Real News

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


6% of Earth’s protected land is used to grow crops, study finds

by Morgan Erickson-Davis on 23 January 2021

*Protected areas supposedly safeguard the planet’s vulnerable inhabitants – including 83% of its endangered species.

*A new study reveals that cropland takes up 13.6% of the planet’s ice-free surface area and overlaps with 6% of its protected areas.

*While some species are at home in agricultural fields, many are not – particularly the endangered species many protected areas were created to safeguard.

*The study’s authors call for national and international sustainability goals to implement a more holistic, data-driven approach when it comes to improving food security and preserving habitat.

Covering around 13% of Earth’s surface and harboring an estimated 83% of its endangered wildlife, protected areas are tasked with an outsize responsibility to safeguard vulnerable species, as well as many Indigenous communities. But mounting evidence suggests protected areas may not be living up to their name, with around a third of the planet’s protected land area under intense pressure from human activity. Now, a new study reveals 6% of the world’s protected land has been cleared and converted to crop fields.

The study, published this week in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted by researchers Varsha Vijay of the University of Maryland’s National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center and Paul R. Armsworth of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis at the University of Tennessee. Vijay and Armsworth combined data on protected areas, cropland, biodiversity levels, biomes, human density and income to see just how much of the planet’s agricultural land is coming at the expense of protected habitat and the factors that play into this.

Their analysis revealed that cropland takes up 13.6% of the planet’s ice-free surface area and overlaps with 6% of its protected area. They write that while most of this activity is happening in protected areas that are designated muti-use – which means limited and regulated land conversion is legally allowed – “worryingly, we find that 22% of cropland in protected occurs in areas of strict protection,” which include nature reserves, wilderness areas, national monuments, protected landscapes and national parks.

The study indicates that northern latitudes have larger proportions of cropland in protected areas overall, but that much of that cropland had been converted from forest before protected areas were established around it. Meanwhile, tropical and subtropical locations experienced bigger recent surges of cropland conversion. This, the authors write, raises “concerns for cropland expansion into protected and unprotected conservation priority areas.”

While some species are at home in agricultural fields, most are not – particularly specialist species that require particular foods to survive (versus generalists, like raccoons, that can eat pretty much anything they come across). And research has shown that an endangered species is more often than not a specialist.

Vijay and Armsworth’s findings come as nations and international agencies prepare to establish conservation goals for the coming decade and revamp existing ones, and as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) attempt to claw their way up from setbacks due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the SDGs acknowledge the importance of biodiversity and human health by including specific goals for improving both habitat conservation and food security, “conservation and development planning are still often treated as independent processes,” Armsworth said in a statement.

The study took advantage of multiple recent datasets and “represents the most comprehensive assessment of the extent and distribution of global cropland inside protected areas,” Vijay and Armsworth write in their study; Vijay added that similar methods could be used to help governments achieve their conservation and development sustainability targets.

“Rapid advances in data availability provide exciting opportunities for bringing the two processes together,” Vijay said.

Lucas Joppa, Microsoft chief environmental officer and an expert on protected area effectiveness who was not involved in the study, added his voice to the chorus urging a reformed approach.

“The findings of this study emphasize the need to move beyond area-based conservation targets and develop quantitative measures to improve conservation outcomes in protected areas,” Joppa said, “especially in areas of high food insecurity and biodiversity.”


High Plains Journal

January 23, 2021

Water rights lawsuit filed by Audubon of Kansas

Audubon of Kansas recently filed suit in federal court to restore the water rights belonging to the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Audubon of Kansas is a nonprofit environmental organization with more than 4,000 members concentrated in Kansas, Nebraska, and the central Great Plains. Defendants are David Bernhardt, secretary of the interior, and other federal and state officials, who have failed over many years to protect the refuge’s water priority, which dates to 1957.

Quivira NWR encompasses 22,135 acres and lies mostly in Stafford County, southeast of Great Bend. It is a wetland of international importance and provides sanctuary to a wide variety of waterfowl, shore birds and other wetland species, several of them listed as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. For example, the refuge is a key stopover point for the federally endangered Whooping Crane as it migrates annually between its breeding grounds in Canada and its wintering grounds on the Texas coast. The refuge annually attracts thousands of bird watchers, hunters, and other recreation seekers.

Quivira NWR has suffered from a shortage of water for the last 34 years, because of excessive groundwater pumping upstream in the Rattlesnake Creek basin by irrigators, whose water rights are junior to that of the refuge. These facts were documented most recently in 2016 by the state’s chief engineer for water resources.

The U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Kansas secretary of agriculture and the chief engineer have not restored the water to which the refuge is entitled.

AOK’s lawsuit seeks an injunction, a declaratory judgment and an order of mandamus to compel these officials to do their duties as required by law.


News Tribune (Jefferson City, MO)

Missouri to remove peregrine falcons from state endangered species list

by Jeff Haldiman, Jan. 22 2021

The Missouri Conservation Commission gave initial approval Friday to remove the peregrine falcon from the state’s endangered species list while keeping it a species of conservation concern.

The vote came after a proposed status and regulation change from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Peregrine falcon populations plummeted nationwide during the 1940s through the 1960s due to the widespread use of pesticides such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane in their food chain, according to an MDC news release. The peregrine was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1970 and on the Missouri state-endangered species list in 1974. Peregrines were removed from the federal endangered species list in 1999 due to restoration efforts but have remained on the Missouri state-endangered species list since.

MDC’s Peregrine Falcon Recovery Working Group has been studying the world’s fastest bird and has determined the state’s population and distribution of peregrine falcons warrant the delisting as a state endangered species, said MDC Urban Wildlife Biologist and Falcon Recovery Lead Joe DeBold.

“Our Missouri peregrine falcon recovery goal of 12 breeding pairs in the state was exceeded in 2013 and now stands at 14 known active breeding pairs distributed across seven counties,” DeBold said in MDC’s news release. “Peregrines will remain a species of conservation concern in the state. If the breeding population declines below seven breeding pairs, MDC will work with conservation partners to determine if expanded monitoring or protection is needed.”

DeBold said while human activities once harmed the birds through the widespread use of pesticides in their food chain, human efforts have also helped bring them back.

“All of our 14 peregrine breeding pairs in Missouri use artificial nest boxes in our urban areas around Kansas City or St. Louis,” MDC State Ornithologist Sarah Kendrick explained. “They seem to prefer the nest boxes over natural nesting sites in the state on rocky cliffs and bluffs on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. This may be due to an abundance of food in the form of urban pigeons.”

Kendrick added two breeding peregrine pairs have been documented successfully nesting since 2012 along the rocky bluffs on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River north of the greater St. Louis area, so peregrines may start using natural nesting sites in Missouri.

In addition to the bird’s removal from the state endangered species list, MDC is proposing a regulation change to the Wildlife Code of Missouri that would allow the limited capture of young migratory falcons for use in falconry. The allowance for falconers to capture a limited number of birds is based on authorization from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The proposed regulation change would allow a statewide total maximum of five permits annually for the capture of one young, wild, migrant falcon. Only those with a Master Falconer Permit may capture a falcon.

“Only hatch-year or first-year birds from northern breeding populations that migrate through Missouri would be allowed to be captured. Adult falcons will not be allowed to be taken for falconry,” DeBold said. “All peregrine falcons hatched in Missouri are banded with metal federal bird bands. If a peregrine captured in Missouri for falconry has any sort of state, federal, or other band from Missouri or elsewhere, the bird must be released immediately.”

MDC invites public comment on the status and regulation changes for peregrine falcons March 2-31 at proposed-regulation-changes and by mail to Regulations Committee Chairman, Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180.

MDC will review all comments received and present a final proposal for a final vote by the Conservation Commission this summer. If approved, the regulation change will become effective Aug. 30.

(More information about peregrine falcons can be found on MDC’s Field Guide at


Oregon Public Broadcasting

Biden pumps the brakes on more than 100 Trump environmental policy decisions

By Monica Samayoa (OPB) and Bradley W. Parks (OPB), Portland, Ore. Jan. 22, 2021

Many of Donald Trump’s actions on endangered species, energy, hazardous chemicals and more are on hold as President Joe Biden takes office.

The Biden administration has laid out a roadmap for undoing many of the environmental actions of his predecessor, some of which were approved or enacted within the past six months.

President Joe Biden, hours after he was sworn in Wednesday, issued an executive order to start a process that could lead to amendments or even reversals of many of Donald Trump’s nearly 200 environmental policy decisions.

The president’s order pauses implementation of more than 100 policies while they are under review. Many of them directly affect the Pacific Northwest, and some unraveled compromises that took years, even decades, to reach.

“It’s gonna take some time for the agencies to undo all the damage Trump did, but we will see changes here in the Northwest,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper. “It’s not guaranteed that Biden’s going to be a great environmental president, and we need to keep the pressure on.”

Biden also vowed to ensure that the United States rejoins the Paris Climate Accord.

Western Environmental Law Center Wildlands Program director and staff attorney Susan Jane Brown said the process of a new administration reviewing current policies to make sure they are consistent with their own priorities is normal, but that the president will have to do more than sign executive orders to make changes.

“What it will take to rollback the rollback is more process, more rulemaking,” Brown said. “There are a series of steps that have to take place.”

Brown said that process could take months or even years to finish, but also includes the opportunity for public comment.


One of the major policies under review is the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, which the Trump administration altered last summer. It eliminated environmental impact reports for certain projects and shortened the amount of time these evaluations must be under review. It also reduced the opportunities for public input.

Brown said that Oregon has not seen the full impact of these changes yet, but that it’s only a matter of time.

“In the meantime we are falling further and further behind on the real work that needs to get done,” Brown said. “It’s just disappointing, it’s a missed opportunity frankly because we have to focus on fixing rather than building.”

Lawson Fite, the general counsel for the American Forest Resource Council, said he is optimistic that a thorough review of the policies will reaffirm most if not all of the actions under review.

“We’re hoping for a successful Biden administration and want results in Oregon that support our rural communities and that encourage sustainable activities like forestry,” Fite said.


Many of the Trump administration’s actions on energy sought to expand use and extraction of coal, oil and natural gas.

Notably, the administration scissored out of the Clean Water Act a provision that allowed state and tribal governments to reject federal permit decisions on fossil fuel projects. It’s a power that’s been used locally to stop coal projects and the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas pipeline and export terminal.

“That’s a very important state power that the Trump administration tried to take away,” said VandenHeuvel with Columbia Riverkeeper.

Emissions standards, fuel-efficient vehicle regulations, fossil fuels transport — all of those and more are on the table for review.


The Trump administration loosened restrictions on grazing, oil and gas drilling, and mining on greater sage grouse habitat across the Intermountain West. That decision threatens to spoil a deal reached in 2015 to protect the grouse while keeping the bird off the federal endangered species list, but it will be relatively easy to overturn.

Trump also used his final weeks in office to issue a raft of Endangered Species Act decisions that left Northwest wildlife without protections they’ve had for decades.

Populations for the northern spotted owl in Washington, Oregon and Northern California and monarch butterfly across the West have steadily declined. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said both species warrant more protections, but declined to grant them at the end of last year. Adding to that, the administration chopped the owl’s critical habitat protections by 3.4 million acres in January.

The agency removed the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list entirely, which conservation organizations have called premature. Gray wolves have regained feeble footholds in many states, but are without significant protection in some.

Each of those decisions faces legal challenges.


Science Daily

Indigenous lands: A haven for wildlife

January 21, 2021, University of Queensland

Indigenous peoples’ lands may harbour a significant proportion of threatened and endangered species globally, according to University of Queensland-led research.

UQ’s Dr Chris O’Bryan and his team conducted the first comprehensive analysis of land mammal composition across mapped Indigenous lands.

“These lands cover more than one-quarter of the Earth, of which a significant proportion is still free from industrial-level human impacts,” Dr O’Bryan said.

“As a result, Indigenous peoples and their lands are crucial for the long-term persistence of the planet’s biodiversity and ecosystem services.

“Despite this, we know relatively little about what animals, including highly imperilled species, may reside in or depend on these lands.”

The team overlayed maps of Indigenous peoples’ lands and habitat data for 4,460 species assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to estimate the overlap of each species.

“We picked mammals as a bellwether indicator of biodiversity protection,” Dr O’Bryan said.

“This is because there’s more data about the suitable habitat of mammals and there is evidence to suggest that patterns observed in mammals may reflect other forms of biodiversity.

“In other words, if mammals are absent, other animals are likely to be absent as well.

“We’re hoping this study provides future opportunities for applying our methodology to other animal groups.

“We discovered that 2,175 mammal species — about half of the total species tracked — have at least 10 per cent of their ranges in Indigenous peoples’ lands.

“And 646 species — or 14 per cent — have more than half of their ranges within these lands.

“Amazingly, for threatened species in particular, 413 — or about 41 per cent of threatened species tracked — occur in Indigenous peoples’ lands.

“The endangered red panda (Ailurus fulgens) and the tiger (Panthera tigris) of Southeast Asia have more than half their habitat within such lands.

“In Australia, the critically endangered northern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii) has 100 per cent of its habitat in these lands.”

Dr O’Bryan said the work showed the importance of Indigenous peoples’ lands.

“These areas are critical for the successful implementation of international conservation and sustainable development agendas,” he said.

“Representatives of Indigenous peoples are engaging in global environmental forums and national and local collaboration frameworks, which are critical for equitable and effective cross-cultural conservation activities to be negotiated.

“Greater recognition and support for Indigenous people’s rights to, and relationships with, their lands needs to continue, and this pressing imperative needs to balance Indigenous self-determination and biodiversity conservation.

“Only through rights-based, equitable and respectful partnerships with Indigenous peoples, will it be possible to ensure the long-term and equitable conservation of biodiversity.”


Yale Environment 360

January 21, 2021

A New Way to Track Endangered Wildlife Populations from Space

Scientists have developed a new technique for remotely surveying elephants and other wildlife that is quicker and has the same accuracy as human counts done on the ground or in low-flying airplanes. The system, which uses satellite images and deep learning, could help improve the monitoring of endangered species in habitats across the globe.

The research, led by scientists at the University of Bath and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, created a computer algorithm to analyze high-resolution satellite images and detect African elephants in both grasslands and forests.

African elephant populations have rapidly declined in the past century, with just 40,000 to 50,000 left in the wild. But on-the-ground or airplane surveys to monitor elephant numbers are expensive and time-consuming. Because satellites can collect over 1,900 square miles of imagery every few minutes, they eliminate the risk of double counting and speed up the process from weeks to a just a few days. Using satellites also cuts down on the logistics of monitoring species populations that cross international borders.

“Accurate monitoring is essential if we’re to save the species,” Olga Isupova, a computer scientist at the University of Bath who co-authored the research, said in a statement. “We need to know where the animals are and how many there are.”

Scientists have previously developed ways to monitor wildlife populations using satellite images, but they were limited to homogenous habitats, such as tracking whales in the open ocean. The new method is able to count elephants in mixed ecosystems, such as savannah and forests, where tree cover previously would have made satellite tracking difficult. The researchers argue the technology, published in the journal Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, could help make tracking wildlife populations much easier, including for species much smaller than elephants.

“Satellite imagery resolution increases every couple of years, and with every increase we will be able to see smaller things in greater detail,” Isupova said, adding: “Other researchers have managed to detect black albatross nests against snow. No doubt the contrast of black and white made it easier, but that doesn’t change the fact that an albatross nest is one-eleventh the size of an elephant.”


Center for Biological Diversity

January 21, 2021

Shortfin Mako Shark, Warty Sea Cucumber Protection Sought in Mexico

LA PAZ, Mexico— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition today seeking protection for the shortfin mako shark and warty sea cucumber under Mexico’s Standard NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2010, the nation’s list of species at risk. The Mexican fishing industry catches thousands of both species every year.

Today’s legal action seeks protections under NOM-059 outside the normal window that Mexico’s Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) formally opens to receive such proposals. Semarnat opens the process for species proposals every five years, though the agency typically fails to meet even that extended schedule. Semarnat’s practice creates long delays in species’ protections.

“These animals are in serious trouble, and they can’t wait years for the Mexican government to consider whether they deserve protection,” said Alejandro Olivera, senior scientist and Mexico representative for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Last time it took 10 years for Semarnat to update the list of endangered species. We’re in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, with species around the globe facing accelerating rates of extinction. From iconic mako sharks to little-known sea cucumbers, these imperiled creatures need safeguards now.”

The Center’s petition also requests listing of three hammerhead shark species, following another petition submitted by the organization last year.

Strong scientific evidence demonstrates that mako sharks and warty sea cucumbers urgently need protection, as already recognized internationally. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies shortfin mako sharks (lsurus oxyrinchus) as “endangered” globally and warty sea cucumbers (Parastichopus parvimensis) as “vulnerable” to extinction.

Yet in Mexico none of these imperiled wildlife species have sufficient protection and can be directly targeted for fishing. If the sharks and warty sea cucumber are added to NOM-059, Semarnat will be able to issue measures and regulations to ensure sustainable fishing, including limits on catching hatchlings, juveniles and pregnant females to ensure the populations’ recovery.

The warty sea cucumber is currently managed through fishing permits in Mexico and in the U.S. state of California. IUCN estimates that the sea cucumber’s population has declined by approximately 50% in Baja California and at least 30% in California over the past 20 years.

It is estimated that the species faces a decline of 30% to 40% throughout its entire range. The Center’s assessment of the species finds it “threatened.”

Mako sharks are also declining, facing a 50% to 79% population reduction over 75 years. Due to the mako shark’s decline and vulnerability to overfishing, as well as degradation of their habitat, in 2019, makos were included in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to monitor and limit trade. Mexico is a Party to CITES and officially cosponsored the CITES mako trade proposal, yet the country has failed to acknowledge domestic threats to the sharks.


Associated Press

Monarch butterfly population moves closer to extinction

By OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ, January 19, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The number of western monarch butterflies wintering along the California coast has plummeted precipitously to a record low, putting the orange-and-black insects closer to extinction, researchers announced Tuesday.

An annual winter count by the Xerces Society recorded fewer than 2,000 butterflies, a massive decline from the tens of thousands tallied in recent years and the millions that clustered in trees from Northern California’s Marin County to San Diego County in the south in the 1980s.

Western monarch butterflies head south from the Pacific Northwest to California each winter, returning to the same places and even the same trees, where they cluster to keep warm. The monarchs generally arrive in California at the beginning of November and spread across the country once warmer weather arrives in March.

On the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, another monarch population travels from southern Canada and the northeastern United States across thousands of miles to spend the winter in central Mexico. Scientists estimate the monarch population in the eastern U.S. has fallen about 80% since the mid-1990s, but the drop-off in the western U.S. has been even steeper.

The Xerces Society, a nonprofit environmental organization that focuses on the conservation of invertebrates, recorded about 29,000 butterflies in its annual survey last winter. That was not much different than the tally the winter before, when an all-time low of 27,000 monarchs were counted.

But the count this year is dismal. At iconic monarch wintering sites in the city of Pacific Grove, volunteers didn’t see a single butterfly this winter. Other well-known locations, such as Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove and Natural Bridges State Park, only hosted a few hundred butterflies, researchers said.

“These sites normally host thousands of butterflies, and their absence this year was heartbreaking for volunteers and visitors flocking to these locales hoping to catch a glimpse of the awe-inspiring clusters of monarch butterflies,” said Sarina Jepsen, director of endangered species at the Xerces Society.

Scientists say the butterflies are at critically low levels in western states because of destruction to their milkweed habitat along their migratory route as housing expands into their territory and use of pesticides and herbicides increases.

Researchers also have noted the effect of climate change. Along with farming, climate change is one of the main drivers of the monarch’s threatened extinction, disrupting an annual 3,000-mile (4,828-kilometer) migration synched to springtime and the blossoming of wildflowers. Massive wildfires throughout the U.S. West last year may have influenced their breeding and migration, researchers said.

A 2017 study by Washington State University researchers predicted that if the monarch population dropped below 30,000, the species would likely go extinct in the next few decades if nothing is done to save them.

Monarch butterflies lack state and federal legal protection to keep their habitat from being destroyed or degraded. In December, federal officials declared the monarch butterfly “a candidate” for threatened or endangered status but said no action would be taken for several years because of the many other species awaiting that designation.

The Xerces Society said it will keep pursuing protection for the monarch and work with a wide variety of partners “to implement science-based conservation actions urgently needed to help the iconic and beloved western monarch butterfly migration.”

People can help the colorful insects by planting early-blooming flowers and milkweed to fuel migrating monarchs on their paths to other states, the Xerces Society said.


Arizona State University

New tool can help predict species at risk of vulnerability or extinction

Better risk identification will give ecologists more management options

January 18, 2021

More than 3,000 animal species in the world today are considered endangered, with hundreds more categorized as vulnerable. Currently, ecologists don’t have reliable tools to predict when a species may become at risk.

A new paper published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, “Management implications of long transients in ecological systems,” focuses on the transient nature of species and ecosystem stability and illustrates how management practices can be adjusted to better prepare for possible system flips. Some helpful modeling approaches are also offered, including one tool that may help identify potentially endangered populations.

Ying-Cheng Lai, a professor of electrical engineering and physics at Arizona State University, focused on the mathematical modeling process of the research.

“The Mexican gray wolf is an example of an endangered species that is experiencing a population resurgence in some areas, yet remains vulnerable in others,” Lai said. “The predator-prey relationship between the Mexican gray wolf and elk, mule, white-tailed deer, pronghorn, javelina, rabbits and other small mammals is an example of how interspecies relationships can affect endangerment. In a general predator-prey relationship, a significant reduction in the prey population can make the predator endangered.

“These kinds of interactions, plus other factors such as the species decay rate, migration, the capacity of the habitat, and random disturbances, are included in the mathematical prediction model,” Lai continued, “and it turns out that, more common than usually thought, the system evolution dynamics can just be transient. Transients in ecosystems can be good or bad, and we want to develop control strategies to sustain the good ones and eliminate the bad ones.”

Risks that go undetected until the species is already shifting from stable to vulnerable present the greatest challenges.

“A species or an ecosystem may seem perfectly stable when it unpredictably becomes vulnerable, even in the absence of an obvious stressor,” said Tessa Francis, lead ecosystem ecologist at the Puget Sound Institute, University of Washington Tacoma, managing director of the Ocean Modeling Forum, University of Washington, and lead author of the paper. “In some cases, modeling interactions between species or ecosystem dynamics can help managers identify potential corrective actions to take before the species or system collapses.”  

Alan Hastings, a theoretical ecologist at University of California, Davis and an external faculty member at the Santa Fe Institute, notes that, “as we apply these mathematical models to understanding systems on realistic, ecologic time scales, we unveil new approaches and ideas for adaptive management.

“The goal is to develop management strategies to both extend positive ecosystems as long as possible and to design recovery systems to support resurgence from vulnerable states,” Hastings said. “Over time, as successful predictions are incorporated into the mathematical model, the tool will become more accurate.”

But mathematical models are not a panacea, cautions Francis.

“While models can be useful in playing out ‘what ifs’ and understanding hypothetical consequences of management interventions, just as important is changing the way we view ecosystems and admitting that things are often less stable than they appear.”

Additional contributors to the research include: Karen C. Abbott, Case Western Reserve University; Kim Cuddington, University of Waterloo; Gabriel Gellner, University of Guelph; Andrew Morozov, University of Leicester, Russian Academy of Sciences; Sergei Petrovskii, University of Leicester; and Mary Lou Zeeman, Bowdoin College.

The team, with sponsorship from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) through the University of Tennessee, has been working together as a study group named “NIMBioS Working Group: Long Transients and Ecological Forecasting.” The group has produced a number of papers focused on developing mathematical models to understand long transients in ecosystems.


Fox40 TV (Sacramento)

California AG, multistate coalition seek to overturn Trump administration’s rollback of Endangered Species Act protections

by: FOX40 Web Desk, Posted: Jan 18, 2021

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and two state attorneys general filed a motion to challenge the Trump administration’s rollback of Endangered Species Act Protections.

In filing the motion, Becerra, as well as Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, the administration’s changes to the Endangered Species Act in 2019 should be overturned.

“From the California condor to the humpback whale, California is home to more than 300 endangered and threatened species. These precious fish and wildlife deserve our protection. That’s why we’re filing a motion today asking the court to set aside the Trump Administration’s disastrous attempt to weaken federal protections for endangered species.” —CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL XAVIER BECERRA

The multistate coalition also argued that the administration’s actions violate violate the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

Attorneys General Becerra, Healey, and Frosh are joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia, as well as the City if New York, in their defense of the Endangered Species Act.


KFOR-TV & KAUT (Oklahoma City)

‘Spectacular’ bright-orange bat species discovered

by: Michelle Robertson, Nexstar Media Wire, Jan 17, 2021

Myotis nimbaensisis a new species of bat named for the mountain range in which it is found, the Nimba Mountains in West Africa.© Bat Conservation International

(NEXSTAR) – Scientists have announced the discovery of a new bat species, found high in the mountains of West Africa.

With its big ears and retracting wings, the new species certainly looks similar to its previously described bat comrades. But one thing makes Myotis nimbaensis stand out from the pack: It boasts bright orange fur and black wings.

“This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” said Dr. Winifred Frick, the Chief Scientist at Bat Conservation International.

There are currently 1,400 known species of bats. But the discovery of the bright-orange bat in Guinea is particularly exceptional.

“It’s such a rare opportunity to discover a bat that hasn’t been previously described,” Frick said. “And it’s such a spectacular animal … This particular bat is one of the showiest in terms of its beautiful fur and wings.”

The bat was found while researchers were working on a critically endangered bat in the Nimba mountain range of Guinea. Its shock of bright fur instantly caught researchers eyes as it flew out of an abandoned mining tunnel.

The tunnels, Frick said, were built in the 1970s to explore an ore deposit. These days, “They make really great bat homes.”

There’s more to discovering a new species than garnering street cred.

According to Frick, “Knowing what species are in different areas and documenting biodiversity is such an important part of protecting species.”

“Knowing where species live — and making sure we protect these natural habitats — is part of the work we do for conservation and for people.”


Science X/

Interior strips protections for owl species on decline

by Benjamin J. Hulac, January 14, 2021

The Interior Department said it will eliminate from federal protection more than 3 million acres in California, Oregon and Washington vital to the northern spotted owl, a species considered endangered under federal law.

In a draft rule published Wednesday as much of the nation was glued to impeachment proceedings, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a division of Interior, said it was excluding about 3.5 million acres of “critical habitat” established for the owls. Environmental groups warned that the move could spell the extinction of the species and immediately threatened lawsuits to block the action.

The excluded habitat is more than 16 times larger than the 205,000 acres the administration proposed in August 2020.

“These commonsense revisions ensure we are continuing to recover the northern spotted owl while being a good neighbor to rural communities within the critical habitat,” said USFWS Director Aurelia Skipwith.

About 42 percent of the species’ critical habitat will be excluded under the rule, according to the Western Environmental Law Center. The decision ignores research from federal scientists, placing the northern spotted owl on the precipice of extinction, according to Susan Jane Brown, an attorney at the center.

Included in a flurry of deregulatory steps the Trump administration has taken before it gives up power, the move runs counter to advice from federal biologists who warned last year that lost habitat is driving the decline of the raptors.

The rule could be subject to the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to strike down regulations finalized in the waning months of an administration. Experts place the cutoff point for adoption of such rules in mid-May, before which they would likely be outside the scope of that law.

Democrats are expected to use their Senate control to strike down many Trump-era regulatory changes. Simple majorities are required for the CRA, and if Democrats are unable to get any GOP support, they would be able to break 50-50 deadlocks with the vote of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

“Habitat loss was the primary factor leading to the listing of the northern spotted owl as a threatened species, and it continues to be a stressor on the subspecies due to the lag effects of past habitat loss, continued timber harvest, wildfire, and a minor amount from insect and forest disease outbreaks,” the service said in an assessment of the birds dated Dec. 15.

In that assessment, the service said federal protection under the Endangered Species Act should be ratcheted up, not down, for the birds.

“Based on our review of the best available scientific and commercial information pertaining to the factors affecting the northern spotted owl, we find that the stressors acting on the subspecies and its habitat, particularly rangewide competition from the nonnative barred owl and high-severity wildfire, are of such imminence, intensity, and magnitude to indicate that the northern spotted owl is now in danger of extinction throughout all of its range,” the document reads.

The authors added, in part, that “we find that listing the northern spotted owl as an endangered species is warranted throughout all of its range.”

Last week, Interior said it would no longer hold petroleum and other industries legally liable for killing migratory birds as long as they did not mean to.

The executive branch has also pushed for sweeping changes to the Endangered Species Act, which applies to plants and animals, during the Trump era.

In July, Interior, joined by the Commerce Department, argued that the definition of habitat under the ESA, signed into law in 1973 by President Richard Nixon, should be narrowed.

Then in October, Interior lifted protections under the ESA for gray wolves, a long-held goal of hunters and Republican members of Congress. USFWS said it would monitor the animals for five years before turning management over to states and tribes.

Logging led to the widespread loss of forests and the protective dense canopies they provided, leading to the listing under the ESA of the northern spotted owl in the 1990s. Interior listed the owl as threatened following a court order in 1990, citing declining population and habitat, among other factors.

“Here in southern Oregon this is a death sentence for owls,” said George Sexton, conservation director for Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “This decision is intended to speed the clearcutting of the last remaining fragments of old-growth forests on Bureau of Land Management public lands.”


Oregon Public Broadcasting

Gray wolf to get its day in court after removal from endangered species list

The buzzer-beating removal of Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf has led to multiple lawsuits against the Trump administration.

By Bradley W. Parks (OPB), Bend, Ore. Jan. 14, 2021

Environmental groups have filed a flurry of lawsuits against the Trump administration over its removal of Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed the wolf from the endangered species list last week. The rule applies to all gray wolves in the lower 48 states, except for experimental packs of Mexican gray wolves living in the American Southwest.

The Fish and Wildlife Service argues that gray wolves do not, by law, constitute a species and thus must be removed from the endangered species list. The lawsuits allege the administration acted prematurely and ignored the best available science in its decision.

“It was laughable on its face when we saw that argument, and we were kind of blown away that they made it,” said Nick Cady, legal director for Cascadia Wildlands, which is a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits.

In its final rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service argues that it was only focused on protecting gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes regions all along; any wolves in the rest of the lower 48 states are just vagabonds.

Because the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes populations have rebounded, the agency claims, gray wolves no longer warrant protection under the law.

Plaintiffs argue that’s bogus.

“The Service’s rule relies on the premise that alleged recovery in one region (the Great Lakes) is sufficient to delist a species formerly distributed across the entire continent,” reads one lawsuit. (Gray wolves in the Northern Rockies had lost all federal protection by the early 2010s.)

The suit argues that gray wolves are functionally extinct from about 85% of their historical range and still need federal protection.

The U.S. gray wolf population has slowly rebounded since the wolves were listed under the Endangered Species Act in the 1970s, but their foothold in many parts of the country remains feeble. Gray wolves number less than 200 each in Oregon and Washington. California has just a handful.

Gray wolf management and conservation approaches vary by state. West Coast states all have protection and conservation plans that include hunting and trapping bans.

“Those protections don’t exist in Idaho and Montana and Wyoming,” Cady said. “And what we’ve seen there is mass hunting of wolves and bounties even — and bounties are what led to wolf eradication or near-eradication in the first place.”

In a statement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service defended its decision to delist the gray wolf.

“After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery,” the statement reads. “This action reflects the determination that this species is neither a threatened nor endangered species based on the specific factors Congress has laid out in the law.”


Center for Biological Diversity

January 13, 2021

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration Failure to Develop Recovery Plans for Two Critically Imperiled Salamanders

Frosted, Reticulated Flatwoods Salamanders Need Plans to Recover in Southeastern Coastal Plain

PANAMA CITY, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Healthy Gulf sued the Trump administration today for failing to issue recovery plans for the critically endangered reticulated and frosted flatwoods salamanders.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court for the District of Columbia, notes that the salamanders continue to decline across their range and suffer from ongoing habitat loss and degradation, despite being originally listed under the Endangered Species Act more than 20 years ago. Recovery plans would help stop these declines and support species recovery by comprehensively guiding conservation activities, including habitat restoration and management.

“It’s heartbreaking that flatwoods salamanders have continued to suffer for more than two decades while waiting for their chance at recovery,” said Elise Bennett, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These beautiful salamanders need recovery plans now if we want to bring them back from the brink of extinction.”

Reticulated and frosted flatwoods salamanders were historically found throughout the once-extensive longleaf pine forests of the coastal plain in Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. But today they’re limited to a handful of small populations in the latter three states. Habitat destruction and poor forest management continue to drive them toward extinction. They are also threated by climate change, which is creating stronger storms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Frosted flatwoods salamander populations suffered significant losses in 2018 when Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm, pushed 10 feet of seawater across the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, once considered a stronghold for the species.

“Sadly, these salamanders’ populations are continuing to decline while the federal government delays publishing and implementing a recovery plan,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf. “And they will continue to decline unless the Fish and Wildlife Service not just publishes, but implements, a recovery plan that protects their habitat.”

Recovery plans are the main tool for identifying actions necessary to save endangered species from extinction and eventually end the need to protect them under the Endangered Species Act. Research by the Center has found that species with dedicated recovery plans for two or more years are far more likely to be improving than those without.


The reticulated flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma bishopi) and frosted flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum) are black to chocolate-black salamanders, with light gray lines and specks that form a cross-banded pattern across their backs. Both species occupy longleaf pine-slash pine flatwoods in the lower southeastern coastal plain. The animals spend most of their lives underground, in crayfish burrows, root channels or burrows of their own making. They emerge in the early winter rains to breed in small, isolated seasonal wetlands.

Once prevalent throughout Alabama, Florida and Georgia, the reticulated flatwoods salamander has not been observed in Alabama in approximately 35 years. In 2009 this species was struggling to survive in 20 small, isolated populations, and by 2015 was only known to occur in six populations. The frosted flatwoods salamander was found in 25 tenuous populations in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in 2009, and by 2015 this estimate was reduced to only nine known populations.

Because of these precipitous declines, in 2019 Fish and Wildlife Service biologists recommended reclassifying the frosted flatwoods salamander from threatened to endangered.

More than 80% of their habitat has been destroyed, and the remnants of pine flatwood areas are typically fragmented and degraded. These species continue to be threatened by fire suppression, drought, off-road vehicle use and disease.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the flatwoods salamander as a federally threatened species in 1999. As a result of a taxonomic reclassification of the species, in 2008 the Service recognized the flatwoods salamander as two distinct species. In 2009 the agency finalized its determination of endangered status for the reticulated flatwoods salamander, while retaining a threatened status for the frosted flatwoods salamander.

In response to a Center lawsuit, the Service in February 2009 designated 4,453 acres of protected critical habitat for the reticulated flatwoods salamander and 22,970 acres for the frosted flatwoods salamander.


The Hill

Endangered Species rollback faced early pushback within administration, emails show


The U.S. agency responsible for marine fisheries considered pulling out of a recent Trump administration rollback of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) over a disagreement with political appointees at the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), according to emails obtained by The Hill.

The emails from a Freedom of Information Act request show that during last year’s rulemaking process, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) considered withdrawing its support for a joint rule with FWS that makes it harder for areas to receive critical habitat protections.

The emails, though heavily redacted, reveal that NMFS officials were concerned with the “course” chosen by Trump officials at FWS in pursuing the rollback.

NMFS, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), appeared ready to back out in April.

“We appear to be at a fork in the road,” FWS assistant director for ecological services Gary Frazer wrote to agency director Aurelia Skipwith.

The next paragraph in the email was redacted, but Frazer added that NMFS and NOAA would “stay on board” if FWS was open to working through White House Office of Management and Budget comments and “willing to consider substantive changes to the draft.”

A day later, Frazer wrote to FWS colleagues that he “heard back from the director” and that “she and the rest of the political team understand that this course may cause NMFS and NOAA to withdraw from this rulemaking.”

Spokespeople for NMFS and FWS, which is part of the Interior Department, declined to provide specifics on what caused the dispute.

Critics say the emails indicate that efforts by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to roll back the ESA have encountered pushback, even within the administration.

“Interior under Dave Bernhardt is just gunning to gut the ESA, and the fact that clearly they were proposing things that were a bridge too far even for the Trump NOAA and National Fisheries Service is pretty telling,” said David Henkin, an attorney with Earthjustice.

The emails showed that FWS officials even started making contingency plans in case they lost support from NMFS.

Frazer told agency officials to get information about whether “converting this to a FWS-only rule” will impact its location in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Ultimately, both agencies jointly issued the habitat definition rule. It was finalized last month.

Spokespeople for both agencies declined to say how a resolution was reached or if any changes were made to the rule, which narrows the definition of a habitat under the ESA.

In order for an area to be classified as a critical habitat for endangered species and receive protections under the ESA, it must first be classified as a habitat.

The new rule, which was first proposed over the summer, says a habitat must be an area that can currently support species.

Environmentalists argue the revised definition ignores factors that could alter landscapes, including climate change, and the government needs to be able to protect land that could support species in the future.

Supporters of the change have argued that the previous rule was too burdensome on farmers and other industries.

An FWS spokesperson said the rule “importantly brings the ESA into the 21st century by more effectively balancing science-based conservation with common-sense policymaking.”

Shortly after issuing the rule, FWS alone issued a related one that further excluded certain areas from habitat protections under the ESA.

That rule said FWS can exclude an area from critical habitat protections if an analysis determined there are more benefits to taking no protective action.

Those analyses could prove beneficial to companies who want to use the land for other purposes, and opponents argued that the evidence they can consider could tip the scale in favor of industry.

FWS spokespeople would not say why that rule was issued separately by the agency.

Environmentalists say it’s unusual that the second rule does not also apply to NMFS-designated habitats.

“I don’t know of any substantive, material conservation-related reason why … exclusions would apply differently” said Jacob Malcom, director of Defenders of Wildlife’s Center for Conservation Innovation.

Malcom added that he believes the habitat rulemaking is part of a larger pattern of putting politics over science in the Trump administration.

“I don’t think that it matters what the domain is, whether it’s endangered species or climate or clean water or clean air where they haven’t done everything they can to remove science from the process,” he said.


Montana Public Radio

BNSF Plan Aims To Reduce Train-Related Grizzly Bear Deaths

By NICK MOTT • JAN 12, 2021

The BNSF Railway Company Tuesday published a long-awaited habitat conservation plan intended to reduce grizzly bear mortalities in Northwest Montana.

Eight grizzlies were killed on railroads in near Glacier National Park in 2019, the most of any year on record. Those bears are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. That same year, conservation groups threatened to sue, alleging those railway-related deaths violated a part of the ESA that prohibits all killing of protected animals, even if it’s accidental.

That’s just the latest in two decades of legal threats over railroads and grizzly conservation, says Courtney Wallace, a spokesperson with BNSF.

“Over the last 20 years, we’ve been working with state, federal and tribal officials, really, to get a good plan in place that helps reduce grizzly mortalities caused by trains. And so this is a culmination of those efforts.”

The plan requests that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issue a special permit that allows 18 bears to be killed, without penalty to BNSF, on about 200 miles of train tracks that run along the southern border of Glacier, over the next seven years.

In exchange, BNSF pledges about $2 million over the same time period for measures that will help reduce other kinds of grizzly mortality. That includes funding for more bear managers at Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and the Blackfeet Nation, along with money for conflict reduction measures like electric fencing, bear-proof waste containers, and education and outreach.

Ordinarily, plans like this one would receive lengthy analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act. But this one received “categorical exclusion,” usually reserved for projects that don’t have a significant environmental impact. That means federal agencies get to skip environmental impact statements and other studies that come along with the NEPA process.

Sarah McMillan, conservation director at WildEarth Guardians, says there are promising measures in the plan, but it allows too many grizzlies to die on train tracks.

“Giving them permission to kill 18 grizzly bears over seven years and considering it a categorically excluded activity is kind of shocking to me.”

The plan will be administered by the Montana Outdoor Legacy Foundation, and it’s open to public comment until February 11.



Recovered Midwestern bird soars off endangered species list

By JOHN FLESHER Associated Press, JANUARY 12, 2021 

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The interior least tern, a hardy Midwestern bird that survived a craze for its plumage and dam-building that destroyed much of its habitat, has soared off the endangered species list.

Federal officials said Tuesday that 35 years of legal protection and habitat restoration efforts had brought the tern back from the brink of extinction.

“Dozens of states, federal agencies, tribes, businesses and conservation groups have worked tirelessly over the course of three decades to successfully recover these birds,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Aurelia Skipwith said.

The smallest members of the tern family, weighing less than 2 ounces (56 grams), they feed mostly on small fish and build nests on the ground. While most least terns are considered seabirds, some species live by rivers, lakes and wetlands.

Their most important nesting areas are along more than 2,800 miles (4,500 kilometers) of river channels in the Great Plains and the Lower Mississippi Valley. They migrate to the Caribbean and South America for the winter.

Their numbers plummeted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when their feathers became a popular feature of women’s hats.

Then came a wave of dam and levee construction and other engineering measures to control Middle America’s great rivers — particularly the Missouri and the Mississippi. Those structures wiped out much of the bird’s shoreline habitat.

When listed as endangered in 1985 as a distinct population segment, fewer than 2,000 interior least terns remained, along with a few dozen nesting sites.

The Army Corps of Engineers played a key role in the bird’s recovery, changing river management strategies and placing dredged material to create new nesting and dwelling spots for terns and other imperiled shorebirds such as the piping plover.

The steps paid off. The interior least tern’s population is now estimated at more than 18,000, with about 480 nesting sites available in 18 states.

The Endangered Species Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor the tern for at least five years to make sure its numbers remain stable.

The engineering changes have drawn criticism and legal action from some Missouri River farmers, who contend they have worsened flooding since the mid-2000s.

But the Army Corps says it will continue conservation and monitoring efforts in an area affecting about 80% of the tern’s breeding population.

Its partnership with other agencies and nonprofits has shown that “we can protect and recover an endangered species while continuing to provide critical navigation and flood control benefits to the nation,” said Major General Diana Holland, Commander of the Mississippi Valley Division of the Corps.

The Corps and the Fish and Wildlife Service teamed with the American Bird Conservancy to develop a computer modeling system to track the bird’s status with and without continued management in certain areas.

States known to have colonies of the terns include: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.

Environmental groups that sometimes have opposed dropping species from the endangered list supported the removal of the interior least tern.

“We consider it an Endangered Species Act success story for sure,” said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity.

But he cautioned that vigilance was needed to make sure the bird’s river habitat remains secure.

“Scientists are warning that we’re in danger of losing 1 million species to extinction,” Greenwald said. “Efforts to manage rivers in a more natural way are the kinds of things we need to do to avoid the extinction crisis.”


Center for Biological Diversity

January 11, 2021

$5,000 Reward Offered for Info on ‘TRUMP’ Writing on Florida Manatee’s Back

PETERSBURG, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity today announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in an incident involving a threatened Florida manatee in north Florida’s Homosassa River. A statement issued late today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that someone apparently scratched the word TRUMP into algae on the animal’s back.

“Manatees aren’t billboards, and people shouldn’t be messing with these sensitive and imperiled animals for any reason,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center. “However this political graffiti was put on this manatee, it’s a crime to interfere with these creatures, which are protected under multiple federal laws.”

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began investigating after the manatee was discovered Sunday. Anyone with information can call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation hotline at (888) 404-3922.

Protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1963, manatees are slow-moving plant eaters with no natural enemies. Most years boat mortality makes up about 20% of known human-caused deaths.

Harassment of a manatee is a federal criminal offense punishable by a $50,000 fine and up to one year in prison.


Courthouse News Service

White House Readies New Lame-Duck Gut of Endangered Species Rules

The change allows agencies to duck environmental compliance reviews for projects on federal land even when there’s evidence the project will harm endangered species.

January 11, 2021, MARTIN MACIAS Jr.

(CN) — The Trump administration announced a new rule Monday that would allow the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to continue logging or road building projects even if they threaten endangered animals or plants.

Both agencies manage a combined 438 million acres of federal lands through actions that both protect fragile environments and administer development projects deemed economically beneficial to the nation.

Under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the agencies must consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife to review development projects to ensure they’re consistent with land management plans and won’t harm endangered or threatened species protected by the law.

But under the proposed rule, agencies would no longer be required to ensure compliance with land management plans “if new information reveals effects of the plan on listed species or critical habitat in a manner or to an extent not previously considered, provided that any subsequent actions taken pursuant to the plan will be subject to a separate Section 7 consultation if those actions may affect listed species or critical habitat.”

The change would involve cases where new information was not previously considered regarding how land management plans or development authorized under them harms a protected plant or animal, including harm tied to effects of climate change.

Section 7’s review requirement has played a pivotal role in understanding how development projects may be negatively affecting plants and animals.

In 2017, new scientific studies on oil drilling projects and climate change forced the Bureau of Land Management to review how related projects were disrupting four endangered fish species living under their protection.

Details of the proposed change, which is set to be published Tuesday in the Federal Register, said the new rule aims to promote consistent and efficient interagency action.

“This proposed regulatory revision would improve the efficiency of the consultation process while ensuring consideration of new information prior to the implementation of actions that may affect listed species or critical habitat,” the proposal said.

For nearly five decades, the Endangered Species Act has been the primary U.S. policy tool for preventing a torrent of wildlife extinction and conserving both threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats they live in.

Under the 1973 law, federal agencies must consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that their actions don’t jeopardize the safety of plants and animals listed for protection.

The Trump administration has slowly stripped fundamental elements of the landmark legislation, including by issuing new rules in 2019 that it said would undo “unnecessary regulatory burdens” while maintaining safeguards for wildlife species.

The new rules allow economic factors to be considered when agencies are deciding whether to list species for protection under the act and also make it more difficult to protect areas where endangered wildlife is not found.

Conservationists and scientists have said the Endangered Species Act should be bolstered further by the Biden administration and that it will take more than reversing Trump’s regressive policy changes to avoid future environmental catastrophe.

Reacting to the proposed rule Monday, conservation groups said the change could bring destructive logging, drilling and road making projects to protected critical habitats. In a statement, Stephanie Kurose of the Center for Biological Diversity denounced the outgoing Trump administration’s last-ditch rulemaking.

“As the last act of the most anti-wildlife administration in history, Trump is telling agencies to stick their heads in the sand and ignore science about the threats to endangered species,” said Kurose, senior policy specialist at the center. “Our most imperiled wildlife will suffer for decades just so polluters and special interests can keep destroying our public lands.”

In a statement, the center said the new rule mirrors legislation introduced in 2017 by Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana called the Litigation Relief for Forest Management Projects Act.

The bill sought to overturn the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. U.S. Forest Service, which held that the ESA requires the Forest Service to ensure its actions and authorized projects don’t harm protected species.

“After everything that has happened in the past week, it’s disgraceful that this administration continues to wage its destructive war on wildlife,” said Kurose.

Public comment on the proposed rule, under its docket number FWS‒HQ‒ES‒2020–0102, will be accepted for 30 days.


Sustainability Times

Racing to save golden lion tamarins from an epidemic

By Sustainability Times on January 11, 2021

It is not just people who are suffering from a viral outbreak right now. So are endangered golden lion tamarins, whose survival is at stake. The culprit is yellow fever, a mosquito-borne disease which first appeared among the primates in Brazil two years ago.

Conservationists are racing against time to provide them with a vaccine, but another outbreak has been slowing down those efforts: Covid-19.

As their name suggests, the small primates, which are endemic to Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, bear a passing resemblance with their orangey manes to African male lions. Also called marmosets, the New World monkeys grow only to 22 centimeters (without their lengthy tails) and weigh a mere 800 grams.

Because of their diminutive size and distinctive looks, which many people find adorable, they have become popular as exotic pets, which poses another threat to their survival in the wild. Golden lion tamarins, which are classified as endangered animal by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), were almost driven into extinction by a combination of threats such as habitat loss and poaching for  the exotic pet trade.

Faced by these threats, the population of tamarins in the wild plunged to a mere few hundred in the 1960s and 1970s, causing them to be listed as critically endangered. However, the species has managed to bounce back thanks to concerted conservation efforts, including captive-breeding programs for releasing marmosets back into their natural habitats.

As part of targeted conservation initiatives a number of the primates have been relocated from fragmented habitats into larger and undisturbed forests. These efforts have succeeded in growing their numbers while also ensuring genetic diversity in wild populations so that by 2014 wild tamarins numbered about 3,700 individuals.

Then disaster struck. In late 2016 Brazil experienced a severe outbreak of yellow fever, which by 2018 began to sicken tamarins in what came as a surprise to conservationists. In fact, golden lion tamarins proved to be even more vulnerable to the disease than people are.

“[W]e didn’t know if the [animals] were susceptible to the disease, even after four decades of working with the tamarins, but we now understand that they are even more susceptible to it than humans,” explains Carlos Ramon Ruiz-Miranda, president of the Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado (the Golden Lion Tamarin Association).

The mosquito-born disease has caused the population of the monkeys to plummet by a third in just two years. Their survival now depends on whether they can acquire immunity to yellow fever either naturally or by help of a vaccine administered to them by people.

Conservationists have decided that inoculation was the safest option and a vaccine is now available for just that purpose. Yet vaccinating the small animals is easier said than done.

Individual golden lion tamarins can be located in a forest within a few days by a small research team equipped with radio transmitters, but a team with no such equipment can take up to two months to find them.

Once they are captured in a special trap, the primates are sedated so experts can perform a check-up on their health and administer the vaccine for yellow fever. At least several hundred tamarins need to be vaccinated to protect their populations against yellow fever.

However, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, to which governments have responded by severely restricting the movement of people, has been slowing things down with the vaccination process mired in red tape.

“We were very frustrated and irritated with the bureaucracy,” says Ruiz-Miranda. “We were making weekly calls to try to get something going with the vaccination and to have a quick response to the realization we had lost the tamarins.”

Time is of the essence in a race to save the tamarins from any further ravages of the disease within their ranks. “The smaller the population, the higher the probability that any small catastrophic event could wipe them out,” Ruiz-Miranda warns. “If nothing is done, we could start seeing local extinctions.”


NJ Spotlight News

NJ bald eagle population soars to record; nesting pairs now in all 21 counties

Recovery driven by DDT ban, rigorous regulation and volunteer monitoring of nest sites

JON HURDLE, January 11, 2021

New Jersey’s population of bald eagles rose to a record high and spread to all 21 counties last year, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. Their revival is thanks to a federal ban on the toxic chemical DDT, long-term protections by state biologists and a network of volunteers who monitor the nests of the iconic birds.

There are now 220 nesting pairs that raised 307 young in 2020, including a record increase of 36 new nests, the DEP said last week.

Those stats represent a strong comeback after the number of eagles dropped to a single nesting pair in the late 1970s because of the toxic insecticide DDT, which made shells so thin they could not be incubated or failed to hatch for other reasons. The chemical was banned by the federal government in 1972 because of its harmful effects on wildlife, including bald eagles.

The birds were also threatened by habitat loss, human disturbance and even hunting, although those pressures have been eased by several conservation laws to protect the species, helped by intensive monitoring of nest sites.

The eagles have landed

About half of the current nests are in Cumberland, Salem and Cape May counties, near to the Delaware Bay and its tributary rivers, where the birds can hunt for fish. Of the new nests, 22 were found in South Jersey, with seven each in central and northern regions; the last county to host a nest was Essex, the DEP said.

“New Jersey’s abundant and growing bald eagle population is a great success story that shows our wildlife conservation work and partnerships are effective,” said soon-to-retire DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe, in a statement. “Thanks to the hard work of our wildlife conservationists, a commitment to using the best science and our collaboration with our partners, the growing eagle population that has expanded statewide is proof that we have a healthy environment for wildlife.”

The DEP’s work includes mapping the sites of all nests so that their presence can be considered when officials make land-use decisions, said Kathy Clark, Supervising Zoologist with DEP’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program.

The DEP monitors the habitat where the birds hunt, and can apply regulations to those areas too, Clark said. Since about three-quarters of eagle nests are on private land, the DEP also works with landowners to minimize human disturbance to nesting sites, and to sustain favorable habitat.

A nest-monitoring program managed by the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey uses about 100 volunteers to observe nests and report the birds’ behavior to DEP biologists. In 2020, volunteers determined that 210 nests raised an average of 1.46 young, above the level of 1 per nest that’s needed to maintain a stable population.

David Wheeler, executive director of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation, said the eagle’s recovery is an inspiring example. “The bald eagle’s return illustrates what is possible for many other rare species when you bring together proactive wildlife management, strong public investment and the unparalleled dedication of biologists and volunteers.”

Although the federal DDT ban began to bring the bird back from the brink of extinction in New Jersey, its recovery has been very largely driven by the DEP, said Eric Stiles, executive director of New Jersey Audubon.

“This is an amazing story New Jersey should celebrate,” he said. “It took banning DDT, passage of the Endangered Species Act and then thousands of dedicated professionals, both paid and volunteers, working tirelessly to bring the species back.”

The conservation effort has been helped by the bird’s status as the national emblem and its majestic appearance, helping to build public support, Stiles said. He said private landowners are often eager to help protect the bird if it nests on their property.

“When I found out that a bald eagle nest was located on a farm, I was so happy because they were so proud of the bald eagles, he said. “That was the best-case scenario.”

The bird’s iconic status also helps explain its spread throughout New Jersey, including in some densely populated and highly urbanized areas, Stiles said. “I have yet to meet a person who sees a bald eagle, and doesn’t put down their phone, and just gaze in amazement,” he said.

Larry Niles, a former DEP scientist, led the department’s eagle-conservation program in the early 1980s, in part by introducing young birds that had been captured from nests in Canada, raised by humans in New Jersey for about a month, and then released.

Conning eagles for their own good

Niles, now an independent wildlife biologist, also took eggs from New Jersey’s only bald eagle nest at the time – at Bear Swamp in Cumberland County – before their shells were broken by unsuspecting parents during incubation. He substituted fake eggs so that the parents continued to nest; artificially incubated and hatched the real eggs, and then put the young birds in the nest in place of the fake eggs.

“We would climb back up the tree weeks later, take the fake eggs out and then put in the chicks, and then the adults just thought that the eggs hatched,” he said. After about five years, the nest became productive again when the older female died and was replaced by a younger that was not contaminated with DDT.

The early conservation program also included a lawsuit filed by the DEP against the developer of a new port on South Jersey’s Cohansey River, where only the second pair of eagles were starting to nest. The DEP won its case on the grounds that the project would have violated the federal Endangered Species Act, Niles recalled.

He said the state has been rigorous in using regulation to protect not only nest sites but also the bird’s foraging grounds. “It’s a really good expression of how committed the state is to protecting its important ecological resources,” he said.

The eagle’s recovery is also a sign that the environment, at least in the bird’s habitat, is clean enough to sustain it, Niles said.

“The eagle reflects the environmental quality of the area around it, and because it has such a large need, it’s a good way of gauging the protection of the land itself,” he said.

But however successful the state has been in using regulation to protect the bird, its recovery could not have happened without the many volunteers who have monitored nest sites and worked to protect foraging areas.

“No one could afford that kind of protection unless it was driven by volunteers,” he said.


Quad-City Times

Group goes to bat for endangered species

By Alma Gaul, January 10, 2021

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice last week of its intent to sue the outgoing Interior Secretary for delaying protection for 11 species that have been identified as warranting endangered status but  placed on a candidate list instead.

These species include the monarch butterfly.

Others are the eastern gopher tortoise, Peñasco least chipmunk, longfin smelt, Colorado Delta clam, three Texas mussels, magnificent ramshorn snail, bracted twistflower and northern spotted owl.

To protect these species will require funding, new leadership at the Fish and Wildlife Service — the agency that recommends species for listing — and a renewed commitment to science, according to a news release from the center, a national, nonprofit conservation based in Portland, Oregon.

Earlier this year the center filed suit in Washington, D.C., over more than 200 species from the Fish and Wildlife Service workplan that await decisions.

Here’s a closer look at the recent 11 species.

Monarch butterfly: The butterfly was found to be warranted for protecting on Dec.16, 2020.

The most recent population counts show a decline of 85% for the eastern U.S. population that overwinters in Mexico and a decline of 99% for monarchs west of the Rockies, which overwinter in California, the center said. Both populations are well below the thresholds at which government scientists estimate the migrations could collapse.

Eastern gopher tortoise: Gopher tortoises have shovel-like front legs and strong, thick back legs to help them dig intricate burrows, which are used by more than 360 other species. Gopher tortoises in Louisiana, Mississippi and western Alabama are already protected under the Endangered Species Act, but those in eastern Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina still await protection. The tortoises need large, unfragmented, long-leaf pine forests to survive. They have been waiting for protection since 1982.

Longfin smelt: These were once one of the most abundant fishes in the San Francisco Bay and Delta; historically they were so common that their numbers supported a commercial fishery. Due to poor management of California’s largest estuary ecosystem, which has allowed excessive water diversions and reduced freshwater flow into the Bay, the longfin smelt has undergone catastrophic declines in the past 20 years. It has been waiting for protection since 1994.

Northern spotted owl: Listed as threatened in 1990, the northern spotted owl has continued to decline in the face of continued loss of old forests to logging and invasion of its habitat by barred owls. It was found to warrant uplisting to endangered in December 2020, but awaits that upgrade in its protection.

Magnificent ramshorn: This snail is endemic to the lower Cape Fear River Basin in North Carolina. It is currently extinct in the wild because of massive alteration of its historic habitats by dams, development and pollution. Two captive populations keep hope alive, but stream restoration is needed to restore it to the wild. It has been waiting for protection since 1984.

Colorado Delta clam: Once abundant in the Colorado River estuary in the Gulf of California in Mexico, the Colorado Delta clam has undergone massive declines in response to drastically reduced Colorado River flows from the United States. It has been waiting for protection since 2019.

Texas fatmucket, Texas pimpleback and Texas fawnsfoot mussels: All three of these Texas mussels are threatened by a combination of dams, pollution and habitat loss and degradation. Protecting them would go a long way toward protecting the rivers people depend on for fresh water. They have been waiting for protection since 2007.

Peñasco least chipmunk: Limited to the Sacramento and White mountains of southwestern New Mexico, this chipmunk is threatened by the loss and degradation of mature ponderosa pine forests to logging, livestock grazing and development. It has been waiting for protection since 1982.

Bracted twistflower: This south-central Texas plant is primarily threatened by urban sprawl from Austin and San Antonio. It has been waiting for protection since 1975.


Fox 2 Now (St. Louis, MO)

Illegal fishing nets kill sea turtles in waters off South Texas near maritime boundary line

by: Sandra Sanchez, Posted: Jan 8, 2021

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (Border Report) — Dozens of sea turtles have been killed recently off South Texas waters due to gill-netting — a fishing practice that is illegal in U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but one that happens when Mexican fishing vessels slip north, which is happening with more frequency, officials said.

In December, 49 dead sea turtles were found off the South Texas beaches of South Padre Island and Boca Chica Beach, Wendy Knight, executive director of the nonprofit organization Sea Turtle Inc., told Border Report.

Necropsy reports done on the juvenile green turtles found that they died due “to forced submersion, which is drowning,” Knight said.

The Padre Island National Seashore Division of Sea Turtle Science & Recovery has posted on its Facebook page gruesome photos of the turtles with the green plastic gill-netting choking the amphibians around the neck and fins.

“Biologists hypothesize that some or all were captured due to illegal gill netting in nearshore Gulf of Mexico waters off the South Texas coast. The U.S. Coast Guard and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department capture several vessels illegally entering U.S. waters from Mexico for fishing each year, and those numbers have increased in recent years,” according to the Dec. 30 post.

Sea turtles, all of which are listed as threatened or endangered species, are protected by federal laws and the U.S. Coast Guard is increasing monitoring “hotspot stranding areas and recovery of this deadly fishing gear and any entangled sea turtles,” the federal organization wrote.

Knight said a few necropsy reports are still outstanding “but they all appear to be relative to the same issue.”

This comes a year after over 100 sea turtles were found dead in November and December 2019, all attributed to illegal gill-net fishing tied back to Mexican nationals using illegal netting in U.S. waters, Knight said.

“We did have this same issue happen last year (2019) almost about the same time,” Knight said. “And the Coast Guard actually caught and arrested illegal gill-fishers out in the ocean, thanks to increased patrols.”

Foggy winter weather helps to provide cover that allows fishermen to slip north and deploy illegal fishing devices.

“It’s about this time of year, I think the fog contributes to it. It gives them kind of a place to hide,” Knight said. “In the issue last year (2019) it was Mexican nationals coming across international waters.”

Knight said that the recent turtle drownings have not yet been identified with any group of fishermen. “They did also find gill-nets in the water and were able to collect those and get those out of the way. But we have not identified who or where the fishers came from. But this looks exactly like you think it does,” she said.

Knight said turtles are not the only sea creatures that get trapped in the netting; dolphins and other large marine life that require breath also die in the nets “and are stuck in the nets until they drown.”

Earlier this month, two fishermen were injured off Mexico’s Baja California coast when they rammed their small boat into a larger vessel in the waters to protect the endangered vaquita porpoise, which was being threatened by banned gill nets in the Gulf of California. Only as few as a dozen vaquitas are believed to remain, making them the world’s most endangered marine mammal. Gill-net fishing has been banned in the Gulf of California waters since 2017.

A report by the Brookings Institute in September criticized the Mexican government for being unable to regulate gill-net fishing off Baja California. “Mexico’s very long coastline and a fishing fleet involving over 100,000 small vessels, known as pangas, makes enforcement on the seas and on land that serves as launching places of fishermen challenging. Illegal fishing is estimated to account for between 45% and — a staggering — 90% of official fish production in Mexico,” according to the report.

Sea Turtle Inc., along with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, volunteers, residents and local businesses work to help locate any sea turtles affected by illegal fishing nets. A 24-hour hotline for sightings in South Texas can be reached at 956-243-4361.


Honolulu Civil Beat

Monk Seal Killings On Kauai Highlight Human Threat To Endangered Species

A new study found that human activity was to blame for more than half of all known seal deaths in the islands over the past quarter century.

By Allan Parachini, January 7, 2021

ANAHOLA, Kauai — The suspicious deaths of three Hawaiian monk seals on Kauai beaches — including one that officials believe was shot and another beaten — late last year highlight the dangers threatening the recovery of the endangered species.

While the recent deaths remain under investigation, a new study found that human activity ranging from deliberate killings to fishing hooks was to blame for more than half of all known seal deaths in the islands over the past quarter century.

The first seal was found dead with apparent gunshot wounds in September while the second was believed to have been beaten to death in November, according to information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The third was found on Dec. 2 in the same area as the other two near Kauai’s Anahola Beach Park.

Staffing limitations related to the COVID-19 pandemic and other resource shortages have delayed completion of full investigations in all three cases, according to NOAA.

The agency also has offered a $20,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible.

But a Native Hawaiian community activist here who follows marine mammal issues and has been used as a resource by investigators trying to determine who killed the seals said the animals remain the subject of community hostility.

Many community members cling to mistaken beliefs that monk seals compete with local fishermen and consume a significant portion of what could be their catch, said Nalani Kaneakua, the Anahola activist.

Some community members also dispute whether the monk seal is accurately called a native animal, despite the fact that the seal’s presence through hundreds of years of Hawaiian history has been clearly documented.

That remains true, she said, even after years of public education programming designed to neutralize erroneous assumptions.

“I went down to the beach and talked to a lot of the local boys and their uncles,” she said. “They hate the seals. I shared hard core facts and figures with them. They still don’t buy it. These monk seals date back to the time of creation of the Hawaiian Islands.

“It’s heartbreaking every time I hear about one of these deaths. I tell them: ‘The seal is more Hawaiian than you are.’ Our culture has become so disconnected that they forget that the seal is one of us.”

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered seal species and is protected under the Endangered Species Act and Hawaii state law, meaning it is illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap or otherwise harm them.

In a newly published paper in the journal Marine Mammal Science, a research team found causes attributable to human activity are responsible for more than half of the 114 deaths of seals that occurred in the main Hawaiian Islands between 1992 and 2019.

These so-called anthropogenic causes of death include beatings and other types of deliberate killings, drownings caused by entanglement in things like fishing nets and seals who die after swallowing fish hooks.

Seals occasionally drown for natural reasons, but fishing gear entanglement has emerged as one of the most lethal risks the animals face in the wild.

The team also argued that toxoplasmosis — which accounted for 14% of the seal deaths — should be classified as caused by humans as it’s caused by ingestion of a parasite common to house cat feces.

Monk seals sometimes ingest the feline waste after it washes off the islands. The researchers cautioned that toxoplasmosis may not be the cause of all such deaths as a small number of other pathogens can be responsible.

Only about 300 of the estimated seal population of about 1,400 live on Hawaii’s inhabited islands. The vast majority live in the remote Northwest Hawaiian Islands and have far less human contact.

However, the large corps of monk seal volunteer observers and full-time staff on Oahu and Kauai make monitoring the Main Hawaiian Islands population far more straightforward.

The research team included a Honolulu-based NOAA veterinarian who is considered to be one of the most knowledgeable experts in the field. Others on the team were a Montana-based biological consultant, a University of Hawaii researcher at the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and Marine Mammal Pathology Services, based in Olney, Maryland.

The NOAA veterinarian, Dr. Michelle Barbieri, urged caution in evaluating the three suspicious seal deaths, saying the public needs to understand that deliberate killings are only part of a broader picture of human-caused seal fatalities.

“I think we’re still putting these three most recent deaths in context,” Barbieri said in a phone interview last month. “We have an ongoing investigation. It would be premature to lump them together one way or another.”

The condition of the seal carcasses often frustrates investigators since they may be badly decomposed by the time they’re found, making it impossible to identify a specific cause of death. Even when there is a necropsy — the animal equivalent of an autopsy — the situation may still be unclear. Cases of trauma may not be entirely straightforward, she said.

“Grossly, we might see something that appears consistent with hemorrhage. What the pathologist sees (from tissue samples taken during the necropsy) is whether that hemorrhage happened before the seal died,” she said. “It’s a very layered process. It doesn’t end with the necropsy.”

An example of that type of challenge came in 2015 when a seemingly well-nourished dead male seal was found on a beach here. Volunteers and a veterinarian who works for the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources responded, initially isolating the carcass as if the site was a crime scene.

When turned over, the seal had a severe wound on the bottom of the head. Initially, it was assumed to be from a machete blow, but months of subsequent investigation determined that the cause of death was a propeller strike — the first such death recorded in at least 20 years.

Kaneakua agreed that the apparent deliberate killings are but a small fraction of all the deaths of seals. She said she once intervened with a fisherman who thought seals were taking a lot of the catch from his nets. She helped him make slight changes in how he set the nets and the problem was solved, she said.

“I’m from this area. I’m always on the beach. I’m dumbfounded. I don’t know why, who, what. I do know the seals are not well-received. I don’t know why,” she said.


Oregon Public Broadcasting

The fate of Oregon’s gray wolves is now in the state’s hands

Gray wolves now have no federal protection in Oregon and the rest of the lower 48 states. The only thing standing in the way of their recovery is us.

By Bradley W. Parks (OPB), Bend, Ore.–Jan. 7, 2021

Gray wolves have had protection under the Endangered Species Act almost as long as there’s been an Endangered Species Act. Now, the wolves are walking in the world without the federal government’s protective shields they once wore.

The Trump administration announced in October that it would remove all remaining Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the lower 48 states, a move that had been in the works since March 2019. The decision exempts experimental packs of Mexican gray wolves living in Arizona and New Mexico.

When that decision took effect Monday, it formally shifted conservation and management of gray wolves entirely to state and tribal governments.

“At this point, I would not expect major changes,” said Michelle Dennehy, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It’s kind of business as usual for wolf management in Oregon.”

The question is whether business as usual can aid in the continued recovery of gray wolves in Oregon while also keeping the livestock industry happy. Before Monday, Oregon’s gray wolves were federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state. (Those in the easternmost third lost protection in 2011.)

History of hostility

The Trump administration hailed delisting as a symbol of gray wolves’ remarkable comeback. Conservation groups have challenged the decision in court, calling it premature.

The U.S. gray wolf population has steadily climbed in the past half-century, but they still occupy only a fraction of their historical range. Gray wolves have a tenuous grip on stability, which is true in Oregon as well.

“Across Oregon, there’s just a huge gap in the species’ presence,” said Danielle Moser, wildlife program director for Oregon Wild.

The most recent count shows 158 gray wolves in Oregon as of 2019. The majority of them live in the northeast corner of the state, having come over from Idaho. The number is a drastic improvement from the 14 gray wolves counted statewide a decade earlier, but research suggests Oregon could support about 10 times its current gray wolf population.

Humans have proven hostile to gray wolves throughout history. Livestock depredation led white settlers to wage war on the keystone species for hundreds of years. Wolves were the target of colonial and, later on, territorial and state bounties.

“Wolves have quite a sordid history in this country,” Moser said. “Wolves were hunted, they were extirpated, they were poisoned, everything you can think of. They were trapped pretty much out of existence.”

Apex predators like gray wolves are critically important to ecological health. They help control the population of other mammals like deer and elk, which in turn helps many plant species, so on and so forth.

As OPB reported in 2015, wolves can live just about anywhere and eat just about anything. The upward population trend of the past several years can continue pretty easily in theory.

The only thing standing in the way is us.

Canis lupus versus cattle

Gray wolves lost state-level endangered-species status in 2015, but they still have some protections under the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. Hunting and trapping of gray wolves remains banned statewide.

However, the removal of federal Endangered Species Act protections opens up gray wolves in Western Oregon to “lethal control” — a euphemism for being killed by government agents — in cases of chronic depredation. In other words, if a wolf eats too much livestock, time’s up for said wolf.

Rodger Huffman is a La Grande-area rancher who co-chairs the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association wolf task force.

“In the case of cattle versus wolf, cattle are gonna lose every time,” Huffman said.

Oregon does not require landowners to use non-lethal methods for deterring wolves such as fencing or flagging. Dennehy, with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the state will not kill wolves unless non-lethal measures prove unsuccessful.

More gray wolves does not necessarily translate to more conflict with livestock. The growth rate of the gray wolf population has far outpaced any increase in the rate of confirmed livestock depredation incidents in Oregon.

Huffman said having the option for lethal control, however, helps livestock producers and operators defend their businesses from “chronic offenders.”

“We’re just asking for a little relief,” Huffman said. “We’re not unrealistic in thinking that we’re ever going to get total removal.”

The Department of Fish and Wildlife didn’t kill any wolves for depredation in 2019, the year of its most recent annual report. It has killed 16 wolves total since 2009.

Losing federal protections still carries a lot of heft. Moser said it’s unclear how the state conservation and management plan will work in the western half of Oregon where wolf packs are smaller and human population centers are larger.

“Quite frankly, in the past, it’s been questionable how ODFW would approach species management,” said Oregon Wild’s Moser, “and so I guess this is an opportunity for them to really prove to Oregonians that they really care about wolves.”


Center for Biological Diversity

News Release—January 7, 2020

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Firefly, Bees, Poppy Under Endangered Species Act

Trump Administration Drags Feet as Insects Show Dangerous Global Declines

OAKLAND, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice today of its intent to sue the Trump administration for failing to protect four imperiled insects and one plant under the Endangered Species Act.

The insects are the Bethany Beach firefly, Franklin’s bumblebee, Gulf Coast solitary bee and Mojave poppy bee, a solitary and specialist pollinator that depends on a plant species called the Las Vegas bearpoppy, also named in the notice.

A growing body of evidence is exposing alarming global declines in insects caused by habitat loss, pesticides, climate change and other threats. Recent evidence shows 40% of insect species could soon be facing extinction.

“Insects play vital roles that keep our world functioning, but they’re declining by about 10% per decade, nearly twice as fast as other animals,” said Dr. Tara Cornelisse, an entomologist and senior scientist at the Center. “We can’t stand by while the Trump administration delays lifesaving protections to some of the most imperiled creatures around.”

Following the Center’s petitions to protect the firefly, solitary bees and poppy as endangered, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found the species may warrant protection under the Act. But it failed to make a listing determination within the required 12-month period. It also failed to finalize its August 2019 proposed rule to protect the Franklin’s bumblebee as endangered.

Long delays in protecting species under the Act have been a persistent problem for decades. On average species have waited 12 years for protection during the Act’s 40-plus-year history, and at least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

“The Endangered Species Act is incredibly successful at preventing extinctions and is a key tool for reversing declines of threatened insects and the species they depend on,” said Cornelisse. “But these five species can’t wait 12 years. The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to take swift action to give them the full protections they need to survive.”

In 2016 the Fish and Wildlife Service developed a workplan to address a portion of the more than 500 species waiting for protection. But because of interference from the Trump administration, the agency has failed to make dozens of findings every year since. In 2020 the Trump Fish and Wildlife Service failed to make decisions for 58 species identified in its workplan.

Last year the Center filed suit in Washington, D.C. over more than 200 species from the workplan that await decisions, including dozens of insects. In addition to the five species included in today’s notice, the Center plans to initiate lawsuits for another 15 species waiting for listing and 89 species waiting for designation of critical habitat.

The Center hopes to work out a schedule with the Biden administration to ensure these species get protection and avoid extinction.

Species Highlights

Bethany Beach firefly — This dangerously imperiled firefly has been documented at only seven sites along the Delaware coast, virtually all of them smaller than a football field.

Gulf Coast solitary bee — This bee has been documented at only six locations in Florida, and the last state-wide count documented only 47 of the pollinators.

The firefly and the bee face similar threats of urban development, pesticides and climate change-driven sea-level rise.

Franklin’s bumblebee — Although once common throughout southern Oregon and Northern California, the bumblebee began declining precipitously in 1998 and was last seen in 2006. It may already be extinct due to pathogens, pesticides and small population sizes.

Mojave poppy bee — Once widespread across the Mojave Desert, the Mojave poppy bee is now found in only seven locations in Nevada’s Clark County. In its remaining habitat, the specialist pollinator only feeds its offspring pollen from the equally imperiled Las Vegas bearpoppy.

Las Vegas bearpoppy — Over the past 20 years the rare flower has disappeared across more than half of its range, and dramatically decreased in nearly 90% of the remaining areas.

Both the poppy bee and the poppy are threatened by Las Vegas urban sprawl, gypsum mining, grazing, non-native honeybees and poorly managed off-highway vehicle use.


The Seattle Times

A new population of blue whales was discovered hiding in the Indian Ocean

Jan. 5, 2021, By Katherine J. Wu

The New York Times

Weighing up to 380,000 pounds and stretching some 100 feet long, the blue whale — the largest creature to have ever lived on Earth — might at first seem difficult for human eyes and ears to miss.

But a previously unknown population of the leviathans has long been lurking in the Indian Ocean, leaving scientists none the wiser, new research suggests.

The covert cadre of whales, described in a paper published late last year in the journal Endangered Species Research, has its own signature anthem: a slow, bellowing ballad that’s distinct from any other whale song ever described. It joins only a dozen or so other blue whale songs that have been documented, each the calling card of a unique population.

“It’s like hearing different songs within a genre — Stevie Ray Vaughan versus B.B. King,” said Salvatore Cerchio, a marine mammal biologist at the African Aquatic Conservation Fund in Massachusetts and the study’s lead author. “It’s all blues, but you know the different styles.”

The find is “a great reminder that our oceans are still this very unexplored place,” said Asha de Vos, a marine biologist who has studied blue whales in the Indian Ocean but was not involved in the new study.

Cerchio and his colleagues first tuned into the whales’ newfound song while in scientific pursuit of a pod of Omura’s whales off the coast of Madagascar several years ago. After hearing the rumblings of blue whales via a recorder planted on the coastal shelf, the researchers decided to drop their instruments into deeper water in the hopes of eavesdropping further.

“If you put a hydrophone somewhere no one has put a hydrophone before, you’re going to discover something,” Cerchio said.

A number of blue whale populations, each with its own characteristic croon, have long been known to visit this pocket of the Indian Ocean, Cerchio said. But one of the songs that crackled through the team’s Madagascar recordings was unlike any the researchers had heard.

By 2018, the team had picked up on several more instances of the new whales’ now-recognizable refrain. Partnerships with other researchers soon revealed that the distinctive calls had been detected at another recording outpost off the coast of Oman, in the Arabian Sea, where the sounds seem particularly prevalent. Another windfall came later that year when Cerchio learned that colleagues in Australia had heard the whales crooning the same song in the central Indian Ocean, near the Chagos Archipelago.

Data amassed from the three sites, each separated from the others by hundreds or thousands of miles, painted a rough portrait of a pod of whales moseying about in the Indian Ocean’s northwest and perhaps beyond.

Using acoustic data to pin down a new population is, by nature, indirect, like dusting for fingerprints at the scene of a crime. But Alex Carbaugh-Rutland, who studies blue whales at Texas A&M University and was not involved in the study, said the results “were very sound, no pun intended.”

The researchers ruled out the possibility that the songs could be attributed to other species of whales. And side-by-side comparisons of the new blue whale tune with others showed convincingly that the northwestern Indian Ocean variety was distinct, Carbaugh-Rutland said. “I think it’s really compelling evidence,” he said, drawing a comparison to linguistic dialects.

Genetic samples would help clinch the case, he added. But blue whales, which spend most of their time far from shore, are difficult to study. Whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries also culled hundreds of thousands from their ranks; an estimated 10,000 to 25,000 blue whales are thought to remain.

Not much is known about blue whale songs, although most researchers think that they help males woo their mates, as is the case with closely related species. That can make any modifications to a cetacean melody fairly high stakes, de Vos said: “If two populations can’t talk to each other, over time, they’re going to grow apart.”

Eventually, populations with different takes on a tune might splinter into subspecies, with their own behaviors and quirks. There’s not yet evidence to show that has happened with these blue whales, nor much information on what might have driven them apart from their southerly kin. But even if the whales in this new group don’t yet formally occupy a new branch on the tree of life, they are worth getting to know.

“What things like this show us is that there are different populations, with different adaptations, with potentially different needs,” de Vos said. To conserve the world’s blue whales, she said, “there’s not one single protection measure that’s going to work.”

(This story was originally published at


National Law Review

Federal Wildlife Agencies Issue Final Regulatory Definition of “Habitat”

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

A December 2020 final rule defining “habitat” could have important consequences for future designations of lands and waters as “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Designation of critical habitat by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service (jointly, the “Services”) can affect projects that require federal agency permits or funding, because ESA section 7 requires federal agencies to ensure through consultation with the Services that their actions are not likely to adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.

On December 16, 2020, the Services adopted, for the first time, a regulatory definition of habitat, as follows:

For the purposes of designating critical habitat only, habitat is the abiotic and biotic setting that currently or periodically contains the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.

85 Fed. Reg. 81,411 (Dec. 16, 2020) (to be codified at 50 C.F.R. § 424.02). This definition will become effective January 15, 2021 and will apply to proposals by the Services to designate areas as critical habitat after January 15. The Services do not intend to reevaluate any prior critical habitat designations on the basis of this rule.

The final definition responds to the US Supreme Court’s November 27, 2018, unanimous decision in Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 139 S. Ct. 361 (2018), which held an area is eligible for designation as critical habitat under the ESA only if the area is actually habitat for that species. For additional background on Weyerhaeuser Co. and the Services’ initial efforts to address Weyerhaeuser, including the Services’ proposed definition of habitat, see our September 16, 2020 blog post .

In response to comments on the Services’ proposal and upon further consideration, the Services’ final definition modifies the proposed definition and proposed alternative definition and further clarifies the regulatory scope of habitat. The key aspects of the final definition include the following:

Introductory Phrase. The Services added the introductory phrase: ‘‘For the purposes of designating critical habitat only,’’ to explicitly limit the definition’s applicability to the designation of critical habitat. This clarification is intended to address concerns about the potential for the definition to apply to other sections of the ESA or other federal programs that use the term “habitat.”

“Abiotic and Biotic Setting.” The Services replaced the proposal’s phrase “physical places” with “abiotic and biotic setting” to capture a broader set of characteristics, conditions, and processes (i.e., habitat is more than simply a physical location), and to address concerns that natural spatial and temporal variations in habitat were not encompassed in the proposed definition. Abiotic refers to non-living characteristics such as soil, water, temperature, or physical processes. Biotic refers to living features such as specific plant communities or prey species. The Services chose not to use the ESA’s statutory phrase “physical or biological features” to avoid overlap between statutory language regarding occupied critical habitat and this broader regulatory definition. The use of “abiotic and biotic setting” is also intended to avoid using the undefined term “attributes” from the Services’ proposal, but it is intended to be inclusive of “physical or biological features.”

“Currently or Periodically.” The Services included “periodically,” in the final definition, to clarify that habitat includes ephemeral habitat – areas that may be variable both temporally and spatially, such as areas prone to seasonal flooding and dynamic riverine sandbars that may develop during certain times of the year. In other words, these are areas where the resources and conditions are not consistently present, but appear at regular intervals. The definition, therefore, excludes areas that do not currently or periodically contain the requisite resources and conditions, even if they could in the future after restoration activities or other changes.

“Resources or Conditions.” The final rule replaces the phrase “existing attributes” in the proposal, which the Services state was found to be vague, poorly defined, or confusing by commenters, with “resources or conditions.” This phrase clarifies that the habitat definition includes all qualities of an area that can make that area important to the species, such as dynamic processes (e.g., riverine sand bar formation or fire disturbance), a set of environmental conditions (e.g., temperature, pH, and salinity), or any characteristics that can satisfy life-history needs (e.g., food, shelter).

“Necessary to Support.” The Services’ proposal solicited comments on the phrases “depend upon to carry out” and “use to carry out” one or more life processes and which phrase better describes the relationship between species and their habitat. Commenters offered criticisms of both phrases. Thus, instead, the Services decided to use the phrase “necessary to support.” The Services note that this phrase is intended to convey its common meaning and better demonstrates how the habitat definition includes areas that would qualify as occupied and unoccupied critical habitat.

“One or More Life Processes.” The phrase “one or more life processes” includes areas used only during particular seasons (e.g., for migratory species) or phases in the species’ life cycle (e.g., as fresh-water spawning habitat). This phrase is intended to have the common biological meaning, including a series of functions such as movement, respiration, growth, reproduction, excretion and nutrition that are essential to sustain a living being.

Unoccupied Areas. The definition is broad enough to include currently unoccupied areas that meet the definition of “critical habitat.” For example, an area where a species has been extirpated may nonetheless provide the abiotic and biotic setting that currently or periodically contains the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.

Overall, the Services state that the rule is intended to help clarify what features will be considered habitat for a species when considering the potential designation of critical habitat for that species.


Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB)

Group to sue interior secretary for delaying protection of spotted owl, other species

The Center for Biological Diversity alleges the Trump administration has failed to make “expeditious progress” on species awaiting protection under the Endangered Species Act.

By Bradley W. Parks (OPB), Bend, Ore. Jan. 5, 2021

The Center for Biological Diversity plans to sue outgoing Interior Secretary David Bernhardt over Endangered Species Act decisions on the northern spotted owl, monarch butterfly and other species.

The court filing alleges Bernhardt has unlawfully delayed protections for the owl, butterfly and nine other species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its director, Aurelia Skipwith, are also named in the lawsuit.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had to use lawsuits to get species protected more than one would hope,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Species have ended up waiting decades for protection, so we’ve had to step in and sue to get species protected.”

The northern spotted owl is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. It faces extinction due to the loss of old growth forests and the invasion of the barred owl in the Pacific Northwest and northern California. The Fish and Wildlife Service says the spotted owl’s continued decline warrants uplisting the species to endangered.

However, the agency decided against reclassifying the spotted owl in December, saying other species were higher priorities.

The Fish and Wildlife Service similarly precluded the monarch butterfly, which has suffered habitat degradation and population decline across the American West, from listing as a threatened species.

The Endangered Species Act allows the Fish and Wildlife Service to delay listing decisions only if it is making “expeditious progress” on its backlog of hundreds of species awaiting protections. The lawsuit alleges the agency has failed to justify its decisions on the owl and the butterfly given the relatively few listing decisions it’s made since President Donald Trump took office.

“The Trump administration has only listed 25 species in four years, which is the fewest number of any administration since the act was passed,” Greenwald said.

Greenwald said his group hopes to work with the incoming Biden administration on creating a schedule for listing decisions at a faster pace.

The Fish and Wildlife Service maintained in an emailed statement that other species were of higher priority than the 11 named in the lawsuit, including the spotted owl and monarch butterfly.

“We will undertake a thorough review of all available data to determine whether to proceed with a proposed listing rule for these candidate species,” the statement reads. “As a result, we may propose to list the species or conclude that listing is no longer warranted.”



Trump Admin Removes Gray Wolves From Endangered Species List Despite ‘Meager Numbers’

 By Common Dreams| Jan. 05, 2021

Posted by Brett Wilkins

Wildlife advocates on Monday accused the Trump administration of “willful ignorance” after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act after 45 years of protection, even though experts say the animals are far from out of the proverbial woods.

USFWS announced the rule change — one of over 100 regulatory rollbacks recently pushed through by the Trump administration — in October. The move will allow state authorities to treat the canines as predators and kill or protect them according to their laws.

In South Dakota, for example, hunters, trappers, landowners, and livestock producers are now permitted to kill gray wolves after obtaining the necessary paperwork, which includes a predator/varmint, furbearer, or hunting license. Landowners on their own property and minors under the age of 16 are exempt from licensing requirements.

In neighboring Minnesota, gray wolves will retain a higher level of protection in the northern part of the state — owners of livestock and other animals can kill wolves that pose an “immediate threat” — while in the southern two-thirds of the state people can shoot wolves that they believe pose any threat to livestock, as long as they surrender the carcass.

In Oregon, on the other hand, “wolves remain protected throughout the state,” according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Hunting and trapping of wolves remains prohibited statewide.”

Last September, Common Dreams reported that an analysis of deregulation in some Western states revealed that a record-breaking 570 wolves, including dozens of pups, were brutally killed in Idaho over a recent one-year period.

“Tragically, we know how this will play out when states ‘manage’ wolves, as we have seen in the northern Rocky Mountain region in which they were previously delisted,” Samantha Bruegger, wildlife coexistence campaigner for WildEarth Guardians, said in reaction to Monday’s delisting.

Bruegger cited the Idaho killings, as well as the situation in Washington, where last year “the state slaughtered an entire pack of wolves due to supposed conflicts with ranching interests,” as proof that “without federal protections, wolves are vulnerable to the whims and politics of state management.”

Monday’s delisting comes despite the enduring precarity of wolf populations throughout much of the country. According to the most recent USFWS data, there are only 108 wolves in Washington state, 158 in Oregon, and 15 in California, while wolves are “functionally extinct” in Nevada, Utah, and Colorado.

“These meager numbers lay the groundwork for a legal challenge planned by WildEarth Guardians with a coalition of conservation groups to be filed later this month,” said Bruegger.

Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement that “the delisting of gray wolves is the latest causality of the Trump administration’s willful ignorance of the biodiversity crisis and scientific facts.”

“Even with [President Donald] Trump’s days in office dwindling, the long-term impact of illegitimate decisions like the wolf delisting will take years to correct,” Larris added. “Guardians is committed to challenging this decision in court, while working across political channels to ensure wolves receive as much protection as possible at the state level in the interim.”

****** (Huntington, WV)

Captive rearing may help take two WV crayfish off the endangered list

By John McCoy, HD Media, Jan. 4, 2021

Strange as it might seem, a bridge-replacement project in Southern West Virginia might have provided the key to preserving two endangered crayfish species.

The new bridge, a railroad trestle that carries a Norfolk Southern mainline over the Tug Fork River near Matewan, was built in 2019. But before work could begin on the project, scientists had to ensure construction wouldn’t harm the federally endangered Big Sandy crayfish.

The solution involved capturing crayfish from the river, holding them until all the work was done, and then releasing them back into the wild. Along the way, scientists discovered a new approach for hatching and rearing crayfish in captivity — an approach that could bode well for other endangered crayfish species.

David Foltz, a senior mussel and crayfish biologist with Weirton-based Edge Engineering and Science, said the process began in 2017, when railroad officials began pre-construction planning to replace the bridge.

“Before they could proceed, they had to survey the area for endangered mussels, endangered bats and endangered crayfish,” Foltz explained. “We went down there and did the three surveys. We didn’t find any endangered bats or mussels, but we did find two Big Sandy crayfish.

“Since the species is federally listed, the railroad had two alternatives — move the project, or go through formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They couldn’t move the bridge, so they went into consultation.”

In 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Service told Norfolk Southern it could proceed, but only if scientists collected 50 Big Sandy crayfish from the site, temporarily housed them off-site, and released them back into the wild after the bridge work was finished.

“The goal was to remove any animals that might have [been killed or harmed] by the in-stream construction work,” Foltz said. “Getting 50 of them seemed like a daunting task, given that we only collected two when we sampled there.

“But we very quickly hit that number, and eventually ended up with 80. We started radio-tagging and releasing the ones that were large enough to carry a transmitter.”

Foltz enlisted students from West Liberty University’s Crayfish Conservation Laboratory to help with the collection and monitoring efforts. Some of the crayfish were taken to the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery for safekeeping, and some were taken to the lab at West Liberty.

While construction took place, Foltz and the students tracked the movements of crayfish they had radio-tagged.

“We were there tracking once every 10 days from June through October of 2019,” he said. “We continued that until all the in-stream construction was finished.”

Shortly after construction ended, Foltz started to write a report about the project’s progress.

“In the process of doing that, we realized that a lot of the females we had collected and brought in had actually dropped eggs,” he recalled.

Closer examination revealed that some of the females that hadn’t yet borne eggs were ready to. Foltz and Zac Loughman, the West Liberty professor who heads up the Crayfish Conservation Laboratory, set about making sure they did.

“David had brought us some animals, and they’d already deposited eggs at the hatchery,” Loughman said. “We knew we were getting more than 50 crayfish then. When I looked at the females that hadn’t dropped eggs, I could see ‘glair’ under their abdomens — white patches that indicate a female is capable of extruding eggs.

“I was like, ‘Holy Moses, what’s going on here?’ Well, we had a lot of them drop eggs. We went from 50 crayfish to hundreds of them.”

Fortunately for the newborns, the people at West Liberty knew a bit about rearing crayfish in captivity. They’d done it with other species, and it didn’t take them long to figure out how to do it with their Big Sandy cousins.

“We had so many baby crayfish we didn’t have room for them all,” Loughman said. “We had to send a bunch of them to White Sulphur Springs, and the staff there worked out a special diet for them.”


The Abbotsford News (Abbotsford, B.C.)

 Scientists worry B.C. hatchery fish threatening endangered wild chinook

Latest assessments identify more southern populations at risk of extinction

QUINN BENDER, Jan. 2, 2021

More chinook salmon populations have landed on the endangered species list in B.C.

Among 28 southern groups now assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), only two remain “not at risk.”

“Some of them are not in good shape at all,” said COSEWIC chair John Reynolds.

“It’s risky to predict the future with salmon, because sometimes they surprise us in a good way, but a lot of it will have to do with what people decide they want to do about it. If people want to commit the time and resources, deciding the benefits of recovering these species are greater than the cost, then their future could be different.”

Adding to 2018 assessments on 16 populations, this year COSEWIC focused on 12 southern groups whose numbers are significantly augmented by large-scale hatcheries. Counting only the wild fish, four populations are endangered — the most dire category prior to extinction in the wild— three are threatened, and one is of special concern. As in 2018, just one is not at risk. Three remote populations are data deficient.

With many salmon runs experiencing the lowest returns on record, there has been mounting public pressure for the federal government to step up hatchery production through the Salmonid Enhancement Program.

But conservation groups and scientists are sounding the alarm on the long-term consequences of high-volume hatcheries. Because the genes of fish change rapidly to suit their environment, the biggest concern is fish reared under ideal hatchery conditions will pass on inferior traits. After successive generations, the population could be unfit for the wild.

“If you end up swamping a stream with hatchery genes, I don’t think that is a good recipe for long-term survival of the population, unless you’re prepared to perpetually keep putting out fish from hatcheries. That’s not what DFO’s policy is though. It’s to put wild salmon first,” Reynolds said.

He stressed small community hatcheries have a negligible impact on wild salmon and often benefit smaller depleted runs. The 23 federally-controlled hatcheries of concern release hundreds of millions of juvenile salmon per year.

COSEWIC released its conclusions in November. The detailed findings will not be available until the fall of 2021.

Until then, the actual numbers of wild versus hatchery fish in the latest assessments is unclear, but Reynolds said the competition is “significant — the proportion of hatchery fish can be quite high.”

Importance to fisheries

B.C.’s iconic chinook salmon have high cultural value to First Nations, and are also an economic driver worth hundreds of millions of dollars to both the tourism and commercial fishing industries. The human appetite for chinook is also in competition with more than 100 marine and land animals that favour the food source.

Predation, climate change, salmon farms and over-fishing are often blamed for cumulative impacts on chinook mortality.

The Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF) is undertaking a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind analysis in B.C. on the impacts of hatcheries, and whether they’re meeting their objectives. PSF Science advisor Brian Riddell emphasized the need for limiting hatchery fish to 30 per cent of a stock, and approaching the unique needs of each wild population individually.

“You can’t have everything at once. You can’t substantially increase the numbers without having an effect on the productivity of the natural stock. But you can have a more balanced approach and gradually restore the population but you have to protect the integrity of the local genetic adaptations.”

Both the recreational and commercial fishing sectors are vocal supporters of hatchery production. Sport fishing groups, who say they are unfairly targeted with angling restrictions, are also pushing for the tagging of all hatchery chinook so they can more easily target the fish and potentially enjoy more openings.

Joy Thorkelson, president of the United Fishermen And Allied Workers’ Union agreed, adding all species of hatchery fish are vital to the commercial sector.

“If there wasn’t a hatchery there wouldn’t be any fish,” she said. “As habitat has been destroyed there’s been more populations that are at risk, but they’ve been replaced by hatchery fish so we can continue to catch food. All of the major fisheries depend on hatchery fish to varying degrees.”

Government concerns

B.C.’s new parliamentary secretary for fisheries and oceans, Fin Donnelly, has been given a list of mandates to protect and conserve wild salmon populations, including the order to “support innovation in fish hatcheries”.

Aaron Hill, executive director for the Watershed Watch Salmon Society worries this will translate to a robust hatchery program that caters to the economic needs of fisheries, and not the needs of the wild fish themselves.

In a phone interview, Donnelly shared the concern of hatchery genes being passed to wild populations through federally controlled, large-scale hatcheries, but the strategic use of small hatcheries will remain an important component in provincial efforts to rebuild stocks.

“Community hatcheries and target-based hatcheries—we see it provincially as part of the solution. They play an important role, not just in what they do for salmon rearing, but in education and community engagement.”

The PSF’s scientific review of hatchery impacts will play a critical role in informing the province’s approach, Donnelly added.

The full COSEWIC study will be formally submitted to the environment ministry in the fall of 2021, at which time the Species at Risk Act listing process will begin for the assessed chinook populations.


San Diego Union Tribune

Judge: Groups can’t challenge endangered species plans

JAN. 1, 2021

JACKSON, Wyo. —  An environmental group has no legal standing to challenge the specifics of recovery plans for endangered species, a judge in Montana has ruled.

The case began with a 2014 petition by the Center for Biological Diversity that asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revise and update its then-21-year-old species recovery plan for threatened grizzly bears in the contiguous United States.

Federal wildlife managers declined and the Center took the issue to court. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ruled Dec. 23 that endangered species recovery plans are guidelines, not rules that can be challenged in court.

“Notwithstanding the merits of the Center’s claim that the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) Service is simply not doing enough to protect the grizzly bear, Congress has authorized only limited avenues for judicial review of administrative action, none of which are available in this case,” Christensen wrote.

While the case was brought against the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, several other entities intervened including the states of Wyoming and Idaho along with farm and ranch groups. The Mountain States Legal Foundation represented the Wyoming Stock Growers.

“The stakes in this case were very high,” the Mountain States Legal Foundation said in a news release on Tuesday. “While this case directly involved the grizzly bear in the Lower 48 states, a loss in this case would have opened the floodgates for new litigation over hundreds of other species as well.”

In its 2014 petition, the Center for Biological Diversity asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to update its recovery plan and add several new areas of historic grizzly bear range as potential recovery areas. In a 2011 status review, the wildlife service had said areas in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and southern Washington should be evaluated for their potential for grizzly bear recovery areas.

The Center also asked the agency to take into account new research on road density and new techniques to connect recovery areas in updating its recovery plans.

Although Fish and Wildlife denied the 2014 petition, the agency did update recovery plans for grizzlies in the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, a federal grizzly bear biologist concluded that reintroduction of grizzly bears in Colorado’s San Juan and California’s Sierra Nevada ranges would likely fail due to a lack of core habitat.

The Center for Biological Diversity argued in court that federal wildlife officials did not update the population monitoring requirements in the recovery plan for the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk recovery areas in Montana, Idaho, Washington and into Canada, even though the agency noted such an update was needed.

“A court may review a recovery plan to the extent that it is missing on of the required plan components,” the court order states, “but it may not entertain disagreements with the agency concerning the substance of those components.”

Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Jackson Hole News & Guide the organization is “talking internally about whether or not to appeal that ruling.”



503 New Species Identified in 2020, Including Endangered Monkey

 By Emily Denny, Dec. 31, 2020

A lungless worm salamander, an armored slug and a critically endangered monkey were a few of 503 new species identified this year by scientists at London’s National History Museum.

“Once again, an end of year tally of new species has revealed a remarkable diversity of life forms and minerals hitherto undescribed,” Dr. Tim Littlewood, executive director of science at the museum, told the National History Museum. “The Museum’s collection of specimens provide a resource within which to find new species as well as a reference set to recognize specimens and species as new.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the museum was closed to the public for part of the year. Yet, scientists, researchers, curators and associates continued to study the species’ forms and structures and share their findings with the rest of the scientific community, Ken Norris, head of life sciences at the Natural History Museum, told CNN.

“You’re asking whether or not that new specimen is sufficiently different from anything else that’s been seen before to be regarded as a new species,” he said. “So you’re describing it for the first time.”

As biodiversity rapidly declines across the globe, identifying new species comes with a time constraint, Littlewood noted in an article by the National History Museum.

“In a year when the global mass of biodiversity is being outweighed by human-made mass it feels like a race to document what we are losing,” he shared.

Since 1900, the abundance of native species in land-based habitats has decreased by at least 20 percent, according to findings outlined in a United Nations Report. Over 40 percent amphibian species, nearly 33 percent reef-forming corals and over a third of all marine animals are threatened.

“503 newly discovered species reminds us we represent a single, inquisitive, and immensely powerful species with the fate of many others in our hands,” Littlewood added.

Among the hundreds of species identified was a monkey called the Popa langur, found on the extinct Mount Popa volcano in Myanmar. According to the National History Museum, the skin and skull of the monkey were collected over 100 years ago.

Scientists analyzed the coloration of the Popa langur’s skin and bones and sampled its genetics to compare it to related species.

“Monkeys are one of the most iconic groups of mammals, and these specimens have been in the collections for over a hundred years,” Roberto Portela Miguez, the senior curator in charge of mammals at the museum and involved in identifying the new species, told the National History Museum. “But we didn’t have the tools or the expertise to do this work before.”

The Popa langur is considered to be critically endangered with only 200 to 260 individuals remaining in the wild, according to The Guardian. As Myanmar rapidly develops, the monkeys are threatened by decreased forest habitats and increased hunting.

Naming the species, Miguez thinks, will help in its conservation. “The hope is that by giving this species the scientific status and notoriety it merits, there will be even more concerted efforts in protecting this area and the few other remaining populations,” he told the National History Museum.

“It has been a good year for discovering more amphibian and reptile species,” The Guardian reported, noting the scientist’s identification of a crested lizard from Borneo, two new species of frog and nine new snakes.

“At the moment we think that as a basic guess maybe 20% of life has been described in some shape or form,” Norris told CNN, expecting to identify hundreds of new species in the new year.

“Our understanding of the natural world’s diversity is negligible and yet we depend on its systems, interconnectedness and complexity for food, water, climate resilience and the air we breathe,” Littlewood told the National History Museum. “Revealing new and undescribed species not only sustains our awe of the natural world, it further reveals what we stand to lose and helps estimate the diversity we may lose even before it’s discovered.”


Southern Environmental Law Center

Trump administration finalizes rule narrowing habitat protected by Endangered Species Act

December 30, 2020

In its final days in office, the Trump administration is continuing its assault on environmental regulations. The administration finalized a rule in the last days of the year that will weaken the Endangered Species Act by making it more difficult to protect areas as critical habitat for threatened and endangered species.

The rule establishes a narrow definition of “habitat” — a term that Congress and regulators have never thought needed defining in the 50 years since the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, was passed.

For purposes of defining critical habitat under the ESA, the rule limits habitat to areas that contain “the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.” The problem is, the final rule excludes habitat areas needed to ensure recovery of imperiled species, according to SELC Staff Attorney Ramona McGee.

“The final definition remains very focused on whether an area could support a species today,” said McGee. “This could exclude important habitat from protection—including habitat that might become important as an endangered or threatened species shifts its range in response to climate change, as well as habitat that is currently degraded or fragmented and requires restoration to support imperiled species.”

The final rule’s limitation of this definition to the critical habitat context appears to restrict its reach somewhat, compared to the two more broadly defined alternatives originally proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service.

“The good news is the agencies at least heard our concerns about how the earlier, proposed definitions were not limited to critical habitat,” said McGee. “But this rule change could still have severe consequences for ecosystems across the Southeast. Defining habitat by regulation is unnecessary. The Endangered Species Act has seen 50 years of extraordinary success without it.”

Habitat conservation is a vital component of protecting species from extinction. Habitat degradation and loss is the leading cause of extinction. Keeping degraded habitat from being eligible for critical protections could seriously undermine the conservation and recovery of at-risk species. Erosion controls and development in the Southeast have already damaged places vital to coastal species’ survival—including shorebirds like piping plovers, beach mice like the Alabama beach mouse, and sea turtles like loggerhead turtles.

Similarly, many species’ historic habitat ranges will shift as a result of climate change, but the new definition will prevent federal officials from designating areas that are likely to become habitat in the near future due to climate change. Birds, reptiles, amphibians, marine species, cold-water aquatic species, and high-elevation species will be particularly susceptible to climate-change driven range shifts.

Across the Southeast, there are currently 255 species that receive protections under the Endangered Species Act by their classification as endangered (176), threatened (76), or experimental populations (32).


Canada’s National Observer

Ontario’s endangered species changes could cause local extinctions, researchers say

By Emma McIntosh, December 28th 2020

The Ontario government’s 2019 move to weaken protections for endangered species could lead to local extinctions for some at-risk creatures, researchers have found.

The Progressive Conservatives’ changes included lesser protections for species that also exist outside the province, and a mechanism allowing industry to pay a fee to destroy key habitats and rebuild them elsewhere. The new rules threaten to undermine conservation of species at risk beyond Ontario, the peer-reviewed analytical essay, published this month in the scientific journal Facets, found.

“If (the provincial government) decides to not protect species in Ontario, this can ultimately affect the overall global resilience of the species and increase the overall likelihood of extinction,” said Nico Muñoz, a co-author of the article and a PhD candidate supervised by Simon Fraser and Western universities.

“That’s the scientific reason I see a problem here.”

Failing to protect species in southern Ontario would leave them vulnerable to local extinction, or extirpation, in an area where their potential to eventually recover is already limited. Over 80 per cent of the forests that once blanketed the landscape have been replaced with urban development and agriculture, Muñoz said, and the region has one of the highest densities of species at risk in the country. The world is also in the midst of an extinction crisis.

One example is the case of the spotted turtle, a creature the size of two and a half golf tees that can be recognized by its smooth black shell speckled with yellow-orange markings. There are only about 2,000 of them left in Ontario, mostly in scattered wetlands along Georgian Bay and the north shore of Lake Erie, but they are far more abundant to the south, in the eastern United States.

Muñoz and co-author Debora S. Obrist, a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser, analyzed the ranges of 152 species listed as endangered or threatened under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act and found 121 of them followed a pattern similar to that of the spotted turtle.

Even though there might be healthy populations of some species elsewhere, dwindling northern populations are becoming more crucial, Muñoz said. As the planet warms due to the climate crisis and human development encroaches on more southern habitats, many plants and animals are shifting north, making populations on the periphery more important to the health of the species overall.

Those northerly creatures and plants are often genetically distinct from their southern cousins, specially suited to a harsher environment. Allowing them to go locally extinct in Ontario is likely to lessen species’ overall chances of survival, Muñoz added.

“In Ontario, we have so many species that are at their northern range limits,” Muñoz said. “They’re on that leading edge of this northward shift. So ensuring that species persists here, it’s vital for ensuring that they persist anywhere.”

The office of Ontario Environment Minister Jeff Yurek acknowledged questions from Canada’s National Observer but did not provide answers.

When the government first announced it was planning changes to endangered species protections, it said the province hoped to find “efficiencies for businesses.” Later, after the changes were passed, then-environment minister Rod Phillips said Ontario was “committed to ensuring Ontario’s best-in-class endangered and threatened species protections.”

“I fully appreciate that species protections and conservation can at times be at odds with business interests and economic opportunity, and appreciate that the government has a responsibility to balance these two pursuits,” Muñoz said.

“But the whole reason we need this law to begin with is because that balance has been out of whack for so long, both in Ontario and more generally. We have a lot of species that are at risk of loss here, and we have a responsibility to prevent that.”

How well endangered species fare will depend on how the government implements the changes, some of which have “ambiguous” wording, Muñoz said.

For example, the 2019 version of the law says the province must consider the “biologically relevant geographic range” of a species when classifying it. The government could choose to interpret that as the range that is relevant to subpopulations in Ontario, a perspective that would retain protections for many species at risk, Muñoz added. But if the government interprets it to mean the species as a whole, dozens of them may be delisted.

“When you read the new clauses, the wording is very ambiguous,” he said.

Beyond their biological importance, endangered species in Ontario are also of emotional value, Muñoz said. They’re part of the forests we walk through, the creeks and lakes we splashed in as children, the stories we pass on to the next generation.

“The nature around us is part of our identity,” Muñoz said.

“This value that species have is very much local in that it doesn’t matter how abundant the species may be in eastern United States. That has value here. I think a lot of people would agree that what’s around us is important, and we have a responsibility to account for the way we affect it.”


Oklahoma’s News 4 (Oklahoma City)

Oklahomans take action ahead of possible Endangered Species Act listing for monarchs

by: Hunter McEachern, Dec. 28, 2020

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Monarchs flutter through our state twice a year on their migratory path. However, their dwindling numbers are causing some concern. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that in four years time, the butterflies could be added to the Endangered Species Act listing.

“Unfortunately the monarch populations have been drastically declining over the last decade,” said Katie Hawk, with The Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma and Okies for Monarchs. “Just this last year we unfortunately received some sad news that the monarch populations that travel here through Oklahoma did decrease again by another 53 percent as compared to last year’s numbers.”

For years, Oklahomans have been putting in the work to increase those numbers.

In 2016, Okies for Monarchs, along with over 40 organizations, developed a statewide action plan to build awareness and help install more pollinator habitats throughout Oklahoma.

“We had a shortage of seeds and plants available throughout the state, so we worked with nurseries to increase their inventory, as well,” said Hawk. “Other entities such as the Oklahoma City Zoo and The Nature Conservancy have done a number of outreach activities with the public, such as gardening, planting activities for families, for kids, making seed balls together.”

Hawk recommends posting a sign stating what the wildflowers are for to avoid complaints from neighbors.

“Signage helps to educate others as to what your intent is and what it is that you’re doing,” said Hawk. “Without the signage it’s very easy for us to think that this is just an unkept area.”

The planting of milkweed and other wildflowers will bring in the monarchs, as well as other pollinators, such as bees and birds.

“Native pollinator habitats also help to increase water filtration as well as reduce erosion and increase water quality,” said Hawk. “So when you’re helping to save the monarchs, you’re actually helping a number of our native species, as well as our water quality.”

Hawk said there is still a lot of work to be done to help build up the monarch population.

“We’re calling on all Oklahomans, all businesses, all agencies, all organizations,” said Hawk. “There’s something we can all do, doesn’t matter how small of a garden you have or if it’s just in containers on your front porch. If you plant it, they will come.”

In 2024, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intends to propose listing the monarch if it is still warranted at that time.


National Parks Traveler

Survey Shows Consumers Are Worried About Environmental Degradation

By NPT Staff, – December 28th, 2020

Climate change and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic topped the concerns of 2,000 Americans who were asked to name the global issue that most concerned them on a daily basis. Most troubling to them of specific environmental issues were ocean garbage and water pollution, though habitat destruction was not far behind.

When asked which problem they would like to solve in an instant, water pollution was cited by 50 percent of the respondents, while 47.5 percent also wanted to solve the plight of endangered species and clean up the Pacific “Garbage Patch.”

The survey was conducted for Nature’s Logic, a pet food company, and the answers trended towards a desire to see a cleaner, more sustainable world. Deforestation, rising sea levels, natural resource depletion all ranked among the environmental problems cited by 41 percent or more of the respondents.

Interestingly, though, overfishing and the loss of biodiversity was cited as a concern by just 29 percent of those surveyed.

More than 40 percent voiced the need for companies to use renewable energy in their operations.

Nature’s Logic CEO David Yaskulka interpreted the results as a call by consumers for companies to be both more transparent in listing the ingredients of their products, and to stick to natural ingredients.

“Brands should make it easy for consumers to make better choices – like keeping synthetic ingredients out of food or using more environmentally-friendly packaging,” said Yaskulka. “And using easy-to-read environmental certifications on the packaging goes a long way in helping consumers decide which products to choose.”

According to the survey, 39.5 percent of the respondents said they “strongly agree” with the statement that they have made personal choices to reduce their environmental impact. Another 36 percent somewhat agreed with that statement.


Reporter Newspapers (Sandy Springs, GA)

Researchers ask public to report wintertime sightings of monarch butterflies

Posted by John Ruch, Dec. 27, 2020

Researchers are asking for the public to report wintertime sightings of monarch butterflies in an attempt to better understand the famous, yet now threatened, insects.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the monarch belongs on the federal list of threatened and endangered species, but will not be yet due to pending work on other, more pressing candidates. That decision has been controversial, as national media have reported.

The familiar orange-and-black monarchs are known for their seasonal mass migrations, where they fly south to Mexico in the winter and fly north to the U.S. and Canada in the spring to breed. Scientists have found declining populations in those locations, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

According to DNR, not all monarchs make that migration. Some breed through the winter in the southern U.S. and there are “scattered reports” of some butterflies spending the winter in the region “in a non-productive state,” the DNR said in a press release.

To better understand the monarchs’ behavior and what it might mean for the survival of the species, a coalition of agencies is asking members of the public throughout the South to report any monarch sightings that happen in December through March.

Partners in the “citizen science” program include the DNR, the University of Georgia, the Wisconsin-based migration-tracking group Journey North and Monarchs Across Georgia, a program of Roswell-based Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia.

For more information and details on submitting reports online, see the Journey North website at


The St. Helens Chronicle (St. Helens, OR)

Critically Endangered: ‘Iconic’ sea star now listed

The Chronicle, December 27, 2020

You may remember finding them attached to rocks in the surf along Oregon’s beaches.

Now, the iconic sunflower sea star is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The listing follows a groundbreaking population study led by Oregon State University and The Nature Conservancy.

“These sea stars used to be easy to find and were a hit with students and divers because they are unforgettable – they can be as big as a trash bin lid with 20 slimy arms covered in suction cups,” said OSU’s Sarah Gravem, a research associate in the College of Science and the lead author on the study. “Unfortunately, your chances of finding one now are next to nothing in most of the contiguous United States – this listing is one step above extinction – and I don’t think they’re coming back without help like captive rearing and reintroduction and reducing direct harvest and accidental harvest.”

More than 60 institutions joined Oregon State and The Nature Conservancy in the population study on the sunflower sea star, known scientifically as Pycnopodia helianthoides, which plays an important role in maintaining kelp forests, and thus sustaining marine life, along the West Coast from Alaska to Baja, California.

Populations of the sunflower sea star suffered dramatic crashes because of a marine wildlife epidemic event, referred to as sea star wasting syndrome, that began in 2013.

Scientists used more than 61,000 population surveys from 31 datasets to calculate a 90.6% decline in the sunflower sea stars and estimated that as many as 5.75 billion animals died from the disease, whose cause has not been determined.

Moreover, the research produced no indications of population recovery in any region in the five to seven years since the outbreak.

Sunflower sea stars are now nearly absent in Mexico as well as the contiguous United States, the scientists say. No stars have been seen in Mexico since 2016, none in California since 2018, and only a handful in Oregon and Washington since 2018.

Sunflower sea stars are a key predator of purple sea urchins and the sea star decline has helped fuel an explosion in the urchin population in many regions. An overabundance of urchins is linked to a decline in kelp forests already facing pressure from marine heat wave events, making the future uncertain for ecosystems that provide habitat for thousands of marine animals and help support coastal economies.

“Because most people aren’t out in the ocean every day, we don’t realize how much it’s being changed and impacted by humans,” said study co-author Sara Hamilton, a Ph.D. candidate in the OSU College of Science. “We need to think creatively about how to keep our ocean healthy. While drawing down carbon emissions is the most pressing need, rebuilding key predator populations, like the sunflower sea star, can be an important piece of the puzzle too.”

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is an important resource for guiding conservation action and policy decisions, assessing the risk of extinction of a species should no conservation action be taken. Species are assigned to one of eight categories of threat based on criteria linked to population trend, population size and structure and geographic range.

Species listed as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable are collectively described as threatened.

(This story has been submitted by OSU.)


Boston Herald

New population of blue whales, largest animals on Earth, discovered in western Indian Ocean

By MARIE SZANISZLO | Boston Herald, December 26, 2020

A New England Aquarium researcher played a key part on an international team that has discovered what it believes to be a new population of the largest animals on Earth.

Every group of blue whales, who can grow to 100 feet long, sings its own unique song. And in a recent paper in the journal Endangered Species Research, the scientists describe a new song, heard from the Arabian Sea coast of Oman and the central and southwest Indian Ocean.

Salvatore Cerchio, director of the African Aquatic Conservation Fund’s Cetacean Program and visiting scientist at the New England Aquarium, first recorded the song in 2017 and knew it was one that had never been described.

“It was quite remarkable to find a whale song in your data that was completely unique, never before reported, and recognize it as a blue whale,” Cerchio said. “To think there was a population out there that no one knew about until 2017 — well, it kind of blows your mind.”

In 2018, he and other researchers created a stir when they reported the finding to the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission, which was assessing the status of blue whale populations in the Indian Ocean.

Researchers have long known that a unique population of blue whales lives in the northern Indian Ocean but assumed that whales in the Arabian Sea belonged to the same population that has been studied off Sri Lanka and that travels into the southcentral Indian Ocean.

“One of the things this paper shows is what we thought was one population is actually two, each of them smaller than what was originally thought,” said Peter Corkeron, chairman of the Kraus Marine Mammal Conservation Program at the New England Aquarium.

“We have to operate on the idea that they are endangered because the Soviets hunted them nearly to extinction in the 1960s. It was illegal, but they did it for meal and for oil,” Corkeron said. “How is it that we can treat such magnificent animals like this? What does it say about us if we let them disappear?”

Blue whale populations have only begun to recover in recent decades after a global moratorium on commercial whaling, Cerchio said, but they face newer challenges of expanding petroleum and fishing industries in the region.

“We’re hoping this discovery will raise the profile of blue whales because there needs to be more research and actions taken to protect them,” Cerchio said. “These are extraordinary animals that are at our mercy in a lot of ways. And the task for us is to learn how to become better stewards of them.”


Tampa Bay Times

Most Florida panthers found dead in 2020 were killed by cars

The death toll appeared on track to finish slightly below recent years.

By Zachary T. Sampson, Dec. 25, 2020

At least 20 Florida panthers died in 2020, almost all of them because of people.

One was killed by another panther, according to data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Another was hit by a train. A person killed one panther intentionally, leaving its body mutilated on the side of a road near Immokalee.

Every other cat found dead this year was felled by a typical culprit: cars.

The toll, updated as of Thursday morning, appeared on track to finish lower than recent years — 27 in 2019 and 30 the year before.

“We typically say the number of panther fatalities and roadkill are increased with the increase in panther population size,” said Dave Onorato, a panther biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Under that logic, a lower death count might spell a bad turn for the endangered species. “It’s plausible. We don’t want to make too much of it yet, but it certainly gets our attention,” Onorato said.

Florida panthers are the only puma still roaming east of the Mississippi River. Their former range across the American Southeast has shrunk to a corner of the lower Florida peninsula. Scientists estimate between 120 and 230 adults live in the wild.

“For the most part we think the population is holding steady and stable,” Onorato said. “Signs don’t seem to show that it’s increasing at the moment.”

Environmentalists say the low numbers, and variability in the population estimate, mean the panther remains extremely at-risk.

“The panther is like this patient that’s in a bed in (the intensive care unit) and is in stable condition,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “You’re not going to send the panther home. … Any wrong turn can put it at risk of plummeting into extinction.”

One complicating factor for the 2020 figures is that biologists have tracked fewer panthers with radio collars than usual, according to Onorato. Their work, he said, has been hampered in part by the pandemic. Scientists have documented infections of the coronavirus in large cats.

“We don’t want to be the ones responsible for transmitting (a disease) to panthers,” Onorato said.

Among researchers’ current focus is a mysterious neurological disorder in panthers, which is visible in animals hobbled by weak back legs. Onorato said biologists don’t know what causes feline leukomyelopathy, referred to in shorthand as “FLM.” At least one animal with evidence of symptoms was recently spotted around the Big Cypress National Preserve, he said, prompting researchers to position more cameras on public land in hopes of documenting the disorder’s prevalence.

The greatest challenge for panthers, environmentalists say, is the squeeze of development.

“We’re heading toward a habitat that’s just too small to sustain a big cat,” said Matthew Schwartz, director of the South Florida Wildlands Association.

He and other advocates spent much of 2020 fighting a proposed toll road expansion, which could bring a new highway near panther habitat. The leader of The Nature Conservancy in Florida called it an “existential threat.”

Proponents of the toll road say it would spur development in rural Florida. But those rural areas, environmentalists say, offer crucial habitat for animals like the panther. Committees studying different segments of the road project suggested the state avoid environmentally sensitive areas.

“It really would open up the spine of Florida,” said Lopez, of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Frankly there’s no additional space for the panther to go. … Each panther needs a ton of habitat to hunt and reproduce successfully.”

Some nature advocates say they are skeptical of the idea that more panther deaths in the past have been a sign of a growing population. They wonder if lower death numbers in 2020 might show what would happen with fewer drivers in panther territory. People, they say, could have stayed at home more during the pandemic.

Bradley Cornell, a Southwest Florida policy associate for Audubon Florida, said panther deaths are a reminder of the importance of preserving conservation land and big ranches as habitat in the middle of the state where the animals could expand.

“Are we going to keep them as a zoo species that we have to highly manage in this confined area of Southwest Florida?”


The Guardian

Even slow-moving boats likely to kill endangered right whales in a collision, study finds

Canadian government’s speed restrictions are not enough to prevent deaths of endangered animals, researchers say

December 24, 2020

For North Atlantic right whales, collisions with large cargo vessels are one of the deadliest threats to an endangered population. But new research from Canada has found even under the government’s current maritime speed restrictions, strikes are likely to be fatal.

In a new paper published in Marine Mammal Science, biologists found that collisions between large vessels and whales at a speed of just 10 knots had an 80% chance of producing a fatality.

“Speed restrictions do reduce the probability of lethality if a vessel strike occurs, but they’re just not doing it enough. We need to be cautious in thinking that we’ve solved the problem when the reality is that we haven’t,” said the study’s lead author, Sean Brillant, a conservation biologist for the Canadian Wildlife Federation and adjunct professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

According to estimates, only 356 North Atlantic right whales remain. Most of their deaths are caused by human action.

In recent years, the Canadian government has taken steps to reduce whale fatalities, including limiting the speed of large ships and closing commercial fishing areas where the whales are often spotted.

In addition to demonstrating that collisions are often fatal at relatively slow speeds, Brillant and his team were surprised to find that smaller vessels like lobster boats still had a chance of killing whales if the two collided.

“If you put two objects of similar sizes and one of them is soft and squishy and the other one doesn’t break form when it collides with something, the chances of a serious injury are pretty good,” said Brillant.

The government’s transportation agency, Transport Canada, and commercial fishermen have been interested in the findings, said Brillant. Transport Canada requires that smaller ships – those more than 13 meters long – reduce speeds, probably reflecting the new information.

While researchers identified a “threshold speed” of 5 knots for large cargo ships as the point at which collisions lessen the chance of being fatal, slow speeds make it difficult for large ships to maintain safe control.

And the physics of large vessels means speed restrictions alone aren’t enough to ward off the threat of extinction.

Instead, the federal government and marine industries need to be more ambitious in how they respond to the prospect of more fatalities, says Brillant, acknowledging that further action is a “difficult prospect”.

As well as closing off shipping to areas frequented by the whales, he points to early warning systems or rethinking how ships are constructed as ways of lessening the chance that human action – or inaction – kills right whales.

“We obviously need to evolve our industries on the ocean in a way that doesn’t accidentally drive species to extinction,” said Brillant. “Just because it’s being done by mistake doesn’t mean it’s an acceptable outcome.”



Government Proposes First Take Permit for Condor Deaths at a Wind Farm

As endangered California Condors recover, they are veering toward wind turbines. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing for the inevitable.

By Hannah Waters, Senior Editor, Audubon magazine, Dec. 23, 2020

The California Condor is perhaps America’s most iconic endangered species and conservation success story. In the 1980s, the wild population dwindled to just 25 birds, which were brought into captivity as a last resort. By the end of 2019, 337 California Condors soared over the West Coast. It’s still an endangered species, but biologists’ hard work rearing condor chicks and releasing them to the wild has paid off. The population continues to recover and expand.

But the condors may soon be a victim of their own success. This week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the federal agency charged with protecting condors and other endangered species, announced a draft plan five years in the making to allow an energy company to kill a small number of condors at a southern California wind farm. To get the permit, which would apply only to condors killed incidentally (as opposed to intentionally), the company would have to fund efforts, costing millions of dollars, to both prevent condor-turbine collisions and ensure more condors are released to the wild.

The plan is not final, and the agency is seeking public opinion on the proposal through February 5, 2021. While it is almost certainly going to spark a firestorm among conservation advocates, the plan is also an acknowledgement of an uncomfortable truth: that conservationists’ goals—expanding renewable energy to address climate change and recovering endangered species—are not always in alignment. Indeed, the condors and wind turbines appear to be on a collision course.

California Condors once ranged across North America. But a bevy of human impacts, including shooting, poisoning, egg collecting, and lead poisoning from ammo, largely driven by European colonizers, squeezed the birds into a narrower and narrower range. FWS listed the species as federally endangered in 1967 and launched a captive-breeding program in 1982. By 1987, after the last wild California Condors were brought into captivity, the birds were extinct in the wild.

Since then, the species has undergone a remarkable comeback. Biologists figured out how to get the massive raptors to breed in captivity, and by the late 1990s around 20 young condors were produced every year and released to the wild. The birds have since recolonized Baja California, Mexico, northern Arizona, southern Utah, southern California, and central California. Next year, the Yurok Tribe in partnership with FWS plans to release the first condors in northern California.

The potential condor-turbine collision site addressed in the new draft plan is in southern California’s Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County. Since 1992, FWS biologists have released captive-bred condors 75 miles to the west of here, at Sespe Condor Sanctuary within the Los Padres National Forest. As the population has grown—up to 99 individuals in 2019 from six in 1992—the condors’ range has expanded, too. In 2017, GPS transmitters showed that the wide-ranging scavengers soared across 17,500 square miles of southern California territory—a range expansion of 7,000 square miles in five years.

That expansion has pushed them into a dangerous area: the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains, where the spinning rotors of more than 4,000 wind turbines put the scavengers at risk of collision. The Tehachapi Wind Resource Area, a patchwork of wind farms owned by around a dozen private companies, produces more than half of California’s wind energy. The first turbines were built here in 1986, and more have been added through the years. Last year Amazon proposed a new addition to meet its climate change goals.

The draft permit plan published by FWS this week aims to address the coming conflict at the Manzana Wind Power Project, which encompasses 126 turbines in the Tehachapi wind area. The draft plan is a first test of a larger strategy to address condor mortality at wind farms in southern California and beyond, as recovering populations expand into industrial areas that have already been developed

“These wind projects are not proposed projects: They’re out there, producing renewable energy today. Whether or not we issue these permits, the turbines will be spinning tomorrow,” says Peter Sanzenbacher, a FWS wildlife biologist who’s been working on the Tehachapi condor problem since 2016. “We are trying to get out ahead of this.”

The permit would allow Manzana to incidentally “take” (legalese for kill, harass, or harm) two free-flying California Condors, and two associated eggs or chicks that could die in the nest as a result, over the next 30 years. To date, there are no known condor deaths caused by collision with wind turbines in Tehachapi or anywhere else in the country. But large raptors, including Golden Eagles, have died after colliding with turbines here.

To compensate for these losses, Manzana will commit to protecting southern California’s condors from its turbines for 30 years. They have a head start: In 2018, the company installed a geofence around their property, which tracks GPS-tagged condors in the area. If a tagged condor enters a defined danger zone around the wind farm, third-party contractors located 20 miles away alert Manzana so they can shut down turbines near the approaching condor. In 2019, 81 percent of the southern California population was outfitted with GPS tags. If the draft plan is approved, this geofence will no longer be voluntary for the company, and instead will become mandatory for 30 years. In addition, staff will monitor the farm for dead livestock (which graze in the area) and other carcasses that might attract condors, to swiftly hide or remove them.

As part of the draft plan, Manzana will also provide funding to help rear new condors at the Oregon Zoo to replace any killed by their turbines. Right now, the zoo has two full-time staff working with 11 pairs of breeding condors to produce chicks for release. Under the mitigation scheme, Manzana will fund an additional full-time condor keeper at the zoo, which would allow them to support more breeding condor pairs. The draft plan proposes that the wind operator fund this position until this staffer rears and releases six additional adult condors into the wild.

The draft plan puts the cost of maintaining the geofence for 30 years at Manzana $8.5 million. Funding an Oregon Zoo condor keeper will cost just over $500,000 over five years.

The condor-turbine collision course puts bird conservationists in a tricky situation, too. Climate change is a significant threat to bird populations and species nationwide. A 2019 report from the National Audubon Society found that 389 bird species could see their ranges shrink significantly as climate change alters their habitats, placing them at risk of extinction. That makes installing wind energy and other renewable energy sources to replace fossil fuels, which emit the carbon emissions warming Earth’s atmosphere, a top priority for many environmentalists. But they must walk a tightrope because wind turbine blades can kill birds, so facilities must be installed in the correct places, away from important bird migration corridors and habitat.

Audubon’s science and clean energy teams are currently analyzing the new documents. “The Fish and Wildlife Service and Avangrid Renewables [the owner of the Manzana Wind Project] have been keeping Audubon informed on the progress of this application for almost a year, so we were expecting this—although not as a holiday present,” says Garry George, director of Audubon’s Clean Energy Initiative. “We’ll file comments on the permit application in early February. Audubon has a long history of working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the recovery of condors in California.”

This draft permit also points to larger issues around endangered species planning and habitat designation. The condors had been released in the Los Padres National Forest on an ongoing basis for 20 years when Manzana Wind began its operations not far away. Yet the wind farm was built anyway, seemingly blind to the incoming collision if California Condors successfully reestablished the population.

“It doesn’t seem like a good place to have put one in the first place. Wind developers aren’t paying sufficient attention to these issues ahead of time,” says Mike Parr, president of the American Bird Conservancy. “The only way a species can recover is by occupying habitat they are not currently living in. If you’ve already filled that habitat with wind turbines, how are they going to recover?”


The Daily Chronicle (Centralia, WA)

New Whale-Watching Restrictions Enacted to Protect Southern Resident Orcas

Lynda V. Mapes / The Seattle Times, Dec. 22, 2020

New rules that significantly restrict whale watching of endangered southern resident orcas have been adopted by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The rules include a mandatory no-go zone for commercial whale-watch tours along the west side of San Juan Island year-round, except for a 100-yard wide corridor next to the shore for commercial kayak tours.

The rules also impose a three-month, July to September season when commercial viewing of the endangered orcas by motorized tours at closer range than half a nautical mile is limited to two, two-hour daily periods. Watching during those windows was further limited to three tour boats per group of orcas at any one time.

Watching calves younger than one year old is prohibited. If vulnerable orcas, such as thin, sick or injured animals, are discovered in the population, they too could be set off limits for tours by emergency rulemaking.

The rules also set license application processes for commercial whale watching as well as requirements for reporting and training.

Recreational boaters under existing rules must stay at least 300 yards from southern resident killer whales and at least 400 yards out of their path or behind the whales. They must also cut their speed to 7 knots within a half-mile of southern resident orcas.

Listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2005, there are only 74 southern resident orcas left. Primary risks identified so far to their survival include noise and disturbance from vessels; a lack of adequate, quality chinook salmon; and pollutants.

The rules adopted Friday were several years in the making and created the state’s first licensing system for the industry.

The rules are intended to reduce the impact of vessel noise and disturbance on the orcas’ ability to feed, rest and socialize. Orcas hunt by sound. Underwater noise and boat disturbance make it more difficult for them to find already scarce food. Noise also forces orcas to expend more energy to communicate with one another, raising their voices to be heard.

The rules will take effect in early 2021 and affect only viewing of endangered southern resident orcas. Tours of humpback and gray whales and the far more numerous transient, or Bigg’s killer whales, may continue as before.

More than 4,000 people contacted the commission in support of more strict whale-watching rules to protect the southern residents. Only about 200 comments opposed tougher regulations.

The Pacific Whale Watch Association on Monday issued a news release stating the new rules would hamper the tour operators’ ability to provide a “sentinel role” on the water for the at-risk whales.

The nonprofit Orca Conservancy also argued the new rules will expose the whales to more noise from clueless recreational boaters and create a greater risk of vessel strike because of the reduction in professional whale-watch tours.

However, a report on the best available science on the effect of the tours by the Washington State Academy of Sciences Committee on Acoustics and Disturbance found there was insufficient evidence the tours play a sentinel role. Further research is needed to determine if the tours benefit the whales as operators claim — or in fact are a magnet for more noise and disturbance, the academy found.

The disturbance is consequential, according to a report prepared for the commission by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Commercial whale-watch boats make up more than half the boats in the vicinity of orcas, and the effect of vessel presence increases with boat numbers, the department found.

The only vote against the new rules came from a commissioner who wanted only one boat to be allowed in the presence of the orcas at a time, rather than three.

Amy Windrope, deputy director for the WDFW, said the rulemaking process was science-based and balanced the value of the whale-watching industry in continuing to provide access for boat-based whale watching with providing more quiet time for the southern residents.

“They help with education and connecting people with the southern residents, and this rule maintains that possibility,” Windrope said. Shore-based whale watching on the Whale Trail also provides viewing opportunities throughout the southern residents’ foraging range, she noted.

Tim Regan, who retired in 2013 after 13 years as science director and then executive director of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, said the science is more than adequate to justify the new restrictions.

The whale-watching industry on average has continued to increase in profitability, according to an economic analysis completed to inform the rulemaking process, and the southern residents are a small portion of the tour business.

“Everything suggests this is still a viable industry, with these restrictions,” Regan said. “This is what conservation is supposed to do. We have to change the way we are behaving.”

The regulations mark a shift to a more precautionary approach, Regan noted, in his mind, a good thing for a species at high risk of extinction.

“In many respects, I would have liked to see an even stronger outcome,” Regan said. “But I would say the commission did their job and deserves a lot of credit for stepping out and playing a leadership role.”


Center for Biological Diversity

December 21, 2020

Biden Urged to Sign Executive Order to End Extinction Crisis

Proposed Order Would Launch Bold Actions to Protect Endangered Wildlife in New Administration’s First Weeks

WASHINGTON— More than 135 groups today called on president-elect Joe Biden to take immediate action to confront the extinction crisis by signing an executive order that would declare the extinction crisis to be a national emergency, among other steps.

The proposed executive order illustrates how Biden can take bold, aggressive actions without Congress in his first weeks in office. The new president could position the United States as a leader in the fight to combat extinction, protect public lands and waters, curtail the international wildlife trade and restore abundant wildlife populations across the nation.

“The time for half measures has passed. President Biden must take bold, immediate action to end extinction because the survival of not just wildlife but humanity is now at stake,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The latest assessment by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature found that 27% of evaluated species of plants and animals around the globe are threatened with extinction. Last year, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, known as IPBES, warned that 1 million species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. And, as evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, trafficking and exploitation of wildlife could give rise to new and deadly zoonotic diseases if allowed to continue unchecked.

By signing the proposed executive order, President Biden would launch the following key actions:

+Declare that the extinction crisis is a national emergency, which would give Biden increased latitude under the National Emergencies Act to take action without approval from Congress.

+Create 175 new national monuments, national wildlife refuges and national marine sanctuaries so that 30% of U.S. lands and waters are conserved by 2030 and 50% by 2050.

+Aggressively recover imperiled species by protecting all species that warrant it under the Endangered Species Act and instituting a broad review by all federal agencies of any actions that might harm threatened wildlife and plants. Further, federal agencies would be directed to fully integrate climate change into the conservation and recovery of endangered species.

+Crack down on the global wildlife trade by imposing sanctions on any nation that fails to adequately address illegal wildlife trade or deforestation.

“The trifecta of the extinction crisis, climate emergency and pandemic illustrate that Biden has no choice but to safeguard the natural world as a matter of highest priority. The long-term wellbeing of our country depends on how intrepid Biden is willing to be in the next four years,” said Curry.

The executive order is part of a suite of proposals the Center and allies will submit to Biden and his transition team in coming weeks. These include actions to stop new fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters and addressing the climate emergency.

Most of the actions suggested in today’s proposed order were previously outlined in Saving Life on Earth, a groundbreaking plan to fight extinction released by the Center in January. Now a dedicated campaign within the Center, the Saving Life on Earth plan calls for $100 billion for species; for half the Earth to be protected for wildlife; and for dramatic cuts in pollution and plastics.


Chesapeake Bay Magazine


December 21, 2020

Virginia’s Pamunkey Indian Tribe recently wrapped up a three-year Species Recovery Grant from NOAA Fisheries to study the Atlantic sturgeon stock and water quality in their home river—logging key research on the ancient endangered species.

Atlantic sturgeon are a prehistoric fish, in existence for more than 120 million years. They are the Chesapeake Bay’s largest fish, documented to grow up to 14 feet. They can live to be 60 years old.

And they are closely tied to the Pamunkey’s own heritage. When English settlers arrived in 1607, they described sturgeon as so plentiful that you could walk from one side of the river to the other on their backs. Their population has declined steeply, and the Atlantic sturgeon was declared an endangered species in 2012.

Like shad, Pamunkey leaders say sturgeon were important to tribal culture and spiritual life. Now, they see them as a key indicator of river health.

In the study, members of the tribe worked in the field and lab with Dr. Chris Hager of Chesapeake Scientific, LLC and under his scientific collecting permits for handling the endangered sturgeon.

Dr. Hager has been studying sturgeon in the Pamunkey River since 2012, in partnership with scientists from NOAA and the U.S. Navy. This grant extended that work for the 2018-2020 spawning seasons. The team, which included tribal citizens April Deacy and Desiree Nuckols, has documented

spawning in the Pamunkey and gathered enough evidence to suspect spawning in the Mattaponi as well. The work firmly establishes the enduring presence of these remarkable fish in the York River system.

The goals of the Pamunkey grant included creating an ecological picture of the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers through water quality monitoring; developing a Pamunkey Riverkeeper program to foster improved stewardship; improving models of the rivers to better understand Atlantic Sturgeon spawning habitats; calculating the spawning populations in the rivers; and determining the validity of off-the-shelf side scan sonar for enumerating sturgeon.

In the process, the team caught, measured, implanted acoustic tags in, and took DNA samples from both adult and subadult sturgeon during the fall spawning runs while maintaining an acoustic receiver array in the York River system to gather data on their movements. The tasks this winter will be to finalize a report on the three-year project and plan its next steps.

NOAA grants like this one support tribally led management, research, monitoring, and outreach activities that have direct conservation benefits for species listed under the Endangered Species Act. The tribe produced this (a) twelve-minute video, Connecting Currents, The Pamunkey River, about its members’ efforts to sustain the health of their home waters.

More information on the project is available on the Pamunkey Tribe’s website, including three years of water quality data, a photo gallery of fieldwork with the sturgeon, a short essay on “Sturgeon and the Pamunkey Indian Culture,” and diagrams of the methods members of the tribe used to trap the fish early in the twentieth century.

-John Page Williams


KPVI TV (Pocatello, ID)

Grizzly reintroduction plan headed to court

ROB CHANEY, December 19, 2020

An on-again/off-again plan to reintroduce grizzly bears to the North Cascades region of Washington will get a federal court review after the Interior Department abruptly canceled it last summer.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipworth and National Park Service Director Margaret Everson on Wednesday, alleging the Trump Administration officials illegally terminated the environmental impact statement that would have guided restoring grizzlies to the North Cascades Ecosystem.

Although it’s one of six long-standing recovery areas for grizzlies in the Lower 48 states, the North Cascades National Park and surrounding public lands may have only four or fewer bears residing there. Both Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service documents have described them as “the most at-risk grizzly bear population in the United States today.”

Because of habitat loss and conflicts with ranchers and farmers over the past century, grizzly bears are classified as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. While the 95,000-square-mile North Cascades Ecosystem joins potential grizzly habitat across the Canadian border in British Columbia, those Canadian grizzly populations have also suffered drastic population declines.

Interior officials and the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee started developing a plan to transplant grizzly bears into the North Cascades in 2015. President Donald Trump’s new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke put the plan on hold shortly after taking office in 2017, but then ordered the EIS to continue in 2018.

Interior officials then reopened a public comment period on the plan in 2019, and a year later, new Interior Secretary Bernhardt announced a decision to “discontinue the proposal to develop and implement a grizzly bear restoration plan for the North Cascades Ecosystem” and terminate the EIS work. Bernhardt’s announcement was praised by some Washington Congress members and local ranchers.

However, it was also challenged by a wide range of local wildlife advocates and conservation groups. The Center for Biological Diversity warned the Interior Department it intended to sue in July, and last week carried through on the challenge.

“The Trump administration’s purely political decision to axe this conservation program was a massive blow to the grizzly bear recovery program,” CBD attorney Andrea Zaccardi wrote in an email statement. “We’re hopeful that our lawsuit will put grizzly bears in the North Cascades back on the road to recovery.

“Grizzly bears once thrived in the North Cascades and they could again, but only if the feds do their job,” Zaccardi added. “Abandonment of efforts to restore bears to this area would ensure the local extinction of grizzlies in Washington. We’re not going to let that happen.”

FWS spokeswoman Dana Bivens said on Thursday that the agency had received the complaint and was reviewing it, but had not further comment.

About 2,000 grizzly bears inhabit the northern Rocky Mountains south of Canada, with most in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem in Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Before the agricultural settlement of the West, an estimated 50,000 grizzlies roamed the West between Canada and Mexico. The grizzly was given threatened ESA status in 1975.

(This article originally ran on


Endangered Species Coalition

Press Release, December 18, 2020

Trafficked: 10 Species Threatened By The Wildlife Trade

New Report Calls for End to Wildlife Trafficking, Unsustainable Trade of Plants, Wildlife

Washington, DC – Wildlife and plant trafficking and unsustainable wildlife trade is a multi-billion-dollar industry and a major threat to species in the U.S. and worldwide, according to a report released today by the Endangered Species Coalition. The report, Trafficked: 10 Species Threatened by the Wildlife Trade, highlights how legal and illegal commerce in rare plants and wildlife is driving species decline, and in some cases, posing a threat to human health.

Several of the species in the report are part of the global pet trade, such as the yellow-headed parrot and the Tokay gecko. Others are sought for food or medicinal properties, including the Scalloped hammerhead shark, pinto abalone and the pangolin – a scaly, armadillo-like creature, thought to be involved in the transmission of the novel coronavirus. Still others are coveted as “collectables,” including the Venus flytrap and the rufous hummingbird. The Diamondback terrapin of the U.S. Gulf Coast is trapped and traded for pets and food. Wildlife trade is one of the leading causes of the extinction crisis we are experiencing according to the IPBES Global Assessment Report.

“Wildlife trafficking and trade is a multi-billion-dollar industry that threatens fish, plants and wildlife, as well as human communities,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “We need governments and leaders around the world to commit to ending wildlife trade and trafficking, while developing alternative, sustainable economic opportunities for communities.”

The Wildlife Trade and Infectious Diseases

Scientists believe that the novel coronavirus now sweeping the planet, COVID-19, jumped from wildlife to humans, quite possibly via a pangolin – the most trafficked mammal in the world and one of the ten species featured in the report. Similarly, SARS, Ebola and HIV all likely originated from the exploitation of wildlife. In fact, the vast majority of new infectious diseases that have emerged in recent years are “zoonotic” diseases, and climate change is exacerbating the threat. In order to protect human health and prevent more pandemics, the report calls for new policies, enforcement, and a commitment to end wildlife trafficking and unsustainable wildlife trade. Some members of Congress have started work to address wildlife trafficking, including Senators John Cornyn and Cory Booker, who have crafted the bipartisan Preventing Future Pandemics Act of 2020. The bill would prohibit the sale of live wild animals for food – thought to be the cause of COVID-19 – but has yet to be heard in committee.

10 Species Threatened by the Wildlife Trade:

Pinto abalone

Diamondback terrapin

Scalloped hammerhead shark


Rufous hummingbird

Saguaro cactus


Tokay gecko

Venus flytrap

Yellow-headed parrot

Endangered Species Coalition’s member groups nominated species for the report. A committee of distinguished scientists reviewed the nominations and chose the finalists. The full report, along with photos can be viewed and downloaded here: The Endangered Species Coalition produces a Top 10 report annually, focusing on a different theme each year. Previous years’ reports are also available on the Coalition’s website.


Courthouse News Service

Fight Is On to Save Critically Endangered Red Squirrel in Arizona

Forest fires and development have nearly decimated the Mt. Graham red squirrel, with only about 100 left in their “bottleneck habitat.”

December 18, 2020, Brad Poole

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) — Encroaching development and wildfires exacerbated by climate change have conspired to leave a squirrel species unique to a tiny niche of Arizona forest teetering near extinction.

Mt. Graham, a 10,000-foot peak in the Pinaleño Mountains, is home to a University of Arizona observatory, a telescope owned by the Vatican, an abandoned church camp, and 14 privately owned summer cabins — all of which threaten the Mt. Graham red squirrel.

The sub-species, thought to be extinct by the 1950s but rediscovered in the 1970s, was added to the Endangered Species List in 1987. It has been squeezed in recent years by competing squirrels, wildfires, and firefighting efforts — including prescribed burns and the cutting of fire breaks which destroy the squirrels’ “middens” or food caches.

A recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey counted just 109 individuals. That’s up from a low point of fewer than 40, but those squirrels face a forest so fractured that only a handful of the animals still live in federally recognized habitat. Most have been forced to lower elevations.

If nothing changes the squirrels will soon be extinct according to Robin Silver, a founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit that has sued the federal government over the squirrels a dozen times in the past 30 years.

“It might be 20 years. It might be 100 years,” Silver said. “We don’t know that they’ve ever faced as severe a habitat bottleneck as they are facing right now. We know that when species go extinct, it’s usually because of loss of habitat, and that’s where we are now.”

In June, the Center for Biological Diversity, Maricopa Audubon Society, and Mount Graham Coalition sued the directors of the U.S. Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Department of the Interior over protection of the squirrels.

The government is not properly studying the impact of the cabins and vacant church camp, which don’t have proper permits, the lawsuit claims. The conservationists asked the court to block use of the camp and cabins and to force the government to develop a plan including removal of the buildings.

The Fish and Wildlife Service declined comment on the lawsuit, but biologist Marit Alanen said efforts to save the squirrel species are ongoing and include replanting in areas where fires and bark beetle infestation destroyed habitat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has culled about 400 Abert’s squirrels — a non-native competitor of the red squirrels that was introduced in the mountain range in the 1940s when the red squirrels were thought to be extinct, Alanen said.

“It will be impossible to remove all Abert’s squirrels from the Pinaleño Mountains considering how rugged the mountain is and how populous the Abert’s squirrel is, which is why the project focuses on areas currently providing red squirrel habitat to try to reduce resource competition with red squirrels present in those areas,” Alanen said in an email.

Although Mt. Graham is not on recognized tribal land, it is sacred to the San Carlos Apache Nation according to Wendsler Nosie Sr., a former chairman of the tribe whose reservation sits just north and west of Mt. Graham. Dził Nchaa Si’An, as the tribe knows the mountain, is the home of their deity, he said.

In 1997, Nosie was arrested for trespassing on University of Arizona property when he went to Mt. Graham to pray for his daughter’s coming of age. It was a turning point for the San Carlos Apaches, who along with Arizona’s Yavapai Indians were forced onto the reservation in 1872.

“When I was arrested, it really changed everything for us here,” said Nosie, who grew up in the shadow of Mt. Graham. “We were no longer going to believe the Forest Service and other federal agencies, that they were protecting our interests, protecting our religious rights. It was a new beginning for us to know that none of these places were safe under the Forest Service.”

Much like the Apaches themselves, the squirrels were forced onto a reservation — their designated habitat — and will never be allowed to return to their homeland on the developed areas of the mountain.

“If you look at what happened to us, it’s happening to them, so we can relate to them,” he said.

Nosie considers the red squirrel a bastion, blocking further development of the land he considers sacred. The way things stand, the land is protected by the Endangered Species Act, under which the squirrel’s habitat is protected. But if the squirrel is extinct that protection goes away, clearing the path for corporations to come for natural resources like minerals or the trees themselves, Nosie said.

“That’s what scares me,” he said. “Once you remove them, once they die out, then the land is up for grabs.”

Much of the squirrel’s habitat was lost in two fires and the efforts to contain them — the 2004 Nutall Complex and 2017 Frye Fire, Alanen said.

“After the 2004 Nuttall Complex fire, only about (750 acres) of spruce-fir remained, comprised of relatively small trees mixed with fallen and standing insect-killed timber,” he said. “After the 2017 Frye Fire only (35 acres) of spruce-fir forest remain.”

A big part of the problem came during the Nuttall Complex Fire when, in an effort to protect telescopes, the Forest Service ordered what Silver called an unnecessary “arson event” — a back-burn to halt the fire in the higher elevations. Then in 2017, the lower elevation habitat burned, Silver said.

“So now the squirrels are just holed up in isolated pockets” trapped by large areas with no forest canopy where the squirrels travel, he said.

Silver hopes the incoming Biden administration will offer a new landscape for the squirrels and other endangered species. But he is skeptical, given the early hints the president-elect is tapping former officials and not a new generation of leaders for his administration.

“We have to remain hopeful,” Silver said. “If Biden appoints the same people who were there when Clinton was there or when Bush was there, then we’re going to have a problem.”


FOX 11 News

US wildlife agency gives more deference to economic benefits

by The Associated Press, December 17th, 2020

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Trump administration finalized a proposal Thursday that will allow the government to deny habitat protections for endangered animals and plants in areas that would see greater economic benefits from being developed.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said the rule gives more deference to local governments when they want to build things like hospitals or schools. It also allows exemptions from habitat protections for a much broader array of developments, including at the request of private companies that lease federal lands or have permits to use them.

Critics argue the change would open lands to more energy development and other activities at the expense of imperiled plants and wildlife.

The change is part of the administration’s years-long effort to repeal regulations across government, which has broadly changed how the Endangered Species Act gets used. Other steps under Trump to scale back species rules include adoption earlier this week of a proposal to restrict what areas fit under the definition of “habitat”.

Animals that could be affected by the latest changes include the struggling lesser prairie chicken, a grasslands bird found in five states in the south-central U.S., and the rare dunes sagebrush lizard that lives among the oil fields of western Texas and eastern New Mexico, wildlife advocates said.

The changes were triggered by a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving a highly endangered Southern frog — the dusky gopher frog.

In that case, a unanimous court faulted the government over how it designated a “critical habitat” for the 3 1/2-inch-long frogs that survive in just a few ponds in Mississippi. The ruling came after a timber company, Weyerhaeuser, had sued when land it owned in Louisiana was designated as critical.


NRDC Press Release

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Habitat for Critically Endangered Rusty Patched BumbleBee

December 16, 2020

WASHINGTON — NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas today issued a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for refusing to designate critical habitat for the highly endangered rusty patched bumblebee. 

Despite the bee’s disappearance from 87% of its native range, the Service announced in September that designating critical habitat for the species was “not prudent,” claiming that availability of habitat does not limit the bee’s conservation. The decision contradicted the agency’s own findings that habitat loss and degradation have contributed to the bee’s decline, worsened by the widespread use of insecticides and herbicides that directly kill the bee and the wildflowers it needs to survive.

“We have no other option but to take action against this administration for its failure to designate habitat for the rusty patched bumblebee,” said Lucas Rhoads, staff attorney for the Pollinator Initiative at NRDC. “The Service’s excuses for failing to protect the bee’s home have no basis in either the agency’s own science or the law. This species can recover from its devastating decline only if we use every tool at our disposal to protect the bee and its habitat.”

The rusty patched bumblebee was once common in the Midwest and the Northeast but  was protected as endangered in 2017. In addition to habitat loss and degradation, climate change and disease have also contributed to its decline.

“The Service’s refusal to provide the habitat protections this gravely imperiled bee so desperately needs is a betrayal of its mission to protect endangered species,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center. “This beautiful bumblebee was once common across much of the country. But if we don’t protect the places where it breeds and feeds it will continue on its path toward extinction.” 

“In 2019, the rusty patched bumblebee was declared by the legislature as Minnesota’s ‘official bee,’” said Tom Casey, board chair of Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas. “We need to do everything we can to preserve and enhance habitat for this endangered pollinator.”


The rusty patched bumblebee was protected under the Endangered Species Act in January 2017 after a petition from the Xerces Society followed by a lawsuit by NRDC. The Service then failed to designate critical habitat by the statutory deadline, prompting another lawsuit by NRDC in 2019. A legal settlement with NRDC required the agency to move forward with a critical habitat determination in summer of 2020.

The decline of the rusty patched bumblebee is part of a troubling trend of declines in many of the 4,000-plus species of native bees in the United States. 

Native bees often provide more effective pollination of native plants than honeybees, which are not native to the United States. Wild pollinator declines across North America are caused by habitat loss, agricultural intensification, pesticide use, invasive non-native species, climate change and pathogens. 

About 90% of wild plants and 75% of leading global food crops — including 35% of the global food supply — depend on animal pollinators for reproduction, and the great majority of that work is done by bees.  

Despite the growing evidence of declining bee populations, the rusty patched bumblebee is the only bee in the continental United States currently protected under the Endangered Species Act.


AG Becerra Condemns Trump Administration’s Latest Attempt to Undermine Endangered Species Act Protections

by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, December 16, 2020

SACRAMENTO, December 16, 2020 – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today issued the following statement in response to an announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) of a final rule that adds a new, restrictive definition of “habitat” to regulations for making critical habitat designations under the federal Endangered Species Act. The rule is expected to result in reduced habitat protections for many endangered and threatened species.

“In California, we treasure the hundreds of endangered species that make their home in this state and recognize the need for more protections – not less,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The fact that the Trump Administration is going out of its way to undermine Endangered Species Act protections on its way out the door shows just how misaligned its priorities are.”

Enacted under the Nixon Administration in 1973, the Endangered Species Act is intended “to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost.” Under the Endangered Species Act, FWS is responsible for listing species as “endangered” or “threatened” and designating “critical habitat” for each such species. Areas designated as critical habitat are provided with significant protections to ensure that species have the ability to recover to sustainable population levels so that they no longer need to be listed. While the Endangered Species Act does not define “habitat,” FWS’s long-held position has been that habitat is best determined on a species-by-species basis in order to account for the divergent types of life histories, behavior patterns, and survival strategies of the listed species. Under the final rule, however, FWS would use a new, narrow definition of “habitat” for purposes of critical habitat designations, limiting the FWS’s ability to recover imperiled species by reducing the amount and type of critical habitat that can be protected.

On September 4, 2020, Attorney General Becerra led a coalition of 17 attorneys general in submitting comments opposing the proposed rule.



Trump admin shrinks habitat protections of endangered species

By Darryl Coote

Dec. 15 (UPI) — The Trump administration adopted a new rule Tuesday that narrows the definition of what constitutes a habitat under the Endangered Species Act that environmentalists say will threaten the conservation of animals.

Under the new regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior shrank the definition of “critical habitat” to areas “currently or periodically” required for a listed endangered species to live.

The old definition provided protections for habitats animals listed as endangered currently live in, habitats they once lived in but were forced out due climate change or development and habitats they may be forced to relocate to in the future due to these factors.

The department argued in the document the change was responding to a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that sided with a company whose land had been designated as critical habitat of the dusky gopher frog, which once lived in the area in question.

The Supreme Court ruled the department didn’t take into consideration the millions of dollars of economic loss to the company compared to the benefits of the designation to the frog.

The department argued that the change in definition was made in light of the Supreme Court decision to make regulations clearer and consistent and to ensure that any area designated as critical habitat must also be habitat for the species.

“This action will bring greater clarity and consistency to how the service designates critical habitat,” Rob Wallace, assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife Parks, said in a statement. “Making the Endangered Species Act more effective at conserving imperiled wildlife and more transparent and user friendly for stakeholders represents a win-win for everyone.”

The new regulation is the second rollback of protections under the Endangered Species Act by the Trump administration after it proposed changes last year.

Environmental groups on Tuesday charged the Trump administration of torching wildlife protections as it heads out the door.

“This administration is leaving office with a scorched earth policy for wildlife,” Addie Haughey, the legislative director for lands, wildlife and oceans at Earthjustice, said in a statement. “The Trump administration finalized this rule just under the wire to make it harder for species to survive and recover — the exact opposite of what we should be doing under the Endangered Species Act.”

Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest environmental law organization, said the new rule undercuts wildlife conservation amid climate change by prohibiting new habitat designations for species in migration due to rising temperatures and other conditions.

It said the rule is especially damaging in places such as Hawaii where habitat is limited for native species.

The National Resources Defense Council called the new regulation an attack on laws that protect wildlife.

“We need to call this out for what it is: a blatant disregard for our nation’s wildlife and wild places, in favor of more oil and gas development and habitat destruction,” Rebecca Riley, legal director of the NRDC’s Nature Program, said in a statement. “This administration continues to favor special interests over the interests of most Americans, who favor species protections.”

Meanwhile, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate committee on environment and public works, said he applauded the rule, stating it will make the Endangered Species Act “work better for wildlife and people.”

“This final rule will more clearly define habitat and protect species in a more focused way,” he said in a statement. “It will deliver commonsense protections for endangered species and the habitat they depend on.”

The move follows the Trump administration issuing several new regulatory changes after last month’s presidential election, including sweeping amendments to immigration rules that tighten asylum standards and the weakening of laws protecting migratory birds, among others.


ABC (7) Eyewitness News (Chicago)

Conservation groups sue government over refusal to protect wolverines

By JULIA JACOBO, December 15, 2020

A coalition of conservation groups has filed a lawsuit against the federal government over its decision to not protect the population of wolverines in the contiguous United States.

The wolverine, a mammal that resembles a small bear with a bushy tail, typically lives in the western mountains throughout Alaska and Canada, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but they have also lived in habitats in the contiguous U.S.

Less than 300 wolverines now remain in the lower 48 states, where they used to roam as far south as New Mexico. Now, small, fragmented populations exist in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Wyoming and northeast Oregon, according to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to withhold protection for the wolverine population under the Endangered Species Act will impede the conservation efforts needed to prevent extinction of the species as a result of climate change, habitat fragmentation and lack of genetic diversity, according to the groups’ lawsuit.

The government “has stonewalled” federal protections for the wolverine for decades, said Dave Werntz, the science and conservation director at Conservation Northwest.

A petition to include wolverines under the Endangered Species Act, which protects and recovers imperiled species and the ecosystems on which they depend, was filed in 2000. In 2007, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would review the status for the species.

Over the past 20 years since the petition was filed, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been sued five separate times, twice for inaction in decision-making and three times for failing to properly consider science when denying protection under the Environmental Protection Act, said Katie Bilodeau, attorney for Idaho-based conservation group Friends of the Clearwater. In each lawsuit, the court found the agency’s decision unlawful, or the agency chose not to defend its decision, Bilodeau said in a statement.

While the Fish and Wildlife Service did propose to list the wolverine species in the contiguous United States as “threatened” in 2013, the agency withdrew that proposal this October, saying the species does not face an imminent threat due to climate change.

“New research and analysis show that wolverine populations in the American Northwest remain stable,” the Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement that month.

But the conservation groups say climate change is causing the mountain snowpack that wolverines rely on as their primary habitat to melt away.

“The wolverine is a famously tough creature that doesn’t back down from anything, but even the wolverine can’t overcome climate change by itself,” Amanda Galvan, an attorney for the nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice, said in a statement. “To survive, the wolverine needs the protections that only the Endangered Species Act can provide.”

In addition, wolverine populations are at risk from trapping and human disturbance, according to the conservation groups that filed the lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed Monday also accuses the agency of ignoring and failing to utilize the “best available scientific information” in its decision, court documents show. The lawsuit seeks an order for the Fish and Wildlife Service to publish “a new final listing determination” within six months.

The other groups involved in the lawsuit include Defenders of Wildlife, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Sierra Club and Rocky Mountain Wild.

The USFWS defended its decision in a statement to ABC News.

“We stand by our decision to withdraw the listing proposal,” the statement read. “The best available science shows that the factors affecting wolverine populations are not as significant as believed in 2013 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the wolverine found in the contiguous United States as threatened. New research and analysis show that wolverine populations in the American Northwest remain stable, and individuals are moving across the Canadian border in both directions and returning to former territories. The species, therefore, does not meet the definition of threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.”

****** (Bedford, IN)

Bald Eagle Removed from State Endangered List

December 15, 2020

The Natural Resources Commission (NRC) recently removed the bald eagle from Indiana’s list of state endangered and special concern species due to evidence of successful recovery.

The recovery of the bald eagle is one of the greatest conservation success stories in Indiana. Habitat loss, the hat-making trade, and persecution once caused dramatic declines in eagle numbers, leading to the last eagle nest being found in Indiana in 1897. Nationwide, bald eagle populations continued to decline throughout the 1950s and 60s because pesticides, like DDT, interfered with their ability to reproduce.

A combination of legislative changes and conservation efforts put bald eagles on the road to recovery. The U.S. Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act in 1940 to prevent the killing of bald eagles. DDT was banned nationwide in 1972. In 1973, bald eagles were one of the first species listed as federally endangered under the Endangered Species Act. State agencies began restoration efforts to meet conservation goals for eagles as a result of this listing.

Indiana DNR reintroduced bald eagles to the state from 1985–1989. During this time, 73 eaglets from Wisconsin and Alaska were raised and released at Monroe Lake to restore a breeding population in Indiana. The first successful nesting occurred in 1991.

By 2007, the U.S. national symbol was declared recovered and removed from the federal endangered species list. Indiana followed suit in 2008, upgrading the bald eagle from a state-endangered species to a species of special concern after reaching a goal of 50 nesting pairs. This was a significant achievement—no eagles were known to have nested in the state from around 1900–1988.

In just 35 years, the bald eagle went from extirpated in Indiana to a thriving population statewide. This year, biologists estimated Indiana supported about 300 nesting pairs across 84 counties. In the last five years, at least one bald eagle nest has been documented in 88 of Indiana’s 92 counties. Chick production was also up by 11% from 2019 to 2020.

The bald eagle reintroduction program was the first endangered species restoration project in Indiana. This project and ongoing research would not be possible without donations to the Indiana Nongame Wildlife Fund, the main funding source of all nongame and endangered species research and management.


WBTV (Charlotte, NC)

Feds to delay seeking legal protection for monarch butterfly

By JOHN FLESHER, December 15, 2020

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Federal officials on Tuesday declared the monarch butterfly “a candidate” for threatened or endangered status, but said no action would be taken for several years because of the many other species awaiting that designation.

Environmentalists said delaying that long could spell disaster for the beloved black-and-orange butterfly, once a common sight in backyard gardens, meadows and other landscapes now seeing its population dwindling.

The monarch’s status will be reviewed annually, said Charlie Wooley, head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Great Lakes regional office. Emergency action could be taken earlier, but plans now call for proposing to list the monarch under the Endangered Species Act in 2024 unless its situation improves enough to make the step unnecessary.

The proposal would be followed by another year for public comment and development of a final rule. Listing would provide a number of legal protections, including a requirement that federal agencies consider effects on the butterfly or its habitat before allowing highway construction and other potentially damaging activities.

Scientists estimate the monarch population in the eastern U.S. has fallen about 80% since the mid-1990s, while the drop-off in the western U.S. has been even steeper.

“We conducted an intensive, thorough review using a rigorous, transparent science-based process and found that the monarch meets listing criteria under the Endangered Species Act,” Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith said in a statement. “However, before we can propose listing, we must focus resources on our higher-priority listing actions.”

Scientists will continue monitoring the butterfly’s numbers and the effectiveness of what Wooley described as perhaps the most widespread grassroots campaign ever waged to save an imperiled animal.

Since 2014, when environmental groups petitioned to list the monarch, school groups, garden clubs, government agencies and others around the nation have restored about 5.6 million acres (nearly 2.3 million hectares) of milkweed plants on which monarchs depend, Wooley said. They lay eggs on the leaves, which caterpillars eat, while adults gather nectar from the flowers.

The volunteer effort “has been phenomenal to see,” he said. “It has made a difference in the long-term survival of monarchs and helped other pollinators that are potentially in trouble.”

But advocacy groups say it has compensated for only a small fraction of the estimated 165 million acres (67 million hectares) of monarch habitat — an area the size of Texas — lost in the past 20 years to development or herbicide applications in cropland.

“Monarchs are too important for us to just plant flowers on roadsides and hope for the best,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “They need the comprehensive protection that comes only from the Endangered Species Act, which would save them and so many other beleaguered pollinators that share their habitat.”

The monarch’s plight is part of what the United Nations describes as a worldwide crisis threatening 1 million species — one of every eight on Earth — with extinction because of climate change, development and pollution.

Even so, the Trump administration has listed only 25 species — fewer than any since the act took effect in 1973. The Obama administration added 360.

Trump’s team also has weakened protections for endangered and threatened species in its push for deregulation. Among other changes, it limited consideration of climate change’s effects on animals when evaluating whether they should be listed.

Global warming is one of the biggest dangers to the monarch. It contributes to lengthening droughts and worsening storms that kill many during their annual migration.

About 90% of the world’s monarchs live in North America. Scientists measure their abundance by the size of the areas they occupy in Mexico and California, where they cluster during winter after flying thousands of miles from as far away as Canada.

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the larger eastern population declined from about 384 million in 1996 to a low of 14 million in 2013 before rebounding somewhat, reaching about 60 million last year.

But the California-based western group dropped from about 1.2 million in 1997 to fewer than 30,000 in 2019. Preliminary survey results this fall have turned up only about 2,000, said Lori Nordstrom, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s assistant regional director.

While such grim prospects qualify the monarch for listing, officials said the law allows delays when the agency has limited resources and must focus on higher-priority cases under consideration.

Species ahead in line might be worse off, or courts might have set deadlines for decisions on them.

The Great Lakes office, which is handling the monarch case, is considering nine others with higher-priority status. They include the little brown bat, the plains spotted skunk, the Illinois chorus frog, the golden-winged warbler, Blanding’s turtle, the Mammoth Springs crayfish, two freshwater mussels and a plant called Hall’s bulrush.

Advocacy groups said 47 species have gone extinct waiting to be listed.

“Protection for monarchs is needed — and warranted — now,” said George Kimbrell, legal director for the Center for Food Safety. “The Biden administration must follow the law and science and protect them.”

Also this week, the Fish and Wildlife Service said the northern spotted owl, listed as threatened in 1990, has declined enough since then to justify downgrading to “endangered” — or in peril of extinction. But it also was placed behind higher-priority cases.

Nordstrom said the timing of the announcements about the monarch and the spotted owl was coincidental and did not represent a trend toward finding species fit for listing yet putting them on a waiting list.


The News Guard (Lincoln City, OR)

Tufted puffins removed from listing as threatened or endangered

Hilary Dorsey, Staff Writer Dec. 12, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday, Dec. 2, that the tufted puffin, a charismatic seabird on the North Pacific Ocean, does not warrant listing as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The tufted puffin is a small black bird with a distinctive white mask, bright orange bill and golden tuffs of feathers on either side of its head. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife, it fishes the deep ocean for much of the year, but in summer months, can be seen nesting in burrows on island and cliffs along the coast.

“The most recent range-wide estimate of the species is approximately 3 million individuals, and about 82 percent of the known population appears to demonstrate stable or increasing trends,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife reported.

Climate change and oil spills pose the biggest threats to tufted puffins. The service’s status review found tufted puffins are undergoing a range contraction on the southern end of their range, but the species continues to be widely distributed across the northern part of its range and maintains high overall abundance.

“The tufted puffin is an essential member of the coastal and marine ecosystems in which it resides,” said Stewart Cogswell, supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Anchorage Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, in a press release. “Although the species does not warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act, we will continue to work with others to monitor and conserve this iconic seabird throughout its range.”

John Underwood, board member of Friends of Haystack Rock, said because the tufted puffin is no longer listed, there is no additional protection or government funding for research. Friends of Haystack Rock fund the research of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Scientists have put together a strategy to identify puffins in the California Current. The research involves trying to determine if the puffins are a distinct population segment. Under the Endangered Species Act, a distinct population segment is a vertebrate population or groups of populations that is distinct from other populations of the species and significant in relation to the entire species.

“We think they are distinct enough to qualify for this segment,” Underwood said.

According to Friends of Haystack Rock, Haystack Rock is home to the largest tufted puffin breeding colony in Oregon. These seabirds show up to the rock in early April and spend about 16 weeks at the rock.

Underwood said puffin populations are still declining. The population of tufted puffins has decreased dramatically at Haystack Rock and is in significant decline or has disappeared entirely from colonies in California, Oregon, Washington, Japan and the Gulf of Alaska.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife lays out a grid on the rock at Haystack to observe the birds, showing every burrow used, Underwood added. There used to be thousands of puffins at the rock; now there are less than 100. U.S. Fish and Wildlife goes out to the rock 3-4 days a week and monitors when puffins are bringing food back to the burrows.

“They meet at the same location every year,” Underwood said of the puffins.

Underwood calls the puffins an icon of Cannon Beach. People come from all over to see the iconic bird. The Great Puffin Watch, held over the Fourth of July weekend brings hundreds of people. People traveling to the area for the holiday weekend learn about the event from going to the beach and brochures in various hotels.

“We get the opportunity to educate folks about the puffins,” Underwood said of the event.

People who attend this event can view the puffins with birding scopes and binoculars. Underwood said this helps people feel like they bond with the birds.

“We can’t let these birds disappear,” Underwood said.

(Friends of Haystack Rock is actively raising funds to support research for the tufted puffins, as well as supporting other work done at Haystack Rock. To donate, visit


Oregon Public Broadcasting

Sunflower sea stars declared critically endangered on West Coast

By Monica Samayoa (OPB), Dec. 11, 2020

One of the largest sea star species in the world has been listed as critically endangered on Thursday after a global study shows the species population has been decimated by a marine epidemic.

The sunflower sea star, once abundant in marine waters from Alaska to Baja California in Mexico, is on the brink of extinction along the West Coast waters in the United States after a marine wildlife epidemic event referred to as the sea star wasting syndrome began in 2013. The wasting syndrome, which essentially melts away the sea star, is the result of a pathogen that affected many different species but affected the sunflower sea star the most.

Also, an increase in ocean temperatures during 2014-2016 that resulted in a phenomenon known as “the blob” played a role in the species’ declining population and have been struggling to recover ever since. This led to an increase in sea urchins along the West Coast and a decrease in kelp.

Oregon State University, along with The Nature Conservancy and dozens of conservation groups, led a groundbreaking study that found 90.6% of the species population has been wiped out and estimated as many as 5.75 billion animals died from the disease since the die-off began. This has led the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to list the sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) as critically endangered.

The study used more than 61,000 surveys from 31 datasets and showed no signs of the population’s recovery in any region it is known to be located since the outbreak began.

Walter Heady is a scientist with the Nature Conservancy. He said having international recognition through the IUCN of the dramatic loss of this species will allow for the appropriate research and conservation actions needed to aid its recovery.

“IUCN really provides a foundation for that conservation effort for sunflower sea stars,” he said. “It provides a foundation of scientific knowledge to inform data gaps, as well as potential conservation pathways to really provide the foundation and provide motivation and direction for current and future scientific research and conservation efforts.”

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists species in one of eight categories of threat based on certain criteria like population trend, size, and range.

Heady said the dramatic die-off of this species in its known geographic range is related to the changing conditions due to climate change.

“What that means is this important marine species and this important predator is missing from the many ecosystems in which it is found,” Heady said. “What that means for California and Oregon is, we’ve also observed some dramatic losses of our kelps in the past few years as well.”

Sunflower sea stars play a vital role in helping to maintain kelp forests, which in return supply habitats for marine life and also help in sequestering carbon. The declining population for the sunflower sea star and vulnerability of kelp forests have caused a significant increase of purple urchins along the West Coast.

OSU Research Associate and lead analysis author Sarah Gravem said the past few years is what she calls a perfect storm of ecosystem destruction that first started off with the sea star wasting in 2013. Then a year later the marine heatwave came through and the increase of sea urchins.

“Between the sea stars being gone, the urchins increasing and having lots of babies, and the kelp being killed, that’s left the situation where we have just urchins everywhere,” she said.

Gravem said now that the species has been listed as critically endangered, it gives researchers and conservation groups an opportunity to develop a roadmap to begin to recover the species.

Some ideas to help the species recover include relocating the sunflower sea star, collecting sea urchins off the reef and relocating them, or replanting kelp along the West Coast to help them restore.

Another idea that would be a first of its kind for the species would be a captive rearing effort.

“This effort really highlights the importance of science to inform conservation and sound management decisions,” he said.



Giant manta becomes first manta ray to be listed as an endangered species

Written by Oceanographic Staff, December 11, 2020

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has announced that the conservation status of the giant manta ray (or oceanic manta ray) has been changed from Vulnerable to Endangered on the Red List of Threatened Species.

The giant manta ray now joins over 16,000 endangered species to be assessed with this serious threat level. At this stage, 30% of sharks and rays are now threatened with extinction.

“The giant manta ray is a classic example of a species that is quickly succumbing to human-induced pressures,” said Dr. Andrea Marshall, a co-founder of the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) who lead-authored this newest assessment for the IUCN and has been involved in their assessments since 2003. “When we first assessed manta rays in 2003 there simply was not enough information on the species to determine their conservation status and they were listed as ‘Data Deficient’, but on each of the subsequent assessments, their conservation status increased steadily from Near-Threatened, to Vulnerable and now to Endangered. Their current status is a direct result of unsustainable pressure from fishing, which now threatens to destabilise their populations across the globe.”

Giant manta rays are targeted for their gill plates, which they use to filter feed on small zooplankton from the water column. The ever-increasing demand for their body parts has fuelled both existing and emerging target fisheries. This trade seems to be impacting the giant manta more than other species of manta ray, with the unsustainable harvesting decimating their populations around the world.

In an attempt to encourage more comprehensive conservation strategies for giant manta populations and to curb the expanding trade in their fins and gill plates, the  ray was listed on two of the most important global conservation treaties, the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) in 2011 and the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2013.

“Interactions with manta rays are highly sought after by dive and snorkel tourists globally and contribute millions of dollars to tourism economies each year, particularly in developing nations,” said Dr. Stephanie Venables, a Senior Scientist and manta ray expert at MMF. “At this pivotal time, recognising their economic value may help to encourage the protection of this enigmatic and now endangered species.”

Giant manta rays reach sexual maturity fairly late in their lives, giving birth to just one pup every few years in the wild. They don’t look after or protect their young and so pups are extremely vulnerable when they are small. With a slow growth rate, delayed maturation and small number of offspring, giant mantas can’t reproduce fast enough to build back their populations once depleted.

“It is such an honour to have been able to study and describe this species. The realisation that the giant manta ray is now in danger of extinction is a hard pill to swallow,” Dr. Marshall added. “We are still busy learning about this extraordinary creature and we have only scratched the surface. There is so much more we need to understand, but at this stage, we have put that all aside in favour of protecting the last remaining populations of giant mantas.”

The giant manta ray was only formally described by Dr. Marshall and her colleagues in 2009, and at the time, it was one of the largest species to be described in the global ocean.



Lost shark’ possibly extinct, dolphin threatened -Red List

By Emma Farge, December 10, 2020

GENEVA (Reuters) – A shark only just formally discovered might already be extinct – a fate no shark has yet suffered in the human era – while an Amazon river dolphin has become endangered, a Red List of species in trouble showed on Thursday.

More than a quarter of the 128,918 animal, plant and fungi species assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in its update are now threatened with extinction. The latest list has 31 new extinctions including several frogs and more than a dozen freshwater fish.

“This really shows that the world is under huge pressure,” Craig Hilton-Taylor, Red List Unit Head told Reuters.

“The idea of the Red List is to try to draw attention to species and stop them from going extinct but sometimes the process goes too quickly.”

The so-called “Lost shark” of the heavily fished South China Sea was only formally discovered last year based on decades-old specimens. But there have been no recent sightings and it has not shown up in five targeted surveys, prompting IUCN to list it as “Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct)”.

Sharks have historically proven to be robust, surviving on the planet for hundreds of millions of years, even persisting through mass extinction events such as the asteroid strike believed to have wiped out most dinosaurs.

Dr. Will White, an Ichthyologist at CSIRO’s Australian National Fish Collection who named the “Lost shark” said this might be the first shark extinction in human times.

“Unfortunately what makes a species a great survivor in the natural world doesn’t equate to making them great survivors against man,” White told Reuters.

The IUCN which works with thousands of scientists tends to be conservative on extinctions, since declaring them can spell an end to any remaining protection efforts. Thus, species it calls “possibly extinct” often already are.

The organisation also moved an Amazon dolphin with a pinkish belly called the Tucuxi to its endangered list, meaning that all of the world’s freshwater dolphins are now threatened since the others were already endangered.

Hazards include dams, pollution and gillnets – vast curtains of fishing nets that dangle in the current, it said.

IUCN described the decline in frog populations in Central and South America as “drastic”. It cited a disease caused by the frog chytrid fungus which scientists link to climate change.

On a positive note, IUCN said that European bison populations had grown more than threefold since 2003 to 6,200 in 2019 thanks to conservation efforts and bumped it up one category to “vulnerable”.

The bison were decimated by hungry armies in World War One in current-day Poland and Belarus, and vanished from the wild in the aftermath before being reintroduced.

Another success story is the Barndoor skate – a large, flat fish resembling a ray – that jumped three categories from “endangered” to “least concern”.

“There are glimmers of hope, little stories that show us what can be done,” said the IUCN’s Hilton-Taylor.

“We know what to do, we know what species are threatened. It is just a question of ramping up efforts.”


CBC News/Nova Scotia

Protesters concerned about endangered moose ordered to take down Digby County blockades

A judge has approved WestFor’s application for an interim injunction to stop protests

Emma Smith, Phlis McGregor, Dec. 10, 2020

Protesters who have been blocking logging roads in Digby County for weeks to protect what they say is endangered mainland moose habitat have been ordered by a judge to leave.

Justice Glen McDougall has approved WestFor Management’s application for an interim injunction.

The protesters set up camp in late October on a road southeast of Weymouth in an attempt to prevent logging trucks and equipment from accessing the Crown land where harvesting has been approved by the province. The group set up a second blockade in another location near the Caribou River last month.

They say the area, which is located west of the Tobeatic Wilderness Area and not far from the Silver River Wilderness Area, is important habitat for mainland moose.

WestFor asked that the two blockades be removed so that crews can access the roads and continue harvesting. The forestry consortium is licensed by the province to log in the area.

The court order states that anyone who directly or indirectly obstructs, blockades, impairs or interferes with WestFor and the workof its contractors will be in contempt of court and could be arrested.

“We appreciate the concern and passion of the protestors in Digby; however, we continue to believe that a responsible forest industry can be balanced with the need to protect our natural environment, including endangered species such as the mainland moose,” Marcus Zwicker, WestFor’s general manager, wrote in a statement to CBC News on Thursday.

The interim injunction will remain in effect until the end of January when WestFor will make the case in court for an interlocutory injunction, according to the court order. That case is expected to be heard in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Jan. 26-27.

Thousands sign petition

A growing number of protesters have said they won’t leave until the province agrees to halt all industrial forestry on Crown land in the area.

As of Thursday, more than 24,000 people had signed a petition in support of their cause.

“The blockaders here are really trying to take some of the last large blocks of land that haven’t been riddled with roads and they’re doing their best to stop what’s going to destroy this moose habitat,” wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft told CBC Radio’s Information Morning this week.

He’s been keeping track of moose in southwestern parts of the province and helped create a map that plots the species’ activity going back to 2005.

“We wound up getting an awful lot of reports. I mean, as recently as yesterday, people sending pictures of moose that walked through the backyard,” he said.

The provincial government has said it’s difficult to know exactly how many mainland moose are left in Nova Scotia, but a CBC News investigation last year found there could be fewer than 100, according to an estimate by a scientist who has worked with the province.

Bancroft said he’s recorded 44 pieces of evidence that moose are in the area, from sightings to tracks and droppings.

“I think it’s fair to say that there are probably dozens of moose in western Nova Scotia and that they’re centred in certain areas where they’re particularly vulnerable,” he said.

But Zwicker said forestry activity in Digby County doesn’t conflict with plans to protect the endangered species. He said harvests in the area follow the province’s special management practices for mainland moose.

“In fact, many scientific studies have shown that responsible forest management can help enhance moose habitat by providing requirements such as browse (food), shelter patches, wetland buffers and corridors,” he wrote.

Zwicker also pointed to the economic benefits of the forestry industry to the region.

According to an affidavit he submitted to the court, forestry activity at the first blockade, the Rocky Lake site, has been stopped since Oct. 21 due to the protest.

Crews have been working in the area where the second blockade is set up by walking around protesters, but because vehicles can’t access the site, timber can’t be removed, the affidavit said.

“Between Nov. 25 and Dec. 1, 2020, approximately $30,000 of timber byproduct was processed and ready to be trucked out of the Napier Lake site, but it is stockpiled at the Napier Lake site and will lose its value as it degrades until trucks can resume use of Napier Lake Road,” the court documents said.

Concerns from private landowner

According to the province’s harvest plans map viewer, several harvests have been approved on Crown land in the area where the blockades have been set up. There are also parcels of private land in the area protesters are occupying.

Janosch Woschek, president of Rainbow Forest Ltd., owns 7,700 hectares of land in the area.

His company recently put up gates in areas where the logging road intersects with his land. He said Thursday that one of those gates had been vandalized.

“We were accused of clear cutting down there and basically doing the same thing that they’re accusing Crown land of, and that’s just not true,” he told CBC Radio’s Information Morning.

Woschek said his company harvests trees mainly for firewood and lumber used in construction.

“We’re working hard to try to restore the forest down there to its natural state so the goal is to have a forest where all age groups of trees are there,” he said, adding the company can harvest some trees without disturbing the forest canopy as much clear cutting would.

He said WestFor taking the step to ask for an injunction was inevitable.

“I can understand that [the protesters are] very emotional about this topic and clear cutting is something that we have to reduce, so I’m totally on board with them on that,” Woschek said.

“But I would say that we can’t achieve that by spreading misinformation and creating more division. We all need to work together.”

Derek Mombourquette, minister of lands and forestry, said he takes the feedback he’s received from people concerned about the loss of moose habitat seriously.

“What I would reiterate to all Nova Scotians is that there are special management plans in place to protect any mainland moose in the area. [The forestry companies] have to follow them or there will be no harvest, so everyone is aware of that, and that’s the message that I’m going to continue to send to everyone,” he said.



Two Critically Endangered North Atlantic Right Whale Calves Are Spotted Off U.S. Coast

 Olivia Rosane, December 9, 2020

Like most of us, North Atlantic right whales have not had a very good 2020. First, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report found that there were no more than 366 of the critically endangered species left. Then, the first known baby born this calving season washed up dead on a North Carolina beach. But things are finally starting to look up.

Two live right whale calves were spotted off the coasts of Georgia and Florida within the last week.

“Uplifting news for this fragile species especially during the first week of December,” Melanie White, a Clearwater Marine Aquarium research biologist and North Atlantic Right Whale Conservation Project Manager, told USA TODAY.

An aerial survey team from Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute (CMARI) spotted the first calf Dec. 4 off of Cumberland Island in Georgia.

“During our third survey of the season, CMARI aerial observer Marcy Lee sighted a whale. She knew in that moment it was a North Atlantic right whale calf. The first large whale of the season and it was a calf! Soon enough the team knew the mother would surface for a breath of air and the calving season would have the first live mother-calf right whale pair,” White told Click Orlando.

The new calf was born to a first-time mom named Chiminea, who is 13 years old, NOAA Fisheries Southeast tweeted.

The second calf was spotted Monday off of Florida’s Vilano Beach by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), according to NOAA. This is the second calf for a 16-year-old mother named Millipede. The new calf was seen swimming with a pod of bottlenose dolphins.

While the births are a bit of good news for the species, they do not mean that North Atlantic right whales are out of danger. FWC warned that calving season is an especially vulnerable time for the whales.

“Every winter, many right whales travel more than 1,000 miles from their feeding grounds off Canada and New England to the warm coastal waters off the southern United States,” the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute wrote on Facebook. “These waters are where right whales give birth and nurse their young. This is a vulnerable phase, making it extremely important for boaters to be aware of the whales’ presence and tendency to rest near the surface of the water. #GiveThemSpace.”

North Atlantic right whales have long faced danger from human activities. The very name “right whale” comes from the fact that they were the “right” whales to hunt, because they swim slowly and close to the shore and do not sink when they die, USA TODAY explained. They were hunted nearly to extinction, but began to make a comeback after whaling was banned. Today, that comeback has reversed.

“Recovery had been slow and steady until 2010 when we started to see a decline. Most recent population models show that the numbers are declining again for various reasons including a slow reproduction rate, threats from entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with large vessels, and possibly other factors not yet identified” CMARI Executive Director Dr. James Powell told Click Orlando.

Last year, the species gave birth to 10 calves, USA TODAY reported. This was three more from the previous year, but scientists say the species needs to average 20 calves a year to survive.

To give the species a chance at survival, more than 55 conservation groups sent a letter to Congress Dec. 3 urging lawmakers to free up $100 million in emergency funding for their protection, including the development of ropeless fishing gear.

“The right whale is one of the most endangered species on the planet, and the population has now reached crisis status,” the letter read. “These iconic whales desperately need additional recovery funding to prevent them from becoming extinct.”


Science Daily

Silky sharks find hope in Atlantic, remain targets in Indo-Pacific

December 9, 2020, Florida International University

New research shows that conservation efforts in the Atlantic Ocean may be working for one of the most popular — and endangered — species that ends up in the global shark fin trade.

Diego Cardeñosa — an FIU postdoctoral researcher in the Institute of Environment — led a new study in collaboration with scientists in Hong Kong that uses DNA analysis to track where fins in the global shark fin trade originate. They focused on silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) — the second most common species found in the fin trade.

Testing revealed 99.8 percent of the fins sampled from retail markets in Hong Kong and China originated from the Indo-Pacific Ocean. Virtually none came from the Atlantic Ocean, which provides the first evidence that conservation efforts could be making an impact.

According to FIU research, around 100 million sharks are killed every year. Nearly one-third of the shark species in the global shark fin trade are at risk of extinction.

Open ocean sharks, like silky sharks, face a considerable risk of overexploitation because they get caught in nets and longlines set by fishing fleets targeting tuna. High demand for shark fins in Asia means that although they are considered accidental by-catch, they are by-catch worth keeping.

Silky sharks are protected under Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) — an international agreement protecting animals and plants from overexploitation in international trade. Listed in Appendix II, all trade of these sharks requires permits certifying they were legally caught, catch is sustainable, and traceable through the supply chain.

The Regional Fisheries Management Organizations oversees fishing regulations and shark management decisions. In 2011, one of these organizations — the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) — prohibited the fishing, retention and transshipment of silky sharks by all fisheries operating under its jurisdiction. Only developing nations are allowed to fish for these sharks as a source of food.

“This study shows that there is good news for ICCAT and the Atlantic silkies,” said Cardeñosa, who was recently named a Distinguished Postdoctoral Scholar in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education. “While it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Atlantic population is recovering or that fishing mortality is decreasing, it’s a good assessment that there’s high compliance with the retention and export ban by ICCAT parties.”

The long-term goal of Cardeñosa’s research is to provide information about where shark fins originate in order to better direct more concentrated shark conservation efforts and fisheries management. This study emphasizes the need for increased monitoring, as well as better implementation of CITES regulations. The reality is illegal, unreported trade continues to happen.

In fact, earlier this year Hong Kong customs officials intercepted an illegal shipment lacking proper CITES documentation from Ecuador that included silky and pelagic thresher shark fins. The secret tool behind this historic seizure of shark fins was a DNA testing kit co-developed by Cardeñosa and Demian Chapman, an FIU marine scientist in the Institute of Environment. Created with funding from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the tool is being used in airports and shipping ports to help customs officials identify protected shark species.

“Understanding which species are most prevalent in the shark fin trade can help identify the species in need of conservation intervention,” Cardeñosa said. “Tracing the populations of origin can help identify the key management jurisdictions that can lead proper interventions.”

(The research is supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Pew Fellowship Program. The findings were published in Conservation Letters.)


MLive Michigan (Walker, MI)

Monarch butterfly endangered decision near as numbers dwindle

By Garret Ellison, Dec. 9, 2020

WASHINGTON, DC — A decision is near on whether the monarch butterfly, an iconic and beloved pollinator that migrates through the Great Lakes region each year, warrants listing as an endangered species in the U.S. as its population counts dwindle due to habitat loss.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is expected to decide next week whether to extend federal protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to the butterfly after conservation groups petitioned for listing in 2014 and sued in 2016 to accelerate the process.

The agency’s deadline is Dec. 15 to submit a finding that protection through a threatened or endangered species designation is warranted or not.

Should protection be warranted, the agency would begin a rule-making process involving public comment and hearings. A listing would make it illegal to kill, harm or harass a monarch butterfly and likely restrict the destruction of certain plants.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work gathering information and looking at the butterfly’s status,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Georgia Parham. “We’re coming to the end of that process now.”

The monarch butterfly, with its distinctive orange and black wings, is one of the most recognizable species in North America. Wildlife advocates say both the eastern and western U.S. populations are declining as habitat dwindles.

Rebeca Quinonez-Pinon, monarch outreach program coordinator at the National Wildlife Federation, said monarch populations have been declining since the 1990s. Urbanization, pesticide use and conversation of native grassland to cropland have all taken their toll, she said.

“Pesticides are definitely not good for them,” she said.

In March, the Center for Biological Diversity said the annual count of monarchs overwintering in Mexico decreased by 53 percent from the year prior, an alarming drop that’s stoked worries about a migratory population collapse.

Most North American monarchs migrate each winter to oyamel fir tree forests on 12 mountaintops in central Mexico. Scientists estimate population by measuring the area of trees turned orange by clustered butterflies. Monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains overwinter on the California coast, where the Center for Biological Diversity says population counts have fallen to below 30,000 from 1.2 million two decades ago.

The center pointed to the threat of global climate change as likely to further disrupt monarch migrations and eventually render winter habitats unsuitable.

Center for Biological Diversity, which was among several that petitioned FWS to list the monarch as endangered, says an estimated 165 million acres of breeding habitat has been lost in the U.S. due to herbicide spraying and development that’s reduced the prevalence of milkweed.

“Monarchs cannot reproduce without milkweed,” said Dan Kennedy, acting wildlife division chief at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“That’s where they lay their eggs and caterpillars grow and metamorphosize into adult butterflies.”

The butterflies also need a nectar source, such as wildflowers, when they arrive in the U.S. and Canada.

“A lot of that ends up being grassland habitats,” he said.

Kennedy said questions around managing milkweed and grassland habitat is “where it gets tricky” in the conversation around protecting monarch butterflies.

A federal listing would trigger protection for monarch under Michigan’s endangered species law, but Kennedy said the legislature would need to act to update the state list.

Kennedy said Michigan and several other states have embarked on habitat conservation efforts over the past few years to increase milkweed numbers and promote grassland preservation through voluntary incentive programs aimed at farmers and other large land owners.

Michigan held meetings in 2016 and 2017 to help draft a conservation strategy involving state and federal agencies, universities, environmental and agricultural groups.

Milkweed is also found in energy and transportation right-of-ways, such as highway shoulders, medians and easements. The Michigan Department of Transportation sent out an alert this week to suggesting local agencies enroll in conservation agreements that would allow roadside maintenance to continue as long as steps are taken to preserve habitat.

“There are going to be some issues that pop up with how we handle milkweed in areas which might typically be mowed or part of agricultural operations,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy expects FWS to help develop best management practices for certain lands that would enable multiple uses, such as limiting landscaping work to certain times of year.

“Our agriculture partners are very interested in what this listing decision will be.”

The Michigan Farm Bureau says it participates in conservation strategizing and tries to educate farmers about incentive programs to preserve pollinator habitat. The group indicated that it would prefer not to see the butterfly listed because that would disrupt farm operations.

“Farmers have been concerned about the regulatory restrictions that would result from listing a species with as large a range as the monarch butterfly,” said farm bureau spokeswoman Laura Campbell. “Protecting this species to prevent it from needing to be listed would be a better result, both for farmers and for the monarch.”


Native Plant Conservation Campaign News

Native plant community restoration succeeds with hard work, collaboration, research and community

December 8, 2020

In Cook County Illinois, researchers have documented impressive results of restoration of a seven-acre ancient oak woodland called the Vestal Grove. This pioneering project was initiated nearly four decades ago by the Forest Preserves of Cook County in cooperation with ecologists at the University of Illinois and others. Their goal was to “to restore, restock, protect and preserve the natural forests and such lands together with their flora and fauna, as nearly as may be, in their natural state and condition.” They have now declared the project a success in a journal article and other publications.

This success required a great deal of work. At the beginning of the project, Vestal Grove was choked with invasive plants and its ecological balance was damaged by fire exclusion and deer over browsing. To address these problems, scientists, land managers and volunteers have spent decades pulling invasive plants; thinning the ancient oaks, harvesting native seed and hand-planting plants; reducing deer populations, and returning fire to the landscape by burning every two years. Native seed was sometimes found in cemeteries, along railroad tracks, and in unused areas of farms.

The result is a  “dramatic” restoration of this ancient oak woodland, according to an October study published in the journal PLOS ONE. It is a success story that researchers say holds key lessons for ecological restoration at a time when native plant  community restoration is increasingly seen as a critical tool for fighting climate change.

To assess the project’s progress, scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign used the Floristic Quality Index, and other methods of to measure the “native vegetation quality” of the Vestal Grove after 34 years. Indices of ecological integrity all “increased dramatically over time, such that their values now surpass those of the highest quality representative of this habitat in the region.”

Because the surrounding habitat is so altered that it cannot sustain plant community health without human intervention, active management of the area will be required, perhaps in perpetuity.


Courthouse News Service

Feds Sued Over Inaction on Northern Spotted Owl Protections

December 8, 2020, NICHOLAS IOVINO

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — In the latest legal tussle over much-litigated protections for the northern spotted owl, environmental groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Tuesday for missing mandatory deadlines to review the bird’s protected status as its population decline accelerates.

Nesting on the branches of some of the oldest trees in the Pacific Northwest, the chocolate-brown, dark-eyed bird was listed as a threatened species in 1990, but several factors — including logging, climate change, wildfires and encroachment by the invasive barred owl — has caused the nocturnal creatures’ numbers to dwindle at an increasing pace over the last three decades.

With those concerns in mind, the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) and six other groups petitioned the federal agency in August 2012 to upgrade the owl’s designation from threatened to endangered. In April 2015, nearly three years after a 90-day deadline for responding to the petition, Fish and Wildlife found substantial evidence supported the requested status change. That set off a mandatory one-year review, which, more than five years later, remains unfinished.

The agency is also tasked with reviewing the status of each threatened and endangered species every five years. The last such review for the northern spotted owl occurred in 2011, creating a 2016 deadline for the next evaluation. More than four years later, that review has yet to be completed.

“Inaction by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service means that they are failing at their basic charge, which is to protect our nation’s irreplaceable wildlife,” EPIC attorney Tom Wheeler said in a phone interview Tuesday.

In August this year, Fish and Wildlife decided to scale back the northern spotted owl’s protected habitat by 209,000 acres as part of a settlement with a carpenters’ trade union, which depends on wood from logging operations in the region.

Wheeler said that decision made it abundantly clear how the agency has prioritized the use of its limited resources.

“They found the staff resources to strip habitat protections but not consider additional new protections for the owl,” Wheeler said.

Long delays and missed deadlines are commonplace at U.S. Fish and Wildlife, an agency that Congress has “routinely underfunded,” according to Wheeler. With constant staffing and budget constraints, the agency must often triage and decide what issues and species to prioritize first.

But another potential reason for the years-long delay is that the issue has become a “political third rail” due to the impact of the owl’s protected habitat on the timber industry, Wheeler said.

Designating the owl as a threatened species in 1990 led the government to set aside 9 million acres of land as protected habitat, a move some complain has decimated the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest. Some estimates say it caused the timber industry to lose as many as 168,000 jobs and shuttered lumber mills across the region.

Those habitat protections have also triggered a torrent of litigation over the last three decades.

The timber industry sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in federal court for designating as protected some land covered by the 1936 O&C Act, which mandates swaths of land in Oregon be managed as timber harvest land. Logging industry advocates claim a 2008 Bush administration plan to withdraw protection from some lands did not go far enough.

According to Wheeler, the northern spotted owl plays a critical role in old-growth forest ecosystems. The nocturnal predator, which preys on small forest mammals, has become functionally extinct in British Columbia, is getting closer to potential extinction in Washington state and is underperforming in Oregon and California, he said.

Population sizes for the owl declined 33% to 55% in California since the 1990s, according to the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The northern spotted owl occupied 14,000 territories in 1993, but today it can be found in 3,000 territories or less, the U.S. Forest Service’s top researcher for spotted owls, Damon Lesmeister, told the Salem Statesman Journal last week.

“We’ve seen continued owl decline, and we are starting to see what one owl researcher has called an ‘extinction vortex,’” Wheeler said. “If we don’t take action now it will be more costly and difficult to save the owl in the future so we need to bring all resources to bear to protect the northern spotted owl.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Fish and Wildlife to complete its five-year review of the owl’s protected status and to issue a final decision on the petition to upgrade the owl from a threatened to endangered species.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Cascadia Wildlands, Conservation Northwest, Klamath Forest Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Wild and Audubon Society of Portland.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.


Southern Environmental Law Center

Coalition calls on Service to maintain endangered status for red-cockaded woodpecker

December 8, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced a  proposal to remove protections for red-cockaded woodpeckers as an endangered species and reclassify it as merely threatened. SELC and a broad coalition of conservation groups have just filed official comments in opposition, highlighting that the move is unjustified and suffers from a number of legal inadequacies.

Over the course of decades of federal protection and oversight, scientific research, and intensive management, populations of the species have steadily grown. But the species still remains at risk of extinction due to numerous threats, including ongoing habitat loss, climate-change impacts like severe storms, and southern pine beetle infestations, and others.

In the submitted comments, SELC says, “The improvements in red-cockaded woodpecker numbers and management is a testament to the power of the Endangered Species Act. But the Fish and Wildlife Service is poised to throw away those hard-earned strides by prematurely claiming victory and removing critical protections and oversight for red-cockaded woodpeckers.”

According to the Service’s own science and recovery planning, the species has not met necessary targets to remove endangered protections. Given recent rollbacks to the Endangered Species Act regulations, reclassifying the red-cockaded woodpecker to threatened means the species would not receive any protections against take, except for whatever the Service includes in a species-specific rule. Here, the Service’s proposed rule would fail to provide for future conservation and recovery of the species as required by the act.

And the reclassification and proposed rule would also be detrimental to the bird’s native pine forest habitats.

“Beyond being an iconic species for our region, conservation for red-cockaded woodpeckers has long served as an umbrella of protections for our southern pine ecosystems,” says Staff Attorney Ramona McGee.

We know the Service ignored the best available science, failed to prepare a prerequisite status review to inform its decision, and did not consider the combined effect of the many threats facing the red-cockaded woodpecker for the foreseeable future, as required by its own regulations.


Burlington Free Press

Bald eagles are no longer endangered in Vermont, experts say, after 30 years of recovery

Joel Banner Baird, December 8, 2020

Wildlife experts in Vermont are celebrating something big this month: Bald eagles, on the state’s endangered species list for 30 years, have bounded back, they say.

A recommendation to “de-list,” announced this week by Audubon Vermont and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, states that the raptor is no longer threatened, and its populations have stabilized.

If the new status for bald eagles is confirmed by the Legislature, recovery efforts would end — but the bird’s nesting sites would continue to be monitored and protected, according to a statement released from Audubon on Monday.

Lack of funding delayed a re-introduction program for the eagles in Vermont, wrote Audubon biologist Margaret Fowle; local efforts began in Addison County in 2003, several decades after other states’ efforts were well underway.

Volunteers and professionals have been joining forces to tally Vermont’s bald eagles for much longer, Fowle added.



AP, Dec. 8, 2020

First babies of endangered whale species born off Florida, Georgia

The first baby whales of the season that belong to a critically endangered species have been born off Georgia and Florida.

The rare North Atlantic right whales were spotted on Dec. 4 and Dec. 7, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said. The whales number only 366 and their population has declined in recent years.

The calves were spotted swimming with their mothers off Cumberland Island, Georgia, and Vilano Beach, Florida, NOAA said. The whales move north to New England and Canada to feed in the spring.

The right whale population was decimated during the commercial whaling era. They now face threats such as ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear.

NOAA reported that the first documented newborn of the season washed ashore dead last month on a barrier island off North Carolina, part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore.


ABC News

Numbats at brink of extinction, not seen in NSW wild for more than 100 years, hang on with pest fence

ABC Mildura-Swan Hill / By Jennifer Douglas, December 6, 2020

Numbats have not been seen in the New South Wales wild for more than a century and globally they are rarer than the black rhino, their near-extinction caused by feral predators such as foxes and feral cats.

But the precious numbat is hoped to spring back to life in far south-western NSW near Gol Gol, just over the Murray River from Mildura, thanks to a 42-kilometre-long, two-metre-high electrified fence.

The fence establishes a 9,500-hectare feral predator-free safe haven for reintroduced small mammals and marsupials ranging from bilbies, western barred bandicoots, burrowing bettongs, brush-tailed bettongs, red-tailed phascogale, bridled nailtail wallabies, Mitchell’s hopping mouse, and western quolls.

This week, five numbats — four female and one male — were released into the Mallee Cliffs National Park feral predator-free area.

More will follow when they can catch the elusive marsupials, including several planned reintroductions next year from the Perth Zoo to ensure diversity of the species’ gene pool.

The only remaining wild populations of numbats are found in small patches of woodland in Western Australia.

Saving the numbat from the brink

Scientists hope that by creating a safe haven for endangered species such as numbats and bilbies will restore the population and ensure they survive and thrive into the future.

The ambitious joint $41.3 million, 10-year project is a partnership between NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) and AWC, constructing three feral predator-free sites in NSW.

Across the three sites, homes have been established for crest-tailed mulgara and bilbies within the Sturt National Park, bridled nailtail wallabies in the Pilliga National Park, and more bilbies and greater stick-nest rats in the Mallee Cliffs National Park.

Numbats previously spanned right across the country but were pushed to the brink of extinction due to a range of factors — not just foxes and feral cats, but changes in land use, bushfire, and habitat loss.

But relocating the numbats into a new environment comes with inherent risks from snakes and predatory birds such as the wedge-tailed eagle.

“Today’s release was five years in the planning,” Dr Berry said.

“All the animals today are fitted with a VHF telemetry collars that allow us to track their progress.”

The Mallee Cliffs ecosystem provides an abundant habitat for the numbats to thrive, with hollow logs and an unlimited number of tasty termites to feed hungry numbats.

Chief science officer for the AWC, John Kanowski, said he expected the Mallee Cliffs population to grow to between 300-700, increasing the global population of numbats by up to a half.

“If we don’t do these types of projects numbats are going to continue to decline, so we need safe havens to protect them.” Dr Kanowski said.

“This is the stuff worth fighting for” said Environment Minister Matt Kean, who beamed after releasing two of the numbats.

“I mean, no one’s seen one of these animals in NSW for … centuries, so to be part of protecting this animal and seeing it thrive into the future is pretty incredible”.


Honolulu Civil Beat

Hawaii Fishing Fleet Is Changing Gear To Help Protect Endangered Sharks

The changes are being lauded as significant steps. But they won’t go far enough if other countries’ fleets don’t follow suit.

By Marcel Honore,  December 6, 2020

The Hawaii Longline Association announced this week it’s making key changes to its fleet’s fishing equipment to help the imperiled oceanic whitetip shark stave off extinction.

Specifically, by July, crews aboard the fleet’s 140 or so vessels plan to replace the steel wire fishing leaders at the ends of their fishing lines with ones made from less-lethal nylon, or monofilament, according to HLA Executive Director Eric Kingma.

The move should at least somewhat help the endangered and overfished sharks, local fishing officials and industry watchdogs say, because they can bite through the nylon more easily and free themselves when they’re inadvertently caught.

It’s a much-welcomed change to aid a species that was abundant in the central and western Pacific Ocean before commercial fishing and demand for shark fins decimated their numbers, ocean conservationists say.

But to truly save the oceanic whitetip from extinction, the numerous fishing fleets from other nations operating in the Pacific will have to follow suit, officials added.

The industry-led initiative comes as the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, or Wespac, which oversees commercial fishing in a broad swath of federal waters, conducts its own study on how to protect oceanic whitetips. The council is expected to make recommendations for federally required methods next year.

“We think this is the most cost-effective way to reduce our impact,” Kingma said of the advance step HLA took this week.

Making the switch to monofilament should reduce the fleet’s number of shark catches by at least half, he said. Plus, it puts protective measures in effect earlier than if the fleet waited for those federal requirements, he added.

The Hawaii longline fleet’s primary target is bigeye tuna, known as ahi in Hawaii. It also pursues swordfish. The council voted this week to urge the international tuna commission that oversees the Western and Central Pacific to nearly double the Hawaii longliners’ bigeye tuna quota from about 3,500 metric tons to 6,554 metric tons. Quota negotiations before the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission will take place next week when delegates for numerous countries hold their annual weeklong meeting.

Those familiar with the oceanic whitetip describe it as a “cruiser” — a pelagic shark that covers vast ocean distances, conserving energy with its large pectoral fin and swooping in fast on fish prey near the sea surface.

But the evolutionary traits that made the once-abundant species such an impressive predator are the same ones leading it toward extinction.

Only a fraction of the thousands of oceanic whitetip sharks that get caught in Pacific fishing gear — many of them fatally — do so on HLA hooks and lines. The vast majority gets caught on gear from the combined fleets based in China, Japan, South Korea and other nations with Pacific fishing operations, officials say.

According to Kingma, about 1,500 oceanic whitetips get caught in HLA gear each year, representing about 4% of all the whitetip catches in the Pacific. Some 30% to 40% of those sharks die after getting caught, he said.

Meanwhile, a report from the National Marine Fisheries Service found that 53,500 oceanic whitetip sharks were caught by western and central Pacific fishing fleets each year on average from 2013 to 2017. That included some 1,700 catches a year by Hawaii’s deep-set longline vessels.

Just The First Fleet?

KerriLynn Miller, an officer for the Pew Charitable Trust’s international fisheries program, said that HLA’s estimates on its own impacts to the shark species sound reasonable.

Furthermore, she hopes the HLA’s changes to its fishing gear will spur other fleets that fish the Pacific to do the same.

Australian fishing representatives already have proposed prohibiting the wire leaders before the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, Miller said. That’s the same international body overseeing fishing practices that Wespac is lobbying. The Australians’ idea was shut down, Miller added.

She said she hopes that the idea could gain support at the commission’s meeting next year, after the HLA’s wire leaders get replaced.

“They’re taking a big leadership role for shark conservation and we are hopeful that this action will spark a broader commitment within the Pacific,” Miller said.

That international commission conducted its own stock assessment of oceanic whitetips in 2019 that showed the shark was being overfished and that if the current mortality rates didn’t subside they’ll go extinct.

Kingma said that more accurate, reliable catch data from the foreign fleets could help spur the foreign fleets to join in on the changes. That data would be more reliable, he said, if more observers are required to be on board the fishing vessels when they’re out at sea.

Currently, foreign vessels are subject to about 5% observer monitoring, whereas HLA vessels are subject to about 20%, he said.

“It’s really hard, it’s going be tough, but we’ve got to get the data right,” Kingma said Wednesday.

Kingma said that HLA doesn’t know the full financial cost or economic impact of switching out the leaders, but the group doesn’t expect them to be that significant.

The fleet has been using the more durable wire leaders for about 20 years to help prevent “flyback,” where tension on a hooked line can cause it to recoil and whip back dangerously at the vessel.

As the boats switch to monofilament leaders, the crews will also clip weights onto the line to help prevent flyback, Kingma said. The leaders are also required to be weighted down into the water so they stay out of seabirds’ foraging depth.

The switch could potentially help protect some striped marlin as well, which fishing fleets are also required to do, but HLA didn’t consider that in making the change to monofilament, Kingma said. Unlike a shark you don’t always know when you’ve got a marlin caught on the line, he added, so “the science behind it can get a bit convoluted.”

Instead, the move was chiefly about the sharks, Kingma said.

Edwin Watamura, a Hawaii member of Wespac, gave kudos to HLA during the group’s meeting this week. But, he said, “if we are the only country doing its due diligence and making actionable changes … how does this save the (animals) being threatened?”



Press release (December 6, 2020)

Shark fins: Call for evidence on protecting endangered shark species launches

Government launches call for evidence on shark fin trade to look at the impact of stricter controls

Greater protections for species of sharks will be considered through a new call for evidence to better understand the scale of the shark fin trade in the UK, as a way to help reduce the import and export of shark fins and protect the world’s sharks.

The UK has a strong track record in marine conservation and has been pressing for stronger international action to protect sharks against unsustainable fishing practices and shark finning, which is the practice of removing a shark’s fins at sea and discarding the finless body back into the water.

The government is now seeking additional evidence to ensure that appropriate protection is in place for all shark species and to inform future policy on protecting marine wildlife.

The call for evidence will help the government better understand the scale of the shark fin trade in the UK and the conservation, economic, social and cultural impacts of potential further restrictions such as banning the import and export of detached shark fins.

The greatest threat to sharks is overfishing, driven by demand for shark products. Wild populations of shark, skates and ray species have declined rapidly and species such as the scalloped hammerhead and angelshark are now considered critically endangered.

The call for evidence will provide insight into the role of the shark fin trade and what action can be taken to better protect sharks.

International Environment Minister Lord Goldsmith said:

Shark finning involves slicing the fins off living sharks that are then tossed back into the sea to die painful deaths. It is an extraordinarily barbaric practice, and has been banned in the UK for nearly 20 years. But the UK still imports shark fin products and therefore may still be inadvertently contributing to the practice.

At the end of the Transition Period and as a fully independent nation, we will have far more freedom to introduce measures to protect endangered species – on land and in the ocean. So we have launched this call for evidence to identify the best options to protect these incredible animals and to continue leading the way on shark conservation.

Samuel Stone, Head of Fisheries and Aquaculture at the Marine Conservation Society said:

We welcome the government’s desire to increase protections for endangered shark species and this call for evidence to better understand the impact of the shark fin trade in the UK. Despite the abhorrent practice being banned by most fishing nations, including the UK and EU, illegal shark finning remains a significant problem in several fisheries around the world. This undermines attempts to improve the management and recovery of shark species and it’s important that the government explores all avenues available to them to help stamp out the practice.

It will be important to explore how efforts can best distinguish between trade linked to illegal shark finning versus the legitimate trade of shark products from potentially well managed fisheries. Whilst the UK trade of shark fins may be relatively small on the global stage, efforts made here may have the potential to make a significant impact. We look forward to seeing the additional evidence and recommendations produced by this review.’

Strict trade controls are already in place for certain species of sharks under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibits or requires trade to be carefully regulated. The UK also played a leading role in successfully listing an additional 18 shark species under CITES in August 2019.

The UK is leading in marine conservation efforts to protect the world’s ocean and has already set up a ‘Blue Belt’ of protected waters nearly twice the size of England including 41 Marine Conservation Zones.

In September 2019 the UK government also launched a Global Ocean Alliance of countries that work will together to protect at least 30% of the global ocean by 2030 (30by30).

The call for evidence marks the start of renewed efforts from government to raise standards on animal welfare even further now we are outside the EU, including taking steps to ban primates as pets, end live exports of animals for fattening and slaughter, and crack down on the illegal smuggling of dogs and puppies, with further proposals to improve standards and eradicate cruel practices expected to be set out in the coming months.

For more information on how to engage with this Call For Evidence please click here.


Montana Free Press

Slow-rolling lynx recovery

Twenty years after the species was designated as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the cats remain ‘in limbo.’

by Amanda Eggert, 12.04.2020

A coalition of conservation organizations has sued the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on grounds that the government has failed to prepare a recovery plan for Canada lynx a full 20 years after the species was designated as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit also claims that the government’s 2017 finding that the cats are recovered has no scientific support.

Friends of the Wild Swan, WildEarth Guardians and a host of other conservation nonprofits from Colorado to Washington filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Missoula on Tuesday. The case will be heard by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, who is familiar with the controversy generated by lynx management: in 2014, he sided with Friends of the Wild Swan and others in a ruling directing FWS to prepare a recovery plan for lynx.

The lawsuit represents the latest challenge to management of the species in what’s been a “20-year saga,” according to Matthew Koehler, WildEarth Guardians’ communications manager.

Koehler said lynx are vulnerable to habitat loss and fragmentation due to logging, road building and development. He said climate change poses a serious threat to lynx viability in the western U.S. by reducing snowpack in the boreal forests that lynx inhabit. Drought and high temperatures that fuel high-intensity wildfires and bark beetle epidemics further stress these forests, he said.

Molloy’s 2014 decision gave FWS until January 2018 to prepare a recovery plan. Just before that deadline, the agency produced a Species Status Assessment that found there are more lynx in Maine and Colorado than likely occurred historically. It also notes that lynx distribution in northwestern Montana and northeastern Idaho “may have contracted” recently, and that no lynx have been detected in the Greater Yellowstone Area (southwestern Montana and northwestern Wyoming) since 2010. Lynx populations across the six geographic units the agency studied are expected to become smaller and more patchily distributed in the future due to climate-driven losses in habitat quality and quantity. 

Despite that conclusion, FWS now considers the species recovered, though it has never formally delisted Canada lynx. As a result, the species remains “in limbo,” according to a press release from the plaintiffs. Their Dec. 1 complaint claims that the agency’s assessment of lynx as recovered is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with the [Endangered Species Act].”

Requests for comment from the Department of Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were not returned by deadline.

Matthew Bishop, who has been litigating the lynx issue as an attorney with the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center since the late 1990s, said his clients decided to file the lawsuit after reviewing recent studies and agency communications regarding lynx management garnered from Freedom of Information Act requests.

Bishop said that comparing trapping data from the 2000 listing decision with the species’ present-day distribution reveals that the animals’ range in Montana has shrunk significantly. There are no longer lynx in the Garnet Range, Pioneer Mountains or Greater Yellowstone region, he said.

“Look at Montana’s own data … their range has contracted quite a bit just in Montana,” he said.

Bishop said the Fish and Wildlife Service’s approach to lynx management appears to be motivated by politics and fatigue over litigation rather than science.

“We had to sue them every step of the way — to list the species, to fix the listing, to do the recovery plan, to do critical habitat, to consult on timber projects and forest plans,” he said. “It seems like they just try to do these shortcuts and want out. They want out of their obligations.”

Friends of the Wild Swan program director Arlene Montgomery said northwestern Montana’s lynx require thick forest understory and tend to steer clear of logging clear-cuts, for example. Road building also negatively impacts lynx because the compacted surface of roads tends to open hunting ground for competitor predators, she said.

Lynx are habitat specialists, meaning they evolved to thrive in a very narrow range of environmental conditions. They have exceptionally large paws that make them particularly adept at traveling through deep snow and hunting for snowshoe hare, which account for up to 96% of their winter diet. The competitive advantage afforded by their large paws diminishes when climate change-spurred declines in snowpack open snowshoe hare hunting grounds to other predators like bobcats and coyotes.

“It looks like there’s going to be more competitors coming into areas that are kind of lynx strongholds right now,” said wildlife biologist Arthur Scully, who conducted a 2018 study in Washington state that found lynx are negatively impacted when bobcats move into their winter range. “The more pressure they have, the more likely those populations are [to experience] extirpation.”

Concerns about how climate change will impact future Endangered Species Act listings for other snow-dependent species like wolverines could also play a role in FWS’ approach to lynx management, Bishop said. The Endangered Species Act, which was passed by Congress in 1973 and signed into law by President Richard Nixon, directs the Secretary of the Interior to give consideration to species that are “in danger or extinction, or likely to become so in the foreseeable future.”

“Foreseeable future” is a nebulous term, and the Trump administration has directed federal agencies to interpret it on a case-by-case basis using the best data available. In practice, “foreseeable future” comes out to about 30 years for species like lynx, Bishop said.

“If they go out past 30 years, there’s a lot of species [that] are going to be in trouble,” he said. “It’s going to start opening the floodgates.”


Science X

Threatened Species Index of Australia shows staggering loss of threatened native plants over 20 years

by Threatened Species Recovery Hub, December 4, 2020

In just over two decades (1995-2017) numbers of Australian threatened plants have decreased by more than 70% on average.

The findings come from Australia’s Threatened Species Index which combines data from hundreds of monitoring programs across the country to track trends in threatened species populations.

The Index was developed by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program. It is the first of its kind in Australia, providing an evidence-based national-level understanding of threatened species trends.

The recent addition of plants to the index has put the spotlight on trends for Australian threatened plant populations.

Dr. Micha Jackson from the University of Queensland, who was part of the team that co-ordinated data collection and analysis for the 2020 index, said that the index includes monitoring data for 112 threatened plant species from almost 600 sites across the country.

“There are 1342 threatened plant species in Australia. We’ve been able to collate monitoring data on almost 10% of these species and it paints a worrying picture,” Dr. Jackson said.

“Overall threatened plants are faring badly.

“We took a look at different plant types and found they had all suffered similar declines over that period, with trees, shrubs, herbs and orchids all declining by 65-75% on average.

“These are averages, so within that some individual species have done better and others worse.

“We also looked at the difference that conservation management made for populations.

“We found that plant populations at managed sites suffered declines of less than 60% on average, but the declines at unmanaged sites were substantially higher, at around 80% on average.

“This indicates that while conservation actions may be linked to reduced rates of decline, they have not been sufficient to reverse declines overall.

“That being said, the index does include a somewhat disproportionate amount of Australia’s most threatened plants—i.e. those that are listed nationally as Critically Endangered or Endangered—because more resources and monitoring effort tend to go into these highly threatened species,” said Dr. Jackson.

Project co-leader Prof Hugh Possingham at the University of Queensland said that monitoring threatened species is vital to understand if numbers are going up or down and if conservation investments are working.

“While there are individual monitoring programs for hundreds of species across the country, this index has allowed us to bring this data together to tell us about the bigger picture for the first time.

“What it is telling us is very concerning, and highlights that a lot more effort is needed if we as a society want to prevent extinctions and the loss of nature around us,” Prof Possingham said.

Project co-leader Dr. Ayesha Tulloch from the University of Sydney said that most of the data had been contributed by state government monitoring programs in four states: South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia. Data was also provided by non-government conservation and community groups.

“The index already provides a lot of insight into how threatened species are faring, but some regions are not yet well represented. As more data is added it will increase the power of the index to tell us if our conservation investments are paying off and which regions or species groups most need help,” Dr. Tulloch said.

“The index is updated with new data annually and we encourage any groups monitoring threatened or near threatened species to contribute their data.

“Australia has more than twice as many threatened plants (1379) as threatened animals (518), but a lot less effort has gone into monitoring plants.

“Almost ten times more monitoring data is available on threatened birds, in large part due to the amazing efforts of community birdwatchers co-ordinated by groups like Birdlife Australia.

“Plants are generally fairly easy to monitor and we’d love to see more community groups get involved in monitoring a threatened species in their local patch,” Dr. Tulloch said.

The Threatened Species Index also collates data for threatened birds and mammals and it is hoped that other groups such as freshwater species may be added in future.


Center for Biological Diversity

News Release, Dec. 3, 2020

Endangered Species Protection Sought for Rare Oregon Wildflower

Presumed Extinct Until 2008, Tall Western Penstemon Clings to Life in Five Locations

PORTLAND, Ore.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Native Plant Society of Oregon submitted a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to protect the tall western penstemon (Penstemon hesperius) under the Endangered Species Act. The species is one of the rarest vascular plants in the Pacific Northwest and is threatened by development, habitat degradation, climate change and competition from non-native species.

The tall western penstemon exists today in just five known populations, narrowly distributed from southwestern Washington to northwestern Oregon. The species is part of a genus of plants commonly known as “beardtongues.” Its vivid purple-blue flowers, perched high atop its unusually long stems, makes the tall western penstemon a distinctive and beautiful presence in the region’s rare, ecologically intact wet prairies.

“This beautiful and rare plant has managed to cling to life in a handful of urban refuges,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center. “It’s a humbling thing to look at a species and know you’re looking at one of the last of its kind. Without Endangered Species Act protection, the tall western penstemon may finally succumb to pressure from development and climate change.”

The species’ historic wetland habitat was almost completely lost or severely degraded due to extensive agricultural and urban development throughout the Portland-Vancouver metro area. It was presumed extinct until 2008, when local botanists rediscovered the species on the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.

“The story about the rediscovery of this species at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is fascinating,” said Jason Clinch, rare and endangered plants committee chair at the Native Plant Society of Oregon. “It was presumably extinct for some 75 years but to find it hanging on in wetland habitat that has been through 150 years of cattle grazing, agricultural production and hydrologic manipulation is astounding.”

Since its rediscovery in 2008, the tall western penstemon has been observed in the metro area on both sides of the Columbia River. Today this rare plant remains threatened throughout its range by ongoing urban and suburban development.

The tall western penstemon is designated as endangered in Washington by the Washington Natural Heritage Program. In Oregon the plant is categorized as threatened with extinction throughout its range by the Oregon Biodiversity Information Center. But these designations do not confer any formal legal protection.


The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction, CO)

Ptarmigan protection deemed unneeded, suit filed over lynx

By DENNIS WEBB, December 3, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided a grouse species that is an icon of Colorado’s high country doesn’t require Endangered Species Act protection, while environmentalists are suing the agency over its failure to prepare a recovery plan for another animal well-adapted to the state’s mountains, the Canada lynx.

The agency said Wednesday that after a review of the best available science, it has found that a listing for protection under the Endangered Species Act isn’t warranted in the case of the southern white-tailed ptarmigan.

The southern white-tailed ptarmigan subspecies is the smallest grouse in North America and lives exclusively in high-mountain habitats of Colorado and a small part of northern New Mexico, the agency says. The bird is well adapted to living year-round in the harsh alpine environment, amid willows that are its primary food source, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Mountain climbers and others who hike above tree line can sometimes spot the ptarmigan despite its feathery camouflage, which switches from speckle-colored in the summer to winter-white.

A species status assessment by the Fish and Wildlife Service this year found that a future change in climate “is the primary factor expected to influence future conditions” for the bird, specifically when it comes to changes in temperature and precipitation. The subspecies also is presumed to have disappeared from the Snowy Range in Wyoming and is showing some local declines in New Mexico, but according to a Federal Register notice scheduled for formal publication today, its distribution is largely unchanged from historical levels in Colorado and New Mexico.

The resiliency of populations across Colorado and other factors led the Fish and Wildlife Service to conclude the bird’s current risk of extinction is low. The bird is found in Colorado high country including the Flat Tops Wilderness, the Aspen and Telluride/Silverton areas and mountains around and north of Leadville and Breckenridge.

The agency’s finding comes after the Center for Biological Diversity in 2011 petitioned it to list the southern white-tailed ptarmigan and Mt. Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan as threatened subspecies. A separate determination is pending for the Mt. Rainier subspecies.

On the Canada lynx front, groups including the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, the San Juan Citizens Alliance and Rocky Mountain Wild this week sued the Fish and Wildlife Service over its failure to prepare a plan detailing how to recover the animal and lay out metrics for determining when it is recovered.

The agency listed the Canada lynx as threatened 20 years ago, one year after Colorado Parks and Wildlife started reintroducing it to Colorado. It lives in boreal forests, preying particularly on snowshoe hare. It gets around in deep snow with the aid of large paws, just as the ptarmigan stays on top of snow thanks to heavily feathered feet.

A court previously ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare a Canada lynx recovery plan by January 2018. Before that deadline, the agency decided the lynx was recovered and no longer threatened in the contiguous United States. But the conservation groups say the agency’s delisting decision was never formalized or published as required by law. They also contend the best available science shows the animal continues to be threatened, thanks to factors including climate change, wildfires, logging, development and motorized access.

They say its habitat in the contiguous United States has declined since 2000, and that only Northwest Montana/Northeast Idaho is likely to support a resident population by 2,100. The groups say the animal’s population in Colorado was estimated at between 150-200 in 2010, and its numbers in the state have declined since then and current estimates range from 40 to 200.

CPW in 2010 declared its reintroduction effort a success. Last year, 20 years after reintroduction started, CPW said it believes the lynx’s core population in the San Juan Mountains is between 150-250, but noted it has dispersed elsewhere in the state as well. It has used habitat in the Grand Mesa area.

The Fish and Wildlife Service referred a request for comment on the suit to the Department of Justice, which couldn’t immediately be reached.


Center for Biological Diversity

News Release, Dec. 2, 2020

Emergency Petition Seeks to Protect Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales From Fishing Gear

Entanglements Are Killing, Seriously Injuring Species Facing Extinction

WASHINGTON— Conservation and wildlife-protection groups today filed an emergency rulemaking petition to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales from becoming entangled in commercial fishing gear.

“North Atlantic right whales are in crisis, and these critically endangered animals need protection from deadly entanglements now,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Federal officials need to immediately prohibit the use of vertical fishing lines in the whales’ important habitat areas.”

New scientific information shows the population now consists of 356 animals, only about 70 of whom are breeding females. The species has suffered nearly a 25% population loss in less than a decade. Entanglements are the leading cause of skyrocketing rates of right whale deaths and serious injuries and are also preventing them from reproducing, pushing calving rates to historic lows.

“At least 32 right whales have been killed by human activities in the last three years alone, yet the federal government is still sitting on its hands,” said Erica Fuller a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. “The window to save this species is closing. We’re left with no other option but to file this petition. The federal government must declare this situation what it is – an emergency – and take action to protect these animals now.”

The petition asks the National Marine Fisheries Service to find that entanglements in the vertical buoy lines used in commercial fisheries are having an immediate and significant adverse impact on right whales and to issue emergency regulations to address that impact. This includes closing waters off Southern New England to trap/pot and gillnet gear.

It also requests that the agency allow the use of on-demand fishing gear (also known as ropeless or pop-up buoy gear) during the emergency closures. These new technologies eliminate the vertical buoy lines that are so dangerous to right whales while allowing fishing to continue.

“Four out of every five North Atlantic right whales has suffered from entanglement at least once,” said Jane Davenport, a senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “Yet the government refuses to act as an entire species teeters on the brink of extinction. We must give these whales some breathing room in the areas where they feed and mate, oblivious to the dense maze of entangling fishing lines surrounding them.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Law Foundation and Defenders of Wildlife were among the groups that filed the emergency petition under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Administrative Procedure Act.

In April 2020 the petitioners won a lawsuit challenging the Fisheries Service’s management of the American lobster fishery for failing to protect endangered right whales from entanglements. The agency has until May 31, 2021 to issue new regulations to reduce entanglement risk. But in the meantime there are no new mitigation measures in place. The petition seeks to ensure additional protections are in place while the Service develops long-term regulations.-


Oregon Public Broadcasting (OBP)

Tufted puffins denied Endangered Species Act protections

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deemed the tufted puffin unworthy of federal protection, despite declining population in Oregon and elsewhere.

By Bradley W. Parks (OPB), Bend, Ore., Dec. 2, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday denied Endangered Species Act protections for the tufted puffin, a whimsical, wobbly seabird found up and down the northern Pacific Coast of North America and Asia.

Tufted puffins’ colorful plumage and wry antics have long attracted onlookers at Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast. Haystack Rock boasts the largest tufted puffin breeding colony in Oregon.

John Underwood helped start the Protect Our Puffins campaign with the Friends of Haystack Rock. He’s been visiting the beach to watch the birds for nearly 60 years.

“They’re so iconic for Cannon Beach,” Underwood said.

The population of tufted puffins has declined over the years primarily in the southern reaches of the birds’ range — from British Columbia down to Northern California.

A study of the entire Oregon coastline in 1988 turned up nearly 5,000 breeding tufted puffins. That number was down to just 142 in 2008.

Puffins’ plummeting population prompted the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider the bird for Endangered Species Act protection. The agency determined that, despite glaring losses in some areas, the large majority of the range-wide population of 3 million is either stable or increasing.

Underwood has watched puffins slowly disappear from Cannon Beach over the years.

“We need to do something about that,” he said. “We can’t just let them disappear.”

Underwood and his wife have helped Friends of Haystack Rock sell puffin-themed sweatshirts to raise money for further study of the seabirds. Now you can even buy puffin merch online.

The Protect Our Puffins campaign today is helping fund research to determine if puffins in the Pacific Northwest are genetically distinct from those closer to Alaska. If so, puffins of the southern variety may warrant federal protection.

The bird has protected status in Oregon, Washington and California. Japan listed the bird as endangered in 1993.

The Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Washington Post

Threatened pine tree to get Endangered Species Act protections

By Associated Press, Dec. 1, 2020 (KidsPost)

Climate change, hungry beetles and disease are threatening the survival of a high-elevation pine tree that’s a key source of food for grizzly bears and found across the Western United States, federal officials said Tuesday.

A Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposal to be published Wednesday would protect the whitebark pine tree as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, according to documents posted by the Office of the Federal Register.

But the agency said it doesn’t plan to designate which areas are critical to the tree’s survival, guidance some environmentalists say is needed.

The trees can live up to 1,000 years and are found at elevations up to 12,000 feet — conditions too harsh for most trees to survive. They have been nearly wiped out in some areas, including the eastern edge of Yellowstone National Park, where their cones are a source of food for threatened grizzly bears.

Environmentalists had petitioned the government in 2008 to protect the trees that grow in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and western Canada.

Grizzlies raid squirrel caches of whitebark pine cones and devour the seeds within the cones to fatten up for winter.

A nonnative fungus has been killing whitebark pines for a century. More recently, the trees have proved vulnerable to bark beetles that have killed millions of acres of forest and to climate change, which scientific studies have said are responsible for more severe wildfire seasons.

FWS’s proposal described the threats to the trees as “imminent” and said whitebark is one of many plants expected to be impacted as climate change moves faster than they are able to adapt.

“Whitebark pine survives at high elevations already, so there is little remaining habitat in many areas for the species to migrate to higher elevations in response to warmer temperatures,” Fish and Wildlife Service officials wrote.

The officials added: “Overall, whitebark pine stands have seen severe reductions in reproduction and regeneration. . . . High severity wildfires, white pine blister rust, and mountain pine beetle all act on portions of whitebark pine’s range.”

An attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which submitted the 2008 petition for protections, said the government was slow to act but said the proposal was worth celebrating.

“This is the federal government admitting that climate change is killing off a widely distributed tree, and we know that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are many species threatened,” said Rebecca Riley, legal director for the environmental group’s nature program.


Patch (CT)

AG Tong Adds Endangered Species Act Claim To Trump Lawsuit

The suit challenges the administration’s revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act.

By Press Release Desk, News Partner, Dec 1, 2020

Press release from AG’s Office, Dec. 1, 2020

(CT) Attorney General William Tong today joined a multistate coalition in amending their complaint challenging the Trump Administration’s unlawful revised regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The new complaint alleges that the regulations also violated the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

On July 15, 2020, the Trump Administration’s Council on Environmental Quality announced a final rule upending NEPA’s requirement that federal agencies comprehensively evaluate the impacts of their actions on the environment and public health. Shortly after, the coalition filed a lawsuit arguing that the rule abandoned informed decision making, public participation, and environmental and public health protections in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and NEPA.

Today, the coalition claims that the Trump Administration also violated the ESA by failing to consult with federal wildlife agencies to assess impacts to listed species during the rulemaking process. Connecticut has 23 federally listed endangered species that would be directly affected by this Trump Administration rollback.

“This rule completely obliterates our bedrock environmental protections, allowing developers to push through major energy and infrastructure projects with no regard to science, environmental harm and endangered species. We will not allow the Trump Administration to silence science, facts, and our voices. This rule was pushed through with complete disregard for legal processes and procedures and by an entity with no statutory authority to make these sweeping changes. We join with states across the nation in asking the court to block this rule,” said Attorney General Tong.

“This lawsuit is necessary to prevent the elimination of NEPA as a foundational tenet of environmental law and protection. Endangered species protections are one of the many environmental safeguards substantially ignored by the revised regulations,” said DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes. “We at DEEP join with Attorney General Tong and strongly support this action to reverse a decision that threatens to erode the protections NEPA has promoted over the past 50 years. We cannot risk our state’s endangered species and their vulnerable habitats, which are vital to a healthy and resilient ecosystem.”

Enacted under the Nixon Administration in 1973, the ESA is intended “to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost.” Section 7 of the ESA requires a federal agency to engage in formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service when a proposed federal action “may affect a listed species or critical habitat.”

The Trump Administration failed to consult with federal wildlife agencies regarding the impacts that the final rule might have on federally listed endangered and threatened species, as required by Section 7. Bypassing the ESA’s formal consultation process, the Trump Administration concluded that the final rule, which makes significant changes to how federal agencies review the environmental impacts of their actions, will have “no effect” on listed species or designated critical habitat. The Trump Administration did not provide any meaningful analysis or supporting evidence for this conclusion.

Assistant Attorney General Robert Snook and Assistant Attorney General Matt Levine, Head of the Environment Department, assisted the Attorney General in this matter.

(This press release was produced by AG’s Office. The views expressed here are the author’s own.)

****** (Idaho Falls, ID)

Whitebark pine proposed for Endangered Species Act protection

By News Team, December 1, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. (KIFI/KIDK) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed threatened species protection for the whitebark pine Tuesday. The pine is found at high elevation in seven western states, including Wyoming and Idaho.

However, the tree was denied a designation of “protected critical habitat,” based on regulations put in place by the Trump administration last year. Those rules specify that only species where habitat destruction is the primary threat can achieve such protection.

It would have been the most widely distributed tree to gain protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The tree’s seeds provide critical food for grizzly bears and a host of other species, but it is rapidly dying from an introduced disease called white-pine blister rust. It is also threatened by climate change, which is fostering extensive outbreaks of mountain pine beetle, which kills the pine. That allows competing tree species to take over high elevation habitat. And, experts believe that could lead to higher danger from severe fires.

“Recognition of whitebark pine as a threatened species shows just how profoundly climate change and introduced diseases are changing our world,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These beautiful and important trees need our help. I’m relieved they’re getting the strong protections of the Endangered Species Act, because it’s our best tool for stemming the tide of the extinction crisis.”

Greenwald said the critical habitat designation could have provided an additional tool for protecting whitebark pine by identifying places it is likely to survive and protecting those places from development.

“The loss of whitebark pine and its impact on grizzlies and high-elevation forests shows how tightly knit the world is,” said Greenwald. “If we don’t address the extinction crisis by protecting more places, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and better regulating trade in plants and animals, the natural world and our way of life will unravel before our eyes.”


One Green Planet

Plastic Pollution #1 Killer Of Marine Wildlife According To Research

By Ian Carey, November 28, 2020

The international nonprofit advocacy organization, Oceana, released a new report this month that lists plastic pollution as the #1 killer of marine wildlife. The team of researchers surveyed government agencies, organizations, and institutes to collect data on how plastic pollution is impacting marine life.

What they found was startling. Since 2009, there is evidence of nearly 1800 marine animals across 40 different species having swallowed or becoming entangled in plastic. Of those animals, 88% of them were from species that are listed under the Endangered Species act as endangered or threatened.

“Despair is what you feel as you read through these sad cases,” said Oceana’s senior scientist Kimberly Warner. “The descriptions of what was found inside these animals, and how painful it must have been to be entangled or to starve from ingesting plastic is just terrible.”

“The large majority of the animals in this report — 88% — are already threatened with extinction. That was eye-opening. Many of the animals we are protecting in U.S. waters (from harvest, habitat alteration and impacts to their forage food) are actually suffering from plastic pollution entanglements and deaths,” Warner continued.

The researchers say the biggest problem they found was animals consuming plastic. This can happen due to an animal mistaking plastic for food or inadvertently swallowing plastic materials while swimming. Becoming entangled in plastic was also listed as a frequent problem. This can lead to the animal choking, suffering physical trauma, or not being able to feed properly.

The report makes several recommendations to help curtail the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans. They include:

*Companies must reduce the production of plastic, especially single-use plastics.

*Companies must offer consumers plastic-free alternatives.

*Governments should pass legislation reducing the production of single-use plastics.

*Companies and governments should act to establish widespread reusable containers and packaging.

*Federal agencies tasked with protecting threatened species should standardize and require reporting of all plastic interaction cases.

*Congress must defend and fully fund the implementation of the Endangered Species Act.

Oceana is also asking all concerned US citizens to send a letter to Congress asking them to support The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act.


New Hampshire Union Leader

Trump administration moves to weaken migratory bird protections

Reuters, Nov. 28, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration took a step on Friday toward rolling back protections for migratory birds and reducing penalties for companies that inadvertently kill them, the latest effort to finalize regulatory rollbacks before President Donald Trump leaves office in January.

The Fish and Wildlife Service published its final environmental impact statement for regulations governing the killing of migratory birds. This bolstered the administration’s proposal to reinterpret the 1918 migratory bird statute by limiting the definition of an illegal “taking” under the law to deliberate actions, so shielding from penalty energy companies, developers and others who inadvertently kill birds.

The policy that had been in effect since the early 1970s defined an illegal “taking” under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act as any action that caused the death of a protected species, whether deliberate or accidental.

“It is in the public interest to apply a national standard that sets a clear, consistent and articulable rule for when a person or operator commits a criminal misdemeanor violation of the MBTA,” the final EIS says.

The final EIS will enable the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a final rule as soon as the end of December, locking in the changes before Trump hands off to President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20.

The analysis concedes that while the changes to the rule would increase legal certainty for companies, companies would be less inclined to implement “best practices” to reduce inadvertent bird takes, resulting in “increased bird mortality.”

Environmental groups said the move will harm migratory birds at a time that they are most vulnerable due to climate change and other environmental risks.

“The Trump administration’s decision to give polluters carte blanche to kill birds is not just illegal, it’s cruel,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“With scientists warning birds are disappearing from our skies, now is not the time to relax rules on killing them.”


Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Scientists: Rise in sea turtle population unrelated to reduced tourism

By MICHAEL BRESTOVANSKY, November 28, 2020

While tourism in Hawaii has declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, sea turtle populations have increased — but scientists say the two are unrelated.

The global decrease in travel throughout 2020 has led to speculation that lockdowns and quarantines have allowed the environment to partially recover from human activity. But while endangered sea turtle populations have seen a rebound in Hawaii this year, experts caution against correlating the two factors.

“It’s true that there has been a large increase in the number of green sea turtle nests,” said Ryan Jenkinson, head of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Aquatic Resources Division Protected Species Program. “But that’s totally independent of what’s happening with COVID.”

Sea turtles, Jenkinson said, do not reproduce so quickly that a single summer can reverse their declining population, and there is not enough data to suggest what impact, if any, the global lockdown has had on their population.

While Danielle Bass, sustainability coordinator for the state’s Office of Planning, told the state House of Representatives Tuesday that green sea turtle nests on Oahu have been particularly successful over the summer — Marine Corps Base Hawaii reported more than 13 nests on Bellows Beach on Oahu in June, and that 95% of hatchlings survived — Jenkinson said it would be hasty to attribute that success to COVID impacts.

“Turtles don’t make annual schedules,” Jenkinson said.

Jenkinson explained that green sea turtles tend to nest where they themselves hatched, but if that site is unavailable — for example, if there are too many people on a beach between the ocean and the nesting site — they simply find other sites. A high number of turtle nests on one beach, therefore, does not indicate that the number of sea turtles has increased, merely that a greater-than-average number of turtles chose that beach to nest, for whatever reason.

Jenkinson pointed out that certain nesting sites on the minor Hawaiian islands and reefs have been irrevocably lost to climate change, necessitating a search for other sites on the larger islands.

Alex Gaos, research biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Fisheries Science Center, said a decrease in human activity could potentially benefit specific sea turtle nests — “there could be fewer lights to confuse the hatchlings, or maybe there’s fewer drivers running over nests or something,” he said — he pointed out that the lack of human activity could just as easily create false positives.

“If there’s fewer people on the beach, that means hatchlings’ tracks couldn’t be obscured as much, so it might look like there’s more of them,” Gaos said.

In short, Jenkinson said, any increase in the green sea turtle population around Hawaii this year is more likely attributable to years of conservation work dedicated to the recovery of the endangered species, rather than a single summer with fewer tourists than average.

As for hawksbill sea turtles, the critically endangered species also found in Hawaii’s waters, even less can be concluded. Jenkinson said the DLNR researchers monitoring hawksbill populations were unable to make observations this year — ironically, because of COVID.


NBC CH 4 (Universal City, CA)

UCLA Study Rebuts Beliefs on Survival of Relocated Species, Offers New Conservation Tool to Increase Survival Rates

The study upends the conventional wisdom that a transplant’s success improves if it comes from a nearby habitat, as the data showed no connection between geography and survival.

By City News Service, November 27, 2020

Building on a 20-year tortoise relocation effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, UCLA researchers have found that individual genetic variation was the key to a transplanted species’ survival, in research published Friday in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

The study upends the conventional wisdom that a transplant’s success improves if it comes from a nearby habitat, as the data showed no connection between geography and survival.

“It flies in the face of what we know from other translocation studies, but lots of genetic variation was hands-down the best predictor of whether a tortoise lived or died,” said UCLA professor Brad Shaffer, a conservation ecologist and senior author of the study.

Climate change increasingly makes relocating threatened species necessary, despite the tactic’s frequently low success rate. UCLA’s research offers a fast, inexpensive new conservation tool to increase survival rates when moving endangered plants and animals.

The researchers sequenced the DNA of Mojave desert tortoises that were relocated around the same time period. They found that survivors averaged 23% greater genetic variation, or heterozygosity, than those that perished.

From 1997-2014, U.S. Fish and Wildlife translocated approximately 9,100 threatened Mojave desert tortoises that were abandoned as pets or pushed out by development. They were relocated to a 100-square kilometer site in Ivanpah Valley, southeast of Las Vegas. The threatened species, native to the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico, is under consideration for endangered status in California.

(Copyright CNS – City News Service)


The Western News (Libby, MT)

Federal and state officials investigate illegal grizzly bear killing

By WILL LANGHORNE, November 27, 2020

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and game wardens with Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks are investigating the illegal killing of a grizzly bear near the Yaak.

Authorities found the carcass of an adult female grizzly bear Nov. 20 about four miles south of the Yaak on Pipe Creek Road, according to Dillon Tabish, regional informational and education program manager for FWP Region 1.

Tabish said some parts of the bear were missing. He could not provide additional details, citing the ongoing investigation.

“We are encouraging anyone with possible information to call our hotline,” Tabish said.

Residents with tips may call 1-800-847-6668. Tabish said callers will remain anonymous and may be eligible for a financial reward depending on their information.

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. It is illegal to harm, harass or kill these bears, except in cases of self-defense or the defense of others.


Science Daily

Study of threatened desert tortoises offers new conservation strategy

Animals with more genetic variation are more likely to survive relocation

Source:  University of California – Los Angeles: November 27, 2020

A new study supports a new conservation strategy. Climate change increasingly makes relocating threatened species necessary, despite the frequently low success rate. The study found tortoises with lots of genetic variation were much more likely to survive after their relocation. The research supports this fast, inexpensive conservation tool, and upends the conventional wisdom suggesting that tortoises from areas moved from close by would fare best.

In Nevada’s dry Ivanpah Valley, just southeast of Las Vegas, a massive unintended experiment in animal conservation has revealed an unexpected result.

From 1997 to 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service moved more than 9,100 Mojave desert tortoises to the 100-square-kilometer (about 39 miles square) Large Scale Translocation Site. The newcomers, many of which were abandoned pets or had been displaced by development, joined nearly 1,500 desert tortoises already living there.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that tortoises from areas closest to the translocation site would fare best. But a new UCLA study, published today in Science, found no connection between the tortoises’ place of origin and their chances of survival. It did, however, uncover a far better predictor.

Tortoises with lots of genetic variation were much more likely to survive after their relocation, said UCLA conservation ecologist Brad Shaffer, the study’s senior author. Like most organisms, tortoises have two copies of their entire genome, with one copy from each parent. The more those copies differ from each other, the higher the organism’s heterozygosity.

The researchers compared translocated tortoises that lived or died over the same time period after being relocated to the site. They found that survivors averaged 23% greater heterozygosity than those that perished. Simply put, tortoises with more genetic variation had higher survival rates.

“It flies in the face of what we know from other translocation studies, but lots of genetic variation was hands-down the best predictor of whether a tortoise lived or died,” said Shaffer, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the UCLA La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science. “Relocating endangered plants and animals is increasingly necessary to counteract the effects of climate change, and this gives us a new tool to increase survival rates.”

Although the relationship between heterozygosity and survival was well supported by the study, it’s unclear why greater genetic variation is linked to survival rates, said former UCLA postdoctoral scholar Peter Scott, the study’s lead author.

“Potentially, individuals with higher heterozygosity have more genomic flexibility,” said Scott, who is now an assistant professor at West Texas A&M University. “It’s likely that tortoises with more variation have a better chance of having one copy of a gene that works really well in stressful or new environments compared to those individuals with two identical copies that only work really well in their environment of origin.”

The researchers wanted to make tortoise conservation efforts more effective, and uncover trends that would help other species as well, Scott said.

“Oftentimes, the chances of success for relocating plants or animals is pretty dismal,” he said. “We wanted to understand why, and use that understanding to increase survival.”

Over the years, tortoises that were given up as pets, or removed from places like developments in suburban Las Vegas and solar farms in the desert, were surrendered to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency took blood samples to screen for diseases and marked each animal before releasing them into the Ivanpah Valley site, which enabled the animals to be tracked in later surveys. The UCLA researchers sequenced blood samples drawn from 79 tortoises that were released to the site and were known to be alive in 2015, and from another 87 known to have died after they were released at the site.

Although the Large Scale Translocation Site provided an intriguing dataset, it’s not the same as a controlled experiment. Additional studies would be needed to understand why more heterozygous tortoises had a higher survival probability and precisely how much of an increase in genetic variation improves a tortoise’s odds of surviving.

“The only reason we could do this study was because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was incredibly forward-thinking when they set up the translocation site and tracked who lived and died,” Shaffer said. “Many died, and no one was happy about that. But we can learn a lot from that unfortunate result to help conservation management improve.

“When thinking about moving animals or plants out of danger, or repopulating an area emptied by wildfire, now we can easily and economically measure genetic variability to better gauge the survival probability of those translocated individuals. It’s not the only criteria, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle.”

(Story Source: Materials provided by University of California – Los Angeles. Original written by Alison Hewitt. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.)


Understanding Chinese medicine could protect endangered animals

By Chrissy Sexton, staff writer, November 26, 2020

By gaining a better understanding of traditional Chinese medicine, conservationists will be more capable of protecting endangered animals like rhinos and tigers, according to a team of researchers led by the University of Queensland.

“The consumptive use of wildlife is often rooted in traditional beliefs and customs,” wrote the study authors. “Many people around the world rely on traditional forms of medicine for their health and wellbeing.”

“These diverse medical systems make use of an array of wild plants, animals and fungi, often ones that are locally available and that are not threatened. However, some traditional medical systems make use of products derived from endangered species, including Traditional Chinese Medicine.”

Study lead author and phD candidate Hubert Cheung said efforts to shift entrenched values and beliefs about Chinese medicine are not achieving conservation gains in the short term. He explained that a better understanding of traditional practices was critical for conservationists to form more effective strategies.

“The use of endangered species in traditional Chinese medicine threatens species’ survival and is a challenge for conservationists. Pushing messages of inefficacy, providing various forms of scientific evidence or promoting biomedical alternatives doesn’t seem to be drastically influencing decisions and behaviors.”

Cheung pointed out that while many practices and treatments continue to be criticized for lacking scientific support, the World Health Organization approved the inclusion of traditional Chinese medicine in its global compendium of medical practices last year.

“The challenge now is for conservationists to work proactively with practitioners and others in the industry to find sustainable solutions,” said Cheung. “However, most conservation scientists and organizations are unfamiliar with traditional Chinese medicine, which makes it difficult to devise effective and culturally-nuanced interventions.”

In an effort to make traditional Chinese medicine more accessible, the researchers have examined the core theories and practices. They hope this study may influence policy and campaigning.

“Today, traditional Chinese medicine is formally integrated into China’s healthcare system, and has been central to China’s response to the ongoing pandemic,” said Cheung. “In fact, the Chinese government’s COVID-19 clinical guidance has included recommendations for the use of a product containing bear bile, which has raised concerns among conservation groups.”

According to study co-author Professor Hugh Possingham, traditional Chinese medicine is now not only entrenched in the social and cultural fabric of Chinese society, but also gaining users elsewhere.

“A better understanding of traditional Chinese medicine will empower conservationists to engage more constructively with stakeholders in this space,” said Professor Possingham.”We’re hoping that this work can help all parties develop more effective and lasting solutions for species threatened by medicinal use.”

The study is published in the journal People and Nature.


M Live/Michigan

Sleeping Bear Dunes piping plover spotted in South Carolina, heralded as “true survivor”

By Emily Bingham,, November 26, 2020

NORTH MANITOU ISLAND, MICH. — After a troublesome nesting season for some Great Lakes piping plovers, one little bird’s big trip this fall is being celebrated as a victory.

A first-year fledgling born this summer on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s North Manitou Island was recently spotted on Kiawah Island, South Carolina — a popular wintering ground for the Great Lakes plover population.

What makes the sighting so remarkable? This particular fledgling — which was banded by researchers for ID purposes, as nearly all Great Lakes plovers are — was the sole survivor of three separate nesting attempts on the part of the bird’s father.

According to the Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Effort, the first and second nests were wiped out by egg predation and the remnants of Tropical Storm Cristobal, respectively. Three eggs from the third nest successfully hatched, but two were snatched up by a merlin — a type of small, fierce falcon — within just a couple days.

That left just this one fledgling, who not only survived the rest of its summer on the island, but this fall traveled roughly 920 miles (as the plover flies) to South Carolina — a seemingly extraordinary feat for a creature that weighs less than two ounces.

The news of the bird’s arrival at its wintering grounds was announced on Facebook by the Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Effort, which called him “a true survivor.”

This wasn’t an easy year to be a Great Lakes piping plover. The endangered species, which has been making a slow comeback since its numbers dipped to an all-time low of about a dozen breeding pairs in 1990, had its beachfront nesting grounds besieged by the unprecedented high water levels affecting coastal communities around the Great Lakes.

On top of that, according to Sleeping Bear Dunes wildlife biologist Vince Cavalieri, only about half of all plovers that fledge from the Sleeping Bear area end up being sighted at their winter homes — and of those first-year birds, roughly 35 to 40 percent make it back north to their breeding grounds in the following spring.

Those are some tough odds, but it’s not uncommon for migratory birds to have high first-winter mortality rates, Cavalieri explained — and the plovers’ survival rate rises to 80 percent or higher after a plover makes it through that difficult first year.

“For a bird to make it all the way to South Carolina and then we see it again at Sleeping Bear the next year, it’s really an accomplishment for that plover — and perhaps for the conservation community as well,” Cavalieri said.

Historically, plovers were widespread throughout the Great Lakes states and Ontario, with as many as 800 nesting pairs in the region around the turn of the 20th century. But their numbers rapidly declined in the ensuing decades due to habitat loss, as their preferred nesting grounds — wide beaches and cobbled lakeshores — were gobbled up as prime real estate.

When the birds were placed on the federal endangered species list in the 1980′s, a large network of agencies, research institutions and individuals launched an intensive recovery effort to bring the species back, through projects ranging from habitat preservation and restoration to salvage-captive rearing, in which abandoned eggs are hatched and reared in captivity to be released when the fledglings are ready to be on their own.

In recent years, the Great Lakes piping plover population has held steady between 65 to 75 pairs: A number that puts the sighting of that one little plover into perspective.

“They’re a lot more secure now than they were in 1990,” Cavalieri said. “But they’re still very rare, so seeing one any time is interesting and especially seeing young birds on their wintering grounds is always a really cool thing.”



EPA: Over 90% of species put at risk by common weedkiller

Marc Heller, E&E News reporter, November 25, 2020

The widely used weedkiller glyphosate is likely to adversely affect endangered species, but mainly from non-agricultural uses, EPA said today.

In a draft biological evaluation for glyphosate, the environmental agency said the uncertainty and lack of available data about uses in non-farm settings is the main driver of the chemical’s risk to a variety of wildlife and critical habitats.

The evaluation is available on the agency’s website in a series of documents.

More than 90% of various mammals, bird and invertebrates EPA evaluated are likely to be adversely affected, the agency said, with most of those determinations having moderate evidence. The greatest risk is to aquatic invertebrates, with high risks also to fish, the agency said.

Risks are more moderate for mammals, according to the draft evaluation.

“There have been over 1,000 reported ecological incidents involving glyphosate use for birds, fish, terrestrial invertebrates, and terrestrial plants,” EPA said.

The draft evaluation, open to a 60-day public comment period, is part of EPA’s periodic review of glyphosate — a process it follows for all pesticides. The document doesn’t delve into human health effects such as the ongoing debate about whether glyphosate causes cancer.

It also doesn’t discuss limits on glyphosate’s use or potential changes to its label restrictions, a step that would come later in the process if agencies determine that risks to species warrant it. The review is part of a revised method EPA has adopted this year for evaluating pesticides’ risk to endangered or threatened species, the first step of an interagency consultation.

EPA reapproved glyphosate’s registration in an interim decision earlier this year, leading the Center for Biological Diversity to accuse the Trump administration of allegiance to its manufacturer, Bayer/Monsanto.

The administration was “clearly willing to bend over backwards, including disregarding its own guidelines for evaluating cancer risks, to give the industry what it wants,” the center said at the time. The Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America are among the groups suing EPA to stop the use of glyphosate (Greenwire, March 23).

Glyphosate, widely known by the brand name Roundup, is the most widely used weed killer in the United States, applied regularly to crops such as corn and soybeans that have been genetically modified to tolerate it. Between 2013 and 2018, farmers applied about 280 million pounds to 285 million acres, EPA said.

More than 21 million pounds of glyphosate are applied to non-agricultural sites annually, the agency said. Much of that is at the consumer and residential level, EPA said, a use that’s hard for the government to track.

Other popular uses in non-farm settings are along public roadways and in forestry, EPA said.


Science Daily

Ghost fishing threatens endangered river dolphins, critically endangered turtles, otters

Waste fishing gear in the River Ganges poses a threat to wildlife including otters, turtles and dolphins, new research shows.

University of Exeter, November 25, 2020

The study says entanglement in fishing gear could harm species including the critically endangered three-striped roofed turtle and the endangered Ganges river dolphin.

Surveys along the length of the river, from the mouth in Bangladesh to the Himalayas in India, show levels of waste fishing gear are highest near to the sea.

Fishing nets — all made of plastic — were the most common type of gear found.

Interviews with local fishers revealed high rates of fishing equipment being discarded in the river — driven by short gear lifespans and lack of appropriate disposal systems.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Exeter, with an international team including researchers from India and Bangladesh, was conducted as part of the National Geographic Society’s “Sea to Source: Ganges” expedition.

“The Ganges River supports some of the world’s largest inland fisheries, but no research has been done to assess plastic pollution from this industry, and its impacts on wildlife,” said Dr Sarah Nelms, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“Ingesting plastic can harm wildlife, but our threat assessment focussed on entanglement, which is known to injure and kill a wide range of marine species.”

The researchers used a list of 21 river species of “conservation concern” identified by the Wildlife Institute for India.

They combined existing information on entanglements of similar species worldwide with the new data on levels of waste fishing gear in the Ganges to estimate which species are most at risk.

Speaking about the why so much fishing gear was found in the river, Dr Nelms said: “There is no system for fishers to recycle their nets.

“Most fishers told us they mend and repurpose nets if they can, but if they can’t do that the nets are often discarded in the river.

“Many held the view that the river ‘cleans it away’, so one useful step would be to raise awareness of the real environmental impacts.”

National Geographic Fellow and science co-lead of the expedition Professor Heather Koldewey, of ZSL (the Zoological Society of London) and the University of Exeter, said the study’s findings offer hope for solutions based on “circular economy” — where waste is dramatically reduced by reusing materials.

“A high proportion of the fishing gear we found was made of nylon 6, which is valuable and can be used to make products including carpets and clothing,” she said.

“Collection and recycling of nylon 6 has strong potential as a solution because it would cut plastic pollution and provide an income.

“We demonstrated this through the Net-Works project in the Philippines, which has been so successful it has become a standalone social enterprise called COAST-4C.”

Professor Koldewey added: “This is a complex problem that will require multiple solutions — all of which must work for both local communities and wildlife.”

Dr Nelms’ work was partly funded by the ExeMPLaR Project, and was supported by access to the analytical facilities of the Greenpeace Research Laboratories.


KOTZ Radio (Kotzebue, AK)

Federal officials reject state petition to delist Arctic ringed seals from Endangered Species Act

November 25, 2020 / WESLEY EARLY

On Wednesday, the National Marine Fisheries Service ruled against a petition from the state of Alaska to delist the Arctic ringed seal from the Endangered Species Act.

Last year, the state of Alaska partnered with several North Slope entities to write the petition, arguing that keeping the ringed seal listed as endangered could negatively impact economic opportunities for the state, as well as subsistence rights.

“Although we provided substantial new information to the service, they argued that information was considered in other ways, even though that information wasn’t available previously,” said Chris Krenz, the State Wildlife Science Coordinator. “We are disappointed that they took that tact with this petition.”

Krenz says the state believes that the ringed seal isn’t threatened. Officials noted the ringed seal population, which is in the millions, despite measurable losses in sea ice. Though climate scientists with NMFS predict that by the year 2100, there will be little to no sea ice in the Arctic, Krenz argues that looking that far ahead doesn’t constitute the foreseeable future.

“There is way too much uncertainty to really understand how ringed seals will adapt or not to changes in our environment,” Krenz said. “We’ve also documented additional information that indicates ringed seals may have higher resilience than initially anticipated.”

The Obama administration listed the Arctic ringed seal under the Endangered Species Act in 2012, citing the effects of climate change on the ringed seal’s sea ice habitat. Kristen Monsell is the Oceans Legal Director for the Center for Biological Diversity. She agrees with the ruling from NMFS.

“The best available science shows that within the foreseeable future, so much of their habitat will be destroyed — it will just melt away from greenhouse gases — that the species will not be able to withstand that loss,” Monsell said.

Monsell says the fact that the ruling came from the Trump administration underscores the need for federally protecting the Arctic ringed seal.

NMFS will soon begin a five-year review of the Arctic ringed seal to determine whether or not the species should still be listed under the ESA. Krenz with the state of Alaska says this will provide an opportunity for the state to continue to make their case for delisting.


News 4/JAX (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Suit: Feds ignore risk of huge spills to endangered species

Janet McConnaughey, Associated Press, November 24, 2020

NEW ORLEANS – Environmental groups asked a federal court Wednesday to throw out the Trump administration’s assessment of oil and gas activity’s likely effects on endangered species in the Gulf of Mexico, saying it dismisses the chance of another disastrous blowout like the BP spill of 2010.

The National Marine Fisheries Service’s 700-page analysis greatly underestimates both the likely number and size of oil spills, according to the suit filed by Earthjustice for the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity,Friends of the Earth, and Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Even though the study was prompted by the 2010 spill, it “essentially pretends the Deepwater Horizon spill never happened — that there was nothing to learn from that disaster,” Earthjustice attorney Chris Eaton said in an interview Tuesday.

The federal agency said it left the possibility of an extremely large spill like BP’s out of its calculations of likely effects because a Bureau of Offshore Energy Management analysis found little chance of another during the next 50 years.

The previous analysis, in 2007, also estimated that “such a large spill was extremely unlikely,” the lawsuit noted. That analysis had estimated that “the largest spill possible would be at most 15,000 barrels,” or 630,000 gallons (2.4 million liters).

The 2010 spill, which started with a blowout that killed 11 men, was hundreds of times bigger than that. Estimates of the amount of oil spewed into the Gulf for 87 days varied from from nearly 176 million gallons (666 million liters) to less than 103 million gallons (390 million liters). A federal judge calculated damages based on 134 million gallons (507 million liters) in the Gulf.

The chance of such a spill is even higher now, the lawsuit said, because “Gulf drilling is moving into deeper waters, which increases the possibility of a catastrophic well blowout and extremely large oil spill.”

The study also failed to consider the increased frequency, due to climate change, of hurricanes that can severely damage oil and gas facilities, nor did it take into account recent research about the danger of underwater landslides that can cause extremely large oil spills, the lawsuit said.

In addition, it said, the analysis left out the BP spill’s effects on the corals and other animals and their habitats, using population estimates and other information from before the spill.

The groups asked a federal court in Maryland to make the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service write a new report, called a biological opinion.

The fisheries service does not comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Allison Garrett said.

The federal agencies that regulate offshore oil operations are required by the Endangered Species Act to insure that their actions aren’t likely to jeopardize endangered or threatened species or damage their critical habitat. Offshore oil regulators asked the National Marine Fisheries Service for a new analysis on June 30, 2010, while BP’s well was still gushing.

Ten years later, the result is “just another hand out to Big Oil,” Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth, said in a news release.

Larry McKinney, chair for Gulf strategies at Texas A&M Corpus Christi’s Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, called the NOAA Fisheries analysis one of the most detailed he’s ever seen.

“Overall, I think they did as good a job as you can do with something like that,” McKinney said.

He predicted the litigation will be lengthy because both the report and suit cover a huge area and many species.

It will be largely a battle of experts, he said, but allegations about ignoring large spills are a strength of the suit. “That’s a straightforward question: Did you do that or not? Then you can have debate about whether it’s important,” he said.

NOAA Fisheries estimated that oil and gas activities would affect many endangered and threatened animals over 50 years, including more than a million sea turtles hit by vessels. Its recommendations include measures to protect turtles from seismic surveys and to reduce the chance of vessels hitting endangered Bryde’s whales.

The report estimated the largest spills would average about one-third the size of BP’s because regulators indicated that equipment required since then can cap wells at any depth within 30 days.

The suit said NOAA underestimated the largest spill likely. It said the agency’s analysis arbitrarily started with 1996, omitting Mexico’s Ixtoc I spill of more than 126 million gallons (477 million liters) in 1979. The suit also contended argued that the analysis ignored the slow spill that has continued since a hurricane in September 2004 caused an undersea mudslide at at a group of wells owned by Taylor Energy off Louisiana.

Lois Epstein, a civil engineer at the Wilderness Society who served on a government advisory committee after the BP spill, wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit but faulted the federal study for not considering the likelihood of spills like Taylor’s.

However, Epstein said the government’s 30-day capping estimate seemed reasonable: “There are capping devices that we didn’t have” in 2010.

Eaton of Earthjustice said in a news release Wednesday, “This administration is convinced that if they ignore something, it will go away. It’s not working for the climate crisis and it’s not going to work for oil spills.”


National Geographic

Endangered primates face high risk of catching COVID-19

Dwindling species such as Sumatran orangutans and western lowland gorillas could more easily catch coronavirus, a new study predicts.

BY PAUL NICOLAUS, November 23, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic rages across the globe, much of the focus centers on the growing human death toll, which has climbed above one million. But experts caution that a handful of our closest living relatives in the animal kingdom are also in jeopardy from SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 

A recent analysis of more than 400 vertebrate species, including birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, predicts that critically endangered primate species such as the northern white-cheeked gibbon, the Sumatran orangutan, and the western lowland gorilla—as well as the endangered chimpanzee and bonobo—are particularly vulnerable to infection due to their genetic similarities to humans.

Study leader Harris Lewin set out to identify animals that might serve as a host for the coronavirus—the ancestor of SARS-CoV-2 is thought to have emerged in a bat species native to China and may have infected another (or more) animal species before crossing over to humans. But as his research progressed, the data began to reveal that humans could be a vector, spreading the disease to wild animals. (Read about COVID-19’s impact on the animal kingdom so far.)

“The potential for COVID-like disease outbreak in either captive or wild populations of endangered primates is pretty high,” says Lewin, distinguished professor of ecology and evolution at University of California, Davis. It’s a particular concern for rare animals in captive settings, similar to the eight infected lions and tigers at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. He says it’s likely they picked up the virus from their human keepers.

Infected humans could transmit the virus in parts of the world where wild animals come in close contact with people, such as in parts of Africa, Lewin cautions.

As the basis of their study, Lewin and his team looked more closely at the evolution and structure of the protein receptor ACE2, where the coronavirus attaches and subsequently enters human cells. They studied the protein across hundreds of vertebrate species, which allowed them to determine the relative risks of each to contracting the virus.

The researchers examined the type and number of changes at 25 key positions of the ACE2 receptor and created a categorical ranking system ranging from very high to very low risk based on similarities and differences found at those spots. Animals with all 25 positions matching the human protein are thought to be most susceptible. Those predicted to be at very low risk, on the other hand, have ACE2 receptors that are quite different from that of the human.

Among the 103 species that scored as very high, high, or medium risk, 40 percent are classified as threatened on the International Union of Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, according to the study, published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The 18 very high-risk animals are all Old World primates and great apes. Yet some high-risk endangered species—like the baiji, a freshwater dolphin, Pere David’s deer, and the narrow-ridged finless porpoise whale—surprised the researchers, because they’re distantly related to humans.

Less lethal

The researchers warned against overinterpreting their results, noting that true risk needs to be confirmed with experimental data. And the possibility that infection may occur through a cellular pathway other than ACE2 cannot be ruled out, as there’s more than one way the virus can penetrate the body, Lewin says.

While several species are theoretically susceptible to catching the virus, only a handful of captive animals—domestic dogs, domestic cats, lions, tigers, and minks—have so far been infected, notes Dalen W. Agnew, a professor in the Department of Pathobiology and Diagnostic Investigation at Michigan State University. (Read more about the hunt for the next potential coronavirus animal host.)

In experimental settings, rhesus macaques, cynomolgus macaques, and African green monkeys caught the virus, but most demonstrated relatively mild clinical disease, according to a recent study. Similar studies have shown domestic ferrets have mild or undetectable signs of illness, Egyptian fruit bats show no symptoms, and Syrian hamsters experience mild-to-moderate disease.

Even though the virus does not appear to be as lethal to animals as it is to humans, study co-author Klaus-Peter Koepfli, a research associate at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, points out that mink can die as a result of contracting SARS-CoV-2. (Read how mink are spreading coronavirus to humans more than thought.)

As it stands, he says there simply isn’t enough information available to fully understand why the virus can lead to increased mortality in some species compared with others. (Buddy, the first dog confirmed with coronavirus, died a few months after his diagnosis, though the exact cause is unknown.)

There’s no evidence that the coronavirus is currently spreading to or within populations of wild animals. Still, some say we probably aren’t aware of all infections similar to the way plenty of human cases have likely gone undetected throughout the pandemic.

It is difficult to determine the extent to which the virus is actually spreading to animals, says Andrew Bowman, associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at the Ohio State University. “It’s certainly something to keep an eye on,” he says, especially vulnerable populations or those at the human-animal interface.

Preventing the spread

Not only are our closest animal kin more susceptible due to genetics, like us their highly social behavior also puts them in peril.

Koepfli notes one animal of concern is Africa’s eastern gorilla, of which fewer than 5,000 remain, divided into small populations and subspecies, including the well-known mountain gorilla. If these great apes, which live in close-knit family groups, became infected and died at similar rates to humans, he adds, it could further endanger the animals.

Because of the ramifications, both Koepfli and Lewin say precautionary measures are key. In settings such as national parks, staff should be regularly tested, because any contact could lead to the beginning of a pandemic in Old World primate species. It is also crucial that zoos continue to carry out their robust management plans to prevent spread from caretakers to animals.

“Maybe we were lucky that the virus spilled over into tigers,” says Lewin, “because if it had spilled over into primates, the results might have been quite different and possibly devastating to the Old World primates in captivity at the Bronx Zoo.”



Biden names John Kerry climate envoy

Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter, November 23, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden will nominate longtime adviser Antony Blinken to be secretary of State and name John Kerry special presidential envoy for climate, the transition team announced today, a pair of picks with massive implications for climate diplomacy.

Blinken will be at the center of Biden’s efforts early next year to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and renew U.S. engagement on clean energy and climate adaptation abroad.

Kerry, secretary of State under President Obama, will sit on Biden’s National Security Council in a role dedicated entirely to climate issues.

“America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is,” Kerry said on Twitter this afternoon.

“I’m proud to partner with the President-elect, our allies, and the young leaders of the climate movement to take on this crisis as the President’s Climate Envoy.”

Biden’s transition team also said the president-elect will nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be United Nations ambassador and name Jake Sullivan his national security adviser.

Biden has long pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement in the opening days of his presidency, and today’s picks will contribute considerable foreign policy and political experience to international climate talks that could get complicated in the coming years.

Kerry, for weeks rumored to become Biden’s climate czar, was one of the Paris deal’s architects and has spent his post-Obama years advocating for climate policy.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, welcomed Kerry’s appointment.

“John Kerry’s appointment is an encouraging signal that the U.S. will make the climate emergency a matter of national security, but it’s only a step in what must be a bold new strategy,” he said.

While Kerry’s role appears to be largely international, Sunrise Movement Executive Director Varshini Prakash, who worked with Kerry on the Biden-Sanders climate task force earlier this year, said the president-elect should also have a climate czar for domestic issues.

“What good is it to engage in diplomacy abroad if we’re not doing everything we can at home?” Prakash said in a statement, calling Kerry’s appointment an “encouraging commitment.”

“The next White House must also include a domestic counterpart reporting directly to the President to lead an Office of Climate Mobilization, who can marshal, convene, and push federal agencies, departments, states & local governments, industry, and civil society to use every tool at their disposal to address the climate crisis,” Prakash said.

Scott Segal, partner at the Washington law firm Bracewell LLP, which advocates for energy sector clients, pointed to Kerry’s experience but also the uncertainty about the job.

“Those interested in a sensible climate policy should welcome a figure with political experience and substantive expertise,” he said.

“However, the details have yet to emerge regarding the contours of the new post,” Segal said. “It will be interesting to see how the envoy will interact with other components of the U.S. government that possess statutory portfolios related to climate change.”

Blinken is a longtime Biden confidant, and observers say his presence will be crucial as the new administration deals with a long list of foreign policy challenges inherited from President Trump.

Blinken served as staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden chaired the panel in the early 2000s

He was later a deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of State under Obama. He was foreign policy adviser to Biden’s campaign.

‘The one truly existential issue’

Even though rejoining Paris is an obvious first step for Biden, State Department officials will have a difficult job once the United States is back in the agreement.

The country is not currently on track to meet its original nationally determined contribution. More ambitious emissions targets are due for 2030.

As the Biden administration prepares to grapple with renewed climate diplomacy, having a trusted adviser like Blinken at State “shows that the president will be more directly involved,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former consultant for the Department of Energy’s International Program who served on the board of Clean Energy for Biden.

“That’s a pretty obvious thing, but I think it’s not unimportant because the U.S. is going to be under remarkable pressure to deliver on its existing Paris pledge, let alone take a more ambitious one for 2030,” Bledsoe said.

Blinken, for his part, has called climate change “arguably the one truly existential issue that we face.”

“By definition, even if we do everything just right at home, that doesn’t solve the problem if the rest of the world is 85% of global emissions,” Blinken said at an event with the Hudson Institute earlier this year.

“The benefit of getting things right at home is we can then leverage our economic and moral authority to push the world to take more determined action,” he said.

Blinken said at the event in July that Biden would “convene a summit of the world’s major carbon emitters, to rally countries not just on sticking with Paris, but to actually raise their ambitions and try to push progress further and faster.”

“We’d also look to do a number of other things: for example, locking in enforceable commitments to reduce emissions in global shipping and aviation, pursuing stronger measures to make sure that other nations can’t undercut the United States economically as we meet our own commitments,” Blinken said.


The Guardian

EU and US block plans to protect world’s fastest shark

The population of shortfin mako, mainly caught as bycatch but also prized by sports fishermen, is facing an alarming decline

Karen McVeigh, 23 Nov. 2020

Conservationists accused the EU and the US at negotiations of Atlantic fishing nations this week of blocking urgently needed plans to protect the world’s fastest shark species.

The strength and speed of the shortfin mako, which can swim up to 43mph, makes it a target for sports fishermen, particularly in the US, while its highly prized meat and fins have led to the shark being overfished globally – and dangerously so in the north Atlantic.

The population could take five decades to recover even if fishing were to stop immediately, according to scientists at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), a fisheries management organisation.

The majority of mako caught in the north Atlantic in 2019 were landed by EU vessels, mainly from Spain and Portugal followed by Morocco. Most mako sharks are bycatch – accidentally caught by boats hunting different species.

Last year, international governments voted to regulate trade in the endangered species, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, after the EU co-sponsored a proposal.

But there was no outright ban, and this week Britain – in its first official act as an independent member of ICCAT – backed a proposal by Canada for such a ban. The UK said it was extremely disappointed that no agreement had been reached in 2019.

The EU and the US, however, refused to back the ban, saying it would not in itself stop mako mortality as bycatch. Each suggested separate proposals that would allow boats to continue to land mako in certain circumstances. Given the lack of consensus, the ICCAT committee chairman said he had no choice but to postpone any decision on mako catches until 2021.

“North Atlantic mako depletion remains among the world’s most pressing shark conservation crises, yet the EU and US put short-term fishing interests above all else and ruined a golden opportunity for agreeing a clear and simple remedy,” said Ali Hood, director of conservation for the Shark Trust.

Grantly Galland, an officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts’ fisheries team, said the delay in adopting a ban would speed the decline of a species already at dangerously low population levels.

“The only real advice from scientists to ICCAT is to have a no-retention policy. Another year of catching at the current level will leave the population in the north Atlantic in even worse shape,” Galland said.

Scientists warned last year that the important predator was declining faster than previously thought. They recommended annual landings of mako in the north Atlantic be reduced from 3,000 tonnes to 300, to allow the population to recover.

Ian Campbell, associate director of policy for Project Aware, a non-profit working with sports divers in ocean protection, said: “It has been heartbreaking to watch the US devolve from a global shark conservation leader to a primary obstacle to international, science-based protections for endangered makos.” He urged the incoming Joe Biden and Kamala Harris administration to “restore US commitment to science and the precautionary approach”, particularly for vulnerable marine life.



Trump slams Paris accord at Group of 20 summit

Published: Monday, November 23, 2020

President Trump railed against the Paris climate accord yesterday, telling world leaders at a virtual summit that the agreement was designed to cripple the U.S. economy, not save the planet.

“To protect American workers, I withdrew the United States from the unfair and one-sided Paris climate accord, a very unfair act for the United States,” Trump said in a video statement from the White House to the Group of 20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia. His comments came during a discussion among the world’s largest economies on safeguarding the Earth.

President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office in January, has said he will rejoin the global pact that the U.S. helped forge five years ago.

Trump contended the international accord was “not designed to save the environment. It was designed to kill the American economy.”

Trump, who has worked to undo most of President Obama’s efforts to fight climate change, said that since withdrawing from the climate agreement, the U.S. has reduced carbon emissions more than any nation.

That is true, but not that remarkable. With its giant economy, the U.S. has far more raw emissions of climate-damaging carbon dioxide to cut than any other country except China.

A more telling measure of progress in various countries is to look at what percentage of emissions a county has cut. Since 2005, the United States hasn’t been even in the top 10 in percentage of greenhouse gas emission reductions.

More than 180 nations have ratified the accord, which aims to keep the increase in average temperatures worldwide “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and ideally no more than 1.5 C (2.7 F), compared with preindustrial levels. Scientists say that any rise beyond 2 C could have a devastating impact on large parts of the world, raising sea levels, stoking tropical storms, and worsening droughts and floods.

The U.S. formally exited the Paris pact on Nov. 4. On Saturday, the U.S. formally left the Open Skies Treaty, which permits 30-plus nations to conduct unarmed observation flights over each other’s territory. Those overflights were set up decades ago to promote trust and avert conflict.

The administration said it wanted out of the treaty because Russia was violating the pact, and imagery collected during the flights can be obtained quickly at less cost from U.S. or commercial satellites.

During the discussions at the climate session, President Xi Jinping of China, the world’s largest emitter, said the G-20 should continue to take the lead in tackling climate change and push for the full implementation of the Paris accord.

“Not long ago, I announced China’s initiative to scale up its nationally determined contributions and strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060,” he said. “China will honor its commitment and see the implementation through.”

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, said “climate change must be fought not in silos, but in an integrated, comprehensive and holistic way.” — Deb Riechmann and Aya Batrawy, Associated Press. Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.


The New Daily

‘Threatened species’ push as report shows up to a third of platypus population wiped out

Samantha Dick, Reporter, November 23, 2020

Australia’s platypus population has declined so drastically that scientists now say the elusive egg-laying mammal should be classified as a threatened species.

The platypus, known for its paddle-shaped tail and flat bill, is being driven out of rivers at alarming rates, a new report by the University of NSW shows.

Last summer’s bushfires have further threatened their survival.

The 2019-2020 bushfires took a devastating toll on Australian wildlife, killing an estimated 1.25 billion animals and destroying 10 million hectares of bush habitat.

The east coast – NSW’s south coast and Victoria’s Gippsland – was the worst-affected region.

On Monday, Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley will announce an $18 million koala assistance package that will go towards veterinary work, habitat restoration and a ‘census’ to find out how many koalas survived after the Black Summer fires.

Considering the distressing videos and photos of burnt koalas that came out during the fires, it’s understandable public focus has been on the recovery of land animals.

The platypus, which lives in Tasmania and along the east coast of the mainland, has now emerged as a hidden victim.

Modelling by the UNSW researchers suggests about 13.5 per cent of platypus habitat was damaged by the bushfires.

The overall decline in platypus populations has been the most distressing in New South Wales, where scientists noted a 32 per cent reduction, and Queensland (27 per cent) since studies began in 1990.

Victoria recorded a statewide decline of seven per cent, however, there have been reductions of 18 to 65 per cent in some Melbourne catchments since 1995.

Disturbed by their findings, the scientists – along with the Australian Conservation Foundation, World Wildlife Fund Australia and Humane Society International Australia – have nominated the platypus to be listed as a threatened species under Commonwealth and NSW processes.

The assessment of species as threatened fauna or flora is the first step to promoting their recovery under Commonwealth law.

“Platypus are declining and we need to do something about threats to the species before it is too late,” said Professor Richard Kingsford, a lead author of the report and the director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW.

“There is a real concern that platypus populations will disappear from some of our rivers without returning, if rivers keep degrading with droughts and dams.

“We have a national and international responsibility to look after this unique animal and the signs are not good.”

In a statement to The New Daily, a spokesman for Ms Ley said the threatened species nomination will be considered under new processes aimed at fast-tracking the nominations of bushfire-affected species, including the platypus.

“The Morrison government has already – under the $200 million Bushfire Wildlife and Habitat recovery package – invested around $1 million into projects that support the platypus and its habitat, as well as a number of other species found in similar locations,” the spokesman said.

The elusive platypus has perplexed scientists for years.

Not only is it an important freshwater carnivore, it is one of the last remaining monotremes – or egg-laying mammals – left on Earth.

In 2010, Australian scientists discovered the semi-aquatic animal’s milk contained a protein strong enough to fight superbugs and found a hormone in their venom that could help cure diabetes.

The platypus is also an intrinsic part of many Aboriginal cultures, featuring in ancient Dreamtime stories still shared today.

But without action, we’re at risk of losing these special creatures forever.

The animals have increasingly struggled to survive in places where natural river systems and water flows have been altered by humans, like the Murray-Darling Basin.

New dams, land clearing, pollution and an increase in housing developments are partly to blame, as well as the over-extraction of water from rivers, the researchers found.

Attacks by foxes and dogs, getting caught in yabbie-catching traps, and the effects of climate change such as drought have also added to the animal’s hardship.

Endangered Australian animals at risk of extinction include the black-flanked rock wallaby, the rainbow-coloured Gouldian finch and the furry northern quoll.


Oregon Public Broadcasting

Sage grouse meets lame duck: New rules loosen restrictions on grazing, mining and drilling

By Bradley W. Parks (OPB), Bend, Ore. Nov. 21, 2020

The Trump administration followed through on a promise to loosen restrictions on grazing, mining and drilling on public lands — perhaps to the detriment of an imperiled bird.

The Trump administration announced plans Friday to lessen protections for sage grouse in Oregon and six other Western states.

The announcement is in line with the administration’s long-stated goal to clear the way for drilling, mining and grazing on public land. The latter of those three has historically gained the most attention in Oregon.

Some in the state are cheering the new rules for easing the burden on ranchers, helping them partner in protecting grouse and their habitat. Others say the new rules put the bosomy bird in more danger and torpedo a collaborative protection plan that hasn’t gotten a fair chance.

The game of regulatory tug of war over the sage grouse has gone on for decades as its population has plummeted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 decided the grouse warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act, but did not list it as a protected species under the law.

A coalition that included ranchers, scientists, environmentalists and policymakers struck a deal in 2015 to avoid Endangered Species Act protections for sage grouse. It was a historic compromise that stakeholders felt would save the bird from extinction without gutting and fileting rural Western economies.

“They weren’t perfect,” said Jeremy Austin, policy manager for the Oregon Natural Desert Association, “but they were something that a lot of different stakeholders came together to work on and found a solution, collaboratively, to move conservation forward for sage grouse.”

After President Donald Trump took office in 2017, his first of two Interior Department secretaries, Ryan Zinke, quickly moved to reopen discussion of the deal. Zinke’s successor, former oil industry lobbyist David Bernhardt, put forth new rules to open up oil and gas drilling on sage grouse habitat across the West. Oregon’s sage grouse acreage was largely spared, but it’s never been much of a target for oil and gas anyway. The rules did, however, also ease restrictions on grazing.

This spring, nearly two dozen of the nation’s top sage grouse scientists wrote a letter to the Bureau of Land Management saying that the proposal “appears to be ignoring current science, which threatens its federal trust responsibility to conserve and manage our natural resources and may have severe consequences for sage-grouse.”

A federal judge rejected those rules and temporarily blocked them from taking effect last year. New rules announced Friday were supposed to address the court’s concerns, but an Associated Press analysis found no significant differences between the two plans.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual sage grouse census for 2020 recorded the second-lowest population estimate since monitoring began in 1980.

Austin, with the Oregon Natural Desert Association, said that should be reason enough to give the 2015 deal room to operate.

“Those need to be fully implemented now in order to prevent further decline of the sage grouse population,” he said.

In Oregon, invasive species, wildfire and overgrazing all pose threats to the bird’s habitat. Some ranchers, though, think grazing is part of the solution.

“If you graze well, it’s really not a conflict at all,” said John O’Keeffe, a land owner representative on Gov. Kate Brown’s sage grouse council and former president of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.

There’s evidence to support that grazing public lands helps ranchers and sage grouse.

If ranches remain economically viable, they’re less likely to be sold off for other development. O’Keeffe also pointed to efforts by private ranchers to slow the encroachment of juniper and the creation of rural fire associations to more thoughtfully manage fire.

Matt McElligott, who chairs the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association’s public lands board, said conservation can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.

“What may work in Lakeview may not work in Baker,” he said.

Further restrictions on grazing, he added, threaten both sage grouse and rural economies.

“It’s an economic driver for small rural communities and even large communities,” McElligott said. “Without ranching, without grazing, we don’t have that economic driver to sustain us.”

The new rules extend far beyond grazing, though. More drilling and mining on public lands may not pose as much of a threat to grouse in Oregon, but it could splinter habitat in other states included in the plan.

Friday’s announcement leaves room for the new rules to go into effect before Trump leaves office, but they’re hardly the end of the discussion — especially with the Joe Biden administration incoming. The rules may also be subject to further litigation.

For now, the announcement could signal another environmental rollback in a long line of rollbacks in this lame duck session.



New research suggests global wildlife may avoid a biodiversity catastrophe

Bryan Walsh, author of Future, November 21, 2020

New research indicates endangered wildlife around the world may not yet be headed toward an extinction wave.

Why it matters: From climate change to widespread habitat destruction, the wildlife with which we share this planet are under tremendous stress. But their apparent resilience gives us hope that we won’t leave this planet biologically impoverished.

Background: In a world where there are more than 8 million estimated species — the vast majority of which haven’t even been identified yet — it’s difficult to really know just how endangered endangered species are.

  • But some alarming analyses in the past estimated that on average vertebrate species had declined by more than 50% since the 1970s, enough to put the planet on track for what’s been called the “Sixth Extinction.”

Yes, but: In a study published in Nature this week, researchers used advanced statistical tools to try to discover the true rate of decline in vertebrates.

  • They found a more hopeful picture: less than 3% of vertebrate species are catastrophically declining, and once they are removed from the picture, “the picture changes dramatically,” Brian Leung, a biologist at McGill University and the lead author of the paper, told Cosmos.

Details: Those earlier pessimistic estimates had been driven by the relatively small number of species that truly are on a highway to extinction.

  • Instead of a global biodiversity catastrophe, the researchers behind the new study found a few geographic clusters of systematic losses, but no clear trend for most species.
  • Those clusters mean conservation efforts might best be targeted at specific geographic areas that are under threat, like the Indo-Pacific region, which is home to severely endangered birds and freshwater mammals.

The bottom line: As long as humans continue to spread out across the planet and warm the climate, pressure will grow on endangered species. But the situation is far from hopeless.



Chilly weather brings surge in cold-stunned sea turtles

November 20, 2020

The onset of cold weather in New England has led to a surge of cold-stunned turtles becoming stranded on Cape Cod beaches, marine scientists said yesterday.

The New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in Quincy, Mass., had taken in more than 40 turtles in the last two days alone, a large number in a short period of time. That brings to 66 the number of turtles that have already been treated at the aquarium.

The turtles — Kemp’s ridleys, loggerheads and leatherbacks — are treated for life-threatening medical conditions that are a result of weeks of hypothermia and the inability to feed. Once they’re well enough, they are released back into the ocean.

Staff and volunteers with Massachusetts Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary have been walking the beaches in search of cold-stunned turtles but are being hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, which requires them to maintain social distancing.

“The lingering warm temperatures this autumn kept the water temperature just above the threshold for sea turtles. The sudden drop in temperature and winds on Tuesday seemed to kick-start the season, which is now well underway,” Connie Merigo, marine animal rescue department manager, said in a statement. — Associated Press


The Guardian

Endangered animals get entangled in plastics that riddle US oceans – study

Oliver Milman, Thursday 19 Nov 2020

More than 1,800 marine animals from 40 species suffering from contact with plastics over the past decade

Endangered marine mammals and sea turtles are routinely being entangled in or are swallowing pieces of plastic that now riddle the oceans off US coastlines, a new report has found.

The plastic-induced toll stretches from Florida, where a manatee was found dead with a stomach filled with plastic bags and straws, to Virginia where a sei whale died after swallowing a DVD case causing stomach lacerations, to California, where a juvenile elephant seal was discovered with a packing strap wrapped around its neck. In South Carolina, a loggerhead sea turtle defecated out almost 60 pieces of plastic while being rehabilitated.

In total there is evidence of more than 1,800 marine animals from 40 species suffering from contact with plastics over the past decade, according to the first formal tally drawn from government and NGO data. Some examples of this phenomenon become well known – such as the whale that washed up with 40kg of plastic in its stomach last year – but the true toll is certainly far higher, with most entanglements unseen by humans.

“We may never know the true number but the details we do have are heartbreaking,” said Kimberly Warner, a senior scientist at Oceana, the conservation organization that collated the report. “The plastic is everywhere, even within deep-diving animals that you rarely see, and it is getting worse.”

Animals can inadvertently swallow floating pieces of plastic while feeding or may even mistake the pieces for food. The Oceana report found that plastic bags, balloons, recreational fishing line, plastic sheeting and food wrappers were the most commonly ingested items, causing internal injuries or hampering the ability of the animals to feed.

Other pieces of plastic can become wrapped around necks, fins or flippers, causing deep injuries or hampering movement. In Hawaii, a monk seal was found with a plastic water bottle stuck on its snout while in California a food wrapper was discovered lodged in the esophagus of a dolphin. This blight could prove a material threat to the viability of some species, with the Oceana report finding that 88% of creatures recorded with plastic on or in them are from species listed as threatened or endangered by the US.

Around 11m tonnes of plastic flow into the oceans a year, with this amount set to nearly triple to 29m tonnes a year by 2040 – the equivalent of 50kg for each meter of coastline in the world – if current trends continue. The plastic often breaks down into tiny pieces and is now ubiquitous in our oceans, found from the deepest reaches of the marine world to even sea ice in the Arctic.

The Trump administration has blamed countries such as China and Vietnam for pumping large amounts of plastic into the seas but research has suggested the US is the planet’s third largest contributor to marine plastic pollution. United Nations talks were recently held on a new global treaty to tackle plastic pollution but without any signal of support from the US or UK, two of the largest per-capita waste producers in the world.

Some jurisdictions within the US have moved to phase out plastic straws or bags – New York is now finally enforcing a ban on plastic bags after a pandemic-related delay – but advocates are hoping to push Joe Biden’s incoming administration to more aggressive national action.

“We need to quit blaming other countries and pass laws limiting the use of single-use plastics,” said Warner. “I know Biden is very concerned about climate change and plastic is a huge supplier of greenhouse gases. I’m hoping the US will finally come to the party and do something about this.”

****** 18 (West Lafayette, IN)


Gray wolves in the lower 48 states were recently removed from the federal Endangered Species Act, and Wolf Park Executive Director Karah Rawlings says that’s a move in the wrong direction.

Posted By: Joseph Paul, Nov 19, 2020

BATTLE GROUND, Ind. (WLFI) – Gray wolves in the lower 48 states were recently removed from the federal Endangered Species Act, and Wolf Park Executive Director Karah Rawlings says that’s a move in the wrong direction.

“The size of the population we don’t feel has fully recovered to warrant that and we’re concerned about how states will manage their wolf populations,” Rawlings says.

Gray wolves have been federally protected since the 1970s and their population has rebounded since then to about 6,000 wolves.

“It also just leaves the door open for wolf hunting to be allowed in greater numbers and other things that have historically happened when protections have been loosened,” Rawlings says.

Purdue Extension Wildlife Specialist Brian MacGowan says states now will have more power to manage their gray wolf populations.

“Just because something is delisted doesn’t mean the state’s going to automatically go to, OK, we’re going to open up a trapping and hunting season on it,” he says. “It’s really a biological decision.”

MacGowan says only 30 species have been delisted since the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973.

“You want to get a population to a point that it’s no longer dependent on the protections of the Endangered Species Act itself, so in other words, delisting, and it’s not really a cut-and-dry kind of a thing,” he says.

MacGowan says many ranchers turn to hunting to protect their livestock. But Rawlings says there are non-lethal ways to manage wild wolf populations.

“Our hope is that the states choose those management techniques over hunting, but historically speaking, hunting has been typically the route that is taken,” Rawlings says.

News 18 reached out to the U.S. Department of Interior for comment. The department provided a news release stating gray wolves have “exceeded all conservation goals for recovery.”


E&E News

Sage grouse rider draws greens’ opposition

Scott Streater, E&E News reporter, November 18, 2020

A coalition of more than 100 environmental groups is urging congressional appropriators to reject a provision in the Senate Interior-Environment fiscal 2021 funding bill prohibiting regulators from listing the greater sage grouse for federal protection.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s $35.81 billion Interior-Environment spending bill unveiled last week includes language forbidding the Interior secretary from using any appropriated funding “to write or issue” a rule listing the greater sage grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act (E&E News PM, Nov. 10).

Congress has included similar language in previous spending bills, usually targeting the Fish and Wildlife Service — the agency responsible for determining what species are listed for ESA protection.

House appropriators didn’t include the sage grouse language in the $36.75 billion Interior-Environment fiscal 2021 funding bill, H.R. 7608, it approved last summer.

“This provision has been included in final Interior bills since 2014,” the coalition of groups wrote in a letter sent today to top appropriators in both chambers, including Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.).

“It is imperative that this exemption not be included in the final FY 2021 bill,” they wrote.

The coalition’s letter indicates the groups believe the Fish and Wildlife Service has ample evidence that the sage grouse needs ESA protection.

“It is long past time for Congress to allow the FWS to do its job and to finally stop denying protections to this iconic keystone species. Again, we urgently request that this destructive rider be removed from the final FY 2021 appropriations bill,” they concluded.

The letter comes about a month after 59 House Democrats sent a similar letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other senior House leaders urging them to block attempts by Senate Republicans to include the sage grouse ESA restrictions in the final spending package (E&E Daily, Oct. 21).

The House and Senate approved stopgap spending bills in September that kept federal agencies funded through Dec. 11, while appropriators in both chambers negotiate and approve final spending legislation.



FWS proposes protections for ‘small, stout’ catfish

Michael Doyle, E&E News reporter, November 18, 2020

Some but not all members of a colorfully named catfish species — the frecklebelly madtom — merit federal protections, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced today.

Acting on a petition filed a decade ago, and pressed by subsequent litigation, the agency proposed listing the species’ Upper Coosa River distinct population segment as threatened.

Along with listing the population under the Endangered Species Act, the service proposed designating 134 miles of river in Georgia and Tennessee as critical habitat.

“Degradation from sedimentation, physical habitat disturbance, and contaminants threaten the habitat and water quality on which the frecklebelly madtom depends,” FWS stated.

For instance, the frecklebelly madtom was eliminated from much of the main stem of the Tombigbee River after the construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

At the same time, the service determined that “listing the frecklebelly madtom as an endangered or a threatened species throughout all of its range is not warranted.” The fish also inhabits parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

“The Upper Coosa River representation unit … only represents a small portion of the frecklebelly madtom’s historical and current range and does not represent a significant portion of the frecklebelly madtom’s range,” the agency reasoned.

The designated Upper Coosa River area includes the entire watershed upstream from the confluence of the Oostanaula and Etowah rivers.

The frecklebelly madtom is described as a “small, stout catfish” that reaches 3.9 inches in length and is “armed with venomous pectoral and dorsal spines used to defend against predation.”

FWS scientists note there are “several potential risks associated with long-term climate change” but also “uncertainty” about how the frecklebelly madtom will respond to these risks.

“The species occupies some tributaries throughout its range, but the frecklebelly madtom has a preference for habitat in larger rivers and this may provide a buffer to changes induced by climate change, particularly from issues associated with drought,” the agency said.

In 2010, FWS was petitioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and others to list 404 aquatic species in the southeastern United States, including the frecklebelly madtom, under the ESA.

In 2015, the agency and environmentalists filed a settlement that said a frecklebelly madtom decision would be published no later than Sept. 30, 2020 (E&E News PM, Sept. 9, 2015).

“Recognition of the unique frecklebelly madtom as threatened shows we need to do more to care for our rivers and streams,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Decades of damming, channelization and pollution have taken a toll on these catfish.”


E&E Daily

Lawmakers squabble over offshore drilling ban, fisheries

Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter, November 18, 2020

House Natural Resources Committee lawmakers clashed over offshore drilling and fisheries management yesterday in what could be the panel’s final hearing of the 116th Congress.

At issue was H.R. 8632, the “Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act,” a broad package of bills cobbled together by Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) that would create programs to boost marine ecosystems and ban new offshore drilling, a proposition that does not sit well with Gulf Coast Republicans.

“It’s really embarrassing to continue to see legislation like this that is so offensive to the people that I represent and simply doesn’t respect the science or on-the-ground conditions,” said Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.).

While Grijalva said he plans to move the bill forward over Republican opposition — and to reintroduce it in the 117th Congress — the hearing was emblematic of the hurdles the Democratic climate agenda faces heading into next year.

The Senate is likely to remain in Republican hands after January’s runoff elections in Georgia, and even if Democrats end up in control with a 50-50 split, some of their most ambitious ideas may end up as little more than messaging.

Still, Grijalva said, “it’s incumbent on us in the House of Representatives at least to lay a template out about how we need to respond to climate change, and this is one of them.”

The “Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act” compiles a list of smaller bills that were introduced separately, many of which the committee also considered yesterday.

In addition to the moratorium on new offshore drilling, the bill would set national goals of 12.5 gigawatts by 2025 and 25 GW by 2030 for offshore renewable energy generation.

The measure would also establish a new Blue Carbon Program at NOAA to map and manage coastal ecosystems that sequester carbon and authorize billions of dollars for coastal restoration projects.

In the past, climate policy has focused on land, onshore energy and transportation, but oceans have massive potential to help meet emissions targets, Jane Lubchenco, an environmental scientist and professor at Oregon State University, told the panel.

“We know that the ocean also has powerful solutions that might provide as much as 20% of the emission reductions we need to achieve the 1.5-degree target by 2050,” she said. “And until recently, these solutions were not even on our radar screens.”

An expanded offshore wind industry could also generate thousands of jobs and billions for the economy, witnesses told the panel.

The American Wind Energy Association — the industry’s primary trade group — estimates that 30 GW of offshore wind deployment by 2030 would create 83,000 jobs and $25 billion in economic output.

“We continue to be saddled with a very unfortunate framing that many people have bought into that we have to choose between the economy and the environment, and I think that’s absolutely false,” Lubchenco said.

But the legislation could also, eventually, curb royalties from offshore oil and gas, currently the major source of funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and for various coastal restoration projects under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act.

While some of that revenue could theoretically be replaced by offshore wind, Graves said people in Gulf Coast communities reliant on offshore drilling — as well as coastal restoration projects to deal with sea-level rise — oppose the legislation.

At one point, Graves pressed Grijalva to respond to hurricane victims who would lose out on offshore royalties for coastal projects and derided Democrats for writing legislation from “little towers” away from energy-reliant communities.

“If any state is affected by sea rise and the symptoms of climate change, it’s the people that I represent, and so we have a great stake in assuring that we have sustainable coastal communities; that we have a clean energy future; that we have sustainable, affordable energy policies,” Graves said. “But this legislation really doesn’t even do that.”

Indeed, the Louisiana Legislature passed a resolution last month specifically opposing the bill, and other Republican members of the state’s delegation have spoken out, as well.

Republicans also pointed to opposition from the fishing industry, which has taken issue with several items in the bill, including a provision that proposes to protect 30% of the nation’s waters by 2030.

In a letter to Grijalva yesterday, hundreds of fishermen and industry executives said the bill would “undermine” the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the nation’s primary fisheries law.

“Basically anyone who knows about fishing, uses fishing or eats fish is in opposition,” ranking member Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said during the hearing.

Ray Hilborn, a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, similarly testified that “fixed marine protected areas are simply the wrong tool to adapt to climate change.”

“We don’t need a fixed set of closed areas. We need adaptive response to climate,” Hilborn said. “In the years ahead, it will be important for fisheries management to be more flexible, allowing for changes in the distribution and productivity of marine species.”

Still, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee, called the bill “a starting point.”

“It’s probably the biggest, most ambitious ocean and climate bill this committee has ever considered,” he said. “And it’s not perfect.”



World’s last known white giraffe gets GPS tracking device

Published: November 17, 2020

The only known white giraffe in the world has been fitted with a GPS tracking device to help protect it from poachers as it grazes in Kenya. But despite its singular status, the lonely male doesn’t have a name.

The white giraffe now stands alone after a female and her calf were killed by poachers in March, the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy said in a statement today.

A rare genetic trait called leucism causes the white color, and it makes the one surviving giraffe stand out dangerously for poachers in the arid savannah near the Somalia border.

Now the GPS tracking device, attached to one of the giraffe’s horns, will ping every hour to alert wildlife rangers to its location.

The conservancy has thanked the Kenya Wildlife Service along with the Northern Rangelands Trust and Save Giraffes Now for the help.                    — Associated Press


Cronkite News (AZ PBS)

Mount Graham red squirrel makes comeback, but not out of the woods yet

By Claire Chandler/Cronkite News, Nov. 16, 2020

WASHINGTON – An endangered squirrel that was driven to the brink of extinction by wildfire just three years ago in southern Arizona has seen its numbers more than triple following federal, state and local preservation efforts.

The Mount Graham red squirrel population was cut from 252 to just 33 squirrels in the wild after the Frye fire destroyed much of their habitat in 2017. But a survey released last month by state and federal agencies estimated there are now at least 109 squirrels on the mountain.

Advocates welcomed the improvement, but said the squirrel, which was put on the endangered species list in 1987, is not out of the woods yet.

“It’s a good sign that it’s heading in an upwards direction rather than stagnating or … heaven forbid, going down,” said Marit Alanen, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Alanen points to a long list of factors threatening the squirrel’s mountain forest habitat, including fires, both natural and man-made, insect infestations and competition from the Abert squirrel, which was introduced in the 1940s. But wildfires have been the biggest threat, reducing the number of trees available to the squirrels and leaving them exposed to predators.

“We’ve been seeing these fires that have just gotten bigger and bigger over the years and have been of higher severity,” said Alanen. She said the Peak fire in 1996, the Nuttall Gibson fire in 2004 and the Frye fire “have impacted at least 95% of the squirrel’s habitat to some degree.”

That reduction in the forest has led to a “habitat bottleneck,” with squirrels competing for fewer suitable trees, said Robin Silver, cofounder of the Center for Biological Diversity. It’s one reason the center filed suit against the Fish and Wildlife Service in September, in an effort to force an expansion of the squirrels’ critical habitat.

“Never before have they faced this combination of human structures, human roads, past logging, wildfires, intentionally set fires and climate change,” said Silver.

Silver said one of the biggest problems is man-made structures in the critical habitat, such as a Bible camp, cabins and observatories on the mountain, including the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope. He said those structures are more likely to be protected when there is a fire, and that prescribed burns meant to protect the structures in the first place do so at the expense of squirrel habitat.

Silver said that as long as there’s structures on the mountain, we’re never going to be able to save squirrels.”

“When you’re in a habitat bottleneck, then what you need to do is protect all the surviving habitat that you can, and then hope that the squirrels can then get through this habitat bottleneck until other habitat recovers,” Silver said. “And then that’s how they survive and recover.”

Alanen said the habitat takes around 100 years to recover from a devastating fire, but federal and state agencies are working to help speed the process. But it’s not as easy as just planting more trees, she said.

“When you talk about tree planting as a restoration effort, it actually becomes kind of more complicated, because you can’t just go out and get seeds from anywhere because those trees aren’t adapted to this mountain range,” Alanen said. “And you might be bringing in genetics that may be detrimental to the trees that are up there.”

To keep that from happening, the U.S. Forest Service collects seeds from trees on the mountain and sends them to a nursery in Idaho to be raised until they can be planted on the mountain.

Trees are not the only genetic concern at issue: The Mount Graham red squirrels have been cut off from other species for around 10,000 years, Alanen said, which has led to a lack of genetic diversity in the population.

After the 2017 fire, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Coronado National Forest, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Arizona and the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation – Phoenix Zoo, teamed up to save the squirrel. Those included a feeding program to help the squirrels that remained on the mountain, efforts to remove the Abert squirrel and a breeding program that has led to some discoveries about the squirrel’s specific breeding behaviors in the wild.

“It’s definitely been a joint effort to try to bring the squirrel back from 35, and hopefully continue moving it towards recovery,” she said.


News 4/JAX (Jacksonville)

Endangered right whale calving season is now underway

Calving season started over the weekend and lasts through March

Danielle Uliano, Meteorologist and reporter, November 16, 2020

Right whales are an endangered species that usually migrate south along the Georgia and Florida coastline to give birth to their calves.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced over the weekend that calving season is now underway and lasts through March.

Every fall, right whales can travel up to 1,000 miles from their feeding grounds up north to the shallow calving waters down south. They stay there through the winter months to give birth.

In the 2020 calving season, there were 10 calves born, which was up from seven in the 2019 season. Despite the increase in calves, the species is still endangered. Right whales have been listed under the endangered species list since 1970.

To put it in simple terms, the calving rate is not keeping up with the mortality rate.

According to the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, there are an estimated 356 right whales left.

hese whales like to swim close to shore and tend to stay by the surface, making them susceptible to being struck by vessels and caught up in fishing nets.

To try and help avoid vessel strikes, there are speed restricted zones to slow down and keep an eye for the whales. These zones can be seasonally monitored when the whales migrate.

According to Oceana, a ship cannot maneuver to avoid a whale at its normal operating speed, putting the whales at great risk for vessel strikes. If the ship’s speed is slowed down to 10 knots or less in the restricted areas where they may encounter a whale, they can reduce the death from collision rate by 86%.

If you’re along the coast and see a right whale and it’s a calf, it’s very important to give them space — 500 yards to be exact.



Bezos announces millions for environmental groups

Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter, November 16, 2020 CEO Jeff Bezos said today he is doling out $791 million to 16 environmental organizations, the first tranche of money from his widely publicized $10 billion Earth Fund.

The Environmental Defense Fund, Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund will all get hefty $100 million grants.

Other organizations are taking in smaller sums from the fund, including the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Union of Concerned Scientists, which are slated to receive $10 million and $15 million, respectively.

“I’ve spent the past several months learning from a group of incredibly smart people who’ve made it their life’s work to fight climate change and its impact on communities around the world,” Bezos said in an Instagram post announcing the grants. “I’m inspired by what they’re doing and excited to help them scale.”

Bezos, the world’s richest person, first announced the Earth Fund in February, stirring speculation that he would pump cash into the climate movement despite environmentalists’ criticisms of Amazon.

But until he announced the first tranche of grants this morning, Bezos had been silent on how the money would be spent, except to say it would go toward “scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world.”

The $100 million contributions represent a massive chunk of change, even for major environmental groups.

NRDC, for instance, brought in just over $170 million total in grants and contributions in 2018, according to its tax filing. EDF’s total operating expenses in 2019 were $201 million, according to the group’s website.

The Nature Conservancy is the largest of the bunch, having raised more than $1 billion in 2019.

NRDC said some of the money would be used for its work on state and regional climate policy, while another chunk would go to the NRDC Action Fund, the group’s political affiliate.

“With new resources and growing political will, NRDC, alongside partners across the country, will advance equitable climate solutions and build a brighter future for us all,” NRDC President Gina McCarthy said in a statement.

EDF, WRI, WWF and the Nature Conservancy all plan to use the money for more specific projects.

EDF said it will help fund the launch of a new satellite to track methane emissions, while WRI plans to use it for programs to monitor carbon emissions and spur the electrification of U.S. school buses.

“We are honored to be included in the first round of funding, which will accelerate climate progress,” EDF President Fred Krupp said in a statement.

“As people experience more damaging wildfires, air pollution, stronger hurricanes, and deadlier droughts and heat waves, a window of opportunity for action is opening in the U.S. and around the world,” Krupp said.

The Nature Conservancy, meanwhile, will use the cash to protect Emerald Edge, a massive coastal rainforest spanning through the United States and Canada and an important carbon sink.

The WWF similarly said it would use its grant for nature-based climate solutions, including restoration and protection of more than 2 million acres of mangroves.

At the same time, some of the grantees have been at odds with Amazon in the past, and Bezos and his company have faced plenty of criticism from progressive green groups.

For one thing, environmental groups like NRDC that are active in the political arena through their affiliates overwhelmingly support Democrats and frequently push for tighter environmental regulation.

Even as Bezos has ramped up his climate advocacy and public relations campaigns since 2019, Amazon’s political action committee has given heavily to Senate Republicans, many of whom oppose efforts to expand regulation and legislate on climate change (E&E Daily, Oct. 14).

And while Amazon publicly supports efforts like the Paris climate agreement, it has just one lobbyist working on sustainability issues — a former Republican staffer whose other clients include French oil giant Total SE (Climatewire, Nov. 16).

The company has also fought climate-related shareholder proposals, despite its corporate pledge to go carbon neutral by 2040.

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a group of Amazon workers that has pushed the company to do more on climate change, said today’s $791 million announcement raises questions about whether Bezos and the company will “continue to be complicit in the acceleration of the climate crisis.”

“We applaud Jeff Bezos’ philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away,” the group said in a statement.

“The people of Earth need to know: When is Amazon going to stop helping oil & gas companies ravage Earth with still more oil and gas wells?”


Southern Environmental Law Center

Conservation groups sue USFWS to save wild red wolves

Agency continues to violate law, court ruling as wild red wolves face extinction

SELC Announcement, November 16, 2020

On behalf of Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and Animal Welfare Institute, today SELC sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina for violations of the Endangered Species Act caused by new, illegal agency policies that bar the use of proven management measures to save wild red wolves.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is managing this species for extinction,” says Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver. “Faced with a wild population of only seven known animals, the Fish and Wildlife Service is now claiming—without basis—that it’s not allowed to take proven, necessary measures to save the wild red wolves.”

Continues Weaver, “The service urgently needs to restart red wolf releases from captivity, which it did regularly for 27 years. Otherwise we’re going to lose the world’s only wild population of this wolf.”

Two years ago, in November 2018, a federal court found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  had violated the Endangered Species Act by suspending proven conservation measures for wild red wolves after we went to court on behalf of the same conservation organizations.

Rather than resolving those violations, the agency has doubled down on its abandonment of those measures and invented a new, illegal policy that it claims does not permit it to release red wolves from the captive population into the wild. The agency also now claims that its rules do not allow the agency to address hybridization with coyotes. As a result, the world’s only population of wild red wolves is now on the brink of extinction.

“Under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s mismanagement, the world’s most endangered wolf has only moved closer to extinction,” says Jason Rylander, senior endangered species counsel at Defenders of Wildlife. “We have given the service every opportunity to reverse course and supplement the last wild population of red wolves with captive releases. Sadly, with only seven collared wolves left in the wild, it’s apparent we can’t wait any longer.”

No red wolf pups were born in the wild in 2019 or 2020 for the first time since 1988. Meanwhile, the captive red wolf population continues to increase with more new pups being born every spring, even as the agency refuses to reinstate red wolf releases.

We hope the USFWS will look closely at its red wolf conservation policies and enact the necessary changes that will make the survival of wild red wolves a priority,” says Red Wolf Coalition Executive Director Kim Wheeler.

Following successful conservation efforts and reintroductions from captive populations, America’s red wolves rebounded from extinction in the wild to number about 100 animals in the early 2000s. That population level persisted for approximately a decade in eastern North Carolina. Since 2018, however, the wild red wolf population has plummeted by 70 percent.

“The ESA requires USFWS to carry out programs for the conservation of the red wolf and to ensure that its actions do not jeopardize the species’ continued existence,” says Johanna Hamburger, director and senior staff attorney for the Animal Welfare Institute’s terrestrial wildlife program. “The agency is failing on both counts. The current lack of action, by USFWS’ own admission, will cause the extinction of the wild red wolf population unless the agency immediately restarts conservation efforts.”


Times of San Diego

Joint Effort to Rescue Endangered Native Pond Turtles Proves Successful

Posted by DEBBIE L. SKLAR ON November 14, 2020

A team of biologists — including members from the U.S. Geological Survey, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, University of California, Los Angeles, Endemic Environmental Services Inc., Citrus College and San Diego Zoo Global — worked together recently to find and rescue the last remaining reproductively viable population of southwestern pond turtles (Actinemys pallida) in the San Gabriel Mountains.

The area, which was devastated by the Bobcat Fire over the last two months, is at risk of mudslides and debris flows that could have an extremely negative impact on the aquatic habitat for the turtles.

The team spent days in the field, with the goal of removing some individuals of the native species from the river, racing against time before winter storms place the little reptiles in danger.

“Seventeen of the 20 largest California wildfires have occurred over the past 20 years,” said Rich Burg, environmental program manager, California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Megafires like these have created devastating ecological conditions even after the fires have been extinguished. In this case, we have a situation where there is little or no vegetation left on the slopes, impacting terrestrial habitat. It is likely that there will be significant sediment flows into the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, which could fill in existing refugia pools and change water chemistry. This can negatively impact the pond turtle population.”

The pond turtles include two recently recognized species that together comprise the only freshwater turtles native to California, and they are thought to be increasingly at risk of extinction. Both species are currently being assessed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for potential listing under the Endangered Species Act. The southwestern pond turtle, which is distributed in coastal freshwater habitats from the San Francisco Bay Area to northern Baja California, Mexico, is now rare in Southern California. It faces major risks to its survival, including habitat loss, invasive nonnative predators, and competitors like crayfish, bullfrogs, African-clawed frogs, and largemouth bass, which compete for natural resources and often consume the tiny, quarter-sized turtle hatchlings.

“We have become increasingly concerned over the status of our native pond turtles,“ said Ann Berkeley, U.S. Forest Service. “They are a small species with a great deal of charm, and their presence in our local creeks is important to maintaining the biodiversity in small waterways that are found throughout our Southern California mountains.”

Wildlife biologists were able to locate and rescue eight southwestern pond turtles over two weeks. “This is not the first such effort, and almost certainly will not be the last,” said Brad Shaffer, UCLA distinguished professor and director of the La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science. “These turtles will also be part of a range-wide genomic analysis of variation across the species that we are conducting with the CDFW and USGS to better understand and conserve the population, which is the last known of this species in the San Gabriel River.”

The turtles are being relocated to San Diego Zoo Global.

“San Diego Zoo Global and other California zoos have been working to headstart western pond turtles for a number of years,” said Robert Fisher, a supervisory research biologist with the USGS.  “Ten years ago, we collected gravid female pond turtles from the Sweetwater River at the Sycuan Peak Ecological Reserve and brought them to the San Diego Zoo to lay their eggs. The offspring were head started at the Zoo, then released back into the reserve, and are doing well.”

The San Gabriel Mountain turtles will be cared for at the San Diego Zoo until an assessment of their habitat is made after this year’s rainy season. When their habitat is deemed secure, they will be returned to the wild. A similar effort removing turtles from Lake Elizabeth in eastern Los Angeles County and returning them after a year in captivity at UCLA and the Turtle Conservancy in Ventura County was also successful.

“The effort to save these small turtles, and the bigger effort to save California’s at-risk species, is not something any one of us can do alone,” said Paul A. Baribualt, president/CEO, San Diego Zoo Global. “Working together, as allies, we are working to save these little reptiles—and we hope that our communities will join our efforts, and help all of us to make our local habitats safe for these species in the future.”



California court rules insects not protected by Endangered Species Act

Nadia Murray-Ragg | Victoria U. Wellington Faculty of Law, NZ, November 14, 2020

The California Superior Court in Sacramento ruled Thursday that bees are not fish and that the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) does not cover insects.

Ruling in Almond Alliance of California v. California Fish and Game Commission, Judge James P. Arguelles agreed with a group of petitioners including the Almond Alliance of California and the California Association of Pest Control Advisors. The petitioners argued that the California Fish and Game Commission (the Commission) was not authorized by the CESA to give four species of bumblebees candidate-species status because the legislature was clear in the CESA that insects were not protected.

The Commission and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife unsuccessfully argued that bees and other insects and invertebrates are covered under the CESA because “invertebrates” are included within the definition of “fish” in Section 45 of the Fish and Game Code (FGC). The FGC codifies the CESA in Chapter 1.5 of Division 3, section 2050.

The case follows a 2018 petition from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Food Safety to the Commission to add the four bumblebee species to the list of endangered species under the CESA. The four species of bumblebee were the Crotch, Franklin’s, Suckley cuckoo, and Western bumblebee. The bumblebees became candidate species, meaning “a native species or subspecies of a bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile or plant that the Commission has formally noticed as being under review”, when the Commission accepted the petition in June 2019. The court’s Thursday ruling set aside the Commission’s decision.

“Bumblebees are among the most iconic and well-understood group of native pollinators in North America,” the 2018 petition noted. “They are generalist pollinators that play a valuable role in the reproduction of a wide variety of plants … Pollinators are critical components of our environment and essential to our food security.”


Chemical & Engineering News

Common herbicide likely to harm endangered species, US EPA says

Atrazine has potential to affect numerous species and their habitats

by Britt E. Erickson, November 14, 2020

The widely used herbicide atrazine is likely to adversely affect more than 50% of threatened and endangered species and 40% of habitats critical for those species, the US Environmental Protection Agency reports in a draft biological evaluation released Nov. 5. The findings come less than 2 months after the agency declared that atrazine can stay on the US market.

Chronic exposure to atrazine is linked to growth and reproductive effects in humans and wildlife. The herbicide is not approved for use in the European Union because of concerns about water contamination. Atrazine is commonly used in the US to control grasses and broadleaf weeds on corn and sorghum fields and weeds on residential lawns.

The EPA’s draft biological evaluation relied on an approach criticized by environmental groups, which claim that it minimizes risks by ignoring pesticide runoff into waters where some endangered species live. Even with the updated method, the EPA found risks to numerous species.

“With this troubling finding, even the EPA has been forced to acknowledge the unacceptable harm caused by atrazine,” Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, says in a statement.

The EPA is accepting public comments on the draft evaluation until Jan. 5. If the final evaluation finds that atrazine may impact any endangered species, the EPA is required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Those agencies would then determine whether atrazine adversely impacts any endangered species and, in cases where it does, suggest ways to minimize those risks.



Migratory bird rule likely in Trump’s final days

Michael Doyle, E&E News reporter, November 12, 2020

The White House this week began final review of a controversial narrowing of Migratory Bird Treaty Act protections, foreshadowing action in the final days of the Trump administration.

Flying in the face of a mobilized opposition and an adverse court decision, the Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday submitted the MBTA proposal to the regulatory gatekeepers at the Office of Management and Budget.

Once OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has finished its work, the administration can pull the trigger on the migratory bird rule that will restrict the law’s reach to intentional take.

“I’m sure it’s on their bucket list, and I’m sure they will want to get it out more than 30 days before the inauguration so it can’t just be suspended by the Biden administration,” Jason Rylander, senior endangered species counsel with Defenders of Wildlife, said today.

The exact timing for the final review is not clear, though it shouldn’t be overly time-consuming if officials are motivated.

On Sept. 14, for instance, the Fish and Wildlife Service submitted for review a proposed rule to remove the gray wolf from Endangered Species Act protections. The review concluded Oct. 26, and the delisting was announced three days later (E&E News PM, Oct. 29).

By contrast, review of a proposed Interior Department rule described as “Revisions to the Requirements for Exploratory Drilling on the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf” that began last April took six months to conclude, OMB records show.

Prior to the Trump administration, FWS considered actions that directly and foreseeably resulted in the death of a migratory bird as potential criminal conduct, even if unintentional. Courts have been split on the issue.

An Interior solicitor’s opinion issued in December 2017 reversed the Obama administration’s interpretation and asserted that the law covered only intentional killings.

The proposed regulation now under review would help lock in the opinion of the Interior solicitor’s office that incidental bird take resulting from an otherwise lawful activity is not prohibited under the MBTA.

“A legal opinion of the Department of the Interior does not provide the public or other federal departments and agencies with the certainty of a codified regulation,” a draft environmental impact statement explained (Greenwire, July 20).

An Interior solicitor’s opinion would also be easier for the incoming Biden administration to withdraw than a full-blown regulation that has gone through the formal rulemaking process.

Public opponents of the proposed rule include Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), a leading contender to be President-elect Joe Biden’s Interior secretary, as well as officials with the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law, whose deputy director, Elizabeth Klein, is on Biden’s Interior transition team.

In August, Judge Valerie Caproni of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York struck down Interior’s opinion that removed penalties for activities or hazards, such as oil pits or power-line electrocutions, that result in the accidental taking of a migratory bird.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s rule “will be immediately vulnerable to legal challenge given the substance of the SDNY ruling,” Rylander said.

The Trump administration has announced that it’s appealing.


Westword (Denver)

Colorado Voters Howl for Wolves, Just Delisted as Endangered


Colorado voters narrowly approved Proposition 114, which directs Colorado Parks and Wildlife to reintroduce gray wolves in the state. This victory marked the first time that voters have dictated the reintroduction of a species anywhere in the United States; if the results hold, a significant population of thirty to forty gray wolves will put their paws on the ground in this state over the next three years.

“Together with biologists, ranchers, wildlife watchers and hunters, we will lean in to craft a future where co-existing with wolves is a widely shared value,” promises Rob Edward, president of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund. “We will put science to work to build understanding and trust. As we do, wolves will quietly get to work, restoring balance to our Western wildlands and vitality to our elk and deer herds.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is already working to meet the proposition’s guidelines, which call for a restoration plan by the end of next year. “CPW is committed to developing a comprehensive plan and, in order to do that, we will need input from Coloradans across our state,” says CPW director Dan Prenzlow. “We are evaluating the best path forward to ensure that all statewide interests are well represented.”

The initiative was overwhelmingly supported by voters on the state’s populous Front Range, while the majority of residents in more rural areas opposed it. Wolves have been considered extirpated since 1945 in Colorado. While a handful of wolves have made their way down to the state from Wyoming, reintroduction advocates say that number is not enough for a self-sustaining population.

For Edward and others, the move to the ballot box was a last-ditch effort. For years, they expected the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to reintroduce wolves in Colorado as part of the broader gray wolf recovery effort in the western United States. But when it became clear that the federal government had no such plans, they decided to take the matter directly to voters.

And just days before the election, the feds took another action regarding the future of the animal. On October 29, the Fish & Wildlife Service announced the delisting of gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act (ESA), in a move directed by the Trump administration.

“After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery,” announced U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt, a native of Colorado.  Gray wolves were reintroduced in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in 1995. That move, along with strict Endangered Species Act guidelines that prevented the killing of gray wolves, among other measures., led to a gray wolf population in the lower 48 states that now exceeds 6,000 wolves, according to the FWS.

“Colorado Farm Bureau’s members are happy to hear about the decision to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species List,” says Don Shawcroft, president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, which opposed 114. “It’s a good thing any time a species can be brought back from the brink to healthy population levels.”

But a coalition of gray wolf advocates, including the Western Environmental Law Center, considers the delisting premature — and has filed a notice of intent to sue the FWS.

WELC attorney Kelly Nokes points out that while the wolf population may have recovered in the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies, wild populations have not yet made a full recovery in their historical range, which spanned most of the U.S. except for the Southeast. In its suit, WELC plans to argue that Fish & Wildlife did not consider proper science or struggling populations in places like the Pacific Northwest in its decision to delist the gray wolf.

“Wolves are a keystone species whose presence on landscapes regulates animal populations and improves ecosystem health — something the [Fish & Wildlife] Service has acknowledged for at least 44 years,” says Nokes.

By delisting wolves, the FWS is renouncing its authority over gray wolf management. State governments will be able to craft their own management plans without having to meet the ESA’s stringent protections. Colorado’s existing wolf management plan was created in 2004 and reaffirmed in 2016; it was expressly crafted to manage wolves that wandered into the state — not reintroduce them. Under Proposition 114, the CPW must create a new management plan that reintroduces gray wolves by December 31, 2023.

The delisting of wolves as an endangered species won’t directly impact Colorado’s management plan to restore wolves, except that the state will no longer need to coordinate with the FWS during the reintroduction process.

While the CPW moves forward with its plan in the state, WELC will push its lawsuit against the feds.

“Proposition 114 is a really big step forward for reintroducing wolves in Colorado,” Nokes says. “Absent of federal protections, [wolf management] is all in the states’ hands. We’re really pleased that Colorado voters have voted to restore this keystone species.”


NBC News

Trump’s border wall endangered ecosystems and sacred sites. Could it come down under Biden?

Opposition to border wall construction in Arizona became emblematic of battles waged across the country to stave off projects that could threaten the environment.

By Erik Ortiz, November 11, 2020

In March, after construction crews blasted and bulldozed through the remote desert terrain of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, an ecological reserve on the Arizona-Mexico border, Christina Andrews observed the transformation in disbelief.

Dozens of miles of towering border wall ordered by the Trump administration were rising across the rugged landscape in southern Arizona, displacing century-old cacti and cutting off migratory paths for jaguars and wolves. Ancestral lands and sites considered sacred by local Native Americans were also threatened after the administration declined to consult tribal groups as normally required under federal law.

“It felt like someone took a dagger and drove it through my heart,” said Andrews, a chairwoman of the Hia-Ced O’odham, or Sand People, a community living near the national monument that is seeking tribal recognition from the federal government.

But with Democrat Joe Biden’s projected win over President Donald Trump, Andrews and environmental activists and conservationists are pinning their hopes on a new administration’s reversing certain policies, halting construction and going as far as to rip down the new sections of border wall.

“Think about someone building a wall in your home, separating your family and severing your life resources needed for survival: prayer, plant, water and animals,” Andrews said. “If there was a way for the wall to come down to free those vital things you love and need, wouldn’t you want it gone?”

Opposition to the wall in Arizona, which led to protests, road blockades and federal agents’ use of tear gas on members of the Tohono O’odham Nation last month, is emblematic of battles waged across the country to preserve ecologically fragile areas and stave off projects that could do irreparable environmental and cultural damage, environmental justice advocates say.

Over the past four years, the Trump administration has approved oil and gas leasing in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, rolled back protections to allow commercial fishing at a marine conservation area off the New England coast and pushed for federal regulatory changes that have benefited industrial companies, including a mining project that environmentalists fear could jeopardize Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp, the largest national wildlife refuge in the eastern United States.

“There’s about 100 different protections that this administration has worked to dismantle,” said Nat Mund, the director of federal affairs at the nonprofit Southern Environmental Law Center, which has sued the Trump administration over issues such as climate change and clean water.

“Vice President Biden ran on a platform of strong environmental protections, strong commitment to combating climate change and a strong commitment to improving environmental justice,” Mund said. “We’re certainly hoping he’ll pick people who will advance those causes. But to be frank, if his administration is not moving in that direction, we’ll be in court with them, too.”

During the campaign, Biden pledged to stop the border wall, Trump’s signature project and the cornerstone of an immigration policy of “zero tolerance” for anyone caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

“There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration,” Biden told National Public Radio this year, although he would not commit to tearing down parts of the wall that the Trump administration has added since January 2017.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., a critic of the border wall whose district includes the Tohono O’odham Nation, urged Biden to “listen to the diverse voices of the borderlands that have been ignored for the past four years.”

Through 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has not slowed the pace of the wall construction, which is costing taxpayers $15 billion, most of it diverted from military funds.

As of this week, about 400 miles of new border wall or replacement barriers have been built along the southern U.S. border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the projects. Much of the new construction is to replace older fencing or low-slung vehicle barriers, which lined part of the border at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument until it was swapped out with 30-foot-high steel bollard walls.

The agency said Tuesday that it “continues with the construction of new border wall system” and that the “majority of contracts have been awarded and construction is well under way” for the more than 700 miles of the total project.

But as Trump continues to challenge the results of the election, the fate of the wall and its timelines remain unclear.

Laiken Jordahl, a borderlands campaigner for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity in Arizona, said roughly 20 to 30 miles of the border wall project in the state must still be completed. Over the past year, he has documented the obliteration of land to make way for the wall and construction crews’ destruction of saguaro cacti, which would normally be a felony.

“Right now they’re blasting away mountains and destroying huge amounts of habitat but not putting up the actual wall very quickly,” Jordahl said. “It’s frivolous destruction at this point, as there’s no way they’ll be able to get all those stretches of wall up by Jan. 20th [Inauguration Day], yet they’re still blowing up pristine wilderness.”

Biden will have the power to stop any outstanding construction, said Jared Orsi, a professor of history at Colorado State University focusing on environmental and borderlands history.

Furthermore, he said, Biden could restore the legal processes the Trump administration avoided to advance Trump’s border wall project. The Department of Homeland Security waived dozens of federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

“The Biden administration can say we don’t just put up a wall. Instead, we’re going to study the hydrology of a region, the environmental impact, the impact on historic Native American graves before we start any project,” Orsi said. “All those were circumvented under Trump.”

Finally, the Biden administration could agree to review environmentally sensitive places affected by the wall and potentially fund restoration projects, like at Quitobaquito Springs in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

The desert oasis, which is home to endangered species like the Sonoyta pupfish and the mud turtle, is considered sacred to the Tohono O’odham and the Hia-Ced O’odham, with the springs’ use dating back some 10,000 years. Tohono O’odham leaders said bone fragments appearing to be human were found near Quitobaquito Springs last year, which they add was reason enough to halt work on the wall.

A coalition of scientists is also concerned that the construction of the wall and contractors’ use of the groundwater may have lasting effects on the already depleted water level.

Still, Orsi said, “Quitobaquito is one of many places around the country that can be saved if there’s the political will.”

Jordahl said the extent of the damage to the environment at the border must be assessed to determine which species were harmed, how their habitats were impaired and how culturally significant areas appeared to have been desecrated.

“We’re talking a scale of centuries before nature that was destroyed grows back,” he said. “It’s so devastating to see that one person’s pet project will inflict damage that will take longer than our, our children and our grandchildren’s time to heal.”



Scientists discover new endangered primate species, with only 260 left

By Jessie Yeung, CNN, November 11, 2020

The Popa langur, a newly discovered primate species in Myanmar that is critically endangered.

(CNN) Scientists have discovered a new primate species in the jungles of Myanmar — and it’s already at risk of extinction.

The Popa langur is a type of monkey with a long tail, rings around its eyes, and a crest of fur on top of its head. There are only an estimated 200 to 260 left, according to a news release by the London Natural History Museum, which collaborated on this study.

The research team named the Popa langurs after the sacred extinct volcano Mount Popa and classified them as “critically endangered.”

“Sadly this is a bittersweet discovery due to the limited number of individuals left in the wild and fragmented populations,” said Roberto Portela Miguez, a senior curator at the Natural History Museum, in the release.

“The hope is that by giving this species the scientific status and notoriety it merits, there will be even more concerted efforts in protecting this area and the few other remaining populations.”

The scientists, spanning three organizations, published their findings on Wednesday in the journal Zoological Research.

In the study, researchers at Fauna and Floral International (FFI) and the German Primate Center (GMC) carried out field surveys of the langurs, whose scientific name is “Trachypithecus popa.” They also gathered samples and DNA of all other Trachypithecus species — cousins of the Popa langur.

They combined the data from these surveys and samples, as well as data from specimens in other museums, confirm the existence of the new species, said the news release.

One of the crucial parts of the puzzle was a 100-year-old specimen that had been stored at the London Natural History Museum. In the early 20th century, British zoologist Guy C. Shortridge collected thousands of specimens, including a 1913 Trachypithecus specimen that the Popa langur team re-examined.

“Monkeys are one of the most iconic groups of mammals, and these specimens have been in the collections for over a hundred years,” said Miguez. “But we didn’t have the tools or the expertise to do this work before.”

There were other clues that the Popa langur was an entirely new species, like differences in its tail length, fur color, and skull shape — but genetic analysis confirmed it.

“This study demonstrates that natural history collections are a valuable and key resource for genetic research and in the context of the current biodiversity crisis, they are clearly even more relevant and important today than ever before,” said Miguez.

The Popa langurs were likely once widespread across central Myanmar, according to the study, which analyzed historical records like museum specimens and travel notes — but only a few groups survived. Now, the remaining individuals only live in four isolated populations.

The largest population is on Mount Popa, home to more than 100 langurs. Mount Popa, a sacred pilgrimage site, is also home to an important wildlife sanctuary — but threats remain for the endangered Popa langurs.

“Although Mount Popa is a national park, meaning the species that occur there are legally protected, hunting and deforestation for the timber industry and fuelwood still occur,” said Miguez.

Other threats include agricultural encroachment, environmental degradation, and other disturbances to the land like free cattle grazing, said the study.

The study urged international agencies like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to add the Popa langur to their lists of threatened species.

“Improved protected area management, in particular improved law enforcement … is essential to stabilize the two largest known populations,” said the study. “The forests in Bago Yoma are severely degraded and fragmented, but could still provide the largest, contiguous habitat if deforestation and forest degradation are reversed through improved forest protection and restoration.”


Capital Press

Trump expected to reduce spotted owl critical habitat

By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI, Capital Press, Nov 10, 2020

The Trump administration will likely decrease the threatened Northern spotted owl’s critical habitat before the end of his first term, though the reduction may fall short of the timber industry’s hopes.

To comply with a legal settlement with timber interests, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed cutting the bird’s 9.5 million-acre critical habitat designation by more than 200,000 acres.

While environmental groups argue even this reduction would be excessive, the American Forest Resource Council — which represents timber companies — believes 2.7 million acres should be slashed from the owl’s critical habitat.

If the federal government doesn’t deviate much from 200,000 acres in the final revision, which is due in late December, “we’d be disappointed, particularly given the record we’ve put together,” said Lawson Fite, attorney with AFRC.

At this point, though, the organization is hopeful the Fish and Wildlife Service is still open to a steeper reduction to the owl’s designated critical habitat, which receives added protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“I think it was basically just trying to get the process started,” Fite said of the 200,000-acre proposal.

The AFRC is urging the federal government to exclude younger forest stands from the designation because they don’t currently serve as habitat for the owl, as well as certain “fire-prone dry forests” where habitat is vulnerable to burning.

“You get forests that get nuked and that doesn’t do owls any good,” Fite said.

Within “critical habitat” that’s not actually inhabited by spotted owls, unlogged timber would amount to $750 million to $1.2 billion in lost revenues over 20 years, according to an economic analysis commissioned by AFRC.

Under a Supreme Court decision from 2018, the federal government cannot designate critical habitat for a species that it can’t actually occupy.

That ruling served as the catalyst for the legal settlement over spotted owl critical habitat between the Fish and Wildlife Service and timber groups earlier this year.

The group’s analysis determined that excluding the 2.7 million acres sought by AFRC — which would bring the owl’s critical habitat to its original 1992 designation — would increase gross domestic product by $100 million along the West Coast.

Reducing the critical habitat by that amount would also contribute to nearly 1,300 jobs and $66 million in worker wages in Oregon, Washington and California, where the spotted owl lives, according to AFRC’s study.

“We really dug into the data and economic impacts. We think it’s a good basis for exclusion,” Fite said.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which opposes the 200,000-acre critical habitat reduction, also expects the federal government will finish the revision before the end of Trump’s first term, said Ryan Adair Shannon, attorney for the environmental group.

No revisions to the spotted owl’s critical habitat are actually necessary, as the Fish and Wildlife Service determined the entire 9.5 million-acre designation is essential for the recovery of the species, Shannon said.

A coalition of environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, has warned the agency that its 200,000-acre reduction is “neither legal nor prudent” due to the accelerated decline of spotted owl populations.

Even so, the proposed revision is much smaller than a previous reduction by the Bush administration in 2008, which cut the critical habitat from 6.9 million acres to 5.3 million acres, Shannon said.

“That’s what they think they can get away with, based on the best available science,” he said of the currently proposed revision.

Timber interests should “not get too greedy” in asking for a significantly bigger reduction in critical habitat, since courts tend to look askance at such major changes between proposed and final rules, Shannon said.

Under federal law, a final regulation must be a “logical outgrowth” of the proposal, he said. “If it’s a complete 180 or a large expansion, that’s enough to set them up for a legal challenge.”



The 10 public lands and wildlife protections most likely to be removed by Trump

By The Center For Western Priorities, November 10, 2020

Commentary: The Center for Western Priorities today released an updated tracker identifying 70 policy changes that the Interior department hopes to complete before the end of the Trump administration. Those policies include advancing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, reducing protections for endangered species and migratory birds, and dramatically expanding drilling opportunities on public lands, despite weak demand and a surge of bankruptcies across the industry.

“The nation and the world is looking forward to the leadership of a Biden administration, but the next ten weeks are fraught with danger,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director at the Center for Western Priorities. “We expect Interior Secretary Bernhardt to unleash a torrent of policies and rule changes that would have been politically toxic before the election.”

In addition, the Interior Department has publicly identified plans to remove or downgrade protections for dozens of plants and animals under the Endangered Species Act. Those changes come after the department removed protections for the gray wolf despite near-unanimous calls from the public and scientists to keep the wolf on the endangered species list.

The Center for Western Priorities started tracking the Interior Department’s rule changes at the beginning of 2020. Since then, the department has finalized 20 of those policies, including land use plans to allow increased development in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, and weakening air quality standards for offshore drilling.

“Over the remaining 72 days of the Trump administration, Secretary Bernhardt will no doubt be racing to finalize even more controversial policies that benefit his former and future clients in extractive industries,” Prentice-Dunn added.

The Center for Western Priorities identified the ten rule and policy changes with a realistic possibility of being finalized that pose the most risk to America’s public lands and wildlife:

*Approving seismic testing and auctioning oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

*Allowing oil and gas companies to inadvertently kill migratory birds, including in oil spills, without penalties under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

*Further weakening the Endangered Species Act by limiting which habitat can be protected

*Amending long-term management plans to expand drilling and mining opportunities on public lands in the following areas:

-Northeast New Mexico, including around Chaco Canyon

-Southwest New Mexico, including the Permian Basin

-Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve

-Vast swaths of Western Alaska

-Lands managed under the California Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan

-Western Idaho

*Reopening loopholes to allow oil, gas, and coal companies to skirt royalties owed to taxpayers

*Weaken safety regulations for exploratory offshore drilling in the Alaskan Arctic

*Reducing environmental and regulatory reviews to speed the process of timber sales on public lands

*Allowing baiting of brown bears and increased trapping in Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

*Expanding opportunities to privatize services in national parks

*Allowing property owners to veto listings on the National Register of Historic Places



Study Shows Endangered Marine Mammals Are At Risk Of Contracting Covid-19

Liz Allen, Contributor, November 10, 2020

Through a process dubbed “reverse zoonotic transmission”, scientists worry SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, could jump from humans to marine mammals. Specifically, there are concerns that untreated wastewater could function as a vessel for coronavirus.

Wastewater is known to carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In fact, cities around the world are testing wastewater to gauge the extent of local coronavirus outbreaks. Wastewater is often treated before it enters the ocean to kill microbes, like viruses and bacteria. However, untreated wastewater is occasionally released into waterways when treatment plants reach capacity, such as during a heavy rain event. In these situations, wastewater treatment facilities may release wastewater that has not been fully treated. When over-capacity wastewater treatment plants release untreated effluent during the current pandemic, the virus that causes COVID-19 enters marine habitats.

Unlike other marine life, marine mammals are more susceptible to the ‘jumping’ of human diseases due to our comparatively recent divergence evolutionarily. In other words, humans are much more closely related to marine mammals than other ocean dwellers. The genetic similarities between marine mammals and humans make it more likely for an infectious agent, like a virus, to find a shared weakness. For the same reason, scientists are actively researching which mammal the SARS-CoV-2 virus may have come from, while concerns over future infectious ‘jumps’ between wildlife and humans are mounting.

To understand just how susceptible marine mammals – particularly endangered species – may be to infection by SARS-CoV-2, scientists at Dalhousie University searched through genetic data for the key the amino acids that make up the proteins the virus uses to start an infection. Without a good amino acid match, the virus would not be expected to cause an infection.

Based on these amino acid patterns, researchers found that at least 15 marine mammal species are susceptible to infection by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Of these, over half are already at-risk globally.

“Many of these species are threatened or critically endangered,” explains Dr. Graham Dellaire, who led the study. “In the past, these animals have been infected by related coronaviruses that have caused both mild disease as well as life-threatening liver and lung damage.”

Indeed, coronavirus infections have been reported in marine mammals prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. While no infections by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus have been documented in marine mammals to date, the results of this research reveal a key susceptibility among marine mammals to infection by the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

The study specifically identified the risk untreated wastewater in Alaska poses to vulnerable populations of beluga whales and sea otters and identified concerns broadly for marine mammals in waters near developing nations that may not have wastewater treatment facilities in place.

“Monitoring susceptible species in these high-risk areas around the world will be pertinent for protecting wildlife during and post-pandemic,” explains Saby Mathavaraja, a co-author of the study. Marine mammals, like humans, are social creatures, which makes them similarly vulnerable to having infections spread throughout an entire population.

By highlighting these vulnerabilities among marine mammals to infection by the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus, the researchers hope to shape policy decisions regarding wastewater management around the world to help protect at-risk marine mammal species that may be exposed to this coronavirus.


Washington County News

Endangered woodpecker species recovering two years after Hurricane Michael

Staff Report, November 9, 2020

TALLAHASSEE – In 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida panhandle and the 570,000 acre Apalachicola National Forest. Approximately 113,000 acres of the forest were impacted by the storm and of these acres, more than 24,000 were severely impacted. Debris left by the storm created hazards and increased fuels that complicated efforts to use prescribed fire to manage and clear the landscape. Downed trees were strewn across the landscape, blocking roads and prohibiting access to areas of timber that had been planned for harvest. One of the most significant results of this hurricane was the impact that it had on the habitat of the red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW), a species the US Fish and Wildlife Service had declared endangered.

Despite the damage, progress is visible on the forest and the results of the hard work are becoming apparent. Work to stabilize the population of red-cockaded woodpeckers has proven successful, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently proposed downlisting the RCW from endangered to threatened.

The RCW excavates cavities exclusively in living pine trees; preferably old pine trees with heartwood softened by fungal disease. It can take years for the birds to excavate the cavities they use for nesting and roosting. Hurricane Michael downed 1,409 trees with RCW cavities; this created an immediate threat to the endangered species. Interagency partners moved quickly to address the problem.

The US Forest Service and partners from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, USFWS and the Long Leaf Alliance worked to install 692 cavity inserts to serve as pre-fabricated replacements for the nesting sites that were lost in the storm. The boxes were inset into trees in a manner that mimicked natural cavities. The RCW found and utilized a number of the cavity inserts.

In the spring of 2019, biologists were surprised to see that this had been one of the most productive nesting seasons on their records. Nearly half of nesting attempts were found in the cavity inserts. 80% of the chicks that researchers banded fledged, and many established in other cavity inserts.

The USFWS describes the red-cockaded woodpecker as a “territorial, non-migratory bird species of the southeastern and southern United States.” The birds were once common throughout the longleaf pine ecosystem, but the types of mature forests the species prefers have declined; and that habitat loss has been reflected in declining RCW populations. Today, the world’s largest population of RCWs resides on the Apalachicola NF. Biologists believe that the quick installation of the inserts minimized disruption and made the difference in the RCW’s nesting success.


National Geographic

Could endangered species and other animals fare better under Biden?

The last four years were a setback for wildlife protection and animal welfare policy. Here are 6 things Biden might do to change course


WITH JOE BIDEN declared president-elect, many advocates and conservationists are hopeful that animals in the U.S.—wild, captive, and farmed—may become better protected.

As with many policy areas, Biden declined to talk on the campaign trail about what his administration might do around safeguarding animals, and a Biden spokesperson did not respond to National Geographic’s request for comment on the subject.

But many animal and wildlife advocates anticipate that initial efforts will involve reversing course on Trump-era policies, which they argue ushered in a dramatic regression in protecting animals.

“Every administration comes in and undoes a little something, and you’re back battling something you thought you’d taken care of. But [these regressions] have been wholesale,” says Nancy Blaney, director of government affairs at the nonprofit Animal Welfare Institute.

Blaney and others say the Trump Administration’s tenure has been characterized by regulatory rollbacks and a pervasive lack of transparency. After his first year in office, the League of Conservation Voters—widely considered a reliable appraiser of politicians’ environmental leanings—issued a statement: “If there was anything worse than an ‘F’, President Trump would get it.” According to the group, the Trump Administration’s rating never improved.

As a long-time senator and two-term vice president to Barack Obama, Biden has earned a lifetime score of 83 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, suggesting a strong record on environmental and wildlife issues. He was endorsed for president by the Humane Society Legislative Fund for his robust voting record on animal welfare, having co-sponsored bills to protect horses from slaughter, ban animal fighting, and prohibit the trophy hunting of captive animals. Biden will also bring the first-ever shelter dog to live in the White House. The Bidens adopted Major, one of their two German shepherds, from the Delaware Humane Association in 2018.

What might Biden do upon entering office? We break down where the U.S. stands on animal-protection issues, and how the Biden Administration might approach policy changes.

  1. Enforce the Endangered Species Act.

Among the most concerning of Trump’s policies, scientists say, is a massive shift in the way the Endangered Species Act is enforced.

These changes, announced in August 2019, include taking economic considerations into account when enforcing the act; not giving automatic protections to threatened species; making it more difficult to designate critical habitat for endangered species; and not considering the impact of climate change in making recommendations for species protection.

These “amazingly comprehensive changes” have been “antithetical to the purpose of the Endangered Species Act,” says Kristen Boyles, a staff attorney with conservation nonprofit Earthjustice who works on wildlife issues. She says she hopes a Biden Administration would consider changing these policies, which wouldn’t be too difficult since they can be made by the secretaries of Interior and Commerce.

In response to these changes, Biden tweeted on August 12: “For decades, the Endangered Species Act has protected our most vulnerable wildlife from extinction. Now, President Trump wants to throw it all away. At a time when climate change is pushing our planet to the brink, we should strengthen protections—not weaken them.”

  1. Consider climate change.

In such statements, Biden has made it clear he believes climate change is an “existential threat” to our planet. This is good news for his approach to wildlife, says Jacob Malcom, a conservationist with the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife.

According to Malcom, our country “badly needs leaders” to tackle this issue, which is one of the three most important drivers of the biodiversity crisis, in addition to habitat loss and overexploitation. (Read about actions Biden can take to address climate change and protect the environment.)

  1. Protect species in need.

The Trump Administration has made common practice of delisting endangered and threatened species, and has resisted protecting them. In the past few weeks alone, the administration delisted gray wolves and denied federal protections for the wolverine.

Biden has generally supported protections for endangered species throughout his 35-year career as a senator from Delaware—including listing species, when appropriate—and it’s reasonable to expect this will continue, experts say. He has a long record on these matters, starting when he voted for passage of the original Endangered Species Act of 1973, and similar laws in years since.

During his eight years as vice president, Biden had a relatively strong track record on endangered species protections. When Obama and Biden took office on January 20, 2009, they reversed some laws and rules that environmentalists had criticized under President George W. Bush.

For instance, the Obama Administration rewrote a recovery plan for the endangered northern spotted owl, which lives in old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. The Bush Administration had changed the plan in a way that favored logging interests, Boyles says.

“Any administration that believes in science, the huge danger of climate change, that has already spoken out about how we should strengthen protections for endangered species… that’s going to be a good thing for wildlife,” Boyles says.

  1. Prevent bird deaths.

There are about 3 billion fewer birds in North America now compared with 1970, due to habitat loss, pesticides and other factors. Since 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act has been an important piece of legislation for protecting these animals. Among other things, it imposes fines on companies for killing most types of birds. In a break from how the law had always been enforced, the Trump Administration’s Department of the Interior changed its interpretation of the law to stop fining unintentional killing.

“It basically let industry totally off the hook for killing birds,” says Noah Greenwald, an endangered species advocate with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. Greenwald thinks it’s likely that Biden would restore the traditional interpretation of the act.

With this issue and others, “It’s like we lost four years under the Trump Administration that we didn’t really have to lose… and we’re hopeful that Biden will get us back on track, not just reversing the bad things but moving us forward,” Greenwald says.

  1. Ramp up enforcement of animal welfare violations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, which regulates the treatment of animals sold as pets and used for research and exhibition, and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which governs standards for slaughter of animals (except chickens and other birds, which aren’t regulated). There are no federal laws that govern the treatment of animals on farms; that’s left to the states, as are most matters of animal welfare not covered by the two laws above.

Two weeks after Trump was inaugurated in 2017, his administration set the tone for its animal welfare policy. The USDA purged its entire public database of animal welfare violation records—inspection records and annual reports for every commercial animal facility in the U.S., including zoos, breeders, factory farms, and laboratories.

The USDA, following sustained public pressure, eventually restored the database in February 2020, in the process revealing that enforcement had plummeted under Trump. The USDA issued 1,716 citations for violations of the Act in 2018, compared with 4,944 issued by the Obama Administration in 2016.

  1. Improve welfare standards for farmed animals.

The Trump Administration killed speed limits for how many pigs can legally be slaughtered per hour, which, critics argue, means the factory line can move so fast that pigs are sometimes not properly stunned before being killed—meaning their throats are slit or they’re dropped into boiling water while still conscious.

The administration killed a rule put in place by the Obama Administration stating that the “organic” label can only be used on animal products that have met specific welfare standards in their treatment of animals while alive, including access to fresh air and sunlight and having enough space to turn around comfortably; the rule also prohibited cutting chicken beaks and cow tails. The Trump Administration declined to complete an Obama-era initiative to ban horse soring, the deliberate act of injuring a show horse’s legs to increase the height of its step.

“An easy thing [for Biden] to start with is horse soring. Get it published—easy peasy,” says Blaney, since the Obama Administration already did much of the legwork. As a senator, Biden co-sponsored several horse-protection bills.

Blaney is hopeful Biden will change course from Trump’s approach. That could mean restoring and building upon Obama-era efforts to protect animals, as well as working with Congress to pass firmer federal animal welfare laws. (Read about how states across the U.S. have taken bold steps to protect animals)

“It used to be really like pulling teeth to get someone to introduce a bill and take it seriously. Now, every [lawmaker’s] office has an animal welfare staffer,” she says. “There’s just more interest and sensitivity to the lives of animals and how important they are to people.”


E&E Daily

Dems demand Bernhardt turn in errant projects list

Jennifer Yachnin, E&E News reporter, November 9, 2020

Congressional Democrats voiced increasing frustration over Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s failure to meet a deadline for implementing a landmark public lands law, with one lawmaker accusing the Trump administration of a “vendetta against conservation funding.”

Montana Sen. Jon Tester (D) and New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland (D) on Friday joined the chorus of critics accusing the Trump administration of fumbling the rollout of the Great American Outdoors Act, after neither the Interior nor the Agricultural departments submitted lists of priority projects due to Congress on Nov. 2 (E&E Daily, Nov. 3).

“With three months of notice, and years’ worth of backlogged projects sitting on the shelf, it’s disappointing that the Department of Interior and Forest Service were not able to produce a list,” Tester wrote in a letter to Bernhardt and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

He warned that continued delays could threaten projects that would benefit from Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars made available by the new law.

“Every day that passes runs a risk that a local stakeholder, a private landowner, or another partner may not be able to keep their lands, matching funds, or other resources available for a project,” Tester wrote.

The complaint echoes statements from Montana Sen. Steve Daines (R). A spokeswoman for Daines said last week that the GOP lawmaker has likewise reached out to the Interior and USDA, and other Trump administration officials (E&E News PM, Nov. 5).

The Great American Outdoors Act, signed into law in August, granted the LWCF permanent annual funding of $900 million, while also creating a five-year trust fund to address the $20 billion backlog of deferred maintenance projects at national parks and other public lands.

The law instructed Interior and the Forest Service to submit to Congress separate lists detailing both deferred maintenance projects and LWCF endeavors — which include outdoor recreation projects as well as federal land acquisitions — within 90 days of its enactment.

When the deadline hit last week, those agencies submitted proposals for 725 maintenance projects at a cost of $1.9 billion but opted out of requesting any LWCF projects (Greenwire, Nov. 3).

That’s because Interior’s leadership reads the law differently than many in Congress. It argues that the LWCF list is the responsibility of the president, via the Office of Management and Budget (E&E News PM, Nov. 5). OMB has not responded to email inquiries submitted to its press office.

New Mexico’s Haaland framed the decision to skirt the deadline as an affront to the nation’s federal lands.

“All Americans deserve the resources for their public parks and outdoor spaces but once again the Trump Administration is taking that away from our families,” Haaland said in a statement Friday.

“Though they took a campaign victory lap about the Great American Outdoors Act, I am astounded by their vendetta against conservation funding they celebrated just days ago,” she said. “It was obvious from the start that their support of the Great American Outdoors Act was a ploy to win votes in a close election year.”

Haaland’s statement was provided before President-elect Joe Biden (D) claimed victory in the race for the White House on Saturday.

Haaland asserted that Congress “will step in” to address the available LWCF funding if the Trump administration fails to meet its statutory responsibilities.

New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich (D) likewise vowed last week to appropriate funds under the new law in a lame-duck session this month, stating: “The good news is the law is the law,” he said (E&E Daily, Nov. 3).


Colorado Public Radio (CPR) News

Colorado Voters Want Wolves Back In Colorado. Now Comes The Hard Part

By Sam Brasch, November 6, 2020

Colorado wants its wolves back.

Seventy-five years after a government trapper killed Colorado’s last native gray wolf, voters have declared those efforts an ecological mistake by narrowly backing Proposition 114.

The measure directs state wildlife managers to reintroduce gray wolves to the Western Slope by the end of 2023. According to supporters, it’s the first time voters — in any state — have decided whether to bring back an endangered species.

Rob Edward, who led the campaign for the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, announced the news in a message to supporters Thursday afternoon.

“Now, together with biologists, ranchers, wildlife watchers and hunters, we will lean in to craft a future where co-existing with wolves is a widely shared value,” Edward said.

The Associated Press has not formally called the race, which is still separated by 30,000 votes. Opponents conceded Thursday after determining the outstanding votes likely would prevent them from overcoming the gap. Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the agency the ballot measure tasked with wolf reintroduction, expects the proposition to pass as well.

The margin has also exceeded the threshold to avoid an automatic recount.

In a message to opponents of the initiative, Patrick Pratt, deputy director for Coloradans Protecting Wildlife, said ranchers and hunters mounted an effective campaign, nearly overcoming wolf supporters despite a $1.3 million fundraising gap.

“While the election did not turn out as we had hoped, we are moving forward to continue to educate Coloradans about the importance of this issue. The election results demonstrate that nearly half of Coloradans agree with us,” Pratt said.

In a move criticized as “ballot box biology,” passage means Colorado will likely become the first state where voters direct reintroduction of gray wolves rather than the federal government. Those previous efforts have brought wolves back to the northern Rockies, New Mexico, Arizona and the Carolinas.

According to the ballot language, a plan for reintroduction must now be determined by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, which oversees Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Rebecca Ferrel, a spokesperson with the agency, said it’s important the agency has the time to come up with a plan based on science and public input, as directed by the ballot language.

“We want people to have a clear understanding that we won’t have a plan immediately,” she said.

In a small bit of irony, the wildlife commission has shot down four previous proposals to reintroduce gray wolves, most recently in 2016. While the ballot initiative directs the panel to restore wolves, it can largely determine the shape of a reintroduction program, including the source of Colorado’s future wolves, locations of releases on the Western Slope, and the ultimate number.

Gov. Jared Polis appoints the members of the citizen commission. The governor remained neutral on Proposition 114, but before the election, his press secretary said, “if voters decide to pass wolf reintroduction then Colorado Parks and Wildlife will be ready to implement their will.”

One big question hanging over future debates will be funding. Nonpartisan budget analysts estimated the wolf recovery could cost $800,000 for planning over the first two years. The state would need to spend roughly the same amount each year to implement the plan.

A more precise estimate won’t be possible until the commission lands on a reintroduction plan. It also depends on the amount of livestock killed by any future wolves, which must be compensated by a state program according to the ballot initiative.

In any event, the financial burden could land entirely on already strained state budgets. Edward said reintroduction supporters hoped to cover 75 percent of the cost with federal grants for programs to support endangered species. That likely can’t happen if the Trump administration succeeds in its attempt to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list. The Department of Interior announced the move last month, but a coalition of environmental groups is already planning to sue.

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat who represents Vail, said those financial concerns are likely the most significant barrier to any reintroduction program.

“Getting paws on the ground does have significant hurdles in front of it,” Donovan said. “This all comes in the unforeseen circumstance of a couple years where we know there will be no extra money within Colorados budgets, and this is certainly a cost that needs to be accounted for.”

Donovan tried and failed to pass a bill to keep the initiative off the ballot earlier this year. She said the bill attempted to fill in many of the details left blank in the initiative. For instance, what entity should pay compensation for lost livestock? What happens if wolves spotted in northwest Colorado last winter appear to breed and begin to build a viable population?

Edward said he wouldn’t be against lawmakers looking into those issues.

“I would expect that the legislature, especially a Democratic legislature, would have some interest in trying to make things better,” he said. “There’s only so much you can do within the confines of a single ballot initiative.

Meanwhile, any attempt to release wolves could face fierce local opposition in the Western Slope. While a narrow majority of Coloradans supported the initiative, commissioners in 39 of the state’s 64 counties voted against the plan.

Ray Beck, a county commissioner with Moffat County in northwest Colorado, said he remains against wolf reintroduction but doesn’t see a way for county governments to stop the state. As it moves forward, he hopes wildlife officials collaborate with local governments and livestock producers.

He said the Front Range should brace for the predators — not just parts of rural Colorado.

“If people think the wolves are just going to stay on the western side of the Continental Divide, I don’t see that. The animals are going to where they’re going to go,” he said.


Courthouse News Service

Next President Should Strengthen Endangered Species Act: Report

November 6, 2020, MARTIN MACIAS JR.

(CN) — Scientists have for years sounded the alarm on the wildlife extinction crisis. In the U.S., avoiding catastrophe will take more than reversing years of regressive policy-making — it will require bolstering landmark federal protections established decades ago, conservationists and scientists said in a report issued this week.

Numerous species of wildlife have disappeared at frighteningly rapid rates and it’s estimated that globally more than a million species face extinction, according to the policy report published in the journal Science.

For nearly five decades, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been the primary U.S. policy tool for preventing a torrent of wildlife extinction and conserving both threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats they live in.

Under the 1973 law, federal agencies must consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that their actions don’t jeopardize the safety of plants and animals listed for protection.

Implementation of the act has prevented the extinction of multiple wildlife including the bald eagle, the California condor, the Alabama leather flower and Florida manatee. Today, the law protects 1,600 plant and animal species and designates millions of acres as critical habitat for their survival and recovery.

But the landmark legislation has been slowly gutted by the Trump administration, which issued new rules in August 2019 that it said would undo “unnecessary regulatory burdens” while maintaining safeguards for wildlife species.

The new rules allow economic factors to be considered when agencies are deciding whether to list species for protection under the act and also make it more difficult to protect areas where endangered wildlife is not found.

Scientists said in the report Thursday the changes make it more difficult for the federal government to conserve habitats that wildlife will depend on the era of rapidly accelerating climate change.

But simply rolling back Trump administration changes will not solve the regulatory problem facing the ESA, the report said.

University of Vermont conservation biologist Joe Roman said in a statement released with the report that the ESA must be bolstered via bipartisan legislation in Congress that also has the support of energy industry leaders.

“It’s not enough to just go back to where we were eighteen months ago; we need reform,” report co-author Roman said. “We’re not talking about revising the act itself — that legislative can of worms — but it is clear that endangered species, wildlife agencies, landowners, and citizens would all benefit by updating the regulations and policies that are used to implement the law.”

The report says clarity is needed to guide implementation of the act, as is evident in the cases seeking protections for the Pacific walrus and the Arctic ringed seal.

While the loss of ice and snow cover has imperiled both animals, the Fish & Wildlife Service decided in 2017 not to protect the walrus. The agency found climate change projections beyond 2060 were “based on speculation, rather than reliable prediction.”

But five years earlier, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed the seal as “threatened” using climate projections stretching to 2100 that sync with modeling guidelines for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Ya-Wei Li of the Environmental Policy Innovation Center, lead author of the report, said that ad hoc approach by the agencies can lead to dangerously inconsistent regulatory action under the act.

“This kind of ambiguity hurts everybody and invites political interference that undercuts protections for species, erodes public confidence, triggers lawsuits that are costly for all,” Li said. “It polarizes the ESA, a law that could enjoy far more support across the political spectrum.”

The Trump administration should disclose both data and political “principles” guiding wildlife regulation policy and explain their decisions to offer or not offer protections under act, the report said.

The administration should also clarify how it interprets “foreseeable future,” which is the categorical timeframe for determining whether to list a species as “threatened,” the report said.

“This ambiguity invites political intervention that undercuts species protection and public confidence in ESA decisions, triggers litigation that is costly for all parties, and polarizes the law,” the report said.

In another case, Fish and Wildlife extended protections to the Gunnison sage grouse on agricultural lands under the ESA 4(d) rule but declined protections for the lesser prairie chicken on the same kind of farmland.

“The agency may have had valid reasons for this discrepancy, but they never publicly explained those reasons,” authors wrote in the report.

Li said recommendations in the report will increase transparency over the Endangered Species Act process, fund sensing technology that can better track the impact of climate change and incentivize preservation of wildlife that exists on private lands.

“But we’re also advocating for new ideas that would bring better science and more flexible approaches to the decisions the wildlife services make,” Li said.

Report authors said most Americans see plants and wildlife as a “public good,” and whoever occupies the White House should take that into consideration.

“Think of what could happen if we got federal decision-makers, governors, conservationists, industry leaders to sit down together to help both species and landowners,” Roman said. “With the right leadership, you could get broad bipartisan support to make the Endangered Species Act an even better tool for preventing the loss of biodiversity.”

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an interview that while he agrees with the authors that Trump administration regulations should be rescinded, additional legislation isn’t necessary to improve the act.

“Given where Republicans stand on endangered species, there’s just not a lot of opportunity for bipartisan effort in Congress, nor is it needed,” Greenwald said, adding the act already has strong protections that need to be enforced in a nonpartisan manner.

Greenwald said “political interference” from Trump-appointed officials — who avoid recommendations from their own scientists — should not be the impediment to implementing the law.

“I hope the extinction crisis is an important priority for the Biden administration, if that’s in fact what we’re gonna have, because it really threatens our way of life.”

But Jacob Malcom, director of the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders of Wildlife, said more is definitely needed.

“In order to save endangered and imperiled wildlife from the damage of the past four years, reverting to Obama-era regulations is an important step but is not enough by itself. We have seen unprecedented changes that undercut the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act, two bedrock environmental laws that have protected species and their habitats for decades.

“There is a long list of additional actions needed to overturn the damage to our environment, such as restoring protections for migratory birds and halting oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” he said in an email.

He noted the report — along with robust federal funding of the Endangered Species Act — would go a long way to “strengthen the ESA in ways endangered species desperately need.”

Greenwald’s group and others sued the Trump administration in August 2019 to stop the package of rule changes to the act, claiming the rules were not properly proposed to the public before they were finalized.

U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar dismissed the lawsuit this past May with leave to amend, finding the plaintiffs failed to adequately state how they would be harmed by the new rules.

Additional plaintiffs in that case include Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians and the Humane Society of the United States.

Also this past May, Tigar advanced a related California-led lawsuit seeking to block the Trump administration’s changes to the act, finding the states adequately established how the rules would affect their environmental and economic interests.


E&E Daily


Legislative grappling begins absent a green wave

Nick Sobczyk, Jeremy Dillon and Geof Koss, E&E News reporters, November 5, 2020

The last two days did not go how environmental groups expected.

After greens headed into Tuesday night with their political allies polling favorably, climate change in the news and record election spending, congressional Republicans look likely to hang on to the Senate and gain seats in the House.

The results could easily move in the coming hours and days. But even if Democratic nominee Joe Biden holds his lead and wins the White House, the path for the kind of ambitious climate legislation that environmentalists have long hoped for looks narrower than ever.

Still, the legislative grappling is set to begin in the coming days, as both environmentalists and industry position themselves to make the most out of whatever governing coalition emerges.

“While the exit polls, even Fox’s exit polls, seem to suggest that many voters care about climate, it still is not really the issue that drives any given race,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity.


Several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters and Sunrise Movement, were set to hold a joint press conference to discuss the results yesterday afternoon but instead postponed to today and issued a statement calling for every vote to be counted.

“The outcome of this election is up to the voters, no one else,” the groups said in a combined statement.

“Voters — the majority of whom want to see bold, ambitious action on climate — turned out in record numbers across race, place of origin, and zip code to stand with and for each other.”

Meanwhile, allies of President Trump claimed victory on energy issues, pointing to races in the heartland where pro-energy Democrats who won in 2018 lost their seats to Republicans, namely Reps. Xochitl Torres Small in New Mexico and Kendra Horn in Oklahoma.

“One thing is for certain: if Joe Biden shuffles into the White House, he will do so lacking any kind of mandate to make energy more expensive, restrict the use of our domestic natural resources, ban fracking on federal lands, or impose a carbon tax or other restrictive carbon policies on the American public,” American Energy Alliance President Tom Pyle, who served on Trump’s 2016 transition team, said in a statement yesterday.

Green groups clung to a handful of victories yesterday. Reps. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) and Mike Levin (D-Calif.), both of whom ran on climate change in 2018, held on to their seats, as did Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick — a carbon tax supporter and the only Republican endorsed by the LCV this year — likely held off his challenger in Pennsylvania’s suburban Bucks County.

The most progressive supporters of the Green New Deal also, unsurprisingly, emerged unscathed, but environmental groups and Democrats took losses in swing districts around the country, particularly in Florida and Texas.

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) lost to Republican Carlos Gimenez, the former mayor of Miami-Dade County, in a district heavily affected by climate change.

Gimenez’s win, as well as victories for Republicans active on climate and energy like Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas, made an encouraging two days, on the other hand, for conservative climate groups, which could also have a Republican Senate to work with.

While they lamented losing Sen. Cory Gardener (R-Colo.), who fell to former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, the results were “an affirmation of the work we’ve been doing,” said Quill Robinson, vice president of government affairs at the American Conservation Coalition.

“The take-home message for Republicans is that they need to be getting into issues that help them be more competitive,” said Heather Reams, executive director of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions. “No one likes the nail biting.”

‘Climate change isn’t going away’

Whatever happens in the next few days, environmental and industry groups are preparing for legislative and policy jockeying to come.

Should the GOP keep the Senate, Hartl said there’s little prospect for major climate legislation. If Biden is in the White House, that means the Center for Biological Diversity will turn its focus to the executive branch.

“We think that was always the primary area anyway,” Hartl said, adding that Democrats would have had to grapple with moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona even if they had taken the Senate.

The key, Hartl said, would be for a Biden administration to act early and aggressively with existing air pollution tools under the Clean Air Act. Using the law to extend other air pollution standards could have the side effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, for instance.

“They should immediately revise all of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards super-aggressively,” Hartl said.

In Congress, more centrist groups and industry interests are turning their attention to some of the outstanding innovation and tax proposals from the 116th Congress and to a potential infrastructure bill.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s top lobbyist predicted yesterday that work on climate legislation will continue even in divided government, albeit more likely in a piecemeal fashion.

“The need to address climate change isn’t going away and only hastens with each passing day,” Chamber Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley told reporters on a conference call yesterday.

“I have no doubt this is going to be high on the priority list for Congress to begin addressing, and for an administration to address in different forms and fashion. It could be that it doesn’t take the form of one kind of comprehensive omnibus package. Instead … it becomes an element that is embedded in infrastructure.”

He suggested that the House and Senate could meet “somewhere in the middle” on their competing infrastructure packages early in the new Congress, noting that the Senate’s $287 billion highway bill, S. 2302, includes a climate title and water provisions while House Democrats’ $1.5 trillion infrastructure package, H.R. 2, contains renewable energy investments and broadband provisions in addition to the traditional highway spending.

“It’s going to be that type of kind of compromise that reflects both resiliency, connectivity and advancing solutions on climate change, kind of wrapped together,” Bradley said. “That’s where we think the sweet spot is in divided government in the first part of next year.”

There are also murmurs about a potential deal for some type of clean energy standard framework that could regulate carbon emissions while also keeping natural gas online.

Reps. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) are eyeing introduction this month of a bipartisan energy standard bill that would invest heavily in carbon capture and aim to reduce power sector emissions 80% by 2050 (E&E Daily, Sept. 18).

But a clean energy standard would be dead on arrival should Senate Republicans opt for an antagonistic approach to the Biden administration.

“Any type of thoughts around a national clean energy standard, low carbon standard or any other major policy intended to pursue a 0% carbon emission goal by 2035 … it’s hard for me to envision how you could get to that number without congressional action,” Ethan Zindler, the head of Americas at BloombergNEF, said during a postelection webinar.

“And it’s harder for me still to envision the Congress, as we think it’s going to be made up, to be very cooperative on something like that next year,” he added.

But in the postelection glow, some observers see signs for a bipartisan deal, especially as utilities already are adopting ambitious decarbonization goals that look to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

What that looks like or its potential remains to be seen. There could be some bipartisan interest in tax extenders, like the 45Q credit for carbon capture; hydrogen fuels; biofuels; or a credit to enable energy storage technologies to qualify for the investment tax credit.

Any climate or energy deal would need to rely on cooperation between Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Biden, a longtime creature of the Senate with a belief in the Senate’s ability to find compromise, Scott Segal, co-chair of Bracewell LLP’s Policy Resolution Group, said during a postelection webinar yesterday.

“On the major issues — tax packages, energy, climate change — we will see more modest attempts in my judgment in negotiated compromises, because that’s what an institutionalist like Joe Biden knows that is all he can get,” Segal said.

“The opportunity to work across that aisle absolutely could work,” he added.


Center for Biological Diversity

Release—November 5, 2020

EPA: Widely Used Pesticide Atrazine Likely Harms More Than 1,000 Endangered Species

Finding Comes Two Months After Agency Reapproved Herbicide for 15 Years

WASHINGTON— The Environmental Protection Agency released an assessment today finding that the endocrine-disrupting pesticide atrazine is likely to harm more than 1,000 of the nation’s most endangered plants and animals.

The finding is a result of the agency’s first-ever nationwide assessment of an herbicide’s harm to protected species, an analysis that’s required by the Endangered Species Act.

The assessment’s release comes just two months after the EPA reapproved the pesticide’s use for another 15 years.

“Finally the EPA has been forced to acknowledge atrazine’s far-reaching harms,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. ”This alarming assessment leaves no doubt that this hideously dangerous pesticide should be banned in the U.S., just as it is across much of the world.”

Atrazine is a widespread pollutant of groundwater and drinking water, has been linked to increased risk of cancer and reproductive problems in people, and can chemically castrate male frogs at extremely low concentrations, including those allowed in drinking water.

Despite being banned in more than 35 countries, including the entire European Union, it remains the second-most used herbicide in the United States after glyphosate.

Today’s draft assessment is part of a legal agreement between the Center and the EPA. It found that atrazine is likely to harm 1,013 protected species, or 56% of all endangered plants and animals in the nation. Species harmed include the highly endangered whooping crane, California red-legged frog and San Joaquin kit fox.

The risk of ongoing widespread harm was found despite major changes to the pesticide’s use restrictions announced by the EPA in September that effectively ban atrazine in Hawaii, on forests, on Christmas tree farms and along roadsides. For endangered species found outside the proposed ban areas, the finding of harm was nearly 100%.

Today’s draft assessment was conducted using a guidance document finalized earlier this year by the Trump administration, dubbed the “Revised Methods,” that disregarded the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences and ignored the mandate of the Endangered Species Act to give imperiled wildlife and plants the benefit of the doubt when evaluating the range of impacts caused by exposure to pesticides.

By using this new guidance — which precludes consideration of downstream runoff of pesticides into water bodies where endangered aquatic species, like fish and snails, live — the EPA has likely underestimated the true severity of the risk many species face from atrazine exposure.

Atrazine is widely present in U.S. surface waters and drinking-water supplies. Earlier this year the EPA granted a request from atrazine’s maker, Syngenta, to suspend monitoring atrazine in waterways for 2020. The EPA had denied Syngenta’s previous request to stop monitoring atrazine in waterways, because it “…has continued to show atrazine concentrations of potential ecological concern in the most vulnerable watersheds, even when stewardship programs are employed.”

“With this troubling finding, even the EPA has been forced to acknowledge the unacceptable harm caused by atrazine,” said Donley. “It’s beyond me how it can still be approved for such widespread use across this country.”

Draft evaluations for pesticides very similar to atrazine, simazine and propazine, were also released today.

In September the Trump EPA announced it would be reapproving atrazine for the next 15 years, eliminating longstanding safeguards for children’s health, and allowing 50% more atrazine to end up in U.S. waterways. The Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity and a coalition of public-interest groups sued to challenge that decision last week.



After election: making the endangered species act more effective

by University of Vermont, November 5, 2020

Following the presidential election, a leading group of scientists are making the case that a ‘rule reversal’ will not be sufficient to allow the Endangered Species Act to do its job. Instead, they’re calling for deeper improvements to the rules federal wildlife agencies use to apply the law—aiming to make the Act more effective and to gain bipartisan and industry support in an era of accelerating climate change.

For forty-seven years, the Endangered Species Act has stood as the nation’s strongest and most effective law for protecting animals and plants threatened with extinction—from the bald eagle to the American burying beetle, the Alabama leather flower to the Aleutian shield fern.

In 2019, the Trump Administration made the most sweeping changes to the implementation of the Endangered Species Act in decades—making it harder for the federal government to protect the habitats that plants and animals will need in a warmer future. Many biologists and environmental groups have called for these rules to be reversed, to simply return to the Obama era rules.

Now a leading group of conservation scientists and ESA policy experts are making the case that a “rule reversal” will not be sufficient to allow the Act to do its job of protecting species. Instead, they’re calling for deeper improvements to the rules the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service use to apply the law—aiming to make the Act more effective and to gain bipartisan and industry support in an era of accelerating climate change.

The team’s analysis and policy recommendations were published on November 5 in the journal Science.

Into the foreseeable future

“It’s not enough to just go back to where we were eighteen months ago; we need reform,” says University of Vermont conservation biologist Joe Roman, one of the co-authors on the new policy study. “We’re not talking about revising the Act itself—that legislative can of worms—but it is clear that endangered species, wildlife agencies, landowners, and citizens would all benefit by updating the regulations and policies that are used to implement the law.”

At the center of the team’s call for reform is a need for clarity.

Consider the divergent cases of the Pacific walrus and the Arctic ringed seal. Both animals face similar threats from rapid losses of sea ice and snow cover. But a 2017 decision not to protect the walrus was based on climate projections that went out only to 2060, because the Fish & Wildlife Service considered conclusions beyond this date to be “based on speculation, rather than reliable prediction.” However, five years earlier, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed the seal as “threatened” based on modeling that was presented as “reliable” out to 2100, the same time horizon as the authoritative modeling of the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and others.

n short, the wildlife services have had an ad hoc and inconsistent approach to defining the “foreseeable future,”—and other ESA rules. “This kind of ambiguity hurts everybody,” says Ya-Wei (Jake) Li, an expert on the Endangered Species Act at the Environmental Policy Innovation Center and the lead author of the new study in Science, “and invites political interference that undercuts protections for species, erodes public confidence, triggers lawsuits that are costly for all. It polarizes the ESA, a law that could enjoy far more support across the political spectrum.”

For example, once the National Marine Fisheries Service had “concluded that the extent of the of sea ice loss was reliably foreseeable to 2100, any conflicting decisions should explain why that conclusion was wrong,” write the team of scientists, including Li, Roman, David S. Wilcove at Princeton University, Timothy Male at the Environmental Policy Innovation Center, and Holly Doremus at the University of California, Berkeley. “What is required is consistency and transparency.”

New approaches

The federal wildlife services, the team argues, should clarify the principles that guide their decisions, provide more public access to the data behind decisions, and give clear explanations of how they exercise discretion in offering—or not offering—protections to threatened species.

In a puzzling case, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, using a so-called ESA 4(d) rule, offered the Gunnison sage grouse full protections on agricultural lands, but the related lesser prairie chicken was exempted from similar protections on the same kind of farmland. “The agency may have had valid reasons for this discrepancy, but they never publicly explained those reasons,” the team writes.

“The recommendations that we’re focusing on provide the public with more transparency—and transparency alone can really help reduce a lot of the controversy” that has mired the ESA in recent years, says Jake Li. “But we’re also advocating for new ideas that would bring better science and more flexible approaches to the decisions the wildlife services make.”

For example, in the wake of this presidential election, a new package of regulation and funding for working with landowners—to offer tax incentives for easements and land donations—could unlock recovery opportunities for the many threatened plants and animals that persist on private lands. And investments in remote sensing and other technologies could give a better view of how climate change will impact the nearly 2,400 species protected by the ESA.

“A strong majority of Americans supports the Endangered Species Act and sees wildlife and wild plants as a public good,” says Joe Roman, a professor in UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment & Natural Resources and Gund Institute for Environment. “So what will it take to help landowners protect these species? Think of what could happen if we got federal decisionmakers, governors, conservationists, industry leaders to sit down together to help both species and landowners. With the right leadership, you could get broad bipartisan support to make the Endangered Species Act an even better tool for preventing the loss of biodiversity.”


U.S. formally exits Paris climate change pact amid election uncertainty

The Associated Press, NBC News, November 4, 2020

BERLIN — The United States on Wednesday formally left the Paris Agreement, a global pact forged five years ago to avert the threat of catastrophic climate change.

The move, long threatened by President Donald Trump and triggered by his administration a year ago, further isolates the U.S in the world but has no immediate impact on international efforts to curb global warming.

Some 189 countries remain committed to the 2015 Paris accord, which aims to keep the increase in average temperatures worldwide “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), ideally no more than 1.5C (2.7 F), compared to pre-industrial levels. A further six countries have signed, but not ratified the pact.

Scientists say that any rise beyond 2 degrees Celsius could have a devastating impact on large parts of the world, raising sea levels, stoking tropical storms and worsening droughts and floods.

The Paris accord requires countries to set their own voluntary targets for reducing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The only binding requirement is that nations have to accurately report on their efforts.

The United States is the world’s second biggest emitter after China of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and its contribution to cutting emissions is seen as important, but it is not alone in the effort. In recent weeks, China, Japan and South Korea have joined the European Union and several other countries in setting national deadlines to stop pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

While the Trump administration has shunned federal measures to cut emissions, states, cities and businesses in the United States have pressed ahead with their own efforts.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said he favors signing the U.S. back up to the Paris accord.

With the United States outside the pact, it will be harder for the rest of the world to reach the agreed goals.


The Kentucky Standard

Threatened bat species found at Nazareth

Discovery part of ongoing biological survey

By Kacie Goode, November 3, 2020

The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth received an early Halloween surprise when six species of bat — including three threatened species — were discovered on the Bardstown campus. The discovery is part of an ongoing series of biological surveys of the campus — conducted by experts and volunteers — to count and document all plants and animals inhabiting the land.

“The Sisters have never done a formal biological survey of the land, so this year has been a year of surveys,” said Carolyn Cromer, Nazareth’s ecological sustainability official. We’ve had amphibians, reptiles, birds, bats, snails, plants. And we are going to do small mammals and hopefully insects next year.”

Biologist Gary Libby recently visited the campus to survey bat populations as part of the effort. During his visit, Libby discovered several species of bats present at Nazareth, including the federally threatened Gray bat.

“There are no caves or cave-like dwellings at the study area (Nazareth), so these bats are likely coming from outside of Nazareth to forage and drink in the area,” Libby reported. “Gray bats are known to fly long distances during the night, sometimes as far as 30 to 40 miles.”

Little Brown bats and Tricolor bats are also among the species Libby believes is using the campus to forage and possibly roost. Both of those species are candidates for federal listing as well, as their populations decline due to illness and habitat disturbances.

“We have a wonderful habitat for bats because we have mature forests,” Cromer said. “They’ve been allowed to grow for close to 100 years without disturbance and that has allowed those forest ecosystems to be diverse and pretty rich in habitat. We have had many indications of that through the species we are finding.”

The survey included carefully trapping and releasing the bats as well as using devices to monitor ultrasonic echolocation calls to help identify species.

Others documented during the survey include the Big Brown bat, Eastern Red bat and Hoary bat. Cromer added the campus might also provide habitat for the Indiana bat, an endangered species, though they were not picked up in the initial survey.

“They often nest in shagbark hickory,” she said of the Indiana bat. “We have lots of shagbark hickory.”

Cromer said the SCNs were excited to learn of the discovery and want to continue managing the land to protect them.

“The goal for us is really to do more to help provide habitat for these species that are becoming increasingly driven out of their habitat by development,” Cromer said. To help, Nazareth is in the process of removing invasive species from the woods, which can pose a major threat to the health of the forest. They are also working to cull the deer population.

“Nelson County has a very high deer population and when it gets too high, deer are (feeding) on tree seedlings and that threatens forest regeneration,” she said.

Mostly, though, it’s what Nazareth is not doing that will help maintain the land.

“We are not logging the forest and we are not encroaching upon the forest,” Cromer explained, adding that in some areas, they’ve stopped mowing and are working to expand the woodlands.

This work is part of the SCN’s longstanding land stewardship over the last 200 years, but it is also part of a newer initiative called Visioning for Nazareth. The Sisters are discerning what they want the future of the campus to be, including how the land is used.

“Knowing what we have and managing it for those species that call Nazareth home is increasingly important,” Cromer said, and the surveys this year have showcased what the campus can offer.

“We found wetlands we didn’t know existed, we found woodland ponds we didn’t know existed,” Cromer said.

In a separate survey, Libby also discovered spotted salamander living near a man-made woodland pond on the campus, which was dug in the 1940s to water cattle.

As development continues in areas around Nazareth, director of communications Diane Curtis said providing a wildlife oasis becomes even more crucial.

“Neighborhoods are popping up” and land is being cleared to build homes, Curtis said. “Bardstown is just booming, and with all that growth, there really is a concerted effort by the Sisters to protect the green space they have by doing these surveys” and other conservation practices.

Another effort is taking place at the front of the campus property, where the Sisters are attempting to convert areas previously leased out to farmers into prairie habitats. This includes planting three native grasses and nine types of wildflowers. This flora will attract a variety of insects, including pollinators, and other wildlife to the area.

Cromer said the SCNs have called Nazareth home for nearly 200 years, but they share that home with thousands of different plants and animals. That message is beginning to resonate as the Sisters think about the land in a way they never have before: Understanding they are cohabitants.

“It’s a way of thinking I wish more people, more humans, would engage in because it might make a difference in the decisions we make about how we treat the land,” Cromer said.


OPB News

Washington to manage wolves within borders after federal delisting

By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS (Associated Press)

SPOKANE, Wash. Nov. 2, 2020/ The state of Washington will take over management of most wolves within its borders early next year after the U.S. government announced Thursday that gray wolves in the Lower 48 states would be delisted from the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife and Indian tribes have for years been managing a growing population of wolves in the eastern third of the state. The DFW often finds itself in the middle of conflicts between ranchers and environmental groups when wolves eat livestock.

That is likely to continue after the state and tribes take oversight of all gray wolves in Washington on Jan. 4, 2021.

“The department’s management of wolves in Washington makes it seem as though its mission is to preserve the livestock industry rather than conserving native wildlife,″ said Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The state’s relentless killing of wolves in Eastern Washington for conflicts with livestock is a totally ineffective method of conflict prevention, and runs counter to sound science,″ Weiss said. “Now, with the removal of federal protections from the remainder of the state, we fear the department’s misguided approach will simply expand.”

Agriculture interests are pleased.

“This is great news for Washington state where our wolf population has reached recoverable levels,” Mike LaPlant, president of the Washington Farm Bureau, said of the Trump administration decision.

Numerous environmental groups say they plan to sue the government over the delisting.

“We absolutely plan to challenge it,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, chief executive of Defenders of Wildlife. “We believe they’ve declared victory too soon.”

Of the 26 known wolf packs in Washington, 21 reside in the eastern third of the state where wolves have not been federally protected since 2013. Thursday’s decision to delist gray wolves applies to the western two-thirds of the state, where far fewer of the animals live.

“The state of Washington has facilitated wolf recovery for more than a decade and is well-prepared to be the management authority for wolves statewide,” the DFW said, adding it would continue to work on “reducing conflict between wolves and livestock.″

In addition, the federal government will monitor the state’s wolves for five years to ensure the continued success of the species and that it continues to meet the federal recovery objectives.

The DFW noted that gray wolves will remain listed as endangered under state law throughout the state. But that hasn’t stopped the agency from wiping out several wolf packs in the past decade for preying on livestock, drawing heavy criticism from environmental groups.

After some wolves were killed by the state earlier this year, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in September directed the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to draft new rules governing when the DFW can kill wolves involved in conflicts with livestock.

Since 2008, the state’s wolf population has grown by an average of 28% per year. The state counted 108 wolves in 21 packs last year and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation reported an additional 37 wolves in five packs during the same period.

Wolves were wiped out in Washington by the 1930s at the behest of the livestock industry. The animals began migrating back into the state from Idaho and British Columbia early in this century. Wolf recovery is popular with many urban residents of the state, but not as much in rural areas where the wolves live.

The Trump administration’s Thursday decision was hailed by Republican U.S. Rep Dan Newhouse, who represents central Washington in Congress.

“The gray wolf is an Endangered Species Act success story,” Newhouse said in a press release. “The federal government is recognizing the effectiveness of locally-led conservation efforts, basing management decisions on sound science – instead of politics.”

Environmental groups are not so sure.

“This is yet another example of the Trump administration ignoring science,” said Lindsay Larris, of WildEarth Guardians. “From climate change denial, to their gross mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, to rollbacks of environmental safeguards protecting clean air and water, this administration has proven time and time again that they’re only in it for themselves, even if it means ignoring and denying the facts.”

Prior attempts to weaken protections for gray wolves have been overturned by federal judges.



Barrett makes debut in endangered species battle

Pamela King, E&E News reporter, November 2, 2020

On her first day of Supreme Court oral arguments, Justice Amy Coney Barrett searched for a legal test to determine what documents that inform EPA’s and other agencies’ rulemakings should be available to the public.

Her first case on the high court came today in oral arguments in Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club, a fight between environmentalists and the federal government over a request to disclose a 2013 draft biological opinion and other documents supporting a 2014 EPA rule for cooling water intake structures at power plants.

Piggybacking on a question from Justice Brett Kavanaugh about whether federal agencies can evade the Freedom of Information Act by simply stamping “draft” on certain documents, Barrett asked a government attorney how a court might decide which records should be subject to disclosure.

“What other factors would a court consider?” the justice, who was confirmed last week, asked during this morning’s arguments, conducted via telephone due to the pandemic.

Assistant solicitor general Matthew Guarnieri, representing the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries, suggested that the courts look at the treatment of a document in an agency process. There are circumstances, he said, in which lower courts have found that the federal government’s labeling of a document as a draft might be pretextual.

But that is not the case here, he said.

“There can be no real dispute on the facts of the case that the decisionmakers at the services did not make a final decision in 2013,” Guarnieri said.

Sierra Club managing attorney Sanjay Narayan told the court that the government’s stance essentially boils down to: “It’s privileged if we say it’s privileged.”

As a result of the 2013 draft biological opinion, which said that a proposed version of the EPA rule would jeopardize vulnerable species, EPA finalized a different version of the regulation.

The opinion is “complete and reached a conclusion,” Narayan said.

Justice Clarence Thomas was curious about the benefit to the Sierra Club of gaining access to the draft biological opinion now that EPA’s proposed rule — the regulation that the draft document addressed — is now void.

“What information are you trying to get?” Thomas asked.

Narayan said the final EPA rule allows for permit-by-permit determinations of harm to endangered and threatened species. He said the Sierra Club would like to know that those permitting decisions account for concerns raised by FWS and NOAA Fisheries in the 2013 draft opinion.

Industry groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation have also thrown their weight behind the Sierra Club’s calls for greater transparency (Greenwire, Oct. 30).

Like Barrett, the other justices spent much of the morning grappling with the legal test for determining when federal officials improperly invoked FOIA Exemption 5, which protects deliberative and predecisional records. They questioned both sides on the limits for withholding and disclosing documents.

The Supreme Court held in the 1997 case Bennett v. Spear that biological opinions, while they are technically advisory, have powerful influence over agency actions and are therefore reviewable by the courts, said Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“Why doesn’t a draft opinion have the same coercive effect?” she asked Guarnieri.

The government lawyer argued that Bennett dealt with final opinions, rather than draft versions.

In his rebuttal, Guarnieri told the court that until a final biological opinion is signed, the government should be able to keep that consultation under wraps.

“Any exceptions should be rare,” he said.


Center for Biological Diversity

Announcement—November 2, 2020

Alabama Mussel Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection, Protected Critical Habitat

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.— In response to a petition and 2016 lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect the Canoe Creek clubshell under the Endangered Species Act, with 36 river miles of proposed critical habitat in St. Clair and Etowah counties.

The Canoe Creek clubshell (Pleurobema athearni) is a freshwater mussel that lives only in Big Canoe Creek and Little Canoe Creek West, tributaries of the Coosa River in northeast Alabama.

“North America has already lost 35 species of freshwater mussels to extinction, so it’s great news that the Canoe Creek clubshell is finally getting Endangered Species Act protection,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “With a recovery plan and captive restoration program, the clubshell won’t become the next irreplaceable wild animal we lose forever.”

The Center, along with Alabama Rivers Alliance and other allies, first petitioned for protection of the mussel in 2010. The species is threatened by runoff from agriculture and forestry, water pollution from development around Ashville, Springville and Steele, and severe drought events from global climate change. There are two populations, but they are separated from each other by the H. Neely Henry Reservoir.

The Canoe Creek clubshell was first described in 2006, when scientists realized it differs from other similar species it had been grouped with historically. Only 25 mussels were found in recent surveys, and all were aging adults, indicating there’s no successful reproduction. Adult mussels live up to 35 years.

The Canoe Creek clubshell is about 3.5 inches long, with a dark-yellow to brown outer shell, an iridescent mother-of-pearl white inner shell and a salmon-orange soft body. It reproduces by releasing its larvae into little packets that look like fish prey items, but when fish eat them, the larvae attach onto the fish’s gills until they transform into tiny mussels and drop onto the creek bottom to begin life on their own. The Canoe Creek clubshell’s host fish are the Alabama shiner, tricolor shiner and striped shiner.

“Alabama should be just as proud of its diversity of freshwater animals as it is of its football team,” said Curry. “Alabama has more species of freshwater mussels than any other state, and mussels are important for water quality and in the food web. Roll Clubshell!”

The southeastern United States is the world center of freshwater mussel diversity, but the region has already lost 23 species to extinction. Nearly 70% of mussels are at risk of extinction due to dams, historical collection to make buttons, water pollution and climate change.


Los Angeles Times

Rescue operations underway in the San Gabriel Mountains for rare species marooned by wildfire


Just weeks after the Bobcat fire ravaged the San Gabriel Mountains, state and federal biologists are racing to salvage as many federally endangered species as possible before storms could inundate the animals’ last outposts with mud and debris.

Creating clouds of ashes and dust with every step in the shadows of skeletal trees scorched by the blaze, eight U.S. Geological Survey scientists on Wednesday made their way down to a vein of water at the bottom of steep Little Rock Canyon, armed with long-handled nets, backpack coolers and emergency rescue permits.

“This may be the last time in my life that I see wild mountain yellow-legged frogs in the last best place for them,” said biologist Robert Fisher, gazing at dozens of tadpoles browsing on algae at the bottom of a granite tub.

“This whole area,” he added in a voice full of sadness, “will soon be buried in mud.”

It was one of several hastily arranged search and rescue operations underway or in the planning stages across the ancestral habitats of many rare species that could be wiped out by winter rains in the fire zone: Southern California mountain yellow-legged frogs, Pacific pond turtles and such fish as Santa Ana suckers, speckled dace and arroyo chubs.

The efforts have presented state and federal wildlife authorities with daunting challenges that could leave some animals that are fully protected by law marooned indefinitely.

For example, the Geological Survey biologists managed to expedite the issuance of special permits to capture 30 adult yellow-legged frogs and 200 tadpoles from a milelong stretch of Little Rock Creek, about 20 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. But they were hard-pressed to find suitable locations elsewhere in which to release them, or facilities that had the space or ability to accommodate the basic needs of the unusually sensitive alpine amphibians even on a temporary basis.

“We have the support of all the responsible wildlife agencies,” said Adam Backlin, who led the Little Rock Creek rescue. “But almost every zoo we contacted was already at capacity and unable to help.”

Meanwhile, they were running out of time to complete the extensive research, preparations and permitting processes needed to translocate endangered frogs to alternative sites where they might thrive: cascading streams of cool, clean water devoid of predatory trout and bullfrogs and spared by the Bobcat and Station fires, which together charred 275,000 acres in just 11 years.

Cutting their losses, the biologists decided to limit their catch Wednesday to 50 tadpoles that would be transported in an aging sedan — before rush hour, if possible — to holding tanks at the Los Angeles Zoo, which had relocated some of its own menagerie in order to make room for the amphibian refugees.

The 30 adult frogs were to be carried on foot, in backpack coolers, across eight miles of roadless wilderness to a remote tributary of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River.

But a cold snap in the mountains earlier this week had sent the frogs into hiding. By the end of an exhaustive search, the scientists were able to catch only 15 of the estimated 100 frogs clinging to existence in the canyon.

Separately, state and federal biologists a week ago moved 150 federally endangered unarmored threespine stickleback fish that had been rescued after the 2016 Sand fire burned through Soledad Canyon in northwestern L.A. County and released in carefully selected areas of the Angeles National Forest.

Now, with those locations threatened by mudslides in new burn areas, the fish were returned, yet again, to Soledad Canyon, which over the past four years has become suitable for repopulation.

Critics of that recent recovery effort and others in the San Gabriels include Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, who described them as “a ridiculous way to try to recover a critically imperiled species that have been endangered for decades” due to urbanization, disease, drought, wildfires and nonnative predators such as crayfish, bullfrogs and trout.

“This hasty recovery plan provides no guidance for the stickleback’s new long-term reality of climate-change-driven drought and wildfire that create massive erosion and fill in streams,” she said. “Instead, the wildlife agencies are in panicky triage, with no real plan except to move the fish from one stream to the next to the next as their habitat dries up or fills in.”

The Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday filed notice of its intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to force it to update what it claims is “an inadequate, 35-year-old recovery plan for a tiny, scale-less fish called the unarmored threespine stickleback.”

Still to be determined is what, if anything, can be done to save descendants of the estimated 23,000 rare native fish captured in the upper San Gabriel River in 2006 and relocated near the confluence of the West Fork of the San Gabriel River in order to make way for a massive sediment removal project in the San Gabriel Reservoir, about 18 miles north of Azusa.

Los Angeles County flood-control authorities are committed to protecting communities downstream by steering the impending flow of debris away from critical infrastructure, including Cogswell Dam, which controls the flow in an eight-mile stretch of the West Fork and helps recharge the metropolitan aquifer in the flatland below.

In the meantime, state and federal wildlife agencies are finalizing plans to rescue an isolated population of western pond turtles, a state-listed species of special concern, from a remote tributary of the West Fork that runs through the heart of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

“After frantic negotiations in recent days,” Fisher said, “the San Diego Zoo has agreed to move 21 pond turtles of unknown origin that it had been keeping in holding tanks to the Santa Ana Zoo.

“That enabled the San Diego Zoo to take in the wild pond turtles we hope to recover,” he added. “On Thursday, we received special permits from state wildlife authorities to proceed.”

Wildfire is a natural ecological phenomenon, biologists say. Decades ago, when hundreds of miles of streams throughout the San Gabriel, San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains were packed with pond turtles, fist-sized yellow-legged and red-legged frogs and Santa Ana suckers, they survived over time by recolonizing from neighboring populations.

Today, they are holed up in hard-to-reach streams, reduced by drought to ribbons of shrinking ponds and surrounded for miles in all directions by blackened skeletons of oak and pine trees.

The water rippled cold around the biologists’ knees Wednesday as they scooped up tadpoles from the pools at the base of mountains burnt to bare soil.

Giving the crew an approving nod, Fisher said, “We’re trying, man, we’re trying.”


The Guardian

October 31, 2020

Huge spider assumed extinct in Britain discovered on MoD training site

Described as ‘gorgeous’ by the man who found it, the great fox-spider has not been seen since 1993

One of Britain’s largest spiders has been discovered on a Ministry of Defence training ground in Surrey having not been seen in the country for 27 years.

The great fox-spider is a night-time hunter, known for its speed and agility, as well as its eight black eyes which give it wraparound vision. The critically endangered spider was assumed extinct in Britain after last being spotted in 1993 on Hankley Common in Surrey. The two-inch-wide (5cm) arachnid had previously also been spotted at two sites in Morden Heath in Dorset. These are the only three areas in Britain, all in the comparatively warmer south, where it has been recorded.

Mike Waite from Surrey Wildlife Trust discovered the elusive spider after two years of trawling around after dark looking for it on the Surrey military site, which the MoD is not naming for security reasons.

“As soon as my torch fell on it I knew what it was. I was elated. With coronavirus there have been lots of ups and downs this year, and I also turned 60, so it was a good celebration of that. It’s a gorgeous spider, if you’re into that kind of thing,” said Waite.

The great fox-spider is one of the largest members of the wolf-spider family, hunting spiders that do not use webs to catch prey. It chases down beetles, ants and smaller spiders before pouncing on them and injecting deadly venom. The prey is immobilised and its internal organs liquefy. The spider – which poses no risk to humans – feeds using fang-bearing jaws.

M0D sites are often kept open because military exercises cause minor disturbance to the vegetation, which stops succession of shrubs and trees. Waite used aerial photos to find bare sandy patches, which suit the spider’s ambush-style hunting techniques, and spotted the first one next to Jeep tracks. In total, he found several males, one female and some unidentifiable immature spiderlings.

Nick Baker, TV presenter and president of the British Arachnological Society, described the discovery as “the most exciting thing to happen in wildlife circles for quite some time”. He said: “It’s about as handsome as a spider gets, it’s big and now it’s officially a member of the British fauna again.”

The great fox-spider, a native species, was first found 120 years ago and has been seen only a handful of times since. Despite their size, the spiders are difficult to spot because they are mainly nocturnal and have effective mottled brown camouflage. During winter, they dig burrows under rocks and line them with silk, going into a sort of hibernation state.

The MoD heathland where the spider was found is managed by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust. It is recognised as a nationally important site for populations of rare birds, reptiles and invertebrates, especially sand lizards, smooth snakes, Dartford warbler and nightjar. MoD sites are often good for wildlife because they are protected from human activity and are large enough to give wildlife space to move.

The great fox-spider likes warmer climates and is more common on the European mainland, particularly on coastal sand dunes in Holland and Denmark.

“It makes me think how hard have we looked for it on our coasts? Have we been looking hard enough?” said Waite, who believes the spider could be more widespread than people think.

Waite is now conducting nocturnal great fox-spider hunting expeditions on neighbouring sites and hopes one day to write a scientific paper about them. “It seems to be the most important thing I’ve done in a long career. It has inspired me to make something of it and find out as much as I can about this species in the UK,” he said.


Courthouse News Service

California Sued for Failing to Protect Shorebird From Off-Roaders

Conservationists blasted California over its continued refusal to protect the endangered snowy plover from being crushed by dune buggies and ATVs at Oceano Dunes State Park.

October 29, 2020, BIANCA BRUNO

(CN) — A day before Oceano Dunes State Park is set to reopen following a monthslong closure during the Covid-19 pandemic, conservationists sued California on Thursday on claims of violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to prevent an endangered shorebird from being crushed to death by off-road vehicles on the beach.

Oceano Dunes, which includes 1,500 acres of sand dunes and six miles of beachfront in San Luis Obispo County, is the only California beach which allows off-road vehicle recreation. Like most public parks, it has been mostly closed during 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is set to reopen Friday, with phase one allowing up to 1,000 “street legal” vehicles including jeeps and trucks on the dunes from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

In a complaint filed in the Central District of California on Thursday, the Center for Biological Diversity said allowing vehicles onto the sand after dusk is particularly dangerous for endangered western snowy plovers who remain on the beach after breeding season ends in September.

The Pacific Coast population of snowy plover has been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act since 1993.

“Nesting generally occurs in Central and Southern California between March and September,” the Center for Biological Diversity claims in the 12-page complaint.

“During fall and winter, outside of the nesting season, many snowy plovers continue to inhabit these beaches and remain at risk from off-road vehicle use on beaches where they are foraging,” the group claims.

It’s during the fall and winter — after the State Parks Department has removed temporary fencing installed to protect birds during nesting season — that the most snowy plovers are killed by motorized vehicle activities on the beach, in violation of the Endangered Species Act, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

In 2016, four western snowy plovers were found dead in tire tracks between October and November, according to an annual report on Oceano Dunes prepared by State Parks cited in the complaint.

The Endangered Species Act requires an “incidental take permit” for activities that can cause harm, injury or death to listed animals or destroys their habitats. But the California Department of Parks and Recreation does not have the federal permit to allow continued off-road vehicle recreation at Oceano Dunes.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue for violations of the Endangered Species Act in 2017 but held off a few years while waiting for a habitat conservation plan by State Parks to get approved.

So far, the plan is still in the works despite direction from the California Coastal Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ordering State Parks to mitigate western snowy plover deaths at Oceano Dunes.

“We don’t think they are operating in good faith at this point,” Center for Biological Diversity senior conservation advocate Jeff Miller said in an interview.

“I don’t understand why State Parks continues to go in the opposite direction they’ve been told to go in by Fish and Wildlife and the Coastal Commission, which have recommended that seasonal fencing be permanent,” Miller added.

Reopening the beach to vehicles following the months-long pandemic closure is particularly troubling to the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservationists as the snowy plovers took advantage of the beach closures and have expanded their nesting and foraging area in the vehicles’ absence.

“The current status quo on the ground at Oceano Dunes is that snowy plovers are nesting and foraging more widely along the beach and foredunes at Oceano Dunes than they have in years where off-road motorized vehicles were riding on the beach and the dunes and those and other motorized vehicles were parking on the beach and foredunes,” the center claims.

In an email, State Parks declined to comment on pending litigation but said it will continue its plan to reopen Oceano Dunes and adjacent Pismo Beach starting Friday.

The Center for Biological Diversity wants a federal judge to declare the state is violating the Endangered Species Act and to bar continued off-road vehicle use at Oceano Dunes without an “incidental take permit” issued by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

(The California Natural Resources Agency, also a named defendant in the complaint, did not respond to a request for comment by press time. An email seeking comment from off-road advocacy group Friends of Oceano Dunes was also not returned by press time.)



Gray Wolves To Be Removed From Endangered Species List

October 29, 2020

Gray wolves, a species that has long been vilified and admired, will no longer receive federal protections under the Endangered Species Act in the Lower 48 U.S. states, the Trump administration announced Thursday.

The long-anticipated move is drawing praise from those who want to see the iconic species managed by state and tribal governments, and harsh criticism from those who believe federal protections should remain in place until wolves inhabit more of their historical range. Gray wolves used to exist across most of North America.

“After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery,” said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, announcing the delisting, which will revert management of wolf populations to local wildlife agencies.

Federal wildlife officials are hailing the move as a success story, similar to endangered species recovery stories such as the bald eagle and American alligator.

After being nearly wiped clean from the contiguous U.S. by the mid-20th century, there are now more than 6,000 gray wolves in the Lower 48 states, largely clustered in the Northern Rocky Mountains and the Western Great Lakes region.

Critics are calling the move premature, though, and are already promising to sue.

“This is no ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment for wolf recovery,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney for Earthjustice. “Wolves are only starting to get a toehold in places like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, and wolves need federal protection to explore habitat in the Southern Rockies and the Northeast.”

Some critics are portraying the move as another environmental attack by the Trump administration, which has rolled back dozens of environmental regulations, including protections for endangered species and migratory birds. But wolves have a complicated history that doesn’t fit cleanly into the bipartisan rancor that now dominates U.S. environmental policies.

After being hunted, trapped, poisoned and harassed to the point of near extirpation in the contiguous U.S., all gray wolves south of Canada were given federal protections under the Endangered Species Act in 1978.

Under that protection, their numbers slowly recovered in the Great Lakes region, and in 1995 federal wildlife officials reintroduced gray wolves to central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park, where their population has since flourished.

In 2013, the Obama administration also proposed to delist gray wolves, saying that the species had rebounded to the point where they were no longer at risk of extinction and should be managed by state and tribal governments.

A couple of years earlier, wolf populations in Montana and Idaho were delisted by a congressional budget rider, authored by a Democrat and Republican senator in each of those states who were pressured by agricultural and sportsmen groups. Wolves are an apex predator that, at times, kill livestock. Subsequent lawsuits saw gray wolves get delisted, relisted and delisted again in Wyoming.

Today, state wildlife agencies manage wolf populations in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, and hunting of the species is permitted.

Similar hunting seasons are expected in some Midwestern states if the national delisting survives the anticipated court challenges, and wildlife groups contend that hunting seasons will limit wolves’ ability to repopulate other parts of the country.

Randy Johnson, a large carnivore specialist for Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, told Wisconsin Public Radio this month that if wolf management fell back to the state, it would use all of the tools available to find a balance “between a healthy and sustainable wolf population, but also addressing those social concerns and livestock concerns when and where needed.”


The Guardian

Trump to gut protections in Alaska’s Tongass forest, the ‘lungs of the country’

October 28, 2020

The Trump administration has announced it will lift protections in Alaska’s Tongass national forest, permitting logging in the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest.

Experts call the Tongass the “lungs of the country” and one of nation’s last remaining bulwarks against climate change. Located on the southern coast of Alaska, it is made up of centuries-old western cedar, hemlock and Sitka spruce trees, and is home to immense biodiversity, including the largest-known concentration of bald eagles.

“It’s ironic that this administration is trying to tout this president’s environmental record when [Trump is] unwinding environmental safeguards all over the place,” said Ken Rait, project director of the Pew Charitable Trust, who two decades ago helped win the protections that Donald Trump is now undoing. “And lifting protections on the Tongass, the nation’s flagship forest, is about the most egregious of all of them.”

The administration’s decision ignores overwhelming public support for keeping protections in place on the Tongass, including resolutions from six south-east Alaska tribes and six south-east Alaska city councils against lifting protections. Of the public comments solicited on the plan, 96% were in favor of keeping protections in places.

Tribes also petitioned the government to protect customary cultural use areas of the Tongass. “All other avenues to protect our homelands have been exhausted, to little avail,” they wrote in their petition.

The Tongass has been safeguarded since 2001 by a “roadless rule”, which prohibits road construction, road reconstruction and timber harvesting in designated areas of national forests. It barred the construction of roads on some 58.5m acres, and in addition to the environmental benefits, the rule was motivated to protect US taxpayers from the costs of maintaining a web of US Forest Service roads “long enough to go to the moon and most of the way back with no way to maintain them”, said Rait.

Tourism has soared, and the forest support some of the last productive wild salmon runs in the world, and a billion-dollar commercial fishing industry. A 2019 scientific analysis showed that the Tongass absorbs more carbon than any other national forest, on a level with the world’s most dense terrestrial carbon sinks in South America.

After a brief private meeting between the president and the Alaska governor, Mike Dunleavy, aboard Air Force One in June 2019, Trump ordered his administration to lift all protections from the forest.

According to Rait, “between taxpayer expenses and the fact that the majority of logs cut on the Tongass will be exported to China and other Pacific Rim nations, today’s decision isn’t going to have robust economic benefits to anyone in this country.”

A recent report from the Center for Sustainable Economy documented taxpayer losses of nearly $2bn a year from federal logging programs, largely due to the fact that demand for timber has been flagging nationally.

“The Tongass is America’s Amazon,” Adam Kolton, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement. “This presidentially directed move to gut roadless protections for our nation’s largest and most biologically rich national forest is a calamity for our climate, for wildlife and for the outdoor recreation economy of south-east Alaska.”


goAnacortes (Mt. Vernon, WA)

Department seeks comment on proposed whale watching rules

October 27, 2020

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking public feedback on two proposals drafted on regulating motorized commercial whale watching, it announced in a press release Wednesday.

The proposals are aimed at reducing noise impacts caused by motorized commercial whale watching traffic on the Southern Resident orca populations, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Option A would limit the watching season of the Southern Resident orcas from July through September, from Friday through Monday and restrict the amount of commercial watching vessels with a group of whales to three.

Option B would do the same but also add a “shoulder season” of May through June and October through November, restricting watching days to Saturday and Sunday and allowing one vessel per group of Southern Resident killer whales.

Both proposals require motorized commercial whale watching companies to be licensed, have trainings and by 2022 require vessels to have real-time location tracking. Both options will create a year-round “no-go” zone restricted to whale watching on the western side of San Juan Island, which is an orca foraging area.

The Southern Resident orca population totals 74 whales as of October, according to the Center for Whale Research. There are 24 in J pod, 17 in K pod, and 33 in L pod, the center reports. The resident orcas’ population was halved in the 1960s and 1970s by captures for marine parks and, later, further reduced by environmental stresses and diminishing numbers of king salmon, which make up the bulk of their diet. It was named an endangered species in 2005, but has not recovered its numbers.

Because the original draft of Option A did not include language restricting watching to certain days, comments on allowing for daily viewing will also be heard, according to a following press release.

The public can submit written feedback online before Nov. 13 to be heard by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Submissions can be sent on the Fish and Wildlife website, Public comments about the proposals can also be made during a virtual hearing on Dec. 4-5.


National Geographic

Why cracking down on the shark fin trade may be easier than we thought


Every year the fins of up to 73 million sharks, ranging from endangered species such as scalloped hammerhead sharks and broadfin sharks to more common species from sustainable fisheries, are traded and sold to make shark fin soup, a traditional Asian delicacy. A common perception is that much of the fin trade comes from sharks caught in distant international waters—where rules governing fishing are a little less clear and a lot harder to enforce, complicating conservation efforts.

But a new study, published today in the journal Biology Letters, upends that notion by concluding that many of the fins found in markets in Asia, North America, and South America come from sharks caught closer to shore—within the territorial waters of just a handful of countries. That proximity, they say, may make it easier to control the shark fin trade than previously thought.

“If sharks are caught within a country’s exclusive economic zone [EEZ] and not in international waters, that’s potentially good news, because what happens in an EEZ is within somebody’s control,” says Kyle Van Houtan, the chief scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and lead author of the study. “It’s the sole responsibility of that one country.”

Van Houtan’s team used DNA analysis of samples taken from fins at fish markets combined with habitat modeling to pinpoint shark species and their origins.

“You can get a lot of insight about what species a shark fin comes from and where that shark lived, just by taking a small sample from an unlabeled fin in a market,” he says of improvements in DNA analysis, which has not only has gotten better at identifying species but also can match unique genetic signatures of samples to the known signatures of regional populations. “We’re finding a whole different group of coastal, rarer species in the shark fin trade that wouldn’t have been detectable using the older techniques.”

The research also found that many of the open-ocean species in the fin trade, such as blue sharks, thresher sharks, and oceanic white tip sharks, were likely caught within territorial waters, not in the open oceans, as expected. Van Houtan notes that while blue sharks are an open-ocean species, for example, they’re sometimes caught off a fishing pier not far from his office in Monterey, California.

“Every species has a preferred environment, a range of temperatures where they can survive, an optimal temperature where they can thrive, [and] extremes they avoid,” says Gabriel Reygondeau, a research associate at the University of British Columbia and the team’s habitat modeling expert. By combining knowledge of species’ preferred habitats with satellite data that measures where those conditions are found, the team predicted the most likely spots for a species.

The authors looked at more than 5,000 samples of shark fins from markets in Hong Kong, Vancouver, San Francisco, and Brazil’s northern coast. While the authors stress these samples are not meant to be a complete representation of the global trade, most fins they tested came from sharks caught in the territorial waters of just a few countries. This list includes some that are known for their shark fisheries, such as Indonesia, Japan, and Mexico, and some that surprised the authors: Australia and Brazil.

Diego Cardeñosa, a postdoctoral researcher at Florida International University who was not involved with this study, says that these results support a growing realization that it’s not just open-ocean shark species that are threatened but coastal species too. It also underscores the global nature of the trade.

The study findings and Cardeñosa’s own work on the genetic tracing of threatened shark species “highlight the need for stronger fisheries management in many regions around the world,” he said in an email. “The eastern Pacific [Mexico] is clearly a major source of CITES-listed shark species into Asian shark fin markets.”

CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, regulates the cross-border wildlife trade, and species on its list are those that the international community has agreed need stricter trade controls to prevent their numbers from dropping.

The conclusion that more sharks are caught in coastal areas offers hope in the sense that those fisheries can be more easily monitored and controlled than international waters. It could also mean that smaller boats, more numerous in coastal waters and harder to track than a handful of larger seagoing vessels, may play a more significant role.

“This study underscores key considerations for conservationists—that small-scale fisheries can have a significant impact on shark populations,” Sonja Fordham, president of the nonprofit Shark Advocates International, said by email. “Both national and international safeguards are needed to achieve sustainability.”

The biggest obstacle to shark conservation, she said, remains the lack of political will to restrict shark fishing to sustainable levels. “We need a lot more voices calling on decision-makers for concrete limits based on science and the precautionary approach—and demanding accountability.”

(David Shiffman, Ph.D., is a marine conservation biologist and science writer.)




Barrett takes oath in time for endangered species showdown

Pamela King, E&E News reporter  •  Published: Tuesday, October 27, 2020

In a private, socially distanced ceremony at the Supreme Court this morning, Amy Coney Barrett officially took her place as the 103rd justice on the bench.

Among her first orders of business: oral arguments Monday morning in a legal battle for Endangered Species Act records underpinning a 2014 EPA rule.

It’s unclear whether that dispute will split the court along ideological lines. Industry groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation are standing alongside the Sierra Club in the case to argue for more government transparency.

Still, Barrett is widely expected to move the court further to the right on issues like climate and the environment.

Barrett and other new conservative judges are “threatening to strip away our right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and make personal decisions about our healthcare,” Leslie Fields, Sierra Club’s national director of policy advocacy and legal, said in a statement today.

Ideology isn’t a perfect indicator of how judges would rule in specific cases. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have all voted with the court’s liberal wing in recent decisions that are thought of as favorable to environmental interests.

Still, Barrett, 48, is the court’s sixth conservative member and could dilute the power of a single justice to serve as a swing vote.

She replaces the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was known as the leader of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing and as a reliable vote for environmentalists who come before the bench.

Ginsburg died Sept. 18, launching a race by President Trump and Senate Republicans to name her replacement before Election Day.

Democrats were infuriated and cited GOP efforts to block President Obama’s pick to replace Barrett’s mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, in an election year.

Barrett takes her seat after a divisive Senate battle that ended in a 52-48 vote last night in favor of her confirmation. Not a single Democrat voted to place her on the court, and one Republican voted against her.

Barrett is the first Supreme Court justice in modern history to be confirmed to the bench without bipartisan support.

Shortly after last night’s Senate vote, a group of GOP lawmakers traveled to the White House South Lawn to see Justice Clarence Thomas administer Barrett’s first oath (E&E Daily, Oct. 27).

“I know you will make us all very, very proud,” Trump told Barrett during last night’s ceremony.

Roberts administered her second oath this morning. A formal investiture ceremony will take place at a later date, a court spokeswoman said.


Desert Sun

Trade groups sue California to stop western Joshua tree’s threatened species listing

Mark Olalde, Palm Springs Desert Sun, Oct. 27, 2020

A month after the California Fish and Game Commission voted to make western Joshua trees a candidate for listing as a threatened species, several trade groups and a high desert town are suing to block the protections granted to the Mojave Desert’s iconic plant.

In September, the commission acted on the recommendation of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, giving the species — one of two Joshua tree varieties — legal protection for the next year while the state studies its viability. On Oct. 21, the California Construction and Industrial Materials Association, known as CalCIMA, and others brought the lawsuit in a state court in Fresno County, the trade group announced Monday.

The commission’s September decision was a major win for conservationists, as it marked the first time the California Endangered Species Act was used to shield a species threatened mainly by climate change. The last five years have been the five hottest in recorded human history, according to government scientists, and local researchers predict that rising temperatures could wipe out Joshua trees from wide swathes of Southern California by the end of the century.

If western Joshua trees are ultimately listed as threatened, the move will make it more difficult to permit projects that will kill the plants to clear land. Industrial interests have been pushing back against the listing since before it was approved.

“The California Legislature adopted very thoughtful and clear rules that the Commission must follow when determining whether a species should be protected under the California Endangered Species Act,” Robert Dugan, CalCIMA president and CEO, said in a statement announcing the litigation. “This lawsuit seeks to require the Commission to follow these rules.”

Joining CalCIMA in the lawsuit against the Fish and Game Commission are the California Business Properties Association, the California Cattlemen’s Association, the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, the High Desert Association of Realtors and the city of Hesperia.

The lawsuit is not challenging the merits of whether Joshua trees should be protected. Rather, it argues that the original petition to protect the species did not meet minimum requirements outlined under the law.

The commissioners who voted 4-0 on the petition heard and considered a number of challenges to its completeness during the public participation process. Brendan Cummings, the petition’s author and conservation director of the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, was quick to blast the lawsuit.

“It’s unfortunate that these groups are wasting the court and state agencies’ time and resources on a lawsuit that ultimately will have little impact on the ultimate question of whether Joshua trees get the protection to which they are legally entitled and so desperately need,” Cummings wrote in an email to The Desert Sun. “They argue that they seek to have science-based decision-making, but what they are really doing is peddling a soft form of climate denial.”

When the commissioners voted to approved the western Joshua tree’s candidacy, they heard extensive comments from the solar industry, other business groups and local politicians in San Bernardino County who were concerned about the consequences of the listing. In response, the commission carved out 15 shovel-ready solar projects in Kern and San Bernardino counties that could move forward regardless of the plant’s new status.

At the time, Cummings said he accepted the compromise as a way to earn the commission’s votes.

These groups that are now suing “appear to see sensitive desert land as nothing more than a commodity to be bulldozed and developed into whatever provides them short-term profit,” he said.

The plaintiffs argued that they were also pro-environment but concerned that the law was being improperly applied.

“We have joined this lawsuit since the member companies of CalCIMA seek to operate in a manner of responsible stewardship on working lands, based on strict requirements of science and law, and in pursuance of societal goals and needs,” Dugan said.

Asked about the litigation, Melissa Miller-Henson, executive director of the Fish and Game Commission, said The Desert Sun’s request for comment was the first time she or the commission had heard of the lawsuit, as they had yet to be served.

The western Joshua tree’s status at the federal level will also be decided in the courts, as the environmental advocacy group WildEarth Guardians is fighting the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife’s refusal to list the species as threatened.


The Boston Globe

As their population plummets, right whales are on verge of extinction

By David Abel, October 26, 2020

In dire news for a critically endangered species, federal regulators on Monday substantially reduced their estimate for the number of remaining North Atlantic right whales.

Officials at the National Marine Fisheries Service estimated there were just 366 whales alive in January 2019 — an 11 percent decline from the year before. There are likely even fewer alive today.

Worse, the agency estimated the population included only 94 breeding females.

“Given the low population numbers … it is essential that we work together to protect every North Atlantic right whale in order to avoid extinction for this endangered species,” Colleen Coogan, the agency’s marine mammal take reduction team coordinator, wrote in an e-mail to members of a federal advisory board tasked with finding ways to reduce risks to the whales.

Since January 2019, there have been 11 right whales found dead, with four others seriously injured and likely to die.

Of the 13 whales born in the past two years, one was recently found dead and another is presumed to have died earlier this year after being hit by a vessel only hours after being born. It’s believed twice as many right whales perish each year than are found dead.

Coogan said the latest population estimate is considered preliminary. It will be reviewed further before being completed in next year’s federal assessment of the species.

“This preliminary number is lower than expected, in part, because updated photo-identification data now indicate the previous year’s estimate was too high,” she said.

Last year’s population estimate should have been 383, not 412, Coogan said.

The lowered estimate raised deep concerns among environmental advocates who have spent years trying to protect the whales.

“If we don’t act quickly, right whales are headed rapidly toward extinction,” said Sharon Young, marine issues field director of The Humane Society of the United States. “It is appalling to think this nation would permit the extinction of a whale species in our waters. It’s time to stop talking and take action.”

Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, called the new estimate “heartbreaking and horrifying.”

This month two right whales were found severely entangled in fishing gear, one off the coast of Nantucket, she said. They are unlikely to survive.

“The Fisheries Service must take immediate, bold action to get vertical lines out of key right whale habitat areas,” she said. “The species can’t afford more deadly delays and half-measures.”

The Humane Society and the Center for Biological Diversity, as well as other groups, sued the Fisheries Service, arguing the agency violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to reduce the risk of right whales becoming entangled in millions of lobster lines in the Gulf of Maine.

Last spring, a federal judge ruled in their favor. The lines, which extend from traps on the seafloor to buoys on the surface, have in recent years been the leading cause of the whales’ deaths. Many have also died as a result of vessel strikes.

The judge gave the Fisheries Service until the end of May 2021 to issue new regulations to protect the whales. The agency has repeatedly delayed releasing the regulations, which are likely to mandate that lobstermen reduce the number of buoy lines they use.

Since its population hit a modern peak in 2011 at 481, about 218 right whales have died, an average of 24 a year, Coogan said. In that time, there have been only 103 births.

Scientists at the Fisheries Service say the species is unlikely to avoid extinction with as few as one death a year.

It’s unknown how many right whales are alive today, but Michael Moore, director of the Marine Mammal Center at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said there are likely to be fewer than 366.

“We only get to actually examine the tip of the right whale trauma iceberg,” he said. “The rest go AWOL.”

Since 2017, 31 right whales have been found dead and 11 have been seriously injured.

“The outlook is grim if we do not act today,” said Erica Fuller, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. “We know human activities are decimating this population. What will it take for federal fishery managers to finally take action?”

In her letter, Coogan said the Fisheries Service is considering whether it needs to modify its regulations to reduce vessel strikes and plans to issue regulations to reduce entanglement risks. It wasn’t clear when that would happen, and officials at the Fisheries Service declined to comment.

Coogan also said the agency is working with fishermen and others to test fishing gear that doesn’t require ropes to lift traps from the ocean floor. But environmental advocates say the Fisheries Service isn’t acting quickly enough.

In a letter to Wilbur Ross, the secretary of the US Department of Commerce, which oversees the Fisheries Service, several advocates this week called on regulators to use emergency authority to close areas to fishing.

“These new figures … add an exclamation point to this emergency,” said Peter Baker, director of northern oceans conservation at The Pew Charitable Trusts.


Center for Biological Diversity

Legal Agreement Protects California Wildlife Corridor for Santa Ana Mountain Lions

TEMECULA, Calif. (October 26, 2020)—Conservation groups approved a legal agreement today that will protect a critical wildlife corridor for local mountain lions and other wildlife, fund restoration efforts and ensure implementation of a regional conservation plan. The agreement comes after a judge issued a ruling this spring against the proposed 270-acre Altair development in Western Riverside County in California.

The agreement permanently protects the 55-acre “South Parcel” — a key part of one of the only passages left for endangered Santa Ana mountain lions to move between coastal and inland mountains. This lion population suffers from extremely low levels of genetic diversity due to limited wildlife connectivity.

“This agreement gives Santa Ana’s imperiled mountain lions a pathway to recovery,” said J.P. Rose, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Poorly planned highways and development have hemmed this population in, and these beautiful big cats are being driven toward extinction. Now they have a better chance at survival.”

The agreement redesigns the development to minimize impacts on mountain lions, western pond turtles and other rare species. It also requires the developer to acquire other conservation lands for regional connectivity, establishes an education program for coexistence with wildlife, and allows for the future acquisition of more of the development site for conservation.

“We thank the city of Temecula and Ambient in helping us keep the parcels next to the headwaters of the Santa Margarita River intact, thus avoiding an impact that would have almost certainly ensured the extinction of the Santa Ana lions,” said Pam Nelson of the Sierra Club’s Santa Margarita Group. “Their fragile status indicates the health of all the species in our region. This agreement will give these magnificent creatures and struggling wildlife a chance.”

The legal agreement comes as state wildlife officials are studying whether to grant the Santa Ana mountain lions and five other cougar populations permanent protections under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The Center and Mountain Lion Foundation petitioned the state to protect these populations in June 2019, and in April 2020 the state Fish and Game Commission advanced these populations to candidacy under the Act.

“With our planet in the midst of an extinction crisis, we can no longer afford business as usual. This agreement includes significant measures to help to ensure the survival of our big cats, their habitat and the diverse wildlife species the lions support,” said Debra Chase, CEO of the Foundation.

Some Southern California lion populations could disappear in little more than a decade, according to a March 2019 study. This study, involving a large team of researchers from the University of Nebraska, UCLA, University of Washington, UC Davis, National Park Service, University of Wyoming and Northern Arizona University, warns that if continuing inbreeding occurs, the Santa Ana Mountains population could go extinct within 12 years and the Santa Monica Mountains population within 15.

“This agreement marks an important step in the fight to protect the Santa Ana mountain lions, and we look forward to collaborating on future efforts to plan and fund the restoration of corridors for these big cats,” said Vicki Long of Cougar Connection.

The conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the development in January 2018, with Endangered Habitats League filing a concurrent lawsuit. In March Judge Daniel Ottolia found that the development’s environmental review failed to properly account for impacts on the Santa Ana mountain lions. The ruling also found that the development was not consistent with Temecula’s general plan or the Western Riverside County Habitat Conservation Plan.

As part of today’s agreement, the conservation groups are dismissing their legal challenge to the development.


Bureau of Land Management Fast-Tracks Arctic Refuge Seismic Permits

by Defenders of Wildlife

WASHINGTON, DC, October 23, 2020 – The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is reviewing a permit application for seismic exploration for the fragile coastal plain of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Seismic exploration would profoundly impact this important landscape for decades, scarring the tundra, damaging critical habitat for imperiled polar bears and potentially causing the death of denning mother bears with cubs.     The proposal calls for damaging 3D seismic surveys covering over 540,000 in the coastal plain, with mobilization beginning around December 31, 2020. The equipment to be mobilized includes 12 “thumper” trucks weighing 90,000 pounds, over 40 Tucker vehicles and tractors, and 50 camp trailers supporting a crew of 180 people through the end of May. The project would require the construction of temporary airstrips on the coastal plain, supporting an unspecified number of airplane landings and takeoffs. The proposed route to the survey area would entail a 136-mile trek through critical polar bear denning habitat, and the survey work area covers thousands of additional acres of critical polar bear habitat as well. Yet BLM is offering just a two-week comment period on the proposal and plans to prepare only a brief “environmental assessment” under the National Environmental Policy Act – a document that has not been shared with the public.   Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:    “The Bureau of Land Management is rushing to rubberstamp risky and destructive seismic exploration in the home of one of the most imperiled polar bear populations in the world. Despite the significant impacts this will cause, the agency is attempting a hasty and superficial review of the damage it will cause to the refuge and polar bears, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act. What’s more, the exploration company is mired in bankruptcy, with former executives arrested and charged with multi-million-dollar accounting fraud. BLM must stop its reckless push to develop in the coastal plain of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and listen to Americans who want this area protected for future generations.”

Background–The Risks of Seismic

*Seismic would involve crews of people and vehicles driving across the tundra dragging sled camps, building temporary infrastructure, using significant water resources, and creating extensive noise, vibration and disturbance. The 90,000-pound seismic vehicles and pulling caravans of vehicles pulled on large steel runners to establish camps would leave deep, lasting scars across the coastal plain. Impacts to wildlife and wilderness would be severe.

*Oil exploration would occur during polar bear denning season, in critical habitat for the threatened Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear population. These bears only number about 900 individuals, a 50% decline over the last two decades.

*Seismic testing could frighten mother bears from their dens, leaving cubs to perish, and seismic vehicles could even run over den sites, crushing bears to death, and contributing further to species decline.

*Executives that until recently headed the company that would do the seismic work, SAExploration, are facing charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission of a four-year $100 million dollar accounting fraud, and the company filed for bankruptcy in August.


Alaska Public Media/PBS

State withholds Prince of Wales wolf population estimate from subsistence council

By Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska  Juneau, -October 22, 2020

An estimate of Prince of Wales Island’s wolf population is complete and in the hands of state and federal wildlife managers. But officials refused this week to share their numbers with a regional council tasked with advising subsistence hunting and trapping on federal land. This comes as a petition is pending to list Southeast’s wolves as a threatened species.

There will be an open season for wolves on Prince of Wales Island, state officials said.

That was the message delivered to the Southeast Alaska Subsistence Regional Advisory Council, which is tasked with making key decisions on hunting and trapping on federal land and has a record in supporting the state’s wolf management.

But hard limits on harvesting wolves were eliminated last year. And that allowed hunters and trappers to redouble their efforts and take a record 165 wolves on and around Prince of Wales Island — nearly as many as estimated by biologists in the state’s 2018 estimate.

That’s led conservationists to cry foul and ask that this winter’s wolf season be cancelled. Hunters say the wolf population is healthy and blame the predator for keeping down the deer herds. Another view is that deer habitat has been lost to commercial clear cuts, especially on Prince of Wales.

But before any decision on the wolf hunt is announced, the state and feds need to release their 2019 population estimate to justify their strategy. That was supposed to happen last month. But state officials have blamed COVID-19 for delays in completing laboratory and field work.

Fast forward to Tuesday’s subsistence regional advisory council meeting where members expected to digest the latest 2019 wolf data.

“I’m not going to release a population estimate and we don’t have a specific plan for the trapping season,” Regional Wildlife Supervisor Tom Schumacher of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game told the council on Tuesday. He says that data wouldn’t be released until the details of the upcoming wolf season was finalized by his agency and the U.S. Forest Service.

“What I can tell you is that the 2019 fall estimate is higher than 2018,” Schumacher continued. “And there will be a trapping season. And that trapping season will be shorter than it was last year.”

That withholding of data didn’t sit well with members of the council.

“I’m a little unclear on the population estimate, because if that’s a piece of data and it’s final, we want to hear it,” said Bob Schroeder, a member of the council from Juneau. “I can understand how releasing a management plan depends on negotiations and agreement with Forest Service, but a piece of data — we need to see it.”

The state has provided that information in the past. But that hasn’t happened this year. And won’t happen until the length of the wolf season is announced, Schumacher said.

“Given the controversy surrounding this population — the population estimate, the management strategy and the context in which those fall; it’s all part of the same thing,” Schumacher said. “At this point, the department is not comfortable releasing that number. So I’m not going to do that today.”

A public records request for last year’s wolf estimate filed by CoastAlaska early Thursday is pending.

All this comes in the context of a recent petition by conservationists to protect Southeast Alaska’s Alexander Archipelago wolves under the Endangered Species Act.

It’s the third such petition since the 1990s. But Schumacher told the council on Tuesday the scuttlebutt is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering it with a decision expected early next year.

“Our people at headquarters who deal with Endangered Species Act matters on a regular basis telling me that the bar for accepting a petition is relatively low,” Schumacher said. “And they think that Fish and Wildlife Service will accept that petition.”

He says the federal government could list the grey wolf subspecies as threatened.

“If they make that determination, that has some pretty serious implications,” Schumacher said.

In other words, no state or federal hunting or trapping season for Southeast’s wolves. And subsistence would be regulated by a different division of the Fish and Wildlife Service that manages hunting and trapping more conservatively.

Reached during a break in the council’s meeting on Thursday, the regional advisory council’s Chair Don Hernandez says the state agency still hasn’t shared its wolf population estimate with the council.

“We want to see a well-managed wolf population that, you know, allows for hunting and trapping, if the population numbers justify it,” he told CoastAlaska.

The Point Baker resident of Prince of Wales Island says the subsistence council had supported the state’s wolf strategy. But they’re supposed to take input from regional councils which are in close contact with residents affected by these decisions. Withholding information doesn’t make that possible.

“All these decisions are going to be made in the next few weeks,” Hernandez said. “And we’re meeting now — and we don’t have the information — and they do.”

The advisory council only meets twice a year with its next meeting tentatively scheduled for March.


Spectrum News 1

Bobcat Fire Aftermath Threatening Endangered Species


The Bobcat fire has destroyed more than 115,000 acres between the San Gabriel and Antelope valleys, scorching one of the most abundant wildlife habitats in Los Angeles County. Biologists and forest rangers are now devising plans to rescue the rare and endangered species that have been threatened by the wildfire.

LA Times staff writer Louis Sahagun wrote about the Bobcat fire’s toll on these species and joined anchor Lisa McRee on LA Times Today with more.

Sahagun was there when biologists and rangers were analyzing the ecological damage caused by the fire.

“It’s hard to describe how important it is in terms of abundance of rare species in a location that’s 18 miles north of 18-million people. And, now it’s in imminent danger of a landslide that will encase this canyon for all those incredible animals in mud,” Sahagun said.

Biologists and rangers say they’ve already transplanted some of the species from other fire areas into the West Fork, but now they will have to move them again.

“Catastrophic historic fires have created a situation now where biologists have to race to rescue creatures and move them to another location before the next fire or the next mudslide. Many of these creatures in the West Fork have been moved from elsewhere in the belief that they would be safe there,” Sahagun said.

County flood control authorities have prioritized safeguarding critical infrastructure that provides water and safety for millions of people living in downstream communities.

“Scientists will try and rescue as many animals as they can, but the number one priority is human lives downstream. Therefore, the animals are going to end up losing,” Sahagun said.

Losing even one endangered species could change many things for the downstream communities.

“There are many species in this canyon, western pond turtles, rosy boas, ring-necked snakes, yellow-legged frogs, and many species of protected fish are going to be wiped out,” Sahagun said.

Along with amphibians and fish, other species like Nelson’s bighorn sheep, mule, deer, mountain lions, and foxes struggle to find food and shelter in the middle of the destruction and ashes.

 “I have been covering fires for decades, and I have never seen the destruction, the desolation on the slopes overlooking the West Fork of the San Gabriel River — they are burned to bare dirt. And, all of that dirt is going to come into the canyon. It’s a remarkable and heartbreaking swathe of devastation,” Sahagun said.


PBS News Hour

 Lawsuit says Trump administration ignored risk of huge spills to endangered species

Oct. 21, 2020

NEW ORLEANS — Environmental groups asked a federal court Wednesday to throw out the Trump administration’s assessment of oil and gas activity’s likely effects on endangered species in the Gulf of Mexico, saying it dismisses the chance of another disastrous blowout like the BP spill of 2010.

The National Marine Fisheries Service’s 700-page analysis greatly underestimates both the likely number and size of oil spills, according to the suit filed by Earthjustice for the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Even though the study was prompted by the 2010 spill, it “essentially pretends the Deepwater Horizon spill never happened — that there was nothing to learn from that disaster,” Earthjustice attorney Chris Eaton said in an interview Tuesday.

The federal agency said it left the possibility of an extremely large spill like BP’s out of its calculations of likely effects because a Bureau of Offshore Energy Management analysis found little chance of another during the next 50 years.

The previous analysis, in 2007, also estimated that “such a large spill was extremely unlikely,” the lawsuit noted. That analysis had estimated that “the largest spill possible would be at most 15,000 barrels,” or 630,000 gallons (2.4 million liters).

The 2010 spill, which started with a blowout that killed 11 men, was hundreds of times bigger than that. Estimates of the amount of oil spewed into the Gulf for 87 days varied from nearly 176 million gallons (666 million liters) to less than 103 million gallons (390 million liters). A federal judge calculated damages based on 134 million gallons (507 million liters) in the Gulf.

The chance of such a spill is even higher now, the lawsuit said, because “Gulf drilling is moving into deeper waters, which increases the possibility of a catastrophic well blowout and extremely large oil spill.”

The study also failed to consider the increased frequency, due to climate change, of hurricanes that can severely damage oil and gas facilities, nor did it take into account recent research about the danger of underwater landslides that can cause extremely large oil spills, the lawsuit said.

In addition, it said, the analysis left out the BP spill’s effects on the corals and other animals and their habitats, using population estimates and other information from before the spill.

The groups asked a federal court in Maryland to make the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service write a new report, called a biological opinion.

The fisheries service does not comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Allison Garrett said.

The federal agencies that regulate offshore oil operations are required by the Endangered Species Act to ensure that their actions aren’t likely to jeopardize endangered or threatened species or damage their critical habitat. Offshore oil regulators asked the National Marine Fisheries Service for a new analysis on June 30, 2010, while BP’s well was still gushing.

Ten years later, the result is “just another hand out to Big Oil,” Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth, said in a news release.

Larry McKinney, chair for Gulf strategies at Texas A&M Corpus Christi’s Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, called the NOAA Fisheries analysis one of the most detailed he’s ever seen.

“Overall, I think they did as good a job as you can do with something like that,” McKinney said.

He predicted the litigation will be lengthy because both the report and suit cover a huge area and many species.

It will be largely a battle of experts, he said, but allegations about ignoring large spills are a strength of the suit. “That’s a straightforward question: Did you do that or not? Then you can have debate about whether it’s important,” he said.

NOAA Fisheries estimated that oil and gas activities would affect many endangered and threatened animals over 50 years, including more than a million sea turtles hit by vessels. Its recommendations include measures to protect turtles from seismic surveys and to reduce the chance of vessels hitting endangered Bryde’s whales.

The report estimated the largest spills would average about one-third the size of BP’s because regulators indicated that equipment required since then can cap wells at any depth within 30 days.

The suit said NOAA underestimated the largest spill likely. It said the agency’s analysis arbitrarily started with 1996, omitting Mexico’s Ixtoc I spill of more than 126 million gallons (477 million liters) in 1979. The suit also contended argued that the analysis ignored the slow spill that has continued since a hurricane in September 2004 caused an undersea mudslide at a group of wells owned by Taylor Energy off Louisiana.

Lois Epstein, a civil engineer at the Wilderness Society who served on a government advisory committee after the BP spill, wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit but faulted the federal study for not considering the likelihood of spills like Taylor’s.

However, Epstein said the government’s 30-day capping estimate seemed reasonable: “There are capping devices that we didn’t have” in 2010.

Eaton of Earthjustice said in a news release Wednesday, “This administration is convinced that if they ignore something, it will go away. It’s not working for the climate crisis and it’s not going to work for oil spills.”


United States Congresswoman Debbie Dingell/News Release

Dingell, Grijalva, Beyer Lead Opposition to Weaken Endangered Species Protections for the Greater Sage-Grouse

Chairs of Endangered Species Act Caucus Lead 59 Members

Washington, DC, October 20, 2020–Today, the Chairs of the Endangered Species Act Caucus – House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Don Beyer (D-VA) – led a letter with 59 Members of Congress to House Democratic leadership requesting that the final fiscal year 2021 spending bill remain free from riders weakening Endangered Species Act protections for the greater sage-grouse.

“As you negotiate the final Fiscal Year 2021 appropriations bill for the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, we urge you to ensure that the rider from previous appropriations bills that prohibits the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from considering the greater sage-grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act is not included in the final bill,” the lawmakers wrote. “The greater sage-grouse is a keystone species in the Sagebrush Sea ecosystem, which stretches across eleven western states and supports more than 350 other species of conservation concern. Today, sage-grouse range is half of what it once was, and populations have declined precipitously in recent years.”

“Congress has repeatedly inserted politics into what should be a scientific determination about whether the species warrants ESA protections.” the lawmakers continued. “Moreover, the Trump administration has been working to further upend this carefully crafted approach, rolling back critical conservation protections to allow for more oil and gas drilling and mining in essential sage-grouse habitat. It is important that FWS scientists be permitted to assess the current population conditions of the greater-sage grouse and be allowed to do their jobs, unencumbered by politics.”

The full text of the letter is available here & below.

The sage-grouse rider is one of many Republican legislative and executive actions intended to weaken Endangered Species Act protections in recent years. These include efforts by the Trump administration to limit ESA protections for threaten species, expand critical habitat exemptions, and ignore the impacts of climate change when making ESA determinations.

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader Hoyer, and Chairwoman Lowey:

As you negotiate the final Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 appropriations bill for the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, we urge you to ensure that the rider from previous appropriations bills that prohibits the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from considering the greater sage-grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is not included in the final bill. We very much appreciate that the House version of the Interior bill eliminated the rider and urge you to stand strong in upholding the House position in year-end negotiations on the appropriations bills.

The greater sage-grouse is a keystone species in the Sagebrush Sea ecosystem, which stretches across eleven western states and supports more than 350 other species of conservation concern. Today, sage-grouse range is half of what it once was, and populations have declined precipitously in recent years.

In 2015, the Obama Administration developed a series of collaborative conservation plans with stakeholders across the American West, engaging governors, farmers, ranchers, conservationists, and state and local officials in a public planning process to enhance sagebrush habitat and better manage resources across the range of the sage-grouse.

The desire to avoid the need to list the greater sage-grouse under the ESA was a strong motivator to keep stakeholders engaged in the collaborative process; unfortunately, that motivation has been removed as Congress has repeatedly inserted politics into what should be a scientific determination about whether the species warrants ESA protections. Moreover, the Trump administration has been working to further upend this carefully crafted approach, rolling back critical conservation protections to allow for more oil and gas drilling and mining in essential sage-grouse habitat. It is important that FWS scientists be permitted to assess the current population conditions of the greater-sage grouse and be allowed to do their jobs, unencumbered by politics.

Recent studies have found that about one million of the estimated eight million species on earth may be pushed to extinction, many within decades, while already a staggering three million birds have been lost since 1970. The ESA is one of our nation’s most important conservation laws. Given this extinction crisis, decisions about which species need protection should be based solely on science. It is long past time for the sage-grouse rider to be eliminated from the final appropriations bill.

We appreciate your consideration of this request.



WCIV/CH. 4 News

Lawsuit to stop harvesting of horseshoe crabs at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge

by Caroline Balchunas, October 19, 2020

HARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) — Conservations groups are suing the federal government for allowing harvesting to take place at a wildlife sanctuary in the Lowcountry.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is being sued for allowing the harvest of horseshoe crabs at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the suit on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife on Monday. The suit states the federal agency failed to consider the effects the harvest would have on migrating shorebirds, including the endangered red knot, who flock to Cape Romain to feast on crab eggs.

Commercial harvesters capture thousands of crabs each spring as they come ashore to lay eggs. The horseshoe crabs are then taken to a Charleston-area lab where their blood is drained for use in the medical industry. Its blue blood is unique and used to ensure products and vaccines are free of bacteria.

Catherine Wannamaker, one of the SELC attorneys involved in the filing, said this has been an issue since about 2014 and despite sending multiple letters of notice, she said nothing has been done to stop it.

“It’s critically important, it’s one of the reasons why it was designated as a wildlife refuge,” Wannamaker said. “Anecdotally people who are out there counting birds have seen significant decreases in the number of red knots passing in the refuge or stopping in the refuge in the last several years, something like up to 30-percent or fewer birds. So, it is a reason for concern, we think, and we think large part of the problem is the harvest of horse shoe crabs.”

She said horseshoe crabs are supposed to be released back into the wild after extracting their blood, but wildlife experts estimate about 30-percent die in the process and the ones that do survive are so exhausted, they do not produce a normal number of eggs, further contributing to the dwindling food source for the migratory birds.

The complaint was filed in a Charleston federal court on Monday. The lawsuit alleges the USFWS is in violation of the National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act of 1997, the Endangered Species Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

“We think this lawsuit is precedentially important because imagine the implications if you allow any kind of commercial activity in a wildlife refuge and so we think the litigation serves a broader goal to make sure wildlife refuges stay wildlife refuges,” said Wannamaker. “We’re just trying to get the government to do its job basically and we think the Fish and Wildlife Service has a job to do here and has the authority to stop this, it hasn’t done so, we hope that this will prompt it to do so.”

ABC News 4 reached out to the USFWS on Monday but did not receive a response. Officials at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said they cannot comment on Monday’s filing.


Union of Concerned Scientists

Gray Wolf Will Lose Endangered Species Protections Contrary to Scientific Evidence


We’re working hard to have this done by the end of the year and I’d say it’s very imminent,” said Aurelia Skipworth, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), on delisting the gray wolf in August of this year. Skipworth’s comment is unfortunately true – the proposed delisting of the gray wolf sits with the Office of Management Budget and is expected to be released soon. This delisting is an unfortunate and politically driven decision as the best available science provides evidence that the gray wolf’s population is not fully restored throughout its historic range.

Proposal to delist skirts scientific peer-review

Peer-review is the bedrock of publishing scientific results. Scientists write up the results of their study in a paper that is then anonymously reviewed by peers in their field. The review ensures that the questions scientists are asking are addressed by the right methods and that results are interpreted correctly. If one, it only takes one, peer reviewer finds a major fault in your study, and the editor of the journal agrees that the fault is legitimate and should be addressed, then that fault must be addressed before the results can be published.

Five scientists who are experts on gray wolf taxonomy, ecology, and genomics reviewed the FWS’s proposed delisting of the gray wolf last year and found serious issues with the science. The scientists noted some alarming errors such as data being cherry picked, the results of scientific studies being misconstrued, and a lack of understanding about the underlying genetic structure of gray wolf populations. “It looks like they decided to delist and then they compiled all the evidence that they thought supported that decision. It simply doesn’t support the decision,” said Adrian Treves, an environmental studies professor at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Treves served as one of the five scientists who peer-reviewed the proposed delisting of the gray wolf.

Another one of the peer reviewers, Dr. Carlos Carroll who is an ecologist with the Klamath Center for Conservation Research, wrote that the proposed delisting reflects broader efforts to change ESA regulations. This thought certainly aligns with a recent proposal to redefine “critical habitat” for a threatened or endangered species as only areas that are physically occupied by that species. Such a narrow definition will preclude the FWS from considering protecting foreseeable critical habitat – an issue that was alluded to in the peer review of the proposed gray wolf delisting as the proposal placed significant focus on the wolf’s “current range.” Dr. Carroll noted a similar issue in his review stating, “Even if the Service considers “range” (spatial distribution) only in terms of “current range”, that does not imply that they should only consider population abundance as of the year of the proposed rule, rather than over the foreseeable future.”

If the FWS had taken the peer-review seriously, the only conclusion they could have come to is that they gray wolf needs to remain on the endangered species list. By moving forward with a delisting decision, it is clear that politics are once again trumping scientific evidence.

What can you do?

A prior blog by Dr. Carlos Carroll pointed out many things that scientists and concerned individuals can do to protect the gray wolf. One way to ensure that science remains at the forefront of decision-making is to call your Congressional representatives and ask them to support the Scientific Integrity Act. An upcoming delisting of the gray wolf reflects what we have seen in (unfortunately) huge amounts particularly since 2017 – sidelining of science from important decisions like those made under the Endangered Species Act. We also have identified a number of ways to protect the use of science in decisions made at the Department of Interior, or other agencies, which you can discuss with your current representatives or candidates for those positions.

Decisions made under the Endangered Species Act are legally mandated to be based solely on the best available science. If the FWS moves ahead with delisting the gray wolf, they will be violating the law that they are responsible for implementing. A majority of people in the US strongly favor protecting endangered species – we should continue to call upon our leaders to remind them of our support.


Carlsbad Current-Argus

Federal judge upholds habitat protections for endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse

Adrian Hedden, Oct. 19, 2020

A federal judge upheld protection for the habitat of an endangered mouse in New Mexico, dismissing a lawsuit brought by two ranching groups.

The New Mexico meadow jumping mouse historically dwells along streams in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona.

It grows about seven to nine inches long, with its tail accounting for about half of its size.

The jumping mouse is also referred to as the “kangaroo mouse” in some parts of the southwest and leap up to two feet high.

It is nocturnal and hibernates for about nine months each year, consuming mostly plants and small fruits.

The long hibernation period of the mouse means it only has a short window in the summer to breed and gain weight to survive the winter, which requires habitats remain ideal when needed, providing tall, dense grass and forage found only along flowing streams.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the mouse’s habitat began a sharp decline, read the court’s decision, attributed to livestock grazing, drought and wildfires.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 14,000 acres of land between the three states as “critical habitat” in 2016, restricting uses of the land and establishing requirements to maintain the areas for the jumping mouse’s survival.

In 2018, the Northern New Mexico Stockman’s Association and the Otero County Cattleman’s Association sued the Fish and Wildlife Service seeking to overturn the protections in New Mexico.

The groups cited the economic harm the restrictions on the land could have spread across Colfax, Mora, Otero, Sandoval and Socorro counties.

The lawsuit argued such impacts to the local ranching industry were not fully considered when the Fish and Wildlife Service made it designation, and the ruling could affect the water and grazing rights of nearby ranchers.

U.S. District Judge James Browning for the District of New Mexico ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service had properly considered the economic impact of the critical habitat designations and that protecting the habitat was imperative to restoring the mouse’s population as required under its designation as an endangered species.

“At best, the elimination of such important protections could result in the perpetuation of the Jumping Mouse’s endangered status,” Browning wrote in his decision. “At worst, however, the disappearance of these important units of critical habitat designation could result in the irreversible extinction of the remaining Jumping Mouse populations.”

Ryan Shannon, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity which filed one of the original petitions to list the mouse as endangered said the court’s decision would be instrumental in the animals recovery and survival.

“We’re thrilled that the judge upheld essential habitat protections for this adorable jumping mouse that stands on the brink of extinction,” Ryan Shannon said. “Hopefully now we can focus on its recovery, rather than defending it from cynical attacks.”

Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, managing attorney with the WildEarth Guardians said protecting the mouse would in turn lead to the restoration of its main habitat — rivers and streams throughout New Mexico.

“The imperiled New Mexico meadow jumping mouse is uniquely adapted to streams and wetlands habitats seriously threatened by livestock grazing, stream dewatering, and climate change,” she said. “Today’s ruling will give this endangered species a fighting chance at survival.”

WildEarth Guardians Conservation Director Sarah McMillan said the mouse already lost 70 percent of its range to cattle grazing and gathering near riparian areas and maintaining protections for its habitat was the only way to allow the animal to recover.

“Having been extirpated from over 70% of its historic range, this remarkable jumping mouse is threatened by cattle congregating in riparian areas, water mismanagement and climate change impacts- all while taking on the behemoth annual work of preparing for up to 9 months of hibernation,” she said.

“It’s time we gave the mouse some space.”

Conservation groups last year sought restrict logging in Lincoln National Forest they worried could threaten the meadow jumping mouse along with other species such as the Mexican spotted owl.

They called on the U.S. Forest Service to revise a plan to log more than 54,000 acres in the forest and add 125 miles of roads that could increase sediment and damage rivers and streams in the area.

Earlier this year, the Forest Service after multiple public hearings, agreed to add considerations for sensitive species to its management plans in Lincoln National Forest.

“Given the sensitivity of species like the Mexican spotted owl and the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, it’s essential that any project of this scale carefully and concertedly lay out how it will impact forested and riparian habitats,” said Michael Dax, New Mexico representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

“The fact that this project remains so ill-defined is extremely troubling and makes it nearly impossible to determine the short and long-term impacts on these species.”


The Garden Island

Snail discovered was thought to be extinct

By The Garden Island, October 17, 2020

HONOLULU — Bishop Museum scientists and collaborators with the stateDepartment of Land and Natural Resources’ Snail Extinction Prevention Program and the University of Florida Natural History Museum have described what is considered to be the last living species of a group of native Hawaiian land snails that were previously thought extinct.

Their research shows that the new species, Endodonta christenseni, may be the sole surviving species of Endodonta — a land-snail genus that is endemic to the Hawaiian islands.

Although the newly described species was discovered in 1923 by museum researchers — including C.M. Cooke Jr., the first malacologist at the museum — it remained unnamed for nearly a century.

The article describing the species was published in the journal Bishop Museum Occasional Papers on Oct. 15, 2020, and is a substantial contribution to the conservation efforts of native Hawaiian land snails.

In addition to providing a name that can be used to advocate for it listing under the federal Endangered Species Act, it also raises awareness about how the process of describing species is critical to all of biology, but especially to conducting much-needed research to conserve biodiversity in the face of ongoing threats.

The genus Endodonta was once represented by 11 species endemic to the Hawaiian islands. Unfortunately, their ground-dwelling habits made this particular group of land snails extremely vulnerable to introduced predators such as ants, rats and carnivorous snails, and now all the Ital Endodonta except E. christenseni are extinct.

Although some fossil specimens have been used to describe extinct species, Endodonta christenseni, which lives only on the island of Nihoa, is the first living species of Endodonta described since 1905.

Nihoa is in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and part of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

In the published article, the authors note that “In describing this last Endodonta species, our hope is to inspire increased awareness and appreciation that facilitates and motivates conservation for this species and all other undiscovered and unnamed species threatened with extinction. Unless protection of this species is implemented, it may be extinct within the next decade and we will lose the last of a lineage that existed for millions of years, along with the stories it could tell about biodiversity in the Hawaiian islands.”

Ken Hayes, the director of the Pacific Center for Molecular Biodiversity and lead author on the study, explained, “This sort of work forms the foundation for all conservation efforts, and the gap in knowledge about biodiversity, which is especially severe for understudied and highly-threatened groups like snails and insects, prevents effective research needed to inform conservation actions.”

Since 1600, Pacific land snails have accounted for more recorded extinctions than any other group of animals. The Hawaiian islands were once home to some 750 species, with more than half of these now thought extinct as a result of habitat degradation, climate change and impacts from invasive species. Since 2004, the coauthors of this study and collaborators have conducted extensive surveys documenting native and non-native snails in Hawai‘i.

Over that time, more than 1,000 sites have been surveyed and more than 280 extant species recorded, which is nearly three times the number estimated just a decade ago.

Norine Yeung, malacology curator and coauthor on the study, added, “The results from these extensive survey efforts give us hope that there are still many species left that can be saved, but we need to act quickly and decisively if we are to beat the extinction clock that ticks louder with each passing day.”

The name Endodonta christenseni honors Bishop Museum scientist Dr. Carl C. Christensen for the many years he devoted to studying endangered land snails across the Pacific, and recognizes his efforts to bring attention to the status of this undescribed species.

(For more information about this study see



Endangered Whale Protected From Life-Threatening Seismic Blasts

October 16, 2020

Atlantic Ocean marine life, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, won a reprieve from destructive seismic surveys earlier this month.

Together with dozens of organizations and thousands of coastal communities and businesses, Earthjustice has been fighting to stop fossil fuel companies from blasting seismic air guns in crucial underwater habitat for one of the world’s most endangered large whale species.

The work of Earthjustice and others has forced the companies to shelve their plans for the foreseeable future, and hopefully for good.

Why are the seismic surveys bad for whales and other marine life?

The seismic surveys would have involved continuously blasting air guns that would injure, harass, disrupt, and possibly even kill whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life across 200,000 square miles of ocean waters.

These air guns produce a noise louder than a rocket launch — and 16,000 times louder than a standard air horn — at 10-second intervals, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for months on end.

The calls that North Atlantic right whales use to hunt, navigate, and communicate with one another would be drowned out by the blasts. There are fewer than 400 of these creatures left in the world.

How did Earthjustice put seismic surveying on hold?

Earthjustice and its allies challenged the legality of permits issued by the federal government within days after they were issued in December 2018.

Over the nearly two years of litigation, industry was never able to secure final approval to proceed with the surveys.

These permits would have allowed the fossil fuel companies to proceed with seismic surveys even if they harmed marine mammals — and thereby avoid any legal responsibility for harming critically endangered ocean wildlife.

Why is Earthjustice involved in this fight?

These proposed seismic surveys pose a dual threat. They not only would harm whales, dolphins, and other marine life, but they also would pave the way for offshore oil and gas drilling.

Earthjustice is committed to protecting species like the North Atlantic right whale that are under the care of the Endangered Species Act. We will continue to fight to ensure this critical law realizes its promise.

Earthjustice also continues to fight irresponsible attempts to turn our oceans and public lands into gas stations.

What happens next?

The original permits expire at the end of November and can’t be extended.

If the companies later apply for and obtain new permits, Earthjustice will continue to fight in court.

Earthjustice also continues the fight to secure permanent protection from oil and gas drilling for these waters — the best way to ensure that whales and other marine life will remain safe from the threat of offshore drilling.

Is there anything I can do?

Yes! Help us defend the Endangered Species Act. Tell your congressperson to support the PAW and FIN Act. This important legislation will undo harmful changes made to the Endangered Species Act by the Trump administration. It is awaiting a vote in the House.



AG Opposes Trump’s Proposal Against Endangered Species Act

Press release from the office of the Attorney General of Connecticut: Oct. 15, 2020

Attorney General William Tong this week joined a multistate coalition filing a comment letter opposing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) proposal to establish a new, unlawful process for excluding areas from critical habitat designations under the federal Endangered Species Act. If finalized, the proposal is likely to drastically reduce the areas protected as critical habitat, further endangering the conservation of our nation’s most imperiled species. In the comment letter, the coalition of 17 attorneys general argue that FWS’s proposal is contrary to the plain language of the Endangered Species Act and arbitrarily limits its ability to protect endangered or threatened species as required by the Act.

“We cannot protect endangered species if we do not protect their habitats. The Endangered Species Act has been successful because its protections are based in science. This proposal invites all kinds of political and corporate meddling in a process that has always been rooted in biology. The Trump Administration is attacking the Endangered Species Act on multiple fronts, and we will continue to defend science and our environment at every step,” said Attorney General Tong.

For over 45 years, the Endangered Species Act has protected thousands of iconic and threatened species, including the Bald Eagle, California Condor, Grizzly Bear, and Humpback Whale. Enacted under the Nixon Administration in 1973, the ESA is intended “to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost.” In Connecticut, there are at least 14 species listed as endangered or threatened under the Act. Endangered species include the Indiana Bat, Eskimo Curlew, Roseate Tern, Leatherback Turtle, Atlantic Ridley Turtle, Shortnose Sturgeon, American Burying Beetle and the Dwarf Wedgemussel. Threatened species include the Northern Long-Eared Bat, Piping Plover, Loggerhead Turtle, Atlantic Green Turtle, Bog Turtle, Puritan Tiger Beetle and the Northeastern Beach Tiger Beetle.

Under Section 4(b)(2) of the Endangered Species Act, FWS is required to designate critical habitat for listed species based on “the best scientific data available” and after considering economic, national security, and other relevant impacts. Areas designated as critical habitat are provided with significant protections to ensure that species have the ability to recover to sustainable population levels so that they no longer need to be listed. FWS “may” exclude areas of critical habitat if the agency determines that the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of designation.

On September 8, 2020, FWS published a proposed rule that would establish a new process for excluding areas of critical habitat. If finalized, FWS would be required to consider excluding areas from a critical habitat designation when a “proponent of excluding a particular area” presents “credible information” supporting exclusion. In conducting such an analysis, FWS would have to defer to outside “experts” and “sources” regarding “nonbiological impacts” that are outside the scope of FWS’s expertise. If FWS determines that the benefits of excluding a particular area outweigh the benefits of specifying that area as a critical habitat, FWS must exclude that area, unless it will result in the extinction of a species. This would be likely to drastically reduce the amount of critical habitat designated and protected under the Endangered Species Act.

In the comment letter, the coalition argues that FWS’s proposal is unlawful and should be abandoned because:

  • The proposal is contrary to the plain language and overarching conservation purposes of the Endangered Species Act;
  • The proposal is arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act because FWS fails to provide any reasoned explanation for the proposal; and
  • FWS incorrectly suggests that the proposal is subject to a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act, or that it may complete review at a later date, despite its major substantive changes that are likely to cause significant environmental effects on imperiled species and their habitat.

Attorney General Tong is joined by the attorneys general of California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, as well as the City of New York in filing the comment letter.

Assistant Attorneys General Daniel Salton and Matt Levine, Head of the Environment Department, assisted the Attorney General in this matter.

(This press release was produced by the office of the Attorney General of Connecticut. The views expressed here are the author’s own.)


Los Angeles Times

Imperiled desert tortoises join California’s ‘endangered’ list — for now

By Louis Sahagún, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 14, 2020

LOS ANGELES — The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday granted temporary endangered species status to the Mojave desert tortoise when it agreed to consider the dusty, armored herbivore as a candidate for permanent listing.

The protection came with the panel’s 4-0 decision to consider a petition filed by the Defenders of Wildlife, the Desert Tortoise Council and the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee. The groups argued that elevating the reptile’s existing status from threatened to endangered could bolster efforts to “reverse the very real likelihood that the desert tortoise will become extinct in California.”

As a candidate for listing, a species is typically afforded the same protections as a state endangered species pending a final decision.

While there is no difference in the protections offered a species listed as threatened or endangered under the California Endangered Species Act, officials said, endangered species have higher priority and funding for conservation measures such as habitat protection, recovery efforts and mitigation measures to reduce the impacts of projects.

“Anybody who has visited the Southern California desert over the past three decades knows this action is long overdue,” said Tom Egan, a biologist with Defenders of Wildlife. “What the state and federal governments have been doing to arrest their slide down the drain of extinction over the past three decades isn’t enough.”

Gopherus agassizii was listed as threatened under state law in 1989 and under federal law the following year based on a severe decline in the tortoise population within their ancient desert kingdom of trails, arroyos and hibernation burrows fringed with scrub brush.

A recovery plan for the tortoise and critical habitat prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was adopted in 1994. That plan was revised in 2011, however, to correct problems that responsible wildlife and land management agencies were having in implementing the plan’s recovery strategies.

A 2018 study found that adult tortoise populations had plummeted by 50% in some designated recovery areas since 2004, and by as much as 90% in some critical habitat management units since the 1980s.

Tortoise populations continue to be irreversibly fragmented and destroyed by many causes: vehicles, shootings, urban encroachment, military maneuvers, mining, collecting, diseases introduced by pet tortoises released into the wild, development of massive utility and green-energy facilities and hungry ravens.

Unlike their heavily armored parents, baby desert tortoises are saddled with soft, fingernail-thin shells that biologists say make them easy pickings for predators and reduce the chances that the imperiled species can be saved from extinction.

Rising temperatures and drought conditions are also taking a toll on the desert tortoise. Despite its name, the reptile is not well adapted to desert conditions. It evolved tens of thousands of years ago, scientists say, when the landscape was dominated by lakes edged with Joshua trees and junipers.

Scientists believe that large numbers of female desert tortoise carcasses discovered near Joshua Tree National Park may have been trying to ward off extinction due to prolonged drought with a potentially lethal response: exhausting their water and energy to lay eggs.

Drought conditions also kill off nutritious foliage and trigger a crash in populations of rodents that eat them. As a result, dogs and coyotes, which normally thrive on kangaroo rats and rabbits, turn to the lumbering tortoises for sustenance, according to surveys by state and federal biologists.

“This species is already listed as threatened ,” said Commission Vice President Samantha Murray before casting her vote. “But I do think it is important that its designation reflects reality.”


ABC News

Animal conservation groups to sue federal government over dwindling giraffe population

The government has failed to grant giraffes Endangered Species Act protections.

By Julia Jacobo, ‎October‎ ‎14‎, ‎2020‎

Multiple animal conservation and protection groups plan to file a lawsuit against the federal government over what they say is a failure to consider protections for giraffes under the Endangered Species Act.

The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, the Center for Biological Diversity and other animal welfare groups filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday.

The groups petitioned for giraffe protections in 2017, and the USFWS determined last year that giraffes may qualify for protections under the Endangered Species Act after a separate lawsuit was filed, according to the Humane Society.

However, the agency has failed to make a decision or implement any protective measures, Humane Society officials say.

Worldwide, fewer than 69,000 adult giraffes are currently living in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, which classifies giraffes as vulnerable. Two giraffe subspecies are listed as “endangered” and another two were listed as “critically endangered” in 2018.

Their populations have dropped nearly 40% due to habitat loss, civil unrest and poaching, as well as international trade in bone carvings, skins and trophies, according to the Humane Society.

On average, the U.S. imports more than one giraffe hunting trophy a day, and imported more than 21,400 giraffe bone carvings between 2006 to 2015. The giraffe parts are often made into pillows, boots, bible covers and jackets, according to the Humane Society.

The U.S. has an “important role to play” in preventing giraffes from becoming extinct, Adam Peyman, wildlife programs director for Humane Society International, said in a statement.

The USFWS has the ability to stop American trophy hunters from accelerating the loss of the animal, Kitty Block, CEO and president of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote on her blog Wednesday.

“Today, we are warning the USFWS that unless it acts swiftly to protect our planet’s tallest land mammal, we will see it in court,” Block wrote. “We are putting the agency on notice today that we won’t stop hammering on this issue until it stops pandering to special interest lobbies at such great cost to the world’s wildlife.”

The Endangered Species Act, passed in 1973, protects and recovers imperiled species and the ecosystems on which they depend.

Last year, the Trump administration announced changes to how the government handles endangered species, altering the requirements for how the government decides to add or remove species from the list of endangered animals that are regulated by the government, including limiting how much habitat can be protected.

The changes would require separate plans for protecting any new species listed as threatened instead of granting them the same protections as those listed as endangered, a move that advocates say could make it more difficult to protect species that are threatened by human activity and climate change.

“Giraffes are loved by people around the world, so it’s shocking and sad that the U.S. government is ignoring their tragic plight,” Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “As giraffe populations plummet, these extraordinary creatures desperately need the Endangered Species Act’s sturdy shield. But three years after we petitioned for protections, federal officials are still stalling on safeguards for everyone’s favorite longnecked mammal.”


Los Angeles Times


Bobcat fire aftermath threatens endangered species in San Gabriel Mountains


Up until a few weeks ago, the West Fork of the San Gabriel River was one of the most abundant wildlife habitats in Los Angeles County, a secluded and rugged area defined by its steep peaks, lush canyons and mixture of rare and endangered species.

Recently however, a team of federal biologists and forest rangers was aghast when it visited the stream following the Bobcat fire, which has burned more than 115,000 acres in the heart of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

Terrain that once resembled a High Sierra granite gorge now looked like ground zero after a nuclear explosion, and the usually clean mountain air was sharp with the stench of smoke.

Particularly unsettling were the bare and ashen slopes that were now primed to dissolve under pounding winter storms. A heavy mudslide, experts said, could reverse decades of conservation efforts by inundating the last outposts for such federally protected species as the Santa Ana sucker fish and Southern California mountain yellow-legged frog.

“There’s nothing left,” muttered U.S. Geological Survey biologist Adam Backlin as he surveyed the barren, ugly mountains overlooking Cogswell Dam, which controls the flow in an eight-mile stretch of the stream that provides some of the best fly-fishing in Southern California and helps recharge the metropolitan aquifer in the flatlands below.

“Armageddon,” said Leslie Welch, district wildlife biologist at the Angeles National Forest.

The Bobcat fire was 92% contained Tuesday, Forest Service officials said.

The exact toll on wildlife along the West Fork and throughout much of the range will not be known until the Forest Service‘s emergency response teams determine the extent of the damage in severely burned areas, which, for safety reasons, could remain closed for months to come, federal forest officials said.

Even without that information, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service are now scrambling to devise post-fire rescue operations to ensure the survival of protected species in the event canyon bottoms are buried in a slurry of rocks, uprooted trees and sediment this winter.

Their options include dispatching teams of state and federal biologists armed with electroshock wands and nets to scoop up as many fish and frogs as possible, then release them into suitable streams elsewhere.

Finding clear streams with cool rocky pools devoid of predatory invasive species will not be easy in an area within one of the most dangerous wildland fire environments in the United States.

“Moving these sensitive creatures around in order to keep them one step ahead of the next environmental disaster is not a strategy — it’s a last-ditch effort,” Welch said. “In an era of almost back-to-back wildfires and mudslides, we haven’t had the time to develop comprehensive survival plans for each one of our protected species.”

The preemptive rescues being proposed across the San Gabriels highlight the difficulty facing biologists and land managers in ensuring the survival of species clinging to existence in Southern California’s patchwork of isolated habitats — areas already hemmed in by urban development and scorched by more frequent and intense wildfires.

Looking ahead, they can only surmise that things will get worse. In a warming world, places such as California will experience whiplash shifts between extremely dry and wet periods — factors that exacerbated the unprecedented fire season this year across the state.

The life and times of mountain yellow-legged frogs embody the challenges facing endangered species — and biologists — in Southern California.

For thousands of years, yellow-legged frogs thrived in hundreds of streams across the San Gabriel, San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains. Over the past eight decades, the species has been decimated by wildfires, mudslides, pesticides, fungal infections, loss of habitat, flood control facilities and the appetites of nonnative trout, bullfrogs and crayfish.

Today, fewer than 400 are believed to exist in isolated populations, including a group of about 150 in a two-mile stretch of Little Rock Creek, near the resort community of Wrightwood.

Federal wildlife authorities in 2010 launched an ambitious recovery program that included captive breeding at institutions including the Los Angeles Zoo, trout removal in some of their ancestral haunts, and, in certain areas, barring public access.

The recovery program is a collaborative effort funded by donations, grants and California Department of Transportation funds to mitigate the effects of emergency work stabilizing a slope near frog habitat on California Highway 330 in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Backlin, who has been monitoring Southern California’s yellow-legged frog populations since 1998, could scarcely believe his eyes two weeks ago as he watched televised footage of flames marching down into the refuge at Little Rock Creek.

“I was yelling at the screen,” he recalled. “No! No! Stop!”

State and federal biologists are also worried about the loss of habitat for 150 federally endangered unarmored threespine stickleback fish that were rescued after the 2016 Sand fire burned through Soledad Canyon in northwestern L.A. County and then released in carefully selected areas of the Angeles National Forest.

Now, with those translocated fish threatened by mudslides in new burn areas, state and federal biologists plan to recapture most of them and return them, yet again, to Soledad Canyon, which over the past four years has become suitable for repopulation.

Then there are the descendants of an estimated 23,000 native fish that were captured in the upper San Gabriel River in 2006 and relocated near the confluence of the West Fork and Bear Creek to make way for a massive sediment removal project in the San Gabriel Reservoir, about 18 miles north of Azusa.

They included federally threatened San Ana suckers; Santa Ana speckled dace, a California species of special concern; arroyo chubs, also a California species of special concern; and thousands of unidentified minnows.

If the West Fork gets buried in mud, Forest Service officials said, it could hasten the decline of the fish species already on the verge of extinction.

In the meantime, in the mountains surrounding Cogswell Dam where the Bobcat fire started on Sept. 6, rare and common animals alike — Nelson’s bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountain lions, foxes and southern Pacific rattlesnakes — continue searching for food and shelter amid the snags and ashes.

“It broke my heart to see a bear with an injured paw and shoulder staggering out of a burned area,” recalled Steven Morgan, operator of the 95-year-old reservoir owned by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. “There’s no place for smaller critters to hide anymore, either. Rodents and squirrels have become easy pickings for owls and hawks.”

Aquatic creatures such as fish, frogs and western pond turtles, a state-listed species of special concern, face an even sadder and more diminished future when their domain downstream is slammed by winter flooding.

Overall, wildlife stands to lose in the collision of competing interests across the fire-scarred range, an oblong mass from Santa Clarita to San Bernardino that attracts 3.5 million visitors a year.

County flood control authorities have made a priority of safeguarding critical infrastructure, including catch basins and several man-made dams that provide water and safety for millions of people in downstream communities.

“The business of saving human lives and rare wildlife is suddenly more complicated than ever,” said Rossana D’Antonio, incident commander for the public works department’s Bobcat fire recovery effort.

“But our No. 1 goal is to protect constituents down mountain, secure our critical infrastructure and steer mud off the roadways,” she said.

Welch would not argue with any of that.

“Hastily packing up endangered fish and amphibians, then moving them out of harm’s way is not an ideal solution,” she said. “But it can buy us time to care for them for decades, or longer, if possible.”


AFP (Wash., D.C.)

Nature backs Biden over ‘disastrous’ Trump for US president

October 14, 2020

The journal Nature said Wednesday it was backing Democratic candidate Joe Biden for US president in a full-fronted attack on Donald Trump’s “disastrous” handling of the pandemic and undermining of global efforts to tackle climate change.

One of the world’s most prestigious scientific publications, Nature said that “no US president in recent history has so relentlessly attacked and undermined” vital institutions such as science agencies, the Department of Justice and the electoral system itself.

It excoriated Trump for pulling out of the 2015 Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, as well as for his attacks on the World Health Organization — something it labelled “unthinkable during a pandemic”.

“The Trump administration’s disregard for rules, government, science, institutions of democracy and, ultimately, facts and the truth have been on full display in its disastrous response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said.

“Despite having vast scientific and monetary resources at his disposal, Trump failed catastrophically when it mattered most.”

Magdalena Skipper, Nature’s editor-in-chief, told AFP that Trump had “continually undermined” evidence-based decision making, contributing to public confusion on matters of scientific fact.

“He has undermined key science agencies including the Center for Diseases Control and the Environmental Protection Agency… leading to erosion of public trust in the institutions that are key to keeping people and the environment safe,” she said.

‘Astonishing’ failure –

In contrast, the Nature article praised Biden’s track record in the Senate as someone willing to pursue bipartisan deals, “a skill that will be needed now more than at any time in the recent past”, it said.

If elected, Biden has said he will restore the US to the Paris accord and take measures guided by science to try to bring Covid-19 under control. He would also have the opportunity to roll back many of Trump’s more environmentally damaging policies.

Nature said the Democratic candidate should seek to reverse “egregious” legislation passed by Trump concerning immigration and student visas, as well as to “hold the US to its international commitments”.

Skipper said Biden’s pledges on climate action were “among the most ambitious ever advocated by nominees from a major party”.

Last month, for the first time in its 175-year history, US magazine Scientific American endorsed a White House candidate, opting for Biden as Trump “rejects” science.

“We do not do this lightly,” the editors wrote in a scathing anti-Trump editorial published online for the magazine’s October issue.

“The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the US and its people — because he rejects evidence and science,” they wrote.

The New England Medical Journal earlier this month slammed the US’s “astonishing” failure to bring Covid-19 cases and deaths under control, but stopped short of explicitly endorsing Biden in next month’s election.


Native Plant Conservation Campaign News

State of World’s Plants and Fungi Report

-Mostly bad news but some progress and plans to move forward

October 13, 2020

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has released a new Report that shows that the world’s plant species are more imperiled than ever.

The State of worlds plants and fungi 2020, based on research from more than 200 scientists in 42 countries, found that 2 in 5 (40%) of the planet’s plants are at risk of extinction. Previous assessments in 2016 had found that 1 in 5 (20%) of plants were at risk.

Food and Medicine Supply Threatened

These losses endanger humanity. For example, billions of people rely on herbal medicines as their primary source of healthcare. The Report found 723 plants used for medicine are at risk of extinction, with over-harvesting a problem in some parts of the world, including the U.S. Further, “[o]nly 7% of [known] plants have [been tested for use] as medicines. Therefore the world’s plants and fungi remain largely untapped as potential sources of new [cures for disease],” said Melanie-Jayne Howes, a research leader at RBG Kew told the Guardian. “So it is absolutely critical that we better protect biodiversity so we are better prepared for emerging challenges to our planet and our health.”

The same is true for food. Although just 15 plants provide 90% of all calories consumed by humans, there are actually over 7,000 edible plant species that could be used to secure the food supply against climate change, pests and disease.

As Mass Extinction Accelerates, Scientific Community Steps Up

Scientists say plant extinction is occurring up to 500 times faster than what would be expected naturally. A 2019 United Nations report found that up to 1 million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction. The UN revealed in September that the world’s governments have failed to meet any of the 20 targets to stem biodiversity losses that had been agreed to in Aichi Japan in 2010.

“We are living in an age of extinction”, Director of Science at Kew, Alexandre Antonelli told the BBC. “It’s a very worrying picture of risk and urgent need for action,” he said. “We’re losing the race against time because species are disappearing faster than we can find them. Many of them could hold important clues for solving some of the most pressing challenges of medicine and even perhaps of the emerging and current pandemics we are seeing today.”

The assessment also contained some good news. More than 4,000 species of plants and fungi were discovered in 2019. These included wild relatives of important food crops such as garlic, onions, spinach and two relatives of cassava, which could help “future-proof” the staple crop eaten by 800 million people. Wild relatives of medicinal species were found. Kew also reported that the he number of assessed plant species has doubled in recent years due to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.

Urban Green Spaces – More Green Spaces, More Diversity Needed

In additions to sections on medicinal and food plants, and on gaps and progress in plant science, the Report also contained a chapter focused on building resilient urban green spaces to provide ecosystem services in cities. The report notes the growing movement to plant trees and other locally appropriate native plants in gardens, roadsides and urban public spaces. City trees deliver valuable services, from clean air and water to flood protection. Ensuring they can withstand climate change, pests and diseases in the future requires the use of a wide range of species and the support of the pollinators and soil organisms they depend upon.

Greater diversity is badly needed in urban green spaces. Of 6,896,687 trees in 67 locations studied for the Report, ten genera made up almost 40%. Acer (maple) is the most widely grown genus, accounting for 20% of city trees. Many urban trees may be poorly suited to deal with climate change, so the Report recommends expanding both the species and genetic diversity of city trees to make urban plant communities more resilient and sustainable.

Read the full report.


NW News Network

Conservation Groups Vow Challenge After Federal Decision Not To Protect Wolverines

By Courtney Flatt • Oct 11, 2020

Conservation groups are vowing to again challenge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s decision not to add wolverines to the Endangered Species List. The groups say wolverines are iconic species in high mountain snowy habitat, which is greatly threatened by climate change.

Ten conservation groups had requested the federal government list the elusive predators.

There are likely fewer than 300 wolverines across its habitat across the Mountain West, which includes populations in Washington, Idaho and Oregon, where 90 percent of their habitat is on federally managed lands and wilderness areas.

Dave Werntz, with Conservation Northwest, says listing the elusive wolverines would “help bring a focus to wolverine conservation.”

“It would mean better planning, better consideration and – in some places – reducing the threats that are putting the wolverine at risk of extinction,” Werntz said.

Wolverines depend on remote, snowy habitat to burrow dens in the springtime. Climate change projections show that breeding habitat is at risk, according to Timothy Preso, an attorney with environmental advocacy group Earthjustice.

“Literally, the wolverines’ snowy habitat is melting away. There are things that can be done, short of stopping climate change, to help the wolverine,” Preso said.

For example, working on reintroduction efforts in areas that appear likely to stay snowy. Preso said those types of recovery efforts have been “held up” by the lack of federal protections.

Even though wolverines are known for their ferocity in the wildlife world, they’re greatly impacted by human disturbance – activities such as roads, forestry practices and snowmobile use.

The bear-like members of the weasel family are also threatened because their numbers are mainly in small, scattered populations. That means, if disease or some other natural disaster were to strike, it could wipe out large sections of the remaining wolverines, Werntz says.

Threatened and spotted

In Oregon, wolverines are listed as a threatened species. A few years ago, a wolverine was spotted in the Wallowa Mountains in the northeastern part of the state.

“What I think that indicates, is that if we give the wolverine a chance and lend them a hand, they can recover. They are incredibly resilient, and they are very tough. But they need some help to ensure that they have a future in this country,” Werntz said.

In Washington, wolverines are candidates to be listed as threatened. A wolverine mother and her kits were recently spotted at Mount Rainier National Park. Biologists hope that wildlife crossings and underpasses will allow wolverines to travel from the state’s North Cascades to other habitat further south in the Cascades.

This wasn’t the first time wolverines were spotted in Washington’s Southern Cascades. But researchers haven’t seen signs of the first wolverines in the area in years.

In Idaho, wolverines are listed as an “Idaho Species of Greatest Conservation Need.” Idaho’s Fish and Game Department says a threatened status is not warranted because there is “the high level of uncertainty related to climate change effects on wolverines and their habitat.”

Pushed toward extinction

Wolverines were pushed toward extinction by the early 1900s, from trapping and baiting for other predators. Trapping is still allowed in Canada. When conservation groups began petitioning to list wolverines, Montana still allowed anyone to trap one wolverine, according to Timothy Preso, the Earthjustice attorney. That is no longer the case, but he worries trapping could resume in Montana.

Conservation groups first filed a petition to add wolverines to the federal Endangered Species List in 2000. In April 2016, a judge ruled the federal government had to make a decision about the wolverines’ status, but it didn’t set a deadline. The groups sued again in March 2020.

Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says threats to wolverines aren’t as significant as scientists believed in 2013, when it proposed to list wolverines as threatened. In a news release, the service said wolverine populations “remain stable.”

“In the time since our original proposal, the science on wolverine (sic) has been greatly advanced thanks to the work of state wildlife agencies and researchers in the U.S. and around the world,” Noreen Walsh, regional director for the service, said in a statement.

The service also said wolverine populations in the lower 48 states are connected and “interact on some level” with those in Canada and Alaska. Therefore, it says, wolverines in the lower 48 do not qualify as distinct populations.

Preso says that reasoning doesn’t track. He points to other species protected under the Endangered Species Act that also have northern populations, such as bald eagles, grizzly bears and grey wolves.

“I don’t think most Americans want a future in which we are fine with writing off wildlife in the lower 48 because they still exist in Alaska,” Preso said. “That’s certainly not the vision that was enacted into law in the Endangered Species Act.”

He says the pushback against listing the wolverine under the Endangered Species Act stems from the national debate over climate change. Peer-reviewed studies show that 97 percent of actively publishing scientists agree that the warming climate is extremely likely caused by human activities.

Other species won’t fare well with climate change, from Canada Lynx also losing snowy habitat to coral facing bleaching, he said. That lack of acknowledgement is contributing to a worldwide wave of biodiversity loss, Preso says, which a UN report has called “unprecedented.”

Dave Werntz with Conservation Northwest says the Trump administration is “giving up and walking away from protecting the wolverine.”

Conservation groups say wolverine populations are indeed in trouble, and will remain so decades into the future as climate change threatens these high-elevation, snowy areas. That’s why Werntz believes it’s important to protect them now.

“When you protect the wolverine, you’re literally protecting that high country ecosystem and all of the plants and animals that depend on it,” he said.

(Courtney Flatt covers environmental and natural resource issues for Northwest Public Broadcasting. She is based in Washington’s Tri-Cities.)


Charleston Gazette-Mail

New recovery plan for nearly extinct red wolves due in 28 months

By Rick Steelhammer, Staff writer, Oct. 10, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has until Feb. 28, 2023, to complete an updated recovery plan for red wolves, only nine of which are known to exist in the wild today, following an agreement signed last Friday in U.S. District Court for Eastern North Carolina.

The agreement settles a lawsuit filed last November by the Center for Biological Diversity in an effort to end “foot-dragging” by the federal agency in updating a recovery plan for the red wolf, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

The red wolf once could be found from southeast Texas to southern Illinois, as far north as central Pennsylvania, and as far east as the coastal prairies of Virginia and North Carolina and southward to Florida.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the red wolf’s range once included all of West Virginia.

By the early 20th Century, the red wolf population had been decimated by habitat loss and hunting and trapping to collect bounties designed to reduce preying on farm animals.

By the 1960s, the range of the red wolf was limited to small populations along the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana.

A few years after the red wolf was listed as an endangered species in 1973, only 17 were known to be living in the wild, according to the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York.

That remnant population was captured and became the core of a captive breeding project.

In 1980, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the red wolf to be extinct in the wild, but within seven years, enough young wolves had been reared in captivity to re-introduce a portion of them into a segment of the species’ former range in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeast North Carolina.

By 2006, the number of red wolves living in the wild in North Carolina had risen to 130, but has steadily declined since then.

According to the Wolf Conservation Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stopped releasing young red wolves born in captivity into the wild, and failed to expand the number of release sites on public land.

The agency also allowed landowners to kill red wolves straying off the refuge and onto their property, and dropped a program that reduced the number of coyotes to prevent hybridization from harming the gene pool.

No red wolves have been born in the wild during the past two years.

Last October, the Center for Biological Diversity issued a report identifying 20,000 acres of federally managed lands in six states within the red wolf’s former range that could provide habitat for 500 breeding pairs of red wolves.

Included in that report were West Virginia’s 919,000-acre Monongahela National Forest and 124,000 acres of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests that spill into West Virginia from Virginia.

Last November, the Center sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to update a red wolf recovery plan, which the agency, following earlier litigation, had committed to completing by the end of 2018. The current recovery plan dates back to 1990.

The Oct. 2 agreement, signed by U.S. District Judge Terrance Boyle, is the result of the 2019 lawsuit.

“Time is running out to save red wolves and government foot-dragging has only made the problem worse,” Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement announcing the agreement. “It’s frustrating that we’ve had to sue time and again to get action. Hopefully, this win finally gets these vulnerable wolves the help they need.”

Red wolves are smaller than gray wolves, which also once roamed the hills of West Virginia, and larger than coyotes, which moved into the state in the latter decades of the 1900s.

Red wolves are named for the reddish-brown hair found behind their ears and on the backs of their legs, but for the most part, their coats are buff or brown, with black streaks on their backs.

The last wild wolf known to exist in West Virginia — a gray wolf — was killed in 1897 in Webster County.


New York Times

Prince William Announces New Prize Aimed at ‘Repairing’ the Planet

By Elian Peltier, Oct. 8, 2020

LONDON — Prince William on Thursday announced the establishment of an environmental prize worth 50 million pounds, or $65 million, that will reward climate change solutions over the next 10 years, saying it was an effort to “turn the current pessimism surrounding environmental issues into optimism.”

Sir David Attenborough, the naturalist behind dozens of documentaries chronicling the planet’s biodiversity, has joined a council overseeing the prize and helped promote its launch through promotional videos and joint interviews with Prince William.

Prince William said the “Earthshot Prize” was inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s launch in 1961 of a decade-long research program, “Moonshot,” to send the first person to the moon.

It will comprise five awards of £1 million each for each of the next 10 years, centered on “earthshots,” or goals — fixing the climate, cleaning the air, protecting and restoring nature, reviving oceans, and tackling waste.

“We have to have a decade of change, a decade of repairing the planet so we can hand it on to the next generation and future generations,” Prince William said, adding that he didn’t want to “let down” his children by not acting.

“They don’t want to inherit a world that is full of doom and gloom,” he said.

The prize joins a long list of distinctions aimed at rewarding initiatives to tackle climate change. Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, promised to donate $500 million last year to close every coal-fired power plant in the United States.

Prince William launched the prize through the Royal Foundation, which supports charitable initiatives engaged in by him and his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. It will be supported by a network of donors that include the Aga Khan Development Network, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Jack Ma Foundation, among others.

The Royal Foundation declined to offer additional information on the amount offered by each donor funding the prize, and did not say whether the British royal family would be donating any of its own money to the award.

In addition to Mr. Attenborough, other high-profile figures have also joined the prize council, including Christiana Figueres, the former United Nations climate chief, the actress Cate Blanchett, the Brazilian soccer star Dani Alves and the Colombian singer Shakira.

The prize comes amid growing concerns over climate change worldwide. Droughts have intensified in regions like the Middle East and Africa, and many areas keep registering their hottest months on record — September was just the latest example.

Wildfires and heat waves are expected to increase, and rising sea levels are set to affect hundreds of millions across the world as experts predict that by 2050, the Arctic’s ice could melt entirely in the summer.

Scientists have also predicted that global warming could trigger the greatest wave of global migration the world has seen, and warned that it might be too late to reverse the course of climate change.

Prince William said that although the planet was at a tipping point, he hoped that the prize would encourage innovators to find solutions quickly.

“If we don’t get our act together in the next 10 years, by 2030, it’s too late,” he said. In an interview with the BBC announcing the launch of the prize, Prince William said it was time for him to campaign for the environment the way his father, Prince Charles, has long done.

“I’ve always listened to and learned and believed in what he was saying,” Prince William said about his father’s longstanding commitment to environmental causes such as organic farming and finding alternatives to plastics.

The inaugural recipients of the prize will be announced next year in London, and could include individuals or groups of people, businesses, cities and countries, the Royal Foundation said.

Mr. Attenborough told the BBC that he hoped that there would be many applications for the prize, even those with “crackpot ideas.” In a tweet, he called it “the most prestigious environment prize in history.”

In a similar spirit to the “Moonshot” program, Prince William said the prize would reward “simple but ambitious goals for our planet which, if achieved by 2030, will improve life for us all, for generations to come.”

Experts say that tackling climate change requires changing people’s behaviors, and most important, galvanizing political will.

“We found over £190 billion worth to fix and help the recovery through Covid,” Prince William told the BBC about the British government’s spending on the pandemic, as he announced the creation of the prize. “We can do the same for the environment. It really isn’t that difficult.”


E & E News

FWS pulls wolverine protection proposal

Michael Doyle, E&E News reporter, October 8, 2020

The Fish and Wildlife Service today clawed back a high-profile proposal to list the North American wolverine under the Endangered Species Act, reigniting a fight that’s previously entangled climate science and politics.

The withdrawal marks the second time the agency has sought to retract a 2013 proposal to protect the snow-loving mammal, and comes following additional studies that officials say shed new light on the wolverine’s present condition and future prospects.

“In the time since our original proposal, the science on [the] wolverine has been greatly advanced thanks to the work of state wildlife agencies and researchers in the U.S. and around the world,” Noreen Walsh, Mountain-Prairie regional director for FWS, said in a statement.

FWS noted that “the most significant stressor” on the species apparently remains “the effects of climate change, such as warming temperatures and loss of snowpack.”

But since the initial listing proposal seven years ago, FWS states in a new species status assessment, more refined snow modeling and new field research have “improved our understanding” of wolverine biology and the species’ needs.

Jodi Bush, Montana project leader with FWS, added in an interview that the agency “decided to go back and start from square one” to evaluate the species and the potential future it faces. As a result, she said, “we know more” about factors that include genetics, climate impact and the animal’s denning behavior.

“In particular, wolverine populations and wolverine dens have been observed outside previously modeled projections of spring snow cover,” the new status assessment states.

In an interview, FWS biologist Justin Shoemaker elaborated that precise wolverine population details are elusive but that “they are starting to occupy parts of their range that they haven’t been in in decades, if not longer.”

Environmentalists, though, insist the species requires protection, and they can mobilize. More than 120,000 public comments rained down on FWS during its prior wolverine go-around.

“Recent scientific information makes clear that wolverines face threats from destruction of their snowy habitat due to climate change,” said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso. “We intend to take action to make sure that the administration’s disregard of the real impacts of climate change does not doom the wolverine to extinction in the Lower 48 states.”

‘Immense political pressure’

The wolverine is the largest terrestrial member of the family that also includes weasels and minks, and, in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s words, it “resembles a small bear with a bushy tail.”

In 1994, the Predator Project and Biodiversity Legal Foundation filed the first petition to list the wolverine in the contiguous United States under the Endangered Species Act. It failed, but other petitions followed, as did litigation.

FWS proposed listing the wolverine in 2013, citing climate change models that forecast big reductions in the species’ mountainous, snowy habitat.

Five of seven peer reviewers supported the agency’s conclusions, while two were skeptical. A nine-person independent panel subsequently recommended the species be listed because of the predicted long-term habitat loss.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s leadership rejected the recommendations and withdrew the proposal in 2014, noting uncertainties “about the degree to which we can reliably predict impacts to wolverine populations from climate change.”

In 2016, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana ordered FWS to take another look at listing the wolverine as a threatened species (Greenwire, April 5, 2016).

“The wolverine’s sensitivity to climate change, in general, cannot really be questioned. In fact, many believe, similar to the polar bear, that the wolverine may serve as a land-based indicator of global warming,” U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen wrote.

Christensen added that a “possible answer” to why FWS reversed itself “can be found in the immense political pressure that was brought to bear on this issue, particularly by a handful of western states” that included Utah, Idaho and Wyoming.

“The listing decision in this case involves climate science, and climate science evokes strong reactions,” Christensen wrote.

Bush, the Montana project leader with FWS, said yesterday that “there has not been any political pressure on this” and that the “recommendation came up from the field and was not political.”

Earlier this year, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and more than a half-dozen other groups again sued to compel a final FWS decision.


The Korea Bizwire

Korea to Build New Facility for Endangered Species

Posted on October 8, 2020 by Korea Bizwire

The National Institute of Ecology announced Wednesday that an animal protection facility governed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will be built in Seocheon County, South Chungcheong Province next April.

CITES sets global standards to restrict international trade of endangered species in order to protect them.

The new facility has been designed based on the three basic principles of ensuring comfortable space for the animals, utilizing renewable energy, and creating a viewing environment without obstacles.

The new facility will accommodate up to 1,000 animals, including desert foxes, tamarin monkeys, and others confiscated from illegal trade.

The facility will accept animals based on proper quarantine measures. Animals whose protection has expired will be sent to proper agencies for adoption.


The Post & Courier (Charleston, SC)

Eastern black rail gets federal protection under Endangered Species Act

By Tony Bartelme, Oct. 7, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday it will list the eastern black rail as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act, a move that gives the elusive bird new protections in South Carolina and other states where populations have declined or disappeared altogether.

Nicknamed the “feathered mouse,” the eastern black rail is one of the most secretive birds in North America, well-camouflaged with its black-and-brown plumage and tiny red eyes. Ardent birders covet chances to see one or hear its distinctive kickee-doo! The agency’s move, delayed for nearly a year, came in the wake of The Post and Courier’s special report last month, Ghost Bird, which detailed the bird’s plight.

But black rails are in deep trouble. They live on slivers of habitat along the East Coast, often hiding in dense marsh grass. As developers destroyed wetlands and rising seas gobbled even more, black rails declined by 75 percent in the past 10 to 20 years, the Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement announcing its decision.

South Carolina has emerged as an important last bastion, especially areas in the ACE Basin and Santee Delta. Old rice fields, including many in state and federal wildlife refuges, are somewhat protected from rising seas.

Biologists with state Department of Natural Resources have done groundbreaking research in these areas — work that played a major part in the federal government’s decision this week.

State officials were encouraged to see the listing of this “critically imperiled species,” said Emily Cope, deputy director of DNR’s wildlife and freshwater fisheries division. She said the listing will help the public grow more aware of the bird’s vulnerable status and “increase the likelihood of its recovery.”

Christy Hand, a DNR biologist and black rail expert, said the federal listing could help fund long-term projects to save the bird. “Much of the habitat they rely on has disappeared,” she said. The federal listing could open doors to more grants and other money to manage areas for black rails and other rare birds.

The federal government’s decision is “a game changer” and “call to action for our society to rally around this species and turn the tide,” added Bryan Watts, director of The Center for Conservation Biology, a group in Virginia that has long pushed for protections. “Black rails do not suffer alone from sea-level rise. There are other species on that bus, but hopefully they can serve as an umbrella species for other marsh-nesting birds. It is a great acknowledgment of the situation. Now the work begins.”

The fight to save the black rail has been a long one. It began more than a decade ago when conservationists demanded that the federal government study the black rail’s decline.

In late 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the bird as “threatened” instead of the stronger “endangered” level. This was so even though the bird had vanished from many parts of its range.

Scientists estimate that only 700 to 1,600 live along the Atlantic Coast, and 1,300 more on the Texas coast.

Christy Hand, a biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, has made important discoveries about the elusive black rail by stationing cameras in secret spots in the marsh. Tony Bartelme/Staff

The agency had one year to finalize its decision, but that deadline passed without any action. In March, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit demanding the agency follow its own rules. A trial was scheduled in November.

On Wednesday, the agency declined to answer why it missed the deadline and decided to list the bird now, saying only, “We prioritize the most at-risk species.”

In the Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, the group noted that black rails weren’t the only species waiting for protection; the suit alleges the agency had a backlog of more than 500 other decisions.

Meantime, the Trump administration in August weakened the way it enforces the Endangered Species Act, changing language that makes it easier to ignore threats from the accelerating forces of climate change, such as rising sea levels.

Stephanie Kurose, a policy specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the birds should have been deemed “endangered,” not just threatened.

“After a decade of being ignored, these shy, fascinating birds are finally getting some much-needed protections,” she said. But the federal government’s weaker designation was “a big blow to these little creatures,” especially when it comes to setting aside land specifically for rare birds, such as the black rail. “The failure to designate critical habitat gives developers and polluters a free pass to continue destroying rail habitat until there’s nothing left.”


Intermountain Farm & Ranch

Suit seeks to force listing of bistate grouse on NV-CA line

By SCOTT SONNER, Associated Press, Oct. 6, 2020

RENO, Nev. — Citing the government’s repeated reversals and refusals to protect a cousin of the greater sage grouse the last two decades, conservationists are suing again to try to force the federal listing of the bi-state sage grouse along the California-Nevada line.

The Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco last week against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It’s the latest move in a legal and regulatory battle that dates to the first petition to list the bird in 2001 under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“The service is utterly failing in its duty to preserve and protect sage grouse,” said Laura Cunningham, California director of the Western Watersheds Project.

“Without the legal protection of the Endangered Species Act, multiple threats will push these beautiful grouse to extinction,” said Lisa Belenky, a lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The hen-sized bird is similar to but separate from the greater sage grouse, which lives in a dozen Western states and is at the center of a dispute over the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back protections adopted under President Barack Obama. Threats to the survival of both include urbanization, livestock grazing and wildfires.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the bi-state grouse population is half what it was 150 years ago along the eastern front of the Sierra Nevada. Fewer than 3,500 are believed to remain across 7,000 square miles of mostly high desert sagebrush stretching from Carson City to Yosemite National Park.

Service officials are reviewing the lawsuit but had no immediate comment, the agency said.

Recent efforts to protect the birds have included installation of flagging on barbed-wire fencing and vegetation-removal projects, but have failed to stem their decline, the lawsuit said. Scientists estimate occupied habitat has decreased by more than 200 square miles (518 square km) over the past 11 years.

“The surviving bi-state sage grouse subpopulations are tiny, isolated and face imminent threats. There is no credible excuse for denying them the protections of the Endangered Species Act,” said Taylor Jones, an endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected listing petitions in 2001 and 2005. Facing a series of lawsuits, it formally proposed threatened status for the first time in 2013 — along with the designation of nearly 3,000 square miles of critical habitat to be protected — but abandoned that proposal two years later.

The conservation groups sued again in 2016. A federal judge ruled in their favor in 2018 and ordered the agency to again re-evaluate the bird’s status. The judge said the service’s reliance on new population modeling contradicted its own admission that the results had to be interpreted “with caution.”

In April of 2019, the service announced the court-required reinstatement of the 2013 proposed listing rule before formally withdrawing the proposal in March.

The agency said its latest review indicated the bird’s status has improved, thanks in large part to voluntary protection measures adopted by state agencies, local ranchers and other interested third parties.

The new lawsuit says that decision was made “in the face of overwhelming evidence of the dire condition” of the species.

It says the acreage of habitat that were treated to improve conditions for grouse — or kept the same through application of conservation easements that limit future habitat destruction — affected only 6% of the 2,921 square miles USFWS proposed to designate as critical habitat in 2013.


Capital Press (Salem, OR)

Oregon to proceed with ‘habitat conservation plan’ process


Oregon forest regulators have unanimously rejected the timber industry’s arguments against moving forward with a “habitat conservation plan” for several protected species on state forestlands.

On Oct. 6, the Oregon Board of Forestry voted in favor of proceeding with an environmental analysis of the plan, which timber advocates wanted to prevent due to fears of reduced logging and harm to rural economies.

The habitat conservation plan, or HCP, would aim to mitigate harm to 16 species that are listed under the Endangered Species Act or could gain federal protection.

However, the plan would absolve the Oregon Department of Forestry, which manages the forestlands, from liability for “incidental take” — the killing of protected species or destruction of their habitat.

Currently, ODF manages the affected 640,000 acres to avoid incidental take, which the HCP anticipates will be tougher to do in the future.

Representatives of the timber industry and rural communities argue the plan is too restrictive compared to similar HCPs on private and public property elsewhere in the Northwest.

“Do I care about endangered species? Yes, but there is already so much ground set aside for that now,” said Mike Pihl, a logger from Vernonia and president of the Timber Unity group, which advocates on behalf of rural communities.

Much of Oregon’s forestland is under federal ownership and effectively cannot be logged, while the state also has extensive regulations for harvesting timber on state and private lands, he said.

“We already have tons of protection in place,” Pihl said.

The plan ignores the economic and social needs of rural communities while taking a hands-off approach to management that has led to fire danger and other problems on federal property, said Rex Storm, lobbyist for the Association of Oregon Loggers.

“This HCP would repeat the failures of federal forest management, which are unacceptable to us,” Storm said.

Under the ODF’s interpretation, logging would initially decline under the HCP but the plan would eventually result in a larger volume of timber harvest over 75 years compared to the current “take avoidance strategies.”

The agency claims the HCP will provide “increased certainty” compared to other forest management methods, which will also likely result in reduced logging as more species are listed and more acreage must be protected.

The Oregon Forest & Industries Council, which represents the timber industry, counters that the HCP sets aside too much forestland for conservation without taking into account the adverse impacts to the threatened spotted owl from the more aggressive barred owl.

The organization also worries that ODF’s data models and logging projections are flawed, which will result in greater-than-anticipated restrictions on timber harvest when the HCP is implemented.

“We have a lack of confidence in the harvest numbers,” said Seth Barnes, OFIC’s forest policy director.

Representatives of state and federal agencies, which have been developing the HCP since 2017, testified in support of conducting a federally required environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Only after that NEPA evaluation is complete in mid-2022 will the Board of Forestry decide whether to implement the plan.

The HCP will reconcile competing demands for wildlife habitat, clean water, timber revenues and other public values, said Paul Henson, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s state supervisor for Oregon.

The plan “does the most benefit for the greatest group of folks,” he said.

Members of the Board of Forestry ultimately agreed with proponents of the HCP, voting 6-0 to proceed with the NEPA analysis at the conclusion of the Oct. 6 online hearing.

The environmental analysis will provide more information about the HCP and answer questions about societal impacts and other effects, said Cindy Deacon Williams, a fisheries biologist and board member.

Even so, the ODF’s evaluation of the plan has already been robust up to this point, she said. “I’ve never entered a NEPA process with this much done.”

James Kelly, a hardware entrepreneur and Grant County rancher, said he understands that timber communities are frustrated and distrustful of the plan, but the board doesn’t want to mismanage the state’s forests.

“Our job is to represent all the people of Oregon and I feel we take that quite seriously,” Kelly said.

Nils Christoffersen, executive director of the Wallowa Resources nonprofit, said that state forests are important for several types of jobs and reviving traditionally timber-dependent communities will require innovation.

“The harvest of trees is not going to solve the rural future,” he said.


RFD-TV (Nashville, TN)

Presidential candidates on the Endangered Species Act

Tuesday, October 6th 2020

President Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, each took time to respond to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s survey on agriculture issues.

Question from the American Farm Bureau Federation: Privately owned land provides habitat for the majority of our nation’s endangered and threatened species. As a result, landowners often face harsh regulatory restrictions on their ability to use the land or, worse, lawsuits or enforcement actions. Meanwhile, few species have actually been recovered under the law. It’s time to think about incentive-based programs that create a positive role for landowners in species recovery. As president, how would you fix the broken Endangered Species Act, and what role would you assign America’s landowners?

Trump: The Trump Administration worked with farmers and ranchers to improve regulations of the ESA which increased transparency and effectiveness bringing clarity to farmers, ranchers, water users, and landowners in how the law is administrated. The improved regulations among other items, deals with adding species to or removing species from the Act’s protections, designating critical habitat, and covers consultations with other federal agencies.

In the first term, the Trump Administration recovered and delisted more species under the Endangered Species Act than any other President in their first term.

The Trump Administration has also proposed a definition for the term “habitat” that would be used in the context of critical habitat designations under the ESA, which will further add clarity, and improve partnerships by improving consistency and predictability around critical habitat definitions.

The Trump Administration is committed to science-based conservation with common-sense policy designed to bring the ESA into the 21st Century, while allowing farmers and ranchers to be the most productive on their land. A Biden/Harris Administration will pursue a regulatory policy more like the state of California of fish and birds over farmers and business.

Biden: As President, I will uphold the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to ensure the protection of imperiled species and to maintain our nation’s wildlife heritage for future generations. The Act has prevented the extinction of more than 99% of the species it protects but with climate change and other challenges, continued success will require an increasing number of effective partnerships between federal agencies, the states, and private landowners. This includes voluntary agreements with landowners that provide appropriate incentives to improve habitat conditions for listed and at-risk species. I will invest in programs such as Working Lands for Wildlife within the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) at USDA that provide incentives, including regulatory certainty, for landowners to engage in voluntary restoration efforts on their lands which create or restore habitats where wildlife thrive and landowners in rural communities can prosper. The Sage Grouse Initiative, developed during the Obama-Biden Administration, is a good example of how our Administration will approach the Endangered Species Act. The Initiative created a productive partnership between the federal and state governments and ranchers to help protect key habitat and avoid the need to list the greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered under the ESA.


Fox40 TV (Sacramento)

Suit seeks to force listing of bi-state grouse on California-Nevada line

by: Associated Press, Posted: Oct. 5, 2020

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Citing the government’s repeated reversals and refusals to protect a cousin of the greater sage grouse the last two decades, conservationists are suing again to try to force the federal listing of the bi-state sage grouse along the California-Nevada line.

The Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco last week against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It’s the latest move in a legal and regulatory battle that dates to the first petition to list the bird in 2001 under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“The service is utterly failing in its duty to preserve and protect sage grouse,” said Laura Cunningham, California director of the Western Watersheds Project.

“Without the legal protection of the Endangered Species Act, multiple threats will push these beautiful grouse to extinction,” said Lisa Belenky, a lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The hen-sized bird is similar to but separate from the greater sage grouse, which lives in a dozen Western states and is at the center of a dispute over the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back protections adopted under President Barack Obama. Threats to the survival of both include urbanization, livestock grazing and wildfires.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the bi-state grouse population is half what it was 150 years ago along the eastern front of the Sierra Nevada. Fewer than 3,500 are believed to remain across 7,000 square miles (18,129 square kilometers) of mostly high desert sagebrush stretching from Carson City to Yosemite National Park.

Service officials are reviewing the lawsuit but had no immediate comment, the agency said.

Recent efforts to protect the birds have included the installation of flagging on barbed-wire fencing and vegetation-removal projects, but have failed to stem their decline, the lawsuit said. Scientists estimate occupied habitat has decreased by more than 200 square miles (518 square km) over the past 11 years.

“The surviving bi-state sage grouse subpopulations are tiny, isolated and face imminent threats. There is no credible excuse for denying them the protections of the Endangered Species Act,” said Taylor Jones, an endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected listing petitions in 2001 and 2005. Facing a series of lawsuits, it formally proposed threatened status for the first time in 2013 — along with the designation of nearly 3,000 square miles (7,769 square km) of critical habitat to be protected — but abandoned that proposal two years later.

The conservation groups sued again in 2016. A federal judge ruled in their favor in 2018 and ordered the agency to again re-evaluate the bird’s status. The judge said the service’s reliance on new population modeling contradicted its own admission that the results had to be interpreted “with caution.”

In April of 2019, the service announced the court-required reinstatement of the 2013 proposed listing rule before formally withdrawing the proposal in March.

The agency said its latest review indicated the bird’s status has improved, thanks in large part to voluntary protection measures adopted by state agencies, local ranchers and other interested third parties.

The new lawsuit says that decision was made “in the face of overwhelming evidence of the dire condition” of the species.

It says the acreage of habitat that was treated to improve conditions for grouse — or kept the same through the application of conservation easements that limit future habitat destruction — affected only 6% of the 2,921 square miles (7,565 square km) USFWS proposed to designate as critical habitat in 2013.


Sustainability Times

AI can help us save the planet’s embattled orchids

By Daniel T Cross on October 5, 2020

Orchids are among the planet’s most beloved plants, celebrated for their flamboyant beauty. Their aesthetic appeal aside, orchids also serve vital roles in horticulture and the pharmaceutical industry.

Yet for all that, as much as a third of the estimated 29,000 orchid species around the planet could be facing imminent threats from habitat loss as wetlands, grasslands and forests are being converted into agricultural land. Illegal harvesting is also taking a toll on rare orchids.

And often we might not even know.

The reason is that many threatened orchid species remain unlisted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in its Red List of Threatened Species, the world’s prominent database on vulnerable, threatened and endangered species of flora and fauna. Assessing the status of a rare species at risk of extinction often takes time and plenty of resources to locate, identify and document that species.

That is where a new method of automated assessment devised by biodiversity researchers from several institutions in Germany can help by speeding up the process of rigorous assessment required for inclusion in the Red List, which currently lists around 1,400 of the planet’s orchid species under various categories.

The international team led by researchers from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, Leipzig University, and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research has come up with an automated assessment approach that relies on machine-learning algorithms, or deep learning.

“Deep neural networks are widely used in other fields such as image recognition, but they can also help with conservation assessments,” explains Alexander Zizka, one of the scientists. “With our method, we can incorporate additional aspects such as climate, geographic region or traits related to the respective species — and we can do this very fast.”

The researchers managed to assess the status of nearly a half of known orchid species, or 14,000 in all, regarding their various risk of extinction in the first large-scale assessment of the conservation status of orchids. Of those more than 4,300 are possibly threatened with extinction at an accuracy rate of 84.3%, according to the researchers.

In addition, the scientists identified areas where conservation efforts are most urgently needed, which include Madagascar, East Africa, Southeast Asia, and several oceanic islands.

“Ideally, all orchid species would have IUCN Red List assessments. This way, the ones most urgently in need of conservation efforts most urgently are identified, which is the critical first step in conservation,” says Pati Vitt, an expert on orchids at Northwestern University in Evanston in the United States.

A sense of urgency about the classification of all the world’s orchids according to their conservation status is warranted as two-thirds of plant species worldwide are threatened with extinction, according to the latest State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020 report by the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in the United Kingdom.

“Deforestation rates have soared as we have cleared land to feed ever-more people, global emissions are disrupting the climate system, new pathogens threaten our crops and our health, illegal trade has eradicated entire plant populations, and non-native species are outcompeting local floras,” the report warns.


The Daily Chronicle (Centralia, WA)

Orca-Focused Whale Watching Rules Taking Shape 

By Kimberly Cauvel / Skagit Valley Herald, Oct. 4, 2020

Between the announcements of two new Southern Resident orca calves in the Salish Sea during September, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife released a document examining options for licensing commercial whale-watching companies.

The state agency on Sept. 23 published a draft Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, outlining options for licensing, which is aimed at better protecting the endangered orca whales.

Licensing will be a new kind of oversight for the whale-watching industry, which includes boats of various sizes that take customers onto the Salish Sea to see iconic wildlife including orca, gray and humpback whales. The state Legislature directed Fish and Wildlife in spring 2019 to establish a licensing program as part of an effort to prevent extinction of the Southern Resident orcas.

On the heels of the draft EIS, Fish and Wildlife released an early draft of licensing rules on Oct. 1. The agency is taking public comment and has scheduled virtual public meetings for both documents.

“With two new orca calves born in the last month, we know people are excited and invested in helping create conditions that give these whales the best chance at survival,” Fish and Wildlife’s orca policy lead Julie Watson said in a news release.

After receiving public comment, Fish and Wildlife will produce a final EIS with a preferred alternative and present its recommendations to the Fish and Wildlife Commission in December. The commission will decide on a final rule for licensing, which is expected to take effect Feb. 1.

The Southern Resident orca population that is the focus of the licensing rules includes three family groups — called J, K and L pods — that each frequent the Salish Sea. The population was deemed endangered in 2005 but has continued to decline — from 88 when listed as protected under the Endangered Species Act to 74 now with the births of the two calves in J Pod.

The decline is thought to be caused by exposure to pollution and underwater noise from boat traffic, combined with not enough salmon to eat.

State licensing for whale watching is intended to reduce boat noise, allowing the orcas more time to rest and hunt for fish using echolocation.

“Vessels, including commercial whale-watching vessels, create noise and disturbance that can elicit behavioral disruptions such as reduced foraging behaviors, changes in swimming patterns, increased surface-active behaviors and, along with other stressors, this can threaten their viability in Washington waters,” a news release about the draft EIS states.

The EIS includes four alternatives. They range from no action to establish licensing to licensing that would limit all whale-watching operations to no more than four hours per day no more than two days per week, for up to 10 months of the year. During the remaining months of the year, the limits would apply only to Southern Resident orca viewing.

“We’re using the best available science to support the conservation of these iconic animals,” Fish and Wildlife’s Watson said in the release.

Among the rules in the draft released Wednesday is a requirement of annual licensing for any company offering whale watching by motorized boat, sailboat or kayak, including an annual training for all boat operators.

Whale-watching boats would have to stay more than a half-mile from Southern Resident orcas nine months of the year — October through June. During the remaining months, the more than half-mile distance must be maintained except for four hours of the day, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 to 5 p.m.

No more than three motorized whale-watching boats could be in the vicinity of a Southern Resident at the same time, according to the draft rules, which also outline new reporting requirements and penalties.

Starting May 1, whale-watching companies would be required to maintain and submit to Fish and Wildlife information on sightings of Southern Resident orcas. By Jan. 1, 2022, whale-watching boats would need to have automatic identification systems installed allowing state and federal authorities to identify the vessel and its position, course and speed.

An economic impact study suggests the proposed rules would not harm the whale-watching industry’s viability so long as it recovers from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The most expensive part is expected to be installation of automatic identification systems, which the study concluded would cost less than 1% of the industry’s annual revenue.

As for penalties, violations of the licensing rules would come with fines between $100 and $500 per incident, according to the draft rules. The more incidents accrued per license holder and industry wide, the tighter restrictions on viewing Southern Resident orcas would become for the remainder of the month.


NNY 360 (Watertown, NY)

One of the world’s slowest animals survives two wildfires 

By MARK PRICE, Charlotte Observer, Oct. 2, 2020

Animals survive wildfires by running, so it would be safe to assume turtles don’t stand much of a chance.

Yet wildlife experts in Utah say they just discovered one particular Mojave desert tortoise that shows evidence of having survived not one, but two large wildfires.

That seems almost impossible, given the endangered species moves at about 0.2 mph, according to the National Park Service.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says staff found the tortoise while surveying wildfire damage in southern Utah.

“Not only did he survive the Turkey Farm Road fire in July (nearly 12,000 acres), but he also has old burn scars from the 2005 Mill Creek fire! (more than 14,000 acres),” the division said in a Sept. 23 Facebook post. “Take a look at the flaking layers of laminae on the … plates that cover the shell — those are old burn marks.”

Photos of the burn scars were posted, along with an image showing the tortoise is now living in a forbidding world of baked dirt and ashes.

The 2005 Mill Creek fire was particularly devastating to the species, burning 7,885 acres of known tortoise habitat and killing at least 57 tortoises, state officials report.

Mojave desert tortoises are a threatened species that weigh up to 15 pounds and can live 80 years, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They survive on a diet of grass, wildflowers and cacti, the service says.

The species is considered “one of the most elusive inhabitants of the desert,” which is probably how the tortoise survived two fires. The desert tortoise is known for “spending up to 95 percent of its life underground” to escape cold in winter and heat in summer, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Warm weather burrows are “only be a few inches from the surface,” while winter burrows may be three feet deep.

“In order for a tortoise to survive a wildfire, it must be in a stable deep burrow and, importantly, remain in the burrow until the surrounding ash cools,” Utah officials posted.

The division didn’t address how the tortoise sustained burns if it was under ground during the two fires, suggesting there is still a mystery to be solved.


Savannah Morning News

Offshore oil exploration with seismic testing halted off Georgia coast

By Mary Landers, Posted Oct. 2, 2020

Seismic testing appears to be dead in the water for now as companies involved in litigation about the controversial oil and gas exploration method said they won’t pursue it this year off the Atlantic coast, including off Georgia.

South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, One Hundred Miles and other nonprofit groups sued NOAA Fisheries over its issuance of incidental harassment authorizations, which are needed for seismic testing permits.

The authorizations are “basically permission for any company or an individual to harm or kill endangered species in the South Atlantic off the Georgia coast,” explained Alice Miller Keyes of One Hundred Miles.

Environmental groups like hers said the authorizations were too lenient and have demanded to see how NOAA Fisheries arrived at its conclusions.

But timing is running out on the authorizations anyway, as government attorneys acknowledged.

“The Incidental Harassment Authorizations that NOAA Fisheries issued on November 30, 2018 — and that are challenged in this case — will expire on or before November 30, 2020,” they wrote in a filing with the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina Charleston Division dated Sept. 29.

With less than two months until the authorizations expire and a month required to allow states to issue “consistency orders,” the companies involved told the court verbally on Thursday they did not intend to move forward on seismic testing off the Atlantic coast this year.

President Donald Trump in early September extended a ban on new offshore drilling, but that ban did not cover seismic testing. However, with drilling off the table for the foreseeable future, exploration is less viable, too.

Ten Georgia municipalities including Tybee, Thunderbolt, Savannah, Richmond Hill and Hinesville have passed resolutions opposing seismic testing and offshore drilling. Environmental groups oppose the seismic testing because of the risk it poses to marine life and also because it provides a gateway to offshore oil drilling.

“This is a huge victory not just for us but for every coastal community that loudly and persistently protested the possibility of seismic blasting,” said Catherine Wannamaker, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing the environmental groups.

“There will be no boats in the water this year, and because this resets the clock, there will be no boats in the water for a long time. And we’ll continue fighting to keep it that way.”

Seismic testing is seen as a special threat to the 400 remaining North Atlantic right whales, which gives birth off the coast of Georgia and Florida.

“Everyone’s treasured state marine mammal is the North Atlantic Right Whale, which is critically endangered,” Keyes said. “But also there’s the impact of harming other endangered species like sea turtles, and even the non-endangered species that would be harmed.

“To do seismic testing would have a waterfall impact on the whole marine system that is really set up to function in a world that does not suffer from these loud blasts of air.”


Southern Environmental Law Center

SELC flags Endangered Species Act violation in EPA rule harming clean water

October 1, 2020

Today, the Southern Environmental Law Center notified the Environmental Protection Agency that it violated the Endangered Species Act when it cut back on the rights of states and local communities under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. SELC sent the notice on behalf of South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, South Carolina Native Plant Society, Amigos Bravos, Natural Resources Defense Council, Savannah Riverkeeper, and Waterkeeper Alliance.

The EPA has adopted new Section 401 regulations that eliminate the ability of states and their residents to ensure that projects requiring federal permits and licenses do not harm local clean water and natural resources.

In many instances, local communities have requested and states have put in place conditions that protect rare species in the areas impacted by federally permitted projects. The new EPA rules would restrict the ability of states and local residents to secure those protections. Under the Endangered Species Act, the EPA was required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before making changes that would harm endangered and threatened species, to ensure those changes would not jeopardize the species’ continued existence. EPA failed to do so.

“Over decades, states and local communities have required that federal permits include requirements to protect important natural resources, including rare fish, plants, and birds,” said Senior Attorney Frank Holleman. “In eliminating the rights of states and local residents to put in place these protections, the EPA has failed in its fundamental duty to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service before taking such harmful action.”

The notice informs the EPA of the organizations’ intent to bring suit for violation of the Endangered Species Act if the EPA does not comply with the Act in 60 days.

These organizations have previously sued the EPA in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for violations of the federal Clean Water Act and Administrative Procedure Act when it adopted the new restrictive regulations under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. That suit is pending in Charleston, S.C.


The Davis Vanguard

Lifeline for Threatened and Endangered Species: Governor Newsom Signs Rodenticide Moratorium

by Debra Chase, October 1, 2020

By signing the California’s new rodenticide moratorium today, Governor Gavin Newsom has extended a lifeline to some of the state’s threatened and endangered species. The Mountain Lion Foundation celebrating the much-anticipated signing of Assembly Bill 1788, authored by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) and supported by more than two dozen animal welfare and environmental protection organizations. The bill passed the Senate and the Assembly with strong votes (23-7 and 53-17, respectively) in the waning hours of this year’s legislative session. The new law prohibits most uses of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) statewide.

“Rodenticides are deadly for California’s mountain lions and other precious wildlife across the state,” said Governor Newsom. “My father was a naturalist and a strong advocate for the preservation of mountain lions, and I grew up loving these cats and caring about their well-being. He would be proud to know that California is taking action to protect mountain lion populations and other wildlife from the toxic effects of rodenticides.”

The law puts a moratorium on the use of first- and second-generation rodenticides while the Department of Pesticide Regulation works to deliver a definitive study of the poisons’ impacts on imperiled wildlife such as mountain lions. While final study results may take years to produce, supporters say the ban buys valuable time for California mountain lions currently under consideration for threatened species designation. The California Fish and Game Commission voted in April to advance the lions’ candidacy under the state’s Endangered Species Act, citing evidence that some of the state’s regional subpopulations face possible extinction from the impact of low genetic diversity and high human-caused mortality.

“After many years of studying the impacts of these chemicals, we know that these poisons pose a serious threat to our wildlife,” said Assemblymember Bloom. “Wildlife, especially our state’s Mountain Lions, can’t wait any longer. AB 1788 is a common sense measure that curbs the use of dangerous poisons until the re-evaluation can be completed. Today, I am grateful that hard pressed mountain lions and other animals will soon be a little safer.”

The bill will permit the use of certain poisons to protect public health and specifically names rodent infestations that pose a “significant risk” to human health. It also allows their use to protect water supplies; to eliminate non-native species that have invaded offshore islands; in food warehouses, slaughterhouses, canneries, breweries and wineries; and for certain other agricultural uses.

“By signing this bill, Governor Newsom has taken a bold step to prioritize wildlife health in the face of many growing pressures like climate change, wildfires, habitat fragmentation, and vehicle collisions, to name a few,” said Mountain Lion Foundation CEO, Debra Chase. “By pulling these four highly toxic rat poisons from the hands of pest control operators, California is giving sensitive species like mountain lions a bit of a fighting chance.”

Last month, National Parks Service researchers confirmed that a mountain lion and a bobcat each died in the Santa Monica Mountains as a direct result of rodenticide poisoning. Biologists have documented the presence of anticoagulant rodenticide compounds in 26 out of 27 local mountain lions they have tested, including in a three-month-old kitten. “Every mountain lion is important to the gene pool. A mountain lion lost to rodenticides is tragic, avoidable, and meaningful,” Chase said, adding that the removal of second-generation anticoagulants from consumer use in 2014 failed to decrease the rate of wildlife poisoning, which pointed to the need to remove the poisons from commercial use as well.


Daily Freeman

New NY state law adds level of protection to endangered species 

By Paul Kirby, Sep 30, 2020

HUDSON, N.Y. — State Assemblywoman Didi Barrett says legislation signed last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo will protect the state’s wildlife even if the federal government takes certain species off its endangered list.

Didi Barrett, D-Hudson, said the new law will go a long way toward saving New York’s endangered wildlife.

“The environment is in desperate need of protection, but the federal government has moved to make it easier to remove species from the endangered species list, ignoring climate change concerns and sound science,” Barrett, who sponsored the bill (A04077) in the Assembly, said in a prepared statement. “This law protects endangered species in New York state from federal policies that would remove them from the endangered list, regardless of if the state believes that they are still in need of protection. Now those protections will stay in place until the state has conducted its own review of the species’ viability.”

Barrett represents New York’s 106th Assembly District and is running for a sixth two-year term this fall against Dean Michael, R-Clinton.

Barrett said the new law, based on research by students at Pace University, requires that any endangered and threatened species, as designated by the U.S. secretary of the interior, continue to be subject to protections in New York state regardless of federal action.

“A species would only be removed from the list if it is determined to no longer be endangered or threatened by the commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,” Barrett’s office said.

****** 18 (West Lafayette, IN)

Agency proposes protections for 2 Eastern US mussel species

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP)—September 29, 2020—Federal regulators Monday proposed listing as threatened two freshwater mussel species native to many eastern U.S. rivers and streams.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said longsolid and round hickorynut mussels have disappeared from some states and are doing poorly elsewhere. They are among roughly 300 species of freshwater mussels across the nation, two-thirds of which are in peril.

A designation of “threatened” means they’re likely to become “endangered,” or at risk of extinction, in the foreseeable future in much or all of their range.

Adding them to the federal list will raise awareness of their plight and generate resources and partnerships aimed at rescuing them, the fish and wildlife service said.

“Freshwater mussels are at the leading edge of the U.S. extinction crisis, so it’s a relief that these two important river dwellers are finally on their way to gaining the protection they need to survive,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned the agency in 2010 to protect the species and filed a lawsuit last year to enforce a decision deadline.

Freshwater mussels are important for healthy rivers and streams because they filter out pollutants and sediments as they feed.

The longsolid measures up to five inches (127 millimeters) long and can live up to 50 years in sand, gravel and cobble stream bottoms. It still is found in Alabama, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. It has disappeared from Georgia, Indiana and Illinois.

The round hickorynut is smaller, reaching three inches (76 millimeters) in length. It lives up to 15 years and prefers similar habitats in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia. It is no longer found in Georgia, Illinois or New York.

Both species have been harmed by damaged and shrinking habitat due to poor farming practices and development, along with genetic isolation and invasive species.

The service also is proposing to designate “critical habitat” for the mussels along more than 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) of river. Federal agencies would have to consult with the service before doing work or issuing permits for certain activities in those areas. Many of the remaining longsolid and round hickorynut mussels are in places occupied by other protected species.

Also planned is an economic analysis of costs arising from the critical habitat designation.

Public comments will be accepted through Nov. 28.

“With animals whose range is spread across several states, it can be hard for any single researcher or biologist to gain an understanding of the big picture,” said Leo Miranda, director of the agency’s Southeast regional office. “But that’s exactly what we did over the course of several months, developing the first comprehensive look at the status of these mussels and their plight. This laid the foundation for our decision.”

The service said it decided against listing the purple lilliput, a small mussel in the same types of waterways. Although its numbers are declining, more than 100 populations are expected to remain in six major river basins for the next 20-30 years.


Smithsonian Magazine

A Quarter of All Reptile Species, Many of Them Endangered, Are Sold Online

A new study finds 75 percent of the species sold are not regulated by any trade agreement

By James Dinneen,, September 29, 2020

Live reptiles are easy to buy online. Colombian redtail boas, Mt. Koghis Leachianus geckos, and even Southern New Guinea stream turtles, a species only known to science since 2015, can be bought with a few clicks. Some species are common; others are rare, unique to particular islands or hills. For many of these species, whether or not this mostly unregulated trade threatens their population in the wild is unknown.

A study published today in Nature Communications finds the scale of that online reptile trade is larger than previously thought, and that many reptile species are traded without protections from international regulations. After scraping the internet for data on reptiles for sale, the authors found that 3,943 reptile species—more than 35 percent of all reptile species—have been traded over the past 20 years, 2,754 of them online. “We were just overwhelmed by the sheer volume of species,” says Alice Hughes, an ecologist at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden in Yunnan, China, and an author of the study.

More than 75 percent of the species being sold are not regulated by any trade agreements. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, the main body governing international wildlife trade, currently only regulates species that have been shown to be threatened by trade to ensure trade is sustainable. New or understudied species are left out, some of which could be threatened by the trade. Some species known to be threatened or endangered are also left out, as the complex process of negotiating trade regulations lags behind the science. “We didn’t expect it to be quite so easy to find so many endangered species that are openly available and legally available,” says Hughes.

To expand protection for these species, the authors suggest wildlife regulations be rewritten to require proof that a species can be traded sustainably before sale is permitted, rather than the inverse, in what they call a “precautionary approach.”

Mark Auliya, a biologist at Alexander Koenig Zoological Research Museum in Bonn, Germany, who was not affiliated with the study, said he was not at all surprised by these results. He believed the scale of the online trade was significant even if it had not been quantified in a robust way.

Of the thousands of reptile species described by science, more than 30 percent have not been assessed for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) RedList status, which is the most comprehensive global inventory of the conservation designation of species. Those assessments are used to determine if species are threatened, and if they are, what is driving their decline. Reptiles, says Hughes, have received less attention and funding than other groups of animals.

“There are huge data gaps,” says Janine Robinson, a conservation scientist at University of Kent in the U.K., who was not a part of the study. “A huge problem in terms of understanding sustainability for trade is that we just we just don’t have the information.”

In order to show how gaps in data on reptile species can lead to gaps in protections, the authors of the Nature study looked to add data from online reptile sales to data already collected on species tracked by CITES and other regulatory frameworks, like LEMIS, which regulates the wildlife trade in the United States. By combining this information they hoped to quantify the scale of the reptile trade not captured by existing datasets.

The scientists collected data from 151 reptile sites on which species have been sold over the past 20 years. The search was conducted in five different languages and did not include reptile sales that occurred on social media or on the “dark web.” Hughes says that for this reason, the thousands of species identified in the study still do not capture the entirety of the trade.

Because most reptile sites don’t report the origin of their inventories, the authors looked to CITES and LEMIS, which monitor regulated species, to map where the animals were coming from. The team identified Southeast Asia and the Amazon as hotspots for sourcing reptile species. “We found it staggering that even in the most diverse parts of the planet like the Amazon basin, about 50 percent of the species that are there are still in trade,” says Hughes.

The scientists also looked to CITES and LEMIS to understand where the animals ended up and why the animals were purchased. The United States and the European Union were the biggest buyers of reptiles. More than 80 percent of critically endangered species listed by CITES were traded for fashion purposes. About ten percent were traded live, mostly for pets. The remaining 10 percent were split between food, decorative, and medicinal uses. While many traded animals were bred in captivity, more than 90 percent of species monitored by LEMIS were sometimes captured from wild populations.

While experts do not have good estimates of the total volume of the reptile trade, or its dollar value, Hughes says CITES and LEMIS data suggest millions of animals have been traded over the past twenty years, with prices ranging from $10 or $20 for a common species, to thousands of dollars for a rare specimen.

Some of the species most at risk are newly described reptiles, which are both likely to have small populations and to be sought after for their novelty. “If you are finding a species in 2020, it’s probably going to be endemic,” says Hughes. “It’s probably going to have a small range. So we know that these species may already be critically endangered. And yet, it’s legal to trade them.”

The study found that the average time between a new species being described and it appearing for sale online was only eight years, with some species appearing for sale online less than a year after becoming known to science. According to one study cited by the authors, more than 20 newly described species had their entire wild population collected after description.

The problem is bad enough that conservation-minded taxonomists sometimes don’t list location information when they describe new species to prevent traders from seeking them out, says Shai Meiri, a zoologist at Tel Aviv University in Israel who wrote a 2016 article in the Journal of Zoology on how newly described species are likely to be vulnerable to overexploitation.

“It’s very possible that if you just go and collect specimens you’re making a real dent in the entire global population of this species,” says Meiri.

The authors of the Nature study advocate for wildlife trade regulations to adopt a precautionary approach, where species would not be allowed to be traded until trade was proven to be sustainable to CITES. They argue that this approach would protect rare, infrequently traded species better than current regulations and would protect species left vulnerable to trade by the lack of data about them.

Robinson pointed out that that approach could amount to a ban on trade for many species and might have unintended consequences. For example, a ban on a species might deprive the source country of revenue it was using to fund protections for that species, and take away a source of income for people who collect the animals. Banning trade for certain species could also push trade underground, making it more difficult to track and monitor. “It’s not always that simple. It doesn’t always make for, ‘We’ll ban the trade and then there won’t be an issue anymore’,” says Robinson.

She emphasized the need to understand impacts of regulations on the whole supply chain, from suppliers collecting from the forest for extra income to fashion industry buyers. Robinson also said there is a need for more information on all species, and what’s threatening them—whether it is international trade, habitat loss, or disease. “You can’t presume that all those species there are actually threatened by the trade, because you don’t have that information,” says Robinson. “So some of them may be. Some of them may not be.”

Hughes feels differently, arguing that a precautionary approach is justified by the urgency of the global biodiversity crisis and the lack of knowledge about how trade impacts reptiles. “We’re not against reptiles as pets,” says Hughes. “We’re just against taking them from the wild where there is no assessment of the impact.”


Center for Biological Diversity

Coastal California Sunflower Is Latest Endangered Species Act Success

Change of Status Proposed for Beach Layia, From Endangered to Threatened

EUREKA, Calif.—(Sept. 29, 2020) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to change the Endangered Species Act status of beach layia, a small sunflower that grows only in California’s coastal dunes, from endangered to threatened.

The largest populations of beach layia are found on the north coast in Humboldt County, where it grows in 15 locations — mostly around Humboldt Bay — and at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County. In the central coast there are three small populations on the Monterey peninsula, and there is a small south coast population at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County.

“The lovely beach layia has benefitted immensely from protection under the Endangered Species Act and is headed toward recovery,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Their gorgeous white, yellow and purple flowers now adorn more than 600 acres of our coastal dunes.”

Beach layia was listed as endangered in 1992 because of damage to dunes habitat from human disturbances, particularly from off-road vehicles, agricultural activities, pedestrians and development.

Since a recovery plan was developed for the species in 1998, a significant amount of suitable dune habitat has been protected as preserves and conservation areas. Threats have been reduced, especially by prevention of off-road vehicle driving in the flower’s habitat. Beach layia has responded by increasing in abundance and there are now nine robust populations of the flowers that each had more than one million plants during 2017 surveys.

But beach layia still faces threats, mostly from invasive plants which compete for growing space on open areas of sandy dunes. Invasive plants can also artificially stabilize coastal dunes, disrupting natural dune movement and processes that layia plants depends on. They’re further threatened by livestock grazing, erosion and disturbance from off-road and equestrian recreation, rapid climate change, sea-level rise and pesticide use.

“The future looks better for beach layia, but its survival isn’t secure yet,” said Miller. “There are still many threats to this flower, including from invasive species, climate change and cattle grazing. It could also benefit from reintroducing plants to former sites where it once thrived, to expand its range and resilience.”

An estimated 20% of beach layia occurrences at Point Reyes National Seashore are subject to cattle grazing, which has caused a decline in the flower’s abundance. Livestock trample layia plants and also increase the spread of weeds. The National Park Service is finalizing a plan to continue unsustainable levels of cattle grazing at Point Reyes, over the objections of conservation groups that want to end commercial cattle ranching in the national park.

“There’s no excuse for allowing any cattle grazing in habitat for beach layia and other endangered plants at Point Reyes National Seashore,” said Miller.

Beach layia occurs on the north coast in five areas in Humboldt County, with the largest populations near Humboldt Bay and the mouth of the Mattole River. One of largest populations in size and acreage is at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County. Former layia populations have been eliminated from San Francisco, Point Pinos in Pacific Grove and two locations in Humboldt County.


High Country News

Endangered pygmy rabbit population halved by fast-moving fire

Carl Segerstrom, September 28, 2020


In 2001, scientists collected the last Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits they could find in the wild — just 16 animals — and embarked on a decades-long endangered species recovery project. About the size of a grapefruit, North America’s smallest rabbit relies on intact sagebrush steppe habitat in central Washington. This genetically unique population was decimated over the course of the 20th century by development, agriculture and worsening fire seasons. Bringing them back required interbreeding with pygmy rabbits from the Great Basin of the intermountain West and an intensely managed reintroduction program. (“After nearly going extinct, Washington’s pygmy rabbits need room to grow” HCN, 5/31/19).


On September 7, roughly half of the existing population of Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits was wiped out as Washington’s Pearl Hill and Cold Springs fires, fueled by hurricane-force winds, swept over 60 linear miles in less than 24 hours. “There is little to no chance the wild rabbits could have escaped the fire due to its speed,” said Jon Gallie, who leads the rabbit recovery effort for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, in an email. But because researchers had reintroduced rabbits to three different recovery areas, the remaining populations were spared from the blaze. “We have pygmy rabbits well distributed on the landscape in two other areas, so not all is lost,” Gallie said. “We will just have to chart a now more challenging path to recovery.”


Knau Public Radio (NPR) (Flagstaff, AZ)

Arizona’s Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo To Remain Protected

A beloved cuckoo bird won’t go federally unprotected in Arizona.

By Associated Press • Sep 28, 2020

Experts are celebrating the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision to keep the western yellow-billed cuckoo under the Endangered Species Act. The Arizona Republic reports the agency ruled against a petition for its removal. The Arizona Game and Fish Department has listed the cuckoo breed as threatened since the late 1980s. In 2014, it was assigned the same designation under the federal Endangered Species Act. Opponents argue there is no difference between the western and eastern cuckoo birds. So, they are not endangered.


The Coastland Times

Feds want to relax protections for woodpecker endangered since 1970

By Janet McConnaughey, Associated Press, September 26, 2020

The red-cockaded woodpecker, a bird declared endangered in 1970 and surviving today in 11 states’ scattered longleaf pine forests – including in North Carolina, has recovered enough to relax its federal protection, officials said Friday. But not all wildlife advocates agree.

“The red-cockaded woodpecker has flourished to the point that today we can propose to downlist them from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act,” Aurelia Skipwith, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said during a news conference Friday with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue.

But Ben Prater, southeastern director for the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, said nothing released to the public so far justifies the change announced Friday at Fort Benning, Georgia, one of 13 military installations working to conserve the cardinal-sized bird.

“We’re still short of recovery goals and certainly have not seen threats be abated,” he said.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, called the bird’s recovery “a tremendous victory for the Endangered Species Act” and not the Trump administration.

“Secretary Bernhardt, who is a former lobbyist for the oil and gas industry and other special interests, has been an absolute disaster for endangered species,” Greenwald said in a news release.

Although the Fish and Wildlife Service told landowners in April there was a chance of entirely dropping all protection for the woodpeckers, it didn’t do that. Still, it is also requesting comment on future “de-listing,” according to the news release.

The bird’s recovery from the brink of extinction is a great success story, but the birds still need continued protection, said Jeff Walters of Virginia Tech, co-author of a “species status report” about the woodpeckers. He said their survival if the proposal is approved will depend on rules still to be written.

The Trump administration changed Endangered Species Act rules to end automatic continued protection when a species is moved from endangered to threatened, he noted. Now a threatened species is only protected if special rules are written to describe such requirements.

“That allows us to carefully craft and carefully tailor a proposed rule that will focus our energy and resources and time we feel best to further the recovery of this one species,” Bernhardt said.

He did not go into detail. The news release said the government is proposing a rule to protect current habitat, forbidding damage to trees with woodpecker holes, harassment of the birds during breeding season and the use of insecticides near clusters.

The species status assessment will be published with the proposal in the Federal Register, triggering a 60-day period for public comment, the federal news release said.

The news conference came during a monthslong  push by President Donald Trump’s Cabinet chiefs into states where Democrat Joe Biden is making a strong play in the presidential race. Trump won Georgia by 5.1 percentage points in 2016, but some polls suggest a closer race this time, and it’s among several states where Biden is upping his campaign spending.

Once found from New Jersey to Florida, west to Texas and north to Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee, red-cockaded woodpeckers now live only in coastal states from southern Virginia to eastern Texas, and parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The federal government spent $408 million on red-cockaded woodpeckers from 1998 to 2016, making the species one of the most expensive on the endangered list.

It is the only North American woodpecker that carves living quarters inside live trees, which takes years. And because the longleaf pines it favors were logged out and replaced with faster-growing pines, the birds’ range nearly disappeared as the forests shrank from 90 million acres to about 3 million (36.4 million hectares to 1.2 million). Fire suppression in remaining forests let other trees grow too close for the birds’ comfort.

By the late 1970s, there were only 1,470 clusters — breeding pairs and young males which live nearby and help their parents care for nestlings. Fish and Wildlife experts now estimate there are nearly 7,800 clusters.

Scientists credit the recovery largely to two programs developed after 1989’s Hurricane Hugo hit South Carolina and destroyed 87 percent of the woodpeckers’ trees in what was then their second-largest colony. One program installs prefabricated woodpecker houses flush into tall pines, or drills cavities for the birds. Another moves young woodpeckers into areas where only a few adults live.

The government also credited safe harbor agreements, in which landowners can manage their land with minimal federal oversight if they agree to help a protected animal on it.

Other programs have added more than 1.3 million acres (526,000 hectares) of new longleaf pine stands in the past 10 years, the news release said. The total is now 4.7 million acres (1.9 million hectares), according to the National Resource Conservation Service.

Those new stands won’t help the birds for decades, Walters said.

“The trees have to be 60 years old before they’re good to forage on and 100 years to be good for cavities,” he said.

(Janet McConnaughey reported from New Orleans. Ellen Knickmeyer contributed from Oklahoma City.)


The Minot Daily News

ND moose ruled not endangered

BLOOMINGTON, MINN. (Sept. 26, 2020 – After a thorough review the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the U.S. population of the northwestern subspecies of moose is not a distinct species population segment and does not warrant listing under the endangered species act. The subspecies is currently found in North Dakota, Minnesota and Isle Royale National Park in Michigan.

The agency received a petition from Honor the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity to list the subspecies as a distinct population and protect it under the endangered species act in 2015. In 2016, the FWS published a finding indicating that the petition warranted further review.

Following a comprehensive analysis, the FWS determined that the northwestern subspecies of moose is stable and there is no information indicating a physical, physiological, ecological or behavioral difference between the U.S. and Canadian populations. Therefore, the agency determined that the subspecies is not a distinct species population and does not warrant ESA protection.

“Moose are the largest members of the deer family and play an integral role in human and environmental health,” said Lori Nordstrom, assistant regional director for ecological services in the FWS Great Lakes Region. “The FWS remains committed to conserving moose, and other native species, for generations to come.”

There are four subspecies of moose in North America. Moose were likely extirpated from the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan and the State of Wisconsin. Recent reintroductions in Michigan were of the eastern subspecies, which likely spread into Wisconsin. The northwestern subspecies of moose historically occurred in Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.


Seven Days (Burlington, VT)

Vermont Moves Toward Banning Endangered Animal Parts

Posted By Kevin McCallumon, Sept. 24, 2020

A ban on the sale of endangered species parts appears headed for final approval by lawmakers this week despite strong objections from those who say it unfairly renders some Vermonters’ antiques worthless.

The Senate on Thursday advanced the bill, H.99, on a vote of 25-5, virtually ensuring that it would receive final passage on Friday before heading to the governor’s desk. The House passed the bill last week.

The vote followed a vigorous debate that pitted lawmakers who want Vermont to join 11 other states with bans against senators who feel the bill is an overreach that would do little to save the species it seeks to protect.

“This bill is about supply and demand,” Sen. Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) told her colleagues. “By reducing demand for items made of endangered species parts, Vermont will play a small but significant part in helping many endangered species survive.”

Clarkson explained that there is a federal ban on the importation of illegal animal parts, but trade within certain states, including Vermont, is still legal, making those places “complicit” in the damage done by poachers.

Banning the sales would reduce the incentive to import such products and, in turn, reduce the incentive to kill endangered species in the first place, she said.

Opponents said they supported the bill’s intent but felt the ban’s impacts on the illegal trade were too speculative to justify the state blocking people from selling private property they or their families might have owned for generations.

“This bill, by government fiat, expropriates the value of antiques and other property owned by Vermonters — from heirloom chess sets to scrimshaw collections,” said Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin).

The animal parts covered by the bill include those from cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, hippopotamuses, jaguars, leopards, lions and pangolins. Parts of extinct mammoths and mastodons are also covered because conservationists say such ancient tusks are similar enough to those of modern elephants to make enforcement difficult.

“To me, that’s like outlawing baking soda because it may appear to be cocaine,” Brock quipped.

The bill does provide an exemption for some antiques, but Brock said it was so narrow that it amounted to a “draconian” law that makes most such items unsellable. The bill would not affect a person’s right to own any such products.

The law would exempt antiques from the ban, but only if they were documented to be more than 100 years old and the parts in question were “a fixed component” of the antique weighing less than 200 grams.

Other exemptions include when the parts are integrated into a firearm, knife or musical instrument, or when they are in the possession of educational or scientific institutions or government agents.

Brock wasn’t the only lawmaker concerned about the impact of the law on the value of people’s property.

Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham) said she had a friend with “a couple of magnificent pieces of ivory” that were older than 100 years but heavy — far more than the 200-gram limit. She said it concerned her that such pieces would not be able to be sold in the state.

Sen. Ann Cummings (D-Washington) said she’s been buying antiques for years in the hopes of becoming a dealer in retirement. She noted that she owns some antique umbrellas with carved handles and “a couple of African horn cups that I bought at a rummage sale in the bottom of a box.” She said it would be difficult for her to determine whether the items would fall into the antique exemption.

Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) said he worried his 1973 acoustic guitar would be unsellable because it had ivory pins fastening its 12 strings. Other senators assured him that such pins likely weighed just a few grams.

Because the law wouldn’t go into effect until January 2022, Clarkson noted that anyone who wanted to sell the valuable heirlooms could do so before then.

Some raised questions about whether the bill would somehow harm instead of help conservation efforts in Africa. Clarkson acknowledged that some conservationists in certain African countries oppose the bans because they harm trophy hunting, but she called such positions the exception.

Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex/Orleans) said he felt it smacked of “white privilege” for Vermonters to impose a ban that might affect an African person’s ability to make a living.

Clarkson turned that around and noted that the demand for such products is not coming from Africans themselves, but largely from Westerners.

“When you talk about privileged white people, who is affording to go on a trophy hunt? A privileged white person, for the most part,” she said.


CBS/CH. 2 TV (Los Angeles)

California Fish And Game Votes To Protect Western Joshua Tree As Threatened Or Endangered Species

By CBSLA Staff, September 23, 2020

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — In a unanimous 4-0 vote, the California Fish and Game Commission agreed to list the iconic western Joshua tree as a threatened or endangered species for at least a year.

The commission, which voted Tuesday, determined that the tree’s listing under the California Endangered Species Act may be warranted. The decision immediately lists the Joshua tree as a protected species and commences a one-year status review. At the end of that review, the commission will make a final decision on the Joshua tree’s status as a threatened or endangered species.

The Center for Biological Diversity had submitted a petition last year, asking the state to protect the Joshua tree, which they say is threatened by climate change, fire and habitat destruction from urban sprawl and other development in the Mojave Desert. The commission had put off the decision twice due to a huge volume of public comments for and against protecting the tree.

“This is a huge victory for these beautiful trees and their fragile desert ecosystem,” Brendan Cummings, conservation director of the Center for Biological Diversity and a Joshua Tree resident, said in a statement. “If Joshua trees are to survive the inhospitable climate we’re giving them, the first and most important thing we can do is protect their habitat.”

However, in the same meeting, the commission also agreed to authorize the developers of 15 solar energy projects that are expected to break ground within the year to kill Joshua trees. In exchange, those developers will be required pay about $10,000 for every acre of destroyed habitat into a state fund that will be used to purchase and permanently preserve Joshua tree habitat.

The Center Biological Diversity says they disagreed with the deal, but understand the commission’s decision.

“The best places to put solar panels are on rooftops, parking lots and degraded farmland, not pristine desert habitats,” Cummings said.

There are two species of Joshua trees, and Tuesday’s vote is specific to the western species. The western Joshua tree’s habitat stretches from Joshua Tree National Park to the edge of Death Valley National Park and into Nevada.


Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Challenges Federal Failure to Protect Caribbean Lizards as Endangered

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

PETERSBURG, Fla. (September 23, 2020)— The Center for Biological Diversity sued Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to protect eight rare species of skink, a type of lizard, under the Endangered Species Act. 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.

“Wildlife officials simply can’t put off endangered species protections for these rare and vulnerable lizards any longer,” said Elise Bennett, a Center attorney. “Skinks have been driven from their limited habitat by rampant development and human-introduced predators until many can no longer be found. Waiting much longer to protect these rare little animals would mean ratifying their extinction.”

The Center petitioned to protect the skinks in 2014 with Dr. Renata Platenberg, an ecologist specializing in Caribbean reptiles. In 2016 the Fish and Wildlife Service found the eight species might warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, but the agency subsequently failed to make a determination within the required 12-month period. It has been more than five years since the agency missed this key deadline.

The skinks are threatened by habitat destruction, human-introduced predators like rats and mongooses, climate change and resulting sea-level rise and extreme storm events.

“These skinks are pretty special,” said Dr. Renata Platenberg. “They’re long and cylindrical with a metallic copper sheen, very different from the other lizards around them. They urgently need protection and recovery efforts to ensure they are still around even 10 years from now.”

Two of the skinks, the lesser Virgin Islands skink and Virgin Islands bronze skink, as well as the endangered Virgin Islands tree boa, are believed to occur on Great St. James, which Jeffrey Epstein purchased 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. Since Epstein’s death the fate of the island and the endangered animals is uncertain.

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.

In addition to habitat destruction and 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.


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.

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).


The Guardian

380 whales dead in worst mass stranding in Australia’s history

More than 450 long-finned pilot whales became stranded in harbour in Tasmania with rescuers managing to save about 50

Graham Readfearn, Wed 23 Sep 2020

About 380 pilot whales were confirmed dead in Tasmania’s west on Wednesday afternoon with rescuers fighting to save the remaining 30 that are still alive.

More than 450 long-finned pilot whales were caught on sandbanks and beaches inside Macquarie Harbour, with a rescue effort starting on Tuesday morning.

Some 50 whales have been rescued and coaxed back to the open ocean.

Rescuers were focused on 270 whales stranded near the town of Strahan, but on Wednesday morning a further 200 whales about 10km away in the same harbour were discovered from a helicopter. Officials later confirmed all had died.

The stranding is likely one of the largest on record globally and is the worst in Australia’s history.

Nic Deka, the coordinator of the rescue from Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service, said they were fighting to save the remaining 30 whales but focus was now turning to retrieval and disposal of the dead whales.

“We will try and rescue as many of the remaining live animals as we can.”

Dr Kris Carlyon, a marine conservation program wildlife biologist, said on Wednesday that the addition of 200 whales made this current stranding the largest in Tasmania’s history.

Records show some 294 whales, also long-finned pilots, stranded at Stanley on Tasmania’s north-west in 1935.

About 60 rescuers led by the Tasmanian government’s Marine Conservation Program entered the second day of the rescue on Wednesday focused on an area called Fraser Flats.

About 25 whales were lifted off sandbanks and pulled by boat to open waters on Tuesday, but two had returned to the main stranded pod. A further 25 were rescued on Wednesday.

Deka said the new group of 200 dead whales were in two bays between 7km to 10km south of the main rescue site.

They appear to have gone undetected and likely entered the harbour about the same time as the others. The harbour is about 35km long and about 8km wide.

Deka said: “From the air, most appear to be dead.”

Asked why they hadn’t been seen before, he said: “The water is a very dark tanin colour and maybe they stranded and then washed back in to the bay. From the air they did not look to be in any condition for rescue.”

He said even if those 200 whales had been seen late Monday when the group to the north was discovered, it was unlikely that it would have changed their strategy.

When the first 270 whales were discovered, about 90 were estimated to be already dead. “We would still have focused our efforts on Fraser Flats because they are the ones with the best chance of survival.”

On Tuesday, Deka told Guardian Australia that two methods were being considered. Burying the whales in a landfill was one, or towing them out into open water and using ocean currents to keep them offshore was another.

“We do know we can’t leave them in the harbour because they will present a range of issues. We are committed to retrieving and disposing.”

About 40 government staff and 20 volunteers, mostly from the harbour’s fish farming industry, are in chest-deep in water and manoeuvring large webbing under the whales and lifting them off the sand.

About 17 surf lifesavers with six inflatables and a jet rescue boat joined the efforts throughout Tuesday.

Tags are attached to the rescued whales to monitor them. Pilot whales are very social and need to be taken far enough away from the main group that they don’t turn around and go back.

Deka said it was disappointing that two whales saved on Tuesday had returned to the stranding site, “but the majority of the whales [we saved] are still out in deep water and are still swimming. We have been more successful than not.”

Carlyon said: “There’s nothing to indicate that this [stranding] is human caused. This is a natural event and we know strandings have occurred before and we know that from the fossil record.

“As far as being able to prevent this occurring, there’s little we can do.”

Even though Carlyon said the event was natural, there was a public expectation that the survivors should be helped.

Euthanising some animals was an option, he said, but it was not a simple practice and at this stage it was not being considered.

“We think we have a chance with the animals that are still alive.”

Dr Karen Stockin, an associate professor at Massey University in New Zealand, is an expert on whale and dolphin strandings globally and is on an International Whaling Commission expert panel on the issue.

She said the Macquarie Harbour stranding was likely Australia’s largest ever.

“It’s fair to say this will probably rank third or fourth globally [in terms of the numbers of stranded animals].”

Long-finned pilot whales, which can live for up to 40 years, were notorious for large strandings, Stockin said, because of the way they stick together in tight social structures.

“Some will remain within their pods their entire lifetime,” she said.

In a statement sent to the Guardian, Australia’s environment minister, Sussan Ley, said: “It is heartbreaking to see these stranded whales in Tassie. I want to thank the hard working rescuers and all the amazing volunteers on the ground.”

She said the Tasmanian government was leading the rescue, but the federal government had also offered support.



Uncovering An Iconic Shark’s Secrets

Melissa Cristina Márquez, September 22, 2020

Hammerhead sharks are one of the easily identified sharks due to their oddly shaped heads. While it is astonishing to know there is one species in our oceans that looks so abnormal, there actually exist ten different hammerhead species! Many of these are severely overfished worldwide for their fins scientific data has been scarce – until now.

Thanks to a research team at Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Research Center and Guy Harvey Research Institute, the group is determining the migration patterns of smooth hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna zygaena) in the western Atlantic Ocean. A highly mobile species found worldwide in temperate and tropical waters, these active predators have been largely observed in shallow waters of up to 65 feet (20 meters) deep, but have been spotted even deep (up to 656 ft/200 m). A large species, they usually measure up to 11.5 ft (3.5 m) but have a maximum length of 14 ft (4.3 m). This particular hammerhead species is one of the least understood because of the difficulty in reliably finding them to allow for scientific study.

In collaboration with other institutions, the scientists attached satellite tags to juvenile smooth hammerhead sharks off the USA Mid-Atlantic coast and tracked them for a little over a year (up to 15 months). “Getting long-term tracks was instrumental in identifying not only clear seasonal travel patterns, but importantly, also the times and areas where the sharks were resident in between their migrations,” said Ryan Logan, Ph.D. student at NSU’s GHRI and SOSF SRC, and first author of the newly published research. “This study provides the first high resolution, long term view of the movement behaviors and habitats used by smooth hammerhead sharks – key information for targeting specific areas and times for management action to help build back this depleted species.”

The researchers were astounded to find that sharks acted like another migratory animals: birds. Like many species of birds who migrate seasonally, the tagged sharks were migrating between the coastal waters off New York in the summer and off North Carolina in the winter. But why were the sharks going to these two areas? Well, that’s where the surrounding environment comes into play- not only were there warmer surface water temperatures, but these were areas with high productivity (food-rich). “The high resolution movements data showed these focused wintering and summering habitats off North Carolina and New York, respectively, to be prime ocean ‘real estate’ for these sharks and therefore important areas to protect for the survival of these near endangered animals,” said Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., director of NSU’s GHRI and SOSF SRC, who oversaw the study.

The team is eager for two conservation targets to be met given the data they’ve received. The first is hoping that these areas of high residency for these sharks be designated as “Essential Fish Habitat.” Also known as EFH, includes coral reefs, kelp forests, bays, wetlands, rivers, areas of the deep ocean… basically any location that is necessary for fish reproduction, growth, feeding, and shelter. Congress established the EFH mandate in 1996 to improve the nation’s main fisheries law, and if these regions become EFH’s they could be subject to special limitations on fishing or development to protect such declining species.

The other conservation target? It’s all about where the hammerheads spend their time during the winter: the Mid-Atlantic Shark Area (MASA). This zone already federally closed for seven-months per year (January through July) to protect another endangered species from commercial fishermen. But this new tracking data showssmooth hammerheads arrived in December, while this zone is still open to fishing. “Extending the closure of the MASA zone by just one month, starting on December 1 each year, could reduce the fishing mortality of juvenile smooth hammerheads even more,” said Shivji.

This new study shows that tracking sharks with satellite tags not only allows researchers to figure out their migration patterns but can serve as a tool to better inform sustainable management efforts. “It’s particularly gratifying to see such basic research not only improving our understanding of animal behavior in nature but also illuminating pathways for recovery of species and populations that have been overexploited so we can try and get back to a balanced ocean ecosystem,” commented Shivji.


Two Missouri crayfish species may be listed as ‘threatened’ under Endangered Species Act

by Bryce Gray, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 21, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing two kinds of Missouri crayfish as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, as well as identifying “critical habitat” for their survival and recovery in the state’s southeast watersheds.

Both the Big Creek crayfish and the St. Francis River crayfish have seen their numbers contract since the introduction of nonnative woodland crayfish in the 1980s. While the invasive crayfish is seen as the “primary threat” to the native species, the agency said in its listing last week that they also contend with water quality issues, including those tied to the legacy of lead mining operations in their Ozark region habitat range.

Streams occupied by the lobster-like species include upstream portions of the St. Francis River, and tributaries in Washington and St. Francois counties.

The USFWS proposal would include a special rule to allow for unintentional capture of the crayfish under certain conditions. The proposed critical habitat designation would only impose new requirements in areas with federal funding, permits or approvals.

The proposal appeared Thursday in the Federal Register and is now subject to a 60-day public comment period.

Last year, Missouri granted protection to two other crayfish species that it considers endangered.


The Salem News (Danvers, MA)

Imperiled beetle loses some protections 

By Christian M. Wade, Sep 19, 2020

BOSTON — Wildlife officials say they have no plans to remove state protections for a beetle threatened by climate change, following a controversial decision by the Trump administration to strip the bug of its endangered status.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week down-listed the American burying beetle under the Endangered Species Act, citing ongoing conservation efforts in Massachusetts and eight other states as a sign the species is recovering. The beetle moves from “endangered” to “threatened” status, which loosens some of the environmental regulations around the species.

But wildlife experts say the decision was made at the behest of the petroleum industry, which has lobbied for years to remove federal protections. In states such as Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas, oil and gas industry officials have complained that production was constrained by the beetle’s protected status.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, called the change a “gift to the oil and gas industry.”

“It green-lights destruction of the beetle’s habitat and the emission of even more of the pollution that’s fueling the climate emergency threatening the beetle and people,” he said.

To be sure, a press release from the Fish and Wildlife Service announcing the changes included comments from oil and gas industry officials praising the move. Trump administration officials boasted that “no administration in history has recovered more imperiled species.”

“The down-listing of the American burying beetle clearly illustrates the value of our partnership-driven approach to conservation,” said Aurelia Skipwith, the agency’s director, in a statement. “By working with state agencies across the country, private landowners, zoos, tribes, the Department of Defense and other partners, we have helped preserve this unique and interesting species.”

The changes, at least for now, won’t affect the bug’s status in Massachusetts.

The burying beetle is still listed as “endangered” under the state’s Endangered Species Act. A spokesperson for the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife said it is “unlikely its listing status will change.”

The agency reviews the status of protected species every five years, and any formal review of the beetle’s status won’t be conducted until 2022.

The inch-long, black-and-orange beetles are referred to as “nature’s undertakers” because they bury dead mice and other animal carcasses to feed their larvae. Its lifespan lasts about a year, and it’s one of few species in which male and females both look after their offspring.

The bug, which has been on the federal endangered species list since 1989, was once widespread across the country. Experts say habitat loss, climate change and other factors have reduced its dwindling population to only nine states.

Massachusetts has a known colony of American burying beetles on Nantucket. There’s another on Block Island. Both are monitored by wildlife conservationists.

Lou Perrotti, director of conservation programs at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island, said the beetle’s existence is still precarious, even with more than two decades of efforts to protect it locally. He was among a group of scientists who fought unsuccessfully to prevent the down-listing.

“It’s truly an endangered species and the down-listing was totally unwarranted,” he said. “It was a political move, unfortunately.”

Biodiversity groups, meanwhile, are gearing up for a legal challenge to Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision.

“We’re going to challenge it, because it just doesn’t make sense,” Greenwald said. “We can’t allow the oil and gas industry to drive this beetle to extinction.”


Independent Tribune (Concord, NC)

Massive damage of rare plants probed at Nevada mine site 

By SCOTT SONNER Associated Press, September 18, 2020

RENO, Nev. (AP) — State and federal authorities are investigating the mysterious loss of a significant swath of a rare desert wildflower that’s being considered for federal protection at a contentious mine site in Nevada with some of the largest untapped lithium deposits in the world.

The Australian mining company, Ioneer Ltd., and state biologists investigating the unprecedented incident believe small mammals most likely caused the damage to thousands of plants at the only place Tiehm’s buckwheat is known to exist.

Conservationists suspect a more sinister scenario: Somebody dug them up while federal wildlife officials consider listing the plant as an endangered species.

Nevada’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service are investigating.

“While the investigation is still underway and the cause has yet to be determined, the evidence reported to us is consistent with herbivore activity,” department spokeswoman Samantha Thompson said in an email to The Associated Press.

Thompson said the agency isn’t aware of any similar instance involving Tiehm’s or related species. She said there were no reports of tool marks.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned to list the plant earlier this year, reported “mass destruction” at the site about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Reno to state and federal officials Tuesday.

It estimates as many as 17,000 plants were lost — up to 40% of the entire population.

Patrick Donnelly, the center’s Nevada director, and Naomi Fraga, director of conservation at the California Botanic Garden in Claremont, discovered and photographed the damage Sept. 13. They believe the plants were removed with small shovels or spades.

“This appears to have been a premeditated, somewhat organized, large-scale operation aimed at wiping out one of the rarest plants on Earth, one that was already in the pipeline for protection,” Donnelly said.

He wasn’t aware at the time that researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno had observed the same phenomenon Sept. 8 and reported it to the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Division of Natural Heritage.

Elizabeth Leger, a UNR biology professor leading a research effort to try to transplant the wildflower , is among those who suspect small animals caused the damage at the site of the proposed mine with a projected value of more than $1 billion.

“The impact on the plants is very alarming, no matter what the cause,” said Leger, who directs UNR’s Museum of Natural History.

Ioneer executive chairman James Calaway doubts anywhere near 17,000 plants were impacted but said it could be in the “low thousands.”

He accused the Center for Biological Diversity of spreading “outlandish, false, inflammatory and irresponsible” statements about possible human involvement.

“It was some rodents that got hungry and thirsty,” Calaway said.

“We all agree it is a tragic event. We are out there working our tails off to try to understand what happened … and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said. “It shows that CBD and Patrick Donnelly are willing to literally say anything in order to stop the development of this project.”

Fraga, a co-signer of the federal listing petition, has never heard of buckwheats “being uprooted by a freak rodent attack.”

“I find it hard to believe that two species — buckwheat and rodent — that have lived at the same site for presumably for decades, centuries or even longer have an interaction that is catastrophic for the buckwheat for the first time at a time when protection of the species and the site is under serious scrutiny,” she said.

The center is urging the government and Ioneer to take steps to protect the remaining population, including fencing the site and posting a 24-hour security guard. It wants USFWS to immediately declare the flower endangered and Nevada to adopt rules to protect it.

Skeptics of the rodent theory include Benjamin Grady, an assistant biology professor at Ripon College in Wisconsin who wrote a technical report for the USFWS on buckwheat in 2015 and heads a national association of scientists who study the genus.

Grady, president of The Erogonum Society, said Tiehm’s has been monitored since the early 1990s “and to the best of my knowledge, damage like this has never been reported.” He hasn’t seen the damage first-hand but has been to the site numerous times and studied photographs of the damage.

“I have visited hundreds of different wild buckwheat populations from Colorado to California and New Mexico to Montana and have never seen herbivore damage anywhere close to this severe,” Grady said in an email to AP. “It seems very likely that this event was a deliberate human action.”

Dan Barton, chairman of the Wildlife Department at California’s Humboldt College who has studied rodents and rare plants in similar soils for seven years, said the photographs and observations don’t “appear consistent with any rodent damage I’ve ever seen.”

Calaway believes drought conditions could have played a role.

“We’ve never seen anything like that in the five years we have been out there,” he said. He said they observed rodent activity about six weeks ago in a small patch of plants they’ve been watering in an effort to bolster the population — “but not on this scale.”

The company has spent more than $1 million on conservation efforts at the site rich with lithium needed to manufacture such things as batteries for Tesla’s electric cars. It has also entered into a multiyear research agreement with UNR scientists to study the possibility of transplanting buckwheat grown in a campus greenhouse to the wild.

Calaway said it’s too soon to know but anticipates they’ll remain on schedule to get permits begin construction by next summer.

“We are in the investigative phase of these animal attacks and trying to understand it in a thorough way,” he said. “We don’t at this time really see any reason why it would slow down or change the timeline.”


Blazes scorch habitats for endangered species in western US

The New York Times, Sep 17 2020

The fast-moving fires that swept through Western United States have wiped out critical populations of endangered species and incinerated native habitats that may take years to recover, if they recover at all.

Fire is a critical part of ecosystems in the West, and many plants and animals depend on it to thrive, but the heat and intensity of the wildfires now ravaging California, Oregon, Washington and other Western states are so destructive that wildlife in some areas may struggle to recover.

“Some of these places we set aside may be fundamentally impacted by climate change and may not be able to come back,” said Amy Windrope, deputy director of Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. “That’s just a reality.”

With millions of acres across the west blackened by fire, the effect on humans has been clear: Lives lost, tens of thousands of people forced to flee their homes, possessions and livelihoods destroyed, and state and federal fire fighting resources have been stretched beyond the limit.

Residents are even beginning to question whether the changing fire danger will make their hometowns too dangerous to inhabit. Less obvious is the long-term effects to native species.

Wildlife officials all over the West are grappling with how to respond now that the existence of habitats set aside for threatened species appear to be imperiled by megafires made worse by climate change.

“It’s important to make the connection between what’s happening now and climate change,” said Davia Palmeri, policy coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We now have to think about climate change when managing wildlife.”

Fire that raced through the sagebrush steppe country of central Washington this month destroyed several state wildlife areas, leaving little more than bare ground. The flames killed about half of the state’s endangered population of pygmy rabbits, leaving only about 50 of the palm-sized rabbits in the wild there.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” Windrope said. “We have very little sage brush habitat left for them, and it will take decades for this land to recover.”

The fires also destroyed critical breeding grounds for endangered sage grouse and sharp-tailed grouse, and officials estimate the fast-moving flames may have wiped out 30 percent to 70 percent of the birds. The survivors are left without the critical brush cover they need to raise young.

The intensity of the fires this month has not been seen in generations, said Molly Linville, whose family has ranched in Douglas County, Washington, for nearly a century. Ranchers in the area were unable to get cattle out of the way, and many died. On the range they found deer and other wildlife staggering around, severely burned.

“One neighbor girl found a porcupine who had all his quills burned off. It took the longest time to even figure out what it was,” she said. “They took it in, and I think it’s going to be OK, but the land — it’s going to take years to come back.”

In Oregon, the fires have largely raged in western pine forests, prompting different concerns. Several endangered and threatened species, including the northern spotted owl and the weasel-like pine marten, depend on the mature mountain forests that bore the brunt of the fires.

“It’s too soon to tell the impact,” Palmeri said. “Birds can fly out of harm’s way, animals can seek refuge underground, but some wildlife may return to find the old-growth forests they rely on gone.”

The impact of hundreds of thousands of acres of barren slopes may spread well beyond the fires’ reach and remain once the flames are out. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is bracing for winter rains that could wash ash and silt into local streams and affect endangered salmon.

“We’re already thinking about how we can respond to that,” Palmeri said. “It’s important we do this restoration work now to try to minimize the impact.”


The prospect of scattered rain in the Pacific Northwest raised hopes for better firefighting conditions in Washington and Oregon on Wednesday, after weeks of oppressive heat, hazardous air and unpredictable fires that have grown with terrifying speed up and down the coast.

Although the storm system was not forecast to be significant, the possibility of rain clouds in coastal regions — instead of smoke plumes and falling ash — was a lifeline for residents after weeks of increasingly grim news. More than 30 people have died in wildfires in the past two months, hundreds of homes have been destroyed and thousands of people remain in evacuation shelters.

Inland and to the south, the forecast was less encouraging. Parts of Central Oregon were expecting gusts up to 35 mph in the afternoon that could contribute to a “significant spread” of new and existing fires, the National Weather Service in Medford, Oregon, said. Up to 29 fires were active in the state Wednesday, spread over more than 843,500 acres.

And in California, there was not even temporary relief in sight, with the state fire agency saying Tuesday, “With no significant precipitation in sight, California remains dry and ripe for wildfires.” State leaders, facing not just this wildfire season, spoke about the need to face an indefinite future of fires worsened by climate change.

Firefighters themselves, with decades of experience, are telling me that they’ve never seen fires like this before because of the extreme aridity combined with wind,” Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state said at a news conference Tuesday.

As of early Wednesday, there were at least 25 major wildfires and fire complexes, the term given to multiple fires in a single geographic area, burning in California, Christine McMorrow, a Cal Fire information officer, said.

More than 2.8 million acres have either burned since Aug. 15 or are on fire now, she said.

Late Tuesday, emergency officials reported progress on some of the biggest fires around the region. The growth of the Beachie Creek fire, which has burned more than 190,000 acres east of Salem, Oregon, had slowed, and the fire was 20% contained as of Wednesday morning. The August Complex fire, which has burned almost 800,000 acres north of Sacramento, was 30 percent contained, and the 220,000-acre North Complex fire, to its east, was 18 percent contained.

Inslee said that Washington state was now in position to help its neighbors, if in a small way, by sharing some of its resources with Oregon.

“We’re confident right now that we have enough personnel and equipment to protect our communities,” he said. “It’s not a lot but it is a gesture that, again, we are all in this together.”

But he also warned residents of Western states that stepping outside exposed them to some of the worst air conditions in the world. The air, he said, was at “historically polluted levels” and “unhealthy at best and hazardous at worst, according to our state health experts.”

Physical hazards remain even in areas where the fires are no longer active, authorities also warned. In addition to damaged structures and trees at risk of collapse, hundreds of electrical poles have been burned, leaving live wires on roadways or at risk of falling on pedestrians. And countless trees and branches are now dangers to anyone nearby. In a dashboard video tweeted by the Oregon State Police, a trooper’s car can be seeing driving through the haze of a forested road when a huge tree suddenly collapses on the vehicle.


The Regulatory Review

Regulating Tiger Kings

Lila Sevener, Sep 17, 2020

A proposed federal law would tighten regulation of private possession of big cats.

Joe Exotic, the star of the widely watched documentary, “Tiger King,” reportedly owned more than 200 tigers on his compound in Oklahoma prior to being sentenced to jail for various criminal violations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that “the number of captive tigers in the United States alone likely exceeds the numbers found in the wild.”

Private possession of big cats poses risks to humans of brutal, deadly animal attacks. It also poses risks to the animals themselves who suffer from mistreatment and neglect.

Proposed bipartisan federal legislation would prohibit individuals who are not licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from possessing big cats—including lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, and cougars. It also would prohibit public contact with big cats.

The legislation would allow current owners of big cats to keep them but would require registration of each animal so that law enforcement officers are able to respond quickly to an accident. Current owners would not be allowed to breed their big cats and would be prevented from allowing public contact with their cats.

The proposed legislation, known as the Big Cat Public Safety Act and sponsored by U.S. Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), has garnered support from over 200 representatives across party lines. Quigley argues that the legislation is needed to “address a serious issue that causes immeasurable animal suffering and introduces inexcusable threats to human safety.”

Although regulation of big cats currently occurs at international, federal, and state levels, critics argue that existing laws are not stringent enough and do not accomplish the goals of keeping humans and big cats safe.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international treaty aimed at preventing international trade from harming endangered species. CITES provides a framework for nations to follow by stating that certain species of animals should not be traded unless certain circumstances apply. But CITES then leaves it to individual nations to create their own enforcement measures.

To comply with CITES, as well as other treaties, the United States enacted the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA prohibits people from “taking” endangered or threatened species, including harassing, harming, capturing, or trapping such species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classifies all tigers as endangered, one subspecies of lion as endangered, and another subspecies of lion as threatened.

In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife closed a loophole in the ESA that exempted certain “generic tigers” from otherwise prohibited activities such as “interstate commerce and export.” The ESA does not, however, restrict movement or sale of endangered species within states. By banning breeding and non-licensed possession of big cats, the Big Cat Public Safety Act could help prevent sales of big cats.

Another federal law, the Animal Welfare Act, dictates minimum standards for exotic animal exhibitors and dealers. Using its authority under the Animal Welfare Act, USDA issued rules requiring exhibitors and dealers to obtain a license and to follow certain “humane handling, shelter, space requirements, feeding, watering, sanitation, ventilation, veterinary care, and transport” standards. Critics argue that the Trump Administration is failing to conduct adequate animal welfare inspections and that enforcement cases have declined 92 percent from 2016.

Under a law passed in 2003—the Captive Wildlife Safety Act—transporters, exhibitors, and owners of big cats do face the need to comply with some federal regulations. Under this law, no big cats are allowed to be transported across state lines for any reason, including for household moves or veterinary visits, unless the mover qualifies for an exemption. Exempt entities include individuals registered under the Animal Welfare Act, “state colleges and universities, state agencies, … state-licensed veterinarians, and wildlife sanctuaries.”

The Captive Wildlife Safety Act defines sanctuaries as non-profit organizations that do not sell big cats, their parts, or products made from them, do not breed big cats, and do not allow members of the public to have direct contact with big cats. Sanctuaries must keep records of transactions involving big cats as well as allow inspections of the facilities, records, and animals.

But neither the Captive Wildlife Safety Act nor the Animal Welfare Act prohibit private possession of big cats—nor do they require licensing for private owners. The Big Cat Public Safety Act would address both of those regulatory gaps.

Without such a federal law, regulation falls to the states. According to a 2019 report, four states do not regulate possession of dangerous wild animals at all, and six states do not ban possession of big cats as pets.

This is why proponents of the proposed federal Big Cat Public Safety Act say it is needed. They argue that “captive big cats … killed 20 adults and mauled scores of others” and that private ownership of big cats causes physical and psychological harm to the animals. These proponents explain that “the current regulatory patchwork is failing to protect public safety and animal welfare,” necessitating a federal ban on big cat possession.

Opponents of the proposed legislation argue that it would curtail “existing legal business activity.” U.S. Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah) reportedly argued that “the proposal pits small, family-owned animal parks against big zoos, which would be able to keep their cats.”


New York Daily News

Migratory birds falling out of the sky dead en mass over New Mexico

Jessica Schladebeck ● September 16, 2020

A mystery is unfolding in New Mexico, where hundreds of thousands of migratory birds have dropped dead from the sky in recent weeks.

Based on photos, video and written observations from across the state, Martha Desmond, a professor at New Mexico State University’s department of fish, wildlife, and conservation ecology, speculated the death toll could be in the hundreds of thousands, “if not millions.”

She told the Las Cruces Sun News on Monday the mass die-off was “unprecedented,” noting that the ongoing incident could have been triggered by several different things. Desmond suggested drought conditions brought on by the wildfires raging nearby could be the cause while also noting the unseasonable chill and early snowfall in northern New Mexico could be a factor.

But southern parts of the state “shouldn’t be cold enough to kill birds,” she added. “Birds migrate … with cold fronts, so it’s actually these fronts that push them south, that help them move.”

In order to better understand the phenomenon, biologists from NMSU and White Sands Missile Range examined nearly 300 carcasses gathered at the range and in Doña Ana County. They will all be sent off for lab analysis, but the results will likely take weeks.

Residents meanwhile, have been asked to report any dead bird sightings in their area to an online database, and to collect the dead birds when possible so that researchers can study them more closely.


Center for Biological Diversity

Federal Protection Proposed for Two Missouri Crayfishes, Colorado Flower

DENVER—(September 16, 2020) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect a rare plant in southwestern Colorado and two crayfishes in a single watershed in Missouri as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The Service also proposed to designate 3,635 acres in Colorado as critical habitat for the Chapin Mesa milkvetch, 1,043 river miles for the St. Francis River crayfish, and 1,069 river miles for the Big Creek crayfish. (Those river miles partly overlap.) After accepting and then analyzing public comments, the Service must issue a final rule within a year.

“High-desert flowers and headwaters crayfish illustrate the amazing ways that life can flourish in every conceivable habitat,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The wealth of nature is shrinking all around us, but Endangered Species Act protection can save the milkvetch, crayfishes and many more species for future generations to be enriched by their presence.”

The Endangered Species Act has been successful in preventing extinction of more than 99% of species that are listed as endangered or threatened. Also, research shows that species with critical habitat designated for them are twice as likely to be making progress toward recovery as those without designated critical habitat.

The federal government is prohibited from taking actions, such as issuing permits, that destroy or harm critical habitat.

The proposed protection for the Chapin Mesa milkvetch resulted, at least in part, from conservation groups’ actions, which has been the usual pattern behind many listing and critical habitat decisions since the 1990s. But the Service took action for the crayfishes with no prompting from private parties and solely on the basis of its own information that the survival of both species is imperiled.

Background on the Species

Hosting creamy-white flowers on a purplish-green stem, the Chapin Mesa milkvetch survives almost exclusively in Mesa Verde National Park and the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, at around 7,000 feet in elevation. It relies on pollination by large insects, whose habitats the Service describes as important in the conservation of the milkvetch’s habitat. The milkvetch imparts a subtle color to the vegetative understory in juniper-pinon pine woodlands with reddish soils.

The Chapin Mesa milkvetch was first identified as needing protection from livestock grazing and other threats in 1975, and the Service proposed it for protection the following year — but then failed to follow through. Legal actions by WildEarth Guardians and the Center have now led to renewed federal action 45 years later.

The milkvetch is threatened by invasive plants such as cheatgrass, fire as well as fire-fighting actions, global warming-induced drought, and infrastructure development.

The Big Creek crayfish and St. Francis River crayfish live in the upper St. Francis River watershed upstream from Wapapello Dam, in southeastern Missouri. Both crayfish are one to two inches long. The St. Francis crayfish is a darker shade of brown than the Big Creek crayfish and prefers life under small rocks or shallow burrows in swiftly moving streams, while the Big Creek crayfish prefers pools and backwater areas.

Both crayfish are imperiled by the non-native woodland crayfish, which can displace the native crayfish as well as interbreed with them. The St. Francis River and Big Creek crayfishes are also threatened by heavy-metal contamination of their streams caused by mining.


The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction, CO)

Cuckoo’s threatened species status stands

By Dennis Webb, Sep 15, 2020

The western yellow-billed cuckoo will continue to receive protection under the Endangered Species Act, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finding with local implications due to a proposal to designate critical habitat for the species along local rivers.

The agency said in a news release that after reviewing “the best available science and commercial information,” it has found that the bird will remain listed as a threatened species, meaning it continues to receive Endangered Species Act protection.

It was acting on a delisting petition by the group American Stewards for Liberty, after determining in 2018 “that information provided in the petition that the bird was using additional habitat was sufficient to initiate a full review of the species’ status,” it said in the release.

But the agency decided not to delist what’s called the western distinct population segment, or DPS, of the species after considering factors, including new information on the bird’s distribution, habitat and breeding areas.

“These data indicate that the primary threats to the species identified at the time of listing, including habitat loss and fragmentation, poor water quality, and invasive species, continue to impact the yellow-billed cuckoo western DPS. Recent mining projects in central and southern Arizona are also affecting the species,” the agency said in its release.

The species travels between wintering grounds in Central and South America and breeding grounds in 12 Western U.S. states and six states in Mexico.

Earlier this year the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designating nearly 500,000 acres of critical habitat for the bird in several Western states. While it dropped a previous proposal that would have affected several rivers in Colorado, it continues to propose critical habitat on about 4,000 acres along 25 miles of the Colorado River in Mesa County, and additional critical habitat on a stretch of the North Fork of the Gunnison River between Hotchkiss and Paonia.

Mesa County commissioners have opposed the critical habitat proposal in the county. They question whether the bird frequents the area enough to warrant designating habitat, and worry about possible impacts to local agricultural operations.

Federal agencies are required to ensure actions they fund, approve or carry out aren’t likely to jeopardize endangered or threatened species or result in destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat. Private landowner activities in critical habitat that don’t involve federal action aren’t affected by the designation. Most of the proposed Mesa County acreage is owned privately or by the state, but the county is concerned that a designation could affect things such as maintenance and improvement of irrigation facilities and fuel-reduction projects to reduce wildfire risk.

“We’re grateful that this wondrous bird will continue to receive the life-saving protections of the Endangered Species Act,” Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release. “Now it’s time to designate critical habitat to ensure that when the cuckoos migrate here each summer from South America, they’ll still have places to nest and fledge their chicks.”



Another Reason National Parks are Vital for Endangered Species

It’s all about functional diversity, which is vital for ecosystems.

By Mary Jo DiLonardo, September 15, 2020

With animal habitat constantly shrinking due to development by humans and the environmental losses due to climate change, national parks offer a safe refuge for endangered and threatened species.

But a new study finds that these protected areas preserve more than just species. They save what’s known as functional diversity, the critical variation of traits within species.

For the study, researchers at Rice University analyzed more than 4,200 photos from camera traps in the protected rainforest at Braulio Carrillo National Park in Costa Rica. Researchers assessed the species diversity of what they saw.

Species diversity is the number of species found in an ecosystem.

“Functional diversity on the other hand is a measure of the variety of traits (physical or ecological characteristics) that species in an ecosystem possess,” study co-author Rice PhD student Daniel Gorczynski explains to Treehugger. “For example, body size and diet are examples of traits. If you have a group of species that has a lot of different body sizes and a lot of different diets, it will have large functional diversity, regardless of how many species there are.”

However, he points out, if you have many species but they are about the same size with similar diets, then the functional diversity will be low.

“Ecosystems often require a wide variety of traits in order to continue working properly. This is why functional diversity is so critical, because it more directly measures the ecological consequences of diversity, not just the number of species,” he says.

No Decline Despite Deforestation

The images that Gorczynski and Rice assistant professor of biosciences Lydia Beaudrot examined were taken between 2007 and 2014. They found that the diversity of traits in mammals in the park didn’t decline, despite deforestation that fragmented forests on more than half of private lands surrounding the park. No mammals went extinct during that time either.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the results. In other studies, researchers have found that some species are declining in their population sizes in this particular Costa Rican protected area, so we were expecting that we might also see some declines in functional diversity as well. However, we didn’t end up seeing evidence of that,” Gorczynski says.

“Our measurement of functional diversity stayed the same over time, and we also found some functional redundancy among the mammals. This indicates that many species also share functional traits, and the functional diversity of the community may be maintained, even if some species do go extinct in the future.”

The results of the study were published in the journal Biotropica. The species analyzed in the study included jaguar, ocelot, tapir, tayra, coati, raccoon, javelina, deer, opossum, and several rodents.

“This gives us a better idea as to how tropical ecosystems and diversity may be changing (or not) under pressure caused by human development,” Gorczynski says. “This is the first time, to our knowledge, this type of study has been conducted for large mammals in a tropical rainforest protected area.”

Although the results are promising, the researchers say that it’s hard to say if other parks are showing similar resilience and preservation of species.

“This protected area in Costa Rica is fairly close to large human settlements and has experienced a good amount of forest loss in surrounding private lands, so the fact that we don’t see obvious changes in functional diversity is a good sign,” Gorczynski says.

“But at the same time many protected areas around the world have been shown to be losing species despite their conservation status, so we might expect loss of functional diversity to be more severe in those locations as well. Basically, we need more of this type of monitoring in protected areas around the world to know for certain how mammal functional diversity is changing.”


Southern Environmental Law Center

Fish and Wildlife Service violates Endangered Species Act, threatening red wolves with extinction

(SELC announcement), September 14, 2020

On behalf of the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and Animal Welfare Institute, SELC just notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for violations of the Endangered Species Act in connection with its policies and management of the endangered red wolf in eastern North Carolina, the world’s only population of wild red wolves.

“The wild red wolf is teetering on the brink of extinction. The Fish and Wildlife Service has both the expertise and the legal duty to stop that from happening, yet it refuses to act,” says Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver, a national expert in wildlife and endangered species issues.

The wild red wolf population, which steadily grew from its inception in 1987 and consistently numbered over 100 wolves between 2002 and 2014, is now down to only nine collared wolves in the wild.

Several years ago, the agency triggered this catastrophic decline by terminating its previously successful management measures of releasing captive red wolves into the wild population and sterilizing coyotes to prevent hybridization with wild red wolves.

Now, it has adopted and bound itself to a policy actively prohibiting the release of captive red wolves into the Red Wolf Recovery Area in North Carolina based on an unfounded claim. The Service has also failed to resume adaptive management of coyotes in the recovery area.

“With no red wolf pups born in the wild for the past two years, the Service’s current policies will lead to the extinction of America’s red wolf in the wild,” says Weaver.

USFWS is violating the ESA by failing to use its authorities to further red wolf recovery and failing to ensure its actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the red wolf in the wild.

Indeed, despite having been found in violation of  the ESA in November 2018 by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, the agency has gone on to commit further ESA violations over the past two years.



A clone of the endangered Przewalski’s horse is born of DNA saved for 40 years

By Lauren M. Johnson, CNN, September 12, 2020

CNN)A cloned colt born at a Texas veterinary facility could revive the endangered Przewalski’s horse.

The colt is a clone of a male Przewalski’s horse and the first successful cloning of the species, San Diego Zoo officials said in a news release on September 4. It was born August 6 to a domestic surrogate mother.

Przewalski’s horse are known as the last wild horse, according to the National Zoo. They were originally native to Europe and Asia, but the expansion of humans and environmental changes depleted their numbers.

Scientists said that the horse was formally extinct in the wild, and has been surviving for the last 40 years primarily in zoos. Some herds have been found in Mongolia.

“This birth expands the opportunity for genetic rescue of endangered wild species,” said Ryan Phelan, executive director of Revive & Restore, a wildlife conservation organization promoting biotechnologies that’s partnering with San Diego Zoo Global and ViaGen Equine on the cloning project.

“Advanced reproductive technologies, including cloning, can save species by allowing us to restore genetic diversity that would have otherwise been lost to time.”

The DNA used for the colt was cryopreserved in 1980 at the San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG) Frozen Zoo. The cloned stallion was born in 1975 in the United Kingdom and was transferred to the US in 1978. The zoo said he lived until 1998.

“As the new clone matures and successfully breeds, he can provide a valuable infusion of genetic diversity for the Przewalski’s horse population,” the news release said.

The baby horse was named “Kurt,” in honor of Kurt Benirschke, who was instrumental in founding the Frozen Zoo and the conservation research program at San Diego Zoo Global.

Kurt will be moved to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park when he is older to be integrated into a breeding species.

“This colt is expected to be one of the most genetically important individuals of his species,” said Bob Wiese, chief life sciences officer at San Diego Zoo Global.

“We are hopeful that he will bring back genetic variation important for the future of the Przewalski’s horse population.”


SouthCoast Today

Endangered orchid rediscovered in Bristol County

September 12, 2020

After nearly two decades, a small population of the state-endangered crested fringed orchid (Platanthera cristata) was recently rediscovered in Bristol County by a botanist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife). The diminutive orchid with striking orange blooms had not been seen in Massachusetts since 2001 despite repeated survey efforts by botanists. This is currently the northernmost known crested fringed orchid population in the United States and the only population known in New England. The next closest population is located on Long Island, New York, where it is a also a state-endangered species. Due to its rarity, the location of this plant is not being disclosed. The orchid population was found on public land that is partially protected, although habitat changes, invasive species, deer browse, and climate change are still threats.

“Although I locate many rare species every year, this find took my breath away,” said Dr. Robert (Bob) Wernerehl, State Botanist for MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. “Given the condition of the site, and the knowledge that many botanists have searched fruitlessly for this rarity for years, I was not at all expecting to find it. But while forcing my way through dense shrubby thickets laden with poison ivy, I kept reminding myself to move slowly and keep looking. Glancing down, a bright orange spot in the tangle of branches caught my eye, and as I bent over the plant, I knew immediately I had found it, but thought, can this really be happening?” It was indeed the elusive orchid and he was able to locate and record eight plants. Historically there have been only four documented records of this species on this site: 1905, 1908, 1987, and 2001 with only one or two plants found each time. In another nod to history, Wernerehl observed that the rediscovery of such a rare species this particular year was fitting; 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA).

Blooming in August, the crested fringed orchid’s numerous small but showy orange blooms grow in a densely flowered spike 1–5 inches long. Flowering begins at the bottom of the spike and over time blooms open further up the stalk. A slender nectar-filled spur juts out from the back of the flower. The delicate and deeply fringed flower is pollinated by a bumblebee, but no doubt attracts hummingbirds and other pollinators. The orchids are usually found growing in the moist acidic soil of bogs, wet meadows, swamps, and depressions in pinelands habitats. In many cases, the habitats where the orchid is found are often associated with periodic fires. This rediscovered orchid population is in a shrubby wetland thicket of sweet pepperbush, swamp azalea, and poison ivy. Plants which typically grow in this habitat include rushes, irises, lilies, swamp rose-mallow, goldenrods, and marsh fern. Other plants associated with these orchids include asters, slough grass, wild cranberry, and Canada reed grass. Shrubs include viburnum, maleberry, and sheep laurel. Crested fringed orchids are found from southeastern Massachusetts south to Tennessee, central Florida, Arkansas and along the Gulf Coast to Texas.


The Humane Society

Breaking news: Washington becomes seventh U.S. state to outlaw wildlife killing contests

September 11, 2020

Washington has just outlawed wildlife killing contests—the seventh state to do so in the past six years. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 7-2 this morning to pass a rule ending these gruesome spectacles where participants kill large numbers of wild animals simply for the thrill and for cash and prizes.

The new rule prohibits contests for animals like coyotes, bobcats, crows, foxes and raccoons. That is significant as these animals typically have few protections under state laws and are the most common victims at such contests, where winners are decided based on who kills the most, or the heaviest, or even the smallest animals. In Washington, for instance, contestants killed at least 1,427 coyotes between 2013 and 2018 during events that offered prizes for killing the “smallest dog,” and awards for participants who “Can’t Shoot ‘Fer S**t.”

The ban in Washington is the latest in a string of victories against wildlife contests nationwide in recent years and it shows that both concerned citizens and wildlife management officials no longer have the stomach for these vile events. The Humane Society of the United States has been on the frontlines of this fight, turning a red-hot spotlight on the problem with undercover investigations of wildlife contests in the states of Oregon, New York, New Jersey and Maryland. Working with other organizations, wildlife advocates and our dedicated volunteers, we have helped ban such contests in Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Vermont.

Supporters try to rationalize the blood sport by claiming that by randomly killing coyotes they are protecting livestock or saving deer for hunters. But that argument is based on falsehoods. Far more cattle and sheep deaths are caused by weather, birthing problems and disease, and deer abundance is determined by the availability of good habitat. Scientists and state wildlife agencies have also stated time and again that wildlife killing contests provide no credible wildlife management service and can make problems worse by disrupting stable breeding structures, increasing conflicts and leading to an increase in the numbers of the animals who are targeted at the events.

What these contests do, however, is promote the sadistic notion that it’s fun to kill animals for a chance at prizes like cash, a champion belt buckle or an AR-15 gun. During one of our investigations in New York State earlier this year, a contestant bragged to our investigators about killing and cutting open a pregnant coyote. At a Maryland contest, also this year, children seemingly inured to the violence played among piles of dead foxes and even helped drag them to the judging area. Organizers have at times encouraged children as young as five years old to participate in the killing.

While thousands of such contests are still held around the United States, we now see a clear and positive trend among states to end them. Kudos to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for proposing the rule that passed today, and Commissioner Barbara Baker for supporting it and seeing it through to victory. The HSUS backed the rule all the way along with our allies, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Project Coyote and Wolf Haven International. Our focus will next move to other states that are considering similar measures, including New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maryland and Oregon. Rest assured we will be on the job until these gruesome wildlife killing contests are a thing of the past.



Conservation Works: At Least 28 Birds and Mammals Have Been Saved from Extinction Since 1993

By Olivia Rosane| September 11, 2020

A study published in Conservation Letters Wednesday found that efforts to protect endangered species of birds and mammals had saved at least 28 of them from extinction since 1993.

“We usually hear bad stories about the biodiversity crisis and there is no doubt that we are facing an unprecedented loss in biodiversity through human activity,” said study coauthor and Newcastle University professor of conservation science and policy Phil McGowan, reported “The loss of entire species can be stopped if there is sufficient will to do so. This is a call to action: showing the scale of the issue and what we can achieve if we act now to support conservation and prevent extinction.”

The research was led by Newcastle University and BirdLife International to assess the effectiveness of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which came into force in 1993, and specifically its Aichi Target 12, which set the goal to “prevent extinctions of known threatened species,” according to the study.

From 1993 to 2020, the lifetime of the CBD, conservation actions prevented 21 to 32 bird extinctions and seven to 16 mammal extinctions, for a total of 28 to 48 animals saved from the brink. Between 2010 and 2020, the timing of Aichi Target 12, conservationists prevented 9 to 18 bird extinctions and two to seven mammal extinctions.

Since 1993, 15 birds and mammals are sadly believed to have gone extinct. However, the research reveals that the extinction rates for both groups would have been 2.9 to 4.2 times higher without any action.

“These results show that despite the overall failure to meet the targets for conserving nature set through the UN a decade ago, significant success in preventing extinctions was achieved,” said study instigator and BirdLife International chief scientist Dr. Stuart Butchart, reported “This should encourage governments to reaffirm their commitment to halt extinctions and recover populations of threatened species in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework currently being negotiated. Such a commitment is both achievable and essential to sustain a healthy planet.”

The Guardian explained that researchers came to their conclusions by using information on population size, trends, threats and conservation efforts from 137 global experts. From there they narrowed a list of 17,046 bird and mammal species to 81 that were listed as threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s red list. “The details were then used to calculate the likelihood that each species would have become extinct without conservation measures,” the Guardian reported.

Species saved included the Iberian lynx, California condor and pygmy hog. Some of these, like the California condor, are major success stories. Others, like the vaquita porpoise, are still struggling.

“It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well. Our analyses therefore provide a strikingly positive message that conservation has substantially reduced extinction rates for birds and mammals. While extinctions have also occurred over the same time period, our work shows that it is possible to prevent extinctions,” said lead study author Dr. Rike Bolam from Newcastle University, reported


Public News Service

Governor’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council Makes Recommendations

September 11, 2020

HELENA, Mont. — The Montana Governor’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council has released its recommendations to manage and protect the species, which the report notes has long ties to the state, both ecologically and spiritually.

Grizzlies still are listed under the Endangered Species Act, meaning they can’t be killed for any reason other than self-defense. Populations have increased in Montana in the last decade, and the state wants to reduce conflicts between bears and people.

Bonnie Rice, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club Greater Yellowstone-Northern Rockies chapter, applauded the recommendations to increase resources to foster coexistence between people, livestock and grizzlies.

“Especially in places where grizzly bears are expanding their range,” she said, “to really get ahead of that in terms of outreach and education, conflict prevention, with people living in those communities, I think that’s really important.”

Rice said learning coexistence measures is the best way to keep people safe and help grizzly bears thrive. The Sierra Club would have liked to see a specific recommendation against a trophy hunt, if and when grizzly bears are taken off the endangered species list, she said. The Council acknowledged the importance of connecting grizzly recovery areas for the species’ long-term viability, but Rice was disappointed the recommendations weren’t more specific “in order to actually achieve that connectivity between recovery areas and ensure that Montana’s grizzly bear populations don’t remain isolated from each other, like they are now.”

The Council’s report said the increased presence of grizzly bears in Montana is a testament to the hard work of tribes, government agencies and conservation groups. Rice agreed, and said there’s more to do to ensure the long-term presence of Montana’s official state animal.


CBS News

Animal populations worldwide have declined nearly 70% in just 50 years, new report says

By Sophie Lewis , September 10, 2020

It’s impossible to deny — humans are destroying the natural environment at an unprecedented and alarming rate. According to a new report out Tuesday, animal populations have declined by such a staggering amount, that only an overhaul of the world’s economic systems could possibly reverse the damage.

Nearly 21,000 monitored populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians, encompassing almost 4,400 species around the world, have declined an average of 68% between 1970 and 2016, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2020. Species in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as global freshwater habitats, were disproportionately impacted, declining, on average, 94% and 84%, respectively.

Every two years, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) releases its landmark report, revealing how far species populations have declined since 1970 — an important marker for the overall health of ecosystems. The latest report indicates that the rate populations are declining “signal a fundamentally broken relationship between humans and the natural world, the consequences of which — as demonstrated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — can be catastrophic.”

“This report reminds us that we destroy the planet at our peril — because it is our home,” WWF U.S. president and CEO Carter Roberts said in a statement. “As humanity’s footprint expands into once-wild places, we’re devastating species populations. But we’re also exacerbating climate change and increasing the risk of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19. We cannot shield humanity from the impacts of environmental destruction. It’s time to restore our broken relationship with nature for the benefit of species and people alike.”

Humans are to blame

The report blames humans alone for the “dire” state of the planet. It points to the exponential growth of human consumption, population, global trade and urbanization over the last 50 years as key reasons for the unprecedented decline of Earth’s resources — which it says the planet is incapable of replenishing.

The overuse of these finite resources by at least 56% has had a devastating effect on biodiversity, which is crucial to sustaining human life on Earth. “It is like living off 1.56 Earths,” Mathis Wackernagel, David Lin, Alessandro Galli and Laurel Hanscom from the Global Footprint Network said in the report.

Climate Change

*Wildfires and weather extremes: It’s not coincidence, it’s climate change

*Greenhouse gas emissions back to pre-pandemic levels

*California wildfires burn 2.2 million acres — more than any year on record

The report points to land-use change — in particular, the destruction of habitats like rainforests for farming — as the key driver for loss of biodiversity, accounting for more than half of the loss in Europe, Central Asia, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Much of that land is being used for agriculture, which is responsible for 80% of global deforestation and makes up 70% of freshwater use. Using this much land requires a vast food system that releases 29% of global greenhouse gases, and the excessive amount of land and water that people are using has killed 70% of terrestrial biodiversity and 50% of freshwater biodiversity. Many species simply cannot survive under the new conditions forced upon them when their habitats are altered by humans.

Destruction of ecosystems has threatened 1 million species — 500,000 animals and plants and 500,000 insects — with extinction, much of which can be prevented with conservation and restoration efforts.

The food industry needs an overhaul

Where and how humans produce food is one of the biggest threats to nature, the report says. Much of the habitat loss and deforestation that occurs is driven by food production and consumption.

One-third of all terrestrial land is used for cropping and animal breeding. And of all the water withdrawn from available freshwater resources, 75% is used for crops or livestock. If current habitats remain the same, researchers predict that cropland areas may have to be 10-25% larger in 2050 than in 2005, just to accommodate increased food demand. That increase is expected, despite more than 820 million people facing food insecurity, indicating that much of the agricultural strain is being wasted.

Meanwhile, food loss and waste cost the U.S. $1 trillion in economic costs, $700 billion in environmental costs and approximately $900 billion in social costs, according to the report.

Around the world, an estimated one-third of all food produced for humans is lost or wasted — about 1.4 billion tons every year. Food waste is responsible for at least 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions — three times more than that from aviation — and nearly one-quarter of those emissions come from wasted food.

The role of climate change

Species overexploitation, invasive species and diseases and pollution are all considered threats to biodiversity, the report said. However, human-caused climate change is projected to become as, or more important than, other drivers of biodiversity loss in the coming decades.

Climate change creates an ongoing destructive feedback loop in which the worsening climate leads to the decline in genetic variability, species richness and populations, and that loss of biodiversity adversely affects the climate. For example, deforestation leads to an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, warming the planet and exacerbating forest fires.

Just a handful of countries — Russia, Canada, Brazil and Australia — contain regions without a human footprint. But these wilderness areas are facing irreversible erosion, affecting other species and humans’ ability to adapt to climate change.

According to the report, no part of the ocean is entirely unaffected by overfishing, pollution, coastal development and other human-caused stressors. Humans depend on marine ecosystems to provide food, climate regulation, carbon storage and coastal protection — all of which are affected by these activities and are exacerbated by climate change.

“These places are disappearing in front of our eyes,” said James Watson, from the University of Queensland and WCS, Brooke Williams from the University of Queensland and Oscar Venter from the University of Northern British Columbia.

The link between the health of the people and the planet

Between devastating wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has made it clear that humans and nature have never been more intertwined. The report shows that the natural support for human life is rapidly declining — and that it’s up to citizens, governments and business leaders to come together at a scale never-before-seen to do something about it.

Experts expressed concern that many of the major gains in human health in the past 50 years — such as a decreased rate of child mortality and poverty and an increase in life expectancy — could be undone or even reversed due to loss of nature.

The rate of infectious disease emergence has increased dramatically over the past 80 years — and nearly half of these diseases are connected to land-use change, agriculture and the food industry. One study cited by the report suggests that diseases originating in animals are responsible for 2.5 billion cases of illness and nearly 3 million deaths every year.

“How humanity chooses to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it addresses the looming threats from global environmental change, will influence the health of generations to come,” wrote Thomas Pienkowski and Sarah Whitmee of the University of Oxford.

What can be done?

Similarly to the economic crash in 2008, lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic have reduced humanity’s demand by nearly 10% — a change that experts say is unlikely to last without major structural change.

While the report paints a tragic picture for the future of the natural world, it urges that current trends can be flattened, and even reversed, with urgent action. It emphasizes the need for world leaders to overhaul the food production and consumption industries — taking deforestation completely out of supply chains and making trade more sustainable, among other things.

In just the last year alone, natural disasters, from California’s wildfires to severe droughts in Australia, have cost billions of dollars globally. Experts warn that economic decision-makers need to take into account not only produced and human capital, but also natural capital when crafting public and private policy.

To feed 10 billion people by 2050, humans will need to adopt a healthier way of eating — both for themselves and for the planet. Diet-related disease risk is the leading cause of premature mortality globally and food production is the main driver of biodiversity loss and water pollution, also accounting for 20-30% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Experts recommend humans adopt a diet that consists of a balanced proportion of whole grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables, beans and pulses, with animal-derived products like fish, eggs, dairy and meat consumed in moderation.

The report calls the above changes “non-negotiable” to preserve human health, wealth and security and urges world leaders gathering virtually for the U.N. General Assembly beginning September 15 to address them — only then can humans “bend the curve” of biodiversity loss.

“While the trends are alarming, there is reason to remain optimistic,” said WWF global chief scientist Rebecca Shaw. “Young generations are becoming acutely aware of the link between planetary health and their own futures, and they are demanding action from our leaders. We must support them in their fight for a just and sustainable planet.”


Carlsbad Current-Argus

New Mexico attorney general joins effort against proposed changes to Endangered Species Act

Adrian Hedden, Sept. 9, 2020

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas joined a group of 17 other attorneys general in voicing opposition to a proposal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to redefine “habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and limit federal protections for areas use to facilitate the recovery of endangered species.

In the proposal, the federal agencies suggested that protections for “critical habitats” under the ESA be limited strictly to areas needed to prevent the ultimate extinction of a species.

The attorneys general argued that such a definition would only support protecting habitats to encourage the survival of the species rather than other areas that could be made suitable through restoration efforts enacted via the ESA.

It would exclude areas that are degraded and in need of restoration, the attorneys general argued, which might be current uninhabited by an endangered species but where a species could be moved to after restoration was complete.

“Both the proposed definition and the Services’ alternative definition are contrary to the plain language and broad conservation purposes of the ESA, lack any reasoned basis, and would arbitrarily limit the Services’ ability to recover imperiled species by reducing — in some cases potentially severely — the amount and type of critical habitat that can be protected under the Act,” read comments submitted by the group of attorneys general.”

The group also argued the proposal was “arbitrary and capricious” because the agencies did not offer an adequate explanation for the change and contradicted the ESA’s intentionally broad language by creating unduly restrictive regulations.

The attorneys general also accused the federal administration for attempting to move forward with the new definition without proper review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and argued that the expectation of a future NEPA review was not adequate for justifying the shift in policy.

“The Proposed Rule is yet another attempt by the Services to chip away at the ESA’s essential protections for endangered and threatened species and their habitat,” read the comments in opposition.

“The Services must abandon this proposal and instead focus on addressing the threats posed by habitat degradation and climate change in order to fulfill the ESA’s purposes of affording imperiled species the “highest of priorities” and providing for their recovery.”

In the Aug. 5 Federal Register listing of the proposed rule, the agencies cited a 2011 executive order issued by former-President Barack Obama that called for a review of federal regulation to remove policy that might by unduly burdensome.

The agencies said the definition change in the Federal Register for “habitat” was intended to clarify the requirements for an area to be deemed “critical habitat” and would provide regulatory certainty that such an area would provide food, water, cover or space needed by individuals of a species to function.

“Specifically, we interpret the statutory definition of ‘critical habitat’ as it applies to occupied habitat, to inherently verify that an area meeting that definition is ‘habitat,’” read the listing.

“By application of the statutory definition, such an area is by definition part of the species’ occupied range at the time of listing and contains one or more of the essential physical or biological features.”


Patch (Honolulu)

Hawaii Marines Are Now Guarding The Nests Of Endangered Species

Green sea turtles are now nesting at a windward Oahu beach where the military trains.

By Kevin Knodell, The Honolulu Civil Beat, Sept. 8, 2020

In June, Hawaiian green sea turtle nests were discovered at Bellows Beach. It was the first time that they had been documented on the beach since the military began keeping track.

The Marines train to fight on land, sea and air. But as they do, they are often navigating ecosystems that are home to a diverse mix of animal and plant life.

Since the 1970s, federal legislation has called on the military to pay closer attention to the environmental impact of their training, and to manage the land in its possession. To that end the Marine Corps employs specialists that include biologists, arborists and pest control specialists.

“There’s a whole broad range of things that we do,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Pochop, the active duty officer that leads the Environmental Compliance and Protection Division.

Pochop spent most of his career as a helicopter pilot flying sometimes dangerous missions around the globe. But he got his current job because he’d studied zoology and environmental management in college.

“It’s not just about the legal obligation,” Pochop said of his duties. For him this posting is a dream job, giving him a rare opportunity to simultaneously fulfill his passions for both service in the Marine Corps and environmental protection and research.

They work to document and protect endangered species, control invasive species and identify and preserve archaeological and cultural sites around the areas where Marines train.

While Hawaiian green sea turtles at Bellows are the first of that species the Marines have recorded, they’re not the first turtles that Lance Bookless has seen nesting on Marine training grounds.

Bookless, the senior natural resources manager at MCBH, notes that in 2009 he got to watch a nest of Olive Ridley turtles hatch and make their way to the ocean. The Olive Ridleys are more commonly associated with the Gulf of Mexico.

Bookless said that in the 1970s, the base had a single employee whose job it was to look after both environmental and cultural resources.

“It was still a pretty new idea for the military,” he explained. In 1982 it became a two-person role and has slowly grown to a much larger team with varied specialties. “I think we’re up close to 30 people in our department,” said Bookless.

Bookless himself is a Marine veteran. He first arrived at MCBH in late 1988 as a Marine officer on active duty. When he switched to the reserves he got a job at the Department of Land and Natural Resources as a survey forester.

When a job opened up protecting the land at MCBH in 1996 he jumped at the opportunity.

“We do a lot of outreach to try to inform folks of what’s around here and what their impacts are and how to mitigate those impacts,” said MCBH Natural Resource Manager Keith Roberts, an Army veteran turned biologist.

They evaluate the potential impacts of training exercises and construction projects. They also brief commanders and tell them what measures they have to follow to protect the environment as they train.

Bookless noted that among the species that’s been a top emphasis for monitoring is the red-footed boobie. When Marines trained to prepare to deploy for Operation Desert Storm a fire broke out that seriously threatened a colony of the seabirds.

Since then the Marine Corps has ramped up both conservation and monitoring of the birds, tagging and tracking them to learn more about nesting habits. “We got pictures of how these things fly out when they go out to sea,” said Bookless. “That is probably the (species) that’s been studied the most, at least for us here.”

Bookless said that the military culture has changed and that Marines on active duty today have a much better appreciation for environmental requirements.

“Every once in awhile you’ll get some of the more stubborn operators who don’t understand why they can’t just do whatever they want,” said Pochop. “In their mind, it’s military land and it’s meant for them to train.”

But he said that for younger Marines that’s usually not a problem. “Privates are pretty good at doing what they’re told,” Pochop said.

Bookless said that the team actually deals more with littering on the beaches from recreation than training.

Marines today are trained to pick up after themselves — as much for environmental reasons as to ensure that their enemies can’t track them when they’re deployed for battle.

But education is a constant process. When Hurricane Douglas approached Hawaii in July, Pochop said some base community members tried to fill sandbags to fortify their homes with sand from the beach. The environmental team had to stop them.

“This is living sand,” explains Pochop, noting that between turtles laying eggs, crabs and other critters burrowing and living in it the beach is a delicate and vital ecosystem.

“There’s also human remains,” he added. Traditional Hawaiian graves are scattered throughout the beaches and training areas — and Marines have orders not to disturb the dead.

But they reiterate that for the most part, outreach has worked — and that they depend on both Marines on base and people in the surrounding communities to help them preserve and manage the land.

“One of our biggest programs is a volunteer program,” Bookless said, noting that it’s helped the team with managing invasive species, monitoring the turtles and a variety of other responsibilities. “That’s really made a difference.”

Marines roped off 13 green turtle nests when they were first discovered in June. Since then even more nests have appeared at both Bellows Beach and at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

The Marines believe the turtles may have begun nesting in April when stay-home orders kept people off the beach. It’s also possible that the destruction of East Island during Hurricane Walaka in 2018 eliminated nesting grounds, leaving the turtles looking for alternatives for nesting.

As the Marines work to further document and understand the ecosystems on land they train on they frequently collaborate with University of Hawaii faculty and students.

Students often help them with research programs and the Marines have opened up parts of the base to students working on their own projects who want to study wildlife there.

Some of the members of the team have pet projects of their own as they study the ecosystems of military training areas. Roberts said his favorite species on the base is the Hawaiian gallinule, a black waterbird that resembles a chicken with a red shield on its face, that he believes is often overlooked.

“There’s very little publicity on it, but it’s very elusive,” he explains. “We know they’re there and we’re finding them increasingly around the base. So we’ve taken note of that. And we’re looking into doing more studies.”


Devdiscourse (Wellington, NZ)

Govt agrees to change law to help protect over 35,000 endangered species

“The changes will be made by amending the Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989 to ban the domestic sale of elephant ivory in New Zealand with some exemptions, and to improve the regulatory system at the border,” said Eugenie Sage.

September 8, 2020

The Government has agreed to change the law to help protect more than 35,000 internationally endangered species where unsustainable trade threatens their survival in the wild, Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage announced today.

“The changes will be made by amending the Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989 to ban the domestic sale of elephant ivory in New Zealand with some exemptions, and to improve the regulatory system at the border,” said Eugenie Sage.

“This is a big step forward in strengthening the management of international trade in endangered, threatened and exploited species. The Cabinet decisions follow the release of a discussion document in September 2019 and public submissions.

“Currently there are no restrictions on domestic trade in elephant ivory in New Zealand. This is out of step with many countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, Taiwan and China which have already banned domestic trade in elephant ivory.”

“I am pleased to announce the proposal to ban the domestic sale of any items made with ivory from elephants killed after 1975, which is when elephants began to be protected from international trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The import and export of all elephant ivory is also proposed to be banned, with narrow exemptions to ensure elephant ivory items can still be traded by museums, for DNA testing and testing to determine age, and that antique musical instruments with correct permits can still be carried across the border.

“The New Zealand market in ivory is small, but banning the sale of post-Convention elephant ivory in New Zealand will send a message that New Zealand does not want to receive elephant ivory that may have been poached or illegally traded,” said Eugenie Sage.

Other planned changes to the TIES Act focus on improving the way the Act is implemented to ensure the regulatory system at the border efficiently and effectively manages international wildlife trade and stops illegal trade.

“Proposed changes to the TIES Act will ensure that New Zealand can continue to protect significant plants and wildlife from around the world to the highest standard.”

The TIES Act will be amended to:

Regulate the domestic sale of elephant ivory, with elephant ivory from elephants killed before 1975 exempt;

place further restrictions at the border on importing and exporting elephant ivory;

update the definition of personal and household effects to ensure it functions as intended by not allowing items for commercial sale to qualify as personal or household effects;

include a regulation-making power enabling species-specific exemptions from permitting for personal and household effects;

enable a process to return seized items to individuals where there are permit irregularities in certain limited circumstances;

allow cost recovery for services provided to commercial traders; and

allow DOC to consider cases where there have been irregularities with permits issued by Management Authorities in other countries. There will be a process with strict conditions to consider errors, and decide whether to accept replacement or retrospective permits.

The Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989 will need to be amended to implement the changes. An amendment Bill will be drafted incorporating the proposed changes. It is planned for introduction to the next Parliament after the election to be referred to Select Committee after its first reading.

(With Inputs from New Zealand Government Press Release)



Protected areas can ‘double’ imperiled species populations

by University of Queensland,  September 7, 2020

A University of Queensland-led research team has revealed that many endangered mammal species are dependent on protected areas, and would likely vanish without them.

Professor James Watson, of UQ and the Wildlife Conservation Society, said despite the success of protected areas, their popularity as a go-to conservation tool has started to wane.

“Since the 1970s, the global network of protected areas has experienced a fourfold expansion, and some of these protected sites have been crucial to protect and even enhance wildlife populations,” he said.

“However, there’s increasing debate around the role of the global protected area estate in sustaining and recovering threatened species. What our research has clearly shown is that protected areas, when well-funded and well-placed, are incredibly effective. In fact, 80 percent of mammal species we monitored in these protected areas have at least doubled their coverage in protected areas over the last 50 years. And 10 percent of the species analyzed live predominantly on protected land.”

The scientists compared current distributions of 237 threatened terrestrial mammal species from the 1970s to today, measuring changes in species’ ranges, then overlaid them with the protected area network.

“A great example is the greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), which now has 80 percent of its range in a protected area,” Professor Watson said.

“Their numbers have been decimated elsewhere—the species has lost more than 99 percent of its distribution in the last 50 years. Now about 87 percent of the remaining animals live in just two protected areas—Kaziranga National Park in India and Chitwan National Park in Nepal.”

Professor Watson said mammals were retreating into protected areas and more than ever, protected areas were vital to protecting the world’s biodiversity.

“There is little doubt that without protected areas we would have lost amazing species like tigers and mountain gorillas,” he said.

“This science clearly shows that to abate the extinction crisis, we need better funded and more protected areas that are well-supported and well-managed by governments and other land managers. At the same time, we need to reward efforts that ensure re-expansion and restoration of wildlife populations into territories beyond protected area boundaries. We must focus on retaining Earth’s remaining intact ecosystems that contain key protected areas and prioritize efforts to restore habitat corridors between isolated reserves, providing opportunities for movement and genetic exchange.”

(The research has been published in Conservation Letters.)


WDSU/6 News  (New Orleans, LA)

A killer whale who grieved her dead calf for 17 days is a mother again

By Hollie Silverman, CNN, September 7. 2020

The killer whale who swam with her dead calf for 17 days in an apparent act of grieving is a mother again.

Tahlequah, known to researchers as J35, gave birth to a calf last week, according to a news release from the Whale Research Center.

The two orcas were spotted swimming with their pod in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, between Washington state and Vancouver Island, over the weekend, the release said.

Tahlequah made headlines in 2018 when she swam about 1,000 miles of ocean with the body of her dead calf. The calf died a few hours after birth, but the mother prevented it from sinking for more than two weeks.

Both Tahlequah and her new calf, named J57, appear healthy, the Whale Research Center said.

“She was still capable of producing a live calf after an approximate eighteen-month gestation! Hooray!” the release said. “Her new calf appeared healthy and precocious, swimming vigorously alongside its mother in its second day of free-swimming life.”

Researchers believe the calf was born Sept. 4 because its dorsal fin was upright when it was spotted, a development that occurs about two days after birth because it’s folded over in the womb.

With the birth of J57, the endangered Southern Resident orca population is now 73, according to the Whale Research Center.


Center for Biological Diversity,  September 4, 2020

American Burying Beetle Loses Endangered Status Despite Major Threats From Oil Development, Climate Change

TULSA, Okla.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced the downlisting of the American burying beetle from endangered to threatened despite the absence of the beetle from most of its range, ongoing habitat destruction from the oil and gas industry, and new information that climate change is decimating the species in the southern Plains.

The downlisting rule, released Sept. 3, also outlines exclusions that allow oil and gas companies to pursue developments within the beetle’s fragile habitat in Oklahoma.

“Far from recovering, American burying beetles are spiraling toward extinction as their habitat is sacrificed to oil and gas development that’s also making our world too hot for the species to survive,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration’s downlisting is an undeserved gift to the oil and gas industry. It greenlights destruction of the beetle’s habitat and the emission of even more of the pollution that’s fueling the climate emergency threatening the beetle and people alike.”

With its striking orange-and-black carapace, the American burying beetle once occurred in 35 states across the eastern half of the United States and parts of Canada. But its numbers have declined by more than 90%. It now lives in a small number of isolated populations in states on the fringes of its range, including Oklahoma, Nebraska and Rhode Island.

These highly imperiled beetles were protected as endangered in 1989, but the oil and gas industry has fought for years to end that protection. A 2015 petition from the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which sought to eliminate hurdles to oil and gas development in Oklahoma, prompted a review of the beetle’s status.

The Service’s rule acknowledges that the beetle has not met criteria for downlisting from the species’ 1991 recovery plan, which called for three populations of at least 500 individuals in each of four regions. In a flabbergasting example of government doublespeak, the Service now states that because new science shows 500 individuals not to be enough for population stability, this criterion no longer applies. The rule also acknowledges that climate change is likely to make the southern Plains inhospitable to the beetle, but somehow comes to the counterintuitive conclusion that it is less endangered.

“We frequently support and celebrate the recovery of endangered species,” said Greenwald. “But there’s nothing to celebrate here. We’ll challenge this nonsensical decision to strip the beetle of protection.”


ERDC/September 4, 2020

Interior Department Proposes Changes to Endangered Species Act

New Regulation Prioritizes Economic Analysis Over Species’ Habitat Needs

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed a regulation today that changes the process for considering critical habitat exclusions under the Endangered Species Act. The proposal would decrease designation of critical habitat based on economic costs, making way for developers, states, and local governments to prioritize oil and gas development and other industry over the value of restoring endangered species populations – at a time when our nation faces a biodiversity crisis. The move forces FWS to consider financial impacts that could significantly reduce critical habitat, based on developers’ cost analysis and what developers identify as the production lost as a result of designating critical habitat.

“This regulation puts a thumb on the scale for developers and fossil fuel interests, making the critical habitat analysis less about survival of a species and more about profits,” said Rebecca Riley, Legal Director of the Nature Program at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “The rule improperly shifts responsibility for economic analyses to industry as well as state and local governments, an abandonment of the agency’s responsibilities under the law. The nation’s endangered species are not simply ‘lost profits’ on a ledger, they are valued creatures in need of a home.”


North Coast Journal

Humboldt Martens Granted Threatened Species Status

Posted By Iridian Casarezon,, Sep 3, 2020

The Humboldt martens, a small, cat-like woodland creature once thought to be extinct, will now receive protection as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

According to Environment Protection Information Center (EPIC), the decision comes 10 years after EPIC and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for the animals to have protected species under the Endangered Species Act and after they sued the Trump administration for its long delay in finalizing protections for this rare species.

“It’s about time Humboldt martens got the protections they so desperately need,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We are perilously close to losing this incredible species forever. These protections provide a pathway to recovery, and we’ll do everything we can to hold the Trump administration accountable to its responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act.”

Humboldt martens are common in coastal forests in northern California and southern Oregon. The animal population was wiped out by unchecked trapping and logging of its habitat but today, “fewer than 400 of these fascinating carnivores remain in four highly isolated fragments of the species’ historic habitat,” the EPIC blog post reads.


Science News, September 2, 2020

Common species mirror rare animals’ response to global change

The populations of common animals are just as likely to rise or fall in number in a time of accelerating global change as those of rare species, a study suggests.

A study of more than 2,000 species reveals animal populations around the world — from the very common to endangered species — are going up and down as global change alters land, sea and freshwater ecosystems.

The findings highlight a need to look beyond only rare species in order to improve efforts to conserve global biodiversity, scientists say.

Critically endangered animals — such as the Hawksbill sea turtle — were previously thought to be at greater risk of decline than common species like red deer, but the study found a wide spectrum of changes in animal numbers.

Findings from the new study suggest the numbers within very common animal species are, in fact, as likely to increase or decrease as rare ones.

However, species with smaller population sizes were shown to be more likely to change from year to year, potentially increasing their extinction risk in the long term.

Until recently, scientists were still compiling data on how animal populations were shifting over time on a global scale across the different regions of the planet.

Making use of the newly available data, a team of University of Edinburgh researchers studied nearly 10,000 animal populations recorded in the Living Planet Database between 1970 and 2014 to provide a new perspective on animal population change. These include records of mammals, reptiles, sharks, fish, birds and amphibians.

The team found that 15 per cent of all populations declined during the period, while 18 per cent increased and 67 per cent showed no significant change.

Amphibians were the only group in which population sizes declined, while birds, mammals and reptiles experienced increases.

The overall decline in amphibians makes them a priority for conservation efforts, researchers say, as their loss could have knock-on effects in food chains and wider ecosystems.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Carnegie Trust.

Gergana Daskalova, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who led the study, said: “We often assume that declines in animal numbers are prevalent everywhere. But we found that there are also many species which have increased over the last half of a century, such as those that do well in human-modified landscapes or those that are the focus of conservation actions.”

 Dr Isla Myers-Smith, also of the School of GeoSciences, who co-authored the study, said: “Only as we bring together data from around the world, can we begin to really understand how global change is influencing the biodiversity of our planet. The original idea for this study stemmed from a fourth year undergraduate class at the University of Edinburgh. It is so inspiring to see early career researchers tackle some of the big conservation questions of our time using advanced data science skills.”

(Story Source: Materials provided by University of Edinburgh)


BBC News

WWF: Canada endangered species face ‘staggering losses’

2 September 2020

Canadian wildlife at risk of extinction has undergone “staggering” losses over the past 50 years, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) conservation group says.

In a report, the charity says that species at risk of global extinction have seen their Canadian populations fall by over 40% between 1970 and 2016.

Populations of species that are at risk of extinction in Canada itself fell even more dramatically – by 59%.

The report said human activity was mostly to blame.

Wednesday’s report is based on the Living Planet Index, which measures the ecological performance of 883 species around the world, including the North Atlantic Right Whale and the Barren Ground Caribou.

The report found that endangered species were likely to face at least five threats, such as habitat loss, land and shoreline developments and pollution, and that human-activity was mostly to blame.

Climate change and biodiversity loss accelerated the impacts of those threats the animals were already facing, the report said.

“Conservation actions that target only a single threat are unlikely to successfully stop and reverse wildlife declines as threats to species are often cumulative or synergistic and can have cascading effects,” the report said.

In the case of the Right Whale, climate change shifted the whale’s migratory pattern to more commercial areas where they became vulnerable to ship strikes and more frequently became entangled in shipping gear.

The report also pointed to recent research that found that indigenous-managed lands had more species than other parts of Canada, and better supported at-risk wildlife.

The report suggested working with Canada’s indigenous people to create more Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas.

Canada is not alone in this crisis. A recent study found that humans have pushed 500 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians to the brink of extinction


Minot (ND) Daily News

Eloise Ogden, September 1, 2020

Federal agency to decide if monarchs endangered species

Dr. Logan Wood, veterinarian at Roosevelt Park Zoo in Minot, always looks for monarch caterpillars feeding on milkweed when he goes fishing or walks his dog.

Is it unusual to find a monarch?

“In my opinion, it’s unusual,” said Wood. “I walk through fields hoping to find one caterpillar and I have not found one all year, maybe because I’m missing them but at the same time I feel that we don’t nearly see the amount that we should, and I think that’s due to everything that’s leading to these animals being put on the endangered species list,” he said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide in December if the North American monarch butterfly will be classified as a federally endangered species, Wood said.

Initially, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was to determine last year whether the monarch butterfly should be listed as an endangered species but the deadline was extended to December of this year so agency biologists and other organizations could continue to collect information on the monarch’s status, according to North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

If classified as a federally endangered species, this will be a first for the monarch butterfly. The butterfly has never been placed on that list before, Wood said.

The monarch is considered the most recognizable of all butterflies in North America.

North Dakota has monarch butterflies and the milkweed that the monarch caterpillars exclusively feed on.

But the monarch population has decreased extensively over the past 20 years and the milkweed isn’t as abundant anymore.

Last year Wood raised monarch butterflies as a special project at the zoo. The project culminated with a “Flutter Fest” held at the zoo, attended by over 2,300 people. Tagged monarchs (tiny lightweight stickers placed on butterflies) were released. Due to COVID-19, the project was put on hold this year because a large event could not be held for the release of the monarchs.

North America has two different types of monarchs, Wood said.

“There’s the Pacific monarch and there’s the Eastern monarch. We have the Eastern. The Eastern is anything east of the Rocky Mountains. All of ours from pretty much North Dakota all the way up to New York and even into Canada go down to Mexico. Sometimes they’ll migrate all the way there. Other times, depending on the season, they fly down to say Oklahoma, lay their eggs and their offspring make it to Mexico. However, there are reports about tagged monarchs that have made that trip to Mexico and back, which is over 1,800 miles in those cases,” Wood said.

One of the reasons the monarchs are special, Wood said, is the phenomena of millions and millions of these butterflies congregating.

“When this happens they hang upside down from trees, completely covering forests and trees. That’s what is amazing about this phenomenon,” he said.

The Eastern monarch congregates in Mexico and the Pacific monarch congregates in Monterey, Calif.

Eastern monarchs will travel as far south as central Mexico and overwinter for approximately six to nine months.

After winter the monarchs return north to the states, Wood said. He said many of the adult monarchs can live a little over a year to 18 months, depending on replenishing their energy supplies as well as surviving birds and other predators.

Wood said the life cycle of the monarch starts with the butterfly laying eggs on a leaf. Those hatch into tiny caterpillars.

“They’re maybe half a centimeter in length – very, very tiny when they first come out. They grow very, very rapidly,” he said.

He said they’re usually a caterpillar for about 10-14 days.

“From that time they grow from being just a few millimeters to being over 3 inches long. They grow very, very fast – it’s almost overnight they can double,” he said.

“As they get to be about 3 inches long, then what they do is they go into their pupa stage – it’s called the chrysalis. Within that chrysalis they go through a metamorphosis and that typically takes another 10-14 days. They might be underneath a leaf or they may go to a sturdy branch. When we were growing them here at the zoo we put a stick – something that’s a little sturdier in hoping that they would go there. Every now and then they would go on the bottom of a leaf in which we’d then tie the leaf onto the stick,” he said.

“It initially starts off as a green – jade green – chrysalis. As the butterfly starts to form you can actually see the orange and black coloration. Once they’re fully developed, then they’ll just open up the chrysalis. They’re really soft in their wings when they first come out – kind of folded around, kind of like swaddling a baby. They’ll hang upside down for a little while to allow everything to drain and to fully harden up as far as wings,” Wood said.

“In December of 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife plans to hold a meeting to talk about whether or not to place the North American monarchs on the endangered species list. That’s what is important about trying to save this animal is we’ve seen anywhere from 70 percent to 80 percent population decrease in monarchs,” Wood said.

He said there’s a few different reasons for the decrease in monarchs, including the overuse of herbicides and pesticides, but habitat loss is probably the No. 1 reason along with their overwintering location.

“A lot of people are tearing down the forest that they (monarchs) use in order to create grazing land,” Wood said.

Need for milkweed

 When the monarch is a caterpillar, he said, it needs the milkweed. But, he said, many people do not like milkweed because it has weed in its name.

North Dakota has several species of milkweed, according to Wood.

“The common milkweed is what we see here, which has the big, giant pods – that’s the fruit of the plant. The other one would be the swamp milkweed,” he said.

He said the swamp milkweed has thinner leaves and nowhere near the thickness of the leaves of common milkweed. Swamp milkweed has pretty pink flowers.

What can be done to help save and protect monarchs?

“There are lots of things that you can do,” Wood said. “You can leave the milkweed. It is a weed; however, it is a crucial part to the butterfly life cycle. Those who might want to help the monarchs but don’t want many milkweed plants in their yard or garden might want to leave one of them for the monarchs.

“Caterpillars cannot live on anything but milkweed and that’s what allows them to become that toxic animal or poisonous animal in case another animal were to try to get them. They need the milkweed in order to grow and to become an adult butterfly,” he said. “You can control it (milkweed) but it is nice to be able to at least to have a plant for the butterflies to come back.

“Adult butterflies just need nectar so they may be feeding off the milkweed flowers themselves or any sort of nectar or pollinator plant,” he said. He said there’s a list of native nectar-rich plants not only good for monarchs but good for all pollinators, including honey bees and other butterflies such as the swallowtails and even hummingbirds.

Roosevelt Park Zoo has a registered Monarch Waystation as part of its Pollinator Garden on the North Trail.

“We have at least two different types of milkweed in that Pollinator Garden plus a lot of native pollinator plants,” Wood said. He said the waystation is a place where the monarchs can replenish themselves during their migration.

“There’s less than 20 waystations in North Dakota and we have one of them. We’re hoping to create more waystations throughout the park district. Our Horticulture Department has been great in supporting us with that effort,” he said.

(For more information about monarchs and milkweed visit Monarch Watch at or Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation at


KTLA 5 TV (Los Angeles)

Trump admin aims to remove endangered species protections for gray wolves

by: Associated Press, Aug 31, 2020

The Trump administration plans to lift endangered species protections for gray wolves across most of the nation by the end of the year, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday.

“We’re working hard to have this done by the end of the year and I’d say it’s very imminent,” Aurelia Skipwith told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday.

The administration also is pushing ahead with a rollback of protections for migratory birds despite a recent setback in federal court, she said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service last year proposed dropping the wolf from the endangered list in the lower 48 states, exempting a small population of Mexican wolves in the Southwest. It was the latest of numerous attempts to return management authority to the states — moves that courts have repeatedly rejected after opponents filed lawsuits.

Shot, trapped and poisoned to near extinction in the last century, wolves in recent decades rebounded in the western Great Lakes region and portions of the West, the total population exceeding 6,000. They have been removed from the endangered list in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and portions of Oregon, Utah and Washington state.

Federal protections remain elsewhere.

A federal judge in 2014 restored protection for the animals in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, a decision upheld by an appeals court in 2017.

Skipwith, echoing the Fish and Wildlife Service’s long-held policy, told the AP the wolf has “biologically recovered” and that its removal from the list would demonstrate the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act.

But the Humane Society of the United States and other wildlife protection groups contend wolves are still vulnerable. Dropping protections across the Lower 48 would doom any chances of their spreading to other states where they could thrive if humans allowed it, they say.

A final decision had been expected last spring, but the service is taking extra time to review the science behind its position and issues raised in court rulings, Skipwith said.

“We just want to be sure we’re covering all the bases,” she said. “When groups want to come in and sue because of such a success, it takes away resources from species that need them.”

She added that the agency doesn’t believe much suitable habitat remains beyond areas that wolves currently occupy, a claim that environmental groups and some biologists dispute.

“We don’t anticipate them expanding, regardless of that federal protection,” Skipwith said, declining to take a position on a November ballot initiative that would restore wolves to Colorado.

“If that’s the approach that Colorado wants to take, that’s their prerogative,” she said.

Skipwith said the agency also is proceeding with changes in how it enforces a century-old law protecting most American wild bird species, despite warnings that billions of birds could die as a result.

A U.S. judge in New York this month invalidated the administration’s use of a legal memo to justify its position that accidental but foreseeable killing of birds should not be criminally prosecuted. The administration had argued that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act applies only to the intentional killing of birds and not “incidental” killings during normal activities by electric utilities, oil developers and other industries.

National Audubon Society chief conservation officer Sarah Greenberger criticized the agency for pressing ahead with a rule change that would cement the policy into a regulation that could be harder to overturn.

“There was never a good reason to weaken the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the administration should have taken its recent loss in court as an opportunity to abandon its bird-killing policy,” Greenberger said.

Skipwith said the Fish and Wildlife Service was still evaluating the judge’s decision and planned to issue a final rule by the end of the year. The agency remains committed to “making sure we’re not criminalizing these unintentional actions” while stepping up efforts to protect migratory birds, she said.


San Francisco Chronicle

Agency denies critical habitat for endangered bumblebee

By JOHN FLESHER, AP Environmental Writer Aug. 31, 2020

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Federal regulators said Monday they would not designate critical habitat for the first bee species in the continental U.S. to be listed as endangered, a move that environmentalists said would worsen its chances for recovery.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it had determined the rusty patched bumblebee could survive without having specific areas managed for its protection, even though its population has plummeted 90% in the past couple of decades.

Biologists have concluded that habitat loss is not the biggest reason for the bee’s decline, the service said. Additional factors include pesticides, disease and climate change.

Once found in 31 states and provinces from Connecticut to South Dakota, the bee now occupies only scattered areas in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada.

“The designation of critical habitat plays a very specific role in species recovery and is prudent when a species’ recovery is dependent on specific habitat elements it needs to survive,” said Lori Nordstrom, assistant regional director for Ecological Services in the Service’s Great Lakes region.

“As a habitat generalist, the rusty patched bumblebee can find the habitat it needs in a variety of ecosystems, including prairies, woodlands, marshes, agricultural landscapes and residential parks and gardens, all of which are abundant across the bee’s range.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service approved the bee’s endangered listing shortly before President Barack Obama left office. The Trump administration delayed it from taking effect in early 2017 but relented after the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit.

The service’s decision not to designate critical habitat is “shocking” and probably will bring another legal challenge, said Rebecca Riley, an attorney with the council. The rusty patched bumblebee, named for the rusty reddish patch on the backs of workers and males. relies heavily on historical grasslands and prairies that have mostly been developed, she said.

“The bee has lost over 90% of its historic range,” she said. “We were expecting the Fish and Wildlife Service to do its job and protect what is left.”

Critical habitat designations can prevent damage to areas that provide shelter, breeding and rearing sites and food for endangered species. Denying it “may increase the rusty patched bumblebee’s risk of extinction,” said Sarina Jepsen of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which filed the petition that prompted the bee’s consideration for listing.

Business groups previously raised concerns about the bumblebee designation, saying it could affect industries such as agriculture, residential and commercial development, and energy production.

Some of the bee populations were turning up in urban and suburban areas, said Michael Mittelholzer, vice president for environmental policy with the National Association of Home Builders.

“There’s a high likelihood that landowners or home builders would be encumbered” if critical habitat were designated, he said.


Center for Biological Diversity

August 31, 2020

Lawsuit Launched Challenging EPA Decision to Dismiss Pesticides’ Harms to Endangered Species

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue today over the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Revised Methods” for assessing pesticide risks to endangered species.

At the request of the pesticide industry, the EPA made extensive changes to the process set forth by the Obama administration — all of which would allow the agency to dismiss real-world impacts from pesticides. The new methods are designed to allow the EPA to ignore widespread harm from pesticides to most of the nation’s most endangered plants and animals, including American burying beetles, Rio Grande silvery minnows and Hawaiian hoary bats.

“The science is clear: Pesticides cause devastating harm to many of our most vulnerable plants and animals, and yet the EPA’s response is to issue new methods so it can cover its eyes and pretend everything’s fine,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center. “The EPA’s refusal to protect endangered species from pesticides and continued bowing to the pesticide industry is nothing less than a national disgrace.”

The Revised Methods purposefully ignore many common ways imperiled plants and animals are harmed and killed by pesticides. For example, under the Revised Methods, the EPA will not consider downstream runoff of pesticides into water bodies where endangered aquatic species, like fish and snails, live. The new rules also allow the EPA to deliberately ignore the impacts of pesticides on endangered plants that depend on insect pollination, but whose pollinators are imperiled by pesticides.

The EPA’s final Revised Methods are only slightly less harmful than its draft version, which was described by the attorneys general of 10 states and the District of Columbia as “antithetical to the plain language and purpose of the ESA.”

Despite heavy criticism, the agency finalized many of the key provisions it designed to reduce protections for endangered species, including limiting protection to species whose range overlaps less than 1% with a pesticide-treated area, even if that 1% is the species’ most essential habitat, such as spawning habitat for salmon.

To date the EPA has never completed a nationwide Endangered Species Act consultation on pesticides or implemented a single conservation measure for any endangered species developed through such consultations.

Instead the agency has disregarded the expert recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences and undermined years of work by career scientists in order to prevent the implementation of common-sense restrictions on harmful pesticides.

“The EPA has fully embraced the worst tactics of the tobacco industry and climate-deniers, all so it can continue to ignore the serious harms it allows to be inflicted on endangered plants and animals,” said Burd. “We will not let the EPA get away with this.”

Records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that the new assessment methods were driven by political-level appointees at the EPA, Department of the Interior, Department of Commerce and the White House.

From 2013 to 2017, career scientists at the EPA and federal wildlife agencies worked to implement the recommendations of the National Academy of Science assessing the impacts of pesticides. This collaborative and transparent process was developed with hundreds of hours of stakeholder input but was halted when then acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was briefed on the results of the initial assessments in October 2017.

This unprecedented effort to scuttle endangered species consultations spurred the EPA and wildlife agencies to attempt to justify their failure to release the analysis and to demonstrate they are taking action to save endangered animals on the brink of extinction.


Gulf Today

Giraffes facing the threat of extinction

29 Aug 2020

Since the mid-eighties, giraffes have been on a steady decline. Population numbers have dwindled by 40 per cent, leaving around 68,000 mature adults in the wild.

To put it in context, there is reportedly one giraffe for every four African elephants, which themselves are considered a vulnerable species.

Despite giraffes’ precarious status, they are not listed under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA). In fact, until last year, there were no international regulations to monitor their trade.

If giraffes were protected by the ESA, it would mean tighter restrictions on taking them from the wild, transporting or selling them. It could also unlock federal aid for cooperating countries who have populations of giraffes, according to its details.

In 2017, a coalition of conservation groups aimed to correct this by petitioning the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), who oversee the law, to list giraffes.

After a two-year delay (and a lawsuit from the groups), FWS found that there was “substantial information on potential threats” to giraffes and listing them “may be warranted.”

However, the decision-making process will not begin until 2025, to the alarm of some animal welfare activists.

“Given the level of threat and the urgency with which we must act to protect giraffes and many other species, we hope that the agency will act accordingly and make its decision to list the species as endangered much sooner than 2025,” said Paul Todd, senior staff attorney of the nature program at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who was one of the petitioners.

“We stand ready to do what we can and what is necessary to help make that happen.”

Ben Williamson, Programs Director, World Animal Protection, US added: “The protection of giraffes under the Endangered Species Act is long overdue. These iconic animals are under threat from the usual evils of habitat destruction and poaching, and the misguided human curiosity that sees their furry tan skin turned into rugs, and long bones turned into trinkets.

“Designating giraffes as endangered or threatened would place much-needed restrictions on the ability of vulgar people with deep pockets and shallow souls to shoot them and import their body parts into the US, and will make more funding available for conserving the species in the wild.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which tracks the planet’s most at-risk species, has declared the giraffe “vulnerable to extinction.”

There are four species of giraffe — Masai, southern, northern and Reticulated — and five subspecies within those, according to Giraffe Conservation Society.

The Kordofan giraffe, which inhabits Central Africa, have lost 90 per cent of its population in the past 40 years. Just 2,000 of this giraffe are left in the wild.

The Nubian giraffe, which once roamed across Northeast Africa, is now largely extinct in much of its historic range. It has lost 98 per cent of its population — leaving just 455 in the wild — and lives only on protected lands in Kenya.

The role that both the legal and illegal wildlife trade has played in giraffes’ dwindling numbers is difficult to assess as research on the species across their African habitats has been limited, IUCN noted. In fact it was only a handful of years ago that it was discovered that there are in fact four distinct species.

A 2018 investigation, by Humane Society International (HSI), found that 40,000 giraffe parts were imported into the US from Africa between 2006-2015. Among these were 3,700 hundred trophies, equivalent to one a day.

Dr Fred Bercovitch, executive director of Save the Giraffes, told the New York Times last year that although more than 90 per cent of the parts were considered legal imports, 50 came from the critically at-risk Nubian giraffe.

The species are at risk from habitat loss and degradation due to land clearance for agriculture; growing human populations and the complex impacts of the climate crisis. Close proximity to domestic livestock can also result in the transmission of diseases to giraffes.

The species have been caught in the cross-hairs of war and civil unrest in regions of central and east Africa. Others have fallen victim to poaching, both for bushmeat in local markets, and to be carved up and trafficked in the illegal wildlife trade.

It is unclear why decision making will not begin until 2025 but giraffes are not the only species to face a lengthy process.

“How do we tell our great-grandchildren that we had a chance to save these magnificent mammals, yet failed to do so?” Williamson said.

“The Endangered Species Act exists for precisely this reason — to guarantee future generations’ right to share the planet with these evolutionary marvels.”


New York Times

U.S. Court Rejects Bid to Halt Kinder Morgan Gas Pipeline

By Reuters, Aug. 28, 2020

(Reuters) – A nearly-complete $2.3 billion pipeline to carry natural gas from West Texas shale fields to the U.S. Gulf Coast can move ahead, a U.S. judge in Austin, Texas, ruled on Friday, rejecting an environmental group’s effort to halt the project.

Sierra Club in April challenged federal approval of the 428-mile (689 km) Kinder Morgan Inc pipeline, alleging regulators reviews under a streamlined process were faulty. The line’s path crosses areas with two endangered species and some 400 wetlands, lawyers wrote.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issued permits for the Permian Highway pipeline, said no further reviews are needed. The project is more than 85% mechanically complete, Kinder Morgan has said. A spokesperson did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

“We are disappointed that the court declined to put an immediate stop to this illegal construction, and we are evaluating our options,” said Sierra Club attorney Joshua Smith.

Legal challenges have delayed the Dakota Access, Keystone XL, and Trans Mountain oil pipelines, and led to a cancellation of the Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline.

The proposed Kinder Morgan line would bring 2.1 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas from West Texas to the Gulf Coast. Service could begin in January.

U.S. District Court for Western District of Texas Judge Robert Pitman denied the request for a preliminary injunction saying the group did not show continued construction would cause irreparable harm to landowners or endangered species.

“Unfortunately, granting an injunction at this state of the pipeline’s completion would not ‘unring the bell,'” he wrote in his decision, adding Sierra Club “failed to establish a definitive threat of future harm.”

The pipeline is owned by Kinder Morgan, Exxon Mobil, Altus Midstream and Blackstone Group’s EagleClaw Midstream Ventures.

The case is Sierra Club v U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, No. 20-cv-00460.


CBS (CH. 4) Miami

Restored Corals Observed Spawning For First Time In Waters Off Miami

August 28, 2020

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Efforts to restore the Florida Reef Tract may be working. Staghorn corals grown in a nursery and replanted at a reef restoration site off Key Biscayne have spawned for the first time which is providing hope that rebuilding Florida’s valuable marine ecosystems may be possible.

“We’re just taking very small steps first of all to slow down the climb, but also to slow down the push try to recover them to the point where they are basically able to replenish themselves,” explained Diego Lirman, associate professor of marine biology and ecology at the UM Rosenstiel School and founder and director of UM’s Rescue a Reef program. “We’re not there yet, but this is a really very promising step towards that goal.”

Lirman says the spawning is a “very rare phenomenon to witness, so it’s great that we were able to capture this scientific breakthrough to share with our local community and people around the world.”

The scientists were able to collect eggs and sperm from about a dozen different colonies during the spawning, which they then fertilized to raise thousands of coral larvae which can also be grown out and replanted as part of a cyclical approach to helping reefs rebuild themselves and remain resilient.

In June 2019, the UM Rosenstiel School and partners outplanted 100 staghorn corals at the 100 Yards of Hope restoration site, a football field-sized restoration project on Rainbow Reef, honoring the NFL’s 100th season and America’s military veterans of FORCE BLUE.

The program hopes to eventually restore 125 acres of degraded coral reefs in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Scientists would ultimately grow more than 150-thousand coral colonies from five coral species, three of which are currently listed as threatened.

Coral reefs provide habitat for a wide variety of marine life and support valuable commercial and recreational fishing industries but they are declining across the world.

Florida’s Coral Reef is the only nearshore reef in the continental United States, and coral cover has declined by at least 70 percent since the 1970s. Staghorn coral, once common in shallow waters throughout Florida and the Caribbean, is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The coral reefs in Southeast Florida generate $2 billion in annual revenues and support 70,400 jobs. In addition, Southeast Florida’s reefs play an important role in protecting people and property from the effects of hurricanes, such as flooding and storm surge, along the highly urbanized coastlines of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale during hurricanes.


Turtle Island Restoration Network

Environmental Groups Urge Costa Rica and Ecuador to Create World’s First Bilateral Marine Protected Area

By Turtle Island Restoration Network, August 28, 2020

ECUADOR — Environmental groups Mission Blue and Turtle Island Restoration Network called on the Ministers of Environment of Costa Rica and Ecuador today to move forward in creating one of the world’s first marine protected areas connecting the UNESCO biosphere reserves of two countries.

The letter urges that Costa Rica and Ecuador act quickly to create the Cocos-Galapagos Swimway, a 240,000 square-kilometer underwater highway that connects the National Parks of two sovereign nations — Costa Rica’s Cocos Island National Park with Ecuador’s Galapagos Marine Reserve — both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Scientific research in the Eastern Tropical Pacific conducted by a network of organizations known as MigraMar revealed endangered and threatened marine species like whale sharks, green sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, silky sharks, and scalloped hammerhead sharks use this swimway to migrate between the marine reserves. When these species leave the protected areas, however, they enter the open ocean where they are at grave risk to industrial fishing.

“It’s important to think like the sharks, the sea turtles and the various forms of life that are not just found in places where we’ve named and claimed territory,” said Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue. “We must consider the creatures that occupy this liquid space that we call the ocean and realize that if we were to take action to protect them, it’s not good enough that Cocos and Galapagos have an area of a safe haven around them. What about the space in between? That has to be protected too.”

Cocos Island National Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve not only share an important percentage of species and ecological characteristics, they also face similar threats. Both marine protected areas have regulations that control how people and commerce can interact with the islands. Despite these restrictions, conservationists face several challenges to protect the species that inhabit them.

A biological justification for the creation of the swimway recently published by MigraMar states about 19% of rays, 34% of sharks, 17% of marine mammals and 27% of marine birds found in these protected areas are threatened or endangered. The document also highlights that Cocos and Galapagos share an important percentage of endemic and island species, as well as pelagic and benthic fauna. Both sites are interconnected by the Cocos seamount ridge that concentrate a significant marine migratory activity.

“The Swimway advances our thinking about how to protect highly endangered migratory species which do not stay put in a single locale like the Galapagos or Cocos marine reserves,” said Todd Steiner, Executive Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “By expanding these marine protected areas and actively working with the governments of Costa Rica and Ecuador along with several additional partners to create the first bilateral agreement, we will allow endangered species to migrate safely outside the small marine protected areas and connect two sovereign nation’s marine National Parks, something we hope will be a blueprint that is copied across the globe.”

In May the Swimway was declared a Hope Spot by Mission Blue, highlighting the need for cutting-edge solutions to protect highly migratory species like sea turtles and sharks in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.


The National Law Review

Petition Filed to List Western Ridged Mussel as an Endangered Species

Thursday, August 27, 2020

On August 18, 2020, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation filed a petition to list the western ridged mussel as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The western ridged mussel (Gonidea angulata), is found in the rivers and streams of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, and Nevada, but in less than 60% of its historic range. Several populations of mussels in Washington and Oregon have recently experienced sudden die-offs, reducing populations even further. The die-offs have occurred in rivers across the region—such as the Chehalis River in Washington and the Crooked River in Oregon. The results are devastating mussel beds, often with thousands of mussels killed over the course of a single summer and spanning tens of river miles. The cause and extent of these die-offs is not well understood.

Like other freshwater mussels, the western ridged mussel performs critical functions in freshwater ecosystems that contribute to clean water, healthy fisheries, diverse aquatic food webs, and biodiversity.

The Xerces Society, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation, have been working on several projects over the last two decades in order to learn more about this species. The recent die-offs, however, have alarmed scientists at the Xerces Society, prompting them to file this petition based on the belief that ESA protections are necessary in order to learn more about the species and its threats before it is too late for recovery.

The western ridged mussel is not produced or sold commercially, but recreational harvest by the general public does occur. The mussels are important both historically and culturally for the Umatilla Tribes, in particular. The tribes traditionally boiled or dried the mussels in the fall and stored them over winter as a supplementary food supply. Their shells were also used for jewelry, beads, ornaments, and ceremonies.

The Xerces Society formally petitioned to list the western ridged mussel as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq. The petition was filed under 5 U.S.C. 553(e) and 50 CFR 424.14(a), which grants interested parties the right to petition for issue of a rule from the Secretary of the Interior. The petition sets in motion a process placing definite response requirements on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and specific time constraints upon those responses. 16 U.S.C. § 1533(b). A finding by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding whether the petition contains substantial information to warrant a full status review is required within ninety days.


Jewish Journal

Israel’s Forests Give Shelter to Country’s Most Endangered Plants

By Dominik Doehler, ZAVIT* Environment and Science News Agency, August 27, 2020

Israel is known for having performed one of the world’s most extensive tree-planting endeavors between the 1950s and 70s, in an effort to make the region more inhabitable. What most people don’t know is that today these forests are home to some of the most endangered plant species in the country.

A new study, conducted in collaboration between the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael — the Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) and the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, aimed to determine which endangered plants were able to find refuge in the planted forests of the country. In addition, the researches wanted to know how and why these plants have been able to survive in these new habitats.

According to Ori Fragman-Sapir, a botanist and the scientific director of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, endangered plants grow in various habitats. However, a particular group of endangered plants is disappearing faster than any other in Israel. These are plants that grow in deep soil and usually accumulate in valleys.

“Deep soils are commonly considered to be among the most fertile soils, making them highly attractive for agricultural purposes. When modern agriculture developed in Israel and farmers started using deep plows and herbicides, all the endangered plants disappeared from the valleys,” Fragman-Sapir said. “Interestingly, a lot of those plants survived in the JNF-KKL forests, some of which also planted on deep soils,” he added.

The endangered species

There are 426 endangered plant species in Israel and another 400 rare species on the verge of becoming endangered. According to Fragman-Sapir a few dozens of those species can be found in JNF-KKL forests, including the Tumbling Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis pungens – a herbaceous plant native to the Middle East), the Golden-leaved Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis chrysophylla – a flowering plant native to South West Asian mountains), and French Lavender (Lavandula stoechas – another flowering plant native to the Mediterranean).

For Fragman-Sapir and his team, this finding raised some critical questions about the future of those plants, first and foremost: Is the forest actively promoting the growth of the plants, and provides them with an ideal habitat? Or do they just about make it in that environment? “Based on the findings of the study, the latter, unfortunately, has proven to be true. However, that had been our guess in the first place.”

As stated by Fragman-Sapir, Israel’s natural environment is limited to pockets or islands, which holds, especially for endangered plants, whose habitat is highly fragmented due to the decline in deep fertile soils. In this context, it is crucial to find sites where the endangered species can be optimally protected. “We think that the JNF-KKL forests are a promising habitat for that purpose,” he said.

“The question now for JNF-KKL,” he continued, “is, ‘do they want to contribute to the conservation of those plants?’ which I believe they do. The ecologists of JNF-KKL are very much interested in transforming forests into sustainable and biodiverse ecosystems. Even though endangered plants have not really been on their agenda, they understand that outside of the forests these plants don’t stand a chance.”

In the next step, the scientists had to figure out how to protect the plants, and also ensure the survival of the species inside the forests. To this end, the researchers went to known as well as potential hotspots within the different JNF-KKL forests, surveyed them, and tried to understand why and how the plants are growing there. Among the JNF-KKL forests that were studied by the researchers was the Yatir Forest, Israel’s largest planted forest located on the edge of the Negev desert in the south, and the Gilboa Forest at Mount Gilboa in the Jezreel Valley.

The scientists also compared some of their new findings to older observations made during previous studies to see if any significant changes have occurred around the plant clusters.

“Many of the plants were actually surveyed before, and listed in the Red Data Book on Endangered Plants in Israel,” Fragman-Sapir said. “That’s also why we knew where we could find the sites with deep soils. However, we wanted to find out more specifically where in the forests you can find those pockets of endangered plants.

“Sometimes you even come across completely unknown sites. In the Gilboa mountains, for example, we found valleys of endangered plants that we didn’t know about at all. We did know the area, but we had no idea that those plants were growing there. So it goes to show that you can always find something interesting and surprising.”

How to preserve the plants?

The report not only contains the number of species and their locations, but recommendations on how to preserve the plant populations and how to manage the area.

For the conservation of the plants, the report suggests different measures, including the transplanting of species, establishing plant shelters and the thinning of trees in the proximity of some very rare species concentrations. Additionally, the report recommends reducing the herding of cattle in some areas to limit grazing activity.

“JNF-KKL has protocols mainly referring to the management of the trees. They weren’t aware that endangered species were also growing in their forests. Therefore new strategies are needed to incorporate these plants into the forests management plans,” Fragman-Sapir said. “This also happened with the rangers of the forest. Sometimes we would take them on one of our surveys, and they were astonished by some of the beautiful endangered species we’ve shown them. So the awareness about these species is still relatively low, but the ambition to preserve them is there.”


Fox 11 News (Green Bay, WI)

Federal review on lake sturgeon put on hold

by Brian Kerhin, FOX 11 News, August 26th 2020

(WLUK) – A federal review to determine if lake sturgeon should be listed as an endangered or threatened species is on hold indefinitely.

Last summer, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said it would consider a request to determine if the fish should receive federal protection.

Lake sturgeon are members of a family of fish that reach back to the dinosaur era. Their range extends from Hudson Bay to the southern Mississippi River in 18 states. They are the largest native freshwater fish in the Great Lakes. Their numbers were once in the millions but have fallen drastically in the past century because of pollution and overfishing, according to USF&WS.

The next step is what the USF&WS calls a “12-month finding” on whether the lake sturgeon warrants listing as an endangered or threatened species, according to Barbara Hosler, regional listing coordinator.

“Right now, we have a backlog of 12-month findings to make on petitions that we have received,” Hosler told Fox 11. “For lake sturgeon, we are in the process of figuring out where to place completion of the 12-month finding onto that national listing workplan.”

To get to the federal rulemaking website for the review, click here and enter the docket number FWS–R3–ES–2018–0110.

When the review was announced last summer, the agency said it’s too early to say if a listing would have any impact on the Lake Winnebago population and its popular spearing season. The agency does have the ability to treat distinct populations of lake differently.


Center for Biological Diversity

August 25, 2020

Rare Virgin Islands Flower Proposed for Endangered Species Protection

Marrón Bacora Finally Getting Protection From Hurricanes, Sprawl

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed listing the marrón bacora, a plant native to the Virgin Islands, as endangered and identified 2,549 acres of potential critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act.

Marrón bacora is a flowering shrub found only in dry forests on St. John’s, Virgin Islands. The plant is threatened by sprawl development and the climate crisis.

“This magnificent plant, once thought to be extinct, has a fighting chance at survival now,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center. “Endangered Species Act protection will help this Virgin Islands beauty not just survive, but thrive.”

Today’s proposal springs from Center litigation that resulted in a binding commitment by the Service to determine whether protections should be provided. The agency published a positive 12-month finding for the marrón bacora in 2011, but found that even though federal protections were warranted, they were precluded due to other priorities. The plant was then put on a waiting list.

Marrón bacora, formally known only by its Latin name Solanum conocarpum, can reach 10 feet in height. It was believed extinct, then rediscovered in 1992. The plant was first petitioned for listing in 1996 and after more than a dozen years of stalling, and two Center lawsuits, the Service in 2009 finally set a timeline for protecting the plant. Unfortunately, that resulted in a finding that the agency would indefinitely postpone protection, which forced the Center to go back to court again and resulted in today’s proposed listing decision.

St. John’s was devastated in 2017 by hurricanes Irma and Maria. The proposed listing rule found that the climate crisis is predicted to increase tropical storm frequency and intensity and cause severe droughts. The proposed rule also found that the plant’s habitat is vulnerable to modification due to urban development.


Several endangered species may be vulnerable to COVID-19

By Chrissy Sexton, staff writer, August 22, 2020

Several critically endangered species may have a high risk of COVID-19 infection, according to new research from UC Davis.

An international team of scientists conducted a genetic study of 410 different species of vertebrates, including birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals to determine which may be most vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2.

In humans, the ACE2 protein that serves as the cellular gateway for COVID-19 contains 25 amino acids that are important for the virus to bind and gain entry into the body. The genomic analysis was designed to investigate how many of these amino acids are found in the ACE2 proteins of the different species.

“Animals with all 25 amino acid residues matching the human protein are predicted to be at the highest risk for contracting SARS-CoV-2 via ACE2,” said study first author Joana Damas. “The risk is predicted to decrease the more the species’ ACE2 binding residues differ from humans.”

The study revealed that about 40 percent of the species potentially susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 are classified as “threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. These animals may be particularly vulnerable to human-to-animal transmission.

“The data provide an important starting point for identifying vulnerable and threatened animal populations at risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection,” said study lead author Professor Harris Lewin. “We hope it inspires practices that protect both animal and human health during the pandemic.”

The researchers found that several critically endangered primate species have the highest risk of COVID-19, including the Western lowland gorilla, Sumatran orangutan, and Northern white-cheeked gibbon.

Marine mammals such as gray whales and bottlenose dolphins were also identified as having the highest risk of infection.

Cats, cattle, and sheep were determined to have a medium risk of ACE2 binding, while dogs, horses, and pigs were found to have a low risk.

Further research is needed to better understand the implications of the findings. In documented cases of SARS-COV-2 infection in animals such as cats, dogs, hamsters, and tigers, the virus may be using ACE2 receptors or may be using different receptors to gain access to host cells.

The National Zoo and the San Diego Zoo, which both contributed genetic material to the study, are among many institutions that have strengthened programs to protect both animals and humans from COVID-19.

“Zoonotic diseases and how to prevent human to animal transmission is not a new challenge to zoos and animal care professionals,” said study co-author Klaus-Peter Koepfli. “This new information allows us to focus our efforts and plan accordingly to keep animals and humans safe.”

The researchers said the predicted animal risks should not be overinterpreted, as more studies are needed to determine the susceptibility of animals to SARS-CoV-2.

(The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.)



California Condor, A Critically Endangered Species, Hatches At The LA Zoo

By CBSLA Staff, August 21, 2020

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The Los Angeles Zoo is celebrating its newest baby – a California condor that hatched Friday morning.

The egg, which had been dubbed #LA1720, began hatching Thursday evening and finally emerged from its shell Friday morning with some help from the zoo’s condor keeper, Debbie, who gave the newly hatched chick a thorough exam, then placed it in a warm brooder to be monitored for the next 36 hours.

Condor keeper Debbie gives the newly hatched chick a very thorough exam (the equivalent of checking for all 10 fingers and toes), which includes applying antiseptic to the umbilicus (the equivalent to a human baby’s umbilical cord). #LA1720

Zoo officials say the next step for the chick will placing it with parents Sequoia and Squapuni.

According to the zoo, there was once only 22 California condors left on the planet, so this new chick makes for one more.

“It’s an incredible emotional experience to, literally, witness these folks saving a species from extinction,” the zoo’s conservation ambassador, LouAnne, said in an Instagram post.

The California condor is considered to be a critically endangered species after its population was nearly decimated by poaching, lead poisoning and habitat destruction.


Las Vegas Review-Journal

Environmental group plans lawsuit to save endangered blue butterfly

By Alexis Ford, August 20, 2020

The Center for Biological Diversity said Thursday it will sue two federal agencies to block a ski resort expansion that it says could lead to the extinction of the Mount Charleston blue butterfly.

“The beautiful Mount Charleston blue butterfly is teetering on the brink of extinction and a downhill sports amusement park is the last thing it needs,” Patrick Donnelly, the center’s Nevada state director, said in a statement.

The nonprofit conservation group said it filed a notice of intent Thursday to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Donnelly said the Endangered Species Act requires a 60-day notice before litigation to allow the agencies time to correct the issues raised.

“The proposed ski-resort expansion would include new lift-assisted downhill mountain bike trails and a ‘mountain coaster,’ ” the center said in a statement. “These developments would open the area to summertime operations and thousands of visitors when the butterfly is active and most vulnerable.”

Donnelly said a similar development endangered the butterfly in the first place. Fewer than 100 of the species, which was added to the endangered species list in 2013, have been observed over the past five years, the center said.

“Previous recreational developments are exactly what made this butterfly endangered to begin with, so we’re intervening to prevent the government from dooming this species,” he said.

The butterfly lives predominantly in the Lee Canyon area, where the center said many new picnic areas, campgrounds and other recreational areas have been planned.

The center cited the Endangered Species Act, arguing in its notice that the federal departments failed to ensure that the ski area wouldn’t endanger the butterflies by destroying or harming their habitat.

“The Endangered Species Act is the most successful conservation law in the world at preventing extinction, but sometimes we need to intervene to ensure that the government follows the law,” Donnelly said. “We’re in the middle of an extinction crisis, and we can’t afford to lose this unique and incredibly imperiled butterfly.”


Malta Winds

Fires in Brazil threaten world’s largest wetland along with plenty of endangered species

Posted by Fabrizio Tabone on 19th August 2020 in International News

Flames that are currently ravaging in Brazil’s Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, have threatened numerous endangered species as the fires reach almost record-breaking numbers.

Inpe, Brazil’s national space research agency, has registered over 3,121 fires during the first 15 days of August, which is almost five times more than the fires during the same period in 2019.

If the fires continue at their current rate, they could reach an all-time record since the records began being taken back in 1998.

Local firefighters worked hard to fill the burning earth with water, with clouds of smoke filling numerous parts of the area.

Environment Minister Ricardo Salles speaking during a visit to Mato Gross State to see the work being done by the firefighters in the Pantanal, claimed that the firefighters and officials are facing a tough challenge to slow down the spread of the fires.

He said that “The atmosphere is very hot, very dry, with strong winds and high temperatures”, with all of these factors helping the spread of fires.

He added that they “saw hundreds of fires along the journey throughout the day. Places where the planes and firemen have fought the fires directly without stopping, but still the fires are causing great damage to fauna, flora and to the Pantanal region”.

According to government data, during the period from January to July, around 6% of the Pantanal, or approximately 8,500 square kilometres, burned and suffered from the fires.

The Pantanal is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, having more than 4,700 plant and animal species, with the WWF reporting that some of the world’s most threatened species live in the area, such as the jaguar.

Additionally, the wetlands are home to the blue Hyacinth Macaw parrots, the largest flying parrot species in the world.

The region has suffered from 30 day of below-average rainfall, as well as higher-than-average temperatures, according to Refinitiv.

Paulo Barroso, president of the local firefighting committee, claimed that “It is extremely difficult to combat, control and combat again a fire with the dimensions that we have seen here in the Pantanal”.

This continues to add pressure on the Brazilian government, who had to manage one of the biggest forest fires ever last year when the Amazon rainforest suffered increases in destruction by 88% during June 2019 when compared to the same month in 2018.


California to Hold Hearing on Listing Pacific Leatherbacks Under State Endangered Species Act

By Turtle Island Restoration Network, August 18, 2020

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California wildlife officials are accepting public comments and holding an online hearing Aug. 20 to determine if the state will accept a petition to list Pacific leatherback sea turtles under the state’s Endangered Species Act.

The Pacific leatherback population has declined by 80% over the past 40 years. These giant, ancient, soft-shelled sea turtles swim across the Pacific Ocean to feed on jellyfish off the West Coast. But on arrival — and despite federal protection — they are captured, injured, and drowned in gillnets, crab-trap lines and other fishing gear that targets tuna and swordfish.

Protecting leatherbacks under the state’s Endangered Species Act would make them a state conservation priority. The state law would also provide a backstop to potentially weakened protections for leatherbacks under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The petition to list leatherbacks under the state’s Endangered Species Act was filed Jan. 9 by the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network.

“This is California’s chance to save a species that has existed since the time of dinosaurs,” said Annalisa Tuel, policy and advocacy manager for Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We are hopeful the California Fish and Game Commission will do the right thing by accepting our petition to ensure leatherbacks do not go extinct in our lifetimes.”

Pacific leatherback sea turtles are highly endangered and listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. In 2016 the National Marine Fisheries Service identified leatherback sea turtles as one of eight species most at risk of extinction. The Service says reducing their entanglement in fishing gear is the top priority for ensuring their survival.

“California has an opportunity here to lead by example and show other states how they can play a powerful role in fight against the global extinction crisis,” said Catherine Kilduff, a Center attorney. “The time to save leatherback sea turtles is now.”

A new review of leatherback sea turtle science released on Monday concludes that seven distinct populations of leatherback sea turtles face a high extinction risk. The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that all seven leatherback sea turtle populations remain endangered, and denied a petition by the commercial fishing industry to relax some protections.

Turtle Island Restoration Network sued the Trump administration after a fishing permit issued last year exempted vessels from the federal ban on longline gear off California. Longlines stretch up to 60 miles, with thousands of baited hooks. A federal judge in Oakland ruled Dec. 20 that the federal government had failed to adequately consider impacts on leatherbacks when it revived longline fishing, blocking the permit.


Courthouse News Service

Feds Sued Over Refusal to List California Spotted Owl as Endangered

August 18, 2020  DUSTIN MANDUFFIE

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) — A federal lawsuit filed by conservationists Tuesday seeks to hold the US Fish and Wildlife Service to account for failing to list the California spotted owl as endangered.

According to the 22-page complaint filed by Sierra Forest Legacy, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, the November 2019 decision to deny protection to the owl species was unlawful and unsupported by Fish and Wildlife’s own scientific assessment, which confirmed dramatic population declines in four out of five study areas. The groups seek to have the decision declared arbitrary and reversed.

The California spotted owl is a medium-sized raptor found throughout mountainous and coastal regions of California. Because they are not listed as either endangered or threatened, they receive no protection under the Endangered Species Act, despite having far lower population levels than other owl species that are currently protected. Repeated pleas to afford them the same protection as other spotted owl species, most recently in 2015, have fell on deaf ears.

“The service has been steadfast in its refusal to do so, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that protection under the Endangered Species Act is warranted,” the environmentalists say in their lawsuit. “As a result of the service’s intransigence, California spotted owls are on a path to extinction. In evaluating the recent petition to protect the California spotted owl, the service’s own scientific experts analyzed the best available science and concluded that in the foreseeable future, California spotted owls may be extirpated from large portions of their range.”

The Endangered Species Act was enacted by Congress in 1973 to provide “a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved.” Climate change, drought, tree mortality, high-severity fire and logging are all listed as threats currently facing the California spotted owl population, which Fish and Wildlife acknowledges will all continue unabated.

The species prefers to inhabit old-growth forests with large trees like the Douglas fir, multistoried canopies and dense canopy closure. The U.S. Forest Service confirms that these old-growth forests have declined by as much as 90% in the Sierra Nevada range from their historical conditions. The amount of commercial logging on public land in the Sierra Nevada has declined since the 1900s, but “fuel reduction” efforts intended to stem the rising tide of wild fires have continued to take their toll on the owls’ habitat.

“For far too long, the California spotted owl has been caught in political crosshairs, while its populations steadily decline,” said Pamela Flick, California program director for the group Defenders of Wildlife, in a statement. “Without federal protections to stem habitat loss and prevent forest mismanagement, the owl will likely remain on a path towards extinction. Defenders will continue to fight in court to save this species and the old forests these owls need to survive.”

Co-plaintiff Earthjustice agreed.

“This iconic species needs the protection provided by the Endangered Species Act if it is to survive,” adds Elizabeth Forsyth, staff attorney at Earthjustice’s Los Angeles office. “The Fish and Wildlife Service’s own assessment shows the threats to the California spotted owl’s survival are increasing dramatically and that, without protection, the California spotted owl will likely be wiped out from large portions of its range.”

Conservationists have for years used the spotted owls’ threatened listing to combat logging projects across the West Coast. The timber industry has been on the defensive since the 1990s, with several of its projects being denied by authorities for the risk posed to the bird.

“Despite 20 years of scientific data showing that California spotted owl populations are declining, the FWS once again caved to pressure from federal agencies and the timber industry by not listing this species,” said Susan Britting, executive director of Sierra Forest Legacy. “Our only recourse to save this species is to hold the agency accountable for ignoring the scientific data that supports listing.”

The groups seek a court finding that the service’s decision to not list the spotted owl was illegal, and an order to reassess within six months.

Representatives for Fish and Wildlife did not respond to a request for comment before publication time.


The Guardian

Walls of death’: surge in illegal drift nets threatens endangered species

Fishing fleets are defying international ban, with deadly nets ensnaring dolphins, whales and other protected marine life

Peter Yeung, Tue 18 Aug 2020

Last month Carmelo Isgrò received a phone call from the Italian coastguard. A 24ft sperm whale had been found thrashing about in the waters north of Sicily, desperately trying to escape a vast illegal drift net. “They asked me to help cut it loose because I have a lot of experience with these kinds of nets,” says Isgrò, a marine biologist and director of the Museum of the Sea in the Sicilian town of Milazzo. “So I got a very big knife and went straight away.”

Isgrò was among a team of divers who tried for 48 hours to free the agitated female whale, as the miles-long trap gradually sliced further into her thick skin. “It was a very difficult operation because the whale was so powerful, and if you are struck by its tail you could be killed,” says Isgrò. The team were able to remove parts of the netting, but the whale, whose tail was still tangled up, dived deep into the ocean and they lost track.

Authorities say the use of these illegal drift nets, dubbed “walls of death” due to their deadly impact on marine life, has surged. Figures show the Italian coastguard alone has seized 100km (62 miles) of drift nets so far in 2020, compared to 60km in all of 2017, and experts say those numbers are likely to be a major underestimate.

Reaching up to 50km in length and 50m in depth, drift nets – typically made of fine mesh suspended from buoys across fish migration paths – were banned in international waters by the UN in 1992 for any length above 2.5km, due to the high bycatch rates for species of dolphins, whales, sharks and sea turtles. Since 2002 their use has been prohibited in EU waters, no matter the size, when used to capture highly migratory species such as tuna and swordfish.

“The impact of these drift nets is absolutely disastrous,” says Vanya Vulperhorst, campaign director of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing at Oceana Europe, a conservation non-profit that has investigated illegal drift net fishing across the Mediterranean. “They are indiscriminate in what they trap, and the result is that endangered and protected species are being killed in large numbers.”

Research published last month by Padua University found a quarter of the cetaceans – like the trapped Mediterranean sperm whale, which is endangered – that beached on Italy’s coastline in recent years died due to human activity, with illegal drift nets a primary cause.

Fisheries bycatch, some of which is due to drift nets, accounted for the deaths of more than 300,000 small whales, dolphins and porpoises in 2008, according to WWF, and that figure that is likely to have since doubled. Between 11 and 26m tons of fish, worth up to an estimated $23.5bn (£17.9bn), are caught via illegal, unreported and unregulated means every year, according to a 2009 study.

Cheap, profitable and easy to deploy, drift nets remain popular as a commercial fishing method, especially for open sea species such as swordfish, as it allows them to be quickly caught in large quantities.

Campaigners argue that limited and convoluted legislation with a number of loopholes has allowed illegal drift net fishing to thrive. The practice is widely seen in the Mediterranean and has spread across the Atlantic and to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

“It’s such a messy set up of laws and regulations and moratoriums,” says Valeska Diemel, international director of FishAct, a non-profit organisation based in Germany. Laws differ between national and international waters, she adds, and practices that are legal in the Atlantic are illegal in the Baltic Sea, where the use and keeping on board of drift nets has been fully banned since 2008. “This is a problem when it comes to enforcement, because there are areas where it is super clear what the laws are, but there are areas where I think agencies aren’t even sure themselves,” she says.

Francesco Mirabito, an environmental activist based in Sicily, says fishermen are also sidestepping sanctions by loading smaller, legal nets known as ferrettara on board and then attaching them together once out at sea.

“In the EU regulations, the definition of the nets is not precise enough,” he says. “Fishermen at the docks are really tranquil, doing everything in daylight because they know they won’t be caught. Then, at sea, they know it’s impossible for authorities to check on all of them. Even if their nets are seized it’s not a big deal – they are made in China for a tenth of the price it used to be.”

A spokesperson for the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean says it “actively supports all efforts to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing”, including regular information requests for countries to ensure legal compliance.

But environmentalists fear governments have been reluctant to impose sanctions on the powerful fishing industries, pointing to a failed effort by the European commission to outlaw the use of any kind of drift net for fishing in EU waters. Greenpeace and the Tethys Research Institute, a Milan-based non-profit for cetacean research and conservation, wrote a letter last month to Italy’s minister of agriculture Teresa Bellanova asking for an outright ban on drift nets and powerful sanctions for lawbreakers.

“This destruction is happening before our eyes,” says Raúl García, fisheries officer at WWF Spain, who has been researching drift nets since 2002. “It has been for years. We need to act before it’s too late.”

(This article was amended on 19 August 2020 to clarify the signatories of a letter sent to Italy’s minister of agriculture.)



More endangered bees found in the Quad Cities

The Illiniwek Forest Preserve says their conservation efforts are paying off after finding a dozen Rusty Patched Bumblebees.

Author: Katherine Bauer, August 17, 2020

HAMPTON, Illinois — The team at the Illiniwek Forest preserve has stumbled on a gold mine. They believe they have a colony of rare Rusty Patched Bumblebees calling their native prairie grass home.

“The first time I saw it, I wasn`t quick enough to get a photo because they move so fast,” says park ranger Mike Petersen, who found the first bee. “About two weeks later, I saw it again and was able to snap a couple photos of it.”

The Rusty Patched Bumblebee has been on the endangered species list since 2017. Their population drastically declining 87 percent in the last two decades.

They’re known for the reddish-brown patches on their back. And that’s what Black Hawk College Assistant Professor of Biology Isaac Stewart has been looking for for years. He came out to confirm what Petersen had found.

“That’s kind of the holy grail of finds,” he explains. “And then to come out here, find it, and not only find one or two but 13 individuals… that means we have a vibrant colony and there’s hope to reestablish a colony next spring. It’s a great find.”

Stewart credits this to Illiniwek’s efforts to expand and maintain native prairie grass. The native plants are perfect for supporting all kinds of pollinators.

“If we can get this bee stable here… then maybe it can start to spread more into what its historic range used to be,” Stewart says. “And then maybe we will have staved off the extinction of a species.”

And Petersen says they’re doing everything they can to help these bees. They already have 15 acres of prairie grass and adding more this fall.

The project includes tearing up three acres of turf later this month then planting native grass and plants in September.

“It really affirms if you have the habitat here, the animals will come,” Petersen says.

Stewart says they’ll monitor the bees, especially into spring, to see how well they’re doing.


Courthouse News Service

Judge Blasts Feds Over Long-Delayed Salmon Protections at Oregon Dams

August 17, 2020 KARINA BROWN

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — Dams in the Willamette Valley are killing the majority of the young salmon and steelhead that try to pass on their way out to sea, and the Army Corps of Engineers violated the Endangered Species Act by refusing to take steps to reduce those deaths, a federal judge ruled Monday.

More than two decades ago, government scientists began evaluating a network of 13 dams in the Willamette Valley, eventually finding that dam operations were in danger of completely wiping out certain runs of salmon and steelhead and requiring improvements in water quality and fish passage to avoid that. The Army Corps was supposed to complete upgrades years ago. Now, the Corps says, the projects won’t be done until at least 2028.

Environmental groups sued in 2018, asking a judge to enforce protections for Upper Willamette River Chinook and steelhead, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez found the Corps has continued to operate for years while killing fish at rates government scientists have said could jeopardize the continued existence of salmon and steelhead. Hernandez criticized the Corps’ failure to ask for a new evaluation of the dams’ effects on salmon when it was clear it wouldn’t meet its deadlines, calling it “a substantial procedural violation.”

Meanwhile, other problems like warming oceans, habitat degradation and sea lion predation are pushing salmon and steelhead closer to the brink. The National Marine Fisheries Service, tasked with evaluating whether government projects violate laws intended to protect the environment, issued requirements in its 2008 biological opinion that were supposed to help keep Willamette Valley dams from making the situation worse.

But Hernandez found that the Corps missed the mark.

“Far short of moving towards recovery, the Corps is pushing the [Upper Willamette River] Chinook and steelhead even closer to the brink of extinction,” Hernandez wrote. “The record demonstrates that the listed salmonids are in a more precarious condition today than they were at the time NMFS issued the 2008 BiOp.”

The fisheries service’s biological opinion allowed the Corps to harm threatened fish by operating the dams,so long as the Corps took specific steps to increase fish passage and cool water in the reservoirs behind dams, which reach artificially elevated temperatures that are lethal to fish.

But the Corps never took most of those steps, according to court documents, and far exceeded the mortality levels the fisheries service said was allowable. The death rates allowed by the service were substantial — up to 65% of young salmon passing the Detroit and Big Cliff dams on the North Santiam River, up to 68% of juveniles at Fall Creek Dam in the Middle Fork Willamette and up to 32% at Cougar Dam on the McKenzie River. But the Corps blew past those limits, according to court documents.

In slides that were part of its own 2016 PowerPoint presentation, the Corps used data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimating that dams in the McKenzie, Santiam, and Middle Fork Willamette subbasins are causing the death of between 71% and 89% of the young salmon and steelhead on their way out to sea.

The Corps argued Congress authorized construction of the dams, knowing they would block passage of fish both on their way to sea and on their way back home to spawn. Still, Hernandez wrote, it’s illegal for a government agency to worsen the existential jeopardy a species faces, even in situations where “baseline conditions” mean the species is struggling to begin with.

The Corps violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to take the steps the fisheries service said was necessary to improve water quality and to help young salmon and steelhead make it past the dams, and therefore worsening the decline of threatened fish, Hernandez found.

Next up will be the phase of the litigation where the parties decide how to remedy the legal violations Hernandez found. The current ruling only assigns liability to the Corps and the fisheries service. Hernandez ordered the parties to suggest a briefing schedule for the remedy phase within the next two weeks.

An order to speed a new fish passage facility currently slated to open at Detroit Dam by 2028 is likely to top the wish list attorney for plaintiffs Northwest Environmental Defense Center, WildEarth Guardians and Native Fish Society.

As their attorney, Lauren Rule, told Hernandez in an earlier hearing, “These species may not have four to five years left. They are in such perilous conditions.”

Meanwhile this spring, the Corps announced a plan to change the allocation of river water during dry years to benefit industrial, municipal and irrigation users. The Corps’ “share the pain” plan reduced water allocated to all categories of use, instead of prioritizing fish and wildlife by keeping water in the river during drought years. The Corps issued a biological assessment finding that its reallocation plan was unlikely to harm threatened salmon and steelhead — a conclusion National Marine Fisheries Service did not share.

The agency found in a 2019 biological opinion that the reallocation plan “is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of Upper Willamette River Chinook salmon and steelhead and destroy or adversely modify their designated critical habitats,” mostly by raising water temperatures to levels deadly to adult fish fighting the currents on their way upriver.

The Corps is already in the midst of determining its role in harming Willamette Valley fish listed under the Endangered Species Act. And the act bars government agencies from taking additional actions that would harm the species under consideration in such determinations. That dispute is the subject of subject of separate litigation, also overseen by Judge Hernandez.

Andrew Missel, attorney for the plaintiffs in that case, told Hernandez in May that the Corps is operating outside the law.

“The Corps broke the law by engaging in this action while at the same time engaging in ESA consultation,” Missel told Hernandez, using the acronym for the Endangered Species Act. “The agency is violating a procedure that impairs the process and will result in different conditions on the ground in the future. They just want to be free of any judicial review of their actions in this case.”


San Francisco Chronicle

Endangered trout species thriving in remote Nevada lake

Aug. 16, 2020

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A half-century after being added to the endangered species list, Lahontan cutthroat trout are thriving with help from a Native American tribe at a remote lake in northern Nevada.

For nearly a decade, members of the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe and scientists at the Global Water Center at the University of Nevada, Reno have studied the robust Lahontan cutthroat trout population at Summit Lake, a small high-desert lake into which water flows in but not out.

The lake ecosystem has little human impact and could provide a model for recovery efforts in other lakes “that are less fortunate and that have lost their trout like the Walker and Tahoe,” university researcher Sudeep Chandra told the Reno Gazette Journal.

The Lahontan cutthroat is Nevada’s state fish and North America’s largest freshwater native trout species. It was listed as endangered in 1970 and upgraded to threatened in 1975, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The fish has crimson red-orange slash marks on the throat under the jaw and black spots over steel gray to olive green scales. It holds cultural significance for the Summit Lake tribe, whose name — “lake trout eaters” in the indigenous language — reflects the importance of the fish, said Rachael Youmans, tribal natural resources director.

The species is found in cold-water habitats in parts of Nevada, Oregon and California, including terminal lakes such as Pyramid and Walker; alpine lakes such as Tahoe; rivers such as the Humboldt, Carson, Walker and Truckee; and tributary streams.

The fish can grow to 50 inches (1.27 meters) and live for up to 14 years in lakes. River dwellers grow to about 10 inches (25 centimetres) and live less than five years. The species spawns between February and July, depending on stream flow, elevation and water temperature.

In 1844, there were 11 lake-dwelling populations of the trout, and 400 to 600 stream-dwelling populations that spanned more than 3,600 miles of waterways, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Today, the fish are found in just five lakes and fewer than 130 streams in the Lahontan Basin in the northeast corner of Nevada, and several dozen streams outside the basin. Their habitat now covers less than 500 miles (800 kilometers) of waterways.

Declines have occurred due to water diversions, changing habitat and invasive species, Chandra said.

Summit Lake, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) north of Reno, is closed to non-tribal members, and fish catches are limited for members. The tribe erected grazing enclosures that prevent trampling from livestock and stopped diverting freshwater in streams for the reservation. Mahogany Creek flows into the lake unimpeded.

“It’s a very healthy riparian corridor here now,” Youmans told the Gazette Journal.

Summit Lake is mildly saline, and healthier than other terminal lakes in the huge Great Basin watershed of central Nevada, scientists say. Many terminal lakes have higher dissolved salt levels than lakes that flow to the sea.

Walker Lake in Nevada, also a terminal lake, has a salinity level of about 20 parts per thousand and is too saline for most fish, Chandra said. Summit Lake has less than 2 parts per thousand.


One Green Planet

These Fishermen are Now Protecting the World’s Most Endangered Sea Turtles Instead of Selling Them!

By Eliza Erskine, August 16, 2020

Fishermen in Senegal are teaming up to help protect one of the world’s endangered species, the sea turtle. Green turtles, leatherhead and loggerhead turtles can all be found off the coast of Senegal in West Africa.

Turtles have been threatened by pollution, fishing nets, and poaching in the area. Turtles also used to be a source of protein in Senegal, 30 years ago turtle meat was sold at markets in local villages.

Fishermen are now watching specific zones to keep turtles safe. “Once we were the biggest eaters of turtles, now we have become their biggest protectors. We ate them in the street, we cooked them at home,” says Abdou Karim Sall, who manages one of the protected zones. The Marine Protected Area (MPA) is now watched by local fishermen and is supported by government and local associations. The zone encompasses 57 square miles.

Turtles travel through this area as part of migration patterns. They return to lay eggs once their migration is done. While fishermen are trying to protect the turtles in the area, they also help rescue those that get caught in nets or stray plastic. Fishermen and assocation members recognize the importance of turtles to the biodiversity of the water and areas they fish in. “It’s not to our advantage to eat them, because they help save marine species. Wherever you find turtles you will find shrimp and octopus in abundance,” explains local Gamar Kane.

Young turtles that swim in currents are especially vulnerable to plastic. But any turtle that ingests plastic is at risk because plastic blocks its digestive tract and guts and limits food absorption and digestion.



Scientists urge reassessment of threatened species after Australian bushfires

by Elizabeth Claire Alberts on 14 August 2020

A new paper suggests that the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires impacted critical habitats of more than 800 native species, with 70 species losing more than 30% of their natural range.

  • The bushfires may have led to a 14% increase in threatened species, according to the study.
  • The researchers recommend an urgent assessment of threatened species via the Australian government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, which classifies threatened species and provides legal protection for them.
  • Other actions may be needed to help preserve native wildlife populations, such as invasive species management, captive-breeding programs, and the protection of fire-burned regions to aid recovery, the researchers suggest.

Between 2019 and 2020, turbulent bushfires ripped through Australia, turning green forests into ash, and producing plumes of smoke that hovered over the country like a shroud. While the flames have been extinguished for several months now, scientists are still scrambling to understand the full impact on the country’s native wildlife.

A new paper published in Nature Ecology & Evolution estimates that the bushfires burned through about 97,000 square kilometers (37,500 square miles) of vegetation in southern and eastern Australia, equivalent to 18 million football fields, or an area bigger than Portugal. The fire-impacted regions included critical habitat for 832 species of native vertebrate fauna, including 378 birds, 254 reptiles, 102 frogs, 83 mammals and 15 freshwater fish, according to the study.

“This figure doesn’t include invertebrates or plants, so while a huge amount of species, severely underplays the impact of just one fire event,” lead author Michelle Ward, a researcher at the University of Queensland, told Mongabay in an email.

According to the study, 70 species had more than 30% of their habitat burned, with some species losing more than 80% of their natural territory. Of these 70 species, 21 are already threatened with extinction, including the Kangaroo Island dunnart (Sminthopsis aitkeni) and long-footed potoroo (Potorous longipes), both mouse-sized marsupials.

Ward and her colleagues say the bushfires likely caused a 14% increase in the number of threatened species, and have called for an urgent assessment of these species via Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, a piece of legislation that classifies threatened species and subspecies, and provides a legal framework for their protection.

Species not currently listed as threatened, but that may need assessment under the EPBC Act, include Kate’s leaf-tailed gecko (Saltuarius kateae), the short-eared possum (Trichosurus caninus), and Littlejohn’s tree frog (Litoria littlejohni), the study suggests.

“It’s important to remember that many of the animals impacted by these fires were already declining in numbers because of habitat destruction, drought, disease, and invasive species,” Ward said. “These fires are just another nail in the coffin for many of our native species.”

Ward said some independent and government-funded surveys are already underway, but the process of getting listings updated via the EPBC Act can be a lengthy process, sometimes taking more than two years. However, Ward says she and her team have been in “constant communication” with the Australian government about this matter.

A spokesperson for the Australian government’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment told Mongabay it has established the Wildlife and threatened species bushfire recovery Expert Panel to help guide recovery actions for native species impacted by the fires, and it was already engaging with the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, which is responsible for amending and updating lists of threatened species. Additionally, the government said it had invested $200 million to support bushfire recovery for native wildlife and their habitat.

“The bushfires have had a significant impact on native plants and animals, and it is likely that species which were not previously considered threatened with extinction are now at risk as a result of the fires, while other species, which were previously considered threatened, are likely to now be at greater risk of extinction,” the spokesperson said.

Another team of researchers recently released an interim report, stating that nearly 3 billion animals had died in the fires, including 143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds, and 51 million frogs. These numbers are much higher than previous estimates of 1 billion animals dying in the fires.

“It is quite likely the fires would have caused some extinctions, but we won’t know until after the surveys,” Ward said.

The EPBC Act currently lists 202 faunal species as threatened, 164 as endangered, and 89 as critically endangered. Fifty-five faunal species are already listed as extinct.

Ward says native species may need a “range of strategic post-fire management actions to maintain and recover their populations” following the bushfires, including invasive species management and captive-breeding programs. It’s also important to protect fire-burned areas from salvage logging and other destructive activities that can disrupt an ecosystem’s ability to recover, she said.

With the next bushfire season right around the corner, study co-author James Watson, director of the science and research initiative at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and professor at the University of Queensland’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said it’s important to learn how to better manage forests to reduce fire risk and protect threatened species.

“While fire is a crucial aspect of many ecosystems, we’re witnessing climate change-induced drought combined with land use management practices that make forests more fire prone,” Watson said in a statement. “We need to learn from these events as they are likely to happen again.”


Ward, M., Tulloch, A. I., Radford, J. Q., Williams, B. A., Reside, A. E., Macdonald, S. L., … Watson, J. E. (2020). Impact of 2019-2020 mega-fires on Australian fauna habitat. Nature Ecology & Evolution. doi:10.1038/s41559-020-1251-1


NJ Spotlight

Would a Wind Farm Threaten an Endangered Shore Bird? Satellite Tagging Project Aims to Find Out

Jon Hurdle | August 14, 2020 | Energy & Environment

Offshore wind developer funds plan to judge whether birds will collide with turbines

An offshore wind developer is using satellite technology to determine whether an endangered shorebird species would risk colliding with planned wind turbines when it migrates from New Jersey beaches to South America.

The company, Atlantic Shores, has hired Larry Niles, a wildlife biologist, to attach satellite tags to 30 red knots to collect data on their flight path and altitude that can be used to judge whether a proposed wind farm off Atlantic City would conflict with the migration.

Niles, who has been monitoring the bird’s migration through New Jersey for the last 24 years, will begin the project this week by trapping some of the birds on a beach at Brigantine using a net fired with small cannons, allowing them to be captured, weighed and measured before having the satellite tags attached.

Niles will use the weight of individual birds to judge when they are likely to resume their southbound migration, based on research showing that they need to reach a certain weight in order to have the energy to fly to wintering grounds as far away as Tierra del Fuego at the southernmost tip of South America. Based on the expected departure date, he will program the satellite tags to send data on the birds’ movements in 60 “pings” over a specified period.

The data will allow the company, the conservation community and federal regulators to determine for the first time whether the wind farm would represent a new threat to the birds, whose depleted population has already led New Jersey to classify them as endangered, and for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to designate them a threatened species.

Red knots, rusty-red or gray birds about the size of a robin, and weighing less than 5 ounces, are mostly known in New Jersey for their annual visits each May to the Delaware Bay beaches where they feast on the eggs of horseshoe crabs and put on enough weight to complete migrations of up to 9,000 miles — one of the longest in the avian world — to their Canadian breeding grounds.

The mysteries of their journey southward

While their northbound migration has been closely studied and widely reported in the media, less is known about their return trip and whether the species faces additional threats to its survival — such as collisions with offshore wind turbines — on the southbound journey.

New Jersey’s fledgling offshore wind industry is getting big support from Gov. Phil Murphy, who has pushed green energy and backed a plan to make the state home to a facility that would build and assemble massive wind turbines. The data gathered by Niles and his team will show whether wind farms are another threat to a vulnerable species, and will give the industry a chance to show a sometimes skeptical public that it’s concerned about its relationship to the natural world.

“The industry is still trying to figure out how it does these reviews,” said Paul Phifer, permitting manager for Atlantic Shores, which holds a lease on 183,000 acres of ocean about 15 miles off Atlantic City. “Red knots probably fly through our area, and we’re not quite sure of the degree to which they fly through our area, and if they do, they do it at night. Fortunately, red knots are big enough, and the satellite technology is getting good enough, that we can put satellite tags on them.”

Whatever results are obtained from the red knot project will be reviewed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which is responsible for protecting listed species like the knot.

Offshore wind is an important component of Murphy’s plan to switch the state to 100% clean energy by mid-century. Last year, he set a goal of generating 7.5 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2035. About a third of that, or enough to power almost 1 million homes, would come from the Atlantic Shores project if fully developed, said Jennifer Daniels, development director for the company, which is a 50-50 partnership between Shell New Energies US and EDF Renewables North America.

The experience in Europe, where the offshore wind industry is much more developed than that in the U.S., is that the risk of birds colliding with turbines is low, said Phifer, a former official with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service who led its designation of the red knot as threatened in 2014. One European study in 2018 found only six bird strikes out of 3,375 migratory trips, a rate of 0.017%, he said.

Managing the risk

But when the risk is multiplied across the potential 20 gigawatts of wind power that the federal government projects eventually for the Eastern Seaboard, the question is how to manage it, Phifer said.

“None of this is risk-free, so how do you manage the risk?” he said. “Birding issues in Europe are significant, and I imagine they will be in New Jersey as well.”

Still, the state’s leading bird conservation group, NJ Audubon, is comforted that the proposed wind farm will be about 15 miles offshore, where it will present less of a threat to birds than closer in, simply because fewer birds migrate that far out, said David Mizrahi, vice president for research and monitoring at the nonprofit.

“There’s a lot of data to suggest that as you go further offshore, the encounter rates of wildlife diminish,” he said. “We are certainly supportive of a project that is further out, and we are certainly supportive of the work to identify the possible issues related to red knots.”

He said NJ Audubon fully supports the development of offshore wind as a source of clean energy and encourages the satellite-tagging project.

Even though other shorebirds like semip