate change is being blamed

Jordan Mendoza, USA TODAY, September 13, 2021

The real-life version of Godzilla, the Komodo dragon, is now an endangered species, and experts believe the species is headed toward extinction.

Recently, the largest lizard in the world had been moved from a vulnerable species to an endangered one on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Last week, a report from the conservation organization revealed how bad the situation has gotten for the Komodo dragon.

Komodo dragons, which can grow up to 10 feet long, have venomous saliva and can easily take down a water buffalo, They reside only in Indonesia at the Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and on a few nearby islands. They are a protected species and rarely come in contact with people, with only a few documented attacks on humans.

So why is the species in danger? Climate change.

The IUCN says rising temperatures and sea levels are to blame, as they expect the dragons’ suitable habitat space to be reduced “by at least 30% in the next 45 years.” As for some of the creatures living on the unprotected nearby island of Flores, human activity has resulted in significant habitat loss, as well as hunting for the same food resources.

The expected Komodo dragon population decline in the coming decades comes as the IUCN estimated around 1,380 adults and 2,000 juveniles remain. In 1994, The New York Times estimated there were 5,000-8,000 in existence.

“The idea that these prehistoric animals have moved one step closer to extinction due in part to climate change is terrifying,” Andrew Terry, conservation director of the Zoological Society of London, said in a statement.

Should the population indeed decline, the Komodo dragon would enter the critically endangered level before it would be labeled as extinct in the wild. Some zoos across the world house Komodo dragons.

The IUCN’s report also included that 37% of the sharks and rays the organization keeps track of are also being threatened with extinction. Overall, the organization says over 38,500 species are facing extinction.

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The Hill

Elon Musk’s SpaceX vs. the environmentalists

By MARK WHITTINGTON, Opinion Contributor— 09/12/21

SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk, face another potential legal challenge to their dream of conquering space. In addition to the lawsuit filed by Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin, a group of environmentalists would like to shut Musk’s business down entirely.

The Blue Origin lawsuit imposes delays in developing SpaceX’s Human Landing System (HLS) because of document storing and sharing problems at the Department of Justice (DOJ). However, the big threat to SpaceX’s operation in Boca Chica, Texas, and the SpaceX Starship’s development comes from the environmental lobby.

SpaceX’s Starbase launch facility is located next to a wildlife preserve, according to the U.K. Guardian. The problem, from the environmentalists’ point of view, is that Musk’s development plan for the Starship involves test vehicles blowing up and raining debris on the preserve. This, according to The Guardian, adversely affects several “vulnerable” species. Frequent road closures and other activities at the site have only added to the environmental cause célèbre.

While the Starship’s atmospheric hops have been approved by government regulators, SpaceX currently awaits approval for the first orbital launch of the Superheavy/Starship stack. The Superheavy stage will lift a Starship into space, with the first stage splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico and the second landing in the Pacific off Hawaii. The test is crucial for regular operations supporting the Artemis return to the moon program and Musk’s dream of eventually settling Mars. Many environmentalists would like to stop SpaceX from conducting any more launches at Boca Chica to protect the wildlife preserve.

Even if the regulators approve orbital operations at the Boca Chica Starbase, various environmental groups are likely to take the matter to court if past behavior is any indication. The controversy could be tied up in litigation for years, further delaying America’s return to the moon.

The clash between space exploration and the environment is fraught with irony. Strictly speaking, Musk is an environmentalist. His electric car company, Tesla, is an attempt to wean drivers away from vehicles powered by internal combustion.

Environmentalists’ desires to preserve endangered species have stalled infrastructure projects and other human needs for decades.

Soon after the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the discovery of a fish called the snail darter stopped the construction of a dam in Tennessee. While the Supreme Court at the time ruled in favor of the fish, Congress later exempted the snail darter from protection. The Tennessee Valley Authority completed the dam and then transplanted the snail darter to other waterways and improved conditions for the fish species. AP reports that the snail darter has rebounded and is about to be removed from the endangered species list.

The snail darter controversy and its resolution provide a model for how SpaceX and the environmentalists can resolve their differences. Congress should step in and exempt the wildlife preserve from environmental protection. In return, SpaceX and NASA can pledge to implement measures that would protect the vulnerable wildlife and repair the preserve when rocket launches damage it.

SpaceX is already making efforts to move launches of the Superheavy/Starship stack by purchasing offshore oil platforms and converting them to floating launch pads. The offshore launch pads would move operations away from the wildlife preserve, protecting it from any effects of launch operations.

The environmentalists should take this deal if it is offered. For one thing, the Artemis program is a national priority, endorsed by both major political parties. For another thing, the expansion of human activity into space, a long-term goal of Artemis, will involve moving polluting industries such as manufacturing and mining into space. Such a development would seem to satisfy the expressed desires of the environmental lobby to preserve the Earth from the damage that human activity can inflict.

Controversies involving the environment and endangered species need not necessarily create winners and losers. If one exercises a little creative thinking and a willingness to compromise, everyone can win. Humanity’s expansion into space is not at odds with saving the Earth. Each imperative supports the other.

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WFMZ-TV/69 News (Allentown, PA)

Northern goshawk listed on endangered species list

69 News, Sept. 12, 2021

One Pennsylvania raptor was placed on the state’s endangered-species list over the weekend. Another previously classified as a threatened species was upgraded.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners made the announcement Saturday that the northern goshawk was placed on the state’s endangered-species list.

The commissioners also removed the peregrine falcon from the state’s threatened species list.

The Board of Game Commissioners say the northern goshawk has experienced a dramatic population decline in the past 20 years. Classifying the northern goshawk as an endangered species further protects it by limiting or delaying certain activities within northern goshawk breeding habitat during courtship and nesting seasons.

The peregrine falcon was upgraded from endangered- to threatened-species status in 2019, and has continued to see population increases.

The recommendation for its upgrade was based on the Game Commission’s 2013-2022 Peregrine Falcon Management Plan, which establishes objectives for the species’ recovery that now have been achieved.

The Board of Commissioners also gave final approval to a separate motion that’s intended to provide the peregrine falcon additional protection now that it’s off the threatened-species list.

As part of the penalty for killing a threatened species, a $5,000 replacement cost can be assessed. When a recovered animal comes off the threatened-species list, the replacement cost drops to just $200, unless regulatory changes are made to increase it.

The board adjusted regulations so a $2,500 replacement cost applies.

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Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Endangered grey nurse shark population slowly increasing on Australia’s east coast

ABC Sunshine Coast / By Kylie Bartholomew, Tessa Mapstone, and Sheridan Stewart

Posted 10 Sept. 2021

The number of critically endangered grey nurse sharks is increasing on Australia’s east coast with the highest number of pregnant sharks recorded at a unique breeding site in 13 years.

The females congregate at Wolf Rock off Queensland’s Rainbow Beach — the only known gestation site for the grey nurse shark on the east coast.

“In 2008 the maximum number of pregnant sharks at Wolf Rock was around 40,” Carley Kilpatrick from the Department of Environment and Science said.

“In 2021, it is believed the maximum number at Wolf Rock was between 70 and 100 pregnant sharks,” Dr Kilpatrick said.

She said Wolf Rock, a set of four volcanic pinnacles off Double Island Point, was vital to the species’ survival.

After mating, the pregnant females remain there for the nine to 12-month gestation period before heading to New South Wales waters to birth one or two pups in August and September.

Then after the births, the sharks rest in NSW waters for two to three years before they return to Queensland for the November and December breeding season and the cycle continues.

‘Survival of the fittest’

James Nelson from Wolf Rock Dive does about 250 dives at the site off Double Island Point each year.

While grey nurse sharks held up to 80 embryos in two uteruses, he said not all embryos survived, and those that did resulted in “survival of the fittest”.

“It’s called intra-uterine cannibalism and there’s some serious sibling rivalry going on inside there.

Sometimes two pups will make it but essentially, the first pup conceived is normally the one that will continue to eat its brothers and sisters and be the dominant pup that survives.”

Mr Nelson said he understood that the sharks were drawn to Wolf Rock for growing their young for a number of reasons including its warmer waters.

“It’s [also] a green zone so they are now protected there.

“We often have water movement … so the sharks enjoy a bit of current, it’s easier for them to breathe when there’s some water running over the gills and there’s also just a series of gutters and gullies where they can hide and there’s also plenty of food there as well.”

‘Labrador of the sea’

The unique nature of the site was a huge drawcard for divers and Mr Nelson said they often found swimming with the sharks a “relaxing” experience.

“[People] always comment on how relaxed the sharks are and how and how calming they are.

“So it’s maybe not quite as exhilarating as you might think, it’s actually quite relaxing in some ways.”

Denice Askebrink from Sea Life’s Sunshine Coast aquarium said grey nurse sharks were affectionately known as the ‘labrador of the sea’ for their gentle nature.

“They are super friendly, labradors like to hang around and are just placid and non-threatening, these animals are the same,” she said.

That observation may come as a surprise given their aggressive appearance and their “endless supply” of razor-sharp teeth.

“Over a lifetime we say that they can have up to 35,000 teeth if they’re losing one per day that’s 365 in a year.”

Vital to a healthy ocean

There were believed to be less than 2,000 grey nurse sharks on the east coast of Australia, where the species was critically endangered.

Grey nurse sharks are listed as vulnerable on the west coast of Australia and throughout the world.

“There is a big effort from conservation groups about increasing the awareness across the globe for the special animals, they are so important to a healthy ocean.”

Ms Askebrink said some of the biggest threats to the species included illegal fishing, accidental capture, drum lines and water pollution.

“So if you see anything, please help all of us by picking it up.

“Also fishing in areas where there are sharks, that’s also something that we can refrain from and stopping doing that can help these animals from not becoming entangled.”

Queensland has four designated grey nurse shark areas — three in the Moreton Bay Marine Park and Wolf Rock in the Great Sandy Marine Park.

Dr Kilpatrick said the tagged sharks also provided “useful intel” about how the sites were used.

“The dive team also recorded a few mature male sharks who will now wait patiently for the arrival of a new group of females from NSW waters for the next mating season.”

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Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI)

Wisconsin lawmakers draft bill to end mandatory wolf hunt

Chris Hubbuch | Wisconsin State Journal, September 9, 2021

Democratic lawmakers have drafted legislation to end Wisconsin’s mandatory wolf hunting season.

By changing a single word in state statutes — from “shall” to “may” — the bill would give the Department of Natural Resources discretion over whether to hold a hunt.

The bill is being circulated for co-sponsors as the DNR prepares for a fall hunt while still attempting to assess the impact of a court-ordered February season in which hunters killed nearly twice the state’s allotted number of wolves.

“The DNR should have discretion over whether to hold a hunt so that our state can make scientifically informed decisions about wildlife management, uphold our responsibilities to consult with sovereign tribal governments, and take the considerations of the public into account before hunts are held,” sponsors Sen. Tim Carpenter, of Milwaukee, and Rep. Jodi Emerson, of Eau Claire, wrote in a memo to other lawmakers.

Megan Nicholson, state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said the bill could spare hundreds of wolves each year from “painful and terrifying deaths by trophy hunters.”

“Wisconsin is the only state that mandates a wolf hunt, and while this legislation will not put a definitive end to wolf trophy hunting, it provides a glimmer of hope and is a necessary first step in protecting these highly social animals from the wanton cruelty we saw last February,” Nicholson said in a statement.

Last month a coalition of wildlife conservation groups sued the DNR in an effort to block the fall hunt and overturn the law that requires it.

That suit was filed after the DNR’s policy board approved a 300-wolf limit for the November hunt, more than double what the agency had recommended.

A law passed in 2011 requires the state to allow hunting from November through February whenever the gray wolf is not on the federal endangered species list.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the list in January.

The DNR was preparing to hold a hunt beginning in November 2021, but a hunter advocacy group sued, and a Jefferson County judge ordered the department to hold a season in the final days of February, later than any previously sanctioned hunt.

Hunters killed 218 in just three days, blowing past the state’s quota of 119. The DNR estimates another 33 were killed last year by vehicles, depredation control or poaching, though UW-Madison researchers estimate humans killed far more.

DNR scientists say the unusual timing of the winter hunt, which overlapped with breeding season, made it difficult to understand the long-term impacts on the population, which was estimated to be about 1,034 wolves as of spring 2020.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Petition Seeks U.S. Protections for Atlantic Humpback Dolphin

WASHINGTON—(September 8, 2021)—Conservation groups petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service today to list the Atlantic humpback dolphin under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Atlantic humpback dolphin populations are in serious decline, and the species is already recognized as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, Red List.

The Atlantic humpback dolphin (Sousa teuszii) is the most endangered of the four species of coastal humpback dolphins, which are all threatened by human activities. The species is found only along the western African coast, ranging through at least 13 countries from Western Sahara south to Angola. Scientists estimate that no more than 3,000 Atlantic humpback dolphins remain in fragmented groups of tens to hundreds of animals. They are at “an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild,” according to the IUCN.

The major threat to the dolphins is bycatch by local gillnet fisheries. Fisheries also deplete the dolphins’ prey. Other major threats are coastal development and noise from human activity. The market for Atlantic humpback dolphin meat also appears to growing as part of the African aquatic wild meat trade.

“As with so many small cetaceans throughout the world’s oceans, Atlantic humpback dolphins are in trouble because of human activities in their habitat,” said Dr. Naomi A. Rose, marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute. “Bycatch in coastal fishing gear is their biggest threat, and we hope international cooperation can reduce this pressure.”

Atlantic humpback dolphins, with distinctive humps on their backs topped by rounded dorsal fins, live exclusively in relatively shallow waters and are most common in estuarine environments close to shore. They feed on a wide variety of nearshore fish species, favoring mullet.

In general, however, Atlantic humpbacks are among the least-known species of dolphins or porpoises in the world, and this has hindered implementation of effective conservation measures. Current measures and regulations aimed at protecting this species are woefully inadequate. Although marine protected areas exist in some countries in the dolphins’ range, they have limited effectiveness because few laws or regulations exist specifically to conserve the species.

“The Atlantic humpback dolphin is the species of dolphin or porpoise in the most danger of extinction, after the vaquita of Mexico’s Gulf of California,” said Dr. Thomas A. Jefferson, marine mammal biologist for VIVA Vaquita. “Extinction of the Atlantic humpback dolphin is clearly preventable, but in order for the species to survive, we need to help its range countries to take strong and decisive measures to provide adequate protection.”

By listing the Atlantic humpback dolphin under the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service would significantly improve the species’ survival prospects by increasing global awareness, generating funds for important science and providing financial, legal, political and enforcement assistance to local and international conservation efforts.

“Without protections, Atlantic humpback dolphins could disappear before most people can even hear about them,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The world is facing an unprecedented extinction crisis, and the United States should pitch in to help save these adorable but little-known dolphins, before it’s too late.”

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Colorado Politics

Colorado environmental groups want to keep protections for the razorback sucker

By JOEY BUNCH, Sept. 8, 2021

A coalition of environmental groups is opposing the plan to move the razorback sucker in the Colorado River from endangered to threatened.

The group, led by WildEarth Guardians, submitted comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Tuesday.

The sucker is one of four native Colorado River species in the Colorado River that are imperiled. The razorback sucker “exists against all odds in this failing river,” the coalition said in a statement Wednesday.

The Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the change in July, saying the downgrade is warranted because of the species’ strong recovery, with an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 razorback suckers in the Green, Colorado and San Juan river systems, compared to its historic high of 70,000. Endangered species are defined as those “in danger of extinction.”

The 60-day period for public comment ended Tuesday.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is celebrating a win when there is still lots of time left on the clock,” Jen Pelz, the wild rivers program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in the statement. “The dangers to the Colorado River’s endangered fish are multiplying every day as climate change exposes the past century of unsustainable water use and management.”

The razorback sucker, named for its sharp dorsal fin and large fleshy mouth, has been listed as endangered since 1991 with only 25% of its historic range still available. In 1994, nearly 1,750 miles of river were designated as critical habitat for the species in the Yampa, Green, Colorado, Gunnison, San Juan, Gila and Salt rivers.

The species can live for more than 40 years and weigh up to 14 pounds. They typically are about 20 inches long but can grow up to 36 inches, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The environmental organizations cited climate change and water shortage that has decimated Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the lower river storage basins.

“The decline of the razorback sucker and the other imperiled Colorado River fish decades ago set off the original alarm bell that the health of the river is failing,” stated Joe Bushyhead, the endangered species advocate at WildEarth Guardians. “Unfortunately, the river is still failing, and razorback suckers cannot complete their full lifecycle in the wild. The service has to constantly stock these fish to keep them from going extinct, and is now conflating this band-aid approach with recovery.”

Other members of the group include Colorado Riverkeepers Living Rivers, Friends of Animals, Save the Colorado, the Colorado chapter of the Sierra Club, Utah Rivers Council and the Waterkeeper Alliance.

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Office of Senator Susan Collins

Collins, King Announce $900,000 to Support Endangered Atlantic Salmon Populations in Maine

Press Release, Posted 09/07/2021

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King announced that four organizations have received a total of $900,000 to restore habitats for endangered Atlantic salmon in Maine. This funding was awarded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Atlantic salmon are a critical part of our state’s marine ecosystem, but they are endangered and at risk of extinction,” said Senators Collins and King in a joint statement. “These fish help to ensure the health of our rivers and oceans that Mainers and wildlife depend on. We welcome this funding, which will help to conserve and restore wild Atlantic salmon and their ecosystems across the state.”

While the projects receiving funding target Atlantic salmon habitat restoration, they will also be beneficial to other native species such as river herring, sea lamprey, American shad, and American eel. The funding is allocated as follows:

The Atlantic Salmon Federation received $213,854. This funding will go towards five projects that aim to restore access to salmon spawning habitats in the Kennebec River watershed, as well as a fish passage feasibility study at the Chesterville Wildlife Management Area Dam on Little Norridgewock Stream.

Project SHARE received $303,225 to replace undersized culverts at 13 sites, connecting habitat for Atlantic salmonacross multiple watersheds. Project SHARE will also be conducting fish passage feasibility studies at the Great Works Dam and Marion Falls fishway, as well as working on freshwater habitat restoration in the Narraguagus River watershed.

The Nature Conservancy received $250,000 to remove the Guilford Dam. In doing so, the non-profit will be reconnecting habitat for Atlantic salmon in the Piscataquis River watershed, restoring access to high-quality habitat, and improving fish passage.

The Downeast Salmon Federation received $131,000 to aid in their fish passage feasibility studies at the Cherryfield Ice Control Dam on the Narraguagus River and the Gardner Lake Dam on the East Machias River. These studies will support future Atlantic salmon habitat restoration in these areas.

According to NOAA, the Atlantic salmon, specifically the Gulf of Maine distinct population, is one of the most at-risk endangered species, with only about 1,200 returning each year. NOAA explains that opening passages to fish habitats will allow them to migrate, reproduce, and grow their population. 

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Cornell Chronicle/Cornell University

Coyotes studied as stand-ins for endangered ferrets

By Isabel Jimenez | September 7, 2021

By testing easier-to-study coyotes, researchers from the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab at the College of Veterinary Medicine, in collaboration with the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, have identified a range of lethal diseases threatening black-footed ferrets – one of the most endangered animals in North America.

Despite conservation efforts, only around 370 black-footed ferrets remain in the wild. Seeing continuing population declines in South Dakota, the tribe reached out to the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab to investigate potential infectious causes of this decline using coyotes as a ‘sentinel species’ – a term for animals that are easily reached, studied and monitored for signs of disease that might affect more reclusive or fragile species.

“It’s an approach we use pretty commonly for wildlife because access to samples is so challenging,” said Dr. Krysten Schuler, assistant research professor in the ­­Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences and lead author on the study, “Sentinel Coyote Pathogen Survey to Assess Declining Black-Footed Ferret (Mustela Nigripes) Population in South Dakota, U.S.A.,” published in March in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases.

Utilizing blood samples collected by the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe from carcasses of coyotes which had been culled for predator control – a common population management strategy in South Dakota – the team found that 71% of coyotes were positive for antibodies against West Nile virus, 27% were positive for antibodies against canine distemper virus and 13% were positive for antibodies against Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague.

Multiple pathogens have the potential to impact black-footed ferret populations. Yersinia pestis was introduced to North America at the start of the 20th century and has been devastating for both prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets, which have little natural immunity to this nonnative disease. Black-footed ferrets are also highly susceptible to canine distemper virus. Additionally, researchers evaluated the prevalence of West Nile virus, tularemia and canine heartworm.

“Everyone focuses on plague, but this can make us a bit myopic; doing these health screenings can open our eyes to other potentially important pathogens,” Schuler said.

Coyotes are useful as sentinels due to their exposure to multiple species of rodents, as well as directly to black-footed ferrets through predation. The use of other sentinel species for disease surveillance among endangered animals is an important conservation tool, Schuler said.

“Black-footed ferrets are nocturnal and trapping them to collect blood samples is difficult and can lead to significant stress, not ideal for an endangered species,” said extension associate Dr. Rachel Abbott, an author on the study.

While the study does not name a definitive cause of the decline in this population of black-footed ferrets, it highlighted the range of pathogens that may be affecting them as well as other species in the ecosystem.

The black-footed ferret is a nocturnal ferret native to grasslands of the central United States, Canada and northern Mexico. It was thought to be extinct by 1979, due to infectious disease, poisonings and habitat loss from crop and livestock agriculture. However, in 1981, a small population of wild black-footed ferrets was discovered in Wyoming.

By 1987, all 18 had been brought into captivity to serve as the founder population for a captive breeding and reintroduction program. State and federal wildlife agencies, nongovernmental organizations, zoological institutions and Native American tribes continue to collaborate on this conservation effort. As of 2018, more than 4,300 black-footed ferrets have been released throughout the United States, although only approximately 370 remain.

The research team says further studies are necessary. For example, while West Nile virus affects other mammals, it has not been documented in black-footed ferrets, so their susceptibility to the disease is unknown. “West Nile virus is often thought about as a pathogen in birds, but its importance in mammals might deserve more consideration,” Schuler said.

Additional co-authors on the study include Edward Dubovi, professor in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, and Dwight Bowman, professor of parasitology in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Alabama’s Slenderclaw Crayfish Gains Endangered Species Act Protection With 78 River Miles of Critical Habitat

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.—(September 7, 2021)—Following more than a decade of advocacy by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected the slenderclaw crayfish as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The tiny crayfish survives only in two creeks on Sand Mountain, near Lake Guntersville in DeKalb and Marshall counties.

“The slenderclaw is an exceptionally pretty little crayfish that needs a big helping hand from humans, so it’s great news that it finally has Endangered Species Act safeguards,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “Protecting crawdads from extinction might not sound like a priority to some, but by working to save the special animals that live in creeks, we ultimately protect rivers and our own necks.”

The Center and allies petitioned for the protection of the crayfish in 2010 and won a lawsuit in 2014 to secure a date for a decision on safeguards.

The slenderclaw crayfish is just 1.5 inches long, with cream and orange mottling. Most of the crayfish’s habitat was flooded when the Tennessee River was dammed to create the 69,000-acre Lake Guntersville in 1939. Four out of five sites within the species’ historical range are presumed to be gone, and the lake isolates the two surviving populations from one another, which reduces the crayfish’s long-term chance of survival.

The slenderclaw faces ongoing threats from silt and sediment, which fill in the spaces between rocks the crayfish uses for sheltering and harm its food sources because mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies also need clean water. The slenderclaw is also threatened by competition from the invasive virile crayfish and by water pollution from poultry farms and other sources.

“Just working together to keep silt out of streams could save hundreds of species from extinction if agencies would prioritize stopping it,” said Curry. “When mud runs off into streams, it ruins habitat for the animals that live on the creek bottoms and ruins clear water that everyone needs for drinking, fishing and swimming. There are thousands of sources of silt into streams, but that also means there are thousands of solutions to keep it out.”

Background

Scientists estimate nearly half of all crayfishes are vulnerable to extinction. Alabama has more species of crayfishes than any other state. Of the roughly 400 known species of crayfish in the world, at least 98 are found in Alabama. They range in size from about 8 inches for the largest, the Tennessee bottlebrush crayfish, to about half an inch for the smallest, the twisted dwarf crayfish.

Crayfish are also known as crawdads, craycrabs, crawfish, mudbugs and river lobsters. They’re considered a keystone animal because the burrows some species dig create shelter used by more than 400 other animals. Crayfish help clean the water by eating decaying plants and animals and are eaten in turn by more than 240 predators, including fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, making them an important link in the food web.

Males court females by rubbing them with their antennae and claws. Females glue fertilized eggs onto their undersides with a sticky substance called glair. While carrying the eggs, the females are said to be “in berry” because the eggs resemble a cluster of berries. After hatching the young crayfish stay by their mother’s side for several weeks before setting out on their own. Crayfish live for two to four years.

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Voice of America

Australian State Announces Bold ‘Zero Extinction’ Plan to Protect Endangered Species

By Phil Mercer, September 07, 2021

SYDNEY – Koalas, rock wallabies and the Nightcap Oak, a rare tree, are some of the iconic species to be protected under an “historic” zero extinction plan in the Australian state of New South Wales.

The New South Wales government Tuesday outlined a strategy to safeguard the survival of endangered plants and animals in the state’s vast network of national parks, to address what Environment Minister Matt Kean said is the worst mammal extinction rate in the world.

More than 90 endangered species at risk from feral pests, bushfires and climate change will be given greater legal protection. There are new safeguards for birds, frogs and reptiles, as well as rare trees, including the dwarf mountain pine. 

The species join the Wollemi pine, known as a “dinosaur tree” because of its ancient heritage, which was declared New South Wales’ first asset of intergenerational significance last year after the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires almost wiped out its few known sites in the wild.

There will also be a network of predator-free areas and authorities will be able to mandate conservation and fire-management plans to ensure plants and animals are protected. For some species there is little time to waste. Some population groups of the brush-tailed rock wallaby in the Warrumbungle National Park have fallen to just ten animals. 

Environmental groups have broadly welcomed the zero extinction initiative.

Rachel Lowry, the chief conservation officer of the Australia branch of the international conservation organization the World Wildlife Fund, says it is a promising plan.

“What I find really encouraging is that the zero extinction target is the type of principled target that we need that draws a line in the sand and says no more extinctions. Now, I would love to see that being drawn actually for the whole nation, and not just for species in protected areas and in this case species in protected areas in New South Wales only. But like I said, it is a good step forward,” she said.

It is not just an Australian problem. Officials in New South Wales have warned that, globally, one million species face extinction in the coming decades. 

National Threatened Species Day is commemorated across Australia September 7 to raise awareness of plants and animals at risk of dying out.

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The Journal of the San Juan Islands (Originally published by NOAA Fisheries.)

Body condition of endangered killer whales reflects salmon numbers and odds of survival

September 6, 2021

The body condition of endangered Southern Resident killer whales reflects changes in Chinook salmon numbers in the Fraser River and the Salish Sea. This is according to new research using aerial photogrammetry from drones to track changes in their body condition over time.

The study, titled “Survival of the Fattest: Linking body condition to prey availability and survivorship of killer whales,” also found that poor body condition makes the whales more likely to die.

The new findings published today in Ecosphere highlight the value of monitoring these endangered whales through aerial photogrammetry. This method can detect individual whales declining in condition, which can provide an early warning system that they may die.

The 74 Southern resident orcas make up three pods known as J, K, and L. Each pod is made up of distinct social and family groups.

The research showed that the body condition of J pod whales improved when Chinook salmon abundance was higher in the Salish Sea and in Fraser River tributaries. L pod body condition improved when Chinook salmon abundance was higher in Puget Sound tributaries, although that relationship was weaker than J pod and Fraser River Chinook. K pod whales had no clear relationship to the salmon populations examined in the study. However, whales in K pod also experienced little change in their body condition during the study period.

K and L pods spend more time foraging on the outer coast of Washington and Oregon than J pod. Their more varied diet is more challenging to relate to changes in their body condition. In contrast, J pod depends to a greater extent on Chinook salmon. Differences in body condition between the three pods reflects distinct foraging patterns, while the condition of individual whales provides insights into their health, researchers found.

Underweight orcas; elevated risk

This study also revealed that whales in poor body condition were two to three times more likely to die in the next year than healthier whales.

“It makes sense that the different pods would have different trends in body condition; they have different distributions, and that is probably because they are targeting different prey sources,” said Joshua Stewart, a postdoctoral researcher at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center. “What is consistent across the three pods is that skinny whales seem to be at higher risk of death. If you can determine that their health is deteriorating, there may be an opportunity to take action before those whales deteriorate past the point of recovery.”

The new research findings may also help fisheries managers find ways to increase the availability and accessibility of Chinook salmon. The goal is to increase availability in places and at times of the year when the whales most need them, while still providing fishing opportunities. “Body condition information helps us track the health of individual whales in ways that provide a level of detail we did not have before,” said Lynne Barre, NOAA Fisheries Recovery Coordinator for the Southern Residents.

The findings are based on seven different years of fieldwork and analysis by researchers from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center; SR3-Sealife Response, Rehabilitation, and Research; Southall Environmental Associates Inc.; Ocean Wise; Northwest Fisheries Science Center; and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

NOAA Fisheries has identified the Southern residents as one of nine national “Species in the Spotlight,” that warrant extra focus because of their high risk of extinction. An updated Action Plan for the species released in April calls for building greater knowledge of the whales’ health to advance recovery and support emergency responses for ailing animals.

NOAA Fisheries is also reviewing the status of the killer whales, as required every five years under the Endangered Species Act.

Next Steps for Whales

“This paper represents an important validation that encourages us to continue our photogrammetry study,” said Dr. John Durban, formerly with NOAA Fisheries and now a Senior Scientist with Southall Environmental Associates. He piloted the drone that collected data for this paper. “In particular, we have shown this to be a powerful method for providing an early warning about the declining health of individual whales.”

Indeed, further data collection is already underway, according to Dr. Holly Fearnbach of SR3, who led the photogrammetric image analysis for this paper. “We are now collecting photogrammetry data throughout the year to provide greater resolution on seasonal patterns of nutritional status and also to identify whales of concern to inform potential management actions before they die,” said Fearnbach.

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The Guardian

Third of shark and ray species face extinction, warns study

Number of species of sharks, rays and chimaeras facing ‘global extinction crisis’ doubles in a decade

By Karen McVeigh, September 6, 2021

A third of shark and ray species have been overfished to near extinction, according to an eight-year scientific study.

“Sharks and rays are the canary in the coalmine of overfishing. If I tell you that three-quarters of tropical and subtropical coastal species are threatened, just imagine a David Attenborough series with 75% of its predators gone. If sharks are declining, there’s a serious problem with fishing,” said the paper’s lead author, Prof Nicholas Dulvy, of Canada’s Simon Fraser University.

The health of “entire ocean ecosystems” and food security was in jeopardy, said Dulvy, a former co-chair of the shark specialist group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The number of species of sharks, rays and chimaeras, known together as chondrichthyan fishes, facing “a global extinction crisis” has more than doubled in less than a decade, according to the paper published today in the journal Current Biology.

Rays are the most threatened, with 41% of 611 species studied at risk; 36% of 536 sharks species are at risk; and 9% of 52 chimaera species.

Dulvy said: “Our study reveals an increasingly grim reality, with these species now making up one of the most threatened vertebrate lineages, second only to the amphibians in the risks they face.

“The widespread depletion of these fishes, particularly sharks and rays, jeopardises the health of entire ocean ecosystems and food security for many nations around the globe,” he said.

The assessment is the second to be carried out since 2014 and comes after a study in January found shark and ray populations had crashed by more than 70% in the past 50 years, with previously widespread species such as hammerhead sharks facing extinction.

Sharks, rays and chimaeras are vulnerable to overfishing because they grow slowly and produce few young. It has been estimated that 100 million sharks are killed by humans every year, overwhelming their slow reproductive capacity. Industrial fishing was a “key threat” to chondrichthyans, either on its own or in combination with other fisheries, the authors said.

Most of the sharks and rays are taken “unintentionally”, but may be the “unofficial target” in many fisheries, the report said, and are retained for food and animal feed. Habitat loss and degradation, the climate crisis and pollution compound overfishing, the authors said.

The species are disproportionately threatened in tropical and subtropical waters, especially off countries such as Indonesia and India, the experts found, because of very high demand from large coastal populations combined with mostly unregulated fisheries, often driven by demand for higher value products such as fins.

Chondrichthyes have survived at least five mass extinctions in their 420m year history, according to the report. But, at least three species are now critically endangered and possibly extinct. The Java stingaree has not been recorded since 1868, the Red Sea torpedo ray since 1898 and the South China Sea’s lost shark has not been seen since 1934. Their disappearance would be the first time in the world marine species had become extinct because of overfishing.

Colin Simpfendorfer, adjunct professor at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, said: “The tropics host incredible shark and ray diversity, but too many of these inherently vulnerable species have been heavily fished for more than a century by a wide range of fisheries that remain poorly managed, despite countless commitments to improve.

“As a result, we fear we will soon confirm that one or more of these species has been driven to extinction from overfishing – a deeply troubling first for marine fishes,” he said. “We will work to make this study a turning point in efforts to prevent any more irreversible losses and secure long-term sustainability.”

The experts, mainly from the IUCN shark specialist group, assessed 1,199 species and classified 391 in the IUCN threatened categories of critically endangered (90 species), endangered (121 species) or vulnerable (180 species).

The most imperilled are sawfishes, giant guitarfishes, devil rays and pelagic eagle rays. More than three-quarters of species are threatened in the tropics and subtropical coasts – particularly in the northern Indian Ocean, western central and north-west Pacific Ocean – from Pakistan to Japan.

The first global assessment in 2014 concluded that a quarter of chondrichthyan species were threatened. A third are now threatened with extinction. However, the authors added that for those species for which data was scarce, the figure rose to nearly two-fifths.

Sonja Fordham, a co-author and president of Shark Advocates International, an Ocean Foundation project, said: “We were all aware that sharks were in trouble but there’s a lot more information now, as well as conservation measures and yet, compared to 2014, twice as many species are categorised as threatened. That’s alarming and shocking, even to experts.”

While noting more conservation measures and commitments had been put in place, she called for urgent action by governments to limit fishing.

“Time is running out for more and more shark and ray species,” Fordham said.

The study was completed by the Global Shark Trends Project, a collaboration of the IUCN shark specialist group, Simon Fraser University, James Cook University and the Georgia Aquarium, funded by the Shark Conservation Fund.

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National Geographic

These popular tuna species are no longer endangered, surprising scientists

From fish to Komodo dragons, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has updated its list of the world’s most endangered species.

BY JASON BITTEL, September 6, 2021

In a world simultaneously on fire and underwater thanks to climate change, scientists have announced some good news: Several important tuna species have stepped back from the edge of extinction.

Two bluefin species, a yellowfin, and an albacore are no longer critically endangered or have moved off the leading international list of endangered species entirely. 

The unexpectedly fast recovery speaks to the success of efforts over the past decade to end overfishing. But tuna are not the only species scientists are deliberating at the 2021 World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France, which is organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Researchers caution that many other marine species remain imperiled For instance, more than a third of the world’s sharks and rays remain threatened with extinction due to overfishing, habitat loss, and climate change.

“I think the good news is that sustainable fisheries are possible,” says Beth Polidoro, a marine biologist at Arizona State University. “We can eat fish sustainably and without depleting the population to the point where it is on the road to collapse or extinction.”

At the same time, she warned that the changes in status should not be an incentive to lift quotas and catch as many fish as we want.

“We need to keep doing what’s working,” Polidoro says.

The IUCN, which ranks the world’s most endangered species on its Red List of Threatened Species and is backed by 16,000 experts across the globe, also announced at the meeting that some animals are moving in the other direction, onto the Red List. One notable example is the Komodo dragon, an island-dwelling lizard at particular risk from climate change.

For the better part of two decades, Polidoro has been part of a specialist group tasked with assessing the statuses of more than 60 species of tuna and billfishes for the IUCN. Her team announced its first comprehensive findings in 2011, revealing that a number of commercially fished tuna species were dangerously close to disappearing.

Ten years on, Polidoro says she was surprised to see so much improvement.

According to the new data, the Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), once listed as endangered, now qualifies for a status of least concern. As does the yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) and albacore tuna (Thunnus alalunga), which were both considered near-threatened the last time they were assessed.

Additionally, the southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) has improved from critically endangered to endangered, while bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus) will remain at a status of vulnerable, and skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) maintains its status of least concern.

How science is saving marvels of the sea

Most people think of tuna only as a potential dinner, but these fish are massive, marvellous creatures in their own right.

For instance, an Atlantic bluefin tuna begins its life as an egg no larger than the thickness of a credit card. But within a decade, it can grow to lengths of more than six feet and weights of more than 550 pounds. Tuna are fierce predators that zip through the ocean at speeds approaching 40 miles per hour, and they swallow their prey whole—whatever fits inside their gullet.

Though these animals would dwarf a pro rugby player, they’re no match for modern fishing techniques. Beginning in the 1970s, longline fishing vessels dragging baited hooks hammered the largest Atlantic bluefin tunas as they gathered in the Gulf of Mexico to breed each year. At the same time, purse seine nets scooped up the smaller juveniles as they fed along North America’s East Coast.

However, reduced catch quotas and enforcement of those quotas helped their comeback, says Polidoro. Improved data have also allowed for more accurate assessments and management decisions, she says.

A few caveats remain. After all, tuna inhabit vast expanses of the world’s oceans and use different regions throughout their life cycles. This makes managing their populations rather complex. (Read more about why the Atlantic bluefin tuna has been drastically overfished.)

“Yellowfin tuna in the Indian Ocean is somewhat of a big black hole,” says Polidoro. “We’re not really sure what the status of the species is there, but it appears to be overfished.”

Likewise, the western Atlantic population of the Atlantic bluefin tuna has been severely depleted since the 1970s and has yet to fully recover, she says.

Hope for Komodo dragons

Another significant development to come out of the World Conservation Congress is a change in the status of Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis). But this shift is less encouraging than for tuna.

As inhabitants of Indonesia’s Sunda Islands, the world’s largest lizards could see as much as 30 percent of their habitat affected by rising sea levels over the next 45 years, and this has prompted scientists to change the reptile’s status from vulnerable to endangered.

“If we talk about climate change and sea level rise, I think most of the species that live in small islands will face the same problem,” says Achmad Ariefiandy, an ecologist with an Indonesian nonprofit called the Komodo Survival Program, in an email. Ariefiandy was not involved with the listing decision.

Despite the looming existential threat, Komodo dragons may be better off than other species in the endangered category. The Indonesian government has committed to saving the dragons, with a program that kicked off in earnest in 2013, says Ariefiandy. This includes partnerships between regional and local governments, as well as with local communities, academics, and nongovernmental organisations, he says.

“So the reality in the field at the moment [is that] they are actually doing just fine,” says Ariefiandy.

Of course, the work of conservation is never over, and it will require vigilance to ensure neither tuna nor Komodo dragons slip back toward the brink. But for now, conservationists can celebrate a few wins for the animal world.

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India Times

With Less Than 3,000 Alive, Indian Wolf Is Most Endangered Wolf Species: Study

Monit Khanna, Sept. 04, 2021

Indian wolves could be far more endangered than previously believed, reveals a novel study by researchers from the University of California, Davis.

Researchers were able to discover this by sequencing the genome of the Indian wolf for the very first time. The study also highlighted that Indian wolves could actually represent the most ancient surviving lineage of wolves.

The Indian wolf species is found specifically in lowland India and Pakistan where they’re constantly threatened by human encroachment as well as urbanisation of forests and natural habitats. Today their population numbers dwindle between 2,000 to 3,000.

Indian Wolves are unique

Researchers sequenced genomes of four Indian and two Tibetan wolves and included 31 additional candid genomes to better understand their evolutionary and phylogenomic history. Researchers found that Tibetan and Indian wolves were drastically different from each other as well as other wolf species.

According to the researchers, Tibetan and Indian wolves should be recognised as evolutionarily significant units — an interim designation that would allow prioritization of their conservation while their taxonomic classification undergoes revaluation.

Study co-author Bilal Habib, a conservation biologist with the Wildlife Institute of India, explains, “This paper may be a game-changer for the species to persist in these landscapes. People may realize that the species with whom we have been sharing the landscape is the most distantly divergent wolf alive today.”

Today, Indian and western Asian wolf populations are considered as one population, however, this study’s findings reveal that Indian wolves are distinct from western Asian wolves and their distribution is far smaller than previously believed.

Study lead author Lauren Hennelly, a doctoral student with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s Mammalian Ecology Conservation Unit added, “Wolves are one of the last remaining large carnivores in Pakistan, and many of India’s large carnivores are endangered. I hope that knowing they are so unique and found only there will inspire local people and scientists to learn more about conserving these wolves and grassland habitats.”

Saving Indian Wolves From Extinction

Just like Indian Wolves, US’s Red Wolves are also endangered, however, today, they have a much better standing, thanks to conservation efforts that began in 1987, by breeding them in captivity, to enable a restoration program that would bring the species to a similar number as their traditional range in the southeast United States.

Organisations like the Wolf Conservation Centre also participated in breeding and reintroduction programs to help the red wolves survive and thrive.

India and Pakistan — the nations that are currently home to the endangered Indian wolves — must adopt learnings from efforts for conservation of the Red wolves to prevent their extinction.

Efforts to restrict urbanisation with the help of legislation, especially in areas where Indian wolves often are found, could also be helpful in not affecting their populations. Let us know what you think about this Indian wolf conservation efforts, and keep reading Indiatimes.com for science conservation and tech fighting extinction stories.

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Australian Broadcasting Corporation (Sydney)-AP

Komodo dragon, sharks and trees make IUCN endangered species red list, tuna on the ‘path to recovery’

Posted Sat 4 Sep 2021

The world’s sharks and rays have seen declines in their population and more are now threatened with extinction, according to a new red list released at a global conference aimed at protecting dwindling species.

The Komodo dragon is now listed as endangered, notably because of rising sea levels and rising temperatures in its Indonesian habitat.

Ebonies and rosewoods threatened by logging were among trees put on the list for the first time this year.

There are signs of hope, too – fishing quotas have allowed several tuna species to be put on the “path to recovery,” according to the announcement from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Some 37 per cent of the world’s sharks and rays are considered in danger as of 2021, up from 33 per cent seven years ago, the IUCN announced.

Overfishing, a loss of habitat and climate change explain the upward trend, it said.

Oceanic shark populations have dropped by 71 per cent since 1970.

But the progress in reviving tuna populations and some other species “is the demonstration that if states and other actors take the right actions … it is possible to recover,” IUCN director Bruno Oberle told reporters in the southern French city of Marseille.

The IUCN Red List Unit reassesses hundreds of species each year. Of the some 138,000 species the group tracks, more than 38,000 are threatened with extinction.

Several recent studies have shown that many of the planet’s ecosystems are severely strained by global warming, deforestation, habitat degradation, pollution and other threats.

More than half of all bird of prey species worldwide are declining in population, and 18 species are critically endangered.

Warming temperatures and melting ice are projected to imperil 70 per cent of Emperor penguin colonies by 2050 and 98 per cent by 2100.

Actor Harrison Ford made an impassioned plea to safeguard biodiversity at the opening of the World Conservation Congress in Marseille on Friday.

“It’s hard to watch the rise of nationalism in the face of a global threat that requires global cooperation, global action,” he said.

“C’mon everybody,” he said.

“Let’s get to work.”

Environmental groups are urging governments to take bolder actions to protect the oceans, the Amazon and other crucial ecosystems.

The conference runs until September 11. Among topics are the links between climate change and biodiversity loss, and the ethics of genetic enhancement to increase species’ chances of survival.

The talks are also meant to inform the UN’s global climate summit, the COP26, which will be held in November in Glasgow, Scotland.

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PHYS-ORG

New project to track endangered species coming back from brink

by Kelly MacNamara, September 4, 2021

After decades of recording alarming declines in animals and plants, conservation experts have taken a more proactive approach, with a new “Green Status” launched on Saturday, billed as the first global measurement for tracking species recovery.

Since 1964, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed some 138,000 species for its Red List of Threatened Species, a powerful tool to highlight the plight of wildlife facing extinction.

Some 28 percent are currently at risk of vanishing forever.

Its new Green Status will act as a companion to this survival watchlist, looking at the extent to which species are depleted or restored compared to their historical population levels.

The initiative aims “to measure species recoveries in a standardised way, which has never been done before”, Green Status co-chair Molly Grace told a news conference Saturday during the IUCN congress in Marseille.

But it also looks to “incentivise conservation action”, with evaluations of how well past preservation efforts have worked, as well as projections for how effective future ones will be.

It was born of a realisation that “preventing extinction alone is not enough”, said Grace, a professor at the University of Oxford.

Beyond the first step of stopping a species from disappearing entirely, “once it’s out of danger, what does recovery look like?”

Efforts to halt extensive declines in numbers and diversity of animals and plants have largely failed to stop losses in the face of rampant habitat destruction, overexploitation and illegal wildlife trade.

In 2019 the UN’s biodiversity experts warned that a million species were nearing extinction.

‘Invisible’ work

The Green status of over 180 species have been assessed so far, although the IUCN hopes to one day to match the tens of thousands on the Red List.

They are classified on a sliding scale: from “fully recovered” through “slightly depleted”, “moderately depleted”, “largely depleted” and “critically depleted”.

When all else has failed, the final listing is “extinct in the wild”.

While these categories mirror the Red List rankings, “they’re not simply a Red List in reverse”, said Grace.

She gave the example of a pocket-sized Australian marsupial, the burrowing bettong, whose numbers have plummeted and which now exists in just five percent of its indigenous range.

Successful conservation efforts have seen populations stabilise, with a Red List rating improving from endangered to near threatened in recent decades.

But Grace said the Green Status assessment underscores that the species is not out of the woods, with a listing of critically depleted that suggests: “We have a long way to go before we recover this species.”

The listing also incorporates an assessment of what would have happened if nothing had been done to save a given species.

The California condor, for example, has been classified as critically endangered for three decades, despite major investment in its preservation.

“Some people might think: ‘We’ve been trying to conserve the condor for 30 years, its red list status has been critically endangered for all those 30 years, what is conservation actually doing for this species?'” said Grace.

But she said her team’s evaluation of what would have happened without these protection efforts found that it would have gone extinct in the wild.

“What this does is it makes the invisible work of conservation visible. And this is hopefully going to be really powerful in incentivising and justifying the amazing work that conservationists do,” said Grace.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Critical Habitat Proposed for Rare South Florida Beetle

Miami Tiger Beetle Is Threatened by Development, Sea-Level Rise

PETERSBURG, Fla.—(September 3, 2021)—Following litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act for the endangered Miami tiger beetle.

Found only in the pine rocklands of South Florida, one of the most imperiled habitats in the world, the tiger beetle was believed to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 2007.

“The Miami tiger beetle is small as a grain of rice but, for its size, fast like a cheetah,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center. “It’s a stunning example of Florida’s incredible biodiversity. This habitat protection is badly needed to ensure the last few patches of pine rockland aren’t destroyed so that tiger beetles and other unique South Florida plants and animals can survive.”

In response to a 2014 petition from the Center, the Service listed the Miami tiger beetle as endangered in 2016 but did not concurrently designate critical habitat as required by the Endangered Species Act.

The Center filed the petition after learning that an area known as the Richmond pine rocklands in south Miami was under immediate threat by proposals for a strip mall and waterpark. This area is where the beetle was rediscovered and contains the vast majority and largest single block of remaining habitat for the beetle, as well as several other endangered species. The strip mall has since been built, but not the waterpark, which would be adjacent to Zoo Miami.

The Miami tiger beetle is beautifully gem-like, with an emerald sheen. It is named for its aggressive, predatory behavior and strong mandibles. Today’s 1,977-acre proposal largely overlaps with designated critical habitat for Carter’s small-flowered flax, Florida brickell-bush, Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterfly and Florida leafwing butterfly.

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E&E News/Greenwire

Ariz. mine developer loses bid to shrink jaguar habitat

By Michael Doyle, James Marshall, 09/03/2021

The tangled saga of jaguars and the proposed Rosemont mine turned a new page today, as the Fish and Wildlife Service announced it had turned down the mining company’s bid to shrink the endangered species’ critical habitat.

In a so-called 90-day finding, the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the petition to remove approximately 50,000 acres of land in the northern Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona and an adjoining critical habitat subunit, including land containing the proposed copper mine.

“Removal of the northern Santa Rita Mountains would withdraw areas that currently provide the physical and biological features of jaguar critical habitat and in which confirmed jaguar detections occurred between 2012 and 2015,” FWS stated.

The agency added that “the petition does not explain why these areas are no longer essential other than to assert that most critical habitat units would be unaffected” and that it “does not demonstrate that changes have occurred to these areas such that the function they provide to jaguars, and the reason for which they were designated as critical habitat, is compromised.”

The decision by FWS not to shrink the jaguar’s habitat at the behest of Canadian mine developer Hudbay Minerals Inc. further complicates the company’s Rosemont copper project.

The open-pit mine would harm more than a dozen threatened or endangered species, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. FWS added protections for two plant species — the beardless chinchweed and Bartram’s stonecrop — this summer (Greenwire, Aug. 31).

The agency would have to consider the mine’s impact on endangered species in a new biological opinion for the mine to move forward. A federal judge in Arizona last year tossed out the previous analysis over concerns with jaguar habitat and the northern Mexican gartersnake (Greenwire, Feb. 11, 2020).

Meanwhile, Hudbay is defending the mine in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge James Soto of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona halted the project in its tracks in 2019 over the company’s plans to store waste on public land it claimed for mining (Greenwire, Aug. 1, 2019).

Hudbay contends that the mine will be an important source of copper, an industrial metal that is a critical component of electric vehicles and clean energy technologies. The company said it has not yet received a copy of the decision from FWS so it could not comment for this article.

In 2014, FWS designated 764,207 acres of critical habitat in Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties in Arizona and Hidalgo County in New Mexico.

FWS has noted that a single male jaguar — dubbed El Jefe — was detected in the Santa Rita Mountains from 2012 to 2015.

In its November 2020 petition, the mining company contended that “the northern Santa Rita Mountains provide limited conservation benefits and are not essential to the conservation of the species” and that one subunit “is unoccupied [and] no evidence exists that a jaguar has used the subunit or would need to use it to travel to and from Mexico.”

Under the Endangered Species Act, critical habitat is defined as the geographical area that contains physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species and that may require special management considerations or protections.

It does not set aside a preserve or refuge, but requires federal agencies to consult with FWS if their permitting or other actions would affect the species.

In 1972, the jaguar was listed as endangered under a precursor to the Endangered Species Act.

“At that time, the jaguar was believed to be extinct in the United States; thus, the jaguar was included only on the foreign species list,” FWS said.

In 1997, the agency clarified that endangered status for the jaguar extended into the United States but that designation of critical habitat for the jaguar was “not prudent.”

But after what FWS described as “several petitions and legal actions,” the agency in 2012 made its initial proposal to designate 838,232 acres as critical habitat.

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Sustainability Times

The poaching of Sumatra’s endangered tigers remains an acute problem

By Daniel T Cross on September 2, 2021

Tigers are critically endangered throughout all their ranges from Russia to India and so the loss of a single animal in the wild is a setback to conservation efforts. The death of three tigers at the same time is a tragedy.

Yet three Sumatran tigers, a mother with two cubs, were recently found dead in a protected area in Banda Aceh, a province in Indonesia.

The big cats succumbed to infected wounds after probably being injured by snares laid by a poacher, say local conservationists, in the Leuser Ecosystem Area, a sprawling region of forests and peatlands that spans 2.6 million hectares and serves as a protected area for the conservation of Sumatran tigers, also known as Sunda tigers, and other critically endangered species.

It appears almost certain that the three tigers died from snares set especially for them. “Setting traps for pigs in a conservation area is very unlikely,” said Agus Arianto, the head of a local conservation agency. “This was intended to poach endangered animals for economic gain.”

Although hunting wild tigers and other protected species is a crime in Indonesia that carries prison sentences and hefty fines, poaching remains a problem in Sumatra where economic harships often cause local people to supplement their incomes by selling wild animals or their parts to wildlife traffickers.

n July a female tiger was found dead with injuries that, too, were likely caused by a poacher’s snare in the southern part of Aceh. Shortly thereafter, another tiger was found dead after the predator had feasted on the carcass of a goat laced with rat poison.

“[D]espite increased efforts in tiger conservation — including strengthening law enforcement and antipoaching capacity — a substantial market remains in Sumatra and other parts of Asia for tiger parts and products,” explains the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

“Sunda tigers are losing their habitat and prey fast, and poaching is an ever-present threat,” WWF warns.

The smallest of the surviving subspecies of tigers, Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) are found only on the island of Sumatra where their numbers have dwindled to fewer than 400 individuals in the wild.

Complicating conservation efforts is that tigers may leave protected forests and stalk prey near villages. Only a few days ago a tiger attacked and killed a 16-year-old teenager who was working with his father on a palm oil plantation in central Sumatra.

Local conservationists have set out to capture the tiger unharmed with a box trap so it can be relocated safely to a forested area. Yet even in their natural habitats the striped predators are at increasing risk.

“The last of the Sunda island tigers,” WWF notes, “are holding on for survival in the remaining patches of forest on the island of Sumatra. Accelerating deforestation and rampant poaching mean this noble creature could end up extinct like its Javan and Balinese counterparts.”

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Mongabay

Studies debunk ‘nature is healing’ narrative from 2020 lockdowns

by Jansen Baier on 1 September 2021

When the world went on lockdown, nature got a reprieve, or so it seemed. Dolphins swam in the Hudson River, Los Angeles’ famed smog dissipated, and wild animals were reportedly reclaiming cities. The narrative presented in the media was clear: the COVID-19 lockdowns last year allowed nature and the environment a temporary reprieve. But how much did lockdown really impact air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions? And did animals actually move back into cities?

A year later, researchers around the world are examining data from the lockdowns and publishing their findings. Did the natural world really make a brief comeback during lockdown? The answer is complicated.

“The pandemic is bad. It’s causing a lot of troubles for humankind,” said Phil Yang, a geospatial scientist and professor of geographic information science at George Mason University. “But on the other side, this experiment is helping us to be able to observe how human activities have been impacting the earth, the environment and climate change.”

Air pollution and lockdowns

For his part, Yang looked at air quality in California before COVID-19 and during lockdowns, publishing his results in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

He and his multidisciplinary team at George Mason University studied concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide (both of which are indirect greenhouse gases) and particulate matter, during the initial California COVID-19 lockdown that lasted nearly three months, from March 19 to May 7.

The researchers found that both nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) concentrations dropped significantly during the initial COVID-19 lockdown, when compared to the same period for the five years prior. Particulate matter initially dropped as well, before increasing significantly toward the end of the study due to California’s historic 2020 wildfires.

During the lockdown that ran from March 19 to May 7, 2020, CO concentrations dropped by 49% compared to the three months before lockdown, while NO2 concentrations dropped by 38%.

In previous years, concentrations of both CO and NO2 have dropped during the same period as covered in Yang’s study due to seasonal changes, by an average of 24% and 22%, respectively. But the drops during the lockdown were much sharper.

Globally, direct greenhouse gas emissions also declined. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions dropped by 2.4 billion metric tons, or down 7% from 2019, according to a study published in Earth System Science Data in December 2020. This represents the biggest annual drop in CO2 emissions ever recorded in modern times.

Yang said he doesn’t believe this short-term drop in greenhouse gas emissions will contribute toward solving climate change in the long term. However, it has given scientists a new way to confirm something already known: that human activity is causing climate change.

Lockdowns proved that when human activity tapered off, so did greenhouse gas emissions. From a research perspective, it wouldn’t have been feasible to ask an entire state, let alone the world, to enter lockdown for more than two months. But the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique situation.

“We cannot do this type of experiment without the pandemic,” Yang said.

Animals run wild

Reut Vardi, a doctoral student pursuing a degree in urbanization at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, also took the unique opportunity presented by lockdowns to study the absence of human activity.

In her 2021 study in Biological Conservation, she tested the claim that animals reclaimed cities during lockdown. In contrast with the media’s narrative in the early months of the pandemic, Vardi found little evidence of animals invading cities.

“We do have nature in our cities … but suddenly COVID has seemed to shine a spotlight on it because people have more time,” Vardi said.

She said she suspects that with more free time during lockdowns, people were simply noticing already existing wildlife populations for the first time.

Vardi used data from iNaturalist, a nature spotting and reporting app, to compare animal sighting data pre-COVID-19 and during the initial lockdowns in North America, from March to July of last year.

Vardi tracked reported sightings of black bears (Ursus americanus), bobcats (Lynx rufus), coyotes (Canis latrans), moose (Alces alces) and pumas (Puma concolor), to determine if these animals were actually moving out of their existing habitats and reclaiming urbanized areas seemingly abandoned by humans.

Vardi and her team indeed found that these animals were exploring new areas during Lockdowns — but not in the way portrayed in early news stories. Using night light as a proxy for urbanization, Vardi found that the animals were actually venturing out in more rural areas.

“For four out the five species, the new area they were exploring, reported during COVID, were actually in less urbanized areas. And for the most urbanized area [where] they were seen during COVID, they were also reported to be seen there before COVID as well,” Vardi said.

The only animal that increased its exploration of urban areas was the puma, which Vardi attributes to the cat’s shy nature. Because pumas are usually very wary of humans, the lack of human activity may have encouraged them to explore deeper into urbanized areas at a greater rate than other wildlife.

“It’s more complex than what the media is trying to say. It’s not, we go in so the animals come out to play. Nature is all over the city and we do need to notice,” Vardi said. “I think the great thing COVID did was to … help us understand that we need to manage this situation and design our cities in a better way, that can allow for coexistence.”

The environment post-COVID

So while lockdown helped tamp down emissions, they didn’t move the needle on wildlife as much as reported. What, then, was the total impact on the environment? A team of scientists in India has weighed the potential positive and negative impacts of COVID-19 in a study in Environmental Sustainability.

Due to lockdowns, the researchers recorded that people were making more online purchases and food delivery orders. As a result, demand for plastic packaging materials increased significantly. For example, one plastic packaging company in Spain saw sales grow by 40% during the pandemic, while in the U.S. the demand for plastic grocery packaging was expected to rise by 14%.

The study also raised the concerns over medical equipment disposal, reporting that at one point, the city of Wuhan, ground zero of the outbreak, was producing an extra 240 tons of medical waste per day. Compounding the issue is the fact that personal protective equipment (PPE) is commonly made of single-use plastic, potentially leading to a rise in plastic pollution.

Another potential hazard, detailed in the paper, is the rise in soap use. If released into streams, rivers or lakes, soap creates a layer of foam on the water. The foam stops vital re-aeration for aquatic plants by 40% and prevents algae growth that’s vital to local ecosystems.

“Although a few positive impacts of COVID-19 on the environment were seen, these were the short-term effects induced largely by nation-wide lockdown,” the study says. “Indeed, the pandemic is expected to pose long-term adverse effects on the environment in future.”

Nevertheless, a number of conservationists say the COVID-19 pandemic holds lessons for society.

“COVID-19 came from an animal, in large part because of humans’ destruction to ecosystems,” said Rachel Golden Kroner, an environmental governance fellow at Conservation International. “Situating humans as part of nature helps us think more holistically about our impacts.”

Kroner said she noticed increased conservation efforts and interest from the public, the private sector and the government during this period.

“[People need to] keep that going, but in real ways. Follow up this commitment with real actions,” she added.

She said a lot of this action comes down to passing legislation and increasing environmental funding, which in both cases the average person may feel they have little capacity to change.

“It’s that dichotomy, maybe a false dichotomy, about individual versus collective solutions,” Kroner said. “As an individual, we can tap into making change at the collective level. We are all voters, we are all citizens, we all have representatives that we can elect, advocate to, call, write letters and make our voices heard. Make it known that we care.”

Beyond this, Kroner suggested something less formal: simply talking to friends and family about climate change, threats to our environment, and ways they can reduce their impact and get involved.

Citations:

Friedlingstein, P., O’Sullivan, M., Jones, M. W., Andrew, R. M., Hauck, J., Olsen, A., … Zaehle, S. (2020). Global carbon budget 2020. Earth System Science Data, 12(4), 3269-3340. doi:10.5194/essd-12-3269-2020

Ankit, Kumar, A., Jain, V., Deovanshi, A., Lepcha, A., Das, C., … Srivastava, S. (2021). Environmental impact of COVID-19 pandemic: More negatives than positives. Environmental Sustainability. doi:10.1007/s42398-021-00159-9

Liu, Q., Harris, J. T., Chiu, L. S., Sun, D., Houser, P. R., Yu, M., … Yang, C. (2021). Spatiotemporal impacts of COVID-19 on air pollution in California, USA. Science of the Total Environment, 750, 141592. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.141592

Vardi, R., Berger-Tal, O., & Roll, U. (2021). iNaturalist insights illuminate COVID-19 effects on large mammals in urban centers. Biological conservation, 254, 108953. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2021.10895

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The Sacramento Bee

Rare California red fox added to endangered species list in ongoing extinction crisis

BY MARGO ROSENBAUM, August 31, 2021

In the midst of a climate crisis in California, another species has been added to the endangered species list: the Sierra Nevada red fox, a subspecies of red foxes found only in California.

With an estimated population of about 18 to 39, California’s distinct red fox population is now in critical danger of extinction, joining a list that includes the California condor and salt-marsh harvest mouse.

This is part of a trend across the globe, where the rate of flora and fauna extinction is accelerating, according to a United Nations report published in 2019. Native plants and animals have declined by about 20% in the last 120 years. One million animals are on the brink of extinction and could disappear within decades, according to the report’s projections.

“Most scientists agree we’re in an extinction crisis,” said Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting endangered species and their habitat.

Currently, the Endangered Species Act protects over 1,600 plant and animal species in the United States. The California Endangered Species Act designates over 300 plant and animal species as rare, threatened or endangered.

The Tecopa pupfish and Santa Barbara song sparrow are among the animals that have already disappeared from California, a fate wildlife biologists and managers hope to avoid for one population of the red fox.

The Sierra Nevada distinct population segment of the Sierra Nevada red fox is now listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, according to a United States Fish and Wildlife Service announcement on Aug. 2. The listing decision was published in the Federal Register on Aug. 3, but it will not go into effect until Thursday.

Sierra Nevada red foxes have been declining since the 1930’s, but according to the forest service, the reasons why remain largely unknown. The foxes’ remote subalpine habitat, small population and tendencies to avoid humans make them difficult for scientists to study.

“There just in general hasn’t been a lot of formal study of red foxes,” said Cate Quinn, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis.

In 1980, the Sierra Nevada red fox was listed as threatened in California, but sightings of these elusive foxes continue to be rare. In 2015, a fox was spotted in Yosemite National Park for the first time in nearly 100 years. After over a decade of attempts, researchers finally captured a fox in 2018 near Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Historically, the fox subspecies ranged from the Oregon-Washington border to the southern end of the Sierra Nevada mountains, but today the Sierra Nevada red fox lives in California’s Sierra Nevada region and the southern Cascade Range of Oregon and California.

Characterized by heavy snow, short growing seasons and a mixture of open and forested areas, the fox is likely well adapted to its native subalpine habitat, Quinn said. Above the treeline, these foxes live in solitary across the landscape.

Despite its name, the Sierra Nevada red fox can be red, black or a greyish brown “cross phase.” Black-backed ears, white-tipped tails and their smaller size (a little lengthier and taller than a housecat) distinguish them from other foxes, Quinn said.

Researchers said the greatest threat to these foxes is their small population size. With so few left, the foxes have a high risk of being wiped out by catastrophic events, like wildfire and drought. With a smaller population, there is a greater chance of inbreeding that could jeopardize their future.

The endangered species listing will help researchers acquire more funding and continue conservation efforts, said Josh Hull, the supervisor of the listing and recovery division at the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

“It’s really a tiny number for a population of mammals,” Hull said.

WHY IS THE FOX POPULATION ENDANGERED?

While there is good evidence that there are few Sierra Nevada red foxes left, the reasons for their small population remain unclear.

According to the service’s official announcement, wildfire and drought, competition with coyotes, decreases in prey levels and widespread breeding with non-native fox subspecies (known as hybridization) are among the reasons for the fox population’s high vulnerability.

Some researchers, including Hull, said climate change is not specifically to blame for the populations’ small size. Instead, the foxes likely never recovered from when they were trapped and poisoned in the early 1900’s, Hull said.

Even though hunting and trapping these foxes was banned in California in 1974, it’s likely the subspecies never recovered. As a result of the small population, the foxes became inbred and produced fewer young. In turn, the current population is dangerously small.

Today, Greenwald and others at the Center for Biological Diversity believe climate change is one of the most serious threats for the fox subspecies. The fox is “a harbinger for climate change,” he said.

Climate change also may make foxes more open to predators. Snow in the subalpine is melting earlier and predators of the foxes, such as coyotes, can now get higher up into mountains where the foxes live. Also with less snow, there will also be fewer places for the foxes to hide, Greenwald said.

Quinn said that while many endangered species are listed due to habitat loss, it’s likely not the case for these foxes. Based on her research, there’s plenty of habitat for red foxes.

Economic interests such as logging are less of a threat in the subalpine, which means these human industries are less likely to have a major impact on the foxes, Quinn said. However, it also means less attention is paid to them.

“It’s not so simple as just ‘they don’t have habitat,’ because the subalpine is one of the most protected eco-types that there is in Western North America,” Quinn said.

Greenwald said that although habitat loss is not the primary threat — “there’s a mix of threats” — foxes do face habitat destruction.

Critical habitat, areas essential to the subspecies’ conservation, was not designated for the Sierra Nevada red fox population. Greenwald worries a trail or ski area might be built in the foxes’ habitat, further threatening the species, he said.

“We think critical habitat would have been a good idea, even if habitat destruction isn’t the primary threat,” Greenwald said.

WHICH FOXES SHOULD BE PROTECTED?

Two distinct population segments of the Sierra Nevada red fox are recognized by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service: the Southern Cascade population, found in the Cascades to Mt. Hood in Oregon, and the Sierra Nevada population, ranging from Yosemite National Park to Kings Canyon National Park. The Cascade population segment is not protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Just one population of mammals can be listed, instead of a whole species, and therefore only the Sierra Nevada red fox made the list. Hull said there are more foxes in the Cascades, which are genetically different from the Sierra Nevada population, and do not face the same threats as those in the Sierra Nevada population.

The Center for Biological Diversity would like to see the entire subspecies protected. The center initially petitioned for the subspecies’ listing in 2011 and when the process was delayed, they filed lawsuits in 2013 and 2019 “to force the Service to decide on the animal’s protection,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

“To just protect that one population … from our perspective doesn’t make sense because the whole species faces threats and is small in size,” Greenwald said.

But with so little known about the subspecies, it’s difficult to understand threats they face and the extent to which they should be protected. Quinn said this is likely why only one population was listed.

Researchers, such as Quinn, are continuing to monitor the red fox through electronic tracking, monitoring camera footage and collecting scat. Quinn extracts DNA from scat to understand relatedness between the animals, which is important with the threat of inbreeding in small populations.

“There are genetic side effects when a population gets really inbred and then that can cause them to limit their growth and ability to rebound,” Quinn said.

WHAT IS THE FUTURE FOR RED FOXES IN THE SIERRA?

Across the world, climate change, logging, farming, mining and other human-caused activities create the damage necessary for these high extinction rates, the United Nations report found.

“We’re losing species at a rate 1000 times the level that historically would have occurred were it not for us because of all the habitat we’re destroying and now altering the climate itself,” Greenwald said.

As more species are lost, the health and diversity of ecosystems are weakened and in turn, human livelihoods are endangered, Greenwald said. Increasing numbers of declining and disappearing species “should be a warning sign” to act — these animals and plants depend on the same resources as humans, such as space to live, drinking water and clean air, he said.

“The fact that they’re going extinct reflects the fact that we’re depleting all those things at our own peril,” Greenwald said.

Even though researchers are still learning about the Sierra Nevada red fox, Quinn remains hopeful for their future.

“The upside is every piece of information that we learned is valuable and improves the picture,” Quinn said. “It’s exciting to see how quickly it’s moving now that there is more attention on the subspecies.”

Researchers know that red foxes are one of the few predators in the Western subalpine and therefore an integral part of the ecosystem, said Ben Sacks, a UC Davis professor who runs the Mammalian Ecology and Conservation Unit where Quinn works. Collaborative conservation efforts hope to bring this subspecies back from the brink of extinction.

“Anytime you have an organism that is distinctive and you lose it, you’re not going to get it back,” Sacks said. “Evolution proceeds much more slowly than extinction, so once you lose something it’s gone. We’re not going to get anything to take its place in the foreseeable future.”

Agencies have formed a conservation advisory team, including federal conservation agencies, the Department of Defense, state wildlife agencies, universities and the private sector, and are working on management plans to ensure long-term conservation of the fox’s habitat.

“With the work that those agencies are doing,” Hull said, “I think we’re going to see some improvement in the numbers of these animals in the next several years.”

While the Sierra Nevada red fox is just one Californian subspecies, it’s a microcosm of the extinction and climate change battles fought everywhere. As the world increasingly loses species “the more and more lonely our world becomes,” Greenwald said.

“If we lose this fox, it’ll personally be because we didn’t take seriously the impacts we have on the planet and correct our actions,” Greenwald said. “We’re changing our world in a profound and fundamental way that will have serious negative consequences.”

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Oak Ridger (Oak Ridge, TN)

Snail darter, tiny and notorious, is no longer endangered

KIMBERLEE KRUES, Associated Press, August 31, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn.  — The snail darter, a tiny fish that notoriously blocked a federal dam project in Tennessee decades ago, should no longer be on the endangered species list, federal officials announced on Tuesday.

Arguing that the fish is no longer in danger of extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has begun the process to delist the species, a move backed by the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that has favored lifting protections for the fish since 2019.

“Thanks to the persistence of many people, the extinction of the snail darter was ultimately avoided, and today we can celebrate its recovery,” said Zygmunt Plater, the attorney who wrote the citizens’ petition to save the snail darter in 1975.

Snail darters, a member of the perch family, grow up to 3.5 inches (9 centimeters) long and mostly eat fresh-water snails. The darter was first listed as a federally endangered species in 1975, but later moved to “threatened” in 1984, meaning the species still faced a danger of extinction in the foreseeable future.

The fish garnered national attention shortly after the passage of the landmark 1973 Endangered Species Act. The law made it illegal to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect” endangered animals, and forbid the elimination of their habitats. It led to many legal battles, but the struggle over the lowly darter became one of the most notable.

“The Endangered Species Act was passed to ensure all wildlife, even species that some might view as insignificant, deserve to be preserved for future generations,” said Martha Williams, the federal agency’s service principle deputy director. “It is very fitting that this fish, which was once a source of controversy, became the subject of cooperation and partnerships to save it.”

Construction of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Tellico Dam in eastern Tennessee threatened the habitat of the newly discovered fish, located just above the site of the project. The case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, marking the first time the nation’s highest court took up an ESA case. In 1978, the court ruled in favor of protections for the fish and halted work on the nearly completed dam.

Congress later exempted the dam from the law to allow the project to be completed. However, the TVA worked to transplant the snail darter to other rivers and streams.

Federal officials say the TVA also worked to improve water flows and increase oxygen in more than 300 miles of river downstream from their dams. These steps helped boost the fish’s recovery, allowing the snail darter to recolonize in Tennessee waterways.

Its population has since been expanded to Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.

More than 50 species have been removed from the ESA since the law was enacted, including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, Tennessee purple coneflowers and American alligators.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Rare Arizona Plant Threatened by Rosemont Copper Mine Receives Endangered Species Act Protection

TUSCON, Ariz.—(August 30, 2021) Following a petition and legal action from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that Bartram’s stonecrop, a succulent found in southern Arizona, will receive protection as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Bartram’s stonecrop is one of more than a dozen imperiled animals and plants threatened by the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine near Tucson, which would affect more than 145,000 acres of wildlife habitat.

Bartram’s stonecrop is a striking, blue-green succulent that typically lives on rocky outcrops in narrow canyons, usually close to streambeds, springs or seeps. Historically, this plant was found across sky island mountain ranges in southern Arizona and northern Mexico, but currently only 4,628 adult individuals are known to exist in the United States.

“Federal protection for Bartram’s stonecrop is more than 40 years overdue,” said Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate at the Center. “The beautiful little plant faces threats at every turn, from the ecologically disastrous Rosemont mine to uncontrolled livestock grazing and historic drought driven by climate change. Without the Endangered Species Act, the stonecrop would have little hope of survival.”

Due to the small size of the stonecrop’s populations — more than half of the 50 known populations contain fewer than 50 individuals — the species is particularly vulnerable to an array of threats, including water withdrawal for mining and other uses, fire, livestock grazing, climate change driven drought and poaching.

Four populations of the stonecrop were recently lost due to the drying-out of its habitat. Drying is associated with loss of water in nearby drainages, such as from mining or drought. The population near the Rosemont mine is threatened by insatiable groundwater pumping for mining activities.

Increasing wildfires are also a continued threat to the species. Between 2007 and 2017, the Service identified 11 wildfires that burned in Bartram stonecrop sites in southern Arizona. Non-native grasses that have taken root throughout the stonecrop’s remaining habitat increase the frequency and severity of wildfires.

The stonecrop occurs in Pima, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties. It was first identified as a candidate for federal listing in 1980. The Center petitioned for protection of the plant in 2010, and in 2020 sued the Trump administration for failing to decide whether 241 plants and animals across the country, including Bartram’s stonecrop, should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

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The Chronicle (Centralia, WA)

Washington Puts Hawk on Endangered List; Wind Turbines Partly to Blame

Annette Cary / Tri-City Herald/August 29, 2021

The largest hawk in North America has been declared an endangered species in Washington state as fewer of them have been breeding in Benton and Franklin counties.

Friday the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to move the ferruginous hawk from the state’s threatened species list to endangered. status.

The change will bring more visibility toward the decline of the species, said Commissioner Kim Thorburn. It also could prompt more steps to protect the hawks.

The ferruginous hawks spend about a third of the year in breeding territories, with Benton and Franklin counties the core breeding area in Washington state.

The hawks seek out grasslands and shrub-steppe in Eastern Washington to nest and raise their young

“Ferruginous hawks have been in trouble for decades,” said Taylor Cotten, conservation assessment section manager at the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife, earlier this year.

The ferruginous hawks were common in the early 1990s in several Eastern Washington counties, according to a draft review of the hawks in Washington state released earlier this year by the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

A study in 1926 described many old nests made of sticks in the Kiona-Benton City area and said they were most common near the Columbia and Yakima Rivers.

But between 1992 and 1995 the average number of breeding pairs nesting in the state dropped to 55. The last statewide survey conducted in 2016 found just 32 breeding pairs.

“Between 1974 and 2016, there have been significant declines in nesting territory occupancy, nest success and productivity,” the draft review said.

Loss of prey, habitat

The decline in Eastern Washington has been driven by several factors, including the development of land in the Tri-Cities area.

Over half of Washington’s original shrub-steppe had been converted to agriculture land by 1986, leaving remaining habitat in fragmented segments, the draft review said.

Wildfires also have degraded habitat in Eastern Washington.

The loss of abundant jackrabbits and ground squirrels as prey for ferruginous hawks, not just in Washington state but also in their late summer and winter ranges, is likely a significant factor in the declining number of breeding pairs in Eastern Washington, the draft review said.

Ferruginous hawks are reddish brown, but their underside is white. As they fly overhead, the birds appear white with black markings, including “commas” toward the end of their wings. Heads are brown with creamy streaking.

Adults can be as large as 27 inches from top of the head to tail tip and the wingspan can be nearly five feet.

Most ferruginous hawks overwinter in California before migrating north in the spring to breed. They leave Eastern Washington in late July to spend late summer and fall in the southern Canadian provinces, Montana and western plains.

Wind turbines may have also played a role in the decline of breeding pairs, the draft review said.

Five ferruginous hawks are known to have died from turbine strikes along the Columbia River between 2003 and 2012, with that count likely low, according to the draft review.

Hawks and wind farms

One study found that the greater the density of wind turbines in north-central Oregon the lower the survival of young hawks in the area.

The Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife raised concerns about ferruginous hawks and other wildlife in comments on the Horse Heaven Wind Farm proposed for Benton County that the agency submitted this spring to the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council.

Although most of the land for the proposed wind farm is on dryland wheat fields, many of the turbines, transmission lines and solar arrays are close to or cross over draws and canyons with shrub steppe and grassland habitats, the Department of Fish and Wildlife said.

In addition, the ridgeline of the Horse Heaven Hills is an important foraging area for raptors, it said.

The Horse Heaven ridgeline is among the last remaining functional and uninterrupted shrub-steppe and natural grasslands in Benton County, it said.

“Maintaining sufficient foraging area to support successful territories and nesting for ferruginous hawks and other raptors that use thermals and air currents associated with the Horse Heaven Hills seems particularly challenging with current proposed structure orientation,” Washington state Fish and Wildlife said in its comments.

Ferruginous hawks are not listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, but were listed as threatened as early as 1983 in Washington state. They also are listed as threatened in Canada.

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California Department of Fish & Wildlife

News Release, August 28, 2021

Information Received Regarding Gray Wolf In Kern County

Earlier this week, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) received trail camera video from May 15, 2021 showing a collared gray wolf in southwest Kern County.

Though CDFW cannot confirm this at this time, it is possible the wolf could be OR-93 because of video evidence of the collar and the last known whereabouts of OR-93 (San Luis Obispo County on April 5, 2021). Even though the video evidence is more than three months old, CDFW will immediately investigate the area for additional information in hopes of finding wolf DNA for analysis. CDFW will also conduct flyovers to attempt to connect to the collar through radio telemetry.

The trail camera has been recording wildlife use at a water trough on private property for three years. The camera was reset by the caretaker of the property in April but the images were not downloaded and provided to CDFW until early this week.

CDFW strongly encourages the public to be aware that the wolf population continues to grow in California and to know the difference between wolves and coyotes. Though gray wolves are generally much bigger than coyotes, they can sometimes be misidentified. We encourage the public to review tips for differentiating between wolves, coyotes and dogs. Though the video was black and white, wolf OR-93 also has a purple collar around his neck which should make the animal more identifiable.

Gray wolves are listed as endangered pursuant to California’s Endangered Species Act (CESA). It is unlawful to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap or capture gray wolves. Anyone who believes they have seen a wolf in California can report it to CDFW.

Gray wolves pose very little safety risk to humans. 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 wolf 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 web page.

Wolf OR-93, a male wolf born in 2019 who made headlines earlier this year, initially entered Modoc County on January 30, 2021. After briefly returning to Oregon, he reentered Modoc County on February 4. On February 24, he entered Alpine County after passing through portions of Lassen, Plumas, Sierra, Nevada, Placer, El Dorado, Amador and Calaveras counties. On February 25, he entered Mono County. In mid-March, he was in western Tuolumne County. By late March he was in Fresno County, and then entered San Benito County after crossing Highway 99 and Interstate 5. He was in Monterey County on April 1 and his last collar transmission was from San Luis Obispo County on April 5. Through April 5 he had traveled at least 935 air miles in California, a minimum average of 16 air miles per day. OR-93 dispersed from the White River pack in northern Oregon.

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Oregon Public Broadcasting

Record-low steelhead returns on Columbia River prompt call for fishing shutdown

The number of steelhead returning to the Columbia River this year is the lowest ever recorded. A group of conservation and fishing organizations say people should stop fishing for them this fall.

By Bradley W. Parks (OPB), Bend, Ore., Aug. 27, 2021

Columbia River steelhead are in hot water.

The number of steelhead returning from the Pacific Ocean to the river this year is the lowest ever recorded. As of this week, just over 29,000 steelhead passed Bonneville Dam since July 1 — that’s less than half the average of the past five years.

The low number has led a coalition of conservation and fishing organizations to call for a shutdown of all recreational steelhead fishing in the Columbia Basin for the fall season.

“This is a really, really dire year for steelhead — especially wild steelhead — in the Columbia River Basin,” said Rob Kirschner, legal and policy director for the Conservation Angler, which advocates for protection and restoration of wild fish in the Pacific Northwest and Kamchatka, Russia.

The coalition sent a letter to the Oregon, Washington and Idaho agencies that manage fish and wildlife requesting an immediate closure of recreational steelhead fisheries on the Columbia River, the Lower Snake River and their tributaries.

“The status of these individual populations are so low that we are trying to protect every eligible spawner,” Kirschner said. “Every one of these fish counts.”

Steelhead trout on the Columbia and Snake rivers are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. After hatching in freshwater rivers and streams, steelhead migrate to the ocean and return to freshwater to spawn.

The construction of hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, overfishing and climate change have contributed to steelhead population declines.

This year, as much of the Northwest has faced excessive heat and relentless drought, high water temperatures on the Columbia and Snake rivers have been detrimental to steelhead runs.

Commissioners and staff with the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife met virtually Friday to discuss options for limiting damage. Most fisheries on the Columbia require fishermen to release any steelhead they catch this fall.

“There just aren’t many more places to get significant savings,” said Ryan Lothrop, Washington’s Columbia River fishery manager.

The groups that wrote the letter to commissioners say that’s not true. They say closing recreational steelhead fisheries altogether for the fall could prevent unnecessary fish deaths — and that fishermen stand to benefit.

“[W]e simply do not believe that fishing for ESA-listed steelhead during their worst return on record is appropriate for these fish or future generations of fishermen,” the letter reads. “For a species that has provided generations with memorable fishing experiences, asking fishermen to sit a season out is reasonable and necessary considering the circumstances.”

Signatories included representatives from the Native Fish Society, Friends of the Clearwater, Wild Fish Conservancy, North Umpqua Foundation and Fly Fishers International in addition to the Conservation Angler.

Commissioners with the Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife made no decisions or recommendations for recreational steelhead fisheries at Friday’s meeting, but may do so soon.

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Denver Post

Threatened Preble’s meadow jumping mouse could get boost from new conservation venture

State land board, conservation organizations launch program to protect threatened mouse’s habitat

By JUDITH KOHLER, The Denver Post, August 27, 2021

A first-of-its-kind venture in Colorado is bringing public and private entities together to sustain a tiny mouse whose habitat has shrunk as development, livestock grazing and mining have increased along the Front Range.

The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, found only in Colorado and Wyoming, is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. A program announced Thursday will conserve about 200 acres of the mouse’s habitat in Larimer County.

Conservation Investment Management, Colorado Open Lands and the Colorado State Land Board are creating a conservation bank to leverage private funds to help the species, which has been declining in numbers. The Table Top Conservation Bank will maintain 200 acres of state land in perpetuity under a conservation easement.

This is the state’s first-ever commercial conservation bank to sell credits to offset negative impacts to the mouse’s habitat across a broad area, the three participants said in a statement.

“Colorado is known for its beautiful landscapes and diverse wildlife, and as Coloradans we must do what is necessary to protect all species who call Colorado home,” said Marlon Reis, first gentleman of Colorado.

Conservation banking is a win-win-win that boosts the economy, restores land, and conserves important species or habitat, Reis added.

Tony Caligiuri, president and CEO of the nonprofit Colorado Open Lands, said in an interview that in addition to protecting the mouse’s habitat, the conservation bank is an effort to prevent the animal from being designated as endangered.

The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Changing its designation to endangered would signal a further decline in its population and lead to more stringent restrictions on activities in areas where it lives.

People who don’t like the existing restrictions would like to see the mouse removed from the endangered species list. However, federal officials have maintained the protections despite several challenges through the years.

A conservation bank, like the new one in Colorado, protects habitat for federally protected plants or animals. Conservation Investment Management, which invests private capital in conservation, leased land from the state land board, made improvements to the land in Larimer County and got approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create the bank.

Caligiuri said the goal is to protect a certain number of miles along stream corridors, where the mice are found.

Conservation banks are established to offset adverse impacts that occur in other parts of a protected species’ habitat. The Fish and Wildlife Service approves a specified number of credits that bank owners can sell. Credits will be sold to third parties to offset the effects of their projects elsewhere.

“Instead of various developers setting aside relatively small areas of habitat in a scattered approach, we will be able to concentrate our efforts and resources in one location which will give these guys a much better chance for long-term survival,” Caligiuri.

The state land board will manage the long-term stewardship of the site and Colorado Open Lands will be responsible for the on-the-ground monitoring to ensure the conservation objectives are maintained.

The first credits for the Table Top Conservation Bank are expected to be sold soon.

The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse was first added to the Endangered Species List in 1995, triggering multiple challenges from people contesting the restrictions on land use and arguing it isn’t a distinct subspecies but just the same as more plentiful mice.

After a yearlong review, the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013 decided to keep the mouse on the endangered species list. The agency said habitat loss continued to threaten the animal’s existence.

And in 2018, the federal agency rejected a petition by ranchers and homebuilders that sought to remove the mouse’s protections.

The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse is 9 inches long, with 5.5-inches of that in its tail. The mouse can jump 4 feet in the air and hibernates for eight months of the year.

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E&E News/Greenwire

EPA: Bee-killing pesticide harms most endangered species

By Marc Heller, 08/27/2021

Most endangered species are likely to be harmed by three pesticides already known to impair bees, EPA said.

In a draft biological evaluation of three so-called neonicotinoids used on a wide variety of crops, the environmental agency said hundreds of plants and animals are likely to be adversely affected by exposure. The conclusion doesn’t necessarily mean EPA is headed toward new restrictions but informs decisions by other agencies about which species might be in enough jeopardy to warrant such measures.

The pesticides in question are imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin. Growers use them on crops ranging from potatoes to orchard fruit to leafy vegetables.

Imidacloprid, for instance, is one of the most widely used pesticides in the U.S., with farmers applying 891,400 pounds on orchard fruit, cereal grains and other crops from 2014 to 2018, EPA said. It also poses one of the more potent threats to wildlife, likely to have adverse effects on 1,444 species, or 79% of those considered in the EPA review.

Imidacloprid is also likely to adversely affect 83% of critical habitats, EPA said.

EPA scientists reached similar results for the other two neonicotinoids examined. The agency’s review is part of the regular registration review EPA conducts for pesticides and herbicides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

The “likely to adversely affect” determination doesn’t necessarily mean a farm chemical puts a species in jeopardy. And because effects on even one animal can trigger such a finding, the agency said, the LAA determinations can be misleadingly high.

EPA has endorsed continued use of neonicotinoids, proposing or adding various label restrictions to limit exposure to pollinators (E&E News PM, Jan. 30, 2020).

Still, the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group critical of widespread pesticide use, said the report bolsters its argument for the federal government to ban neonicotinoids. All 38 of the nation’s endangered amphibians were found likely to be harmed, the group said.

“Now the EPA can’t ignore the fact that these popular insecticides are wiping out our country’s most endangered plants and animals,” said Lori Ann Burd, the CBD’s environmental health director. “Neonicotinoids are used so widely, and in such large quantities, that even the EPA’s industry-friendly pesticide office had to conclude that few endangered species can escape their toxic effects.”

“The EPA doesn’t need any more proof. It should ban neonicotinoids right now,” Burd said.

Other Biden admin actions on pesticides

The Biden administration has already shown a willingness to bypass some of the usual regulatory framework to scale back pesticides deemed dangerous to human health. Last week, EPA said it would essentially end the use of the insecticide chlorpyrifos on food crops due to concerns about brain damage in children exposed to residue (Greenwire, Aug. 18).

That decision was prompted by a court ruling that EPA had ignored compelling evidence about the pesticide’s risks to workers and children, although the Obama administration previously had moved toward banning it. EPA said it would issue a new regulation for chlorpyrifos without taking public comment.

Farm groups and pesticide manufacturers say they worry that EPA may sidestep some of the regulatory hurdles that typically surround pesticides. The chlorpyrifos decision seemed to abandon scientific analysis as the top priority, said Chris Novak, president of CropLife America, a trade group for pesticide manufacturers.

President Biden last year adopted the “mantra of science over fiction,” Novak said, adding that the agency’s science advisory panel hadn’t reached such a conclusion.

The American Farm Bureau Federation expressed concern, too, about EPA abandoning its usual process to put new restrictions on farm chemicals.

In addition to the neonicotinoids, cousins of chlorpyrifos called organophosphates are all on the target list for environmental groups. Used since the middle of the last century, they pose similar risks to chlorpyrifos, said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a senior scientist in the health and environment program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“These are the old clunkers,” Rotman-Ellman said.

“The science around the whole class is the same,” she added. “We want to see them out of contact with kids.”

Farm groups say growers have limited alternatives against insects, some of which may have expanded ranges with the warming climate, and against weeds like Palmer amaranth, which have become tolerant of chemical herbicides. In California — where state officials already banned chlorpyrifos — growers’ choices to treat cotton are especially limited, Novak said.

CropLife likens pesticide use to a farmer who wants to fix a broken implement and needs more than just a hammer from the toolbox, Novak said. “Our job is to continue to advocate for those chemistries,” he said.

Alternatives include the range of organophosphates and neonicotinoids, as well as biopesticides that have a shorter regulatory path, Novak said.

A total of 14 organophosphates are used in the U.S. totaling more than 16 million pounds a year, according to the environmental group Earthjustice. Foods such as snap peas, frozen spinach, basil and cilantro have shown relatively high residues, the group said, citing Department of Agriculture data from 2018 and 2019.

Farmers looking for alternatives can consider switching to organic production, Rotkin-Ellman said. Crops being treated with chlorpyrifos can all be grown organically, she said.

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Center for Biological Diversity

House Democrats to Provide $100 Million for Critically Endangered Species in Reconciliation Bill

WASHINGTON—(August 26, 2021) In a memo released today by the House Natural Resources Committee, House Democrats will provide $550 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the upcoming budget reconciliation package, including $100 million for some of the most critically imperiled species in the United States.

The legislation will include $25 million to conserve and restore four of the most imperiled types of endangered species in the United States: butterflies, eastern freshwater mussels, Southwest desert fish and Hawaiian plants.

“This is the largest investment in the recovery of endangered species in a generation, and I couldn’t be more thrilled,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we’re going to tackle the extinction crisis and save these incredible species from the brink, this is exactly the type of bold action that’s needed.”

The reconciliation language mirrors Chairman Raúl Grijalva’s Extinction Prevention Act of 2021 (H.R. 3396), which would fund on-the-ground conservation actions to stabilize the four groups of struggling endangered species.

A 2016 study found that Congress only provides approximately 3.5% of the estimated funding the Fish and Wildlife Service’s scientists say is needed to recover species. Roughly 1 in 4 species receives less than $10,000 a year toward recovery, and many of the endangered species that will benefit from this funding receive nothing for recovery in a given year.

The legislation will also provide an additional $240 million for Endangered Species Act activities, including $150 million for recovery plans, $50 million for Habitat Conservation Plans and $40 million for interagency consultations.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has been operating on a shoestring budget for decades, and we’ve lost species to extinction because of it,” said Hartl. “The American people care deeply about saving life on Earth, and it’s fantastic to see Congress finally addressing the historic shortfalls in funding for wildlife conservation.”

Also included in the committee’s allocation is $100 million for climate change mitigation, $100 million for protecting and restoring grasslands, and $10 million for wildlife corridors.

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EcoWatch

EPA Takes Action to Protect Pacific Salmon From Pesticides

By Olivia Rosane, August 25, 2021

Extreme heat waves have made this a devastating summer for the endangered salmon species of the U.S. West Coast. In mid July, California wildlife officials warned that almost all of the young Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River would likely die because of lower water levels and higher water temperatures.

Weeks later, a conservation group further north shared disturbing footage of sockeye salmon breaking out in lesions and fungal infections when water temperatures in the Columbia River topped 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

But, amidst all the catastrophic headlines was a cool spring of good news. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is finally acting to protect more than two dozen endangered West Coast salmon and steelhead species from pesticides.

“For the first time, Pacific salmon will be protected by on-the-ground conservation measures to limit pesticide pollution into our rivers and streams,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “This is a great start, but the EPA has still failed to act on hundreds of other deadly pesticides that continue to harm these iconic wildlife species. The agency needs to build on this success and enact similar protections to ensure salmon have a future in the West.”

Common Sense Measures

The EPA first announced that it was taking the steps July 9, in response to two biological opinions from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on the impact that the pesticides 1,3-D and metolachlor and bromoxynil and prometryn had on 28 federally listed endangered and threatened species of Pacific salmon and steelhead in Washington, Oregon and California. 1,3-D is used in the soil to control nematodes, wireworms, and symphylans while metolachlor, bromoxynil and prometryn are all herbicides. All of them are currently applied using rates and methods that have the potential to enter aquatic ecosystems at concentrations that would cause harm to the plants and animals that live there, especially in shallow waters near where the pesticides are used.

“Pesticides are chemicals designed to kill things, that is their purpose,” CBD Environmental Health Program director and senior attorney Lori Ann Burd told EcoWatch. “And so it’s no surprise that they kill things other than the things that they are designed to kill.”

In this case, the biological opinions concluded that the registered uses of the pesticides in question did not represent an extinction risk for the endangered species or threaten to destroy their critical habitats, an EPA spokesperson told EcoWatch in an email. However, they could have sublethal impacts on the salmon themselves and reduce the amount of prey available to them.

Therefore, “the biological opinions also describe reasonable and prudent measures to minimize unintentional harm or death that could result from use of these pesticides to individuals of these listed species and their critical habitats,” the EPA wrote in its announcement.

Those measures include no-spray buffers, retention ponds and the ability for pesticide users to participate in regional stewardship programs.

“These are common sense measures,” Burd told Ecowatch.

Pesticides generally are a problem for salmon for several reasons and can have a variety of impacts depending on the chemical involved. They can disrupt the endocrine system, harm their reproductive ability or disorient salmon, making it harder for them to migrate successfully. They are also only one of several problems facing salmon currently, including dams, ocean acidification and the drought and higher water temperatures associated with the climate crisis. However, the fact of these other problems does not make them less urgent to address, wildlife advocates say.

For one thing, pesticides can interact with these other stressors to make life more difficult for salmon. For example, their presence can actually make water hotter.

“We’re having warming temperatures,” Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) Healthy Wildlife and Water program manager Sharalyn Peterson told EcoWatch, “so that in combination with pesticides causes a warming of the water which is bad for salmon.”

Further, Burd explained, protecting salmon from pesticides is a relatively simple action that can be implemented as soon as possible, unlike something like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which requires larger-scale changes.

“In thinking about the threats that salmon or any other species face, it’s important to note what threats can we do something about right now,” Burd said.

Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda agreed, listing pesticides with dams as “discretionary human activities that we have the power to change.”

While it might take longer to reduce ocean and river temperatures, it won’t do salmon populations any favors if the fish who do survive extreme weather events like droughts are then killed by pesticide exposure.

When it comes to protecting these vulnerable fish, he said, “we’re past time for pulling out all the stops, so we need to be doing everything we can.”

Kicking and Screaming

Despite the relative simplicity of protecting salmon from pesticides, the EPA’s July decision has been nearly 20 years in the making, Mashuda explained. In fact, it has its origins in a lawsuit that the Washington Toxics Coalition brought against the agency with help from Earthjustice in 2001, arguing that the EPA had not consulted with NMFS on how 54 commonly-used pesticides impacted 26 endangered or threatened species of Pacific salmon and steelhead.

The court ruled in 2003 that the EPA and the NMFS had to consult on the pesticides’ impacts, but this process got delayed over the years, and advocates had to sue again around 2007 and then during the Trump years to keep the process on track. The agencies have been slowly working their way through the pesticides, but some of their decisions have had to be redone after the pesticide industry countersued.

“If you had asked anyone in 2002 if 2021 would roll around and the whole thing wouldn’t be complete… it would have been amazing, or frightening or whatever, but here we are,” Mashuda said.

One major cause of the delay was that the EPA and the NMFS had a different way of calculating risk. The EPA tended to test chemicals in the lab, which would clarify the lethal dose but not other impacts such as immune response. The NMFS, on the other hand, took a more holistic approach to how the pesticides would interact with other stresses in the environment to harm the fish. Eventually, the National Academy of Sciences studied the issue and resolved that the NMFS had the right of it. But Mashuda thought that the EPA’s lab-based methodology was one reason it has historically been so slow to protect salmon and other endangered species from pesticides, a problem noted by many wildlife advocates over the years. The other reason, he said, was industry influence.

“The pesticide industry is incredibly powerful, and every time the EPA tries to make any moves, even small ones, they get hammered by the pesticide industry and its political allies,” he said.

Burd agreed that the EPA had fought “kicking and screaming against doing what the law requires them to do” when it comes to reviewing the impacts of pesticides on endangered species and acting accordingly.

She hoped July’s decision might be a turning point.

“It’s great that they say they’re going to do something,” she said. “Now let’s see what they actually do.”

The EPA, for its part, pointed to biological opinions it had implemented for pesticides including thiobencarb and anticoagulant prairie dog baits. It also said that it was currently in the process of consulting on several other pesticides.

“EPA will implement additional biological opinions, once they are finalized, to the extent that our statutory and regulatory authority allow,” an EPA spokesperson told EcoWatch.

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New Scientist

Endangered bettong reintroduced in Australia after more than a century

24 August 2021, By Alice Klein

Brush-tailed bettongs are back. These tiny endangered marsupials have been reintroduced to mainland South Australia after disappearing more than a century ago.

The bettong, also known as a woylie, once occupied more than 60 per cent of Australia, but was almost wiped out when cats and foxes were introduced by Europeans. Only about 15,000 are alive today.

Until last week, the only wild woylies left in South Australia were on predator-free islands. On 17 August, 12 male and 28 female woylies were returned to mainland South Australia after being flown in from Wedge Island, which lies within the Turquoise Coast Island Nature Reserves.

The woylies were released in an area called Yorke peninsula, which contains large tracts of native vegetation interspersed with farms and small towns. Three-quarters of the animals were fitted with radio-tracking collars so their progress could be monitored.

“They seem to have settled in quite well – some are already dispersing from the release site,” says Derek Sandow at the South Australian government’s Northern and Yorke Landscape Board.

To protect the new arrivals, rangers have removed as many foxes and feral cats as possible from the peninsula and have put up a fence to create a 1700 square-kilometre protected area.

If the woylie homecoming goes well, other locally extinct species like the southern brown bandicoot, red-tailed phascogale and western quoll will also be reintroduced to the area as part of a 20-year rewilding plan.

Woylies were the first to be released because they are soil engineers that can improve the habitat for other species, says Sandow. Each animal digs up tonnes of soil each year while searching for underground fungi, tubers and other food, which helps to cycle nutrients and disperse seeds. “We hope this will enhance germination rates for native plants and enhance overall biodiversity,” says Sandow.

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Courthouse News Service

Imperiled sturgeon native to Russia and China gets endangered species protection in US

An enormous fish native to the wilds between Russian and China is struggling due to international demand for caviar, prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider listing it as an endangered species.

MATTHEW RENDA, August 24, 2021

(CN) — A large sturgeon that haunts the waters in the Amur region between China and Russia has been proposed for addition to the endangered species list, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday. The Amur sturgeon has lost up to 85% of its historical population, mostly due to demand for caviar, a delicacy in Russia.

“Prior to the current set of fisheries regulations, legal overharvest caused a greater than 99% decline in the volume of Amur sturgeon caught in Russia between 1891 and 1948,” the wildlife service said in the proposal published Thursday. “Fishing records from China similarly indicate that overfishing has caused massive population declines in the Amur sturgeon.”

Both countries have heavy restrictions on the ability to fish for the Amur sturgeon, but the wildlife service said these measures are failing to help the fish population rebound.

“Since 1991, Russian state-sanctioned harvests (so-called “test fishing” or “controlled catches”), purportedly for population monitoring, have likely been used as cover for continued fishing and commercial sale,” the service said.

China’s permitting process has been equally ineffective.

“The sale of caviar and meat with mislabeled origin, species, or both makes enforcement difficult and it is very challenging for enforcement officials to confidently differentiate wild from captive-bred caviar,” the service said.

The fish have difficulty in bouncing back from population lows, partly because they take so long to mature. Males require as much as 12 years before they are able to reproduce. Females don’t begin producing eggs until they are 9 years old, but sometimes it can take as long as 14 years.

“This long time to maturity can slow the species’ recovery from disturbance, relative to that of species with shorter generation times,” the service said.

Amur sturgeon are enormous fish, with mature adults reaching 10 feet in length. They are also long-lived if allowed to pursue their natural course, with some adult fish reaching 60 years in age.

The sturgeon often migrate upstream in order to spawn, and unlike other species the conditions of the Amur River, including dams and water quality, are not thought to be primary threats to the species decline or impediments to its recovery.

The Amur River is the tenth longest in the world, beginning in the western part of Northeast China and flows east, providing the border between Russian and China. The river is believed to contain at least 123 species of fish.

The sturgeon is reputed to be the largest. Female sturgeon in the river can lay as much as 1.3 million eggs, though it is more common for them to lay eggs numbered in the 190,000 to 300,000 range. Once hatched, the survival rate for the young is about 1 in 2,000 and there is as much as 90% attrition for juveniles. They eat insects, crustaceans and other fish found in the river.

“A series of Amur sturgeon surveys conducted between 2005 and 2011are the most comprehensive, quantitative appraisal of the species we are aware of, for either contemporary or historical population estimates,” the service said. “A greater than 95 percent decline in the species abundance was estimated between 1960 and 2010.”

The species is currently listed as critically endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List. 

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WildEarth Guardians Release

Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission votes to exterminate wolves

State “management” of wolves in Montana harkens back to extermination era

MISSOULA, MONTANA—(August 24, 2021)–Despite a groundswell of public opposition from individuals across the nation, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission this past Friday declared open season on wolves in the state, clearing the way for nearly 50% of the state’s wolf population to be decimated in the upcoming hunting and trapping season.

In a 3-2 vote, the Commission adopted new regulations to expand wolf-killing quotas and allow various barbaric and unethical methods for hunting and trapping wolves during the upcoming 2021-2022 season, slated to start this fall. These new rules were approved despite 90% of the 26,000 comments received by the Commission expressing opposition to more liberal wolf hunting and trapping.

The new regulations allow strangulation snares, baiting, and night hunting, and allow hunters and trappers to kill up to ten wolves per person with just a single license. The draconian regulations also eliminate any cap on the number of wolves that can be killed in hunting and trapping zones bordering Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park.

“The changes to the upcoming wolf season harken back to an era when people sought to exterminate wolves altogether, and nearly succeeded,” said Sarah McMillan, conservation director with WildEarth Guardians. “Guardians is engaged in legal and political advocacy at every level to fight to protect wolves from state politicians dead-set on extermination by allowing various barbaric and unethical killing methods.”

The new hunting and trapping regulations follow recent bills signed into law by Governor Gianforte requiring the Commission to reduce the number of wolves in the state and to make some allowance for snaring.

In response, WildEarth Guardians and a coalition of fifty conservation groups asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to immediately restore Endangered Species Act protections to gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains in June. In July, Guardians and allies also petitioned the Biden administration to list the Western North American population of gray wolves as a distinct population segment.  Over 120 Tribes have also signed “The Wolf: A Treaty of Cultural and Environmental Survival,” and have called on Interior Secretary Haaland to meet with a Tribal delegation regarding the Treaty and to reinstate protections for wolves. So far, the Biden administration has failed to respond to any of these requests.

“As we clearly warned would happen, state ‘management’ of wolves essentially amounts to the brutal state-sanctioned eradication of this keystone native species,” said McMillan, based in Missoula, Montana. “We must not abandon wolf-recovery efforts or allow anti-wolf states, hunters, and trappers to push these iconic species back to the brink of extinction.”

The Commission’s rule changes also threaten imperiled species other than gray wolves. Montana is home to grizzly bears and Canada lynx—both species are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and both share habitat with wolves. Snares and traps indiscriminately kill these and other “non-target” animals.

Montana’s hunting regulation changes come on the heels of the Biden administration doubling down on its commitment to keep all wolves federally delisted, despite the massive public outcry from the public. On Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service filed a brief in federal court opposing legal efforts from multiple environmental groups—including WildEarth Guardians, Western Environmental Law Center, and Earthjustice—to challenge the federal delisting rule. This case is set for oral arguments in Northern California District Court in November 2021. As the Northern Rocky Mountain population of wolves was delisted by an act of Congress in 2011, the outcome of this litigation will not impact wolves in Montana.

Gray wolves became functionally extinct in the lower 48 states in the 1960s largely due to rampant hunting and trapping, including deliberate extermination efforts carried out by the federal government. Though first listed as endangered in 1967 under a precursor to the Endangered Species Act, gray wolves only began to recover in the West following reintroductions to central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s. Scientists estimated a steady population of about 1,150 wolves in Montana between 2012 and 2019. However, hunters and trappers killed 328 wolves in Montana during the 2020-2021 season, and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks now estimates that only 900 to 950 wolves remain in the state. 

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KDRV.Com/Newswatch 12-ABC (Medford, Ore.))

Rare Bumblebee Found in Southern Oregon, Northern California Gets Endangered Species Listing

The Franklin’s bumblebee has a very small range limited to this region, and is believed to be on the verge of extinction if not already extinct.

Posted: Aug 23, 2021 by Jamie Parfitt

MEDFORD, Ore. — A dwindling species of bumblebee unique to southern Oregon and parts of northern California will now be recognized for federal protections under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency revealed on Monday.

The Franklin’s bumblebee (Bombus franklini) is believed to reside across Douglas, Jackson, and Josephine counties in Oregon, as well as Siskiyou and Trinity counties in California. This relatively small range makes it one of the most narrowly distributed bumblebee species in the world.

Wildlife officials believe that that the species may still exist in the region, though the last confirmed sighting occurred back in 2006. The U.S. Forest Service cited the Fender’s blue butterfly as an example of a species that was believed extinct for decades, but was spotted again in Oregon during 1989. The species has since started to recover.

“Protecting native bees like Franklins’ bumblebee will help ensure our native plants, gardens and crops will continue to have an adequate supply of pollinators,” said Robyn Thorson, USFWS Columbia Pacific Northwest Regional Director. “We have hope that this bee will be seen again as we continue to work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and researchers to locate them and manage their habitat.”

In its final rule, USFS determined that setting aside critical habitat for the Franklin’s bumblebee was “not beneficial and, therefore, not prudent” because disease or other man-made factors, including pesticides, are likely the primary threat to the species. The Center for Biological Diversity countered that this ruling hinges on a Trump-era regulatory change that environmental groups are currently challenging in federal court, which the Center says does not take into account how habitat plays a role in protecting species from other threats.

“Franklin’s bumblebee is one of the rarest in the world, and it will surely tumble into extinction without Endangered Species Act protections,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a good step for these bumblebees, but the federal failure to protect critical habitat will make recovery an uphill battle. There’s just no way to save species like this unique bumblebee without protecting the places they live.”

The Franklin’s bumblebee is believed to nest underground in abandoned rodent burrows and other spaces that allow room for shelter and food storage. One colony was discovered in a residential garage in Medford. The USFWS said that the bees have historically been found at elevations between 540 and 7,800 feet, often finding food among the colder climates of alpine flowering plants.

“The level of public and interagency engagement in the bumble bee survey efforts has been incredible,” said Glenn Casamassa, the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Regional Forester. “The primary habitat for this bee in Oregon is on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. While this species has not been detected there since 2006, our employees continue to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on sampling historic and suitable habitats in order to conserve and recover this species. There’s a collective sense of urgency to protect native pollinators, and this effort highlights not only the strength of our interagency partnerships but also the strength of research and citizen science efforts in Southwest Oregon.”

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Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

Federal government restricts grazing on New Mexico rivers to protect endangered species

Adrian Hedden, August 20, 2021

Cattle grazing on about 150 miles of river habitat in New Mexico and Arizona was restricted to protected multiple species in the region, per a Wednesday agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity.

Filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona Tucson Division, the settlement agreement stemmed from a lawsuit the Center filed in January 2020 alleging the Service violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by failing to protect habitats from grazing in both the Gila National Forest in southwest New Mexico and in Apache Sitgreaves National Forest in eastern Arizona.

In the agreement, the federal government agreed to limit grazing permits in the regions by excluding certain river sections while also increasing monitoring of the area for excess grazing and could remove livestock from the area when violations are reported.

“The Forest Service will work to include updated descriptive information and/or maps of areas to be excluded from livestock grazing when issuing annual operating instructions for the allotments named in plaintiff’s Amended Complaint, to the extent consistent with existing allotment management plans,” the agreement read.

“The Forest Service intends to participate in a future long-term planning effort to address conservation issues with listed species in the areas of the allotments named in this litigation, with the specifics and feasibility of that planning effort — such as managing invasive species or conducting species surveys — to be determined during the planning process.”

The 42 grazing allotments along  waterways listed for protection in the three-year agreement were home to endangered or threatened species including the yellow-billed cuckoo, Gila cub, loach minnow, spikedace fish, Chiricahua leopard frogs, southwestern willow flycatchers and both the narrow-headed and northern Mexican garter snakes.

Protected rivers were portions of the Gila, San Francisco, Tularosa and Blue rivers.

Brian Segee, endangered species legal director at the Center said livestock should be kept away from the animals’ habitats and the agreement could also prevent invasive species from impacting their populations.

“This should finally keep livestock from trampling these fragile southwestern rivers,” he said. “Habitat destruction and invasive species have put nearly all the region’s aquatic species at risk. It’s our hope that the simple step of removing cattle from these waterways will give imperiled species a fighting chance at survival and recovery.”

The litigation dates back to 1998, per Center records, to a previous settlement when the Forest Service agreed to prohibit livestock grazing in several riparian areas while it worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study the impacts of grazing to threatened and endangered species.

The Center for Biological Diversity began conducting its own surveys in 2017, finding “widespread, severe cattle damage,” per a report from the Center on “all major waterways” in both forests before filing the 2020 lawsuit.

“We hope this agreement renews the agency’s commitment to protecting endangered wildlife and our spectacular public lands,” Segee said. “The government agrees with us that livestock grazing and endangered species don’t mix. It’s too bad it took another lawsuit to force the Forest Service to keep cows off southwestern rivers, but let’s hope this time it’ll stick.”

In a statement from the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, the agriculture trade group defended farmers and ranchers’ efforts to assist in conservation, arguing a balance should be struck to allow the industry to function without undue regulatory burden.

The agency pointed to recent efforts to restrict lands in Lincoln National Forest in southeast New Mexico from grazing to protect the New Mexican meadow jumping mouse, arguing animals like the mouse had already survived for hundreds of years amid grazing from native animals like deer and elk. 

The Bureau contended the “livelihoods” of farmers and ranchers should be considered in any conservation decisions.

“This is a difficult time for them with terrible markets and a great deal of trade uncertainty. The sustainability of their livelihoods needs to be considered as well,” the statement read. “And there needs to be greater coordination with agencies in terms of working with landowners.  Fencing cattle off of water is essentially a ‘taking’ of landowner rights.”

Critical habitat designations should only include areas where a species dwells, the Bureau contended, not where it might expand its range to in the future as was included in a recent proposal for the meadow jumping mouse.

“These agreements are only helpful is there is actual evidence of an endangered species,” the statement read. “Setting aside a great deal of grazing land because it resembles what the mouse would choose as habitat is not helpful.”

Chad Smith, chief executive officer with the Bureau said undue restrictions on grazing could negatively impact the agriculture industry and its cultural relevance in New Mexico.

“Without grazing permits ranchers will be forced to cut back their cattle herds to the point where they can’t sustainably operate their ranch,” Smith said.  “They’ll have to move to town to feed their family and our state will lose more of its rural heritage.”

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CBS News

Biden administration backs ending regulations protecting gray wolves

Alexandra Larkin, August 20, 2021

Last year, the Trump administration announced that the gray wolf would be removed from the list of animals protected by the Endangered Species Act. Before gray wolves were protected by the act, the species was considered near extinction after a combination of hunting, trapping, and loss of habitat decimated its numbers. 

The Biden administration is now moving to uphold that decision, according to court documents filed Friday, despite concern from conservationists that it could jeopardize the recovery of the species.

Attorneys for the administration requested that a federal judge throw out a lawsuit from wildlife advocates that aims to restore Endangered Species Act protections for the animals, arguing that Trump’s 2020 rule, implemented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “follows the law and is supported by the administrative record.”

“The Service possesses substantial expertise on gray wolves and ESA implementation, and it made a reasoned determination that the best scientific and commercial data available in 2020 established that gray wolves no longer met the definition of a threatened or endangered species,” the government argued.

Under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, gray wolves were protected by federal law for more than 45 years. The act mandates that federal agencies not take actions that are likely to jeopardize the species or their habitats, and prohibits killing or harming the animals in most circumstances. They had originally been hunted to near-extinction due to the threat to livestock and big game herds.

Lawsuits to restore protections for the gray wolf, with plaintiffs including Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, and the Humane Society of the U.S. were rejected back in January, when the administrations changed. At the time, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Vanessa Kauffman said in a statement that the gray wolf “has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery.”

Wildlife experts and activists have criticized the Friday decision, arguing that a lack of federal protection will cause the animals to be killed in large numbers. “The Biden administration has betrayed its duty to protect and recover wolves,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney at the nonprofit environmental law group Earthjustice. “The Fish and Wildlife Service has the power to stop the immoral killing of wolves right now, and its refusal to act violates the law and the best science, as well as its treaty obligations to tribal nations.”

In Wisconsin, hunters killed 218 wolves in a February season, blowing past their 119-wolf limit, according to The Associated Press. Wildlife officials set a 300-animal limit for this fall’s wolf hunt, after the Department of Natural Resources board voted 5-2 last Wednesday to set aside the department’s recommendation to cap kills at 130, the AP reported.

In Montana, the state’s Republican-led House of Representatives passed two bills in March which would allow snares, wires that tighten around a prey’s neck, to be set for wolves, and would extend wolf trapping season for an additional 30 days — even though there are only an estimated 850 wolves throughout the state, according to The Associated Press.

The Humane Society of the United States has argued that Montana is waging “an outright war against wildlife.” Amanda Wight, program manager for wildlife protection for the Humane Society, said Montana’s lack of regulations will cause “a mass slaughter of wildlife, jeopardy to ecosystems, and a steep loss to the massive tourism economy and local jobs.”

Idaho has also loosened some of their hunting regulations, The Associated Press reported. The state now allows practices like hunting at night and from the air, as well as paying bounties for dead wolves, a tactic that once helped lead them to near-extinction.

Tim Preso, lead attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice’s lawsuit to restore protections for wolves outside of the Northern Rockies, told the AP that he was disappointed in the Biden administration’s choice.

“Why should we hammer the population back down and lose all the gains that have been made before any kind of remedial action? The writing’s on the wall. Montana and Idaho are clear on what they’re intending and Wisconsin is right behind them.”

Republican state officials have said they aim to reduce the gray wolf population to preserve herds of large deer, bison and elk that are prized for hunting, as well as protecting farm animals, the AP reported. The Endangered Species Act has long been considered too powerful by some Republican lawmakers, who believe that the Act’s restrictions on land use are too severe.

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Now This

Emperor Penguins Could be Listed as Endangered Species

By Tim Ahern, 8/19/2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has proposed to list the emperor penguin as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act to protect it from the threats of melting sea ice in a changing climate. ‘The decisions made by policymakers today and during the next few decades will determine the fate of the emperor penguin,’ said FWS Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams.

The proposal coincides with the publication of a study in the journal Global Change Biology that examined the impact of climate change on the species. The study determined that by 2050, regardless of any changes to emissions, ‘the emperor penguin will be in danger of extinction throughout a significant portion of its range.’ It’s thought that if existing policies and trends continue without cuts to emissions, the species faces extinction throughout its entire range.

A threatened designation would allow the FWS to issue regulations necessary to conserve the species while there is still time to act. The FWS is asking for public comment on the proposed rule and will consider comments submitted by October 3. Comments can be submitted by visiting: go.nowth.is/threatened-penguin.

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Politico

Court orders Biden administration to redo ‘legally flawed’ reviews of Conoco Alaska oil project

Judge Sharon Gleason wrote that the exclusion of foreign greenhouse gas emissions in an alternatives analysis was “arbitrary and capricious.”

By BEN LEFEBVRE, August 18, 2021

A federal court on Wednesday ordered the Biden administration to re-do environmental reviews necessary for permits for a controversial Alaskan oil project, throwing the decision to approve the project back to the agencies.

Details: The ruling out of the United States District Court for the District of Alaska voided several environmental reviews of the ConocoPhillips Willow project approved under the Trump administration, calling the analysis behind them “legally flawed.” Among the parts of the review the court singled out were those made by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service.

“BLM’s exclusion of foreign greenhouse gas emissions in its alternatives analysis in the [review] was arbitrary and capricious,” Judge Sharon Gleason wrote in the opinion.

The court also ruled that the endangered species review FWS made under the previous administration ”is not in accordance with the law because it lacks the requisite specificity of mitigation measures for the polar bear.”

“Because the Court concludes that portions of FWS’s biological opinion are invalid, BLM’s reliance on it is unlawful,” the court concluded.

Environmental groups and Alaskan tribes that had been fighting the project hailed the court decision.

“Today’s court win recognizes that our land and our people deserve dignity and a pursuit of greater meaning,” said Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic.

But the decision also generated outrage from Republican elected officials backing the project, including Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, who called on government lawyers to appeal the decision.

“The Biden Administration needs to keep its commitment to the Alaskan people by continuing to defend the Willow project in court for the sake of American energy,” Sullivan said via a statement through his office.

“Make no mistake, today’s ruling from a federal judge trying to shelve a major oil project on American soil does one thing: outsources production to dictatorships & terrorist organizations,” Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a statement published Wednesday. “This is a horrible decision.”

An Interior spokesperson said the department is analyzing the decision.

“In a lengthy decision, the district court identified a number of issues in the environmental reviews and approvals issued in 2020,” the spokesperson said in a written statement.

Background: The judgment comes after environmental groups and Alaska natives had panned the Biden administration’s decision to continue defending the project from lawsuits filed during the previous administration. The project was championed by Sullivan and Alaska’s other Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski.

The Willow project is one of the few new large-scale drilling projects planned for the Arctic. ConocoPhillips’ plans calls for five wells that collectively could produce up to 160,000 barrels of oil a day. The development would include a new gravel mine, airstrip, more than 570 miles of ice roads and nearly 320 miles of pipeline to the Alaskan landscape.

“We will review the decision and evaluate the options available regarding this project,” a ConocoPhillips spokesperson said in a statement.

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Escalon Times (Oakdale, CA)

Voluntary Drought Initiative Designed To Protect Fish

Published: Aug 18, 2021, 5:04 PM

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries announced a Voluntary Drought Initiative recently designed to protect populations of salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon from the effects of the current unprecedented drought.

The initiative provides a framework for water users to enter into individual agreements with the two agencies to maintain enough water for fish spawning and survival, and implement other collaborative actions like fish rescue, relocation, monitoring, and habitat restoration. In return, landowners and water users will benefit from a simplified permitting process under the federal and state endangered species laws and may receive incidental take authorizations for California Endangered Species Act (CESA)-listed fish in case a participant unintentionally takes a listed fish species. While individual agreements under this initiative expire Dec. 31, 2021 and may be renewed on an annual basis, prospective participants may enroll at any time.

“This severe drought impacts all of California and presents unique challenges for salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon listed under the Endangered Species Act,” said Barry Thom, Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries, West Coast Region. “To help imperiled fish survive these conditions, we are asking private landowners to work with us and CDFW to implement actions that may protect sensitive aquatic ecosystems as part of a Voluntary Drought Initiative.”

As an example of how the initiative can be beneficial, in 2014 CDFW worked with Los Molinas Mutual Water Company on Mill Creek in Tehama County. The company provided access through its properties for fish population monitoring and provided flows in the creek for the benefit of spring-run Chinook salmon.

“Drought conditions create substantial challenges for many landowners or water users throughout California,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “NOAA and CDFW have found that open dialogue with drought-affected landowners or water users regarding voluntary steps to reduce significant risks to federal- and state-listed species from drought has been an effective way to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.”

A nearly identical initiative was created during the drought of 2014, but that agreement only applied to a few priority watersheds like the Klamath, Russian, and Sacramento/San Joaquin and it concluded with the end of the drought. The new Voluntary Drought Initiative does not expire but will instead be considered a “living document” that can be updated by NOAA Fisheries and CDFW at any time. Additionally, the new, ongoing initiative allows for agreements in any watershed within the state containing salmon, steelhead, or sturgeon listed under the federal Endangered Species Act or CESA, when and where determined a high priority by CDFW or NOAA Fisheries.

The initiative is separate from actions the State Water Resources Control Board may take under its authorities, or independent actions that it may pursue related to droughts, including emergency curtailments. Individual agreements cannot supersede water right priorities under the authority of the State Water Resources Control Board.

The Voluntary Drought Initiative represents the shared vision of NOAA Fisheries and CDFW that voluntary, collaborative solutions memorialized in writing can best minimize the impacts of water use on participating individuals and entities as well as vulnerable species, while providing improved regulatory certainty for local communities during drought.

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Monterey Herald (Monterey, CA)

State advises that leatherbacks along Central Coast be listed as endangered

By DENNIS L. TAYLOR, Monterey Herald, August 18, 2021

MONTEREY — Leatherback sea turtles that migrate through waters off the Central Coast have been recommended for endangered species status by state wildlife officials.

The recommendation Monday by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to list leatherbacks as a state endangered species comes before an October vote by the California Fish and Game Commission.

Being listed as endangered means they are on a fast track to extinction, according to Fish and Wildlife reports (https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/CESA/FESA)

The reptiles, which can be traced back to the era of dinosaurs, are already protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. If the commission approves the recommendation, then they will receive added protection under state law.

The number of leatherback turtles that feed in Central California waters has declined by 80% during the last two decades, according to research out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.

There are an estimated 50 of these turtles in California waters, compared to 178 during the years 1990 to 2003, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Last year whale-watching trips spotted three in Monterey Bay,

“The state report makes it clear that entanglement in fishing gear is the biggest threat to leatherback sea turtles,” said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney for the Center, in a press release.

Depending on the size of gill-net meshing, animals can become entangled around their necks, mouths and flippers, according to NOAA Fisheries, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Entanglement can prevent proper feeding, constrict growth or cause infections. Marine mammals entangled in set gill nets can drown.

They are called gill nets because when a fish enters the meshing and then tries to retreat, its gills become caught in the mesh. These nets are deployed outside of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary but can catch migratory marine wildlife, like leatherbacks, that come into the sanctuary waters each year.

Off the Central Coast, the target species for gill nets are swordfish, sharks and tuna. But they also have ensnared humpback and endangered fin whales, porpoises and dolphins, and seals and sea lions, in addition to leatherback sea turtles, NOAA Fisheries reports.

But there are many causes for their decline, not just entanglements. Arguably the more serious threat comes on the other side of the Pacific Ocean where state and federal listings are moot.

A subset of leatherbacks that hatches on beaches in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands migrate 7,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean to the cold waters off the U.S. west coast, where they gorge on jellyfish before swimming back.

Clutches of eggs are often illegally poached from the beaches of these South Pacific islands, and the offspring that do hatch sometimes become attracted to beach resort lighting, so they crawl away from the sea instead of toward it, according to NOAA Fisheries. Adults are also victims of poaching. They are also susceptible to marine pollution and debris, sometimes ingesting plastic marine litter.

Scientists are often amazed at leatherbacks’ trans-Pacific migration.

“There are birds that go farther, but they fly. There’s a whale shark that might swim a little further, but it doesn’t have to come up for air. This animal is actually pushing water all the way across the Pacific Ocean,” said Scott Benson, an ecologist with the NOAA’s fisheries service in Monterey, who has studied the turtles for decades. “It’s just a majestic animal.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Agreement Reached to Protect Endangered Species From Livestock on Arizona, New Mexico Waterways

SILVER CITY, N.M.—(August 18, 2021)–The Center for Biological Diversity, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached an agreement today to protect rivers and streams in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico from cattle grazing. This agreement comes more than 20 years after the agencies first promised to keep cows off these riparian habitats to safeguard rare plants and animals.

The waterways are home to numerous endangered and threatened species, including southwestern willow flycatchers, yellow-billed cuckoos, Gila chub, loach minnow and spikedace fish, Chiricahua leopard frogs, and narrow-headed and northern Mexican garter snakes.

“This should finally keep livestock from trampling these fragile southwestern rivers,” said Brian Segee, endangered species legal director at the Center. “Habitat destruction and invasive species have put nearly all the region’s aquatic species at risk. It’s our hope that the simple step of removing cattle from these waterways will give imperiled species a fighting chance at survival and recovery.”

Today’s three-year agreement requires the Forest Service to ensure that more than 150 miles of streamside endangered species habitat in Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and the Gila National Forest in New Mexico will be protected from cattle grazing. The area covers 42 grazing allotments in the two national forests.

The Forest Service has agreed to monitor riparian areas, maintain and repair fencing, and remove trespass cattle when detected by the agency, the Center or the public. The agency also pledged to devise ways to address invasive species and other conservation challenges facing imperiled southwestern species.

The rivers covered by the suit include the Gila, San Francisco, Tularosa and Blue rivers.

In a historic 1998 legal settlement with the Center, the Forest Service agreed to prohibit domestic livestock grazing from these and other streamside habitats while it conducted a long-overdue consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service on the impacts of grazing on threatened and endangered species.

Beginning in 2017 Center staff and contractors conducted surveys that found widespread, severe cattle damage — including manure and flattened streambanks — on all major waterways in both national forests, imperiling several rare species.

In January 2020 the Center sued the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service for violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing cattle to trample the rivers and streams. Today’s agreement settles that lawsuit.

“We hope this agreement renews the agency’s commitment to protecting endangered wildlife and our spectacular public lands,” said Segee. “The government agrees with us that livestock grazing and endangered species don’t mix. It’s too bad it took another lawsuit to force the Forest Service to keep cows off southwestern rivers, but let’s hope this time it’ll stick.”

The agencies have repeatedly confirmed that livestock grazing in arid southwestern landscapes destroys riparian habitat and imperils native fish, birds and other animals dependent on that habitat. Poorly managed livestock grazing, persistent drought, dewatering, global warming and invasive species have taken an increasing toll on southwestern rivers. This has resulted in the recent federal protection of several additional threatened or endangered species that depend on southwestern riparian areas, including two species of garter snake, the cuckoo and the leopard frog.

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The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA)

Thousands of endangered coho salmon moved from Lake Sonoma hatchery amid rising water temperatures

GUY KOVNER, The Press-Democrat, August 18, 2021

As Lake Sonoma plummeted to record low levels this summer, the water has warmed enough to threaten the coho salmon raised in the state hatchery at the base of its 319-foot dam northwest of Healdsburg.

With signs of disease appearing in the juvenile coho, an endangered species in the Russian River, federal biologists took an unprecedented step in the local watershed: trucking about 2,000 fish nearly 50 miles south to a student-operated hatchery at Casa Grande High School in Petaluma.

“They’re welcome here,” Dan Hubacker, a science teacher and director of the school’s 38-year-old United Anglers program, said after the final load of 92 fish arrived Tuesday afternoon. “We’re here to help.”

The remarkable strategy comes during a severe statewide drought and escalating climate change that has crimped water supplies to North Bay farms and cities and caused rural wells to run dry.

Further north, Chinook and coho salmon have suffered a massive kill on the Klamath River due to record low precipitation, and state officials have trucked millions of hatchery-raised juvenile Chinook salmon from the Sacramento River to San Pablo Bay and San Francisco Bay in hopes of averting a complete die-off.

Ben White, the supervisory fisheries biologist at Lake Sonoma’s Warm Springs Hatchery, said water temperatures edged into the low-60s last week about 10 degrees above the ideal level for coho salmon, which need cold, clear water to thrive.

Fish afflicted by pathogens had to be treated with chemicals and none perished, but the expansive hatchery — with 20-foot wide round green tanks clustered under a roof the size of an aircraft hangar — lacks a chiller to offset the heat, he said.

The water has since cooled a bit, but White determined to transfer half the juvenile coho intended for breeding to Casa Grande.

“We wanted to be proactive,” he said. “You don’t want to wait too long.”

California coho are “on the brink of extinction,” he noted, while coho in Oregon and farther north remain plentiful enough to continue closely regulated sport fishing.

Hatchery-bred fish are released into about 20 tributaries in the lower Russian River watershed so their offspring will return to those streams instead of the hatchery on Dry Creek.

The final batch of fish dropped off at Casa Grande were six- to eight-inch juveniles, one and a half years old, that will return from the ocean to spawn in the winter of 2022-23, he said.

Each female coho releases more than 2,000 eggs that will result in up to 1,000 offspring.

Shannon Bockmon, a fisheries biologist, donned waders to net the juveniles in a tank with knee-deep water.

“Those are the smartest ones,” White called out as the last five coho repeatedly evaded capture.

At Casa Grande’s more modest hatchery, Hubacker said, “I thought I’d never see the day coho are in this building.”

The United Anglers’ mission has focused on restoring steelhead in the Petaluma watershed, starting with nearby Adobe Creek.

But when the call for help came from the Warm Springs facility to it was “all hands on deck,” said Hubacker, a Casa graduate in 2000 who was a United Anglers member.

The campus hatchery draws water from a 500-foot well and has chillers to assure the proper temperature.

Hudson Naber, a senior in his second year with United Anglers, said it was “a privilege” to help the coho.

Dillon Arellanes, a classmate, said each truckload of fish was a thrill for him, “like a kid in a candy store.”

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Newsweek

Conservation Groups Threaten to Sue after 900 Manatee Deaths

BY SARA SANTORA, August 16, 2021

More than 900 manatees have died in the state of Florida so far this year, a little more than double last year’s numbers. In response to the staggering data, several conservation groups announced plans to file a lawsuit against the federal government over critical habitat areas for the species. The notice of intent comes one week after it was reported that two Florida congressmen said they introduced legislation that would grant manatees with endangered status.

On Monday, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Save the Manatee Club filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) over violations of both the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). In the letter shared by the Center for Biological Diversity, the groups alleged that FWS failed to update designated critical habitat areas for the Florida manatee in accordance with federal law.

“Revised critical habitat is necessary to provide these imperiled marine mammals life-saving protections, to enhance their recovery, and to reduce the risk of their extinction,” the letter reads.

FWS designated critical habitat for the Florida manatee in 1976; however, the groups claim that amendments made to the ESA in 1978 required that critical habitat areas take into account “physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the species.”

But the groups also claim that FWS never updated critical habitat areas to include those considerations, and as a result, “the critical habitat designations for the Florida manatee only list specific waterways known to be concentration areas for manatees in 1976, and not any of the physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation of the species.”

As it turns out, these specifications go a long way in protecting the species.

According to research cited in the letter, manatees face several “habitat-based threats,” including the loss of warm water refuge and poor water quality. Additional threats include boat strikes and the loss of seagrass, which manatees rely upon as a food source.

“At least 50 percent of these deaths have been in the Indian River Lagoon where the suspected cause of mortality is starvation and malnutrition due to nutrient pollution killing off local seagrass in important warm water refuge,” the letter continues.

They also report that 70 of this year’s deaths were a result of boat strikes.

“We are deeply concerned about and actively involved in the protection of the Florida manatee and its habitat,” the letter concludes. “We are eager to address these violations without the need for litigation and to discuss with FWS prospects for amicable resolution of these issues at the earliest possible date.

“If FWS does not act within 60 days to correct these violations, however, we will have no choice but to pursue litigation in federal court.”

Last week, Florida Representatives Vern Buchanan and Darren Soto introduced legislation to grant manatees endangered status. If passed, the legislation would allow for an increase in federal funding to protect the species.

“Manatees are beloved, iconic mammals in Florida,” said Representative Buchanan in last week’s statement. “This year’s record-breaking number of manatee deaths is staggering and extremely concerning, which is why upgrading their ESA status is absolutely critical.”

Representative Soto added: “These mass deaths should alarm us all and incite us to take immediate action to protect these precious mammals.”

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ABC News

Giant panda gives birth in rare event for endangered species

August 16, 2021

A Chinese giant panda at a Singapore wildlife park has given birth to a cub — the first born in the South-East Asian country and a rare event for an endangered species.

Pandas Kai Kai, 13, and Jia Jia, 12, entered their seventh breeding season in April this year with the aid of artificial insemination, after arriving in Singapore in 2012 on a decade-long loan from China.

Weighing about 200 grams, the cub was born on Saturday but the sex has yet to be determined, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) told Reuters, adding mother and cub were doing well.

WRS said female giant pandas can display hormonal and behavioural signs of pregnancy even when not pregnant, but the organisation detected signs last month that a cub was on the way and Jia Jia’s pregnancy was confirmed on August 10.

“Our vet picked up on ultrasound, not only a clear outline of a foetus but one with a strong heartbeat,” WRS said.

The newborn will appear in public in about three months.

Giant pandas loaned to Japan and France have also given birth to cubs this year.

China has been sending its black and white ambassadors abroad in a sign of goodwill since the 1950s as part of what is known as “panda diplomacy.”

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PR Newswire/IFAW

Wildlife Trafficking Thrives in US Digital Market

Complex laws, legal loopholes, and savvy traders bolster proliferation of illegal wildlife market; Protective measures fall short of providing a remedy

NEWS PROVIDED BY International Fund for Animal Welfare, August 16, 2021

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — In a new report released today by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), online investigators uncovered nearly 1,200 advertisements for close to 2,400 animals, parts, derivatives, or products of threatened species despite current protections under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The report entitled Digital Markets: Wildlife Trafficking Hidden in Plain Sight, details the findings following a six-week investigation of advertisements posted on 34 US-based online marketplaces with the goal of gaining a broad understanding of the nature of the online trade in protected wildlife species in the US. The report excludes social media sites.

“These findings are a clear indication that online wildlife trafficking remains highly active and a significant challenge in the US,” said Mark Hofberg, Campaigns Officer, IFAW. “An environment of complex laws and regulations, the inherent anonymity of the internet, as well as exceptions and loopholes that allow savvy traders to circumvent restrictions, are all factors that have allowed the proliferation of the sale of protected wildlife species on online platforms despite laws and protective measures in place.”

Of the three most common types of advertisements found:

*Nearly half (44%) were identified as elephant ivory, a decline from 2008 levels (73%), though surprisingly high considering the implementation of laws and regulations regarding elephant ivory since that time;

*Over one-quarter (27%) of all advertisements were for trophies and taxidermy products, including skins, skulls, claws, or other animal parts primarily for display, half of which were for species only found in the wild outside of the US (giraffes, African lions, caracals, and several primate species); and

*Live animals to be sold as exotic pets made up 19% of total advertisements, with birds, reptiles and mammals (44%, 40%, and 16% respectively) comprising the bulk of live animals sold. Live animals tended to be of higher value and made up a large share of the overall dollar value recorded, with nearly three fourths of the 34 advertisements for protected wildlife species valued at USD 10,000 or higher.

Digital Markets: Wildlife Trafficking Hidden in Plain Sight, is a follow-up to the 2008 report Killing with Keystrokes, representing a continuation of IFAW’s work to both monitor online wildlife trafficking while taking steps to shut it down. This includes collaborating with online marketplaces to improve their policies to reduce wildlife trafficking, implementing trainings of government enforcement officers on the latest techniques and trends for detecting trafficking, working with communities to reduce poaching, and ultimately reducing demand. Report comparisons show that the demand for live turtles, tortoises, wild cats and primates has proliferated since 2008.

“The loss of wildlife from illegal trade is devastating species that are a critical part of the complex web of life which we rely on for clean air, climate change mitigation, clean water, flood mitigation, soil health, and other critical ecosystem functions,” added Hofberg. Further, the number one risk factor for zoonotic disease spillover to people is sustained contact with wild animals, especially animals that are in close confines and in stressful conditions which are key features of wildlife trade. “The US government must prioritize wildlife trafficking in new legislation that closes loopholes in existing policy to safeguard both the future of such wildlife as well as our own.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Challenge Filed Over Vermont’s Refusal to Protect Endangered Bats From Deadly Insecticide Spraying

MONTPELIER, Vt.—(August 16, 2021) The Vermont Natural Resources Council and Center for Biological Diversity sued Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources today for refusing to require the Brandon-Leicester-Salisbury-Goshen-Pittsford Insect Control District to apply for permission to harm five threatened and endangered Vermont bat species.

The Insect Control District sprays the toxic insecticides malathion and permethrin for mosquito control in the habitat of the Indiana bat, northern long-eared bat, little brown bat, eastern small-footed bat and tricolored bat, all of which are protected by Vermont’s Protection of Endangered Species Act. The coalition, along with numerous allies and supporters, provided the state agency with an expert report by Arrowwood Environmental in 2019 detailing how the district’s activities harm or can kill these imperiled bats, already threatened by white-nose syndrome and habitat loss.

“Vermont’s endangered species experts have spoken clearly,” said Mason Overstreet, staff attorney at Vermont Law School’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic. “Poorly regulated pesticide spraying is putting the state’s threatened and endangered bats at risk. ANR’s decision to ignore both the scientific consensus and the plain-preventative language of Vermont’s endangered species law abandons their responsibility to protect vulnerable wildlife.”

The pesticide spraying occurs on summer nights when bats are hunting for flying insects. Flying low through the chemical plume of pesticides, the bats are exposed to toxic droplets that they can inhale, absorb through their thin-skinned wing membranes, or get on their fur and later ingest while grooming. They can also catch and eat flying insects contaminated with the chemicals. These pesticides are known to cause neurological and physiological stress and injury to bats.

“Vermont’s Endangered Species Act is a critical law for protecting animal species from a variety of threats, including being poisoned by toxic chemicals,” said Brian Shupe, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council. “ANR generally does a commendable job of protecting endangered resources, but in this instance needs to step up and apply this law to an activity that places these endangered bats at significant risk.”

In March of 2021 the Endangered Species Committee, a scientific advisory group to the secretary of the state’s natural resource agency and the commissioner of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, unanimously and formally recommended to the agency that it require the insect-control district to begin the incidental-take permitting process to continue spraying the pesticides.

The biologists stressed that the Agency of Natural Resources was the only state body with the expertise and authority to protect bats and that a permit was the only mechanism available. The committee’s evaluation process included an independent scientific review by its Mammal Scientific Advisory Group. However, on July 19, 2021, the agency formally denied the recommendation to require a permit.

“There’s no doubt that Vermont’s refusal to follow science and the law will result in these amazing, imperiled animals being harmed by toxic insecticides,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Given that bats actually help to regulate mosquito populations, the state’s reckless decision to allow them to be killed in order to kill mosquitoes is a shortsighted choice that will cause long-term harm. It leaves us no choice but to go to court to protect them.”

The groups are represented by Mason Overstreet of Vermont Law School’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic and Ron Shems, Esq., Tarrant, Gillies, Richardson, & Shems LLP.

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The Western News (Libby, MT)

Commissioners back feds in lawsuit over wolverines

By DERRICK PERKINS, Editor, August 13, 2021

The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners last month waded into civil litigation between the federal government and a coalition of conservation groups over the status of the nation’s wolverine population. Commissioners voted unanimously July 28 to approve a resolution to join other counties and organizations in backing a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision against designating the wolverine as a threatened species.

County Commissioner Josh Letcher (D-3) compared the resolution to a “friend of the court” brief.

“We’re just throwing our support in,” said County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2) of the resolution.

Conservation groups have pushed the federal government for decades to place wolverines under the Endangered Species Act, filing multiple lawsuits against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2013, the federal agency agreed to consider the move, but backed away last October, citing new research.

“New information from genetic and observational studies shows that wolverines in the lower 48 are connected to populations in Canada and Alaska, these populations interact on some level, and migration and breeding is possible between groups,” reads a press release issued by U.S. Fish and Wildlife that month. “Wolverines in the lower 48 states do not qualify as a distinct population segment and they are instead an extension of the population of wolverines found further north.”

As evidence, the agency held up a species status assessment, independent peer-reviewed report and an evaluation of the species’ potential stressors.

The decision leaves management of the wolverine up to state and tribal governments.

In December, a coalition of conservation groups banded together to challenge the ruling.

Western Environmental Law Center is spearheading the effort, drawing support from Wild Swan, Swan View Coalition, WildEarth Guardians, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Footloose Montana, according to earlier coverage by the Daily Inter Lake. The groups argue that shrinking mountain snowpack caused by climate change represents a major threat to the species, but also cites trapping and human disturbance as risk factors. “No greater level of certainty is needed to see the writing on the wall for this snow-dependent species standing squarely in the path of global climate change,” said attorney Matthew Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center in a prepared statement last year.

“It has taken us 20 years to get to this point.

It is the [court’s] view that if there is one thing required of the Service under the Endangered Species Act, it is to take action at the earliest possible, defensible point in time to protect against the loss of biodiversity within our reach as a nation,” he said. “For the wolverine, that time is now.”

As part of the resolution, the commissioners also added their support to the government in another lawsuit, that one concerning Canada lynx.

The suit, filed by a few of the same groups in the wolverine case, comes several years after U.S. Fish and Wildlife announced it planned to remove the threatened species tag from the lynx, according to the Associated Press.

The resolution allows the county to obtain intervener or amicus curiae status in both cases, but spares it from any legal costs, which instead be borne by the nonprofit groups opposing the lawsuit.

Bennett said he attended hearings on the wolverine several years ago. At the time, it did not appear as though the wolverine was endangered. “From what I remember of the hearings, it was scientifically proven that they weren’t endangered where they were at,” he said last month.

Letcher made the motion to approve the resolution and Bennett offered a second before it went to a vote.

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Kentucky Today

Plant native to Ky., Tenn. off endangered list

By TOM LATEK, Kentucky Today, August 13, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – A plant native to only a small part of Kentucky and Tennessee has recovered enough that it is being removed from the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Found only in a small portion of the Cumberland Plateau in southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee, the Cumberland Sandwort was headed toward extinction before it was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1988, according to the agency. That’s when the two states, federal agencies and conservation groups stepped in to protect and restore this unique plant.

At the time it was placed on the list, the service was aware of only 28 occurrences of the plant. The species faced threats from overuse or destruction of habitat from recreational activities in the sandstone cliff lines where it occurs. Land protection and habitat management by diverse partners have been vital to protecting and recovering the sandwort. 

“Partnerships are the key to the success of the Endangered Species Act,” said Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, Fish and Wildlife Service regional director.  “Playing critical roles in the recovery of this delicate flower were the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, states of Tennessee and Kentucky, Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden and Missouri Botanical Garden. Thanks to these efforts, future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy the sandwort and the plants and animals that share its habitat.”

Conservation actions on behalf of the sandwort included installing signs, fencing and boardwalks to educate visitors about public lands and plant protection. Today, sandwort populations are healthy and stable and are found in 71 places.

To help ensure the Cumberland sandwort remains secure from the risk of extinction after it is delisted, the service will work with partners to implement a post-delisting monitoring plan, which will define thresholds for monitoring of sandwort populations for at least five years.

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Kansas Reflector

Wildlife officials say Topeka shiner is no longer endangered, suggest listing as threatened

When it was listed as endangered in 1998, researchers believed the fish’s range had dropped by as much as 80%

By ALLISON KITE, August 12, 2021

Federal wildlife officials are recommending the Topeka shiner be removed from the list of endangered species after successful conservation projects gave the fish a “brighter and more sustainable future,” they announced Thursday.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released findings from a five-year review and recommended the fish be listed as threatened rather than endangered. The agency also issued a recovery plan to keep working on building the fish’s population.

Matt Hogan, acting regional director for USFWS, thanked state agencies across the Midwest for working with federal officials to save the fish.

“We are excited to say the recovery actions by conservation partners have led to the recommendation to reclassify the species to threatened status,” Hogan said.

The Topeka shriner is a type of minnow that was once common across the Great Plains. It’s about three inches long with silvery scales and a dark stripe along its side. The fish primarily resides in small prairie streams and off-channel pools and wetlands, but it has lost habitat, primarily to agriculture. When it was listed as endangered in 1998, researchers believed the fish’s range had dropped by as much as 80%.

Since that time, conservation efforts have helped move the fish from endangered to threatened, but it still faces threats, particularly at the southern end of its range in Kansas and Missouri. Its population loss has been especially severe in Kansas and Missouri, the southern end of its range, but it has fared better in the northern Great Plains.

According to the agency’s five-year review, a major issue facing the fish is the fragmentation of wetlands by dams, low-water crossings, culverts, bridges and channelization. The fish also faces depletion of water resources in its range.

“The currently highly modified agricultural landscape both demands water and sends it through the system at significantly increase rate; a water cycle that once took 500 years to complete may now take less than 30 as wetlands are drained, streams are channelized, fields are tilled and aquifers are depleted,” the report says.

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New York Times

Wisconsin More Than Doubles Wolf-Hunting Quota, Angering Conservationists

The state’s Natural Resources Board will allow 300 wolves to be killed this fall, far more than the 130 recommended by state biologists.

By Neil Vigdor, Aug. 11, 2021

The state of Wisconsin on Wednesday authorized the killing of 300 wolves as part of a hunt this fall, far exceeding the recommendations of its own biologists for the once-protected species and drawing criticism from conservationists.

In a 5-to-2 vote, the state’s Natural Resources Board cast aside the quota that had been proposed by the state’s natural resources agency, which had called for a limit of 130 wolves to be killed.

The decision followed several hours of intense public debate by dozens of people over the scope of the hunting program, with animal rights activists calling it inhumane and hunting groups seeking even higher quotas.

The debate represented the latest flashpoint over the status of the gray wolf, which lost its Endangered Species Act protections under the Trump administration.

It also came amid a political standoff over the composition of the state’s conservative-leaning Natural Resources Board. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, has complained that the Republican-controlled Legislature has held up two of his nominees, who would shift the balance of power.

Those who supported the higher quota dismissed criticism that the fall hunt, the second one to take place this year, would threaten the wolf population in the state.

“I’m not really concerned about, you know, being afraid if we set that number too high we’re going to run more of a risk of them being relisted,” William Bruins, a board member, said of the prospect of wolves’ regaining their protected status.

Mr. Bruins was appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican.

Earlier this year, at least 216 wolves were killed in less than 60 hours, exceeding the state quota of 119 for that hunt and prompting Wisconsin to end the hunt, which had been meant to last a week, four days early, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

That hunt was prompted by a court order that had been issued by a county Circuit Court judge in Wisconsin after a hunting group had filed a lawsuit.

During the board’s meeting on Wednesday, officials with the Department of Natural Resources urged the panel to exercise restraint in setting quotas for the fall hunt, which begins on Nov. 6. They said they did not have enough data on the size of the wolf population after the hunt earlier this year.

“We have a small population, and regardless of whether you want more wolves or fewer wolves, from a biological management standpoint, this population is small, and that requires careful biological scientific population management,” said Keith Warnke, the administrator of the department’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Division. “This calls for a conservative quota until we have more population data, more science, to back up our decision making.”

Animal rights activists said that holding two hunts in the same calendar year was uncharted territory and too intense.

“What is being called wolf management in this state is a revenge-driven assault perpetrated by legal dog fighters, trophy killers, disingenuous special interests and their anti-wolf allies in the state Legislature,” said Paul Collins, the state director of the group Animal Wellness Action.

Hunters contended that the state’s wolf population had swelled while gray wolves were listed as an endangered species, threatening farming and livestock.

“Hunters have been responsible managers of this population,” said Luke Hilgemann, the president and chief executive of Hunter Nation, the group that previously sued over wolf hunting. “We think it will restore balance.”

Marcy West, who was appointed to the Natural Resources Board by Mr. Evers, panned the higher quota.

“But the majority asked for zero,” she said of the public input on the quota.

In a statement, Mr. Evers criticized Republicans in the Legislature for the delays in approving his nominees to the board.

“It’s ridiculous, frankly, that Republicans have turned this into a game of political chicken,” he said. “Protecting our natural resources isn’t a partisan issue — ensuring an orderly transition of power and confirming knowledgeable and dedicated people who’ve volunteered to serve our state shouldn’t be a partisan issue, either.”

Republican legislative leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday night.

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Florida State University News

FSU professor awarded NSF grant to create new software tool

BY: AMY ROBINSON, August 11, 2021

The National Science Foundation awarded a Florida State University professor a $410,000 grant to create a software tool designed to help scientists make more accurate predictions regarding populations of endangered or commercially exploited animal species.

Peter Beerli, a professor with the Department of Scientific Computing in the FSU College of Arts and Sciences, will lead the project to develop the new tool, which will help generate more accurate estimates of population size and genetic diversity in different species. The new software could help with problems such as controlling pathogen outbreaks, improving regulations of catch quotas for commercial fishing and preservation of endangered species.

Beerli will work with former FSU postdoctoral researcher Somayeh Mashayekhi, now an assistant professor of mathematics at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, to develop the new tool.

“Somayeh and I are so excited because this grant allows us to improve on work we have done while she was here at FSU, and this allows for expanding one of the core theories in my field of population genetics,” Beerli said.

The team plans to build upon a mathematical theory they developed in 2019 that generalizes coalescence theory, a model that uses the genealogy of a random sample of individuals in a population to make statements about the population based on the descendancy of common traits.

“Currently, our generalization is limited and cannot discuss data that comes from multiple populations,” Beerli said. “We will expand our theory and our existing, open-source inference program, MIGRATE, to include these new findings.”

After using simulated data to test the new software, the team will collaborate with researchers using the MIGRATE software to reanalyze a variety of real datasets. This will help researchers establish correlations of variability of offspring numbers with the life history of different species.

The new software also aims to solve a significant problem that exists with current populations genetics theory: the assumption that a given population exists in a homogenous environment.

“With natural populations, we know that this is not true, in that some individuals are lucky and have offspring under conditions where all survive, while others may fail to produce offspring at all,” Beerli said.“We offer a theoretical advancement that allows us to measure this heterogeneity in populations. This will lead to better predictions and maintenance of populations of interest, for example, the maintenance of endangered or commercially interesting species.”

In addition to applications for predicting animal populations, the software also will serve as a valuable new tool in the global fight to stop the spread of various infectious diseases threatening humankind. Beerli points to the various coronavirus strains in the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of why this improved accuracy is so important in curbing the effects of pathogens in a population.

“This research addresses the assumption that the populations being studied have a relatively constant number of offspring per generation,” he said. “Scientific observation has shown that this assumption is incorrect. For example, some SARS-CoV-2 strains are more successful in infecting people than others, suggesting that the ancestor with a new mutation has many more ‘offspring’ than others.”

Department of Scientific Computing chair Gordon Erlebacher said the new software will be a boon to the research community and the resulting improvement to accuracy will decrease bias in data translation and analysis used in policy decisions.

“Peter Beerli is world-renowned in the realm of population genetics,” Erlebacher said. “In these days of national emergency and misinformation or disinformation, models that remove unrealistic assumptions become increasingly relevant. This award will help with the department’s mission of training students in state-of-the-art modeling and computational techniques with applications across a broad swath of subject areas.”

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CoastalView.com (Carpinteria, CA)

ForestWatch joins movement to re-list gray wolves as “endangered”

CVN Report, August 11, 2021

ForestWatch and a coalition of 70 conservation, Indigenous and animal welfare groups have filed a formal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to re-list the gray wolf as an endangered species throughout the American West under the Endangered Species Act.

The groups cited inadequate protections and a lack of viable populations of wolves in California and all other western states. The re-listing petition comes in the wake of new laws passed in Idaho and Montana to radically reduce wolf populations below biologically appropriate levels.

“Wolves have been extinct in California since the 1920s and are entirely missing from the landscape or perilously close to extinction in other western states,” said Los Padres ForestWatch Director of Advocacy Rebecca August.

“In the lands surrounding Yellowstone National Park, where there has been a decades-long effort to reestablish gray wolves, states have revoked hunting and trapping regulations, advancing the possible extermination of these animals.”

The gray wolf (Canis lupus) was first listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1974 when there were just 1,000 individuals left in the lower 48 states. Last year, with populations hovering around just 6,000, the Trump administration stripped federal protections.

The petition highlights scientific findings of multiple threats facing wolves in the West, including unregulated hunting in several states, poaching, genetic problems associated with low population levels, fragmented habitats and disease outbreaks that strike at random and have the potential to reduce populations below critical thresholds. The petition calls upon the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect wolves in the West as a distinct population segment.

The gray wolf is native to California and has been listed under its endangered species act since 2014. There has been no effort to reestablish wolves in the state, but several individuals have migrated south from Oregon and three wolf packs have been identified in northern California. The Beckwourth Pack was reported in Plumas County as recently as June.

In April of this year, a male yearling known as OR-93 was the first wolf to appear on the Central Coast in a century, having traveled roughly 1,000 miles from his home with the White River pack in northern Oregon.

Tracked by U.S. Fish and Wildlife through a radio collar fitted in 2020, OR-93 entered California in January and February in Modoc County and began his journey southward. In March, the young wolf, followed by a growing fanbase on Facebook and Instagram, crossed Highway 99 and Interstate 5 in San Benito County. His last collar transmission was from San Luis Obispo County on April 5. His status is currently unknown.

“The wolf known as OR-93’s spectacular journey from Oregon to California’s Central Coast – until wildlife officials were no longer able to track his location – demonstrated that not only is there potential for gray wolves to once again call California home but that the species is in urgent need of better protections across its range,” said Los Padres ForestWatch conservation director Bryant Baker.

The groups’ petition comes in the wake of a groundswell of public recognition that wolves deserve to be listed under the Endangered Species Act, and that some anti-conservation state governments are actively undermining wolf recovery in the lower 48 states.

Over 120 Indigenous tribes and groups signed a wolf treaty calling for federal protection, and a documentary short film by the Global Indigenous Council highlighting the cultural importance of wolves to Indigenous peoples was recently released.

Wolves are considered a keystone species, meaning their disappearance can have consequences that cascade throughout an ecosystem to which they are native. One major benefit of robust wolf populations is natural regulation of populations of elk, deer and other large mammals.

For example, wolf reintroduction in the Yellowstone area, which began in the 1930s, has reduced the regional coyote population by 50%, increased riparian areas that had been damaged by overgrazing, and has markedly increased biodiversity and stabilized the ecosystem.

“As our region’s wildlife are under the increasing pressure of a changing climate, re-establishing the balance that the grey wolf once brought to the landscape will give our ecosystems a fighting chance,” said August.

“While the few wolves that have made it to California are protected, the state is no island. It’s clear that their survival here is too fragile to withstand the decimation that is taking place in other states.”

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Estes Park Trail Gazette (Estes Park, CO)

Congressman Neguse introduces bill to protect, recover endangered species

By OFFICE OF CONGRESSMAN JOE NEGUSE, August 10, 2021

On Aug. 10, Congressman Joe Neguse, Chair of the U.S. Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands introduced legislation to protect endangered fish in the Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins, while allowing water development projects to proceed. The Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins Recovery Act would authorize the Bureau of Reclamation to continue the implementation of endangered fish recovery programs for the Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins through 2024 in order to protect and recover endangered fishes while water development proceeds in compliance with all applicable Federal and State laws. Actions taken under these programs also provide benefits to other native fishes in the basin and prevent them from becoming endangered in the future.

In 2019, Congressman Neguse enacted legislation into law to reauthorize the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, a similar program that protects wildlife in the Platte River Basin and coordinates with local water development.

“The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program has been working for decades to protect endangered fish found only in the Colorado River system, and sustain their natural habitats while allowing water development projects at the state and local levels to continue,” said Congressman Joe Neguse. “I’m pleased to introduce this reauthorizing bill today in partnership with local and state partners to protect Colorado wildlife and local water development and ensure the reliability and consistency of this program for the future.”

“Colorado thanks Representative Neguse for championing this important bill and Congress’ long-standing support for the Colorado River Basin endangered fish recovery programs. These programs help protect our water resources and ensure that the people who use our waters will have roles in shaping the future of the Colorado River and its tributaries,” said Governor Jared Polis.

The Upper Colorado River Basin is home to 14 native fish species, including the endangered humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow, and razorback sucker. These endangered fish are found only in the Colorado River system.

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program was first established in 1988 to help bring four species of endangered fish back from the brink of extinction: the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow, and razorback sucker. The Recovery Program is a unique partnership of local, state, and federal agencies, water and power interests, and environmental groups working to recover endangered fish in the Upper Colorado River Basin while water development proceeds in accordance with federal and state laws and interstate compacts. The goal of recovery is to achieve natural, self-sustaining populations of the endangered fish so they no longer require protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. With its demonstrated successes, the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program has become a national model for its collaborative conservation efforts to protect endangered species.

The Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins Recovery Act would also extend a reporting deadline. Current legislation requires that the Secretary of the Interior submit a report to Congress on the Recovery Programs to Congress by September 30, 2021 in consultation with the Recovery Programs.  The report will detail, among other things, activities to be carried out after FY2023 and the cost of such activities. Due to uncertainty and delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Recovery Programs’ partners are seeking a one-year extension of the Secretary’s report deadline.

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Q13 FOX News (Seattle)

Endangered frog species released into Columbia National Wildlife Refuge

By Chambolion Fairley, August 10, 2021

OTHELLO, Wash. – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) released hundreds of an endangered frog species into the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge last week.

Native to the Pacific Northwest, the northern leopard frog used to be all over North America. Over time, their numbers have rapidly diminished in parts of Washington, Oregon and western Canada.

In order to help recover the species and grow their population, The WDFW, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Zoo, Washington State University and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park partnered to raise hundreds of this species and release them into nature.

“The Washington state population of northern leopard frogs has a unique genetic variation relative to the rest of the species range, and they are part of the natural diversity of amphibians of the region,” said Erica Crespi, WSU associate professor of biology.

“We are working to keep them here!”

WDFW first collected northern leopard frog eggs back in the spring of 2021. After several months of growing in the Oregon Zoo and Northwest Trek, the frogs were ready to be released.

In order to avoid threats during the critical early stages of frog development, the eggs were given a head start while being raised in the zoo and wildlife park.

“We’re at a critical point for this species,” said Shelly Pettit, who oversees the Oregon Zoo’s frog efforts.

“We’re doing everything we can to help northern leopard frogs thrive again in the Pacific Northwest — and a big, healthy froglet has a much better chance of surviving in the wild than an egg or a tadpole. After missing the 2020 season due to COVID impacts, we were very excited to produce a healthy group of frogs for this year’s release.”

Northern leopard frogs have been on the endangered list in Washington since 1999 with only one known wild population in the state.

Researchers believe the frogs’ cause of decline in the area is due to threats and degradation of its habitat, disease, non-native species and climate change.

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WINK News (Ft. Myers, FL)

Legislation introduced to reclassify manatees as endangered

August 9, 2021

A record number of manatees have died this year than in any other year in Florida’s recorded history, primarily from starvation due to the loss of seagrass beds. Now, two congressmen are calling on federal officials to grant the animal “endangered” status.

U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-FL, and Darren Soto, D-FL, announced Monday they have introduced legislation to grant manatees the highest level of federal protection available.

The Manatee Protection Act, H.R. 4946, would officially upgrade the West Indian manatee from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Upgrading their designation under the ESA will not only require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to refocus their attention on manatee population rehabilitation, but also allow for increased federal resources including more funding and personnel.

“Manatees are beloved, iconic mammals in Florida,” said Buchanan. “This year’s record-breaking number of manatee deaths is staggering and extremely concerning, which is why upgrading their ESA status is absolutely critical. We must do everything we can to protect these gentle giants and Florida’s official marine mammal.”

Congressman Darren Soto said, “2021 was the deadliest year for the West Indian manatee in our home state of Florida. These mass deaths should alarm us all and incite us to take immediate action to protect these precious mammals. By adding the West Indian manatee to the ESA’s endangered list, we are ensuring that necessary steps are taken to prevent any more unnecessary deaths.”

According to Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), 890 manatees have died in just the first seven months of this year. That number has already surpassed the previous record of 830 deaths in all of 2013. Eighty-four of those deaths occurred in Lee County, which ranks second in the state behind Brevard (319) for manatee mortality.

The most recent FWS data estimates that there are only around 6,500 West Indian manatees in the southeastern United States.

Most experts attribute the soaring manatee death count to a significant loss of seagrass along the Atlantic coast, which is causing many manatees to starve to death, as well as a worsening bout of red tide in the Gulf. They also face continued threats from habitat loss and watercraft collisions.

In 2016, Buchanan objected to the FWS downgrading the manatee’s ESA designation from endangered to threatened, noting that they may have been using outdated data to support the reduction in protection. Buchanan was concerned the manatee’s population would decline if their status was downgraded to threatened. The manatee was previously listed as an endangered species dating back to 1966.

In a June letter to FWS, Buchanan called on the agency to upgrade the manatee from “threatened” to “endangered,” citing the degradation of the water quality in manatee habitats, growing levels of water pollution and an increase in harmful algal blooms that kill off seagrass.

The U.S. House recently passed a Buchanan measure to transfer $2 million to FWS to examine the record number of manatee deaths in Florida this year and report to Congress on ways to protect the species.

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Wall Street Journal

U.N. Panel Issues Stark Climate-Change Warning

Robert Lee Hotz, August 9, 2021

Rising seas, melting ice caps and other effects of a warming climate may be irreversible for centuries and are “unequivocally” driven by greenhouse-gas emissions from human activity, a scientific panel working under the auspices of the United Nations said Monday in a new report.

Issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an organization of 195 governments, the report is drawn from a three-year analysis of 14,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies. It is the first major international assessment of climate-change research since 2013 and the first of four IPCC reports expected in the next 15 months.

“We’ve known for decades that the world is warming, but this report tells us that recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid and intensifying, unprecedented in thousands of years,” said Ko Barrett, vice chair of the panel and the senior adviser for climate at the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Further, it is indisputable that human activities are causing climate change.”

Dan Lunt, a climate scientist at the U.K.’s University of Bristol and one of 234 co-authors of the report, said, “It is now completely apparent that climate is changing everywhere on the planet.”

The report “connects the dots in a way we really haven’t seen before,” said climate scientist Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, who wasn’t involved with the report. “The message eerily resonates with what we’re seeing this summer in Canada, the U.S. and Europe as extreme weather events play havoc on us and our infrastructure.”

The report highlights human responsibility for record heat waves, droughts, more intense storms and other extreme weather events seen around the world in recent years. It also sharpens estimates of how sensitive the climate is to rising atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases—a key metric in forecasting the rise of global temperatures in the years ahead.

Levels of carbon dioxide released into the air by the burning of fossil fuels, cement production and deforestation and other land-use changes reached a modern seasonal high of 419 parts per million in May. That is higher than at any time in the past 3.6 million years, according to NOAA.

Atmospheric levels of methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas, are now about 2½ times their preindustrial levels and steadily rising, according to the International Energy Agency.

The report establishes scientific baselines for COP26, a key climate-change summit to be held in Glasgow in November. Representatives from 197 countries are expected to present updated plans for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

A global agreement resulting from a 2015 climate summit in Paris called on nations to take steps to limit future global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). But the efforts are falling short.

“This report tells us that we probably need even more action by all the major economies to work together to avoid even worse impacts than we’re already seeing now,” said Jane Lubchenco, deputy director for climate and the environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She wasn’t involved in the IPCC effort.

Greenhouse-gas emissions from human activity have raised global temperatures by 1.1 degrees Celsius since around 1850, the report said. Without rapid reductions in emissions, global temperatures could rise more than an additional 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next 20 years, the report forecasts.

“We know there is no going back from some changes in the climate system, but some can be slowed or stopped if emissions are reduced,” said NOAA’s Dr. Barrett.

The report reflects new scientific methodologies honed in an era of growing climate disturbances. It draws on a better understanding of the complex dynamics of the changing atmosphere and greater stores of data about climate change dating back millions of years, as well as a more robust set of satellite measurements and more than 50 computer models of climate change.

“We are now much better at integrating all the information,” said Gavin Schmidt, NASA’s senior climate adviser and director of the Goddard Institute for Space Sciences in New York, who wasn’t involved with the report.

Last year, global temperatures tied for the warmest on record, capping the warmest decade in modern times. Oceans are warming, and sea level is increasing by 3.7 mm, or about 0.1 inch, a year, the scientists said in the report. Mountain glaciers, sea ice and polar ice sheets are steadily melting. Weather around the world has grown more extreme by many measures, the scientists said, with more frequent heat waves and prolonged droughts in some regions and heavier rainfall and flooding in others.

“When you see what has happened this summer with heat waves in Canada and the heavy precipitation in Germany, I think this is showing that even highly developed countries are not spared,” said Sonia Seneviratne, a senior scientist at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and a lead co-author of the report. “We don’t really have time to adapt anymore because the change is happening so quickly.”

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Recovering America’s Wildlife Act primed for another push

Paul A. Smith, August 7, 2021

Encouraged by the recent introduction of a Senate bill, supporters of a plan to transform funding for non-game wildlife across the U.S. are poised to push for passage of the legislation this year.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would dedicate $1.3 billion annually to state fish and wildlife agencies to implement their science-based wildlife action plans and an additional $97.5 million for tribal fish and wildlife managers.

The Senate version (S.2372) was introduced in late July by Senators Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) and Roy Blunt (R-Missouri).

It joins the House (H.R.2773) bill introduced in April by Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.)

Both are designed to provide critical funding and proactive conservation efforts to prevent non-game species from becoming threatened or endangered.

The bills are based on recommendations from a 2016 Blue Ribbon panel and have been tried in very similar forms in three previous Congresses.

None was passed despite impressive bipartisan support.

This year, though, could be different because of changes in control of the Senate and the White House.

National Wildlife Federation president and CEO Collin O’Mara called the legislation “bold and collaborative.”

“It will have an immediate impact all across the country, without raising taxes or creating new regulations,” O’Mara said. “It’s the kind of legislation that brings people – and Congress – together, and it offers a solution that matches the magnitude of the challenges we face.”

O’Mara said the bill also provides a historic, past-due investment in the conservation work being done by Tribal nations.

Scientists estimate as many as one-third of U.S. wildlife species are at risk of being listed as threatened or endangered, according to the Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife.

Boosting funding so states and tribes can address wildlife needs could not only help the species but buoy the economy.

Healthy, sustainable fish and wildlife populations drive many sectors of our economy, especially the $788 billion outdoor recreation industry, according to the AAFW.

The Senate version of the bill would derive its revenue from fines for natural resource or environmental-related violations “not directed to be deposited in a fund other than the general fund of the Treasury or have otherwise been appropriated.”

About $2.9 billion in such revenue has been available annually over the last 5 years, according to the AAFW’s Sean Saville.

The House version doesn’t currently identify a source of funding.

Funds would be apportioned to state fish and wildlife agencies based on a formula of 50% proportion of land and water in a state, 25% proportion of human population and 25% proportion of threatened and endangered species in the state.

States would be required to provide a 25% match in funds. No state would receive more than 5% or less than 1% of the available pool of money.

The efforts funded by the legislation would be guided by Congressionally mandated State Wildlife Action Plans, which identify specific, science-based strategies to restore the populations of species of greatest conservation need. The plans identify more than 12,000 species in need of conservation assistance, according to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

According to a preliminary calculation, Wisconsin would receive about $19 million annually from the program, a dramatic increase from the approximately $900,000 it now gets from the State and Tribal Wildlife Grant program.

The House bill, which had a hearing July 29 in the Water Oceans and Wildlife subcommittee, has about 100 bipartisan cosponsors. It could receive a full House Natural Resources Committee markup this fall, Saville said.

The Senate version is expected to be taken up in the next couple of months by the Environment and Public Works Committee.

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King5 News (Seattle, WA)

Conservation groups call for removal of lower Snake River Dams to save salmon, orca

The groups want the dams removed to save salmon, and replaced with other sources of renewable energy from things like electrifying railways.

Author: Kaila Lafferty (KING5), August 7, 2021

SEATTLE — Conservation groups are calling on lawmakers for the removal of all four lower Snake River Dams. The goal is to save salmon and in turn southern resident orcas.

After a blessing from the Duwamish Tribe, kayaks, canoes and paddle boards hit the Puget Sound to save the salmon and orca of the Pacific Northwest.

“Indigenous nations here in the Northwest have orca as part of their culture and their spirituality. So, if we lost these incredible animals, I don’t think we would be the same Northwest that we have been,” said Chris Connolly, with the Endangered Species Coalition.

The event was called “Rally for the River” and was put on by several organizations with one goal: the removal of the lower Snake River Dams to save salmon and orcas in the Pacific Northwest.

“These four dams in the lower Snake River were erected in the 70s and 80s, fish biologists knew then that these dams were going to really hurt salmon populations,” Connolly explained.

The four lower Snake River dams, all in eastern Washington, are hydroelectric Dams.

These groups want them removed to save salmon and replaced with other sources of renewable energy from things like electrifying railways.

Salmon use the Snake River to travel to the Sound every year. Without salmon there are no more orcas, the groups argue.

“The Southern Resident orcas, one of the most iconic species we have here in the northwest, pretty much only eats salmon. 80% of their diet is just Chinook Salmon. When the salmon die, the orca dies,” Connolly said.

On top of the harm dams cause, the recent heat wave also played a big role in recent salmon deaths.

“Climate change in really heating up their rivers which is effecting basically the way that they live so some of them are actually dying,” Connolly said.

“We are calling on Senators Cantwell, Murray and Governor Inslee to take strong action to save Orcas and salmon,” said Pam Clough with Environment Washington

“If we lost these two species that are on the brink of extinction, then what would be as a region?” Connolly said.

KING 5 reached out to Sen. Maria Cantwell, Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee’s office for comment Saturday.

Sen. Murray issued the following statement Saturday afternoon:

“Salmon, orca, and habitat recovery is an important priority for me and it’s an important part of our state and Tribes’ heritage and culture—it’s something I’ve recently brought up directly with DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the OMB Director Shalanda Young. I understand the urgency of recovery efforts, and the need to take action quickly.

“I’m glad that I was also able to help secure significant funding for salmon and habitat recovery related efforts in the bipartisan infrastructure package we are working to pass right now: $1 billion for culvert removal, replacement, and restoration; $172 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund; and $207 million for the Coastal Zone Management Program, as well as other important habitat restoration investments. I’m also pushing for major investments through the reconciliation package and the annual appropriations process.

“I am working with Governor Inslee and leaders throughout the region to prepare next steps. I appreciate everyone who is engaged on this issue and making sure their voices are heard. It’s clear there is energy, commitment, and dedication to tackling this challenge.”

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Kentucky Today (Louisville, KY)

Running buffalo clover no longer endangered species

August 6, 2021, By TOM LATEK, Kentucky Today

FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – A plant native to Kentucky and other parts of the eastern U.S. that was once thought to be extinct, has now recovered enough to be removed from the endangered species list.

According to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, running buffalo clover was believed to be extinct before 1983, when one population was found in West Virginia.  It was listed as endangered in 1987.

Since then, additional populations have been identified, including 21 populations reported after the agency’s 2019 proposal to delist the plant.  Running buffalo clover is now known to occur in 175 populations in Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.  Of the known populations, 88 are on public lands or privately owned lands with conservation agreements.

Threats to the running buffalo clover at the time of listing included habitat destruction and competition from invasive plants, such as bluegrass and white clover.  Managers of state, federal, and locally owned lands are now providing the habitat needed by running buffalo clover to reducing these threats.

Actions that led to delisting the running buffalo clover included addressing illegal use of off-road vehicles and invasive species management on national forest lands.  As tree canopy thinned due to the loss of trees to the emerald ash borer, new plantings replaced them, enhancing habitat for running buffalo clover.  Partners and volunteers have spent years monitoring the species, and amateur botanists have discovered many new populations. 

“The recovery of the running buffalo clover is a great example of the success of conservation partnerships,” said Charles Wooley, regional director of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Great Lakes Region.  “We applaud the efforts of our state, federal and private conservation partners who came together to ensure its long-term future and who persevered in searching for and discovering new populations.” 

Running buffalo clover is named for the stolons, or runners, that extend from the base of its stems. The plant requires periodic disturbance and a somewhat open habitat.  Historically, it was often found in areas that were probably maintained by grazing herds of bison.  Today it is associated with areas where mowing, cattle grazing, trampling, logging or other moderate ground disturbance occurs.

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Audubon

Emperor Penguins Proposed for Listing Under Endangered Species Act

The Antarctic seabirds may qualify as a ‘threatened’ species due to climate change. But without reducing carbon emissions, can the listing help them?

By Joanna Thompson, Intern, Audubon Magazine, August 04, 2021

Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a proposal to list Emperor Penguins as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The birds face steadily mounting risk from climate change, the proposal says, and they will need political protection in order to survive the century.

If the proposal is finalized, the Emperor Penguin would join a small cadre of species, including polar bears and bearded seals, protected under the ESA explicitly because of climate change. “Climate change, specifically melting sea ice, is the primary threat to the species,” FWS spokesperson Christina Meister wrote in an emailed statement to Audubon.

An ESA listing typically includes a plan to preserve the species. However, since penguins live in Antarctica, the U.S. government doesn’t have direct authority to protect their habitat. Even if it could, the effort would likely be ineffective: The only way to protect Emperor Penguin habitat is to prevent sea ice from melting. While the FWS proposal acknowledges the danger posed by climate change, it doesn’t actionably address the core cause of the birds’ plight—carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels, which trap heat in the atmosphere and raise global temperatures.

Meister, the agency spokesperson, places the responsibility to reduce those emissions on other government officials. “The decisions made by policymakers today and during the next few decades will determine the fate of the Emperor Penguin,” she wrote. “The proposed listing helps bring attention to the plight of the species and to the importance of low-emission climate scenarios, which if adhered to predict only gradual declines in Emperor Penguin breeding pairs and enough colonies to likely ensure the species’ survival in the wild.”

Still, the listing would set a “great precedent” in the fight against climate change, says Phil Trathan, a penguin researcher with the British Antarctic Survey. He hopes that an ESA listing for the Emperor Penguin will incentivize governments across the world to take climate action—or at the very least, increase general awareness of climate change. Daniel Zitterbart, an applied ecologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, says that the listing could also benefit other Antarctic species by encouraging government agencies to create more marine protected areas. “It’s the old ‘umbrella species’ concept,” he says, “If we can protect this one species, we will protect way more.”

The FWS will accept public comments until October 3, then will process and incorporate those comments to publish a verdict on the penguins’ conservation status within the year.

The ESA defines an endangered species as any organism “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” A threatened species, on the other hand, is defined as “likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future in all or a significant portion of its range.” Species threatened by climate change fit that bill.

Emperor Penguin numbers are currently robust: The global population, entirely based in Antarctica, is estimated at 270,000 to 280,000 breeding pairs. The penguins breed between April and December on sea ice fastened to the coastline. There are currently 61 known breeding colonies ringing the continent.

However, experts predict that the species could decline by 26 to 47 percent over the next three decades due to climate change-driven instability in Antarctic ice. Research shows that sea ice distribution has become increasingly unpredictable over the last 40 years due to warming waters and glacial calving. If there is too little ice, the chicks fall into the water and drown, but if there is too much, the parents’ fishing trips may take too long, causing the chicks to starve.

Trathan conducted and reviewed some of the research himself. “This is probably the most robust science modeling that has been undertaken for a species threatened by climate change,” he says. According to these models, 81 percent of Emperor Penguin colonies could be saved by keeping global warming at or below the Paris Accord’s 1.5 degree Celsius goal. However, a global temperature increase of 3 degrees would spell disaster for the birds. At the current rate of emissions, climate models predict 90 percent of Emperor Penguins will disappear by 2100.

The proposed listing doesn’t attempt to use the ESA as a lever to drive climate policy that would reduce carbon emissions. Instead, it comes with a 4(d) rule, which allows the service to prohibit specific activities that could negatively impact the birds’ survival. So far, the FWS has only directly prohibited poaching of Emperor Penguins. But it has the potential to do more, according to Brendan Cummings, an attorney and conservation director with the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned the agency to consider listing the species. The FWS could use an article called section 7 of the ESA to block new fossil-fuel plants from opening, he says. “It’s a very expansive, very powerful tool for protecting biodiversity.” So far, though, the service has declined to use the ESA to regulate fossil-fuel emissions for any species declining due to climate change, including the Emperor Penguin.

Without using that tool, the listing is more symbolic than effective. But symbols can be powerful, Trathan says, especially if the penguins’ journey parallels that of another charismatic, cold-loving species: the polar bear. Since its historic ESA listing in 2013 cited climate change, the polar bear has become both an icon of desolate Arctic beauty and a potent reminder of the need for human accountability. “It would be beneficial if the Emperor Penguin became that same icon for the Antarctic,” Trathan says.

If that were to happen, the penguin could potentially rally diplomacy towards climate action. Properly upheld, Trathan says, the listing could incentivize countries involved in the Antarctic Treaty System and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—including the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, and China—to meet their 2050 decarbonization goals. Zitterbart agrees. “In the end,” he says, “it allows for more political pressure.”

Ultimately, though, political pressure is only useful if it is acted upon. “The ESA has been and remains our most powerful wildlife law for preventing extinction,” says Cummings. “What’s lacking is not the law, not the legal toolbox, but the political will.”

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UC San Diego News Center

New Study Holds Promise for “Critically Endangered” Giant Sea Bass

Scripps-led study recommends new assessment of giant sea bass species using data from both sides of U.S.-Mexico border

August 04, 2021 | By Brittany Hook

A new study led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and colleagues suggests that the original assessment and current listing of the giant sea bass as a critically endangered species might be inaccurate, and recommends a reevaluation of the species’ status using comprehensive biological and fisheries information from Mexican as well as U.S. waters.

Since 1996, the giant sea bass (Stereolepis gigas) has been classified as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to overfishing. Native to the North Pacific Ocean, the fish is a transboundary species that can be found in the waters off Northern California down to the tip of the Baja California peninsula in Mexico, including the Gulf of California. While strong conservation regulations have been imposed in U.S. waters, regulations in Mexico have been minimal.

In a study published Aug. 4 in Fish and Fisheries, researchers from Scripps Oceanography, NOAA, Comunidad y Biodiversidad A.C., and several other binational organizations reveal a broad asymmetry in management, regulations, research efforts, fishery trends, and economic value of the giant sea bass across the U.S. and Mexico. This asymmetry has led to a biased view of the species’ population status, said the authors.

“Our study is the first to incorporate historical and contemporary perspectives of the giant sea bass fishery throughout its entire geographic range and an exceptional case of binational research cooperation,” said lead author Arturo Ramírez-Valdez, a marine ecologist at Scripps Oceanography and recent PhD graduate. “Our analysis suggests that the population of this iconic fish is likely much larger than biologists previously thought, especially in Mexico.”

The study incorporates a systematic literature review of scientific knowledge about the giant sea bass, a historical reconstruction of fishery landings, results of biological monitoring of the Mexican fishery, and the consumptive and non-consumptive economic value of the species on both sides of the border.

Based on this research, the authors suggest that the giant sea bass species may be less endangered than its current status listing, and they recommend an updated assessment by the IUCN Red List. The last IUCN assessment occurred in 2004 and was based mainly on data from the U.S. population, citing a lack of information on the Mexican fishery.

The authors found that the number of scientific publications and annual funding related to giant sea bass are 7 times and 25 times higher in the U.S., respectively, despite the fact that 73 percent of the species’ range occurs in Mexico, where it is also more abundant. This means that the majority of what is known about the giant sea bass comes from studies carried out in only a quarter of the distribution of this species.

Study co-author Timothy Rowell said that within the U.S., the giant sea bass has received “a lot of attention and investment” as steps have been taken to better understand the life history of the species and effects of the current management actions on population restoration in California. Yet given the findings of the study, the proportion of individuals within U.S. waters is likely a small fraction of the entire population, but it has been the subject of an unproportionate amount of research and likely has influenced perceptions about the species.

“The asymmetries that we have exposed in this study highlight that transboundary fish stocks are often not treated as single connected populations, representing a barrier to how different nations monitor and manage resources that future research should help to address,” said Rowell, a research biologist at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center and a Scripps alumnus.

Ramírez-Valdez said this study shows the need for more data to be able to see, “in a very solid way,” the giant sea bass population status across the entire distribution. While the study indicates that the giant sea bass might not be “critically endangered,” the species is likely still considered “endangered” or “vulnerable,” he said, so current protections in the U.S. should remain in place, and management regulations should be imposed in Mexican waters to support the rebuilding of the population.

The study highlights the need for better collaboration and sharing of information between both countries so they can adequately assess, manage, and protect shared fish populations.

“My first goal is to see fishing managers from the U.S.—specifically from California—and fishing managers from Baja get together and start a conversation about how to manage fish in a collaborative way,” said Ramírez-Valdez. “While my focus is on the giant sea bass now, this model could be used for successfully managing and sharing information about other species.”

The giant sea bass is known for its enormous size, growing as long as 2.7 meters (8.9 feet) and weighing over 560 pounds. Ramírez-Valdez first encountered one of the behemoths while doing a scientific diving exercise off La Jolla. This encounter and subsequent dive sightings in Baja inspired him to pursue research on this species for his PhD dissertation. He also founded Mero Gigante, a program that works closely with coastal communities and stakeholders to obtain as much information as possible about the giant sea bass in Mexican waters.

Currently, Ramírez-Valdez and colleagues are leading an effort to submit a new assessment for this species to the IUCN Red List.

Co-authors of this study include Brad Erisman and Matthew Craig of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center; Katherine Dale of UC Santa Cruz; Larry Allen of California State University, Northridge; Juan Carlos Villaseñor-Derbez of UC Santa Barbara; Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor of the Simon Fraser University, Vancouver; Arturo Hernández-Velasco and Jorge Torre of Comunidad y Biodiversidad A.C.; and Jennifer Hofmeister of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

This study was funded by the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States, Grant Number: 160083; PADI Foundation, Grant App. 29020 and 33095; Mia J. Tegner Memorial Research Fellowship at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego; the Mohamed bin Zayed Species, Grant Number: 192521063; and the Link Family Foundation.

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The Guardian

Sierra Nevada red fox wins protection as endangered species

The animals have suffered from drought, wildfires, habitat destruction, as well as poisoning and trapping

Associated Press, Tue 3 Aug 2021

The slender, bushy-tailed Sierra Nevada red fox will be listed as an endangered species, federal wildlife officials announced, saying its population has dipped to just 40 animals in an area of California stretching from Lake Tahoe to south of Yosemite national park.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service decided against listing a distinct population of the foxes in the southern Cascade Range of Oregon and near Lassen Peak in northern California. But it said in a listing rule to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday that the Sierra Nevada segment south of Tahoe “is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range”.

“While the exact number remains unknown and is also subject to change with new births and deaths, it is well below population levels that would provide resiliency, redundancy and representation to the population.”

The agency provided no estimate of the number of red foxes remaining in the Cascade Range.

One of the rarest mammals in North America, the red foxes in the Sierra are vulnerable to threats of wildfire, drought, competition in coyotes, reductions in prey and inbreeding with non-native foxes.

The foxes are also threatened by climate change, as scientists project continuing loss of snowpack and of the subalpine habitat to which the Sierra Nevada population segment has adapted, the agency said.

Degraded and reduced habitat will likely lead to increased numbers of coyotes in high-elevation areas and to increased competition between coyotes and Sierra Nevada foxes for prey, the service said.

Some biologists believed 20 years ago the Sierra Nevada population had gone extinct, until a small remnant population was confirmed in 2010. California banned red fox trapping in 1974.

The Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned for federal protection in 2011 and filed lawsuits in 2013 and 2019 before the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the species for addition to the endangered list in 2020.

The Sierra Nevada red fox has declined dramatically because of poisoning and trapping, habitat destruction from logging and livestock grazing and disturbance from off-road vehicles and snowmobiles, said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate for the center. He said the animals face the same threats in the Cascade Mountains to Mount Hood, Oregon.

“This is an important step, but the Fish and Wildlife Service should also protect these imperiled animals in the Cascades,” he said Monday.

The Sierra Nevada red fox is one of 10 North American subspecies of the red fox. The small, doglike carnivores measure about 3.5ft (1.1 meters) long and have elongated snouts, pointed ears and large tails.

With deep winter coats and small toe pads, they are specially equipped to adapt to cold, snowy areas. They feed on small mammals.

The Fish and Wildlife Service noted it is not proposing designation of critical habitat for the species at this time because habitat “does not appear to be a limiting factor for the species.”

The agency estimates the 18 to 39 animals remaining in the Sierra extend south of California state highway 88 from just south of Lake Tahoe into the easternmost portion of Yosemite park in Tuolumne and Madera counties, as well as portions of Alpine, Mono, Fresno and Inyo counties.

Most of the foxes – between 10 and 31 – are known to occupy an area north of Yosemite. About five have been spotted just east of Yosemite, and three have been identified south of Yosemite, in the general area of Mono Creek. All sightings have been on federal land.

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CNN

A rare species thought to be extinct is clinging to survival, study finds

By Kristen Rogers, CNN, August 2, 2021

(CNN) A species of tiny chameleons presumed to be extinct due to deforestation has been found, but it is clinging to survival.

Up to only 5.5 centimeters (2.2 inches) long, the critically endangered Chapman’s pygmy chameleon (Rhampholeon chapmanorum) is native to the low-elevation rainforest of the Malawi Hills in southern Malawi, a country in southeastern Africa, according to a study published Monday in Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation.

First described by herpetologist and author Colin Tilbury in 1992, Chapman’s pygmy chameleon is one of the world’s rarest chameleons.

“They are mostly brown but they can change to quite beautiful blues and greens with little dots all over them and that’s probably a way of communicating with each other,” said the study’s lead author Krystal Tolley, a professor and research leader in the Leslie Hill Molecular Ecology Laboratory at the South African National Biodiversity Institute, in a statement. “Other chameleon species can be hysterical, hissing and biting, but pygmy chameleons are gentle and just beautiful.”

Chapman’s pygmy chameleon is one of the world’s rarest chameleons, which now clings to survival in small patches of forest in a highly disturbed ecosystem.

Chameleons’ extinction risk is much higher than the average of 15% for the reptile order they belong to, with 34% of chameleon species classified as threatened and 18% near threatened, the authors wrote. Most of the threatened species are forest specialists, which means they can only live in a specific type of environment.

Survival through agricultural takeovers

When Tilbury first described pygmy chameleons in 1992, previous researchers noticed signs of substantial deforestation in Malawi Hills, wrote the authors of the current study. To protect the species from further harm, 37 Malawi Hills-based pygmy chameleons were released into a forest patch about 95 kilometers (59 miles) north in Mikundi, Malawi, in 1998, according to the study. When Tilbury assessed the release site in 2001 and 2012, chameleons were still there.

Because pygmy chameleons are intolerant of transformed areas and Tolley didn’t discover any pygmy chameleons during related assessment work in 2014, they were thought to have possibly become extinct. Her work led the International Union for Conservation of Nature to list the chameleons as critically endangered on its Red List of Threatened Species. Using historical (1984-1985) and recent (2019) Google Earth satellite imagery of the Malawi Hills and another geographical information system, the authors of the current study estimated about 80% of the Malawi Hills forest had been destroyed from 1984 to 2019.

At night on the trails of three accessible forest patches in 2016, the authors walked, using torchlights to find and record chameleons.

“The first one we found was in the transition zone on the forest edge, where there are some trees but mostly maize and cassava plants,” Tolley said. “When we found it we got goosebumps and just started jumping around. We didn’t know if we would get any more, but once we got into the forest there were plenty, although I don’t know how long that will last.”

The researchers found seven adult chameleons along a footpath just inside the first forest patch of Malawi Hills; 10 chameleons inside a site over 6 kilometers (4 miles) southwest of the first; and 21 adult chameleons plus 11 young and hatchlings inside the patch at Mikundi, the location of the 1998 release.

Pygmy chameleons still face threats

After snipping 2-millimeter-long (0.1-inch-long) tail clips from some adult chameleons, the authors did genetic analysis. The chameleons’ genetic diversity was normal in comparison to that of other chameleons and small-bodied reptile species, the authors found. But there were significant differences in genetic structure between populations in different areas, suggesting that humans fragmenting the forest patches had disrupted the breeding ability between chameleons on neighboring patches and therefore their gene flow — an impact that increases extinction risk due to fewer options for mates, the authors wrote.

However, the authors might have overestimated the amount of genetic diversity between populations by not accounting for the way that some DNA is inherited, said Eric Routman, a professor emeritus of biology at San Francisco State University, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“And even if they had lots of loci and good genetic estimates, they have no estimate of these genetic parameters before the habitat fragmentation, so they can’t attribute any genetic effect to deforestation,” Routman added via email. “If I had been reviewing this paper, I would have recommended major revisions to the manuscript. Essentially, the genetic part of their study is inconclusive.”

The authors think effects of deforestation on genetic diversity could take time to appear. But to prevent the chameleon species from reaching a point of no return, the rainforest loss requires immediate attention, Tolley said.

“Urgent conservation action is needed, including halting of forest destruction and recovery of habitat to promote connectivity. Although part of the Malawi Hills falls within a Key Biodiversity Area (Matandwe Forest Reserve), most of the forest falls outside the reserve boundary, and the effectiveness of the forest reserve is questionable, given that most of the destruction has been within its boundaries,” the authors wrote. “Although extending the reserve to encompass all the forest patches would be a first step, measures are needed to avert the destruction of the remaining patches.”

These efforts would be important also for any other species that possibly live among these chameleons, the authors wrote. And there could be more pygmy chameleons in the patches they weren’t able to explore, they said.

For the little creatures Polley described as gentle and beautiful, “both the planning and the recommended actions require strong leadership, personnel, stakeholder engagement, including with government departments, and sufficient funding to ensure success,” the authors added.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Sierra Nevada Red Fox Population Gains Endangered Species Act Protection

SACRAMENTO—(August 2, 2021)—In response to a petition and lawsuits from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today granted endangered status to a population of one of North America’s rarest mammals, the Sierra Nevada red fox.

These secretive foxes live in remote, high mountains in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges of California and Oregon. The Service is designating only the Sierra Nevada population, which ranges from Yosemite National Park to Kings Canyon National Park, as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act even though the species occurs in the Cascades to Mt. Hood in Oregon, where the animals face the same threats.

“The Sierra Nevada red fox is a vanishing emblem of remote Sierra wilderness and a harbinger of climate change,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center. “Endangered Species Act protections can give this adorable canine a fighting chance at survival and recovery. This is an important step, but the Fish and Wildlife Service should also protect these imperiled animals in the Cascades.”

The Center petitioned for protection of the red fox in 2011 and filed lawsuits in 2013 and 2019 to force the Service to decide on the animal’s protection.

The Sierra Nevada red fox once was found throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains, but populations have declined dramatically because of poisoning and trapping, habitat destruction from logging and livestock grazing, and disturbance from off-road vehicles and snowmobiles. Trapping the species is now banned in California.

Only one small, isolated population with an estimated 18 to 39 adults remains in the Sierras, mostly in and around Yosemite National Park.

Climate change is projected to dramatically shrink the Sierra Nevada red fox’s subalpine habitat as hotter and drier conditions push its range farther up mountain slopes. Climate change is reducing the Sierra snowpack, causing increased competition for food with coyotes. These foxes are jeopardized by inbreeding depression due to small population size and hybridization with nonnative red foxes.

Disturbance from humans, particularly from snowmobiles, is also a threat. Habituation of foxes to humans and human food sources may subject them to dog attacks, dog diseases and vehicle collisions.

Active mostly at night, Sierra Nevada red foxes spend winters in dens in earthen cavities in mature forest. They summer in high meadows, fell fields, talus slopes and shrub lands. They are adapted to cold and have particularly thick and deep winter coats and furry toe pads that help them to walk over snow. Their diet consists of rodents, small mammals, fruit, birds, insects and carrion. They are born into one of three color phases (red, black or cross) and are distinguishable from other native foxes by their black-backed ears and white-tipped tails.

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Long Beach Post (Long Beach, CA)

More than 2,000 elegant tern chicks rescued at Long Beach Harbor in last month

Crystal Niebla, August 1, 2021

Within just a month, the number of rescued baby elegant terns, a local seabird species, rose from just a few dozen to more than 2,000 as of this week, officials at International Bird Rescue in San Pedro announced.

The chicks, who aren’t quite ready to fly or swim, keep stumbling off into the water from two anchored 180-foot-long barges in the Long Beach Harbor, according to officials.

“The elegant tern chicks on the barges are beginning to fledge, testing their flight muscles, and stretching their wings,” International Bird Rescue officials wrote in a statement. “This new burst of youthful activity is adding a new flavor—and new urgency—to rescue efforts in the water.”

The seabird colony of 3,000 to 4,000 adults generally nest on sandy beaches or lagoons. But due to human encroachment and activity, nesting spaces have dwindled. Officials suspects that’s why these elegant turns chose to colonize on these barges, which leaves them vulnerable to disturbances.

Chicks that were first startled off their nesting site in early July, possibly by boaters or fireworks, according to officials.

International Bird Rescue has deployed more than 10 floating platform “haul-outs” alongside the barges for the elegant terns to get out of the water safely. The haul-outs are low enough to the water’s surface for small terns to climb onto and get warm, officials said.

International Bird Rescue staff and its partners have also been scooping up fallen chicks and caring for them at their local bird clinic. Caretakers must evaluate, dry, warm and then hand-feed each bird. Teams then quickly return healthy chicks back to the barges because they will have the best chance of surviving in the wild if they are raised by their parents, officials said.

“As the young are returned to their colony they call out for their parents, creating a chorus of joyful reunion sounds that move rescue staff to continue this arduous work day after day,” officials said.

The terns are not currently considered an endangered species, but are closely monitored because they may become “near-threatened,” which the federal government defines as “any species that is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.”

Officials said rescue staff are leading a multi-agency team to patrol and monitor the nesting site that have been the focal point of this “unusual wildlife rescue.”

The number of rescued tern chicks at International Bird Rescue far exceeds the group’s normal caseload of the birds. To donate to these efforts, visit birdrescue.org/help-terns. If you find an injured or orphaned bird, call the Southern California Bird Help Line at 310-514-2573.

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Desert Sun (Palm Springs, CA)

Tiny desert fish at risk of extinction in Death Valley area, environmental group says

Janet Wilson, Palm Springs Desert Sun, August 1, 2021

Environmentalists are pressing forward with a fight to protect a small fish that inhabits desert springs and streams in California’s Death Valley region.

The Center for Biological Diversity on Friday announced it has filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to seek Endangered Species Act protection for three populations of speckled dace, a minnow-like species that evolved to live in dry areas. The fish is threatened by excessive groundwater pumping for farms and residential development and geothermal energy development, they say.

“Our native freshwater fish deserve a break, and (federal) protections could provide some salvation to the speckled dace,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Death Valley region is at the epicenter of the mega-drought that’s frying the West, and the speckled dace inhabit fragile desert springs and rivers suffering from the driest year on record. Unsustainable and reckless water-extraction policies piled on top of the drought could drive these unique desert fish to extinction.”

The center petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for three populations of speckled dace in the region in June 2020. The tiny fish live in freshwater streams and springs in the desert and dry environments of Amargosa Canyon, Long Valley and Owens Valley.

The environmental group said the federal wildlife agency has since failed to make required findings on whether their petition presents substantial information that protecting the populations may be warranted.

A Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a letter sent to the Center for Biological Diversity in April, agency staff said the group had not submitted all the required information for protecting the three populations in its 2020 petition, and had failed to notify state wildlife officials. The environmental group denied those claims and said if the agency does not act within 60 days, it will file suit.

The environmental group said the threats to the speckled dace are part of large losses for aquatic species across the state. More than 80% of California’s native freshwater fishes are in decline due to “degrading quality and quantity of freshwater habitats,” the group said in a statement. Thirty-three of the state’s freshwater fish species are formally listed as threatened or endangered, it said, and seven native fish species have gone extinct.

Three populations struggle

Amargosa Canyon speckled dace live in a short reach of the Amargosa River and one tributary south of Tecopa, California. The river’s seasonal flow is being reduced by excessive groundwater extraction for agriculture, rural residential development and urbanization, they said. An essential portion of riparian habitat along the Willow Creek tributary also burned this spring, potentially decimating significant stream reaches for the fish.

Long Valley speckled dace once occurred in warm springs throughout the isolated Long Valley volcanic caldera, east of Mammoth Lakes. Geothermal energy development has altered the hydrology of hot springs in Long Valley and eliminated dace from creeks, lakes, springs and ponds.

The last natural population in Whitmore Hot Springs may have been wiped out, since surveys in 2019 failed to locate any fish. That would leave only one remaining population of Long Valley speckled dace in a managed refuge.

Owens speckled dace could once be found in most of the small streams and springs in the Owens Valley, but groundwater extraction has dried up many springs. Dace are hanging on in a few irrigation ditches, but their only remaining natural habitats in the valley are several isolated springs in Fish Slough near Bishop. Further groundwater depletion is jeopardizing those springs.

A litany of other human activities are threatening the dace in the Death Valley region, the group says, including habitat alteration and vegetation clearing, river channelization, livestock grazing, off-road vehicles and recreational development of hot spring water sources. Introduced fish, crayfish and bullfrogs also prey upon on and compete with speckled dace, and invasive plants such as salt cedar are severely altering spring and riparian habitats.

Long-term changes in precipitation, snow and runoff due to climate change will also result in reduced stream flows and inadequate aquifer recharge to sustain many of the ephemeral streams and springs that speckled dace rely on in the Death Valley region, they said.

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CBC News (Toronto)

Windsor animal crossing leads to improvements in endangered snake populations

Other animals also using bridge to safely cross Highway 401

CBC News, Posted: Aug. 01, 2021

An animal crossing built across one of Ontario’s busiest highways has led to a surge in the population of endangered Fox snakes in the Windsor area.

The crossing was built over Highway 401, which was causing serious problems for various animal species in the area, field biologist Russ Jones said.

“The traffic never slowed down, even at night,” Jones said. “So even nocturnal animals couldn’t get a break. And it was, by all accounts, impermeable to any any snake that ever tried to cross here.”

“It was an impenetrable barrier made worse by the fact that there was really suitable habitat on both sides of the road,” he said. “So you’re getting it from both sides. And it was certainly a major cause of decline in this particular population of all wildlife, but especially the small terrestrial species such as snakes and amphibians and small mammals and things like that.”

Fox snakes, in particular, were “barely holding on,” Jones said. The snakes, which can grow to five feet in length, are unique to the Great Lakes region.

“They don’t have a very large global range, and they’re not really abundant anywhere in their range,” Jones said. “So it is a species that is is just apt to decline through things like fragmentation and habitat loss.”

Fox snakes ‘entirely harmless’

The crossing, which connects Spring Garden Natural Area and Oakwood Prairie, has made a difference, Jones said.

“We’ve been able to confirm that some of our endangered snakes have used it through radio telemetry and mark and recapture studies,” he said. “But the benefits go far beyond the endangered snakes.”

“There’s a whole host of animals that use this crossing, from deer to coyotes,” Jones said. “I’ve seen birds nesting up here. There’s pollinators because it’s been planted with wildflowers.”

Jones called the project “incredibly satisfying,” and noted it has a special significance to him, personally, due to its location.

“My childhood home was demolished because it was isolated through the course of this project,” he said. “It was inaccessible. So the entire row of houses needed to be taken out.”

“The home that I grew up in as a child was actually turned into a hibernation spot for snakes,” Jones said. “So, what a legacy to leave behind. It thrilling to me to watch my old neighborhood be converted into optimum habitat for endangered wildlife.”

Tough to spot

Jones encouraged people who come across fox snakes in the area to enjoy the moment, and take some photos.

“It’s an entirely harmless snake and it’s a beneficial species,” he said. “You’re just very lucky to see one.”

Fox snakes were proving elusive to two people who were using the area this week.

“From running around here and talking to some of the locals whenever we’re training, apparently there is a nest somewhere,” she said. “A big nest.”

“Lots of people have seen snakes, Ditto said. “Luckily I’ve never seen one, hope not to.”

Michelle Nesbitt hasn’t seen any fox snakes either, but said word of their resurgence doesn’t surprise her.

“There’s lots of snakes in this area,” Daralan Ditto said. “The most wildlife I’ve seen are the deer.”

“My friends and I have walked this trail, and we watched 20 deer cross over one of the bridges,” Nesbitt said. “We have seen lots of other wildlife, but not a ton of snakes.”

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CNN

A stranded orca was freed from a rocky coastline in Alaska after being stuck for hours

By Alaa Elassar and Andy Rose, CNN, July 31, 2021

An orca that became stranded on a rocky beach in Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, Thursday morning was freed with the help of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and sailors who happened to be nearby.

The stranded killer whale was first discovered on the rocks by a nearby vessel, the Steadfast, according to NOAA, who “authorized them to use a seawater pump to keep the whale wet and any birds away,” NOAA spokesperson Julie Fair told CNN.

The boat crew kept an eye on the whale until a NOAA officer and Alaska Wildlife Troopers arrived.

“At times during the stranding, the killer whale was vocalizing and other killer whales were spotted in the vicinity,” Fair said.

The orca finally refloated as high tide came in Thursday afternoon, according to NOAA. Bay Cetology, a Canadian conservation group, was able to determine it was a 13-year-old juvenile Bigg’s killer whale they previously monitored and identified as T146D.

Fair said NOAA is examining photos and video of the killer whale to determine if it was injured. The animal was beached less than a day after an 8.2-magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of Alaska, but NOAA does not believe that caused the killer whale to become stranded.

A TikTok user who goes by the name Aroon Melane shared a video showing people helping keep the orca wet until NOAA arrived and said the whale was able to swim free once the tide returned.

“We heard there was a beached killer whale so we went to go find it. NOAA gave permission to keep the orca wet and protected from animals until they could arrive,” Melane says in the video. “We were working on getting a hose and pump to work. In the meantime, we used buckets to keep the orca wet. The orca started getting more lively after we put water on it.”

The killer whale was stuck for about six hours, she added.

This is not the first time a Bigg’s killer whale became stuck on rocks, according to Bay Cetology.

“Our research on this specific topic published last year shows that all killer whales live stranded along the west coast of North America in the last 2 decades have been of the Bigg’s ecotype and all of them survived, sometimes with a little help,” the conservation group said.

Transient killer whales hunt sea lions, according to the Alaska Department Fish and Game. They can often find themselves live stranded “in pursuit of prey,” a Bay Cetology research study said, adding that while human help isn’t always needed, it can often save the lives of the killer whales as well as their family bonds.

It is unclear how the orca became stranded or whether it was hunting seals when it got stuck.

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The Portugal News

Fighting to protect endangered species

By TPN/Lusa, 30-07-2021

The environmentalist association Zero and the Botany Society of Portugal have stated that the creation of a national registry of threatened and endangered species and plants is essential.

The two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have appealed to the Minister of Environment and Climate Action, for the registry to be created within a maximum period of six months, once there is an indication that the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) is preparing a proposal for a legislative document for this purpose.

They have also appealed to the deputies of the Assembly of the Republic to “inscribe this issue as a priority on their agenda, with a view to carrying out their inspection action on the Government in the area of the environment, over the next few months”.

The national register of classified natural values is an operational instrument that consists of an information file on plant and animal species considered to be threatened, according to the criteria from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The two NGOs state that the creation of the register, foreseen in legislation for almost 13 years, “will allow legal protection to all species with a threat status that occur inside and outside classified areas”

With the creation of the register, according to Zero and the Portuguese Society of Botany, certain acts likely to threaten classified plant or animal species, such as acts of harvesting, capturing, transporting or marketing, will be considered environmental infractions, which may lead to fines of up to €200,000 for individuals and €5 million for companies.

For these two NGOs, “there are no objective reasons to delay the creation of the register”, since most of the information necessary for its production is already available.

These organisations also recall that, of the 630 plants evaluated as being on the red list of vascular flora in mainland Portugal, 381 are threatened but only 17 percent of the threatened plants currently benefit from some legal protection.

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The Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Orcas’ West Coast Habitat Receives New Federal Protection

15,910 Square Miles of Critical Habitat Added to Existing Salish Sea Protections

SEATTLE—(July 30, 2021)—Responding to legal pressure from the Center for Biological Diversity, the federal government finalized a new rule today expanding critical habitat protection along the West Coast for critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales. The population of Southern Residents stands at just 74 orcas.

The National Marine Fisheries Service designated 15,910 square miles of new critical habitat, expanding current protections in Washington’s Salish Sea south along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California to Point Sur.

The final rule, which is more protective than the one proposed in September 2019, follows an April 2019 court-ordered agreement achieved after the Center sued the Trump administration in 2018 for failing to issue habitat protections required by the Endangered Species Act.

“These critically endangered orcas are finally getting the federal habitat protections they desperately need,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney at the Center. “This long-overdue habitat rule will help save these extraordinary animals and their prey from pollution, noise, harassment and habitat degradation. But we have to do more to help this endangered population rebound, including restoring the native salmon runs they need to survive.”

The expanded critical habitat covers important foraging areas, river mouths and migratory pathways along the Pacific Coast from the Canadian border to Big Sur, California. Added to the current habitat protections in Washington’s inland waters, the total designation encompasses more than 18,000 square miles of marine habitat.

While these orcas spend much of the summer in the Puget Sound and Salish Sea (areas protected as critical habitat in 2006), they travel extensively along the West Coast during the winter and early spring, congregating near coastal rivers to rest and feed on migrating salmon.

The Center petitioned in 2014 to better protect areas off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. The Endangered Species Act prohibits federal agencies from authorizing activities that will destroy or harm a listed species’ critical habitat. Animals with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering as species without it, a Center study found.

The Center has other pending lawsuits against the federal government to protect Southern Resident killer whales. A lawsuit filed in 2019 seeks an updated analysis of how Pacific salmon fishing is harming the orcas and management measures to reduce that harm, and one filed in 2021 seeks an analysis of noise pollution, contaminants and disturbance in the orcas’ Salish Sea habitat from dredging Seattle Harbor to allow larger container ships.

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The Colorado Sun (Denver, CO)

Coalition seeks relisting of gray wolves in US West as states pass laws to drastically cut their numbers

The groups cite unregulated hunting, poaching and genetic problems for why the gray wolf should be listed under the Endangered Species Act

By Keith Ridler, The Associated Press, July 30, 2021

BOISE, Idaho—Wildlife advocates on Thursday petitioned federal officials to restore federal protections for gray wolves throughout the U.S. West after Idaho and Montana passed laws intended to drastically cut their numbers.

Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians and others sent the petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency is supposed to respond within 90 days on whether there is enough information for a potential listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The groups cite unregulated hunting, poaching and genetic problems involving small wolf populations.

“Wolves remain completely absent from suitable habitats or perilously close to extinction in many western states, and the handful of states surrounding Yellowstone National Park are now driving the larger populations toward extinction — endangered species listing — by ramping up wolf killing and stripping away hunting and trapping regulations in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project.

In May, Idaho Republican Gov. Brad Little signed a measure lawmakers said could lead to killing 90% of the state’s 1,500 wolves through expanded trapping and hunting. It took effect July 1.

Lawmakers pushing the measure, backed by trappers and the powerful ranching sector but heavily criticized by environmental advocates, often said the state can cut the number of wolves to 150 before federal authorities would take over management. They said reducing the population would reduce attacks on livestock and boost deer and elk herds.

A primary change in the new law allows the state to hire private contractors to kill wolves and provides more money for state officials to hire the contractors. The law also expands killing methods to include trapping and snaring wolves on a single hunting tag, using night-vision equipment, chasing wolves on snowmobiles and ATVs and shooting them from helicopters. It also authorizes year-round wolf trapping on private property.

The state Department of Fish and Game reported in February that the wolf population has held at about 1,500 the past two years. The numbers were derived in part by using remote cameras.

About 500 wolves have been killed in the state in each of the last two years by hunters, trappers and state and federal authorities carrying out wolf control measures.

Wildlife authorities in Montana, following new laws, have been looking at changes such as increasing the number of wolves an individual can hunt to between five and 10. A decision is expected in August.

Authorities said this year they expect the state’s wolf population to decrease from around 1,150 to between 900 and 950 following a particularly successful hunting season. Over 320 wolves were harvested during the 2020 hunting season — significantly more than the preceding eight-year average of 242 wolves per year, according to a report released by the department in June.

The petition seeks to protect wolves in those two states as well as Wyoming, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, California, Nevada and northern Arizona. The petition said those states are part of the range of wolves.

“These wolves are at risk of extinction throughout all of their range, and unquestionably are at risk of immediate extinction in significant portions of their range,” the 63-page petition states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Courthouse News Service

Perilously low funding for endangered species puts Congress into action

Congress provides only about 3.5% of the funding that the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to recover species, according to a study. A series of bills considered in a House Committee hearing on Thursday would increase funding as well as protections to endangered wildlife.

SAMANTHA HAWKINS, July 29, 2021

WASHINGTON (CN) — Multimillion-dollar funding is on the table as lawmakers consider a series of bills that would address underfunded projects to protect endangered wildlife.

“We do a remarkable job saving species when we put our mind to it, and when we invest,” Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation, said at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife on Thursday. “Unfortunately, we’re only investing in a small number of the species in need, and we are headed for an irreversible disaster if we don’t act now.”

Around the globe, an unprecedented 1 million species are at a heightened risk of extinction. In the United States, it’s more than one-third of species — including over 40% of freshwater fish and 30% of bird populations.

O’Mara said that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, ranging from large mammals to butterflies to freshwater mussels, but history shows we can remedy it.

“While preventing extinctions and recovering wildlife are huge undertakings, targeted efforts can make enormous headway,” said Erika Zavaleta, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, describing the coordinated actions by federal state and tribal agencies that brought the California condor back from extinction in the wild.

But, Zavaleta says, there needs to be targeted funding.

Out of the 15 bills under consideration at the hearing Thursday, the biggest chunk of funding could come from Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, a bill that would provide $1.4 billion annually to states and tribes to restore essential habitats to 12,000 species that State Wildlife Action Plans have identified as in need of conservation.

“That’s what this does: it empowers the states,” said Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan, the bill’s lead sponsor.

The bill passed through the committee last year 26-6, but died before getting a full vote in the House.

Congress today appropriates about $60 million in wildlife grants to states each year. A 2016 study by the Center for Biological Diversity found that Congress provides only about 3.5% of the funding that the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to recover species. As the funds are insufficient to make a dent in wildlife protection, many states secure additional funding through general appropriations or creative solutions like lottery funds or specialty license plates.

Another bill slated for consideration is the Extinction Prevention Act, which would create four grant programs, each providing $5 million per year to fund critically endangered North American butterflies, freshwater mussels, desert fish and Hawaiian plants.

Other bills would provide $125 million in emergency funding to save the western population of monarch butterflies from extinction, create grant programs funded at $5 million each to protect endangered amphibians and strengthen a successful marine mammal rescue program.

“The global extinction crisis is ravaging life on earth, so it’s heartening to see Congress begin to address the devastating decline of wildlife,” Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services supported the majority of the legislation, it noted that some of the bills weren’t necessary — like a bill that would prohibit the import, export and interstate trade of bear parts. Bear organs are sold around the world for nontraditional medicinal purposes, and their sale has caused rapid declines in Asian bear populations.

In testimony in front of the committee, Deputy Director for Policy for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Stephen Guertin said that the service appreciates the intent of the legislation but that the Lacey Act is already an effective tool in dealing with illegally traded black bear parts.

Guertin also questioned a bill that would prohibit people from owning primates, citing doubts about the service’s ability to meet the extended enforcement mandate that the bill would create and predicting that it would jeopardize the service’s main objectives to conserve endangered wildlife populations.

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Center for Biological Diversity

House Hearing to Focus on Bills to Save Critically Endangered Species

WASHINGTON—(July 28, 2021)—The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife will hold a legislative hearing Thursday to review more than a dozen conservation bills, which would provide millions of dollars in long-overdue funding for protecting and recovering critically endangered species and ecosystems.

“The global extinction crisis is ravaging life on earth, so it’s heartening to see Congress begin to address the devastating decline of wildlife,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These bills offer real hope that help is finally on the way for some of our most neglected and endangered animals and plants.”

The Extinction Prevention Act (H.R. 3396), for example, would create four grant programs. Each would provide $5 million per year to fund crucial conservation work for some of the most critically imperiled species in the United States: North American butterflies, freshwater mussels, desert fish and Hawaiian plants.

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. Roughly 1 in 4 species receives less than $10,000 a year toward recovery.

H.R. 1983, the Monarch Action, Recovery and Conservation of Habitat Act (MONARCH Act) would provide $125 million in emergency funds over five years to save the western population of monarch butterflies from extinction. This past winter, only 1,914 monarchs were recorded overwintering on the California coast — the lowest number ever recorded.

“This is exactly the kind of bold legislation needed for the U.S. to reclaim its position as a world leader on conservation,” said Kurose. “We’re in a race against the clock to save life on earth, so we need Congress to step up to this immense challenge now more than ever. Passing these bills would be a great start.”

Both the Critically Endangered Animals Conservation Act (H.R. 1569) and the Global Amphibian Protection Act (H.R. 2026) would establish grant programs funded at $5 million each for on-the-ground conservation actions to protect critically endangered animals and amphibians around the world.

Thursday’s hearing will consider 11 other bills, including the following legislation that would also benefit imperiled wildlife:

H.R. 2773: Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), which would provide $1.3 billion for state fish and game agencies to conserve fish and wildlife species of greatest conservation need. At least 15% of this funding would be used towards recovering federally listed threatened and endangered species;

H.R. 2325: Bear Protection Act, which would prohibit the import, export and interstate trade of bear parts and products;

H.R. 3135: Captive Primate Safety Act, which would prohibit private ownership and interstate commerce of monkeys, apes and other primates.

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Newsweek

Endangered California Salmon Could Disappear Due to Trump Era Water Policy, Says Senator

BY ED BROWNE ON 7/28/21

A California senator has blasted a Trump-era water policy, citing the destructive impact it is having on a species of endangered salmon in the state due to droughts and high water temperatures.

Mike McGuire, a Democrat and chair of the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture (JCFA), held a hearing on Tuesday to highlight the issue and call for change.

It comes after the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) said earlier in July that persistent hot weather could result in hotter water and that this, in turn, could mean an almost complete loss of Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River.

Drought conditions are typically harmful to salmon populations, and cold-water releases from reservoirs can help alleviate this effect.

However, a policy of the Trump administration, that is still in place today, may make this more difficult because it allows more water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers to be used for agriculture purposes.

California filed a federal lawsuit in 2020 to push back against the policy because of fears it could harm species and natural resources.

Now, the policy is being scrutinized again since it is still being carried forward today by President Joe Biden’s administration.

In a statement ahead of the hearing, McGuire said: “The alarm couldn’t be louder. We are on the brink of a total species collapse due to the historic drought and arcane federal water policy.

“Tuesday’s hearing will be critical: we will discuss current conditions, how we’ve been ignoring lessons learned from the last drought, and what we can do as a state to save endangered species that are on the brink of total collapse.”

Winter-run Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, though that status is not the same for all of the species’ populations.

Other rivers also emerged as areas of concern. Joseph James, chair of the Yurok Tribe who was invited to speak at the hearing, described a “full-blown emergency issue” in the Klamath River, and said “our children’s future depends on ensuring that fish not only survive, but thrive,” according to California news outlet the Times Standard.

California is currently experiencing a drought season along with many other states in western parts of the U.S.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s drought monitor shows that 94.8 percent of California is currently experiencing “severe drought,” while a third of the state is experiencing “exceptional drought” conditions—the most severe level.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Threatened Over U.S. Failure to Protect Imperiled Wildlife From Marine Highway Program

Program Funds Expansion of Ship Traffic That Harms Protected Species

PORTLAND, Ore.—(July 27, 2021) The Center for Biological Diversity fired a shot across the bow of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration today for failing to ensure that protected species are not jeopardized by the America’s Marine Highway Program. The program seeks to expand shipping on major rivers and coastal areas in Washington, Oregon, Virginia and other states where listed species are at risk.

“Large vessels routinely kill highly endangered species like Atlantic sturgeon and chinook salmon, yet that’s being ignored by the federal agency that funds barge traffic expansion in their habitat,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center. “Federal officials need to ensure that imperiled species aren’t jeopardized by this broad program. Protecting these animals from ships is required by the law, and it’s also the right thing to do.”

The America’s Marine Highway Program aims to expand the use of the country’s navigable waters for shipping. The agency promotes and funds the expansion of the marine highway system, which includes major rivers, such as the Columbia and Hudson rivers, as well as the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The program provides grants to purchase barges known to harm protected species through collisions, spills of fuel or chemicals, and expanded transport of fossil fuels, thereby contributing to the climate crisis.

In Virginia’s James River, where the program has funded barge traffic expansion, vessel collisions have killed dozens of Atlantic sturgeon, a highly endangered species. In the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River, where barge traffic is also subsidized by the program, ship traffic threatens juvenile salmon and other fish, as well as endangered whales and leatherback sea turtles that feed at the river’s mouth.

“Federal officials can’t keep sacrificing our waters and wildlife by ignoring the impacts of a program that has the potential to cause widespread harm,” said Margolis. “The government needs to ensure that programs like this fully consider environmental risks before investments are made and species are lost.”

The Maritime Administration has funded dozens of projects across the country. It recently announced that nearly $11 million has been made available for grants in 2021.

But the agency has failed undertake the required consultation with expert wildlife agencies to ensure that the program will not jeopardize imperiled animals. This includes programmatic consultation, which is necessary to establish standards and guidelines to avoid or minimize the effects of the program by instituting protocols to track and respond to the collective impacts on endangered species from the projects funded by the agency.

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Reuters

Utah asks to join U.S., NRA in gray wolf delisting case

Sebastien Malo, July 27, 2021

(Reuters) – The state of Utah has asked a federal court in Oakland for permission to join in a lawsuit in order to oppose conservation groups that are challenging the removal of gray wolves from the list of endangered and threatened species in the lower 48 states.

In a Monday filing, Utah said it wants to join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Rifle Association in defending the Trump administration’s December decision to de-list the gray wolf. WildEarth Guardians and other groups sued the government to undo the decision in January, alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

John Mellgren, a lawyer with the Western Environmental Law Center who represents the plaintiffs, said his clients had not yet taken a position on Utah’s move.

The Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment, said its spokesperson Vanessa Kauffman. The Utah attorney general’s office also declined to comment through a spokesperson.

Utah told Senior U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White that because the delisting of gray wolves turned over the management of its population to states, it has “legally protectable interests” in fighting the plaintiffs’ lawsuit.

Utah says that roughly 20 gray wolves live within its territory. But with neighboring Colorado recently voting to reintroduce gray wolves into the Rockies’ Western Slope in the coming years, Utah says in its court filing that it must “manage” the predator’s population to protect its livestock.

The Trump administration in October announced it would lift ESA protections for the gray wolf, arguing the species had been brought back successfully from the brink of extinction. The delisting took effect on Jan. 4.

The move was a win for ranchers who argue that larger numbers of wolves threaten livestock, while conservation groups said the species has yet to recover in much of its former range, including Northern California and the Northeast.

The conservation groups that sued the Fish and Wildlife Service over the delisting in January also include the Western Watersheds Project and Cascadia Wildlands. They argue that the wolf’s delisting “conflicts with the Service’s responsibility to take a precautionary approach to wildlife management” in accordance with the ESA.

The National Rifle Association was granted permission to intervene as a defendant in the case in May. It said that if the plaintiffs win their case, the wolves will be relisted, and its members won’t be allowed to hunt them as game during state-run wolf hunting seasons.

The case is WildEarth Guardians v. Bernhardt, U.S. District Court for the California Northern District, No. 4:21-cv-00349.

(For WildEarth Guardians et al: John Mellgren of the Western Environmental Law Center. For David Bernhardt et al: Michael Eitel with the U.S. Department of Justice)

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Newsweek

Critically Endangered Bird Believed to Be Dead Re-Emerges After Nearly Two Years

BY ANABELLE DOLINER ON 7/27/21

The discovery of an ultra-rare, parrot-like kiwikiu on Maui—believed to have died 605 days ago—is giving scientists hope for the critically endangered species.

According to the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project (MFBRP), this species, a type of Hawaiian honeycreeper, is endemic to Maui: the birds were once found across the island in addition to neighboring Moloka’i. Now, however, a combination of habitat loss, disease, and the threat of non-native species has limited the kiwikiu to a small section of Maui.

Also known as the Maui Parrotbill, this species of bird features green and yellow coloring, as well as a large, heavy bill. Males and females of this species pair up for life, and can live as long as sixteen years. As explained by the American Bird Conservancy, the kiwikiu has previously faced an uncertain future: the species was believed to have gone extinct throughout the first half of the 20th century, but was rediscovered in 1950.

Since then, their population size has remained relatively small, with numbers currently hovering around 150.

In a Friday statement released on Facebook by Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), the agency called the re-discovery of this particular kiwikiu “remarkable” as it “provides [a] glimmer of hope for saving a species.”

The bird in question was reportedly part of an October 2019 translocation attempt. Seven kiwikiu were released into a Maui natural reserve, in an effort to help the species repopulate. The mission, however, did not go as researchers had hoped. The birds faced a deadly avian malaria, spread via non-native mosquitoes and encouraged by the warm, wet weather brought by climate change. Soon, five of the seven birds were found dead, and the two remaining, both of whom went missing, were believed to have been killed by the same disease.

Now, over 600 days later, scientists have renewed hope for the species. As reported by the agency, Zach Pezzillo of the DLNR announced his incredible discovery last week. “I first heard what I thought might be a distant kiwikiu song,” he said. “It then sang about ten times across a gulch in some koa trees. It dropped down into some kolea trees where it spent the next twenty minutes calling and actively foraging through the berries, bark, and leaves. I walked down into the gulch to get a closer look.”

Upon inspecting the bird, he noticed its distinct leg bands, clearly identifying it as a male bird known as “wild #1” from the 2019 translocation mission.

The bird’s re-emergence shows the potential for the species to recover—and highlights the grave threats posed by factors like climate change and rampant, invasive disease.

“This bird has been exposed to disease, as the others were, and has somehow persevered,” explained Dr. Hanna Mounce, MFBRP Coordinator. “This is an amazing sign of hope for the species as we still may have time to save them.”

She added: “This is a hopeful sign that a population of kiwikiu and other native forest birds could survive in restored landscapes in the future, especially without mosquitoes and disease.”

(Newsweek has attempted to contact the MFBRP and Hawaii’s DLNR for further comment.)

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E&E News/GreenWire

Feds retain protections for Texas songbird, again

By Michael Doyle, 07/26/2021

The Fish and Wildlife Service said today it has again rejected a high-profile petition by Texas conservatives to remove Endangered Species Act protections from the golden-cheeked warbler.

Ordered by a federal appellate court to take a second look at the delisting petition, FWS said it reached the same dire conclusion about the small, migratory songbird.

“We find that the petition does not present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating the [delisting] may be warranted for the golden-cheeked warbler,” FWS said.

As a result of the finding, the agency added that it will conduct a more extensive “status review” of the species.

The golden-cheeked warbler was added to the ESA list of endangered species in 1990.

A 2014 status review concluded that the bird “is threatened by ongoing and imminent habitat loss” and noted that “there had been an estimated 29% loss of existing breeding season habitat between 1999-2001 and 2010-2011.”

In the past, juniper clearing to create pastures for cattle grazing, as well as to produce fence posts, furniture and oil, destroyed habitat. More recent habitat loss in Travis, Williamson and Bexar counties is due to rapid suburban development.

“The human population is projected to continue to increase throughout the [bird’s] range,” the status review noted. “This growth will continue to bring additional residential and commercial development, which will further reduce and fragment … breeding habitat.”

In 2015, Texans for Positive Economic Policy, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Reason Foundation filed a delisting petition. The petitioners also included Susan Combs, identified as a “fourth-generation Texan with a ranch in Brewster County” who had served as a state representative, agriculture commissioner and state comptroller.

Combs subsequently served in the Trump administration as the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for policy, management and budget and also did a stint as acting assistant Interior secretary for fish and wildlife and parks.

The 2015 petition disputed the findings from FWS about the warbler, saying that “multiple surveys and research have established that the warbler breeding habitat is five times larger … and that the warbler population is an order of magnitude greater” than the agency had originally estimated.

Last year, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a trial judge and ordered FWS to reconsider its prior rejection of the 2015 petition to delist the bird(Greenwire, Jan. 16, 2020).

Judge Carolyn Dineen King wrote that “a careful examination” showed the agency applied an “inappropriately heightened” standard requiring the delisting petition to contain information that officials had not considered and that might refute the conclusions of a prior species status review.

King was appointed to the appeals court by President Carter. Judges James Dennis, a Clinton appointee, and Edith Jones, a Reagan appointee, joined in the unanimous panel decision.

While ordering another delisting petition review, the court rejected a Texas General Land Office bid to overturn altogether the original ESA listing decision.

FWS also said today that Alexander Archipelago wolves in southeastern Alaska may warrant protection under the ESA and started a yearlong status review. The decision comes in response to a July 2020 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, Alaska Rainforest Defenders and Defenders of Wildlife. In addition, FWS in response to a 2020 petition from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation said it would review the western ridged mussel.

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UpNorthLive TV News (Traverse City, MI)

AG Nessel in legal fight to keep gray wolves on endangered list

by UpNorthLive News, July 26th 2021

LANSING, Mich. (WPBN/WGTU) — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum have submitted a brief in the Wolf Delisting litigation fighting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove gray wolves from the list of endangered species.

Nessel said she previously urged the Service not to use Michigan’s successful recovery efforts of the species to delist the gray wolf nationwide.

More: Michigan wolf population at nearly 700 but leveling off

This brief argues that the Service made this move contrary to the Endangered Species Act and to the detriment of gray wolf populations in other states.

The brief – filed Friday in the U.S. District Court Northern District of California, asserts that the Service unlawfully delisted gray wolves based on the species’ status in Michigan and other Great Lakes states.

The reason’s highlighted in the brief on why this shouldn’t have happened:

*The Service must look to a species’ current range, i.e., where it currently exists, to determine whether it is endangered;

*The Service must analyze the five statutory factors for delisting for each state in which a species is actually located; and

*The Service may not break a species into recovered populations in a way that cuts out orphan populations that would otherwise be entitled to protection.

“By delisting the gray wolf nationwide, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service abandoned its obligation to protect endangered gray wolves wherever they are found. Turning cooperative federalism on its head, the Service weaponized our effective wolf recovery in the Great Lakes region against wolf populations struggling to recover in other states,” said Nessel. “The facts are clear here: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can only use Michigan’s successes in Michigan, not nationwide. Where wolves remain endangered, they must remain listed.”

In the brief, Nessel argues that the Endangered Species Act does not authorize the Service to pick and choose where endangered species should recover. In fact, the Service must protect the gray wolves where they are also currently found – in Washington, Oregon, California, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Kansas.

In 2019, Attorney General Nessel asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to abandon its proposal to delist the gray wolves, citing that it failed to analyze whether the gray wolves living in more than a dozen other states were in danger of extinction.

According to Nessel, the federal government, instead, focused irresponsibly and unlawfully on Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Service finalized its proposed rule and as a result, the gray wolf was removed from the endangered species list nationwide in 2020. A legal battle is currently underway, thus prompting the filing of this amicus brief by the attorneys general of Michigan and Oregon.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Rare Southeast Alaska Wolf One Step Closer to Endangered Species Protection

Alexander Archipelago Wolves Threatened by Forest Clearcutting, Trapping

SITKA, Alaska—(July 26, 2021) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that Alexander Archipelago wolves in Southeast Alaska may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act and started a year-long status review. The decision comes in response to a July 2020 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, Alaska Rainforest Defenders and Defenders of Wildlife.

“These beautiful wolves are threatened with extinction because of increased trapping and rampant logging in their forest home,” said Ted Zukoski, a senior attorney at the Center. “They’re vital to the health of the Tongass forest ecosystem, but they live in a sacrifice zone for timber mills. If these wolves are going to survive, they urgently need the Endangered Species Act’s protection, not traps and chainsaws.”

The rare gray wolf subspecies, which inhabits the coastal rainforests of Southeast Alaska and British Columbia, faces numerous threats. Legal trapping recently killed more than half the wolves in one key population on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. The Trump administration opened hundreds of thousands of acres of the wolf’s forest habitat to clearcut logging. And genetic evidence indicates the Prince of Wales population is in danger from high levels of inbreeding.

“Threats to the continued existence of these unique wolves have been worsening for many years, in terms both of habitat loss and mismanagement by the state and federal agencies that are responsible for maintaining the populations at a healthy size,” said Larry Edwards of Alaska Rainforest Defenders.

The Fish and Wildlife Service determined that protecting Alexander Archipelago wolves may be warranted based on logging and road development, illegal and legal trapping and hunting, the effects of climate change and loss of genetic diversity and inbreeding.

“The precarious position of these wolves is mainly driven by habitat loss and fragmentation caused by extensive logging and roadbuilding in old-growth forests,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director, Defenders of Wildlife. “Wolves and other wildlife are dependent on intact old-growth habitat. Protecting our rare ancient forests is critical to conserving biodiversity and an important climate change mitigation strategy.”

Background

Clearcut logging on the Tongass National Forest and adjacent state and private lands destroys and fragments the old-growth forest habitat that wolves rely on for raising pups and hunting their primary prey, Sitka black-tailed deer. Road construction for logging operations also allows increased access for trappers and hunters.

In recent years the U.S. Forest Service has authorized intensive old-growth logging and road building concentrated in the wolves’ most important habitat, including the largest timber sale in any national forest in 30 years. That’s despite direction in the Tongass land management plan to move away from old-growth logging.

In 2020 the Trump administration increased threats to the wolves by exempting the Tongass National Forest from the roadless area conservation rule, opening 168,000 additional acres of irreplaceable old-growth forest to clearcut logging. Conservation groups are suing to restore those protections.

Earlier this month the Biden administration announced the Forest Service will restore roadless protections to the Tongass and cancel three major timber projects. This new initiative to spare old and mature forests on the Tongass from large-scale logging promises to reduce future destruction of wolf habitat.

But the wolf’s low numbers, mismanagement of trapping, damage from past national forest logging, continued intensive logging of old forests on state lands and likely inbreeding means the animal is still threatened with extinction.

On Prince of Wales Island, which harbors a focal population of these wolves, an unprecedented 165 wolves were killed during the 2019-2020 trapping season. This alarming slaughter occurred after state and federal wildlife managers ignored the recommendations of their wolf management program and eliminated limits on the number of wolves that could be trapped or hunted. State and federal officials authorized a 21-day trapping season on Prince Wales Island during November and December 2020 with no limit on wolf killing. The season’s death toll was 68 wolves, the second-highest level of legal killing since 2005.

In 2016 the Fish and Wildlife Service denied Endangered Species Act protection to Alexander Archipelago wolves largely based on the claim that wolf populations in British Columbia were stable, while acknowledging the more precarious status of wolves in Southeast Alaska.

Threats to the wolves in Alaska have escalated since 2016 because of inadequate federal and state management, the Trump administration’s elimination of protections across much of their habitat, and continued logging and road building on multiple forestland ownerships.

Protection under the Act would require state and federal agencies to better manage threats to the wolves, take measures that protect their habitat and limit hunting and trapping.

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Tampa Bay Times

Red Tide suspected as manatees deaths pile up in Tampa Bay

Manatees were already dying in record numbers in Florida this year. Now Red Tide threatens them.

By Gabe Stern, July 23, 2021

Red Tide is suspected in the deaths suffered by a vulnerable species that has already suffered greatly this year: The manatee.

The brevetoxins released by Red Tide are suspected in the deaths of eight of nine manatees recently found off the coasts of Pinellas and Hillsborough, according to data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The carcasses were found over a seven-day span starting July 15 through Thursday, when the last two were discovered. One carcass in Pinellas was discovered by a ranger about 10:30 a.m. Thursday in Fort De Soto Park. An hour later, another dead manatee was found on the other side of the bay near Riverview. That cause of death is still pending.

The manatee deaths are the latest sign of the toll Red Tide has taken on Tampa Bay’s marine ecosystem. Crews have removed more than 1,518 tons of dead sea life and debris from St. Petersburg and the Pinellas beaches, including goliath grouper and tarpon, with reports of afflicted dolphins and turtles also being found.

The Tampa Bay manatee deaths are part of a grisly situation developing on the west coast: According to state data, more than 30 manatee deaths linked to Red Tide have been discovered in an area that the FWC defines as “Red Tide Bloom Boundary.” That means the waters off the southwest coast of Florida that have shown high concentrations of Red Tide, including Tampa Bay.

Each death has been designated as either Red Tide “positive” or “suspect,” which is determined by the levels of toxins detected.

Red Tide is exacerbating what has already been a catastrophically deadly year for manatees, which in 2017 was reclassified as a threatened, not endangered, species. The state says 866 manatee deaths were recorded this year through July 16 — already surpassing the record 830 that died in all of 2013.

Most of the 2021 manatee deaths are blamed on starvation because of the lack of food sources along their Atlantic migration route, especially the loss of seagrass in the Indian River lagoon.

“The more recent mortality is shifting to a higher incidence on the west coast,” said Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of the environmental protection nonprofit Save the Manatee Club. He also said boat collisions have also returned as a leading cause of manatee deaths.

There are two ways that Red Tide toxins can harm manatees, Rose said.

Manatees can inhale the toxins while swimming through a bloom. They could also be sickened after consuming the toxins that settle in seagrass, which is their food source.

Red Tide blooms can threaten manatees in another way, by blocking the sunlight that seagrass need to grow, shrinking that food source, said J.P. Brooker of the Ocean Conservancy.

The algal bloom currently afflicting Tampa Bay and the Pinellas beaches floated north into the bay from Lee County earlier this year, and manatees appear to have died along a similar track. The last Red Tide-linked death found in Lee County was on June 8, according to state data. The first Red Tide-related manatee death in Tampa Bay was found June 17.

The manatee situation prompted Clearwater Marine Aquarium officials to announce Wednesday their plans to spend up to $2 million to build a manatee rehab center at Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs. The facility will be upgraded to house up to six manatees at a time in the big pool, which measures 40 feet across and is 8 feet deep.

“I’ve never seen it this bad after 50 years of study,” aquarium director James Powell told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this week.

He said the rehab center is needed as the species suffers from a “perfect storm” of threats: lack of seagrass in the Indian River lagoon, reckless boat drivers and now Red Tide.

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Washington Post

Groups urge state to protect last wild Atlantic salmon in US

By Patrick Whittle, AP, July 23, 2021

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine is home to the last wild Atlantic salmon populations in the U.S., but a new push to protect the fish at the state level is unlikely to land them on the endangered list.

Atlantic salmon once teemed in U.S. rivers, but now return from the sea to only a handful of rivers in eastern and central Maine. The fish are protected at the federal level under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, but a coalition of environmental groups and scientists said the fish could be afforded more protections if they were added to Maine’s own list of endangered and threatened species.

State law allows Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher to make that recommendation, but his office told The Associated Press he does not intend to do it. The department has done extensive work to conserve and restore the fish, and the commissioner “does not believe a listing at the state level would afford additional conservation benefits or protections,” said Jeff Nichols, a department spokesperson.

The environmentalists who want to see the fish on the state list said they’re going to keep pushing for it and other protections. Adding the fish to the state endangered list would mean conservation of salmon would be treated as a bigger concern in state permitting processes, said John Burrows, executive director for U.S. operations for the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

“The state of Maine and a handful of our rivers are the only places in the country that still have wild Atlantic salmon,” Burrows said. “It’s something that should happen, and should have happened.”

Atlantic salmon have disappeared from U.S. rivers because of damming, pollution and others environmental challenges, and they also face the looming threat of climate change. Nevertheless, there have been some positive signs in Maine rivers in recent years.

More than 1,400 salmon returned to the Penobscot River in 2020. That was the highest number since 2011, the Maine marine resources department found. The Penobscot is the most productive river for the salmon. It averaged only about 700 fish per year from 2012 to 2019.

Attempts to repopulate Atlantic salmon in other states have stalled. The federal government ended an attempt to restore Atlantic salmon in the Connecticut River basin in 2012 after several decades because of lack of success.

Getting the fish listed on the Maine endangered list has long been a goal of many environmental groups. The Maine Endangered Species Act includes 26 endangered species and 25 threatened ones. The list includes two fish: the endangered redfin pickerel and the threatened swamp darter.

The list is designed to provide state-level protection to jeopardized species and is a complement to the U.S. Endangered Species Act. A few species, including the piping plover, are listed on both.

Environmentalists supported a bill in the Maine Legislature earlier this year that would have required the marine resources commissioner to recommend a state listing for any species that is federally listed as endangered or threatened. The proposal died in committee in June.

A group of 19 organizations and 10 scientists and conservationists sent a letter to the state that said Maine is one of the few states that doesn’t mandate or recommend state-level listing of federally listed species. Dwayne Shaw, director of the Downeast Salmon Federation, said wildlife advocates will continue pushing for salmon protections.

“There would be great symbolism in this, but there would also be direct implications, positive implications for the species,” Shaw said.

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Star Advertiser (Honolulu, HI)

Maui officials discover lone kiwikiu, critically endangered bird presumed dead

By Timothy Hurley, July 23, 2021

The discovery on Maui of a lone kiwikiu — thought to be long dead following a failed attempt to establish a second population of the critically endangered species — is giving hope to conservationists working to save the bird from extinction.

The bird was spotted alive and well Wednesday in the Nakula Natural Area Reserve high on the leeward slopes of Haleakala 20 months after it disappeared and was presumed dead.

“It was a very incredible moment, to find this bird alive and doing so well,” said Zach Pezzillo with the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project. Pezzillo recounted the story of how he found the bird in a virtual news conference today.

With a pair of binoculars, Pezzillo was able to spot the bird’s unique leg bands and he knew it was the bird designated as No. 1, the first male kiwikiu captured in the Hanawi Natural Area Reserve on the windward side of Haleakala in 2019 for removal to a new home.

During the October 2019 translocation mission, seven wild kiwikiu from Hanawi were released into Nakula as part of a larger effort to establish kiwikiu in newly restored forests and expand the available habitat to help prevent the extinction of a species thought to have a population with fewer than 150 individuals.

Within a few weeks, five of the seven wild translocated kiwikiu died, the surprise victims of avian malaria, which had reached a higher elevation than had been expected. The other two were missing but scientists assumed they there felled by the same disease.

“The fact that he is doing so well out there and evading detection this long is really unbelievable,” said Hanna Mounce, coordinator of the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project.

In an earlier statement, Mounce called the discovery “an amazing sign of hope” for the species that conservationists still may have time to save.

“Work needs to continue on avian disease and mosquito control as the rate of survival from malaria is low overall for this species with only one in seven surviving. This is a hopeful sign that a population of kiwikiu and other native forest birds could survive in restored landscapes in the future, especially without mosquitoes and disease,” she said.

However, officials said the discovery is unlikely to change the current plan to save the bird, which includes capturing up to 30 kiwikiu and shipping them to zoo facilities in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Utah while officials figure out how to control the disease-carrying mosquitoes in the wild.

Lainie Berry, a biologist with the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife, told the Board of Land and Natural Resources in April that the species will reach “functional extinction” by 2027 unless officials take action.

While removing 30 birds from the wild population would shorten the extinction timeline by an estimated three years, Berry said it is worth the risk to protect a portion of the population from avian malaria.

She called the mainland move a temporary one — until a Hawaii site can be secured for safe release.

“We will carefully analyze what led to the survival of No. 1, but it’s much too soon to say whether this will change our options for trying to save kiwikiu,” Mounce said. “We thought we had lost all the translocated birds to malaria, but this one’s survival has given us hope and encouragement, that maybe, just maybe, we can save this incredible species before it’s too late.”

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Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

Heinrich bill would unlock federal funds for New Mexico wildlife nearing extinction

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus, July 23, 2021

New Mexico Democrat U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich sought to strengthen federal actions to protect endangered species in a bill introduced alongside a Republican from Missouri.

On Wednesday, Heinrich and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) introduced the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), aiming to invest federal funds in wildlife conservation efforts across the nation.

Both Heinrich and Blunt are members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, Heinrich as Co-Chair and Blunt as a member, a group that supported the legislation.

The Act would fund conservation of more than 12,000 species of plant and animals with $1.3 billion of federal funds, and earmark $97.5 million annually to projects by Tribal nations on about 140 million acres.

It would also specify that conservation efforts outlined in State Wildlife Action Plans would lead such efforts and would accelerate the recovery of 1,600 species already listed as endangered, meaning extinction is imminent, or threatened which implies an endangered status is forthcoming.

If passed, the RAWA would also direct fees and penalties assessed for certain environmental violations to the Act’s requirements.

“Protecting America’s fish and wildlife habitat means conserving the creatures we love before they ever become imperiled,” Heinrich said. “After all, our children deserve to inherit the full breadth of American wildlife, from bumblebees to bison, that we know today. This legislation will make that possible.”

New Mexico’s Wildlife Action Plan was first published in 2016, by the Department of Game and Fish and included plans to save animals native to the state New Mexico like the lesser prairie chicken, Texas hornshell mussel or the meadow jumping mouse, along with critical habitats or areas of land and waters needed to fully restore a species to its natural state and population.

“New Mexico is one of the most biologically diverse states in the nation, home to over 6,000 species of animals that occupy habitats from hot deserts to alpine tundra,” read the plan’s executive summary.

“Maintaining the viability of every species is difficult and some have declined and are now listed as Threatened or Endangered under the Endangered Species Act.”

The plan reported on the distribution of imperiled species of wildlife, both listed under the Endangered Species Act or deemed in danger of being listed, identifying threats to the species, agencies the state could partner with on conservation activities and strategies to do so.

The plan looked at six ecological regions: the Colorado Plateaus, Southern Rocky Mountains in northern New Mexico along with, High Plains and Tablelands, the Chihuahuan Desert to the southeast, and Madrean Archipelago and the Arizona-New Mexico mountains on the western side of the state.

Areas of concern for the regions listed in the plan were impacts from industrial development leading to habitat loss, while also balancing livestock needs and the health of watersheds.

Jesse Deubel, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation said Heinrich’s bill will help support conservation in New Mexico and across the county.

Deubel said New Mexico was especially biodiverse and in need of stronger efforts to prevent extinction. 

More:Access to New Mexico rivers could be restricted to protect Texas hornshell mussel

“This bill will transform wildlife conservation in New Mexico, protecting our unique species from the Gila monster to bighorn sheep,” Deubel said. “We’re grateful to Sen. Heinrich for leading the way while reaching across the aisle, demonstrating that conservation is a core value for all Americans.”

Blunt said he hoped the bill would encourage states to enact and implement stronger strategies to conserve wildlife species for the future.

“We can better protect our land, waterways, and wildlife by encouraging states, territories, and Tribes to make significant contributions to voluntary conservation efforts,” he said. “I’m proud to help introduce this bill that will help preserve our nation’s wildlife for future generations.”

President of national conservation group the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Whit Fosburgh said the COVID-19 pandemic exposed how important access to the outdoors was for Americans.

He said outdoor recreation continued to thrive and grow as an industry in the wake of the health crisis and federal funding could help bolster the growth to meet post-COVID-19 demands.

“Considering that many Americans rediscovered nature during the pandemic and we continue to see a bump in hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation participation across the country, there is no better time to create the kind of dedicated conservation funding solutions that would be established through the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act,” Fosburgh said.

“Passage of this bipartisan legislation, as part of a strategy to support our frontline fish and wildlife management workers and create conservation jobs, is one of our top priorities for Congress this session.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched to Protect National Conservation Area in Arizona From Destructive Cattle Grazing

TUCSON, Ariz.―(July 22, 2021) The Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon Society filed a notice of intent today to sue the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect critical habitat for threatened and endangered species in the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area in southeastern Arizona.

Recent field surveys by the Center documented extensive cattle grazing damage in this protected area, which is a haven for birds, fish and other wildlife.

“It’s heartbreaking to see what used to be lush streams and riparian areas now extensively grazed, trampled and littered with cow feces,” said Chris Bugbee, southwest advocate at the Center. “Because the BLM has failed to protect the Gila Box, it’s been overrun by cows that aren’t supposed to be there. The agency must remove the cattle and fix these fences immediately.”

In surveys conducted in April, May and June 2021, the Center documented extensive damage to streamside habitat, which is designated critical habitat for threatened yellow-billed cuckoos and southwestern willow flycatchers. More than 32 river miles were surveyed and most of them had significant damage from cows, which are supposed to be excluded from the area.

The Gila Box is also important to other endangered species, including the Gila chub, Gila topminnow, desert pupfish, loach minnow and spikedace. The BLM describes the area as a “year-round desert oasis” and “a very special riparian ecosystem abounding with plant and animal diversity.”

“The BLM’s description of the area betrays its lack of stewardship in protecting it,” said Mark Larson, Maricopa Audubon president. “After years of doing nothing about complaints of cattle damage in the area, it’s long past time for BLM employees to do their jobs and protect this critical songbird haven.”

In the desert Southwest, livestock grazing harms threatened and endangered wildlife and is the primary driver of riparian ecosystem degradation. Removal of livestock from riparian areas is a critical component of adapting to climate change.

The Gila Box, which includes 23,000 acres of public lands, is famous for its riparian ecosystem and 1,000-foot-high cliffs towering above the Gila River. Bonita Creek, which meets the Gila River in the conservation area, is renowned as a refuge for vanishing native fish. The area is a popular boating and birdwatching destination, with more than 200 bird species.

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Newsweek

Rainforest Home to Elephants, Other Endangered Species Taken Off World Heritage in Danger List

BY ED BROWNE ON 7/22/21

Africa’s largest tropical rainforest reserve has been removed from UNESCO’s list of threatened sites due to improvements to its conservation.

Salonga National Park, located in the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC), was designated a World Heritage site in 1984 and a List of World Heritage in Danger site in 1999. It has in the past suffered from poaching, vegetation loss and water pollution.

On Monday, the World Heritage Committee (WHC) said on that the park’s management has been strengthened over the years, notably in terms of anti-poaching measures.

In addition, national authorities told the committee that oil concessions overlapping with the park were “null and void and that those sites will not be included in future auctions.”

In what it called an important achievement, the committee said the site was no longer on the World Heritage in Danger list.

Salonga National Park, located at the heart of the central basin of the Congo river, is the largest protected area of dense rainforest in Africa.

It is so isolated that water or air transport is the only way to get there. The park is vast, at 3.6 million hectares or nearly 13,900 square miles.

It plays an important role in climate regulation and is also home to many vulnerable or endangered species, including bonobo monkeys, the bush elephant, and the Congo peacock. The World Wildlife Federation states the forest is home to 51 species of mammal, as well as 129 fish species and 223 bird species.

What’s more, some parts of the forest have likely never been explored by people.

In Monday’s statement, the WHC said wildlife monitoring has shown that bonobo populations remain stable and that the population of forest elephants there is recovering.

Bonobos share around 98.7 percent of their DNA with humans and, along with chimpanzees, are our two closest living relatives. Their population is estimated at between 10,000 to 50,000, though this is expected to decline over coming decades due to growing threats and a low reproductive rate.

Surveillance of the Salonga park is carried out in part by guards who conduct regular patrols. The WHC states these guard numbers must be increased in the long term if the very large and hard-to-reach areas of the park are to be effectively monitored.

In 2018, WWF expressed what it called “deep concern” after the DRC government granted approval for oil production in some locations that overlapped into the park.

The wildlife group said oil contracts could threaten “exceptional flora and fauna as well as the lives and livelihoods of neighbouring communities.”

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New Hampshire Fish & Game

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act Introduced in the Senate

Alliance for America’s Fish & Wildlife Brings Together Leaders of Outdoor Recreation, Tribes, Business, Sportsmen/women, Conservation and More to Secure Funding to Address Wildlife Crisis

Author: nhfishandgame, July 21, 2021

Concord, NH – The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department wants you to know about the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), a bipartisan bill introduced in the House recently and yesterday in the Senate that’s considered the most important conservation legislation in a generation.

An unprecedented alliance of business, academic, tribal, and conservation leaders have united to provide a solution to one of America’s greatest threats—the decline of our fish and wildlife and their natural habitats. Scientists estimate that one-third of wildlife species in the United States are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without much-needed funding for their conservation.

The bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) will dedicate $1.3 billion annually to state fish and wildlife agencies to implement their science-based wildlife action plans and an additional $97.5 million for tribal fish and wildlife managers to conserve fish and wildlife on tribal lands and waters. The goal is to provide dedicated funding so that state and tribal wildlife managers can proactively conserve fish and wildlife species of greatest conservation need before federal listing under the Endangered Species Act is warranted.

The Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife has expanded out of the strong partnership and recommendations created by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish & Wildlife Resources, consisting of members representing: the outdoor recreation, retail, and manufacturing sector; the energy and automotive industries; private landowners; educational institutions; sportsmen’s and other conservation groups; and state, tribal, and federal fish and wildlife agencies.

“We have a responsibility to ensure our diverse fish and wildlife resources are managed for future generations,” said Michael Marchand, Supervisor of the NH Fish and Game Department’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. “The maintenance of diverse and healthy wildlife populations and their habitats through science-based management, along with educating the public about those resources, is a huge part of the Fish and Game mandate, and this funding would help enormously toward fulfilling this mission. This bill would provide critical funding for New Hampshire’s Wildlife Action Plan, which sets priorities for restoring and managing our wildlife, including threatened and endangered species,” said Marchand.

New Hampshire’s Wildlife Action Plan identifies over 900 important actions for the wildlife and wildlife habitats of New Hampshire, only a portion of which have adequate existing funding to implement. For example, undersized culverts under roadways can block passage of aquatic wildlife such as fish, reptiles, and freshwater mussels, but can also result in flooding and damage to human infrastructure. Working in partnership with other state and federal agencies, municipalities, and non-profit organizations, we can reduce the impact of this threat.

Of the 500-plus vertebrate species and thousands of invertebrates that call New Hampshire home, 169 were identified as species of greatest conservation need in the Wildlife Action Plan, and 51 are listed as threatened or endangered in New Hampshire. Additional critical research and targeted conservation efforts are needed for many of these species. Ongoing efforts with New England cottontails and Blanding’s turtles could serve as a model for other species conservation efforts.

“This funding would facilitate additional future wildlife success stories,” said Marchand. “Our fish and wildlife are among our state’s most valuable resources, and proactive conservation is good for wildlife, good for taxpayers, good for business, and good for our communities. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide the needed resources for proactive conservation nationwide.”

The Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson acts originally provided critical funding for fish and wildlife on the brink of extinction, but they are not a sustainable funding model for protection of all wildlife. Now there is an opportunity to pass legislation to protect our great natural heritage.

Visit http://www.OurNatureUSA.com to learn more about the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act so that future generations may enjoy the same abundant fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation opportunities that exist today.

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Guam Daily Post

Lawsuit: Lack of designated habitat imperils plants, animals

Phill Leon Guerrero | The Guam Daily Post, July 21, 2021

In the six years since listing 23 regional plants and animals as “endangered species,” the federal government has yet to designate any critical habitats to help protect them from extinction.

This inaction is at the heart of a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Guam by the Center for Biological Diversity. The national nonprofit conservation organization, which has more than 84,000 members, is represented locally by attorney Julian Aguon of Blue Ocean Law. Residents of the Mariana Islands are also members, according to the suit.

“We need to get serious about protecting our endangered and threatened species,” Aguon stated in a news release. “The first step is to designate critical habitat. The second is to stop giving the military a free pass. We’re suing Fish and Wildlife to remind them they must do both.”

The group filed a petition for the U.S. government to recognize these 23 species in May 2004. The designation was eventually made in 2015 for the plants and animals, which include the Marianas subspecies of the Pacific sheath-tailed bat, the Marianas skink, the Mariana eight-spot butterfly, the Rota blue damselfly, the Guam tree snail and the Micronesian cycad. The center filed a notice of its intent to bring the suit in August 2019, Post files show.

“These beautiful, dwindling Pacific Island species desperately need protected habitat or they won’t survive,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawaii director and a staff attorney at the center. “We can’t stop the extinction crisis if wildlife officials ignore the law and abandon the places where imperiled species live. Militarization, invasive species, climate change and urban sprawl have taken an enormous toll. Since government officials won’t take action, we’re asking the court to force them to.”

Federally recognized critical habitats can receive special land management considerations or protections, which can be essential for the conservation of an endangered species. The government is supposed to identify any new endangered species “concurrently” with their critical habitats, according to federal law. Even with a permissible extension for this process, the habitat designations should have occurred no later than October 2016, the center alleges in its suit.

The lawsuit was filed against Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a deputy director at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the federal agency itself. It seeks a judicial declaration that the federal government is violating the Endangered Species Act, and for the court to compel the action by establishing a timeline for compliance.

“The Service’s failure is inexcusable as it has recognized that these ‘23 Mariana Island species are experiencing population-level impacts’ as the result of serious and ongoing threats from habitat loss and degradation due to federal activities, including military activities to test weapons,” the lawsuit states. “These species’ habitat is being devastated by development, activities associated with military weapons testing, training and urbanization, nonnative ungulates and plants, brown tree snakes, fire, and climate change.”

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Scientific American

Flashy Plants Attract More Scientists

Distinctive species get more attention than rare or endangered plants

By Jillian Kramer, Scientific American August 2021 Issue

Scientists and gardeners alike seem unable to resist the charms of a flamboyant flower or towering stalk. A new study has found that botanists’ research inexorably skews toward showy plants, whereas the drabbest, dullest and shortest are often left behind—even if they are endangered.

The analysis, published in Nature Plants, reviewed 280 studies conducted from 1975 to 2020 on 113 plant species in the southwestern Alps, a major biodiversity hotspot. Researchers collected data on the plants’ morphology (traits such as size and color), as well as their ecology and rarity. A tally of the number of studies conducted on each plant revealed that eye-catching ones attracted far more scientific attention.

Plants with blue flowers, ranging in tone from indigo to cyan, have been studied disproportionately even though blue is one of the least common flower colors, says the study’s lead author Martino Adamo, a biologist at the University of Torino in Italy. Plants with red, pink or white blossoms beat those with brown or green flowers, and plants with tall stems also stood out—and not just literally.

“Our findings don’t so much suggest that researchers focus on prettier plants,” Adamo says, “but rather that more conspicuous, easy-to-locate and colorful flowering plants are the ones receiving more attention.”

The team had expected to find more endangered species among those most studied, but it did not. This counterintuitive result could have significant implications for plant science, the researchers say. A bias toward “glamorous” plants could mean “we may be missing extraordinary, untold stories of how plants grow, evolve and adapt,” says study co-author Kingsley Dixon, a botanist at Australia’s Curtin University. “Plus, we may be missing species that could be in rapid decline toward extinction, and we don’t have even basic information on seed banking for conservation.”

Adamo adds: “These results show that probably our unconscious is stronger than expected in the species model selection; this is not a tragedy, but something to consider” when planning future work. The results echo earlier findings that brightly colored, more charismatic and popular mammals and birds are more often featured in conservation and funding efforts, regardless of scarcity.

University of Melbourne environmental psychology researcher Kathryn Williams, who was not involved in the new study, says the potential consequences of such biases “are important for plant conservation and environmental decision-making more broadly. The availability of data about species, and the strength of the evidence base,” she adds, “will weigh in as difficult decisions are made about where to direct conservation effort and funding.”

(This article was originally published with the title “A Flashy Focus” in Scientific American 325, 2, 24 (August 2021) doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0821-24)

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E&E News/Greenwire

Feds propose expanding northern spotted owl habitat

By Michael Doyle, 07/19/2021

The Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed a significantly larger critical habitat for the threatened northern spotted owl than had been designated in the final days of the Trump administration.

The federal agency’s proposed revisions would amount to a critical habitat of more than 9 million acres for the owl under the Endangered Species Act. Last January, the Trump administration imposed changes that resulted in a critical habitat of 6.1 million acres

The Trump administration had excluded more than 3 million acres, mostly in Oregon. The final amount soared well beyond the 204,653 acres proposed for exclusion in August 2020.

“The large additional exclusions made in the January Exclusions Rule were premised on inaccurate assumptions about the status of the owl and its habitat needs, particularly in relation to barred owls,” FWS said today.

The action replaces the Trump move with a proposal to exclude a little over 200,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands in southwest Oregon.

“We’re glad to see protections for the highly imperiled spotted owl restored, but all of this land should have been safeguarded,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we’re going to address both the extinction and climate crises, we must protect more forests from logging.”

FWS listed the northern spotted owl as a threatened species under the ESA in 1990, sparking a long-running debate over its critical habitat (Greenwire, July 17, 2020).

Critical habitat is land deemed “essential for the conservation of the species.”

Any federal agency seeking to authorize, fund or carry out an action on designated land must first consult with FWS to ensure that the action is “not likely to … result in the destruction or adverse modification” of critical habitat.

A 1992 rule designated 6.9 million acres of critical habitat for the owl, all on federal lands, but was revised as a result of a 2003 settlement agreement with the timber industry.

The George W. Bush administration in 2008 finalized a revised critical habitat designation of 5.3 million acres, but that plan was later discarded by the Obama administration.

In 2012, FWS finalized, again, the owl’s habitat. About 9.3 million acres of mostly BLM and Forest Service lands, along with about 300,000 acres of state lands, mostly in Oregon, were included in the 2012 rule.

“The species has experienced rapid population declines and potential extirpation in Washington and parts of Oregon, is functionally extinct in British Columbia, and continues to exhibit similar declines in other parts of the range,” FWS noted today.

Populations of northern spotted owls in Oregon and Washington have declined by over 50%, with some declining by more than 75% since 1995, FWS said.

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The Garden Island (Lihue, HI)

Officials slam videos of harassed Hawaiian monk seals

By Scott Yunker, The Garden Island, July 18, 2021

HONOLULU — State and federal officials are urging visitors to behave properly when faced with marine wildlife after recent social media posts depicting interference with critically-endangered Hawaiian monk seals provoked an uproar online.

Representatives of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority addressed the incidents at a press conference Friday morning.

“Our marine animals are both culturally important and ecologically unique to Hawai‘i. They should be treated with respect, always, both for the people of Hawai‘i and for general animal welfare,” Brian Neilson, administrator for the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources, said. “… The people of Hawai‘i live around these animals daily. They’re part of our lives, our culture and our identity. Harassing them for fun, or a photo op, or the post on social media is incredibly disrespectful.”

One TikTok video, posted to the Instagram account @hhhviral, depicts a woman touching a monk seal resting on a Kaua‘i beach. Disturbed, the animal snaps its jaws in response, which the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement is currently investigating. Another video, posted to the same account, shows a man touching a seal beneath a rocky outcropping.

Hawaiian monk seals are protected by the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Hawai‘i state law, which classifies harassment of the species as a Class C felony. Perpetrators can face up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) Chief Jason Redulla asked beachgoers who witness such incidents to utilize the free “DLNRTip” smartphone app; the DOCARE hotline at 643-DLNR; or the NOAA hotline at 888-256-9040.

“Going forward, DOCARE officers have been instructed to investigate cases of wildlife harassment and to refer them to county prosecutors for prosecution,” Redulla said. “Our officers cover more than 700 miles of shoreline in addition to millions of acres of state land. We cannot be everywhere at every time, and as a result, we rely on witnesses who report when people are too close or are harassing our wildlife.”

In the past two weeks, the DLNRTip app has logged 31 tips regarding seal harassment; 10 tips regarding sea turtle harassment; and two tips regarding spinner dolphin harassment, according to Redulla, who noted many of the tips concerned the two seal encounters already reported by the news media.

“If you observe harassment of our protected species, remember, it could take some time for the authorities to arrive on scene,” Redulla said. “So, if the harassment does not stop, please provide any video or photos to law enforcement when they arrive, or please send it and report it via the tip app.”

A recently published NOAA action plan reports only 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals, which are endemic to the islands, are alive in the world today.

“We greatly appreciate the community’s concern … regarding the monk seal incidents that have been posted on social media recently,” NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Wildlife Management Coordinator Adam Kurtz said. “We hope that these concerning videos will drive positive change and increase the awareness for some of the issues that these species face.

Kurtz said the “top message” is to keep a safe distance.

“That means 10 feet for sea turtles; 50 feet for Hawaiian monk seals; 50 yards for dolphins and small whales; and 100 yards for humpback whales,” Kurtz said.

Kalani Ka‘ana‘ana, chief brand officer of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, discussed ongoing messaging campaigns made in partnership with NOAA and DLNR that address the issue.

“This education isn’t something that just started in response to recent events,” he said. “It’s something that we’ve continually messaged for a number of years.”

In addition to producing public service announcements distributed to airlines and hotels, the HTA also funds community organizations “who are actually dealing with these species and educating and interacting with visitors,” Ka‘ana‘ana said. “The guys who are setting up the ropes and putting up the signs (around resting seals), we’re funding them, too.”

HTA is utilizing targeted social media advertising, as well, according to Ka‘ana‘ana.

“Organic posts aren’t going to get the eyeballs we need,” he said. “So, we’ve been investing in paid social, to make sure that these videos are seen by visitors.”

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Paso Robles Daily News (Paso Robles, CA)

Local representatives urge designation of monarch butterfly as endangered species

Representatives Carbajal, Panetta send letter to Interior Department

Posted July 16, 2021 by News Staff

– On June 29, Congressmen Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) and Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) sent a letter with their House colleagues to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland urging her to use her emergency authority under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to save the western monarch butterfly. Earlier this year, President Biden ordered the Department of Interior to review the previous administration’s decision to delay protections for monarch butterflies until 2024 or later. Unfortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to maintain the status quo, putting the future of this beautiful and iconic species in jeopardy. The undersigned Members of Congress are calling on Secretary Haaland to reverse course and dedicate every available tool, including the ESA, to preserving the monarch butterfly population before it is too late.

“Although we on the central coast of California have long witnessed the magnificent migration of the western monarch butterflies, barely 2,000 of them returned to their wintering grounds in the past year,” said Rep. Panetta. “That shockingly low number is exactly why we in the United States Congress are calling on the Department of Interior to immediately provide the necessary federal protections to help prevent the extinction of the monarch butterfly. The prescriptions of the Endangered Species Act would help the survival and repopulation of this important pollinator and ensure that generations to come also can experience the western monarch butterfly.”

“The Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove in my district traditionally hosts the largest western monarch overwintering population in California,” said Rep. Carbajal. “When I went to visit recently, there weren’t any monarchs to be found. The western monarch’s population has dropped by 99-percent over the last 30 years and, unless we act now, they are on a path to extinction. I urge Secretary Haaland to use her authority to designate the monarch butterfly as an endangered species and help us save them from extinction. We need these beautiful pollinators to keep our planet healthy.”

The letter led by Congressman Panetta and Congressman Carbajal to Secretary Haaland was joined by Representatives Ed Case (HI-01), Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Jerry Nadler (NY-10), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Tom Suozzi (NY-03), Mark Takano (CA-41), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Juan Vargas (CA-51), and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13).

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Microsoft News (Business Insider)

A family of bears marched past a crowd to cool off in Lake Tahoe – a cute, but terrifying, example of our climate-crisis dystopia

Morgan McFall-Johnsen, July 16, 2021

Video showing a family of bears trudging past beachgoers and straight into Lake Tahoe may look cute, but it’s actually terrifying.

The video, captured earlier this month by local beachgoer Heather Blummer, shows a hefty bear with three cubs marching right past a crowd of humans on the beach. The bear family was likely trying to cool down: It reached 91 degrees Fahrenheit in that area of Lake Tahoe on Sunday, July 11, when the video was taken. A record-breaking heat wave was sweeping the area.

Though the fluffy mammal family may look adorable, splashing and wrestling in the water with one another, bears are wild animals and a potential danger to humans, who should never be so close to the species – especially when cubs are present.

Imogen Cancellare, a conservation biologist, tweeted about the potential dangers of getting too close to a mama bear and her cubs.

“A black bear with cubs can be VERY aggressive, and what she will/won’t tolerate isn’t always clear,” Cancellare said. “If she hurts someone, the state will euthanize her, and her cubs will either starve or (if caught) spend their life in cages.”

It’s not just about humans and bears, either. Changes in species range patterns, changes in human land use, and the unpredictability of climate events will further exacerbate the challenges, according to the World Conservation Congress.

As the planet’s warming creates increasingly extreme weather, humans aren’t the only ones fleeing. Climate refugees come in all shapes and sizes. In Russia, polar bears have invaded towns in search of food as their ice-sheet habitats melt. In Australia, wounded and frightened animals have rushed out of gargantuan brush fires and into residential areas. In drought-stricken Zimbabwe, elephants have raided human communities for food and water.

Heat waves can make both humans and animals desperate, and scientists are confident climate change is making heat waves worse.

Since the beginning of June, a series of record-setting heat waves have rolled over the US West, Southwest, and Pacific Northwest. In particular, the late-June heat dome that sat over Washington and Oregon for days has astonished scientists.

Earlier this week, scientists determined the blazing heat wave killed more than one billion sea creatures, as marine life in the Pacific Northwest was cooked to death in the unrelenting sun. Scientists expect the number of dead to increase as their count continues.

Experts told Scientific American losing such substantial numbers of creatures could destabilize parts of the ocean, eventually resulting in a decline in biodiversity.

This type of extreme heat is becoming more common and more severe as humans burn fossil fuels, like coal and oil, that release heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. The planet is warming, and that’s bringing more extreme heat events.

Heat waves are occuring three times more often and lasting about a day longer than they did in the 1960s, according to records of such waves across 50 US cities. They also start earlier and continue later into the year. The heat-wave season is 47 days longer than it was in the 1960s.

But even that understanding may be outdated. The research center World Weather Attribution found the July Pacific-Northwest heat wave would have been virtually impossible without the global warming caused by human activities.

“This is something that nobody saw coming, that nobody thought possible. And we feel that we do not understand heat waves as well as we thought we did,” Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, who co-authored that study, said in a press briefing.

“We are much less certain about how the climate affects heat waves than we were two weeks ago.”

(Original article appeared in Business Insider.)

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Reuters

Mexican fishing rule change a ‘setback’ for near-extinct porpoise, say conservationists

MEXICO CITY, July 15 (Reuters) – The Mexican government’s decision to loosen its policy of keeping a fishing free zone around a protected area in the Gulf of California region was a “setback” to keeping alive a near-extinct porpoise species, a conservation group said on Thursday.

There are thought to be only between six and 20 vaquita porpoises left and the species is on the brink of extinction as more die each year in fishing nets than are being born, biologists say.

Mexico had previously banned boats entering the species’ last sanctuary off the coast of Mexico, known as the “zero tolerance zone”. But the Ministry of Agriculture on Wednesday announced plans to regulate how many fishing boats can enter the area. Some fishing vessels had already been flouting the ban.

Under the new plans, the ministry said its staff would vary the monitoring of fishing in the area depending on how many ships were present, including a temporary closure of the zone if more than 60 vessels entered.

Alejandro Olivera, the Mexico representative of the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, said the government was planning to “tolerate” some fishing vessels so that it would not have to use up all its resources in monitoring the area.

“This is a setback for its conservation,” Olivera said.

The Ministry of Agriculture’s spokesperson declined to comment.

The main threat to the vaquita porpoise are gillnets, set up by poachers in an effort to catch totoaba, an endangered species of marine fish sought by Chinese buyers on the black market for its prized swim bladders.

(Reporting by Angulo Sharay; writing by Drazen Jorgic; editing by Richard Pullin)

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Seattle Times

1st female grizzly in 40 years collared in Washington state

July 15, 2021, By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS, The Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Wildlife biologists have captured a female grizzly bear in Washington state for the first time in 40 years, fitting it with a radio collar so they can track its movements, officials said Thursday.

The grizzly, along with her three cubs, were released to help biologists learn more about the endangered animals, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists captured the bear about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the Washington-Idaho state line on U.S. Forest Service land.

The three cubs ran into the surrounding woods while biologists did a general health check on the mother and fitted her collar, then returned to her when the people went away, the state agency said.

“Grizzly bears once occupied much of the Cascade and Selkirk Ranges, but their numbers were severely reduced as a result of persecution by early settlers and habitat degradation,” said Rich Beausoleil, a biologist with the state. “Grizzly bear recovery started in 1981 and it took 40 years to confirm the first known female in Washington.”

Biologists became aware of the bear through images captured on cameras inside the Selkirk Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone in a remote area of the Selkirk Mountains. That is one of six recovery zones in the U.S. identified by the federal recovery plan for grizzlies.

Grizzlies in that area roam between northern Idaho, northeastern Washington, and southeastern British Columbia. The population there is considered healthy, and is growing about 3% a year, officials said.

Biologists believe the recently collared female lives in the area, and is not a bear from outside of Washington state.

“A group of bears – a mother and three cubs – were photographed on another occasion on a game camera in the same area three to four weeks prior to the capture,” said Wayne Kasworm, a grizzly bear biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The natal collar – the white ring around the neck – of one of the cubs leads us to believe this is the same family of bears.”

Four adult males were captured in 1985, 2016 and 2018, but this was the first instance of a female capture, the state agency said.

“Currently there are believed to be at least 70 to 80 grizzly bears in the Selkirk Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone,” Kasworm said. “About half those bears live on the Canadian side of the border, with the other half on the U.S. side.”

Grizzly bears are listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act and classified as an endangered species in Washington state. The state agency works collaboratively with federal wildlife officials to monitor grizzly bear survival, reproduction, home range use, food habits, genetics, and causes of death.

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JD Supra

Service Proposes Critical Habitat Designation for Pearl Darter

Samantha Savoni, July 15, 2021

On July 13, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published a proposed rule to designate critical habitat for the pearl darter (Percina aurora) under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Listed as a threatened species under the ESA in September 2017, the pearl darter is a small, snub-nosed fish whose historical range includes Mississippi and Louisiana.  The proposed critical habitat designation for the pearl darter includes a total of approximately 517 river miles along the Pascagoula River and Pearl River basins, which run across multiple counties in Mississippi.  The Service’s notice also announces the availability of a draft economic analysis of the proposed critical habitat designation.

Under section 4(b)(2) of the ESA, the Service is required to designate any area deemed essential to the conservation of a listed species as critical habitat for the species, based on a review of “the best available scientific data after taking into consideration the economic impact, national security impact, and any other relevant impact of specifying any particular area as critical habitat.”  In its Federal Register notice for the proposed rule, the Service states that the anticipated costs of the critical habitat designation will be administrative in nature and are not expected to exceed $710,000 in any given year.  Additionally, the Service determined that because the proposed critical habitat lands are not owned, managed, or used by the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security, the designation will have no impact on national security.  Further, in making its decision to designate critical habitat, the Service determined that no habitat conservation or management plans for the pearl darter exist, and that the proposed designation does not include any Tribal lands or trust resources.  Therefore, the Service did not choose to exclude any particular areas from the critical habitat designation on the basis of impacts to national security, economic impacts, or other relevant considerations.

The agency’s proposed rule and supporting documents are available at regulations.gov, under Docket Number FWS-R4-ES-2020-0062.  The 60-day period for public comment on the proposed rule and draft economic analysis is currently set to end on September 13, 2021.

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Environmental Defense Fund

Presence of endangered shark species in Straits of Florida renews calls for collaboration

Stronger scientific collaboration in Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean could benefit shark population

(WASHINGTON – July 14, 2021) A new long-term study expands our understanding of a critically endangered species of shark residing off the northwestern Cuban coast near the U.S. waters of Florida, renewing calls for strengthened international collaboration between countries in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean region.

The eight-year study, published in Marine and Coastal Fisheries, gathered data on a Cuban multispecies fishery and found an outsized presence of endangered juvenile oceanic whitetip sharks in the area off the Havana coast. The presence of this species — once abundant, though populations have now decreased globally by more than 98% — suggests there should be greater cooperation and collaboration in the Straits of Florida, the narrow ocean passage between the tip of Florida and Cuba’s northern coast. The paper, “Seasonal Abundance and Size Structure of Sharks Taken in the Pelagic Longline Fishery off Northwestern Cuba,” underscores the need for international scientific and conservation collaboration due to the sharks’ presence across boundaries. Such international collaboration is essential to ensure that endangered species like the oceanic whitetip shark can recover.

“In these shared waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, ocean ecosystems conservation and sustainable fisheries require international collaboration — such as through data-sharing and joint management — to ensure successful, long-term outcomes,” said Valerie Miller, Cuba director for EDF Oceans program.

The study is the result of a monitoring program from 2011-2019 on the longline fleet based in Cojímar, Cuba, a small coastal town near Havana. The longline fleet consists of 134 small-scale fishing vessels harvesting swordfish, billfish, tuna and some shark species. Data gathered during the study showed a constant presence of juvenile oceanic whitetip sharks — designated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“Their presence highlights the value of the Straits of Florida as an important migratory route for apex predators like sharks and tunas as they move across international boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea,” said corresponding author Dr. Robert Hueter of Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium.

The continued presence of the endangered sharks is a small but positive sign for a species that has suffered significant declines globally. Because continued catches — even incidentally — could undermine recovery of the species, Cuba has adopted an important national plan to conserve and sustainably manage shark species, like the oceanic whitetip, for their essential role in maintaining healthy, diverse ocean ecosystems. The Cojímar area also may be used as nursery or pupping grounds for this critically endangered shark species.

“The varying sizes of oceanic whitetip sharks in the Cojímar fishery zone suggests that sharks at multiple stages of life may be using the area, possibly as habitat safe for juveniles or as a nursery ground,” said the lead author, Alexei Ruiz of Cuba’s Center for Marine Research at the University of Havana. “This finding highlights the importance of sustainability in small-scale fisheries carried out in Cuba’s nearshore waters, where these juvenile sharks are being found.”

Species like the endangered oceanic whitetip shark regularly cross international boundaries, creating complexities and challenges to gathering data and learning more, something especially challenging if international collaboration isn’t considered. The study itself also showcases the importance and value of scientific collaboration. Environmental Defense Fund helped co-author the report with experts from Cuba, Mexico and the U.S., and EDF has worked alongside respected partners in Cuba for over two decades working to conserve marine ecosystems and build sustainable fisheries.

“To ensure success, conservation efforts must take place at different levels and in different places,” said Miller. “Collaboration across boundaries and geographies is essential and boosts our chances of creating more sustainable, climate-ready ecosystems and fisheries of the future.”

This study and the shark monitoring were led by a research team at the Center for Marine Research at the University of Havana, in collaboration with the fishers of Cojímar and advised by scientists from the Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, Eckerd College and EDF.

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Kern Valley Sun (Lake Isabella, CA)  

Federal government considers Kern County ‘legless’ lizard for endangered species protection

By David Beasley, July 14, 2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has begun a “rigorous” year-long review of whether to place the Temblor legless lizard on the endangered species list.

The lizard, which looks like a snake, lives in “the sandy, alkali desert scrub of central California,” the federal agency said in a news release.

Its habitat is a narrow strip on the east side of the Temblor Mountain Range from Kern County to western Fresno County between the mountains and State Highway 33, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection last October.

The species faces potential threats from oil and gas development, habitat fragmentation and climate change, the news release said.

The agency will also look at urbanization, industrial solar projects and wildfires as potential threats to the species, agency spokeswoman Meghan Snow told the Kern Valley Sun.

“As our next step, we will analyze the best available science and talk to species experts to arrive at a 12-month finding,” she said.

It’s not known how many of the lizards there are but the species is considered “rare and to have a small population density,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Most of the lizard’s habitat is on private land heavily developed for oil and gas drilling, the petition said.

“Kern County is California’s largest oil‐producing county, and over 98% of the lizard’s range is open for oil and gas development,” the center said.

All oil and gas extraction threatens species but techniques used in Kern County are particularly damaging, the center said in its petition.

“Extraction techniques in Kern County, including steam flooding, cyclic steaming, water flooding and fracking, are energy and water intensive, causing a wide range of harms to species and ecosystem functions in addition to the threats from conventional extraction,” the center said. “Without adequate measures to protect the lizard, this species is at risk for extinction.”

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CNN

Scientists are fighting to protect a shark and turtle ‘superhighway’

By Nell Lewis, CNN, July 13, 2021 

Deep in the Pacific Ocean, an underwater “superhighway” stretches roughly 700 kilometers (430 miles) between the marine reserves of Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island, off the coast of Costa Rica.

It’s vital to the sea life — including sea turtles, whale sharks and hammerhead sharks — that moves back and forth between the islands, looking for a place to nest or foraging for food.

But the route can be dangerous. Unlike the marine reserves at each end, the swimway is open to fishing vessels. Data shows that populations of migratory species, many of which are already endangered, are declining.

Protecting biodiversity hotspots around the islands is not enough, says Alex Hearn, biology professor and founding member of MigraMar, a coalition of scientists and environmental groups. His team is campaigning for the entire swimway to be protected — an area that would stretch over 240,000 square kilometres (93,000 square miles) of ocean, about the size of the United Kingdom.

This would extend fishing restrictions beyond the current 22-kilometer radius around Cocos Island and the 74-kilometer radius around the Galapagos islands, creating a narrow protected channel between the two that follows a chain of seamounts, underwater mountains that rise from the sea floor.

Like landmarks for the ocean, the seamounts are vital for navigation. Made from lava, they emit magnetic signals, which some species, such as hammerhead sharks and sea turtles, rely on to locate themselves, explains Hearn. He says these act as “stepping stones,” providing places for sea creatures to feed and rest during migration.

A game of tag

For more than a decade, MigraMar’s network of scientists have been trying to prove the importance of the swimway by documenting the species that use it. They have placed satellite and ultrasonic tags on almost 400 marine organisms to track their migratory routes.

So far, they have successfully tracked the migration of whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, silky sharks, leatherback turtles and green turtles between the two islands. And in February, for the first time, they discovered evidence of tiger sharks, when a nine-foot-long female tiger shark scientists had tagged in the Galapagos seven years ago surfaced at Cocos Island.

All of these species are suffering from population decline and are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered, except the tiger shark which is considered near threatened. As tiger sharks are one of the top predators in the Pacific, it is vital to protect their migratory pathway, says Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network and another founding member of MigraMar.

“The impact of tiger sharks is felt all the way down the food chain,” he tells CNN. “Having a healthy ecosystem where tiger sharks survive is important.”

The hook

The most common threat to these migratory species is fishing. They can be accidentally caught by fishing vessels, entangle themselves in nets, or in the case of sharks, are illegally hunted for their meat and fins.

Compared to other threats they face, such as climate change, fishing is easier for us to control, says Steiner.

Coastal countries can restrict activities in their territorial waters, he explains, and the Cocos-Galapagos swimway falls under the jurisdiction of both Ecuador and Costa Rica. “A couple of signatures on a piece of paper can start the process to protect this vitally important ecological area,” he says.

MigraMar and environmental organization Pacifico have produced a document outlining the need to create the swimway, calling for it to include “no take zones” that prohibit human disturbance such as fishing or dredging, or management zones where only sustainable and seasonal fishing is permitted.

Carlos Chacón, coordinator of Pacífico, says that finding “common ground” with the fishing sector will be crucial in ratifying the swimway as a marine protected area (MPA). The proposal has already been met with resistance from the fishing industry in both countries, he says, who claim it would have a negative impact on business.

Atunec, the Ecuadorian Tuna Boat Association, opposed a different proposal to expand the Galapagos marine reserve last year, saying that the area is very rich in fishing and creating a no-take zone would reduce its catch.

However, Chacón believes that in the long term marine protected areas will have a positive impact on fishing. “MPAs become nurseries,” he says, where fish grow and reproduce, causing overall stocks to increase and more fish to become available outside the protected area.

It could also have economic benefits in other sectors. Cocos and the Galapagos attract visitors thanks to their rich biodiversity and preserving iconic sea life could protect the tourism sector.

Time is short

Ecuador and Costa Rica are currently considering plans to protect the swimway, with MigraMar’s data being used to inform their decisions.

Both nations have signed up to the Global Ocean Alliance, a UK-led initiative that calls for 30% of the ocean to be protected by 2030. This shows political will, says Steiner, but with only 13% of Ecuador’s and 3% of Costa Rica’s waters safeguarded so far, the countries need to convert this will into action.

Costa Rica is currently “implementing a strategy to increase conservation, especially by creating and strengthening marine protected areas,” Haydée Rodríguez Romero, the government’s vice minister for water and the ocean, tells CNN. This will involve increasing conservation around Cocos Island, she says, adding that “we acknowledge the importance of protecting the swimways.”

While the government of Ecuador did not respond to CNN’s request for comment by the time of publication, it has been reported that it is looking at extending the Galapagos Marine Reserve, which would cover the entire Ecuadorian side of the swimway. Rodríguez Romero says that the two countries are in discussion over marine protected areas and law enforcement in the ocean.

“Momentum is building, and the science is clear,” says Steiner. “We’re hopeful that action will be taken in the near future.” But he warns that with some species under threat of extinction, governments need to act fast.

“We’ve taken baby steps,” he says, “but these endangered species don’t have time for that.”

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Reuters

Draft UN agreement on biodiversity targets conservation, pollution, finance

Kanupriya Kapoor, July 12, 2021

SINGAPORE, July 12 (Reuters) – U.N. negotiators released a set of proposals to protect nature on Monday, including a plan to put at least a third of the planet under conservation protection in the next decade, but environmentalists said the draft fell short on ambition.

The 21 proposals include targets for reducing pesticide use, cutting plastic waste and channelling $200 billion a year towards protecting nature in developing countries. They will be voted on by the 196 countries in the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity when it next meets in October.

With some 1 million species now threatened with extinction, countries are being urged to conserve 30% of their land and sea territories by 2030.

Currently, about 17% of land and 7% of seas fall under some sort of protection. Elsewhere, there are few limits on the overfishing, development, mining or industrial pollution that have shrunk wild habitats worldwide.

And challenges related to climate change, including extreme weather, ocean acidification and drought, cause further stress for many species.

The United States, Britain and more than 50 countries have made the so-called “30 by 30” conservation pledge. Scientists say that for the most impact, those areas should be rich in wildlife, rather than barren.

But the proposals as drafted now could be difficult to implement across governments and industrial sectors, environmentalists said. There are so many individual targets that it could encourage countries to cherry pick those that are convenient and ignore the rest, they said.

Some plans, such as ensuring proper conservation management or that indigenous rights are respected, were too vague and open to interpretation, and there was no specified way to link these global targets to national plans, they said.

“It’s absolutely crucial for all of society to be able to see themselves within this framework and identify what contribution they can make to protecting biodiversity,” said Thomas Brooks, an ecologist at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

“This agreement is not there yet.”

Having fewer targets, however, would “undermine how complex biodiversity is”, said Francis Ogwal, a co-chair of the Convention on Biodiversity, during a virtual news conference.

The proposals also include a call for reducing harmful government subsidies, like those for the agriculture or fisheries sectors, by $500 billion a year.

The draft agreement is set to be negotiated and signed at the next global biodiversity conference, scheduled for October in Kunming, China, just a month before the U.N. holds its next climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

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NBC4 News (Universal City, CA)

Scientists Release Endangered Frogs Into San Jacinto Mountains

A total of 253 endangered frogs were released into the area.

By Maggie More. Published July 12, 2021

A team of scientists released a group of year-old endangered Mountain yellow-legged frogs into a remote portion of the San Bernardino National Forest on July 8, in the hopes that the mix of male and female frogs will repopulate the area.

A total of 253 endangered frogs were released into the area on July 8, by scientists from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, the University of California, Los Angeles, the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

To get the frogs to the site, scientists travelled “by vehicle to a trailhead in special cooler backpacks that maintain a suitable temperature for this high-altitude species,” then undertook an over-five-mile hike to the release location.

Mountain yellow-legged frogs face a number of environmental threats that have lowered their population in Southern California over time.

Historically, the frogs were “widely distributed across the San Gabriel, San Bernardino, San Jacinto, and Palomar mountains,” according a statement from the U.S. Forest Service.

But by the time they were added to the endangered species list in 2002, there were estimated to be less than 100 adult frogs left in the wild, thanks to “non-native predators, recreation impacts, and disease.”

Those challenges haven’t gone away, according to Debra Shier Ph.D., the Brown endowed Associate Director of Recovery Ecology and Southwest hub co-leader for the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

“Climate change and chytrid fungus are creating challenges to Mountain yellow-legged frog survival that the species has never faced before,” Shier said.

Scientists and government agencies have worked together for over 20 years on recovery actions to help protect the frogs and boost their population.

Those efforts include managing lands in the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests to minimize human changes to the environment, and conservation and research from the San Diego Zoo Alliance, U.S. Geological Survey, Los Angeles Zoo, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Santa Ana Zoo, and UCLA.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife also completed an extensive habitat improvement project to benefit the frogs.

The July 8 release was the second to occur at the chosen spot in the San Jacinto Mountains, and a third release is planned for later in the year to bring the total number of frogs released up to 400.

The conditions at the release site in the San Jacinto Mountains are still favorable for the frogs, in spite of the drought conditions around California, but the frog population across their historic habitat range is still low. Recovery efforts will continue into the future, the U.S. Forest Service said.

“The Department has spent a lot of time evaluating, permitting and rehabbing release waters and we’re optimistic about the location.” said Russell Black, Senior Environmental Scientist Supervisor for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It has a large amount of drought resistant habitat that should provide a stable location for these frogs for many years.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

517 River Miles of Lifesaving Habitat in Mississippi Proposed to Protect Threatened Pearl Darter

BILOXI, Miss.—(July 12, 2021)–Following nearly two decades of advocacy by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to protect 517 river miles of critical habitat for the pearl darter, a threatened fish from Mississippi.

“To save animals from extinction we have to protect their habitat,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Protecting rivers and streams for the Pearl darter will save this special little fish from extinction and also improve water quality for the people who live near the Pearl and Pascagoula rivers.”

The fish historically swam in about 775 river miles in Mississippi and Louisiana, but it has been extirpated from all 440 river miles where it was once found in the Pearl River watershed. Overall the species has been lost from at least 64% of its historic range.

Today’s critical habitat proposal includes a unit in the Pearl River basin where the fish can be reintroduced to help it stave off extinction and ultimately recover multiple healthy populations.

The habitat proposed for protection is found in 13 Mississippi counties: Clarke, Covington, Forrest, George, Greene, Lauderdale, Jackson, Jones, Newton, Perry, Simpson, Stone and Wayne.

The darter was first placed on the candidate waiting list for federal protection in 1991. In 2004 the Center petitioned for its protection in 2004 and filed a lawsuit over delay in 2010. In 2017 the fish was finally protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

While it’s already illegal to harm the fish, critical habitat designation adds an additional layer of protection, requiring any federally funded or permitted project to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure its habitat is not harmed by a proposed activity.

The darter’s habitat has been harmed by water pollution from oil and gas development, sand and gravel mining, urbanization and agriculture. Darters live on river bottoms and use the spaces between rocks for hiding and breeding. But habitat destruction causes erosion that fills these spaces with silt and harms the insects the darters need for food.

The Pearl darter is about 2.5 inches long, and males develop showy patterns during the breeding season. It has a blunt snout, large eyes located high on its head and a black spot at the base of its tail fin. The Southeastern Fishes Council has named the Pearl darter as one of the 12 most endangered fish in the southeastern United States.

“The fact that the Pearl darter can’t be found in its namesake river shows the global extinction crisis is unfolding right here, in the rivers of the southeastern United States,” said Curry. “Freshwater animals are at the leading edge of this crisis across the planet. By protecting the little-known fish, mussels and other critters that live in our streams and rivers, we’re creating a safer future for humans, too.”

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Sydney Morning Herald

Southern Australian sharks and rays being ‘cornered’ by climate change

By Peter Hannam, July 11, 2021

Southern Australia’s sharks and rays face mounting threats as warmer waters push more tropical species southwards and habitats change, exacerbating threats to critically endangered species.

A study aimed at identifying the risks to some 132 different species found in waters ranging from south-west Western Australia to NSW has been published in the Fish and Fisheries journal. It seeks to give authorities a method to prepare for the threats of overfishing and climate change.

“This is the first time we’re actually bringing them together as a risk assessment,” said Terence Walker, a research fellow at both Melbourne and Monash universities and lead author of the paper. “The challenges for fisheries managers are growing all the time.”

While tighter controls on commercial fishing since the early 2000s had arrested the decline of many shark, ray and chimaera species such as elephant fish, those gains could be eroded as more tropical species such as tiger and bull sharks extend their ranges southwards, the researchers said.

The East Australian Current, which shifts tropical water southwards, is strengthening and making the Tasman Sea one of the world’s warming hot spots as sea-surface temperatures rise at about four times the global rate. The Leeuwin Current, which flows south along the WA coast, is also strengthening although not as rapidly as its eastern counterpart.

“Global warming is literally going to push southern sharks and rays into a corner, because they can only go so far south and west,” said Leonardo Guida, a shark scientist with the Australian Marine Conservation Society and a co-author of the paper. “Everything points to an urgent need to rapidly adjust how fisheries work.”

The paper also found that at present fishing levels, as many as six species already assessed as endangered including the school shark and maugean skate will have their recovery hampered by southward-migrating rivals.

Richard Reina, a marine ecologist at Monash University and another of the paper’s authors said southern Australian waters were changing faster than other parts of the country and it was also the most heavily fished by commercial firms.

While fisheries had made major efforts to monitor fish stocks and modify approved take accordingly, they were already struggling to adjust to “the southward movement of so many species … everybody’s moving south”, Professor Reina said.

Those sharks and rays that breed or feed in shallow waters “will struggle to establish themselves if they get pushed off the [continental] shelf into deeper waters”, he said.

Dr Guida said it was vital Australia and other nations cut greenhouse gas emissions that was driving the hotter climate. In the meantime, fisheries managers should start to use the new methods to assess risk.

In some cases, that will involve increasing the areas where fishing is restricted or banned to give the at-risk species a chance of survival.

Many sharks in particular sit at the top of the food chains, keeping ocean ecosystems stable.

“If you look after sharks and rays, you’re looking after our broader food chains,” Dr Guida said. “It affects what fish ends up on your table – if it gets there at all.”

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Voice of OC (Santa Ana, CA)

Brutal Pelican Attacks in O.C. Raise Wildlife Safety Concerns, Reward for Information

BY JILLIE HERROLD, July 11, 2021

Dozens of brown pelicans have been maimed and mutilated along Orange County’s coastline, raising serious alarms about the safety of local wildlife and an effort to find those responsible with a $5,600 reward.

Only 10 of the 32 brought into the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in recent months have survived after expensive emergency surgery and long-term care, said Debbie McGuire, executive director of the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center. Other pelicans died on the beach; never reaching the center.

The birds all had a similar compound wing fracture with a bone protruding, which leads officials to believe these injuries were inflicted purposely by a human, McGuire said.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, a national legal advocacy organization for animals rights, announced on Wednesday its contribution of $5,000 to the existing $500 reward offer for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the attacks. Shortly after, another $100 was provided by an anonymous donor, McGuire said.

“Officials in the current case are extremely disturbed by what they see as a pattern of abuse, very likely committed by the same perpetrator or perpetrators. This is a community safety issue as well for both humans and non-human animals alike,” said Lori Dunn, attorney for The Animal Legal Defense Fund.

The nonprofit frequently files animal-rights lawsuits and offers tens-of-thousands of dollars per year in rewards to help solve animal abuse violations. This pelican abuse case is one of the most recent to receive funding.

Such attacks aren’t the first in Southern California.

In 2008, 11 brown pelicans washed ashore at Bolsa Chica State Beach with broken wings. Only one survived. The reward offer for information assisting the investigation reached $20,000. Although the culprit wasn’t found, bird abusers in other cases have received fines, McGuire said.

This last December, four pelicans were found in Ventura Harbor and Marina del Rey with symmetrical cuts on their throat pouches. The investigation is ongoing, McGuire said.

“The fact that it’s happened before, is what’s even more bizarre to me,” McGuire said. “Is it related? We don’t know that; we can just tell you what’s happening now.”

The Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center is working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on the investigation while also rehabilitating the abused animals.

The care center provides surgeries and long-term care for the birds that cost up to $10,000 per bird. The facility has seen all types of injured animals but found these pelican injuries significant because of the number of birds harmed and the way they were harmed.

“We know that it’s not an accident because of the type of the break in the wings,” McGuire said. McGuire also noted that since these birds are so large and stocky, these injuries must have required intentional force.

These actions have consequences.

“Depending on the nature of the attacks and details that still have yet to emerge, there could be both state and federal charges,” Dunn said.

Brown pelicans are not a rare sight along the southern and western sea coasts of the US, but this wasn’t always the case.

Their population dwindled from DDT contamination introduced in the 1940s, putting them on the endangered species list in 1970. They were removed from the list until 2009 but still face dangers such as entanglement in fishing line and illegal hunting. The most recent population estimate of the Brown Pelican subspecies is about 70,000 breeding pairs, according to a survey by California Audubon.

The birds remain protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it a federal crime to wound, capture or kill them without authorization from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The maximum penalty for maliciously and intentionally maiming or mutilating a living animal is a fine of up to $20,000 or up to three years imprisonment, or both.

“It’s extremely important for the public to know that there are laws that protect wildlife like these pelicans, and that those who commit such heinous acts against defenseless animal victims are held accountable,” Dunn said.

A few tips about the attacks have been provided thus far, but the investigation is ongoing, McGuire said.

The public is urged to call the California Department of Fish and Wildlife tip line at 1-888-334-2258 if they know anything about the attacks.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Oregon Approves Petition to Increase Marbled Murrelet Endangered Species Protection

Coastal Seabird at Risk of Extinction From Climate Change

SALEM, Ore.—(July 9, 2021) The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission today approved a petition filed by five conservation groups to give marbled murrelets more protection by reclassifying them from threatened to endangered under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The 4-3 decision comes two years after an Oregon judge ruled that the commission had violated state law by denying the petition without explanation in 2018.

“We’re relieved that after so many missteps, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will finally move forward with extending marbled murrelets the full protection of endangered status under state law,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These unique birds face serious threats in Oregon from climate change, ocean warming, wildfire, and unchecked logging of their nesting habitat and should have been protected as endangered years ago.”

The marbled murrelet is a small seabird that nests in old-growth and mature forests and forages at sea. Its population has declined dramatically in recent decades due to extensive logging in Oregon’s coast range.

The bird was listed as threatened under the Oregon Endangered Species Act in 1995. But Oregon has allowed intensive clearcut logging to continue in marbled murrelet habitat on lands owned and regulated by the state.

Habitat fragmentation, ocean warming, climate change and large-scale disturbances compound the existing threats and put this species’ future in greater jeopardy.

According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 2021 biological assessment, the marbled murrelet is considered one of the least resilient species to climate change and is at risk of being wiped out by a single catastrophic event, like wildfire.

Uplisting to endangered status requires the state to develop a management plan and survival guidelines, providing much-needed protection for the species.

“We applaud the commission for choosing to safeguard Oregon’s imperiled marbled murrelet population and its fragile forest habitat by uplisting the species to endangered,” said Danielle Moser, wildlife program coordinator for Oregon Wild. “This decision is not only in step with science and Oregon law, but also illustrates the commission’s willingness to be conservation leaders in the fight against the extinction crisis.”

The groups petitioned the commission to uplist the marbled murrelet in 2016. The Department conducted a status review the following year to assess the murrelet’s condition and found that murrelets were at high risk of extinction, due largely to loss of nesting habitat from ongoing clearcut logging on lands managed by the state of Oregon.

The status review provided copious evidence from multiple peer-reviewed studies that murrelets are at serious risk in Oregon. The best available science predicts the extinction probability at 80% by 2060 along Oregon’s central and north coasts and 80% by 2100 along Oregon’s south coast. California and Washington have already classified murrelets as endangered.

“Today’s decision is a victory for the marbled murrelet,” said Sristi Kamal, senior representative for the Northwest Program at Defenders of Wildlife. “After four years of advocating to uplist the species, this decision has been a long time coming, and we are thrilled. Marbled murrelets face significant habitat loss due to excessive logging, and warming ocean waters due to climate change is impacting the species ability to forage and nest. We applaud the commission for taking a big step in the right direction which will give this species a much-needed opportunity to recover in the state.”

In February 2018 the commission voted 4-2 to accept the petition and increase the seabird’s protections. The commission then instructed the wildlife agency’s staff to begin development of mandatory species survival guidelines as required under Oregon law. Yet, under pressure from the timber industry and its allies, the commission reversed itself without explanation and voted 4-2 in June 2018 to deny the petition it had accepted just four months earlier.

“It has been more than 25 years since the marbled murrelet was listed under the Oregon Endangered Species Act, and during that time this amazing seabird has moved closer and closer to extinction in large part because of logging of its habitat on lands owned and managed by the state of Oregon,” said Joe Liebezeit, staff scientist and avian conservation program manager with Portland Audubon. “The commission made the right choice today based on both the law and science and hopefully is setting this species on a path toward recovery. However, today’s decision is just a first step. The decision to uplist needs to result in much more aggressive action on the ground to protect murrelets in Oregon.”

“At long last, marbled murrelets will receive essential additional protections from the state of Oregon,” said Bethany Cotton, conservation director for Cascadia Wildlands. “While these protections should have been implemented years ago, we are grateful that ultimately science and law triumphed and murrelets will have a better chance in the face of a rapidly changing climate and aggressive private logging in their remaining old growth forest habitat.”

Lane County Circuit Court Judge Lauren Holland concluded in August 2019 that the Fish and Wildlife Commission had illegally changed its decision after first voting to accept the petition to list the murrelet as endangered.

“The marbled murrelet is in trouble, and today’s action is an important first step in ensuring Oregon can help the seabird recover,” said John Mellgren, general counsel for the Western Environmental Law Center. “We look forward to working collaboratively with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to ensure the murrelet can always call Oregon home.”

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NPR

Finally Some Good News! China Says Giant Pandas Are No Longer Endangered

July 9, 2021, SHARON PRUITT-YOUNG

It’s a good day to be a giant panda. Chinese conservation officials have announced that they no longer consider giant pandas in China an endangered species.

Their status has been updated to “vulnerable,” Cui Shuhong from China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment said Wednesday, China’s state-run news agency Xinhua reports.

There are now 1,800 giant pandas living in the wild, a number that officials credit to the country’s devotion to maintaining nature reserves and other conservation initiatives in recent years. As a result, other species have also flourished: Siberian tigers, Asian elephants, and crested ibises have all seen a gradual increase in population numbers, according to the outlet.

Internationally, the giant panda has been considered “vulnerable” for five years. The International Union for Conservation of Nature removed giant pandas from its list of endangered species in 2016 — a decision that Chinese officials challenged at the time.

“If we downgrade their conservation status, or neglect or relax our conservation work, the populations and habitats of giant pandas could still suffer irreversible loss and our achievements would be quickly lost,” China’s State Forestry Administration told The Associated Press at the time. “Therefore, we’re not being alarmist by continuing to emphasize the panda species’ endangered status.”

It’s not clear that the number of giant pandas living in the wild has changed significantly since 2016, when IUCN first made its decision. At the end of 2015, there were 1,864 pandas living in the wild, according to a Reuters report that cites the Chinese government. That number was a significant increase from the 1,100 giant pandas that were living in the wild and 422 living in captivity in 2000.

In a statement to NPR, the World Wildlife Fund called it “another sign of hope for the species.”

“Thanks to decades of collaboration between the Chinese government, local communities, companies and NGOs, the giant panda’s future is more secure,” said Colby Loucks, WWF’s Vice President for Wildlife Conservation.

“China’s successful conservation of giant pandas shows what can be achieved when political will and science join forces,” he continued. “Continuing these conservation efforts is critical, but we need to stay vigilant on the current and future impacts climate change may have on giant pandas and their mountainous forest habitat.”

Still, giant pandas aren’t out of the woods just yet. They live in bamboo forests, which are at risk due to climate change.

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University of Chicago/UChicago News

Protecting spotted owls cost far fewer jobs than timber industry claimed

New research quantifies economic effects of conservation efforts in Pacific Northwest

July 8, 2021

Last month, the Biden administration indicated it would reverse changes to the Endangered Species Act made by President Trump, who had opened up a large chunk of the threatened northern spotted owl’s habitat in the Pacific Northwest to logging. The move fueled a decades-old debate between industry and conservationists in the region—a tension that is broadly characteristic of the Endangered Species Act’s history.

“The history of the Endangered Species Act is marked by a contested choice: Should we save wildlife, or jobs? The northern spotted owl is the poster species in that debate,” said Eyal Frank, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. “But that decision is often made without needed evidence. And if we don’t quantify the costs of species protection, direct or indirect, we end up assuming they’re infinitely large.”

Frank has co-authored new research that examines the impact of the 1990 listing of the northern spotted owl as threatened under the Endangered Species Act on employment in the timber sector. Co-authored with Ann Ferris of the National Center for Environmental Economics and published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, the study found that the listing did lead to job losses—but the losses were just a small fraction (less than a quarter) of the maximum of 130,000 jobs that the industry had predicted could be lost.

When 6.9 million acres of old forests were designated as protected habitat for the owls, logging was prohibited. Timber employment did subsequently decline, by 14% compared to regional employment in the sector and by 28% in the impacted counties compared to the industry at the national level.

These reductions reflect a decline of about 32,000 jobs in the lumber and wood products sector when compared nationally, or 16,000 jobs when compared within the region. These estimates are significantly lower than the projections made by industry and align with federal projections (13,000 near-term jobs and 28,000 jobs in the long run).

“Those job losses were a short-term cost, which likely had real welfare impacts on the workers, but in exchange we got back the chance to save a species and protect many others,” said Frank, who is affiliated with the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. “The proper context should also be given here: Had the logging continued as projected, the roughly 200-years-old forests those workers were cutting down would likely be gone today—and with them, the jobs.”

To account for possible changes in global timber markets, the study compared timber employment in the impacted counties to the Canadian sector and found no similar decline in Canada. In other words, the declines in the Pacific Northwest and northern California were not due to larger industry trends. Only a small percentage of working-age men left the region, and most did not leave for jobs in other physically exertive sectors like agriculture and mining. Timber sales in the affected area declined by 45% relative to sales in unaffected forests, and the projected future price of lumber doubled relative to other commodities.

The authors note their analysis demonstrates that environmental conservation aiming to protect species’ habitats can impact related industries and employment, though it is not straightforward to generalize the spotted owl’s case to other Endangered Species Act listings and industries. While extractive industries, and especially logging, might represent the most direct impacts conservation policy can have on employment, the authors note that these impacts may be the “upper bound”: Other listings could affect fewer jobs.

“This case likely represents one of the worst labor market impacts, as it resulted in placing 40% of an industry’s resource base under protection. The listing of other species would have smaller impacts on other sectors,” Frank said. “It should therefore not be taken as a cautionary tale to prevent the listing of species, but rather an example of why we need solid data to show that the costs are real, manageable, and not infinite.”

Citation: “Labor market impacts of land protection: The Northern Spotted Owl,” Ferris and Frank, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, June 1, 2021.

—A version of this story was first published by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

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Santa Maria Sun (Santa Maria, CA)

Fish and Wildlife Service wants to save two local plant species

BY MALEA MARTIN, July 7, 2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) wants to protect two plants that are only found in the Guadalupe-Nipomo dunes area and get them both off the federally endangered species list.

The Nipomo Mesa lupine is a small annual plant that produces vibrant purple flowers, and it’s currently only found in the Nipomo Mesa within an area that’s about 2 square miles. The species’ small geographic range contributes to likely low genetic diversity, according to a draft recovery plan for the Nipomo lupine, released by FWS on June 17. It also lacks an insect pollinator and is dependent on adequate rainfall, factors contributing to its endangered status.

The recovery plan lays out a strategy to preserve the plant by mitigating the threats to its existence. One of the most prominent threats is displacement and habitat loss due to invasive species, particularly veldt grass.

“Nipomo Mesa lupine requires sandy openings, or gaps within coastal dune scrub habitat and perennial veldt grass comes in, fills those gaps, outcompetes the lupine, changes the soil composition, and disrupts the ecosystem processes required to create and maintain those sandy gaps,” Kristie Scarazzo, a botanist with FWS, told the Sun in an email. “Residential development, activities associated with oil and gas, seed predation, stochastic loss and extinction, and climate change are also threats to the species.”

To address these threats, Scarazzo said, seed banks, propagating, and planting are crucial.

“We are bulking the seed, propagating it, and outplanting Nipomo Mesa lupine onto two publicly-owned sites in San Luis Obispo County that are being actively managed for the species’ recovery and wildlife conservation,” Scarazzo said. “And we are conducting scientific studies on these populations in a greenhouse to better understand Nipomo Mesa lupine’s basic biology, life history, and ecology.”

She added that FWS is working with the UCSB Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration and the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County to implement these conservation tactics.

The public can comment on the Nipomo Mesa lupine draft recovery plan until July 19.

Also under local conservation efforts is the La Graciosa thistle. Part of the sunflower family, this plant has “spiny leaves and flower heads,” featuring “long, white corollas with pink to purple tubes and purple anthers,” as FWS describes it. The thistle’s current geographic range is restricted to the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Complex, according to its draft recovery plan released June 11. The public can comment on this plan until July 12.

Scarazzo said that once the public comment period closes for these plants’ draft recovery plans, the FWS will make any necessary changes or updates and then finalize the plan.

“Several of the recovery actions outlined in the draft plan are already underway,” she said. “In order for the actions to be considered successful, Nipomo Mesa lupine populations must display stable or increasing demographic trends for 10 consecutive years.”

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Los Angeles Times

California identifies new, rare gray wolf pack

By ASSOCIATED PRESS, July 7, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO —A new pack of gray wolves has been identified in Northern California, becoming the third pack to establish itself in the state in the last century, state wildlife officials and conservationists said.

Three wolves in the Beckwourth pack were first spotted in May on a trail camera in Plumas County near the California-Nevada state line, after the tracks of two wolves were detected earlier this year in the same area, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said.

For conservationists, the discovery marks a milestone in the state’s efforts to revive its population of wild wolves, SFGate reported. Gray wolves are native to California but disappeared in the 1920s. Most were killed through hunting or to control predation on other animals.

“This is such wonderful news,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior West Coast wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The species is protected under the California Endangered Species Act. Killing a wolf is a potential crime subject to serious penalties, including prison time.

Ranchers in the area are less enthusiastic about the growing wolf population.

“It’s one of our worst nightmares,” Rick Roberti of Roberti Ranch in southeast Plumas County told SFGate.

Roberti, who is president of the Plumas-Sierra Cattlemen’s Assn., said ranchers report wolf attacks on their cattle and feel there is nothing they can do to stop it.

In January, the Trump administration removed endangered species protections from gray wolves, ending long-standing federal safeguards and putting states and tribes in charge of overseeing the predators.

Environmental and animal rights groups say the move was premature because wolves haven’t returned to most of their historical range. They are pushing the Biden administration to reverse it.

Wisconsin was the first state to resume hunting of wolves. A study released this week by University of Wisconsin scientists says that as many as one-third of Wisconsin’s gray wolves died at the hands of humans in the months after the federal government announced it was ending legal protections.

The study estimates that poaching and hunting have reduced the statewide wolf total to between 695 and 751, down from at least 1,034 in spring 2020, though some other scientists say more direct evidence is needed for some of the calculations.

Scientists involved in the study said the findings should serve notice to wildlife managers in other states with wolves.

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The Revelator

Seahorses Extinction Assessment Reveals Threatened Species and Knowledge Gaps

The charismatic animals could serve as flagship species for ocean conservation, according to researchers, but only if we understand their extinction risks.

Extinction Countdown, July 7, 2021, by John R. Platt

Last month conservationists working with SeaLife Aquarium in Australia dropped 18 biodegradable “hotels” into Sydney Harbor and Port Stephens to help one of the region’s most endangered species: tiny White’s seahorses (Hippocampus whitei).

The hotels — which look like cages but have bars spaced out enough for the 5-inch seahorses to swim through — are sorely needed. Recent research indicates that some White’s seahorse populations have fallen by as much as 95% due to commercial destruction of their marine habitats. The manmade domiciles — up to 100 of which will be deployed — will replace some of that lost habitat for both seahorses and their food. “A lot of marine growth such as sponges and coral will accumulate, and that provides a lot of food and shelter for the seahorses,” David Harasti, a marine scientist with the Port Stephens Fisheries Institute, told Australia’s 9News.

White’s seahorses are not alone in their plight. Research published this May in the journal Oryx serves as the first comprehensive assessment of the extinction risk for syngnathiform fishes, which include seahorses, pipefishes, seadragons, trumpetfishes, shrimpfishes, cornetfishes and ghost pipefishes. (A few related groups, such as goatfishes and seamoths, weren’t assessed for the paper because recent research shows they belong to a different taxonomic order.)

Collectively, the news for these varied and colorful species isn’t good, nor is it complete. The researchers — including two members of the IUCN SSC Seahorse, Pipefish & Seadragon Specialist Group — found that seahorses and their relatives face persistent threats from industrial trawl fisheries and habitat destruction, and to a lesser extent from pollution and trade. The 300 or so species often have limited ranges in coastal regions and freshwater lakes and rivers around the world, and many require specialized habitats, making them susceptible to disturbance.

As a result, researchers found, at least 6% of these species and up to 38% are threatened and at some risk of extinction.

Why the wide range? Despite seahorses’ popularity and charismatic qualities — like their prehensile tales and egg-carrying males — many of the 300-plus syngnathiform species remain cryptic. No one knows how well they’re doing or if they’re at risk. The researchers labeled 97 species “data deficient,” meaning they “could potentially be threatened.”

Of the species that could be assessed, the researchers found that 14 out of 42 seahorse species were at risk, including one endangered species and 12 considered “vulnerable to extinction.” Four additional seahorse species were discovered after the paper was submitted and aren’t included in that count. Pipefishes — which look like seahorses but have straighter bodies — have five species at risk, including one that’s critically endangered.

Luckily, the researchers evaluated 61% of these fishes as being of “least concern,” meaning they’re doing okay for now, but they still caution that this entire group of species needs targeted conservation efforts, especially in the estuaries of East and Southeast Asia and South Africa, where they face the most threat. The paper recommends “robust long-term monitoring programs … to evaluate population dynamics, fisheries, trade and habitat quality.” The researchers also call for dedicated coastal surveys, potentially using community science efforts such as iSeahorse.

All of this, the researchers wrote, would not only help seahorses and their relatives but also neighboring species: “Limiting fishing mortality, in particular by constraining bottom trawling and other nonselective fisheries, and ensuring healthy habitats is important both for the syngnathids and for other aquatic species. Given that the order is nearly global, there is potential for syngnathiformes, many of which are highly charismatic, to act as flagship species for ocean conservation.”

That’s a tall order for these tiny fish, but perhaps this research can serve to round up the support necessary to conserve both the species and their coastal habitats — or at least to fill the knowledge gap so we can learn how those 97 data-deficient species fare around the world, and then protect them before it’s too late.

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National Law Review

ESA Rules Redux: Services Plan a Second (and, in Some Cases, Third) Look at the ESA Regulations

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Consistent with President Biden’s Executive Order (EO) 13990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (collectively, the “Services”) recently announced that they “will initiate rulemaking in the coming months to revise, rescind, or reinstate five [Endangered Species Act] regulations finalized by the prior administration.”  The Biden Administration is the third consecutive administration to undertake revisions to the Services’ Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) regulations.

Certain of the Trump-era ESA regulations are currently subject to challenge.  See, e.g., Center for Biological Diversity v. Haaland, No. 4:19-cv-05206 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 21, 2019); California v. Haaland, No. 4:19-cv-06013 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 25, 2019); and Animal Legal Def. Fund v. Haaland, No. 4:19-cv-06812 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 21, 2019).  While the Administration determined its path forward, these actions were stayed.  Although the Services have now indicated their plans to propose new rules, little detail has been provided on the scope of these rulemakings.  The Administration’s Spring 2021 Unified Agenda provides general timeframes for the proposed actions, each of which will go through a notice and comment rulemaking process.  The Services plan to:

*Rescind the 2020 regulations that revised FWS’s process for considering exclusions from critical habitat designations. On December 18, 2020, FWS revised the process it would follow when considering whether to exclude areas from designation as critical habitat pursuant to ESA § 4(b)(2).  85 Fed. Reg. 82, 376 (Dec. 18, 2020).  This regulation became effective on January 19, 2021.  FWS has announced that it will propose to rescind this regulation in its entirety and revert to implementation of the Services’ regulations, 50 C.F.R. § 424.19 and the Services’ 2016 policy on § 4(b)(2) exclusions.

*Rescind the 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 Fed. Reg. 81,411 (Dec. 16, 2020).  The Services take the position that a regulatory definition of “habitat” is not required for designations of critical habitat in compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision in Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 138 S. Ct. 361 (2018).

*Revise the regulations for listing species and designating critical habitat. The Services will propose revisions to the prior Administration’s ESA § 4 rulemaking, 84 Fed. Reg. 45,020 (Aug. 27, 2019). The Services will propose to reinstate prior language affirming that listing determinations are made “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination.”  Other potential revisions, including provisions governing adding and removing species from the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants and clarifying the procedures for designation of critical habitat are also under discussion.  According to the Spring Regulatory Agenda, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is slated for September 2021.

*Revise the regulations for interagency cooperation. The Services will propose revisions to the final rule promulgated by the prior Administration, which revised the procedural regulations governing interagency cooperation under ESA § 7. 84 Fed. Reg. 44,976 (Aug. 27, 2019).  The Services will propose to revise the definition of “effects of the action,” and other potential revisions are under discussion, including rescinding the 2019 rule.  According to the Spring Regulatory Agenda, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is slated for December 2021.

*Reinstate FWS “blanket 4(d) rule.” FWS’s “blanket 4(d) rule” establishes the default of automatically extending protections provided to endangered species to those listed as threatened, unless FWS adopts a species-specific 4(d) rule.  This rule was withdrawn by the prior Administration, 84 Fed. Reg. 44753 (Aug. 27, 2019), and FWS plans to propose to reinstate it.  According to the Spring Regulatory Agenda, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is slated for July 2021.

In the meantime, there may be months of uncertainty regarding the exact details of these proposed actions, the timing of any changes, and the implications for listings and designations of critical habitat and consultation and other ESA requirements for projects.

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Native News Online

Tribes Appeal to Secretary Haaland to Reverse Trump on Stripping Wolf Protections in New Film, ‘Family’

BY JACKIE ZUPSIC, July 07, 2021

BILLINGS, Mont. — “Secretary Haaland, please return Endangered Species Act protections to the wolf,” is the closing message of a powerful new film, “Family,” released today that ends with the stark warning, “Before it’s too late.” The Global Indigenous Council has released “Family” as a part of a campaign to restore federal protections to wolves across the continental United States.

Directed by critically-acclaimed filmmaker Rain (“Somebody’s Daughter”/”Say Her Name”) and narrated by award-winning actress Crystle Lightning (Trickster/Yellowstone), the short film provides insight into how wolves are foundational to Indigenous cultures and how the Trump Administration’s removal of federal protections from wolves severely undermines tribal rights.

“Family” appeals to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to reverse President Trump and relist the wolf under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Many of the country’s most influential environmental NGOs issued a joint statement today supporting the film and its objective.

“Leaving the Trump Administration’s wolf delisting rule in place contradicts President Biden’s January 26, 2021 ‘Memorandum on Tribal Consultation and Strengthening Nation-to-Nation Relationships’ as the vast array of tribes impacted by Trump’s decision were not consulted,” the release highlights.

In a recent interview on Brave Wilderness, President Biden said, “I’m in” when asked about protections for wolves. The President also articulated the message conveyed by “Family.”

Crystle Lightning (First Nations Hobbema/Enoch), who in May won the Canadian Screen Awards category for Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role (Trickster), has stressed that state laws aimed at culling surviving wolf populations by up to 90 percent have grave implications for tribes.

“We must not let state, provincial, and federal governments continue to define issues as ‘environmental’ or ‘wildlife’ when they are cultural. These are social justice issues. What is happening to the wolf is a social justice issue for Indigenous people. The wolf has a vital role in so many of our cultures – in our clans, our songs, our ceremonies. Yet, our voices are ignored. Whenever the voices of any people are silenced, it is suppression. We are the first people of this land but always the last to be heard,” Lightning said.

The February 2021 slaughter of the wolf in Wisconsin validated the concerns tribes raised about the delisting of the wolf. The treaty rights of Tribal nations in Wisconsin were routinely violated during the first post-ESA delisting state administered wolf trophy hunt.

Oneida Chairman Tehassi Hill predicted such would be the case in a letter to Trump’s Principal Deputy Director of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Margaret Everson, prior to the removal of ESA protections.

“As was demonstrated throughout the Trump Administration’s attempt to delist the grizzly bear, the delisting of the gray wolf and the conduct of FWS and DOI in the process, threatens harm to tribal sovereignty, undermines treaty rights, and puts the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in jeopardy, leaving tribes’ religious and spiritual freedoms vulnerable. Respecting our rights and upholding its fiduciary obligation to the Oneida Nation and all tribal nations is not optional for any administration,” Chairman Hill wrote.

Tribal and non-tribal biologists alike fear laws permitting similar actions might push the species back to the brink of extinction. In Montana and Idaho, governors Gianforte and Little respectively have signed a slew of bills that authorize some previously outlawed killing practices, including lethal neck snaring, use of motorized vehicles to chase and kill wolves, baiting, and spotlighting at night.

In a letter to Haaland on June 28, Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), urged the Secretary to return the wolf to ESA protections “before the wolf population is decimated, undoing the decades of work toward wolf recovery.” Native News Online reached out to the offices of other concerned Members of Congress who are expected to follow suit.

“These wolf extermination bills passed and signed into law by rightwing extremists at the state level demonstrate that they are not only hunting democracy to extinction, they are also conflating Euro-Medieval sadism with so-called wildlife management to the same ends with wolves,” said the film’s director, Rain.

Consistent with the director’s previous work through Alter-Native Media, Family is both beautiful and moving, its breathtaking visuals matched only by its emotional impact. In addition to Lightning, the film also features Juliet Hayes (Say Her Name) and Letara Lebeau. Anthony Stengel (Say Her Name) is director of photography.

“Family” also draws attention to “The Wolf: A Treaty of Cultural and Environmental Survival,” which has previously been described as “a blueprint for future wolf management.” The treaty, signed by over 120 Tribes and numerous highly respected Indigenous spiritual leaders, authors, orators, and water protectors, has a strong emphasis on Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and an adherence to the Indigenous Rights of Nature (IRON).

Chairperson Aaron Payment of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians was among the first tribal leaders to sign treaty with Chairman Harold Frazier of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Chairman Russell “Buster” Attebery of the Karuk Nation. The who’s who of signatories includes Winona LaDuke, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, and Tara Houska.

“The diversity of Tribal Nations and the demonstration of unity by the Wolf Treaty signers emphasizes that the clear and present danger that stripping ESA protections from the wolf has created not only impacts the Tribes in the 15 percent of the continental United States where the wolf survives, but the majority that live in the 85% of the country where the wolf is functionally extinct,” said Tom Rodgers, President of the Global Indigenous Council.

Contrary to the law on federally mandated tribal consultation, the Trump administration declined to meet with tribal government signatories or even accept receipt of the treaty. Rodgers said he hopes Secretary Haaland will meet with a tribal delegation soon to receive the treaty and discuss tribal concerns on the wolf crisis.

“As tribal people, we, like our brother and sister, the wolf, have experienced extermination and myth making. The modern-day state government sanctioned extermination efforts say more about humanity’s alienation from the natural world than about the wolf,” added Rodgers.

“This trophy killing of wolves and bears is a manifestation of patriarchy and misogyny. Anybody who has heard the acronym MMIWG is aware that we as Indigenous women continue to be hunted too,” emphasized Crystle Lightning.

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Newsweek

A Billion Seashore Animals Cooked Alive During Pacific Northwest Heat Wave

Aila Slisco, July 5, 2021

|More than a billion ocean animals living along the pacific coast may have been killed during the recent unprecedented heat wave in the Northwest.

Chris Harley, a marine biologist from the University of British Columbia, told CBC on Monday that he was “stunned” by the putrid stench of death and the sight of tens of thousands of dead clams, snails, mussels and sea stars at a Vancouver beach in late June. Harley said that more than 1 billion aquatic creatures may have perished along the coast of the Salish Sea alone, an area that includes sections of western British Columbia and Washington state.

“A mussel on the shore in some ways is like a toddler left in a car on a hot day,” Harley told the outlet. “They are stuck there until the parent comes back, or in this case, the tide comes back in and there’s very little they can do. They’re at the mercy of the environment. And on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, during the heat wave, it just got so hot that the mussels, there was nothing they could do.

“Eventually, we just won’t be able to sustain these populations of filter feeders on the shoreline to be anywhere near the extent that we’re used to,” Harley said. “If we don’t like it, then we need to work harder to reduce emissions and take other measures to reduce the effects of climate change.”

The true death toll could be far higher, since the heat wave extended well beyond the Salish Sea. There have been reports of shellfish being found “cooked” on beaches across the region, with low tides helping to facilitate the carnage. Shellfish farm Hama Bay Oyster company shared images to social media of cooked clams on one of its clam beds in Hood Canal, Washington last week.

“They [the clams] look like they had just been cooked, like they were ready to eat,” the company told The Daily Mail. “It is too early to tell [how many], we have to wait for the next string of low tides.”

The toll on humans has also been devastating. The heat wave was responsible for hundreds of deaths in the region, according to a paper published Monday by the prestigious BMJ medical journal. Experts expect more potentially deadly heat waves in the future as the effects of climate change continue to progress unabated.

Temperatures exceeded 100 degrees across the Northwest late last month, with multiple cities in the region hitting all-time high temperatures, including Portland, Oregon reaching a record-breaking 116 degrees.

Both Oregon and Washington peaked at 118 degrees, equaling the state record for Washington and falling one degree below the high mark for Oregon. A scorching 121 degrees was recorded in Lytton, British Columbia—the hottest temperature experienced in the recorded history of Canada.

(Newsweek reached out to the World Wildlife Fund for comment.)

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

As many as a third of Wisconsin’s wolves were killed after the species dropped from the endangered species list, study says

John Flesher, Associated Press, July 5, 2021

As many as one-third of Wisconsin’s gray wolves likely died at the hands of humans in the months after the federal government announced it was ending legal protections, according to a study released Monday.

Poaching and a February hunt that far exceeded kill quotas were largely responsible for the drop-off, University of Wisconsin scientists said, though some other scientists say more direct evidence is needed for some of the calculations.

Adrian Treves, an environmental studies professor, said his team’s findings should raise doubts about having another hunting season this fall and serve notice to wildlife managers in other states with wolves.

Removing federal protections “opens the door for antagonists to kill large numbers in short periods, legally and illegally,” Treves and two colleagues said in a paper published by the journal PeerJ. “The history of political scapegoating of wolves may repeat itself.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dropped gray wolves in the Lower 48 states from its list of endangered and threatened species in January, shortly before former President Donald Trump left office. Agency biologists have long argued that the predator has recovered from persecution that nearly wiped it out by the mid-20th century.

Environmental and animal-rights groups contend the move was premature because wolves haven’t returned to most of their historical range. They are pushing the Biden administration to reverse it.

Wisconsin was the first state to resume hunting. Its Department of Natural Resources planned to wait until November but was forced to schedule a season in February after a pro-hunting organization won a court order. Officials cut it short after hunters killed 218 wolves, blowing past the target of 119.

Based on population models, Treves and University of Wisconsin environmental scientists Francisco Santiago-Avila and Karann Putrevu estimate in their paper that people killed an additional 95 to 105 wolves in Wisconsin between Nov. 3, when the plan to lift federal protections was announced, and mid-April.

They say the deaths reduced the statewide wolf total to between 695 and 751, down from at least 1,034 in spring 2020. That upends the Wisconsin DNR’s objective of keeping the population stable even with hunting, the paper says.

The department did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Treves and his colleagues blame more than half the nonhunting deaths on “cryptic poaching,” or illegal kills in which the poacher leaves no evidence, hiding the animal’s body and destroying its radio collar. Other human-caused deaths could include automobile strikes and government-approved lethal controls for wolves harassing livestock, Treves said.

His previous research has concluded that such poaching worsens when legal protections are relaxed, based largely on numbers of radio-collared wolves that disappear well before the batteries are due to fail.

Treves argues that people who are hostile toward wolves may regard easing of rules as a sign that attacking them is acceptable. A 2017 paper responding to one of his earlier studies described the claim as “based on flawed analysis and unconvincing interpretation of scientific literature.”

Daniel MacNulty, an associate professor of wildlife ecology at Utah State University, questioned the methods Treves and his team used to calculate cryptic poaching for their latest paper, saying more direct evidence was needed.

“I would interpret the findings cautiously,” he said in an interview last week.

Treves said his conclusions were justified by a variety of wolf population and social science data.

The Wisconsin DNR says on its website that it is preparing for a fall hunt “through a transparent and science-based process” that will take into account the February results. The Natural Resources Board is expected to set a kill quota in August.

But that could drive the population dangerously low, Treves said. The February hunt took place during the wolves’ breeding season and it’s unclear to what extent reproduction was disrupted, he said.

“Without information on how many pups were born this summer, it’s really fumbling in the dark to plan another hunt,” he said.

Wildlife managers in Michigan and Minnesota are also considering wolf hunts. In some Western states, Republican legislators are pushing aggressive methods such as nighttime hunts, bounty-like payments and allowing shooting from motorized parachutes, ATVs or snow machines any time of year.

Treves said his paper should caution officials in those states that unreported poaching can be “massive” and should be factored into hunting quotas.

Ed Bangs, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wolf recovery coordinator, said it was too early to draw broad conclusions based on the initial Wisconsin season, which he described as a “killing spree” that violated hunting ethics. State wildlife managers are capable of designing science-based hunts that keep wolf populations healthy if politicians and judges let them, he said.

“I have a lot of faith in wolves,” Bangs said. “They’re very resilient and can bounce back.”

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Popular Science

An ‘extinct’ Australian mouse has been thriving on a remote protected island

The Gould mouse may live on, but the loss of other mammal species bodes poorly for overall ecosystem health.

BY GRACE WADE, July 05, 2021

On the most westerly point of Australia lies Shark Bay, a remote island where sienna-streaked cliffs meet the sea and ancient, bulbous stromatolites speckle the coastline. Not only is this ecological wonderland a UNESCO world heritage site, but it also turns out to be one of the last habitats for the elusive Gould’s mouse—an Australian rodent thought to have gone extinct more than 150 years ago. 

But according to a study published this month in PNAS, the mouse has been around this whole time, living it up on several islands in Western Australia. The study, which was conducted by researchers at the Australian National University, used 184-year-old museum specimens to sequence the genomes of eight extinct Australian rodent species and then looked at 42 of their living relatives.

“We compared the DNA of Gould’s mouse, thought to be extinct, to all living species of native rodents. What we found was that it was genetically indistinguishable from another living species, the Shark Bay mouse,” said Emily Roycroft, lead author of the study and postdoctoral fellow at the Australian National University.

“Originally, we thought the Gould’s mouse only lived in New South Wales and Victoria, but after the results of our study, it’s clear that it once roamed across most of the Australian mainland.”

Mapping out mice genomes

Australia has the highest recorded rate of mammalian extinction in the world.

Since European colonization began in 1788, 34 land-roving mammal species have disappeared from the landscape. Of those, rodents have been disproportionately affected—they’ve comprised 41 percent of mammal extinctions since settlers arrived.

“When we started the study, we set out to examine the relationships between extinct Australian rodents and living species, to determine the level of genetic diversity present before they became extinct,” Roycroft said.

To do this, the evolutionary biologists extracted DNA from 87 museum specimens and mapped out the gnawing mammalians’ genomes. Understanding the genetic diversity of a population could help ecologists determine to what extent the arrival of Europeans contributed to their extinction, said Roycroft.

One hypothesis for the mass disappearance of Australian rodents is they were already experiencing a decline due to loss of genetic diversity. Ecologists observed this when sequencing the genomes of two other Aussie animals: the endangered Tasmanian devil, which is now extinct on mainland Australia, and the fully-extinct Thylacine, a larger carnivorous marsupial also called the Tasmanian wolf or Tasmanian tiger.

Prior to colonization, these two species were experiencing a rapid reduction in genetic diversity, which indicates their numbers were already declining, leaving them more vulnerable to the threat of invaders. In other words, Europeans didn’t cause their extinction, only accelerated it.

However the study found this was not the case for rodent extinction. In fact, there was no evidence for reduced genetic diversity in the extinct species prior to the late 18th century, which indicates that their populations were large and thriving at the time. Their rapid decline following the arrival of Europeans suggests genetic diversity doesn’t necessarily protect species from rapid, catastrophic extinction.

“This shows how severe the impacts of European colonization have been, including introduced predators and land clearing, resulting in species that were relatively common becoming extinct in less than 200 years,” Roycroft said.

Rodents’ role in the Australian ecosystem

The rapid disappearance of Australia’s furry critters doesn’t just mean less scampers and squeaks—it could also have a devastating impact on almost all of the country’s ecosystems. Their presence is found in ecological niches ranging from arid deserts to the moist corners of the coastline.

“Native rodents are important ecosystem engineers and play an integral role in Australian environments as consumers of plants, fungi, and invertebrates, and as a prey source for other native species,” Roycroft said. “The ongoing loss of native rodents from the Australian landscape has the potential to lead to broader ecosystem collapse.”

Roycroft believes understanding the genome of extinct species can help inform conservation efforts for surviving species.

“Our study shows just how much we can learn about species we’ve otherwise lost to extinction using data from museum specimens,” she said. “If we can generate this type of data from across all of Australia’s native species, not just rodents, we can learn more about the broader pattern and pace of extinctions.”

Although it’s unlikely, future genome sequencing projects may uncover other living species once thought to have vanished from the face of the planet. But for now, we at least know the Gould’s mouse is still scuttling around the already-protected Shark Bay.

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VTDigger (Montpelier, VT)

National study adds heat to local bird conservation efforts

By Emma Cotton, July 4, 2021

Local conservationists say they aren’t surprised by a new report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that lists 269 species of birds that need more protection.

The report, called Birds of Conservation Concern, lists species in the United States that aren’t considered federally endangered or threatened, but whose populations are declining.

“It reinforces what we mostly already knew,” said David Mears, executive director of Audubon Vermont and vice president of the National Audubon Society.

Birds that Vermonters commonly see in their backyards could soon edge into the “extinction zone of risk, which we want to stay well clear of,” Mears said.

Several species listed in the report are already considered threatened or endangered in Vermont, but not at the federal level. Vermont conservationists have already succeeded in boosting the populations of previously endangered birds, such as the peregrine falcon, the common loon and the bald eagle.

Among the species listed in the report are the eastern whip-poor-will, wood thrush and veery, which all live in lowland forests; the upland sandpiper, bobolink and eastern meadowlark, all grassland birds; the golden-winged and blue-winged warblers, which live in shrublands; and the chimney swift, which lives in developed areas.

Mears said Vermont has an unexpectedly strong population of golden-winged warblers, whose populations are declining across the Northeast.

“That’s just kind of interesting, that there’s ways in which Vermont’s responsibility is beyond our own borders,” he said. “These are birds that go everywhere, and in some ways, our ability to protect habitat for them is a way of providing a service to the broader globe.”

Data for the report comes from both national literature and observations from birders, and it breaks the country into numbered regions with similar habitat — Vermont is part of both the Lower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Plain and the Northern Atlantic Forest.

A 2019 study from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology shows that wild bird populations in the United States and Canada have decreased almost 30% in the last 40 years. Climate change could cause the extinction of two-thirds of North American species by the end of the century, according to a 2019 Audubon study.

Another, published in 2017, shows a 14% decline in Vermont’s forest birds over a 25-year period.

Mears and Chris Rimmer, executive director of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, say conservation efforts in the state focus on both individual species and broader habitat preservation.

Vermont recently removed bald eagles from its endangered species list, for example. The success comes from a combination of targeted efforts to reduce their exposure to harmful pesticides, and big-picture efforts to preserve their habitat — and, by extension, the habitat of other creatures.

In some ways, the collective scope of declining bird populations carries the same symbolism as a single canary in a coal mine, Mears said. Birds need insects, pollinators, grasslands and forests to breed and thrive. Stressed bird populations often show early warning signs of other environmental problems, including climate change.

Climate change is likely to stress populations of sensitive species, like the Bicknell’s thrush, which nests only in the high elevations of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and some parts of Canada. Rimmer, who has conducted extensive research on the species, said data already shows that hardwood forests are beginning to “march upslope,” slowly migrating to higher elevations.

“Some of these models show that, if we continue on some of the predicted trajectories, Bicknell’s thrush and some other birds are going to potentially disappear from all but the really high mountains, like Mount Washington,” Rimmer said. Mount Washington, at 6,288 feet, is nearly 2,000 feet taller than Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak at 4,393 feet.

The report notes that its underlying philosophy “is that proactive bird conservation is critical at a time when continued human impacts will be intensified by effects of a changing climate.”

According to the report, conservation efforts that protect species are more cost-effective than efforts to bring species back once they’re officially listed as endangered or threatened. Rimmer says many of the conservation efforts mounted by the Vermont Center for Ecostudies are volunteer-based.

“You could never do it on your own,” he said. “We could never hire enough field technicians to go out and do what all these wonderful, trained, passionate community scientists do.”

Mears hopes the broad interest in birds — which gained traction during the pandemic — might help more regular folks get involved with conservation efforts.

“As people who care about birds see this very tangible impact — the fear of not being able to see indigo buntings, or scarlet tanagers, or losing really common birds like wood thrushes — it really begins to affect the way Vermonters look at and think about these issues,” Mears said. “Realizing that the solutions that benefit wood thrushes also benefit us directly starts to pull in this broader community of public interest.”

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Associated Press

US lobster fisheries anxious over upcoming whale protections

By PATRICK WHITTLE, July 3, 2021

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The profitable U.S. lobster fishery will soon have to contend with new rules designed to protect an endangered species of whale, and that could necessitate major changes for people in the industry.

The federal government is working on new rules designed to reduce risk to North Atlantic right whales, which number only about 360. One of the threats the whales face is entanglement in ropes that connect to lobster and crab traps in the ocean.

The new rules are expected to be released late this summer or early in fall, a spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. Early indications show that the changes required by the rules could be significant.

Right whales were once abundant off the East Coast, but they were decimated by hunting during the commercial whaling era. They’ve been listed as endangered since 1970, but the population remains small, and in jeopardy. Recent years have also brought high mortality and poor reproduction among the whales.

They’re also vulnerable to ship strikes, and face the looming threat of warming oceans. Acting NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Paul Doremus said in June that the U.S. and Canada, which also harvests lobsters, must “take and sustain additional efforts to reduce right whale mortalities and serious injuries.”

The rules will focus on reducing the number of vertical ropes in the water, and they’re also expected to modify restricted areas of ocean, the government has said. A conservation framework released by the federal government in May states that the first phase of rules will be designed to reduce risk to the whales by 60%.

Later phases, which could take effect by 2030, call for an almost complete reduction of risk to the animals. Members of the industry said that could make it harder to get lobsters to consumers.

The lobster industry is prepared to do its part to conserve the whales, but a near complete risk reduction would require a total overhaul of the fishery, said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

“The fishery as we know it cannot exist, absolutely not,” McCarron said. “We can’t solve this whole issue if whales are dying in Canada, or getting hit by ships. Everybody’s very anxious to know what the rules actually say.”

The U.S.’s new whale rules will not go into effect immediately upon release, and it’s too early to say when they will go on the books, said Allison Ferreira, the NOAA spokesperson. She said the federal government will undertake a major outreach effort to help fishermen comply when the rules are available.

“I think we will do a multipronged approach — from sending out papers, websites, meeting in person, and instructional videos — to help them understand the different components, because the different components will apply to different fishermen,” she said.

The rules are arriving at a time when the lobster industry, based mostly in Maine but also active elsewhere in New England and New York, has been very successful despite numerous challenges. Maine lobster has been worth more than $400 million at the docks for seven years in a row after never coming close to that number in its history, according to state records that go back to the 1880s.

Lobsters are also popular at the moment with consumers, who are paying higher than average prices for them this summer.

The fishery has weathered high bait prices, the coronavirus pandemic, economic turmoil with China and other difficulties in the last five years and managed to stay afloat. But whale rules represent a challenge that could make it more difficult to get lobsters to customers, said Beth Casoni, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association.

“When 700 fishermen are not on the water, there’s less lobster,” Casoni said.

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E&E News

House infrastructure bill boosts animal corridors

Michael Doyle, E&E News reporter, July 2, 2021

The big infrastructure bill passed by the House yesterday could help wildlife wander more safely.

First introduced as stand-alone legislation, the “Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act” got tacked onto the sprawling H.R. 3684, the “INVEST in America Act,” approved by the House by a 221-201 vote (Greenwire, July 1).

The legislation, authored by Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), authorizes federal agencies to develop a national wildlife corridor system on public land, establishes a $50 million a year wildlife movement grant program and creates a corridor database, among other steps.

“Simply providing wildlife the opportunity to move across lands and waters is one of the simplest and most effective ways to help preserve the many species in the U.S. at risk of extinction due to habitat loss and fragmentation,” Beyer said.

Corridors can take different forms and are designed in part to prevent the collisions between motorists and wildlife, which by some estimates cause more than 200 human fatalities and over 26,000 injuries each year and kill more than 1 million large animals.

Wildlife crossing structures and fencing that guide animals over or under highways can reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions by up to 97%, according to some studies. The “INVEST in America Act,” a five-year reauthorization of the surface transportation bill, includes $400 million for wildlife-vehicle collision reduction projects from a competitive grant program.

“Protecting wildlife corridors is one of the most important tools we have to address the biodiversity crisis, especially in the face of climate change,” said Susan Holmes, federal policy director at the Wildlands Network.

Beyond general concerns about boosting federal spending at a time of record deficits, the bill faces skepticism from conservative Western private property advocates.

“This so-called ‘Wildlife Corridors Act’ may be the most devastating legislation ever, as it will tie up federal lands and waters like we have never seen before, further compounding the federal regulatory nightmare,” Jennifer Fielder, CEO of the American Lands Council, testified in 2019.

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Monterey Herald (Monterey, CA)

State buy-back helps endangered species in Monterey Bay sanctuary

By DENNIS L. TAYLOR, Monterey Herald, July 2, 2021

MONTEREY — An environmental nonprofit out of Monterey is applauding this year’s state budget that is funding a transition away from deadly gill-net fishing by awarding commercial fishermen cash for turning in their nets — nets that have ensnared endangered sea turtles heading into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Gill-net fishing involves a wall of netting that hangs in the water column, typically made of monofilament or multifilament nylon. They can stretch out for a mile, and at one time a couple of miles. They ensnare everything except for fish small enough to swim between the meshing.

Depending on the size of gill-net meshing, animals can become entangled around their necks, mouths and flippers, according to NOAA Fisheries, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Entanglement can prevent proper feeding, constrict growth or cause infections. Marine mammals entangled in set gill nets can drown.

They are called gill nets because when a fish enters the meshing and then tries to retreat, its gills become caught in the mesh. These nets are deployed outside of the marine sanctuary but can catch migratory marine wildlife that comes into sanctuary waters each year.

Off California’s Central Coast, the target species include swordfish, sharks and tuna. But they also have ensnared humpback and endangered fin whales, porpoises and dolphins, and seals and sea lions, in addition to leatherback sea turtles, NOAA Fisheries reports.

Gov. Gavin Newsom in his 2021-2022 fiscal year budget has allocated the final $1.3 million to an ongoing buy-back program to take gill nets out of the water, a move celebrated by Oceana, a nonprofit in Monterey that has pushed for the legislation.

Each fisherman who turns in gill nets will receive $110,000

Under state law, the entire fleet of gill-net permits in California will be phased out by 2024. In its place is a type of fishing called “deep-set buoy gear that is more selective,” said Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California campaign director.

This buoy gear used a hook-and-buoy array to target swordfish during the daytime in deep water, with hooks commonly set at depths below 250 meters, or roughly 800 feet. They are composed of strike-indicator buoys on the surface, a vertical mainline, baited hooks and a weighted sinker to ensure that hooks reach depth rapidly. They are designed to target swordfish without ensnaring other species.

“This innovative transition program will save whales, sea turtles and other ocean wildlife by removing harmful drift gill nets from our oceans and provide opportunities for California fishermen to catch swordfish with more selective methods like deep-set buoy gear,” Shester said.

But not everyone is keen on the project. Gary Burke fishes swordfish out of Santa Barbara and is a director of Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara. He turned down the buyout for a number of reasons, not least of which is the buyout price point of $110,000.

“Guys make that in one catch,” Burke said in an interview with The Herald. The costs of transitioning to another fishery can be far more than $110,000. Changing to squid fishing, for example, can cost up to $1 million, which most fishermen would need to borrow against their boats.

Burke maintains the by-catch, as snaring other species is called, is minimal and that the alternative of deep-set buoy fishing doesn’t bring in enough of a catch to be financially sustainable. Since the onset of the program in 2018, 27 vessels in his group fished for 1,062 days and caught 1,257 fish, or an average of 1.2 swordfish a day, not enough to sustain commercial boats.

He also argued the extent of by-catch is not as much as most people think, he said. There was one gray whale and “a handful of dolphins” caught in a five-year span, Burke said, and that 74% of fish caught in gill nets were sold, and that of the by-catch, 80% were released alive.

That compares to Oceana’s numbers it says are based on NOAA Fisheries data, that in a 10-year span, gill nets will capture 27 whales, 548 dolphins, 333 seals and sea lions and 24 sea turtles.

Burke also said— that while the U.S. and California are adopting stringent regulations on fishing to protect species like leatherbacks, the real harm is in places like Papua New Guinea and Indonesia where leatherbacks are hunted and their eggs are dug up, sometimes by wild pigs roaming the islands.

“If you want to help leatherbacks, that’s where you need to start,” Burke said.

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The University of New Mexico

UNM biologists use genomic sequencing to inform preservation efforts for Gila trout

By Sarah Bliss-Carpenter  July 01, 2021

University of New Mexico Ph.D. student David Camak, professor and curator of fishes at the Museum of Southwestern Biology Thomas Turner, and professor Megan Osborne recently published a paper about their research on analyzing genomic sequences of fish, for which they used using computing resources at the Center for Advanced Research Computing. Their work will inform local efforts to preserve Gila trout. The team collected and analyzed trout samples to assess the genetic diversity of Gila trout lineages and determine whether hybridization with rainbow trout is threatening the genetic integrity of the species. 

After being placed on the endangered species list in 1973, the Gila trout was reclassified as a threatened species in 2006 according to the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish. Despite this progress, the Gila trout is still exposed to numerous risks including climate change, hybridization with rainbow trout, and wildfire. In particular, large wildfires in the trout’s habitat have wiped out entire populations, decreasing the species’ genetic diversity. 

These threats can create what biologists call a “population bottleneck.”

“A population bottleneck is when a population gets really small and fish interbreed and then they get inbreeding depression… You get these deleterious traits in the population and they can depress the overall fitness of the population,” Turner explained.

Hybridization with non-native rainbow trout is another threat to the Gila trout. Stocking the Gila River with rainbow trout is a practice dating back to the arrival of European settlers in the Southwest. Stocking is meant to increase the number of fish that can be caught by recreational fishers, but when rainbow trout are stocked into a river with native Gila trout, the two species interbreed. This interbreeding changes the genetic profile of the fish, which could lead to broader changes to both species and the presence of Gila trout hybrids. Hybrids may not be protected by the Endangered Species Act because of their differing genetic makeup. 

To investigate the genetic integrity and diversity of Gila trout, Camak, Turner, and Osborne collected samples from remote streams in the east, middle, and west forks of the Gila River. They then generated data on the genomes of these samples and used CARC resources to organize and interpret that data.

“What CARC was really important for doing was to catalogue all those sequences [and] to match them all up so we can compare them across individuals to make sure that we’re comparing the same portion of the genome across all these individuals. And this is super computationally intensive,” Turner reported.

The group’s work revealed encouraging results. Fortunately, Gila trout have not hybridized with rainbow trout. Furthermore, Gila trout lineages appear to have exchanged genetic material with each other in recent history, meaning that different lineages could be used to bolster the genetic diversity of populations in other areas. 

The authors of this paper are now working on similar studies of other local fish. Their work will be used to inform preservation efforts by local government agencies like the restocking of fish and the establishment of instream barriers between species. 

Turner noted the importance of UNM resources to his and his colleagues’ work, commenting, “UNM resources are huge in building the capacity to do these kinds of projects. Having a place like CARC to do this kind of computation, having samples in the Museum of Southwestern Biology, and having experts in fish biology and other restoration biology make this possible.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Environmentalists Set Deadline for Hawai‘i Department of Transportation to Fix Lights That Injure, Kill Rare Birds on Maui, Lāna‘i

HONOLULU—(June 30, 2021)—Two conservation groups today provided formal notice of their intent to sue the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation if it fails to take immediate steps to prevent bright lighting at state-operated airports and harbors on Maui and Lāna‘i from killing and injuring three species of critically imperiled seabirds.

The Newell’s shearwater is a threatened species, and Hawaiian petrels and band-rumped storm petrels in Hawai‘i are endangered species. According to today’s notice from the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i and the Center for Biological Diversity, represented by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice, the department’s continued failure to protect these native seabirds from harmful operations at its facilities violates the federal Endangered Species Act.

In August 2017 the Center and Conservation Council sued the department to stop the deaths of these seabirds at facilities on Kaua‘i. The seabirds circle the bright lights at the department’s facilities until they fall to the ground from exhaustion or crash into nearby buildings.

Bright lights have contributed significantly to the catastrophic 94% decline in the population of threatened Newell’s shearwaters on Kaua‘i since the 1990s. They have also harmed endangered Hawaiian petrels, whose numbers on Kaua‘i have plummeted by 78% in the same period.

“We’re saddened that it may take another legal action to force the transportation department to stop ignoring its facilities’ role in the senseless deaths of Hawai‘i’s imperiled seabirds,” said Maxx Phillips, the Center’s Hawai‘i director and staff attorney. “There’s no reason why the state should be allowed to continue flouting the Endangered Species Act when simple measures could ensure bird safety.”

“The Department of Transportation has already taken steps to stop killing and injuring imperiled seabirds on Kaua‘i, so the department knows what to do,” said Leinā‘ala Ley, an attorney with Earthjustice. “To save these birds from extinction, the department needs to implement similar measures immediately on Maui and Lāna‘i. There’s no time to waste.”

“State agencies should set the gold standard for protecting Hawai‘i’s wildlife,” said Moana Bjur, executive director of the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i. “Private landowners, companies and other organizations are expected to comply with Endangered Species Act rules and standards. The department’s failure to file habitat conservation plans for their airports and harbors is negligent and unacceptable.”

The largest Hawaiian petrel breeding colony is located on Maui in Haleakalā crater, and the second-largest breeding colony is located on Lāna‘i. A breeding colony of Band-rumped Storm petrels was recently discovered at Hauola Gulch on Lāna‘i and is only the third such colony to be identified in the state, making it an important site for future efforts to protect and recover this species.

The department’s airport and harbor facilities are among the largest documented sources of seabird deaths from light attraction on Maui and Lāna‘i. The lights used by these facilities are tall, freestanding and exceptionally bright, making them attractive to the threatened and endangered seabirds. Additionally, coastal lights like those at Kahului Airport and Kahului Harbor cause more fallout than inland lights, meaning these lights are particularly dangerous for the seabirds.

The groups seek to compel the department to comply with its obligations under the Endangered Species Act by securing incidental take permit coverage for its activities on the two islands. As part of permitting, the department must develop a habitat conservation plan specifying measures it will take to minimize and mitigate harm, such as shielding or eliminating its bright lights, and fencing nesting colonies to prevent predation of nesting seabirds and their chicks. The Act requires that citizens provide 60 days’ advance notice before filing a lawsuit to address illegal activities.

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National Geographic

Florida enacts sweeping law to protect its wildlife corridors

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Act was passed unanimously. It aims to protect green spaces, drinking water, and wildlife such as panthers.

BY DOUGLAS MAIN, June 30, 2021

Florida made conservation history by enacting a bill and securing $400 million in funding to help protect the state’s vast network of natural areas.

Known as the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, the legislation passed the Florida State Senate and House unanimously in late April. It was signed by Governor Ron DeSantis on the evening of June 29.

The act formally recognizes the existence of the Florida wildlife corridor, an interconnected web of green spaces throughout much of the state that includes forests, swamps, fields, pastures, timberlands, and even the edges of suburbs.

These areas are crucial for the existence of Florida’s rich wildlife, especially wide-ranging species such as Florida panthers, black bears, otters, alligators, and many types of birds. Habitat fragmentation, caused by roads and development, is one of the most critical but least recognized threats to biodiversity.

Along with the bill, the legislature has also earmarked $300 million toward protecting lands within the corridor, which can be used to fund conservation easements on private property or acquire land. That’s in addition to $100 million allocated generally to the main state’s land conservation program, called Florida Forever, which functions similarly, though over a slightly broader geographic area.

The act is also intended to protect agricultural lands from development, to provide for continued recreational access to natural areas, and to safeguard clean water and air. That’s vital in the third most populous state, where an average of nearly a thousand people move every day.

“It’s the best hope we got,” says Cary Lightsey, a sixth-generation cattle rancher who lives near Lake Kissimmee, of the corridor bill. Protecting these lands will “keep our natural resources going, protect our endangered species, and most of all, the landscape.” (Read more: How America’s most endangered cat could help save Florida.)

For an environmental bill to pass with unanimous bipartisan support is unusual in today’s political climate, but it shows that land conservation, and specifically wildlife corridors, can transcend  partisan divisions, says Jason Lauritsen, executive director of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Coalition.

“It’s an issue of marrying green infrastructure and a healthy ecosystem with vibrant economies,” Lauritsen says.

Many see it as part of a broader evolution in conservation planning, in which people worldwide are increasingly realizing the importance of landscape connectivity, says Tori Linder, a conservationist and managing director with Path of the Panther, an organization supported by the National Geographic Society that works to protect the corridor and helped lead the effort to pass the bill.

Linder says that some other states have made various moves to recognize and protect their wildlife corridors—such as New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Virginia—but none has made this level of investment.

“The bipartisan passage of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act presents a model for sustainable development nationally, one in which nature and people can thrive together. And that’s incredibly exciting,” Linder says.

Defining the corridor

The new law specifies what qualifies to be part of the Florida wildlife corridor. To do so, it uses information from the Florida Ecological Greenways network, a massive collection of data managed by Tom Hoctor, director of the Center for Landscape Conservation Planning at the University of Florida.

That data, which includes animal movements, ecological measurements, habitat type, water availability, and many other factors, helps determine what areas are most needed for wildlife to thrive. In all, the corridor encompasses 18 million acres of land, of which 10 million acres are currently protected.

Many species, including Florida panthers, need corridors to disperse, find mates, and maintain their large home ranges.

These endangered cats nearly went extinct by the 1970s, but bounced back following an infusion of genes from five Texas mountain lions in the 1990s. In 2016, a female was seen north of the Caloosahatchee River, a major waterway that runs from Fort Myers toward Lake Okeechobee, for the first time in 43 years.

This milestone suggests the species is moving north—which it must to survive long-term, a future that’s only possible with protected wildlife corridors.

Beyond panthers, most animals and plants rely, to some degree, upon connected landscapes to disperse and maintain genetic diversity.

The bill’s passing is the culmination of a long quest by Carlton Ward, Jr., a photographer and National Geographic Explorer who founded the Florida Wildlife Corridor campaign in 2010 and Path of the Panther in 2016. In recent years, Ward has explored much of Florida’s wildlife corridor, trekking more than 2,000 miles throughout the state and photographing wildlife, including the elusive Florida panther.

“This gives me a lot of hope for the future of land conservation in Florida,” Ward says.

Working together

In Florida, where development pressure is intense, ranchers and those working in agriculture often have more in common with environmentalists than in some other states, says Lightsey.

For instance, Lightsey has put more than 90 percent of his ranch in easements. The state pays him about 50 to 60 percent of the land’s appraised value, and in return, the land can never be developed. Easement owners are responsible for managing the land and paying property taxes, though often at reduced rates, and can receive some tax benefits such as deductions.

Lightsey and Hoctor both said the COVID-19 pandemic served as a wake-up call to the state, as many more people have flocked to Florida and to the countryside, putting more strain on rural areas.

“Everybody wants to live in the country [now],” Lightsey says. “It don’t look good if we don’t get rolling on this real quick.”

But many caution there’s more work ahead. For example, though the bill’s passing is exciting and hopeful, the funding needs to be sustained over time to have a real impact, Hoctor says.

Wilton Simpson, the Republican president of the State Senate—who helped the bill get passed and funded—says he hopes to secure “a similar level of funding” next year as well. “We’re very proud we got this done,” he says.

Meanwhile, developmental pressures are urgent. In 2019 a network of toll roads was proposed, called M-CORES, that would build more than 300 miles of roads cutting through some of the last undeveloped swathes of the state. Though the M-CORES project is on hold, conservationists are concerned new roads such as these or others could lead to further degradation of the land and damage the integrity of the Florida wildlife corridor.

Linder says that although she felt a sense of accomplishment when the corridor bill finally passed, it didn’t last long.

“It’s just the beginning of what needs to happen,” Linder says. “Every state needs to work to protect wildlife corridors.”

Jill Tiefenthaler, chief executive officer for the National Geographic Society, concurs. “Hopefully the success of this project will inspire change throughout the country and the world.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Golden Paintbrush Is Latest Endangered Species Act Success Story

Populations of Beautiful Prairie Flower Have Recovered in Western Washington, Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore.—(June 29, 2021)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to remove a flowering plant called the golden paintbrush, in the Pacific Northwest, from the endangered species list due to its recovery.

Historically found from southwestern British Columbia to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the golden paintbrush is a short-lived perennial herb with bright yellow flowers and covered in soft, sticky hairs. The plant, which can grow up to a foot high, was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1997, with only 10 known populations in Washington and British Columbia.

Now, thanks in part to replanting efforts, at least 48 sites of golden paintbrush have been documented — more than 560,000 plants. In Washington it lives at 19 sites: five in the South Puget Sound prairie landscape; six in the San Juan Islands; seven on Whidbey Island, and one near Dungeness Bay in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In Oregon the paintbrush has returned to 26 sites within the Willamette Valley. And in British Columbia, there are three known sites, each located on a separate island.

“The upland prairies and grasslands of the Pacific Northwest support many species that, like the golden paintbrush, are uniquely beautiful,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But without the Endangered Species Act, this fragile flower would have been pushed into extinction years ago by unchecked agricultural and residential development. It’s a good day for the paintbrush, but more needs to be done to save Puget and Willamette prairies and the many endangered species that depend on them.”

By the late 1990s the paintbrush had been eliminated from the Willamette Valley due to habitat loss caused by fire suppression, invasive species, development and recreational picking. Ongoing maintenance of the plant’s prairie and grasslands habitats helped support the paintbrush’s return to its native range in Oregon.

The Service expects the continued management of the paintbrush’s habitat will contribute to the recovery of a number of other species protected by the Endangered Species Act, including Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly and three subspecies of Mazama pocket gopher in Washington, the endangered Willamette daisy, and the threatened Kincaid’s lupine and Nelson’s checker-mallow in Oregon.

Additionally, golden paintbrush habitat supports the Fender’s blue butterfly, which the Service proposed to downlist from endangered to threatened on June 22 due to the species’ recovery in the Willamette Valley.

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TC Palm (Stuart, FL)

City of Stuart calls for manatees to be reinstated to federal endangered species list

Lina Ruiz, Treasure Coast Newspapers, June 28, 2021

STUART — City officials are calling for greater federal protections of the West Indian manatee after data shows more than 10% of Florida’s manatee population has died this year.

The City Commission Monday approved a resolution urging the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to return the manatee to the endangered species list, while adding the St. Lucie River as a critical habitat for the animal.

“This isn’t how stuff gets listed on the endangered species list, or re-listed. But a municipality supporting it or being on the tip of the spear, causing the alarm (and) asking for further studies certainly helps,” Vice Mayor Merritt Matheson said,  “That’s the intent of this resolution.” 

At least 811 manatees have died this year as of June 18, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Thirty-five of those were reported in Martin County, 23 of which were found in Stuart.

Experts blame starvation, caused by die-offs of seagrass through algal blooms. Federal wildlife officials in March referred to the deaths as an Unusual Mortality Event.

In 2017, West Indian manatee went from “endangered” to “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act after their populations and habitats improved. Environmentalists have referred to the change as “very much premature.”

Stuart’s call to action mirrors those of RiverKidz, a local nonprofit youth organization that sent letters to the federal Department of Interior last month. It also follows proposed legislation co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City.

Mast and Democrat Stephanie Murphy, who represents portions of the Orlando area, recently introduced the Marine Mammal Research and Response Act, that could garner $7 million a year for protection and research of marine mammal deaths.

The legislation would allocate at least $42 million over six years for grants that likely would cap at $150,000, with $500,000 available for a specific rapid-response program, according to the bill.

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Star Advertiser (Honolulu, HI)

U.S. government opens comment period for proposed recategorizing of endangered Hawaiian bird

By Nina Wu, June 28, 2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reopening the public comment period for the proposed downlisting of the Hawaiian stilt, or ae‘o, from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Public comment is now welcome through July 23. The rule was originally available for public comment from March 25 through May 24, but the USFWS decided to offer all interested parties an additional 30 days to comment.

A virtual public meeting and hearing will also be held at 5 p.m. on July 7.

USFWS said the proposal to downlist the aeʻo is “based on the best available scientific information, a thorough analysis of threats and how they have been alleviated, and the ongoing commitment and proven track record of partners to continue managing for healthy aeʻo populations.”

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 a species that is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.

“The proposed downlisting of the aeʻo is an example of the power of conservation partnerships between federal, state and private stakeholders under the ESA,” said USFWS in a news release. “Over the past three decades, a strong network of conservation actions throughout Hawaii has resulted in more wetland areas being managed compatible with the species’ needs. The State of Hawaii has been a key partner, along with efforts on National Wildlife Refuges, to protect, manage, and conserve the significant wetland habitats and supporting aeʻo populations over the last 30 years.”

The Hawaiian stilt, or aeʻo, is a slender and graceful wading bird with long, pink legs that occurs on all main Hawaiian islands except Kahoolawe.

The USFWS said it was originally listed as endangered in 1970 due to the destruction of its habitat, along with hunting, introduced predatory animals and disease. Aeʻo today continue to be threatened by non-native predators such as mongooses, cats and rats, along with habitat loss, type C botulism, and the impacts of human activities and climate change.

USFWS has determined, however, that the “imminence, severity, and magnitude of ongoing threats do not indicate the aeʻo is presently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”

Survey data and a recent analysis indicate that the aeʻo population has been at the “stable to increasing” level for several decades in the eight islands where it exists, according to USFWS, and stable population trends are expected to continue into the foreseeable future, as long as predator, water level, and vegetation management continues.

If downlisted, a federal take prohibition would also be removed under certain conditions.

At least one nonprofit group, the Center for Biological Diversity, opposes the delisting of the Hawaiian stilt.

“While the Service, State of Hawaii, and community have made strides in the conservation and recovery of aeʻo, downlisting is premature and unsupported by the best available science,” said the center’s Hawaii director Maxx Phillips in an email. “The proposed rule is in contravention of clear requirements of the Endangered Species Act as none of the required criteria for downlisting have been fully met. A variety of pressing threats, such as climate change, sea level rise, disease, and predation, continue to leave aeʻo in danger of extinction. Now is not the time to strip vital protections away from these incredible birds.”

To submit a comment, visit regulations.gov, and enter docket number FWS-R1-ES-2020-0079 in the search box.

Comments already submitted do not need to resubmitted. The USFWS said its final determination will take all comments and information received into consideration.

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The World (Coos Bay, OR)

Once Thought Extinct, an Oregon Butterfly Reaches Recovery Milestone

June 26, 2021

On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to reclassify Fender’s blue butterfly from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The service is also proposing a special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA to provide for the conservation of the species. This announcement opens a 60-day public comment period.

This colorful butterfly, unique to the Willamette Valley upland prairie and oak savannah in Oregon, was thought to be extinct in 1937. Remarkably, after almost five decades, this butterfly was rediscovered in 1989. With the help of many collaborators, the butterfly’s populations have grown and become secure enough that it no longer meets the definition of an endangered species. This incredible conservation success story was made possible through teamwork, the support of public and private partners, and habitat restoration using the best available science.

“As with all of our recovery stories, this would not have been possible without many valued partners including private landowners who have made significant contributions to the conservation of Fender’s blue butterfly,” says Robyn Thorson, Pacific Northwest regional director. “We can’t thank them enough for voluntarily working with us to preserve this butterfly and other native species of the Willamette Valley prairies.”

Partners in this effort include the Institute for Applied Ecology, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Benton and Yamhill Counties, Greenbelt Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Washington State University, Van Duzer Vineyards and many private landowners.

“When we study the problem carefully and invest the effort to make changes, we can reverse the extinction process and set species like the Fender’s blue butterfly on a new trajectory toward recovery,” explains Tom Kaye, executive director of Institute for Applied Ecology. “One major breakthrough was learning that mowing and prescribed fire could be used to benefit the butterfly.”

This butterfly relies primarily upon Kincaid’s lupine, a native plant listed as a threatened species, as the host plant for its caterpillar. Females lay single eggs on the underside of the lupine leaves, up to approximately 350 eggs in total. Two other similar lupine species also provide food for the caterpillars, which they feed on until the plants dry out and the larvae go into diapause for the fall and winter. Butterflies generally fly between mid-April and the end of June and only live 7 to 14 days. Fender’s blue butterfly is found in the Willamette Valley in Benton, Lane, Linn, Polk, Yamhill and Washington counties in Oregon.

The 4(d) rule covers activities that facilitate conservation and management of the butterfly’s habitat by creating, restoring, or enhancing native upland prairie or oak savannah. Specific activities include planting of native vegetation, mowing and removal of invasive, nonnative plant species.

The service is seeking public comments concerning the proposal to downlist Fender’s blue butterfly, and any additional information on the species. Comments will be accepted through August 23. For instructions on how to comment go to: https://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/.

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KPVI (6) News (Pocatello, ID)

Court rules Flathead plan fails grizzly, trout populations

ROB CHANEY, June 25, 2021

A lawsuit pitting habitat needs for grizzly bears and bull trout against road access for loggers and motorized tourists has resolved in favor of the animals in the Flathead National Forest.

However, U.S. District Judge Don Molloy ruled on Thursday that most of a new forest management plan governing the 2.4-million-acre national forest west and south of Glacier National Park may stand while the U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service fix some violations of the Endangered Species Act.

“It’s a pretty thorough and nuanced opinion,” said Lawson Fite, an American Forest Resource Council attorney representing the Montana Logging Association. “The judge said we can have a robust timber program on the Flathead that supports rural communities, keeps a healthy forest, and provides for grizzly bears continuing their impressive recovery. We’re gratified that grizzlies are recovering, and I think we should be celebrating that, rather than just keeping restrictions for their own sake.

The challenge came from WildEarth Guardians, Swan View Coalition and several other environmental groups that accused the Flathead Forest of violating National Environmental Policy Act and Travel Management Rule provisions in drafting its new forest plan without adequate research or public review.

Molloy rejected those arguments, writing “this does not appear to be a case in which the agencies cut corners. Rather, with limited exception, the record reflects that federal defendants met their statutory obligations in planning for and implementing the revised plan.”

Instead, Molloy found the agencies failed to follow the Endangered Species Act by getting rid of previous policies that helped grizzlies and bull trout. He quoted the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in noting that getting rid of those policies “is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who represented the Swan View Coalition, said the ruling confirmed studies showing the federal agencies were not actually enforcing the policies, such as complete removal of unneeded roads in wildlife habitat.

“The government was changing the rules that led to progress on grizzly bear and bull trout conservation,” Preso said. “They have to go back and rethink that.”

The Flathead National Forest includes a large part of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which has the largest single population of grizzly bears in the Lower 48 states. An estimated 1,000 grizzlies live in the mountains of Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, Flathead and Blackfeet Indian reservations and other wildlands extending south to Missoula.

The environmental groups argued that Flathead Forest officials improperly abandoned old rules limiting forest road construction and requiring removal of unnecessary roads in places critical to grizzlies and bull trout. Road access frequently leads to bears getting killed in vehicle accidents or hunting incidents, and erosion from road surfaces can ruin streambeds bull trout need to spawn.

The groups also raised a number of other objections to the new forest plan, including the way it reviewed snowmobile and off-road vehicle routes, how it calculated harm to bears and fish for management purposes and how the overall plan was approved.

However, Molloy left the Flathead Forest’s forest plan in place, noting that both sides agreed the new plan was, on the whole, better for people and animals than the 1986 plan it replaces.

That means six forest projects currently in the works should stay active. They include the Taylor-Hellroaring, Hellroaring Basin Improvements, Crystal Cedar and March Madness blowdown salvage projects.

“If the revised plan were vacated, the economic impact on defendant-intervenors and on the local communities that depend on approved projects for employment could be severe,” Molloy wrote.

That included 575 wood industry jobs with an annual payroll of more than $40 million, along with at least eight other forest projects developing under the new forest plan. Instead, Molloy relied on the Forest Service’s testimony that “any project under the revised plan would have to be examined individually; if the project impacted roads, grizzly bears or bull trout, the project would require a site-specific consultation and a biological assessment with the Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Molloy rejected the environmental groups’ argument that the Flathead Plan unlawfully expanded snowmobile access in critical wildlife habitat. Instead, he ruled those snowmobile travel plans were already in place before the new forest plan got finalized, so it didn’t produce any changes. He also dismissed challenges to the Forest Service’s interpretation of travel-management rules for off-road vehicle use.

But he agreed the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to properly analyze how new forest management might hurt bears and trout, and that the Forest Service improperly relied on the FWS’ flawed analysis. For example, the groups showed that more than two-thirds of officially closed roads in the Swan Lake Ranger District showed signs of trespassing motor vehicles.

(This article originally ran on missoulian.com.)

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Naples Daily News (Naples, FL)

NOAA sets sail to study endangered smalltooth sawfish

Karl Schneider, Naples Daily News, June 25, 2021

Federal researchers are back in the waters near Southwest Florida to tag and study endangered smalltooth sawfish.

Scientist Andrea Kroetz, with the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, and Research Biologist John Carlson, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, returned to the Everglades and 10,000 Islands area to monitor the population and habitat use of juvenile smalltooth sawfish.

Carlson said the research is two-fold. Since sawfish are listed under the Endangered Species act, the team has been monitoring the population since 2008 to get an idea if the species is recovering.

“The other aspect is habitat use,” Carlson said. “We’re trying to gather more information to better define what features sawfish use when they’re juveniles.”

Smalltooth sawfish can grow up to 17 feet long and were historically common off Florida’s coastline, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website says. Populations declined, however, because of overfishing.

Recovery is difficult for the species since sawfish don’t produce many offspring. Sawfish have been protected in Florida since 1992.

The researchers use acoustic telemetry, which are ultrasonic tags that give off a coded frequency.

“We surgically implant the tags in the abdomen, and they can last 4-10 years,” Kroetz said. “We track the animals to see if there are changes in habitat use. It’s very useful to give us some fine-scale resolution for habitats in Everglades National Park.”

When smalltooth sawfish are still young, they’re found in shallower, red mangrove habitats. Mangroves not only provide vital habitat for a variety of life but act as a nursery and protect smaller, growing species from predators.

Taylor Hancock, a research assistant at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Water School said there are a high abundance of fish at those mangrove shorelines, but there’s been a worldwide trend of losing that habitat.

“It’s true here in Southwest Florida where we have continued beachfront development and we’re losing more and more mangrove habitat that is important to sawfish,” Hancock said. “They’re already critically endangered and one of the biggest concerns for conservation is to conserve the habitat.”

Hancock spent his graduate years studying diets of smalltooth sawfish, and while he said there isn’t a direct connection yet between diet and habitat, it’s a logical step to look at all the past research and understand the importance of mangroves to the sawfish.

“They are in those areas because those mangrove shorelines are really good nurseries for fish,” he said. “Just like the fish that are going into these shallow mangrove areas to use as nursery to reproduce and rear their young, sawfish do the same thing.”

Kroetz and Carlson are trying to narrow that focus of where these sawfish prefer to be.

Carlson said that despite red mangrove habitats looking similar, there are some areas where you’ll more likely find the sawfish, and the two hope to find out why.

“(The research) will allow us to better define which features are more important than other areas,” he said. “Some areas potentially look like good habitat but aren’t. This will definitely help us refine where they may occur.”

Kroetz is working on a model using math to help nail down those details. The modeling is still in progress but will hopefully help predict what habitat the sawfish use outside of NOAA’s sampling areas.

Generally, juvenile sawfish prefer shallow, warmer waters, between about 77-86 degrees, with higher salinity, she said.

Ultimately, Kroetz and Carlson hope that when smalltooth sawfish begin to fully recover historic populations, their work will help inform ways to offset habitat loss in more northern ranges.

Carlson said he’s optimistic that he and Kroetz will have a more normal year in 2021, getting out into the field more often than they were able during the pandemic.

The NOAA scientists spend about five days in locations ranging from Key Largo to Marco Island. Each day in the field can last 10-12 hours, all while battling mosquitoes and dealing with the wet Florida heat.

Carlson said they’re seeing the recovery and as the population increases, people should be aware of what to do if they accidentally catch one or even see one swimming along the shore.

“We want the public to be safe because these animals can be dangerous,” he said. “They can swing their rostrum (saw) aggressively. So release them safely, don’t drag them up on beach and cut the line as close to the hook as possible.”

NOAA also does public education about sawfish, and Kroetz said they’d like to do more outreach when it’s suitable to be back in public settings.

“We need citizen scientists to report sawfish,” Kroetz said. “It’s important for us to convey research to the public and how they can help.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission set up a hotline for the public to call if a smalltooth sawfish is spotted.

Sightings can be reported by calling 844-472-9347 (1-844-4SAWFISH) or sending an email to sawfish@myfwc.com.

“To file a report of a sawfish sighting or encounter, please include the date and time of the encounter, the location, the estimated length of each sawfish, the water depth, and any other relevant details,” FWC’s website says.

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The Guardian

Coalition fails to meet endangered species targets to stem decline of birds, mammals and plants

Ecology experts say failure to hit five-year goals concerning although feral cat progress promising

Lisa Cox, June 25, 2021

A Coalition government strategy to save Australia’s endangered wildlife has failed to meet targets to stem the decline of many birds, mammals and plants.

The final-year report of the five-year threatened species strategy, which was introduced under the former environment minister Greg Hunt, has found five out of the strategy’s 13 targets were met, three were partially met and five were not met.

The targets not met include three that aimed to improve the trajectory of 20 birds, 20 mammals and 30 plants, including species such as the red-tailed black cockatoo and the eastern barred bandicoot.

The report finds this goal was only achieved for six birds, eight mammals and 10 plants.

For some of those species an improved trajectory did not mean that population numbers had improved in the five-year time frame – their decline was simply occurring at a slower rate than previously.

A goal to eradicate feral cats from five islands was not achieved, while a target to cull 2 million feral cats across Australia was considered partially met at more than 1.5 million.

In its report, the government wrote that the time frame of five years was too short to meet some of the “deliberately challenging” targets.

But it said the strategy had been successful in sharpening the public focus on threatened species and that “quantifiable progress” had been made, including in the culling and management of feral predators.

On the targets it did meet, the government said it was managing feral cats across more than 10 million hectares. Recovery work was also happening for 50 plant species and 60 ecological communities.

Ayesha Tulloch, a research fellow at the University of Sydney, said the introduction of the strategy itself had been a positive step and it was welcome that the department had found a way to report on it.

But she said it was alarming that after five years there were as many unmet targets as those that had been fully achieved.

She said this was especially the case for process-focused goals, such as a target to have up-to-date recovery plans, conservation advice and threat abatement plans in place for all of the priority species. This target was not met.

“Given that we have hundreds of threatened plants and we can’t even meet a target of 30 being improved over five years, that’s very alarming,” Tulloch said.

“The fact we can’t even meet a target of making sure there’s up to date recovery plans and conservation advice for species, let alone implement it, that’s concerning.”

Euan Ritchie, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at Deakin University, said the strategy had raised awareness about the dire predicament that hundreds of Australia’s unique plant and animal species were facing.

He said there had been some welcome successes documented in the five-year period, including the establishment of additional wildlife safe havens that were free of feral cats.

But he said the report showed “many failures”, noting that fewer than 35% of the priority plant and animal species had improved population trajectories.

“This improvement includes species that are simply declining at slower rates over recent years,” Ritchie said.

“But we still have the ability to turn things around – and quickly, if the political appetite appears, environmental laws are strengthened and sufficient investment for conservation is forthcoming.”

The government announced in May it would develop a new 10-year threatened species strategy, made up of two five-year action plans.

This strategy will include greater focus on landscapes, rather than just individual species, with the first action plan expected to include 100 priority species and 20 places. The range of species will also take in reptiles, amphibians, freshwater and marine species.

Tulloch and Ritchie said the new strategy would need to come with tougher environmental protections, including legislation to halt habitat clearing, one of the biggest threats to species.

Tim Beshara, of the Wilderness Society, said the federal government was not meeting its obligations to recover endangered wildlife and that the original strategy had narrowed the focus of the commonwealth.

“It was spun as triage or prioritisation of the range of species they were going to recover,” he said. “The strategy lowered the bar of species recovery and yet, as their own report card shows, they still managed to trip over it.”

A spokesman for the federal environment department said the first strategy had brought “ground breaking national focus” to threatened species, and its achievements in managing feral cats had contributed to improvements for species including the bilby, woylie and the central rock rat.

The spokesman said recovery would be a generational process for some species.

“This strategy was the first of its kind in Australia and was based on highly ambitious targets. It has formed a vital framework for the next decade and has already been responsible for saving species.”

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Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL)/News Release

U.S. Representatives Newman and Garcia Introduce Legislation Requiring President Biden to Declare the Wildlife Extinction Crisis a National Emergency

The Extinction Crisis Emergency Act would address the wildlife extinction crisis as a national emergency by ensuring all federal agencies prioritize building back healthy wildlife, protecting critical habitat and addressing climate change

WASHINGTON, DC –(June 25, 2021)—Today, U.S. Representatives Marie Newman (D-IL-03) and Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL-04) introduced legislation that would require President Biden to declare the wildlife extinction crisis a national emergency under his authority in the National Emergencies Act of 1976. After more than a century of habitat destruction, pollution and climate change that has driven wildlife species to the brink of extinction, the new Extinction Crisis Emergency Act of 2021 is designed to establish a robust federal response to finally address this crisis as a national emergency.

“The devastating effects of climate change pose an immediate threat to our surrounding wildlife. Day by day, the number of animals in the U.S. facing extinction grows, creating a national emergency that needs to be addressed,” said Congresswoman Newman. “Investing in the health of our wildlife is an urgent priority. Through the Extinction Crisis Emergency Act, wildlife can begin flourishing again in their natural homes and habitats.”

Under the legislation introduced today, the President’s national emergency declaration would require all federal agencies to prioritize building back health wildlife populations, protect critical habitat and integrate climate change concerns into the recovery of endangered species. Additionally, the bill would provide supplemental funding for agencies to develop recovery plans and designate habitats for endangered species. To curb illegal wildlife trade or deforestation, the bill would establish potential trade penalties on nations that are not making significant efforts to end such practices. 

“After more than a century of habitat destruction and climate change, we are now facing a global crisis that we caused — with around one million animal and plant species at the brink of extinction. Whatever we do in the next few years will determine and define the future of humanity. We have a moral obligation to meet the moment with a bold response and the Extinction Crisis Emergency Act does just that by declaring the wildlife extinction crisis a national emergency,” said Congressman García.

A recent report released by the United Nations found that more than one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction, many within the decade. This mass extinction would have a grave impact on humanity, affecting everything from our water purification and disease regulation to worsening climate change across the globe. That is why this bill is intended to build on President Biden’s goal of protecting 30% of American lands and waters by 2030 to mitigate the negative effects of climate change. 

“The extinction crisis is a real threat to our well-being and even our survival, and Rep. Newman’s legislation provides the right road map of powerful actions needed to stop the heartbreaking decline of animals and plants,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Declaring the extinction crisis to be a national emergency would unlock key presidential powers that will halt the unraveling of the planet’s life-support systems, including pollination, air purification and disease regulation.”

By passing the Extinction Crisis Emergency Act of 2021, Congress has the opportunity to not only acknowledge this emergency but swiftly mobilize to save our planet and ensure the United States comes out as a global leader.

The Extinction Crisis Emergency Act of 2021 is endorsed by national organizations, including: Center for Biological Diversity, American Horse Protection Society, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Wellness Action, Animal Wellness Foundation, Animas Valley Institute, Athens County’s Future Action Network, Beyond Pesticides, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, Boulder Rights of Nature, Inc. , Bucks Environmental Action, Cahaba River Society, Center for a Humane Economy, Ciudadanos Del Karso, Don’t Waste Arizona, Earth Path Sanctuary, Earthkeeper Health Resources, Eastern Coyote/Coywolf Research, Eco-Eating, Endangered Species Coalition, Fuerza Mundial Global, Great Old Broads for Wilderness , In Defense of Animals, International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute, Jewish Climate Action Network – MA, League of Humane Voters NY, Los Padres Forest Watch, Massachusetts Forest Watch, NH Audubon, Northeast Oregon Ecosystems, Northwest Environmental Advocates, Oceanic Preservation Society, PSR Arizona, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Public Lands Project ,Raptors Are The Solution, RESTORE: The North Woods, Save The Colorado, SAVE THE FROGS!, Sequoia ForestKeeper®, South Asian Fund For Education , Scholarship and Training Inc, TFMPL, Trap Free Montana, Inc., Turner Endangered Species Fund, Western Watersheds Project, Wild Nature Institute.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Black-Footed Ferrets Proposed for Reintroduction Throughout Arizona

40-Million-Acre Range Expansion Would Also Include New Mexico, Utah

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.—(June 24, 2021)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to reintroduce endangered black-footed ferrets to four new areas in Arizona once their prey, prairie dogs, have increased sufficiently in numbers. A fifth area’s prairie dog population needs more growth and would be considered for ferret reintroduction later.

“Black-footed ferrets are not just exceedingly cute, they also play a fascinating evolutionary role as specialized predators of prairie dogs,” said Michael Robinson at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Returning these animals to a much wider area represents a welcome commitment to increase the numbers and distribution of prairie dogs and start healing our much-abused arid grasslands.”

A small population of black-footed ferrets was first reintroduced to northern Arizona in the 1990s. Today’s proposal could increase the eventual range of the ferrets to more than 40 million acres of potential habitat elsewhere in northern Arizona, along with eastern and southeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico and southeastern Utah.

The first four potential reintroduction sites would be in the Williams and Tusayan ranger districts of the Kaibab National Forest, the CO Bar Ranch, Petrified Forest National Park and near a reservoir called Lyman Lake. A fifth area, on Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, supports a reintroduced prairie dog population that must still grow substantially before it could support ferrets.

The federal proposal would also facilitate reintroduction to sovereign Tribal lands of the Hopi Tribe, Hualapai Tribe and the Navajo Nation, if any of these entities decide to reintroduce ferrets. The Navajo Nation is the largest Indian reservation in the United States and comprises more than 17.5 million acres in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

“Forty years ago just 18 individual black-footed ferrets survived,” said Robinson. “Thanks to the Endangered Species Act, hardworking biologists, and a forward-thinking Biden administration, we can now begin to envision the ferrets sufficiently recovered to never again teeter on the brink of extinction.”

Background

Ferrets are members of the mustelid family, which includes otters, weasels and skunks. Black-footed ferrets evolved to prey on prairie dogs and nearly went extinct in part because of a federal program to systematically poison prairie dogs on behalf of the livestock industry beginning a century ago.

In 1981, two years after the black-footed ferret was believed to have gone extinct, a small population was discovered in Wyoming. When that population became threatened by introduced sylvatic plague, the last 18 ferrets were captured alive. Fifteen of them, representing the genetic equivalent of seven distinct founders, were used to start a captive population that has been used for reintroduction in several western states.

Recovery of the black-footed ferret has been hindered by continued persecution of prairie dogs, which suppress their numbers and limit their distribution, as well as by recurring outbreaks of plague.

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AG Week

Conservation groups threaten lawsuit over Montana wolf laws

The groups say the new laws will lead to the accidental killing of protected species

Written By: Keith Schubert, Daily Montanan, June 24, 2021

A handful of groups is threatening legal action against the state of Montana if it does not revise recently passed legislation that makes it easier to hunt gray wolves in the state, saying the new laws would violate the Endangered Species Act by leading to the accidental taking of federally protected species.

The letter of intent to sue — addressed to Gov. Greg Gianforte, Montana Fish and Wildlife Protection Director Hank Worsech, as well as FWP commission members — by the groups echo a familiar argument made during the legislative session that allowing neck snares to be used for trapping wolves and extending the trapping season will lead to more accidental deaths of non-target animals.

“These bills impose a new trapping paradigm in western Montana’s lynx and grizzly bear habitat and are likely to cause incidental trapping and injury or death of these threatened species,” the letter read.

Rep. Paul Fielder, R-Thompson, sponsored House Bills 224 and 225 that allow for neck snares and extend the trapping season by adding two weeks on each end. At the International Grizzly Bear Committee’s summer meeting, Ken McDonald, chief of wildlife staff for Fish Wildlife and Parks, said the department plans to ask the FWP commission to end the trapping season in mid-December to protect bears coming out of hibernation within grizzly bear habitats.

The groups also took issue with Senate Bill 314, which allows more harvesting per individual license, baiting within 30-feet of a trap, and the hunting of wolves on private lands outside of daylight hours with the use of artificial light or scope. The bill also directs the FWP to “establish by rule hunting and trapping seasons for wolves with the intent to reduce the wolf population in this state to a sustainable level, but not less than the number of wolves necessary to support at least 15 breeding pairs.”

The letter said the state should “at a minimum” prohibit all trapping and snaring in occupied lynx and grizzly bear habitat to avoid accidental takings.

“Unless the State takes action in the next 60 days to remedy this violation, the undersigned organizations will seek judicial enforcement of the ESA’s take prohibition,” the letter said.

Because of the overlap of habitats between grizzly bears, Canadian lynx and gray wolves, the letter said the two threatened species would increasingly fall victim to snares under the new laws. The letter was sent by Earthjustice and on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Clearwater, Humane Society of the United States, International Wildlife Coexistence Network, Sierra Club, Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Watch, and Wolves of the Rockies.

“The Montana legislature and governor’s policies on wolf management are not about hunting, they are state-sponsored eradication the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 19th century,” said Earth Justice attorney Ben Scrimshaw.

Grizzly bears were added to the endangered species act in 1975 after populations fell to a sliver of what they once were. Since receiving federal protection, bear populations have continued to rise from around 700 in 1975 to nearly 2,000 in 2020. However, a recent review of the animal’s status under the ESA by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintained its threatened status. Due to the lack of regulatory mechanisms to protect Canadian Lynx, the animal was added to the ESA in 2000. Like the grizzly, the lynx has seen positive impacts on population rates after receiving federal protections.

On June 16, again citing laws passed in Montana, many of the same organizations joined 50 conservation is petitioning the FWS to restore the ESA protections for gray wolves.

“The unsustainable management of gray wolves by the states clearly demonstrates that the states cannot be trusted to protect this iconic species,” said Tara Thornton of the Endangered Species Coalition in a press release announcing the petition. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must step in to ensure gray wolves aren’t once again exterminated in the Northern Rockies.”

On Thursday, the FWP Commissioners will meet to discuss the recently implemented laws, including the rules and regulations for wolf hunting.

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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 wo