Real News

Preview(opens in a new tab)

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

Daily Mail

Tiger sharks are moving 250 miles farther north due to climate change

January 18, 2022

Tiger sharks are starting to move farther up north due to climate change warming oceans that have historically been too cold for the apex predator, according to a new study.

A team of scientists led by the University of Miami found oceans temperatures have been the warmest on record over the last decade, allowing tiger sharks to travel 250 miles poleward.

Because of the warmer oceans, sharks are also migrating 14 days earlier to waters along the US northeastern coast.

Not only do these changes have ramifications for human safety, but these sharks are venturing out of areas that provide them protection from commercial fishing.

Neil Hammerschlag, director of the Shark Research and Conservation Program at the University of Miami, said in a statement: ‘Over the past 40 years, tiger shark distributions have extended further poleward along with warming waters.

‘In fact, off the northeast United States, where it was historically way too cold for tiger sharks, these waters have now warmed to suitable levels for tiger sharks and they’ve moved into those areas.’

To uncover these changes, Hammerschlag and his colleagues tagged 69 tiger sharks off southeast Florida, southwest Florida and the northern Bahamas, and monitored their migration patterns for nine years – from May 2010 to January 2019.

And tracking data generated 5,227 locations from 47 sharks.

‘During the warmest months, for every one degree Celsius [1.8F] increase in water temperatures above the long-term average, tiger sharks have moved poleward by nearly four degrees latitude,’ Hammerschlag said in a video.

The results may have greater ecosystem implications.

‘Given their role as apex predators, these changes to tiger shark movements may alter predator-prey interactions, leading to ecological imbalances, and more frequent encounters with humans,’ said Hammerschlag.

Tiger sharks are just the latest marine animal found to venture farther north, as a study in April 2021 revealed warming oceans have forced nearly 50,000 marine species to abandon their tropical homes along the equator and relocate to cooler waters.

Researchers, led by the University of Auckland, found a mass exodus of nearly fish, mollusks, birds and corals that have moved poleward since 1955.

In other words, scientists say, species that can move are moving to escape warming surface temperatures that currently average 68F (20C).

Senior author Mark Costello, a professor of marine biology at the University of Auckland, told AFP: ‘Global warming has been changing life in the ocean for at least 60 years.’ 

The team found a total of 48,661 species have moved south over three 20-year periods up to 2015.

The number of species attached to the seafloor, including corals and sponges, remained somewhat stable in the tropics between the 1970s and 2010, according to the study.

However, some have been found beyond the tropics, suggesting they are also trying to escape warming waters.

******

Buckrail (Jackson Hole,WY)

Yellowstone bison get second chance at ‘endangered’ listing

Buckrail @ Shannon, Jan. 14, 2022—Yellowstone

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A U.S. District Court judge is requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to take a second look at requests to list Yellowstone bison as an endangered species.

Judge Randolph D. Moss ruled Jan. 12 that USFWS fell short in its initial investigation into whether Yellowstone bison may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The ruling is a victory for the Buffalo Field Campaign, Friends of Animals and Western Watersheds Project.

“For the last eight years we’ve sought to hold FWS accountable for its failure to protect wild Yellowstone bison,” said James Holt, Buffalo Field Campaign’s executive director, in a press release. “While we savor this victory today, time is not on our side.”

Moss did not set a deadline for USFWS to reconsider bisons’ status.

More than 5,000 bison live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. National Park Service culls the herd every year as population management. Officials say culling is necessary to prevent the spread of disease, primarily from bison to cattle. A 2017 study from the National Academy of Science found all cases of brucellosis in Greater Yellowstone cattle that year were traced to transmission from elk rather than bison.

Culling is also frowned upon by some environmentalists who say bison habitat is under threat thanks to climate change and the animal should be protected. More than 3,000 bison have been killed in the last five years as part of the government’s population management, according to Western Watershed Project.

“This is another important victory for Yellowstone bison. But it is important that this victory lead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure adequate protections for our national mammal,” said Jocelyn Leroux, Montana director for Western Watershed Project. “Yellowstone bison, and the Central Herd specifically, need action now to reverse decades of aggressive government killing and harassment.”

*******

Hawaii Public Radio

Hawaiʻi has more endangered plants than any other state

Hawaii Public Radio | By Zoe Dym, Published January 14, 2022

Hawaiʻi has the highest number of endangered plants compared to any other state, according to Matt Keir, a botanist with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

He says Hawaiʻi must act quickly to improve and expand plant nursery facilities to grow more rare plants.

“It’s worth noting that plant extinction crisis in Hawaiʻi is much more urgent and troubling than in any other state,” Keir said.

“Hawaiʻi has more than twice the number of endangered plants than California does, and most other states are not even on the page. This is an outsized burden for our state that has 0.1% of the land in the entire country,” Keir explained.

There are over 366 native plants in Hawaiʻi labeled as threatened or endangered by federal and state governments, and 48 species proposed as endangered.

Over 100 native plants are extinct because of invasive species.

Threatened and endangered species need direct intervention for protection. This can be done through a cycle that begins with eradicating the animals that eat the plants – such as slugs and rats. Fencing can then be installed to protect the plants.

DLNR conservationists can collect the remaining seeds and grow them in the safety of plant nurseries before returning them to the wild.

******

NPR

The bald eagle population slowly recovers, but lead ammo hampers their resilience

January 14, 20223, RINA TORCHINSKY

The bald eagle population has slowly recovered from the impact of a pesticide that nearly drove them to extinction decades ago. But now researchers at Cornell University have found that lead ammunition continues to hamper the resilience of these American icons.

The use of lead ammunition in bald eagle habitats has reduced population growth by 4% to 6% annually in the Northeast, even as their populations soared in the lower 48 states from 2009 to 2021, according to a study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management.

The eagles feed on the carcasses left behind by hunters, and the dead animals can be contaminated by lead ammunition. The research spans decades of data, between 1990 and 2018, and covers seven states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont.

And while this study focuses on bald eagles, it could have implications for the well-being of other animals that are also known to feed on carcasses, including crows, coyotes and foxes.

“What we’ve got is a lot of data on bald eagles,” said Dr. Krysten Schuler, a wildlife disease ecologist and co-director of the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab. “They’re sort of the poster species that we’re using for this issue because we don’t have the same amount of data to do this type of analysis on other species.”

Bald eagles — hailed an “American success story” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — were threatened by the use of DDT, a pesticide that nearly obliterated their population. The pesticide was banned in 1972, and the eagles were included on the list of endangered species in the 1973 Endangered Species Act. In 2007, bald eagles were removed from the list.

Lead ammunition didn’t halt the eagles’ recovery, but it didn’t help it either, Schuler explained.

When a hunter shoots a deer with lead ammunition, the bullet disperses into small pieces. If a hunter “field dresses” the carcass by removing its internal organs, the organs left behind carry lead fragments, Schuler told NPR. The eagles unknowingly feed on the lead-contaminated organs.

Lead is toxic to everyone, but the acid in eagles’ stomachs breaks down the lead, eventually pushing it to circulate in their bodies, Schuler said.

“It’s an anthropomorphic source of mortality,” Schuler said. “The eagles are picking up lead from the environment that we put there, and, you know, with hunting ammunition, hunters do have a choice in what they use.”

Utilizing other types of ammunition, such as copper, could help keep lead out of bald eagle habitats. Burying the organs of a carcass shot with lead ammunition could also keep the contaminant from impacting the eagle population, Schuler said.

“This is definitely not an anti-hunting effort,” Schuler said. “We’re really trying to emphasize the choice and the education components.”

Discussion of the use of lead ammunition has also reached Washington.

On the last day of President Barack Obama’s administration, the outgoing director of fish and wildlife banned lead ammunition on national wildlife refuges. A few weeks later, President Donald Trump’s first interior secretary overturned it.

In July 2020, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., introduced a bill that would ban lead ammunition on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services land. The bill died in Congress. At the state level, a member of the Maine Legislature, Rep. Amy Roeder, introduced a similar bill in March 2021. The bill also died.

“Lead is a deadly toxin,” Lieu told Boise State Public Radio in 2020. “We shouldn’t just be spreading it all over the place with ammunition and it’s also deadly to animals.”

With the publication of the study, the researchers publicly shared their software so others can use it to investigate other species.

“When we started out, we didn’t know what we were going to find,” Schuler said. “But it’s been a big question, you know, for as long as I can think of in my career.”

******

The Center for Biological Diversity

$16,500 Reward Offered for Info on Wolf Killed Illegally in Oregon’s Wallowa County

PORTLAND, Ore.—(January 13, 2022)–Conservation groups announced today a $16,500 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction for the illegal shooting death of a two-year-old collared female wolf in Wallowa County in early January. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Turn in Poachers (TIP) division also offers a potential $300 reward for information regarding illegal wolf killings.

The Oregon State Police reported the incident on Jan. 11, after a concerned citizen alerted them. The slain wolf, designated as OR-106 by state wildlife biologists, was found on Parsnip Creek Road, about six miles southwest of the town of Wallowa in the Sled Springs game management unit. She dispersed from the Chesnimnus Pack, whose territory is in northern Wallowa County.

“We want justice for this young wolf, who was simply seeking a mate and territory of her own before her life was cut tragically short by a bullet,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We call on the state to show its commitment to holding perpetrators accountable by having its Department of Justice launch an independent, thorough investigation into this most recent killing, and past unsolved illegal killings of Oregon’s wolves.”

This new illegal shooting follows the gruesome illegal poisoning deaths of multiple wolves last year in northeast Oregon. Eight wolves from four different packs, including all members of the Catherine Pack, were poisoned in neighboring Union County, in incidents between February and July of 2021.

“The senseless killing of the young female wolf OR-106 is a crime against this animal and all who care about Oregon’s wildlife,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense, an Oregon-based national wildlife advocacy nonprofit. “It is absolutely critical that the perpetrator of this crime be caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

“Oregonians are feeling frustrated that there doesn’t seem to be enough of a deterrent to preclude these ongoing wolf killings,” said Adam Bronstein, Oregon/Nevada director of Western Watersheds Project. “Gov. Brown and other government officials need to take immediate action and start investigating these heinous crimes with vigor and resolve.”

“We call on state government and law enforcement to take seriously this devastating trend of illegal wolf killings and allocate all necessary resources to hold the criminals accountable,” said Bethany Cotton, conservation director for Cascadia Wildlands. “We ask community members to come forward with information they may have to solve these crimes and keep Oregon’s rare wildlife safe.”

“When poachers get away with breaking the law it only leads to more poaching and lawlessness,” said Danielle Moser of Oregon Wild. “This is a result of wolves losing their endangered species protections coupled with a culture of poaching permissiveness. For far too long, poachers have been emboldened by those who excuse and celebrate their criminal acts without fear of consequences.”

“We are saddened to hear the tragic news of the cowardly killing of wolf OR-106, but unfortunately, we are not surprised,” said Stephanie Taylor, president of Speak for Wolves. “With 32 poached wolves in Oregon since their return and nearly zero accountability for any of the incidents, it’s clear Oregon’s wildlife managers must do far more to educate the public on co-existence with native wildlife, and massively increase their efforts to hold poachers accountable. Otherwise, this ‘shoot, shovel, shut up’ culture will continue to thrive leading to even more poaching.”

“Illegally killing Oregon’s few wolves out of hatred or spite must stop,” said Kelly Peterson, Oregon senior state director at the Humane Society of the United States. “The death of OR-106 at the hands of a poacher is heartbreaking and infuriating, especially after eight of Oregon’s wolves were illegally poisoned and killed just last year. While this reward cannot bring back these iconic animals, we hope it brings these cruel actors to justice and helps to put an end to the illegal slaughter of our wolves once and for all.”

Anyone with information regarding this case is urged to contact Oregon State Police Sgt. Isaac Cyr through the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Turn in Poachers (TIP) hotline at 1-800-452-7888 or *OSP via mobile. Tips can also be submitted via email to TIP@state.or.us (monitored Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

Background

In the past 21 years, 30 wolves have been illegally killed in Oregon, and two more were found dead under mysterious circumstances, according to authorities. Five of these wolves were found dead in Wallowa County. Arrests and convictions have been made in only three of the 32 deaths.

The Trump administration stripped federal Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves across most of the country in January 2021, including in western Oregon. Since 2011 wolves in the eastern one-third of Oregon have not had federal protections and were managed solely by the state. In 2015 the state fish and wildlife commission prematurely stripped wolves of state endangered species act protections.

Even without state or federal protections, wolves are protected under Oregon’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. Wolves may be killed only in self-defense and by Oregon’s wildlife agency staff in instances of chronic livestock predations. Individual livestock owners throughout Oregon may kill a wolf in the act of attacking livestock and, in the eastern half of the state, a wolf that is chasing livestock. Oregon does not currently allow wolf hunting or trapping seasons.

Scientific research has shown that removing protections for wolves is associated with increased illegal killings of wolves, and that for every illegally slain wolf found, another 1 to 2 wolves have been killed that will remain undiscovered.

Groups contributing pledge reward amounts are the Center for Biological Diversity, Predator Defense, Western Watersheds Project, Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, Speak for Wolves, Northeast Oregon Ecosystems and The Humane Society of the United States.

******

The Hill

EPA to assess impact on endangered species before signing off on pesticide ingredients

By ZACK BUDRYK – 01/11/22

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will evaluate the potential impact of new pesticide active ingredients on endangered species before registering them, reversing a decades-long policy.

It was the agency’s practice not to assess such potential impacts before registering new active ingredients in most cases. During that period, the EPA “has refused to do this, and … then they keep losing in court,” said Lori Ann Burd, a senior attorney and environmental health program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The new policy means that if an EPA analysis determines a new pesticide active ingredient will likely have a negative impact on endangered species or their habitats, the agency will formally consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Services before making the registration official.

The active ingredient registration process, Burd said, has “operated from this presumption for a long time, that all new pesticides are better … which just hasn’t panned out to be true, [but] they’ve kind of rushed them onto the market under this presumption.”

The announcement, she said, indicates an abandonment of that assumption, as well as an acknowledgment that, like other agencies, the EPA is bound by the terms of the Endangered Species Act, and will determine these effects “as a routine part of the process rather than waiting to be sued and then haggling with us and fighting over it, eventually having to do nothing.”

However, Burd added that the Center for Biological Diversity was concerned about the lack of consultation between the EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service on the decision.

“Now the Fish and Wildlife Service has to get their act together and step up and figure out how they are going to also normalize this process and stop acting like this is the end of the world every single time every other agency does it on every other issue,” she added.

******

Florida Politics (St. Petersburgh, FL)

Bill to save seagrass and manatees gets first blue-green light

Officials would have to inspect septic tanks every five years.

By Renzo Downey, January 10, 2022

A bill to reduce algal blooms, and protect Florida’s declining manatee population, is inching forward in the Legislature.

A Senate panel voted unanimously Monday to approve the proposal (SB 832), which would implement the state Blue-Green Algae Task Force’s recommendations on prevention, cleanup and mitigation. The legislation, filed by Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart, strives to help reduce nutrient pollution that fuels algal blooms.

The effort comes after Florida’s worst year on record for manatee deaths, with more than 1,000 dead. Clearing the waters of the harmful blue-green algae that kills their seagrass food source could eventually help save the population.

Monday’s vote was the second time the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved a version of the bill, after committee members did so during the 2021 Session.

“I do hope this helps us with our manatee situation,” Stewart told the panel.

The bill’s central component would require the Department of Environmental Protection to implement a septic inspection program. Officials would have to inspect septic tanks every five years.

The legislation is part of a multiyear effort for Florida to tackle algal blooms that have become increasingly common and worse in the past decade. Those blooms come from nutrient runoffs and choking water systems throughout the state, particularly from Lake Okeechobee outward to the coasts.

Gov. Ron DeSantis created the Blue-Green Algae Task Force as one of his first acts when he took office in 2019. Lawmakers approved most of the task force’s recommendations issued that following October. However, Stewart’s bill would round up a couple steps the Legislature left off when it passed the package in 2020.

Authorities expected another bad year for manatees, with more deaths to come as Florida enters the winter months. During that time, manatees gather in warm-water areas where food can be hard to find, according to The Associated Press.

Paul Owens, president of 1,000 Friends of Florida, called headlines about manatee die-offs “painful reminders” that water can’t be taken for granted. He told the committee the proposal would reduce nutrient pollution and make the best use of public investments in water quality.

“It’s good for the environment. It’s good for taxpayers,” Owens said.

The bill next heads to the Senate Agriculture, Environment, and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, its second of three scheduled committee stops.

Democratic Rep. Joy Goff-Marcil of Maitland sponsored the companion measure (HB 561), which would receive its first hearing in the House Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee.

******

E&E News/Greenwire

Extinct? Ivory-billed woodpecker spurs dispute

By Michael Doyle | 01/10/2022

A Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to declare the ivory-billed woodpecker extinct is getting some pushback from those who maintain the species lives on.

So now, the federal agency is convening a public hearing to air competing views over whether the bird should be removed from the Endangered Species Act list on the basis of extinction. The 90-minute virtual hearing scheduled for Jan. 26 could be the last chance for meaningful dissent.

The hearing announced today was requested by Louisiana resident and bird expert Matt Courtman.

“We need to document the persistence of the ivory-billed as soon as possible,” Courtman said on a podcast last year, adding that “all of the research that’s been done on the ivory-billed has been hit-or-miss.”

Last September, the Fish and Wildlife Service declared it’s time to remove the ivory-billed woodpecker and 22 other species from the ESA list due to extinction (Greenwire, Sept. 29, 2021).

To date, 11 other species have previously been delisted due to extinction.

Other species proposed as extinct last September included the Bachman’s warbler, two species of freshwater fish, eight species of Southeastern freshwater mussels, and 11 species from Hawaii and the Pacific islands. None of these other species drew much attention.

The ivory-billed woodpecker, though, was once America’s largest woodpecker, and it’s long inspired a lot of searchers. The bird was listed in 1967 as endangered under the precursor to the ESA, the Endangered Species Preservation Act.

The FWS said that the primary threats leading to its extinction were the loss of mature forest habitat and collection.

The woodpecker had an overall length of approximately 18 to 20 inches and an estimated wingspan of 29 to 31 inches, according to observations by ornithologists from the late 19th century who collected specimens.

The last commonly agreed-upon sighting of the species was in the Tensas River region of northeast Louisiana in April of 1944.

In 1986, FWS noted that it had funded a large-scale survey that included coverage of potential sites throughout the species’ historical range. FWS said “no conclusive evidence of ivory-billed woodpeckers was obtained” during that study.

“Although there have been many sightings reported over the years since the last unrefuted sighting in 1944, there is much debate over the validity of these reports,” FWS said. “Furthermore, there is no objective evidence (e.g., clear photographs, feathers of demonstrated recent origin, specimens, etc.) of the continued existence of the species.”

An alleged sighting in Arkansas in 2004, for instance, spurred an extensive search effort in the area that was led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Nature Conservancy.

“After completing analysis of detection probabilities associated with all of the methods, researchers noted few, if any, ivory-billed woodpeckers could have remained undetected in the Big Woods of Arkansas during the period from 2005 to 2009,” FWS said.

A bird in a video was first identified as an ivory-billed woodpecker, but others thought it was more likely a pileated woodpecker.

Between 2015 and 2013, scientists spent an estimated 1,500 hours surveying the Pearl River swamp in Louisiana and the Choctawhatchee River swamp in Florida.

“Three video clips were produced from both areas; however, the blurred images are inconclusive,” the Fish and Wildlife Service said.

But in an October 2021 article published by Audubon, author Tim Gallagher recounted what he believes to have been his own sighting of the bird in 2004, and his conviction that “enough evidence certainly exists to cast a reasonable doubt on the wisdom” of the FWS decision.

“Let’s have a full discussion of all the pros and cons before going forward — before we give up all hope on one of the most iconic birds in the history of the American conservation movement,” Gallagher wrote.

******

Hey SoCal (Los Angeles, CA)

Mountain lion inbreeding fuels extinction fears; SoCal freeways to blame

January 8, 2022

Scientists tracking two local mountain lion populations, one in the Santa Monica Mountains and another in the Santa Anas, have identified the first reproductive signs of inbreeding among these groups, which are cut off from breeding options by busy freeways.

According to the UCLA-led study — which is available online and will be published in the January 2022 edition of the journal Theriogenology — the animals averaged a 93% abnormal sperm rate, while some also displayed physical signs of inbreeding, like deformed tails or testicular defects.

Researchers have long had genetic evidence of inbreeding, but the malformed sperm is the first evidence that inbreeding is manifesting in the reproductive system.

“This is a serious problem for an animal that’s already endangered locally,” said the study’s lead author, Audra Huffmeyer, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher who studies fertility in large cat species and is a National Geographic Explorer. “It’s quite severe.”

Researchers said the results lend urgency to the need for wildlife crossings, structures that allow the mountain lions and other animals to roam further and find a broader pool of potential mates. Mountain lions — also known as cougars — are a bellwether species, making them a leading indicator that inbreeding could soon cause problems for other species in the Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountains, the authors said.

The California Department of Transportation has scheduled groundbreaking for early 2022 on one such wildlife crossing, a bridge over the Ventura (101) Freeway in Agoura Hills, thanks to a mix of public and private funding.

Biologists and land managers hope this project will lead to more crossings. Early plans are being formulated for a possible structure over Interstate 15 in Riverside County.

The latest study draws on work by scientists from UCLA, the National Park Service’s Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center. Both the NPS and UC Davis are carrying out long-term studies of Southern California mountain lion populations, currently following 17 cats.

Over the past year, the research team identified nine adult males from the Santa Monica and Santa Ana ranges with signs of inbreeding, including the first evidence of reduced fertility.

Their findings are similar to the signs of severe inbreeding seen early on among most Florida panthers in the 1990s, including the kinked tails, undescended testes and teratospermia (60% or more abnormal sperm), Huffmeyer noted. The Florida panther population only recovered with the introduction of mountain lions from Texas.

“The Florida panthers were also severely isolated and severely inbred, so the fact that we’re seeing the same traits in our mountain lion population is alarming,” she said. “If we don’t do anything to introduce more genetic diversity to the Southern California mountain lions, we will have more males with reproductive problems, fewer kittens and a lower rate of kitten survival.”

The scientists cited a real risk of extinction for the mountain lions in the Santa Monica and Santa Ana ranges. Once significant inbreeding depression is found — meaning decreased fertility and reduced kitten survival – – extinction is predicted to occur within 50 years, according to 2016 and 2019 papers evaluating population viability that included scientists from UCLA, NPS, UC Davis, the University of Wyoming, and the University of Nebraska.

While a few mountain lions — in particular the cougar known as P-22, who frequents Griffith Park — have successfully crossed freeways, far more have been killed trying to do so.

******

Michigan Radio

A small, red-bellied snake might be reconsidered for protection under the Endangered Species Act

Michigan Radio, By Lester Graham, January 7, 2022

Three environmental groups plan to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to protect a small snake found in parts of Michigan. The Center for Biological Diversity formally notified the agency it will sue because it denied the Kirtland’s snake protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The Kirtland’s snake is small, has a red belly, and lives in wetland areas, mostly underground in crayfish burrows.

“With the disappearance of its habitat under agriculture, under the plow or under pavement, that the Kirtland’s snake has disappeared from many areas where it once occurred,” said Noah Greenwald with the Center for Biological Diversity.

That group was joined by the Hoosier Environmental Council, and the Prairie Rivers Network in formally notifying the Fish and Wildlife Service of its intent to file a lawsuit.

In some cases, just the notice is enough to get the agency to review a decision.

The snake has disappeared from Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. It still survives in counties in the southern half of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula as well as in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee. In those states the Kirtland’s snake is found in about half as many counties as it once was.

It was proposed to be protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2010. In 2017, the Trump administration denied the protection.

After Joe Biden became president, the environmental groups requested a review of many of the decisions to deny protection to species.

“But we just haven’t seen action by the Biden administration to review species that were denied protection, so we feel like we have to take it to court,” Greenwald said.

Protecting the Kirtland’s snake would primarily come in the form of better monitoring of the snake’s populations and stronger protections for wetlands.

******

Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff, AZ)

Endangered Mexican gray wolf named Anubis found dead in northern Arizona

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Jan. 7, 2022

FLAGSTAFF — An endangered Mexican gray wolf that had been roaming around northern Arizona has been found dead, federal officials confirmed Friday.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the male wolf was killed sometime last weekend. Authorities said the incident is under investigation and declined to release any additional information.

Environmentalists were dismayed about the discovery, saying the wolf known as Anubis had given them hope that Mexican gray wolves would return to the region.

“It’s tragic that Anubis was killed and many of us are grieving his loss, but despite this heinous crime, it is also profound confirmation that northern Arizona should be part of the wolf recovery effort,” Greta Anderson, deputy director of the Western Watersheds Project, said in a statement.

The wolf had returned to the Flagstaff area at the end of October. In August, Arizona wildlife officials relocated it about 200 miles to the southeast within the boundaries of the wolf recovery area that was established by federal officials. Interstate 40 marks the northern edge of the recovery zone.

Under a 2017 recovery plan, the Arizona Game and Fish Department is required to work with the Fish and Wildlife Service to capture and release any wolf that ventures north of the highway.

Federal officials are rewriting the regulations in response to lawsuits filed by environmentalists.

Environmentalists often describe the boundaries as arbitrary and political. They contend that Mexican gray wolves belong in the Coconino and Kaibab national forests of northern Arizona and in the Grand Canyon where they have plenty to eat and space to roam.

However, ranchers and some officials in rural communities in parts of Arizona and New Mexico are concerned about wolves killing livestock. They say wildlife managers have yet to solve the problem. That’s despite efforts to set up diversionary food caches and use range riders and other means to scare the predators away from cattle.

North America’s rarest subspecies of gray wolf, the Mexican wolf was listed as endangered in 1976 after being pushed to the brink of extinction.

The population has grown since the first wolves were released in 1998 as part of a reintroduction program. The latest annual census found about 186 Mexican wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona, a 14% increase over the previous census.

******

ABC/Fox Montana Right Now.com

Gianforte releases grizzly delisting plan

ROB CHANEY, Jan. 7, 2022

Gov. Greg Gianforte’s petition to remove most Montana grizzly bears from federal Endangered Species Act protection claims the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem population is ready to survive under state management.

“Threats to this species have been ameliorated due to the decades of hard work on the part of Federal, State, Tribal, local, and private interests,” the petition’s executive summary states. “(C)rucial habitats are now secure, the population has been increasing for over three decades, and regulatory mechanisms are in place to assure that the species remains in little danger of again needing protection of the ESA.”

About 1,000 grizzlies inhabit the 9,600-square-mile ecosystem that extends from Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation south through the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and Flathead Indian Reservation almost to Missoula. It is the most successful of six grizzly recovery areas established after the bear was given ESA protection in 1975. At that time, there were perhaps 600 grizzlies left in the Lower 48 states, down from an estimated 40,000 a century previous.

Gianforte’s petition would do two things at the same time. It would declare the NCDE grizzlies a distinct population segment, or DPS, meaning they could be managed differently from bears in other recovery areas. And second, it would end the federal protections that prohibit people from killing or harming grizzlies except for self-defense or defense of property.

That would give both Montana and state officials greater latitude to OK projects like logging or recreation activity that might hurt grizzly habitat or increase risks of conflict. It also would open the door to trophy hunting of grizzlies, something both Gianforte and national hunting organizations have called for.

The NCDE is the only grizzly recovery area entirely contained within Montana. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem also has about 1,000 grizzlies in a 9,200-square-mile recovery zone. It surrounds Yellowstone National Park and spills into parts of Wyoming and Idaho as well as Montana.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has twice attempted to delist the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies, which also involved declaring them a DPS. Both attempts failed court challenges.

Last month, wildlife officials in the three states signed a memorandum of agreement defining how they would divvy up grizzlies available for hunting according to the percentage of ecosystem in each state. Wyoming officials have also stated they intend to file a formal grizzly delisting petition, but have not done so yet.

Gianforte’s petition addresses three issues raised in the last federal court ruling on Greater Yellowstone grizzly delisting. It has to show how delisting one ecosystem might affect bear populations in the other recovery areas. It required states to adopt rules and laws to ensure the long-term genetic health of the Yellowstone grizzlies. And it insisted the three states standardize the way they counted bear populations, and ensure that any modifications get recalibrated through past studies so population trends didn’t get disrupted by new accounting.

As the Northern Continental Divide grizzlies weren’t part of the Yellowstone delisting rulings, Gianforte’s proposal asks the Fish and Wildlife Service to start a separate process of delisting the Montana bears. FWS officials have not said whether they intend to make a third attempt at delisting the Yellowstone population.

FWS acting assistant regional director for external affairs Roya Mogadam acknowledged receipt of Gianforte’s petition on Friday, saying “the Service will process the petition in accordance with the requirements in the ESA and our regulations.”

That gives the service 90 days to review the petition and decide if it’s substantial enough for further study. If yes, it will undertake a 12-month status review, after which it will declare whether the change is not warranted, warranted but precluded by other reasons, or warranted. If the latter, FWS would publish a delisting rule in the Federal Register and take public review for 60 days. Then it would either delist the NCDE grizzlies or keep them under federal protection.

Gianforte’s petition drew criticism even before it was released. On Wednesday, a coalition of 35 federal, state and tribal wildlife professionals published a letter objecting to delisting Montana grizzlies without changes to state laws. They wrote that while they collectively supported delisting grizzlies and wolves in the past, that was based on continued use of solid science.

“All this changed in 2021 when a new legislative majority and a like-minded governor took office,” the letter writers, led by retired FWS grizzly recovery coordinator Chris Servheen, wrote. “Science-based wildlife management in Montana was replaced by anti-predator hysteria fueled by misinformation and emotion. Professional wildlife management by FWP biologists was replaced by partisan political intervention that overturned decades of sound wildlife policy.”

Other critics challenged the petition’s plans directly. Missoula-based independent wildlife consultant Mike Bader called the plan “fluff and not stuff,” for ignoring the cumulative effects of modern development and land use on grizzly habitat.

“It makes it clear that hunting will occur, and to make it fit they’ll under-report mortality from other sources to make it come under the cap,” Bader said. “Look out the door and see what’s going on with wolves. Entire packs are being wiped out. This is archaic management.”

Fred Allendorf, a retired University of Montana wildlife biologist who helped write the studies on genetic viability in grizzly populations, said the governor’s proposal erroneously claims that a Northern Continental Divide grizzly population would be genetically discrete from the neighboring Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem bears.

“There are no quantitative measures of discreteness provided,” Allendorf said in an email on Friday. “This is because they do not exist.”

The petition won support from Republican Sen. Steve Daines, who has also supported legislation to remove grizzlies from federal oversight and block future legal reviews of the decision. Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale has also supported that bill.

The Montana Stock Growers Association praised the petition on Friday.

“As grizzly bears continue significant expansion into North Central Montana, it’s imperative that the state has additional authority to manage grizzly bears,” MSGA Executive Vice President Jay Bodner said in an email. “The sharp increasing trend of depredation on livestock due to grizzly bears has put unprecedented burden on ranching families in Montana. Ranchers cannot sustain these types of losses so we feel it is important to find a balance.”

******

JD Supra

Panama City Crayfish Listed as Threatened and Critical Habitat Designated

Benjamin Mathieu (Nossaman LLP), January 6, 2022

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has issued a final rule listing the Panama City crayfish (Procambarus econfinae) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), along with a section 4(d) rule limiting take of the species.  The final rule also includes a designation of eight units of critical habitat, totaling approximately 4,138 acres, in Bay County, Florida.

The Panama City crayfish is a small, semi-terrestrial crayfish that grows to about two inches in length (minus claws), and is found in southcentral Bay County, Florida.  The species’ color pattern consists of a medium dark-brown background color, lighter brown mid-dorsal stripe, and darker brown dorsolateral stripes.

Historically, the species inhabited natural and often temporary bodies of shallow fresh water within open pine flatwoods and wet prairie-marsh communities.  Most of these communities, however, have been cleared for residential or commercial development or replaced with slash pine plantations.  Currently, the Panama City crayfish inhabits the waters of grassy, gently sloped ditches and swales, slash pine plantations, utility rights-of-way, and a few remnant parcels protected under wetland and private easements.  According to the Federal Register notice, the Service has determined that the Panama City crayfish qualifies as threatened under the ESA primarily based on the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range.

The Service originally published the species’ proposed listing rule (83 FR 330) on January 3, 2018.  On April 15, 2021, the Service reopened the comment period for the proposed listing rule and added a proposed 4(d) rule and critical habitat designation (86 FR 19838).

The final rule incorporates several changes to the Service’s proposed 4(d) rule and critical habitat designation.  For instance, with respect to the final critical habitat designation, the Service removed approximately 3,039 acres from the proposed critical habitat designation.  In the notice, the Service explains that the agency based its decision on new information about permitted developments, updated aerial photography, and more recent information regarding the species’ habitat use in secondary soils.

The final rule becomes effective February 4, 2022.  The Federal Register notice and supporting documents are available at regulations.gov, under Docket Numbers FWS–R4–ES–2017–0061 and FWS–R4–ES–2020–0137.

******

University of Hawaii

How to protect native, endangered birds from solar installations in Hawaiʻi

UH News, January 6, 2022

Best management practices (BMPs) for solar installations to protect Hawaiʻi’s native and endangered birds, have been released by the University of Hawaiʻi Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit. The new technical report synthesizes current literature on the threats posed by industrial-scale solar installations to birds, identifies the species most at risk from solar infrastructure, lists the locations of current and future solar facilities, and describes specific strategies to limit negative impacts on Hawaiian bird life.

“As the state moves to meet its goal of 100% clean energy by 2045, it is vital that green energy sources do not negatively harm the state’s already imperiled birdlife,” said UH Mānoa School of Life Sciences Professor David Duffy, who is also the report’s co-author.

Three seabirds and five waterbirds have been identified as the threatened or endangered species most likely to interact with solar facilities and the ones most at risk of being harmed—along with 32 species of migratory waterbirds and shorebirds, and the pueo (Hawaiian short-eared owl). The report’s vulnerability matrix includes information about the local and global population status of different species and lists considerations for reducing impacts at existing and new facilities.

The authors describe specific aspects of solar infrastructure that pose risks to birdlife, including polarized light from panels or cooling ponds that may attract birds to a site; nighttime lighting that disorients both adult and fledgling seabirds; direct collisions with power lines, panels, fences and other structures; and predation of downed birds by non-native animals.

Mitigation and design

Recommendations include: year-round, bird-strike and attraction monitoring to detect injuries and mortalities; specific siting considerations; ongoing predator control; reducing the attractiveness of solar panels; and enhanced visibility of wires using markers or reflectors.

The report notes that incorporating BMPs into the design of new facilities will help, but more should be done.

Jay Penniman, co-author and manager of Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project of the Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit, said, “Studies at solar facilities on the mainland have shown that mortality of endangered birds is inevitable. Mitigation projects need to be developed in tandem with the design process, and not created as an after-thought.”

Planning required

The report concludes, “We all want solar power to succeed but it requires planning rather than reacting.”

The technical report, “Best Management Practices to Protect Endangered and Native Birds at Solar Installations in Hawaiʻi,” can be found on UH’s ScholarSpace website.

This work is an example of UH Mānoa’s goals of Building a Sustainable and Resilient Campus Environment: Within the Global Sustainability and Climate Resilience Movement (PDF) and Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), two of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

******

CNN

DNA can now be pulled from the very air we breathe. It could help track endangered animals

By Katie Hunt, CNN, January6, 2022

(CNN)Scientists are now able to collect and analyze DNA pulled from thin air, and the groundbreaking new techniques used to do it could transform the way endangered animals and natural ecosystems are studied and protected.

Two groups of researchers working independently, one based in Denmark and the other in the UK and Canada, tested whether airborne DNA could be used to detect different animal species by collecting samples at Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark and Hamerton Zoo Park in the UK.

All living organisms, including humans, leach genetic material known as eDNA into the environment when they excrete waste, bleed, and shed skin or fur. In recent years, conservation scientists have sequenced waterborne eDNA to track certain species, such as the UK’s great crested newt population, in aquatic environments.

However, monitoring airborne eDNA was more of a challenge because it’s more diluted in air than it is in water.

While the two research teams used different methods to filter the DNA from air — both were successful in identifying the animals lurking nearby — inside the confines of the zoo and outside.

Their work was published in two proof-of-concept studies in the journal Current Biology on Thursday.

The team working at the Hamerton Zoo Park was able to identify DNA from 25 different species of animals, including tigers, lemurs and dingoes, said UK study lead author Elizabeth Clare, an assistant professor at York University in Canada and a former senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, where she undertook the work.

“We were even able to collect eDNA from animals that were hundreds of metres away from where we were testing without a significant drop in the concentration, and even from outside sealed buildings. The animals were inside, but their DNA was escaping,” Clare said in a news release.

The Copenhagen team was able to detect 49 vertebrate species, including 30 mammals.

“We were astonished when we saw the results,” said Kristine Bohmann, an associate professor from the Globe Institute at the University of Copenhagen and the lead author of the Danish study, in the statement.

“In just 40 samples, we detected 49 species spanning mammal, bird, amphibian, reptile and fish,” Bohmann said. “In the Rainforest House (at the Copenhagen Zoo) we even detected the guppies in the pond, the two-toed sloth and the boa. When sampling air in just one outdoor site, we detected many of the animals with access to an outdoor enclosure in that part of the zoo, for example kea, ostrich and rhino.”

The Copenhagen team used a fan to draw in air from the zoo and its surroundings, which may contain genetic material from breath, saliva or fur — or anything small enough to become airborne and float in the air.

The air was then filtered, and DNA was extracted and copied before being sequenced. Once processed, the DNA sequences were compared to a reference database to identify the animal species.

Both teams also detected the presence of animals not living at the zoos. They identified animals living in the surrounding areas, including the Eurasian hedgehog — endangered in the UK — which was detected from outside of Hamerton Zoo, while the water vole and red squirrel were detected around the Copenhagen Zoo.

While the researchers said the density of animals in the zoo’s enclosures may have artificially increased the likelihood of detection, they believe the technique could shape the way scientists map species, potentially removing the need for camera traps, in-person monitoring and intensive field work.

“The non-invasive nature of this approach makes it particularly valuable for observing vulnerable or endangered species as well as those in hard-to-reach environments, such as caves and burrows. They do not have to be visible for us to know they are in the area if we can pick up traces of their DNA, literally out of thin air,” Clare said in the statement.

“Air sampling could revolutionise terrestrial biomonitoring and provide new opportunities to track the composition of animal communities as well as detect invasion of non-native species.”

Techniques involving eDNA from other environments already have made a significant impact across scientific research. Archaeologists are using eDNA found in cave dirt to understand ancient human populations, while eDNA from cores of Arctic earth has revealed where mammoths and other Ice Age animals used to roam.

Similar techniques also are used to sample eDNA in sewage to detect and track Covid-19 in human populations.

******

Newsweek

Hunters Killing Gray Wolves After They Leave Yellowstone at Rapid Rate, Entire Pack Dead

Charlotte Trattner, January 6, 2022

Twenty of Yellowstone National Park’s gray wolves have been killed by hunters after leaving park property, the most park officials say have died during a single hunting season since they were reintroduced to the region more than 25 years ago.

Park officials stated they consider the Phantom Lake Pack “eliminated” after most or all of its members were killed during a two-month span beginning in October, and is a setback for the species’ long-term viability and wolf research.

According to figures released to The Associated Press, fifteen wolves were shot after roaming across the park’s northern border into Montana. Five more died in Idaho and Wyoming.

Hunting is prohibited in Yellowstone, where it is estimated 94 wolves live. However, with months left in Montana’s wolf hunting season and wolf trapping season just getting started, park officials said they expect more wolves will die after leaving Yellowstone.

Park Superintendent Cam Sholly previously raised concerns regarding the diminishing wolf population, advocating for more hunting restrictions near the park’s border last September, and recently urged Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte to shut down hunting and trapping in the area.

According to a Dec. 16 letter obtained by the AP, Sholly cited “the extraordinary number of Yellowstone wolves already killed this hunting season.” Still, Gianforte, an avid hunter and trapper, did not address the request to halt hunting season.

The governor said Montana protects against overhunting through rules adopted by the wildlife commission, which can review hunting seasons if harvest levels top a certain threshold.

For southwestern Montana, including areas bordering Yellowstone Park, the limit is 82 wolves. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, sixty-three wolves have been killed in that region in the current season, and 149 wolves statewide.

Last year, Gianforte —who failed to take a mandatory trapper course— received a warning from a Montana game warden after trapping and shooting a radio-collared wolf about 10 miles north of the park.

Wolf trapping in the Montana area opened on Dec. 21, with the most recent killing on New Year’s Day. Under new rules, Montana trappers can now night hunt and use animal carcasses or other bait to lure wolves into traps and snares.

“Allowances for trapping and especially baiting are a major concern, especially if these tactics lure wolves out of the park,” said Morgan Warthin, a public affairs specialist for Yellowstone.

Last year, Montana wildlife officials loosened hunting and trapping rules for wolves statewide and eliminated longstanding wolf quota limits in areas bordering the park after being urged by Republican lawmakers. The quotas allowed only a few wolves to be killed along the border annually.

The original quotas were aimed at protecting packs that can be spotted in the wild, as they draw tourists to the region from across the world.

Montana’s recent efforts, which make it easier to kill wolves, mirrors recent actions by conservative officials in other states such as Idaho and Wisconsin.

The changes came after hunters and ranchers successfully lobbied for measures to reduce wolf populations that prey on big game herds and occasionally on livestock.

But the states’ increased aggression toward the predators raises concerns among federal wildlife officials. In September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would examine if federal endangered species protections should be restored for wolves in northern U.S. Rockies states including Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

Wolf protection was lifted a decade ago based on assurances that states would maintain viable wolf populations.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

******

Florida Today (Melbourne, Fla.)

Feds warn it’s wrong to approach endangered right whales

Jim Waymer, Florida Today, January 5, 2022

Better not get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time with a right whale: Approaching too close to the endangered species without a federal permit can plunge you into expensive legal hot water.

A pair of kayakers recently paddled out to try to help an endangered mamma right whale that looked in distress as it swam alongside its calf off Ponte Vedra Beach, near Jacksonville. One of the two men involved told News4JAX that he’d tried to get a rope off the North Atlantic right whale — a species with fewer than 350 individuals left. Another paddler shot video of the Dec. 17 encounter.

Despite their good intentions, the pair may face legal consequences.

Right whales are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. Those who approach too close can face maximum penalties up to $100,000, a year in jail and confiscation of one’s vessel.

“This matter is currently under investigation, and it is standard NOAA practice not to comment on open investigations,” Allison Garrett, a spokeswoman with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) regional office in St. Petersburg, Florida, said Monday via email. “It is essential that right whale moms and calves are given space to bond — 500 yards (or 5 football fields) is the minimum distance people can approach North Atlantic right whales under the law.”

Humans are still the leading cause of right whale deaths, federal biologists say, even though the whales have not been hunted commercially for more than 80 years. The two main causes are entanglements in commercial fishing gear and vessel strikes, according to NOAA.

But despite the harm fishing rope lines cause the whales, wildlife officials long have warned against taking conservation matters such as cutting them free into one’s own hands, regardless of good intentions. Doing so can be deadly.

“It’s dangerous,” said Julie Albert, coordinator of the nonprofit Marine Resources Council’s right whale conservation program. “The muscles they have in their tale are unbelievably powerful.”

In 2017, a volunteer died while trying to help free an entangled right whale in Canada. The fatal blow to Joe Howlett, 59, came moments after he leaned over and cut it free using a spear with a knife on the end. The whale’s powerful tail struck him as it dove.

The same year, NOAA began documented elevated North Atlantic right whale deaths, primarily in Canada, prompting the agency to declare a formal investigation into the deaths it called an”unusual mortality event.”

The record 17 deadwhales (12 in Canada) overshadowed the five births that year.

This winter, biologists are monitoring at least nine recently born right whale calves.

The mother whale involved in the recent Ponte Vedra Beach incident was one that state and federal biologists were well aware of, had already been unentangled as much as they could. Biologists had named the whale.

“That was Snow Cone,” Albert said.

“All the pros know about it,” Albert added, “and we were just going to leave her alone but we have well-meaning folks who tried to help when the best thing to do is just report the sighting and let the professionals handle the situation.”

It’s not the first time boats have approached too close to Snow Cone. The whale has become a posterchild of sorts for the perils of her species’ when it comes to harassment from boaters.

According to the nonprofit Environment America, in December 2019 Snow Cone and her first calf — a male born off the coast of northeastern Florida — swam to the to the Gulf of Mexico where boats followed dangerously close to marvel at the pair. Then only six months later, Snow Cone’s calf was found dead off the coast of New Jersey, killed by two separate boat strikes.

Snow Cone was first noticed to be entangled in several ropes in Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts in March. Rescue efforts removed enough rope that biologists believed she was no longer in imminent danger. At that time, she was entangled in several ropes.

To reduce the risk of harassment or collisions between right whales and boats, federal law requires all vessels and aircraft to keep a distance of 500 yards from right whales. The rule applies to watercraft or aircraft — including drones — as well as non-motorized watercraft such as paddle boards and surfboards.

NOAA officials say drones that buzz too close spook and stress the mother and/or the calf.

“Drones are getting to be a big issue,” Albert said.

Humans have been the biggest issue for right whales over the past century. There were targeted for oil for lamps as the “right” whale to hunt, because they swim close to shore, slowly, and float when killed. By the early 1890s, commercial whalers had harpooned them to the brink of extinction. While whaling is no longer a threat, the species now endures entanglement in fishing gear and ship strikes as its leading causes of death. Sonar and other underwater noise from ships and other man-made sounds also interfere with the whale’s ability to communicate, feed and breed.

One recent study by the International Fund for Animal Welfare of 70 right whales deaths, between 2003 and 2018, found 43 of the deaths had a known cause, and almost 90% of those deaths were caused by human activities.

Canada has local seasonal vessel speed limits and fisheries management strategies to protect whales, but some researchers and activists believe more needs to be done, such as mandatory speed restrictions and fisheries closures in larger areas, fishing gear modifications to include “rope-less” fishing, and coordinated gear marking to help determine where whales become entangled.

There are fewer than 350 North Atlantic right whales remaining in the world, biologists said, with about 100 actively reproductive females. Some scientists predict those 100 females could all be dead in 20 years, putting the species at risk of extinction.

******

YaleNews/Yale University

Measuring success: The path to real conservation gains

By Bill Hathaway, January 5, 2022

The last decade has seen important but insufficient progress in protecting areas that are home to endangered species worldwide, conservation leaders say. As governments prepare to discuss new conservation goals at the 2022 U.N. Biodiversity Conference in Kunming, China, Yale’s Walter Jetz and colleagues argue that key scientific advances in measuring conservation success can support better progress in the coming decade.

Writing in a recent issue of the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, they make the case that novel ways to integrate global data can improve national efforts to estimate the numbers and locations of endangered species and prevent extinctions.

In an interview, Jetz, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and of the environment at Yale and one of chief architects of the groundbreaking Map of Life, discusses how these new tools, along with the combination of local observations and remote sensing, can support more effective conservation of the world’s biological diversity.

What has been the impact of policies adopted at the last U.N. Biodiversity Summit in 2010?

Walter Jetz: The previous international commitments for biodiversity conservation— the Aichi 2020 Targets [adopted in 2010] — which, for example stipulated a designation of 17% of lands and 10% of oceans as protected areas, resulted in some important progress. But overall, the activities it spurred were insufficient. Many of the agreed-on targets were missed, and we continue to witness major biodiversity decline.

It’s widely recognized that this failure was largely due to a lack of linking goals to measurements, i.e., putting robust biodiversity status and trend measurements alongside goals in order to support and engage nations around achieving them.

What are some of the shortcomings that need to be addressed at the 2022 summit?

Jetz: As parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meet to sanction a new global biodiversity framework and specific targets for 2030, they will need to address threats that contribute to species extinctions. One draft target, for instance, stipulates the preservation of 30% of land and sea by 2030 through effective reserves and sound area-based conservation. However, a focus only on the amount of area preserved without accurate measures of how well they represent species populations is at minimum inefficient and at worst unhelpful for conserving biodiversity.

Then how do we track progress in species conservation and prevent extinction?

Jetz: Scientific advances, including those advanced at Yale in the Center for Biodiversity and Global Change, now provide us with new, globally comparable measures of biodiversity representation in conservation areas. The metrics we developed in collaboration with international partners combine existing records with remotely sensed data to map detailed global distribution of species. This will allow us to assess whether a sufficiently large portion of the population is under some form of protection. Instead of simply measuring increases in protected areas, say, 30% of land, anyone can evaluate how these expansions translate into positive biodiversity outcomes, including an increase in the proportion of species sufficiently safeguarded.

These innovative measurements have now become possible through a strong growth in data- and global remote sensing technologies. This information can help inform government policies and support anyone, including local and regional stakeholders, to use best-possible evidence in their conservation and resource management decisions.

*******

NewsChannel 21/ktvz.com (Bend, OR)

Groups warns hunting season could threaten endangered species

Published January 4, 2022, By Emily Hamer

WISCONSIN (madison.com/Wisconsin State Journal) — Four endangered whooping cranes were shot and killed in Oklahoma last month during the sandhill crane hunting season — a hunting season that could be created in Wisconsin if a GOP-authored bill is successful.

The International Crane Foundation, based in Baraboo, has warned that allowing a sandhill crane hunting season in Wisconsin could threaten whooping cranes, an endangered species the foundation has worked to reintroduce to Wisconsin. That threat appears to have just become a reality in Oklahoma.

On Dec. 15, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation reported that a whooping crane was found near Tom Steed Lake with a shotgun wound. The crane died while being taken to a veterinary clinic.

Later, three more whooping cranes were found dead in the same area where the first was found, the department said. Oklahoma and Texas officials are searching for the perpetrators.

“This is sickening to see such a wanton waste of wildlife, and our Game Wardens are very eager to visit with the individual or individuals who committed this crime,” Wade Farrar, assistant chief of law enforcement with the wildlife department, said in a statement.

There are only about 500 whooping cranes in North America. Killing one can lead to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine under the Endangered Species Act and another $15,000 with up to six months in jail under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the department said. The endangered bird is the tallest in North America.

The killings of the whooping cranes happened during Oklahoma’s sandhill crane hunting season, which began Oct. 23 and runs through Jan. 23, according to the Oklahoma wildlife department.

In past years, the sandhill crane hunting season has been temporarily shut down in Oklahoma if a whooping crane has been sighted. It’s unclear whether the sandhill hunting was suspended when the four whooping cranes were killed.

In Wisconsin, a proposed Republican bill would require the state Department of Natural Resources to authorize the hunting of sandhill cranes. The department would be able to limit the number of hunting permits issued for the sandhill cranes, and hunters would need to participate in a hunter education course before obtaining a permit.

On Dec. 15, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation reported that a whooping crane was found near Tom Steed Lake with a shotgun wound. The crane died while being taken to a veterinary clinic.

Later, three more whooping cranes were found dead in the same area where the first was found, the department said. Oklahoma and Texas officials are searching for the perpetrators.

“This is sickening to see such a wanton waste of wildlife, and our Game Wardens are very eager to visit with the individual or individuals who committed this crime,” Wade Farrar, assistant chief of law enforcement with the wildlife department, said in a statement.

There are only about 500 whooping cranes in North America. Killing one can lead to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine under the Endangered Species Act and another $15,000 with up to six months in jail under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the department said. The endangered bird is the tallest in North America.

The killings of the whooping cranes happened during Oklahoma’s sandhill crane hunting season, which began Oct. 23 and runs through Jan. 23, according to the Oklahoma wildlife department.

In past years, the sandhill crane hunting season has been temporarily shut down in Oklahoma if a whooping crane has been sighted. It’s unclear whether the sandhill hunting was suspended when the four whooping cranes were killed.

In Wisconsin, a proposed Republican bill would require the state Department of Natural Resources to authorize the hunting of sandhill cranes. The department would be able to limit the number of hunting permits issued for the sandhill cranes, and hunters would need to participate in a hunter education course before obtaining a permit.

If the bill passes the state Legislature and is signed into law by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers — who could use his veto power — the hunt could harm the state’s sandhill crane population unless the hunting season is carefully managed, the International Crane Foundation said. Sandhill cranes, currently a protected species, have recovered over the past 70 years after dwindling to just a couple dozen breeding pairs.

Supporters of the hunt say sandhill cranes are becoming overpopulated and causing damage to crops.

But Anne Lacy, senior manager in the North America programs at the International Crane Foundation, said there’s no measure for when the cranes would be overpopulated, and the crop problem is solvable.

Lacy said a hunt would “do nothing” to help address crop damage caused by sandhill cranes because most of the damage happens during the spring when cranes feed on seeds, but waterfowl hunting is limited to late summer or fall. The foundation helped develop a seed treatment that prevents cranes from damaging corn in the spring.

“Crop damage is something that can be solved right now,” Lacy said, adding that the seed treatment — not a hunting season — would fix the problem.

A hunt could also cause hunters to shoot whooping cranes accidentally, Lacy said. Adult whooping cranes are white with black wing tips and a red patch on the forehead. But young whooping cranes are brown in color and can easily be mistaken for sandhill cranes, even with hunter education, Lacy said.

“We can’t advocate for a hunting season if we believe that it might do indirect harm to the population or direct harm to something like the whooping crane,” Lacy said.

The Madison Audubon Society has also raised concerns about the potential sandhill crane hunt. The society notes that whooping cranes and sandhill cranes can be difficult to distinguish during flight.

Roughly 80 whooping cranes nest in Wisconsin each summer then migrate to the southeastern United States for the winter, according to the International Crane Foundation. Another group of cranes summers in northwestern Canada and travels to the gulf coast of Texas in the winter, including through Oklahoma.

“These are majestic birds,” Lacy said. “They’re a conservation success story.”

In a statement, foundation president and CEO Rich Beilfuss called the killing of the four whooping cranes in Oklahoma “an outrageous illegal shooting event.”

“We are angry and heartsick,” Beilfuss said. “The International Crane Foundation, along with many partners, has invested millions of dollars and decades of time and expertise to bring whooping cranes back from the brink of extinction. And in an instant four birds are gone forever.”

******

Border Report

Smuggled spider monkeys confiscated at Texas border crossing

by: Sandra Sanchez, Posted: Jan. 4, 2022

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A barrel of spider monkeys has been confiscated by federal officials at a port of entry in Progreso, Texas, where they said someone was trying to illegally smuggle the endangered species across the border.

The four spider monkeys were not declared by the female 20-year-old driver as she approached the Progreso International Bridge on Dec. 30, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said Tuesday.

The woman, a U.S. citizen, was sent to secondary inspection where the four monkeys were discovered “concealed inside a duffle bag,” in the Jeep, CBP said in a news release.

“While conducting their inspections, our officers will often encounter a myriad of prohibited agriculture products,” Progreso Port Director Walter Weaver said. “Sometimes these encounters yield hidden exotic animals, such as in this case.”

Spider monkeys are endangered under the Endangered Species Act and are typically found in tropical forests of Central and South America.

The driver was issued a penalty and CBP officials said they returned the monkeys to Mexico.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Tucson Shovel-Nosed Snakes Under Endangered Species Act

Rare, Beautiful Snake Wrongly Denied Protection

TUCSON, Ariz.—(January 3, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice today of its intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for once again denying protection to Tucson shovel-nosed snakes under the Endangered Species Act. In response to a September 2020 petition from the Center, the Service denied protection to the species for the second time in September 2021.

“The lovely Tucson shovel-nosed snake needs protection from massive urban sprawl from Phoenix and Tucson,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “Protecting this snake will mean protecting more of the natural desert we all love.”

The Center first petitioned for protection of the snake in 2004. In response, the Service found the snake warranted endangered species protection in 2010 but said such protections were precluded by its work to protect other species. In 2014 the agency reversed course and found the snake didn’t warrant protection. In doing so, however, it misinterpreted a genetics study to find the snake had a much larger range than previously thought and therefore didn’t need protection. That conclusion was directly refuted in a letter from the preeminent expert on the snake, the late Phil Rosen, Ph.D. In denying protection once more in September, the Service ignored this new information.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is badly in need of reform, but so far we haven’t seen any effort to do so by the Biden administration,” said Greenwald. “It’s not just this little snake that has been wrongly denied protection. Over the years the agency has refused to list dozens of species protections despite clear imperilment, including wolverines and pygmy owls. Even when the agency does protect species, it often takes far too long, sometimes more than a decade.”

The striking Tucson shovel-nosed snake is characterized by alternating black-and-red stripes over its cream-colored body. It has a small range limited to portions of Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties in an area sometimes referred to as the “Sun Corridor Megapolitan” for its rapid urbanization. Making matters worse, the snake only occurs on flat valley bottoms that are prime development areas.

Like other shovel-nosed snakes, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is uniquely adapted to swim through sandy soils using its spade-shaped snout. According to a study by Rosen and Center Senior Scientist Curt Bradley, the snake has already lost 39% of its historic habitat to agriculture and urban development; the vast majority of its remaining habitat is unprotected and vulnerable.

******

KETV/7 (Omaha, NE)

Tiger killed after zoo worker goes into restricted part of enclosure

By Taylor Lang, WPBF, January 1, 2022

 NAPLES, Fla. —A member of a third-party cleaning service that was contracted by the Naples Zoo was seriously injured after getting too close to a tiger Wednesday night, resulting in the death of the tiger.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office said it was called at 6:26 p.m., after the zoo was closed to the public.

The member of the cleaning service was responsible for cleaning restrooms and the gift shop, not the animal enclosure, deputies said. They believe the man in his 20s was either petting or feeding the animal, neither of which are allowed.

Officials said the Malaysian tiger grabbed the man’s arm and pulled it further into the enclosure after the man had gone through the initial barrier.

The deputy who first responded kicked the enclosure and tried to get the tiger to release the man’s arm before the deputy was forced to shoot the animal, the sheriff’s office said. The tiger then ran to the back of the enclosure and was sedated.

The man was taken to the hospital with serious injuries, deputies said.

The Malaysian tiger, which is a critically endangered species, was killed during the shooting, a spokesperson for the zoo said to ABC.

The tiger’s name was Eko and came to the zoo from Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle in Dec. 2019 before being introduced in Feb. 2020.

“Eko is a great ambassador for his species. When guests see him, we hope they fall in love and want to learn how they can do their part to save his cousins in the wild,” the zoo says on its website.

The zoo is closed Thursday and scheduled to reopen Friday.

The zoo said it will be doing a fund in Eko’s honor and released a statement on its website:

“Naples Zoo will be closed today, December 30th. The decision to close today was made to allow officials to complete their investigation late into the evening. This decision was also made to allow the Zoo to begin its own internal investigation and to allow our staff to process what has occurred and to begin the painful healing process. A grief counselor will be available for staff beginning today. We will reopen at 9 a.m. tomorrow and we thank our community for their understanding and for the messages and words of encouragement and support that have been flowing into us.”

******

The Sun Daily (Selangor, Malaysia)

Jaguar released in Argentina to help endangered species

January 1, 2022

BUENOS AIRES: A jaguar named Jatobazinho was released into a national park in Argentina Friday as part of a program to boost the numbers of this endangered species.

This was the eighth jaguar freed this year into Ibera National Park but the first adult male, said the environmental group Rewilding Argentina, which is behind the project.

Jatobazinho weighs about 90 kilos (200 pounds) and has brown fur peppered with black spots.

He first appeared at a rural school in 2018 in Brazil, looking skinny and weak after crossing a river from Paraguay.

The big cat spent a year in an animal refuge in Brazil until he was sent to a jaguar reintroduction center operating since 2012 in Argentina’s northeast Corrientes province, where the species had been extinct for 70 years.

Sebastian Di Martino, a biologist with Rewilding Argentina, said that as the jaguar needed to be nice and relaxed as it left its enclosure and entered the wild.

“If the animal is stressed it can become disoriented and end up anywhere,“ he said.

He said these jaguars were fed live prey while in captivity because they have to know how to hunt.

In the Ibera park, there is plenty of wildlife for them to feed on such as deer.

The jaguars are tracked with a GPS device they wear.

There are plans now to release a female that was born at the reintroduction center.

The park is also awaiting the arrival of three wild jaguars from Paraguay, and two more raised in captivity in Uruguay and Brazil.

Jaguars are native to the Americas.

It is estimated there were more than 100,000 jaguars when Europeans arrived in the 15th century, their habitat ranging from semi-desert areas of North America to the tropical forests of South America.

Conservation groups say the jaguar population of South America has fallen by up to 25 percent over the past 20 years as deforestation eats up their habitat.-AFP

******

Mohave Valley Daily News (Bullhead City, AZ)

Federal agencies partner to conserve Mojave desert tortoises

News West, Dec. 29, 2021

SAN BERNARDINO — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Army are working on a process for implementing effective ecosystem and conservation actions to benefit desert tortoises in the western Mojave Desert.

 The consultation, conducted under the Endangered Species Act, provides additional flexibility for military training within the Army’s National Training Center and Fort Irwin.

The Army will fund recovery actions for the desert tortoise within areas of critical environmental concern managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Additionally, the service, Army and bureau will work with partners such as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and local conservation groups that manage desert tortoise habitat to implement recovery actions.

“Fort Irwin has historically worked to protect sensitive species and their habitat, and we are grateful for their continued commitment to conservation,” said Scott Sobiech, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office Field supervisor.

“The U.S. Army and the Fish and Wildlife Service continue to collaborate via the Installation Commander’s Comprehensive Integrated Plan for the conservation and management of natural resources,” said David Davis, Fort Irwin wildlife biologist. “This plan focuses on ecosystem-based management that shows the interrelationships of individual components of natural resource management to mission requirements affecting Fort Irwin’s natural resources. Because wildlife do not read boundary signs it is vital that we develop working partnerships with the service, BLM and other Department of Defense installations.”

Proposed recovery actions include improving desert tortoise populations through habitat restoration, improved management of threats within critical habitat, reduction of mortality sources like roadkill and strategic use of population augmentation.

“This partnership will implement desert tortoise recovery actions, such as habitat restoration, at a larger scale than what any agency can do alone,” said Katrina Symons, field manager of BLM’s Barstow office.

The desert tortoise lives in a variety of habitats from sandy flats to rocky foothills, including alluvial fans, washes and canyons.

It was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1980 because of high rates of mortality, and fragmentation, degradation and loss of its habitat.

******

World Wildlife Fund

Looming mass extinction could be biggest ‘since the dinosaurs,’ says WWF

More plants and animals than ever before are on a global list of threatened species, with the World Wildlife Fund Germany warning that more than 1 million species could go extinct within the next 10 years

December 29, 2021

Ever-growing environmental threats are pushing many animals and plants to the brink of extinction — the scale of which hasn’t been seen since dinosaurs died out, the German branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said on Wednesday.

The stark warnings came as WWF Germany released its “Winners and Losers of 2021,” an annual list of animals whose existence is now acutely under threat — as well as conservation victories.

Facing a mass extinction event ‘within the next decade’

There are currently 142,500 animal and plant species on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) — 40,000 of which are “threatened with extinction.”

It is the largest number of species to be included on the Red List since it was established in 1964, according to WWF Germany.

“Around one million species could go extinct within the next decade — which would be the largest mass extinction event since the end of the dinosaur age,” the organization said in a statement.

WWF Germany director Eberhard Brandes said decisive environmental protection policies were urgently needed, particularly in the fight against climate change.

“Species conservation is no longer just about defeating an environmental problem, but is rather about the question of whether or not humanity will eventually end up on the Red List in an endangered category — and thereby become a victim of its own lifestyle,” he said.

Polar bears and other species on thin ice in 2021

Among the animals most acutely threatened — and among the “losers” on this year’s WWF list — are the African forest elephant, whose population has declined by 86% within just 31 years.

Polar bears made the list as well, as the rapid melting of pack ice in the Arctic Ocean is making it impossible for the animals to adapt. Experts estimate the Arctic Ocean could be completely ice-free in the summer of 2035, WWF Germany said.

The familiar green faces and loud summer chirping of Germany’s tree frogs and toads are also under threat — with 50% of Germany’s native amphibian species currently listed as endangered on the national Red List. Unabated construction is limiting their habitats while roads have become death traps.

Grey cranes and migratory fish that move on land also earned a spot on the 2021 “losers” list, as well as the noble pen shell — the largest clam in the Mediterranean Sea.

Lucky Bustards and other 2021 animal ‘winners’

The WWF noted that there were some “rays of hope” in the world of environmental conservation this year.

One of the rarest big cats in the world, the Iberian lynx, saw a “successful comeback” in Spain and Portugal. In 2002, only 94 of the lynx were found. The population has grown more than tenfold, with the most recent count in 2020 showing over 1,100 are currently alive.

The population of great bustards in Germany saw significant progress in 2021, with their population reaching the highest level in 40 years. Researchers counted 347 of the birds this year — compared with just 57 birds in 1997.

The WWF also logged a success in efforts to conserve the Indian rhinoceros population in Nepal. As part of a cooperation with the government, stricter protection measures were implemented — which have helped the rhino’s population grow by 16% since 2015.

Bearded vultures, blue whales and crocodiles in Cambodia also saw their population numbers grow.

******

Foreign Brief

US to declare species extinct

In Daily Brief, December 29, 2021, Madeline McQuillan

The US Department of the Interior (DoI) will accept information, data and comments from the public regarding the removal of 23 species from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to their extinction until today.

The protections that the ESA aims to provide these endangered species have come too late, according to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who cited the effects of human-induced climate change as the cause.

Failure to end the extinction crisis will compromise the Biden administration’s America the Beautiful initiative, which aims to protect 30% of US lands and waters by 2030. While the Biden administration’s first-year progress report shows considerable efforts to reverse heavily criticized regulatory rollback undertaken by the Trump administration, there is much work ahead for 2022.

Many conservationists fear that current initiatives are insufficient. Over 100 conservation groups called on Haaland to issue a secretarial order that would include bolder, broader measures to end the extinction crisis, including updating recovery plans to incorporate greenhouse gas emissions reductions, since an additional one million species are at risk of being wiped out in the coming decades. It’s unlikely Haaland will do so, as she appears to be focusing on developing indigenous-led conservation efforts at a local scale.

******

Maui Now

Endangered ‘Akikiki Birds to Travel from Kaua’i to Maui to Join Breeding Program

November 14, 2021

A shocking drop in numbers of ‘akikiki, an endangered forest bird, was recorded this year at Halehaha, a field site in the central mountains of Kaua’i. Biologists monitoring the area found that the population of more than 70 birds recorded in 2015 had declined to just five in 2021. 

The new data, combined with data from other field sites on Kauaʻi where ʻakikiki numbers appear more stable, suggest that Halehaha is currently unsafe as a habitat for ‘akikiki.

Now, the Kaua’i Forest Bird Recovery Project (a partnership with DLNR and the University of Hawai’i Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit) is seeking to protect the remaining birds at Halehaha by moving them temporarily to a breeding program on Maui.

The proposed rescue mission, unanimously approved today by the Board of Land and Natural Resources, highlights a difficult challenge in avian conservation: maintaining the existence of native species when the ecosystems those species rely on have degraded. 

In an ideal world, the best location for ‘akikiki to thrive would be in their home forests. At Halehaha, that once-ideal forest is currently out of balance due to the proliferation of invasive species. Surveysat the site have shown a recent increase in invasive mosquitoes that carry avian malaria and other diseases. Moving the remaining birds is a decision of last resort, and likely the only way to keep the population from death.

The interisland transfer of Halehaha’s remaining ‘akikiki is intended to be a temporary reprieve while biologists work to restore the birds’ forest habitat. Cultural practitioners are coordinating with project staff to provide protocol for both the birds’ departure from Kauaʻi and their arrival on Maui at a facility managed by the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

The transported ‘akikiki will be in good company on Maui, where the breeding program is already home to roughly 40 ‘akikiki, hatched from eggs collected during previous rescue operations. 

The Kauaʻi Forest Bird Recovery Project has previously worked with Ka ʻImi Naʻauao O Hawaiʻi Nei Institute, a Kauaʻi-based group that has provided blessings for the project’s field work. Dawn Kawahara, the institute’s President, commented that the plan “seems to be aligned with what we know and promoting native Hawaiian thought regarding protecting and preserving all life.”

As experts at the Maui breeding facility care for the rescued birds, biologists on Kauaʻi will continue to monitor ʻakikiki remaining in the wild at field sites other than Halehaha. They are also collaborating with experts statewide on developing solutions to restore Hawaiʻi’s native forests as a home for native birds. 

The Birds Not Mosquitoes partnership, which includes DLNR and Kauaʻi Forest Bird Recovery Project as members, is currently focused on the potential for a bacterium to act as a mosquito birth control. The tool, also known as Incompatible Insect Technique (IIT), is one of several that biologists could use to reduce the impacts of invasive species. With their forests in better condition, experts foresee a future when Halehaha’s ʻakikiki complete their interisland stay and return home.

******

ABC News Online

Scientists track WA’s endangered hawksbill turtles as deadly tortoiseshell trade expands

ABC Pilbara, By Laura Birch, Posted Fri. 12 Nov 2021

Scientists say critically endangered hawksbill turtles that nest in Western Australia seem “quite safe” from the deadly tortoiseshell trade, but they are monitoring them as the illegal market expands.

Christine Madden Hof, the marine species program manager for WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature),  said the tortoiseshell trade had decimated the hawksbill turtle population around the world.

Over the past 150 years, an estimated 9 million hawksbill turtles have been harvested for the trade.

“If we look at it at a global scale, what we know is we’ve lost around 80 per cent of our hawksbill population,” Ms Madden Hof said.

Despite the trade being illegal, the hawksbill’s brown-and-yellow-patterned shell is very much sought after for making jewellery and ornaments.

It is estimated there are now only 6,700 nesting females left in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

Scott Whiting, the principal research scientist at the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, took part in a research project to track hawksbill turtles in Western Australia, to find out if the animals were in danger of being killed for their shells.

Australia is one of the last remaining havens for the critically endangered turtles, which are found along the tropical coasts of northern and eastern Australia.

Rosemary Island, off the coast of the Pilbara, is one of the largest nesting locations for the species in the world.

Scientists track turtles

A paper based on the tracking program, Movements and distribution of hawksbill turtles in the Eastern Indian Ocean, examined data collected from 42 satellite trackers that were glued to turtles’ backs at six rookeries, five in WA and one in Timor-Leste.

“One of the questions we were asking [was], the turtles that nest here, do they … migrate back to their feeding areas in other countries and are they at risk [of being harvested]?” Dr Whiting said.

As scientists tracked the turtles to their foraging areas, it was found most remained in Western Australian waters.

Dr Whiting said a number of new foraging areas had been discovered during the satellite tracking process, which could help with the conservation effort to protect the turtles.

The hawksbills that nest in Western Australia are not only shallow foragers, they also utilise deep reefs offshore.

“There is a portion, when they first hatch and leave the beach, that go out into the open ocean … for five or 10 years,” Dr Whiting said.

“We don’t really have jurisdiction over them in that period but for these other really big parts of their lives it is not like they’re going to another country and falling foul to threats and fishing or commercial harvests or things like that.

“It’s a really good thing for hawksbills here, it means we’ve probably got a really safe environment to protect them into the future.”

Dr Whiting said it was a different story for the hawksbill turtles that nested in Queensland.

Those turtles often travelled to the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, where they were at risk of being harvested, he said.

History of the tortoiseshell trade

The tortoiseshell trade has operated for hundreds of years, with evidence that residents from Indonesia made annual visits to northern Australia from the mid 1700s to the early 1900s to harvest hawksbill turtles.

The international commercial trade of hawksbill turtles was banned in 1977.

Japan did not agree to abide by the trade ban until 1994 and still allows the manufacturing and trade of tortoiseshell, using stockpiles that existed before the ban came into effect.

Ms Madden Hof said while the tortoiseshell trade was very much an underground market, it still operated and posed a threat to endangered species like the hawksbill.

“The tortoiseshell trade is still alive and intact and we are concerned, particularly in the Asia Pacific region, that that major threat is still there,” she said.

“Exactly how they’re operating is something we need renewed focus on to really track where this trade is, who’s involved and what’s happening.”

Illegal tortoiseshell trade ramps up

Dr Whiting said the global tortoiseshell trade had escalated.

“There are new markets forming all around the world, and especially through some of Asia,” he said.

“So we do have some of these traffic lines of trade which are going out of the Pacific and going out of Africa into these other markets.”

Another way scientists are trying to locate where the biggest threat of harvesting is, is the Surrender Your Shell campaign, a joint initiative by the Australian Museum, WWF and Royal Caribbean International.

The project was run over six months and encouraged people to send in any tortoiseshell products they owned so they could undergo DNA testing.

Dr Greta Frankham, a wildlife forensic scientist at the Australian Museum, is now extracting DNA from the 178 items sent in to identify what population the turtles came from.

“We can see where poaching and trade has impacted the turtle population the most, which can help with conservation of the species,” she said.

Dr Frankham hoped to have those answers in the next six months.

While the deadline for sending in tortoiseshell jewellery and ornaments to be DNA-tested has now passed, anyone with such items is urged to surrender them to the government.

(If you or your family have tortoiseshell in your possession, please contact the Triage and Wildlife Section of the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment on 1800 110 395. The Department will arrange for you to surrender your tortoiseshell products.)

******

Courthouse News Service

Judge asked to restore endangered species protections for gray wolves

Federal wildlife officials say they don’t need to analyze specific threats to an animal’s survival to boot it off the endangered species list if they find the animal’s population no longer meets the definition of a valid protectable species.

NICHOLAS IOVINO, November 12, 2021

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — Conservationists urged a federal judge Friday to overturn a Trump administration rule that ended endangered species protections for gray wolves, arguing the decision was based on a flawed legal interpretation and junk science.

“A decision that an already listed species is no longer listable must be based on a valid reason, and Fish and Wildlife doesn’t have a valid reason here,” Earthjustice lawyer Kristen Boyles said during a virtual court hearing Friday.

The dispute stems from the Trump administration’s decision in October last year to end Endangered Species Act protections for most gray wolves in the lower 48 states, an outcome critics say was based on flawed analyses and a failure to consider the best available evidence.

More than 6,000 gray wolves roam prairies and mountainous regions in the United States today, a population that wildlife officials said last year “exceeded all conservation goals for recovery.” But groups like Defenders of Wildlife, which filed one of three federal lawsuits challenging the decision, say gray wolves still face serious threats to their survival, especially as states like Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan authorize new trophy hunting seasons.

During a Wisconsin wolf-hunting season this past February, at least 218 gray wolves were killed in a 48-hour time span, about 100 more than the legal limit. The number of wolves in Wisconsin declined about 30% in April 2021 from one year earlier, according to a peer-reviewed study cited in court briefs.

Despite fierce opposition by conservations groups, President Joe Biden’s administration has defended the decision to delist gray wolves, a move that had reportedly been planned for years before it was finalized under President Donald Trump.

Gray wolf advocates argue Fish and Wildlife improperly focused on population recovery in the Great Lakes region while dismissing significant threats to gray wolves in other areas, such as the Central Rockies and Pacific Coast.

But those complaints were not addressed on Friday. Rather, the court hearing focused on U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s conclusion that two populations of gray wolves in the lower 48 states, which were previously listed as endangered, were no longer considered “a valid protectable species.”

The agency argues that because certain portions of the larger gray wolf population — including those in the Northern Rocky Mountains, Wyoming and a Mexican wolf subspecies in the Southwest — were previously delisted from protected status, the larger population is no longer valid.

According to the Service, delisting determinations involve two phases: identifying if a valid “species” can be protected and then determining if that species warrants protection. In this case, Fish and Wildlife found the gray wolf population that had been protected since 1973 was no longer a legally valid protectable species.

“If there is not that species, then the Service doesn’t have jurisdiction to regulate it,” U.S. Justice Department lawyer Michael Eitel said.

Representing conservation groups, Boyles said that reasoning contradicts the text of the final rule published on Nov. 3, 2020, which states the delisting decision was based on analyses of threats to the population, not a finding that gray wolves are no longer eligible for protection.

“Fish and Wildlife cannot simply designate and then delist a distinct population segment,” Boyles said. “To delist based on a finding that a distinct population no longer qualifies as a species.”

She said the agency has a long history of misapplying the law, citing its prior attempts to end protections for certain gray wolf population segments in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011, all of which were rejected by federal courts.

But U.S. District Judge Jeffery White, a George W. Bush appointee overseeing the case, said this time seems to be different. In prior legal challenges, the agency ran into problems by trying to delist a smaller segment of gray wolves within a broader protected group. In this case, the agency delisted two gray wolf populations that were listed as protected species.

“It seemed to the court like we were at a very different procedural posture here,” White said on Friday.

Boyle replied that while the agency’s strategy may have evolved, its legally flawed approach hasn’t changed.

“The impermissible end result is the same – that backdoor delisting based on a statutory dodge,” Boyle said. “This time the statutory dodge is this interpretation of these as un-listable species.”

Boyle urged Judge White to abolish the delisting rule and order the agency to reevaluate its decision based on the best available evidence and science.

If the judge finds the delisting rule was improper, Eitel and intervening defendants, including the National Rifle Association and hunting advocacy groups, asked that he keep the rule in place while Fish and Wildlife reconsiders a separate petition it denied when it issued the final rule. That petition, filed by conservation groups, asked the agency to define and protect gray wolves in the lower 48 states as one single population group, two Eastern and Western groups, or five regional populations.

After an hour of debate, Judge White took the arguments under submission.

Groups suing to restore Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves include Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, Oregon Wild, Humane Society of the United States, WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, Cascadia Wildlands, Environmental Protections Information Center, Klamath Forest Alliance, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, The Lands Council, Wildlands Network, Kettle Range Conservation Group, Natural Resources Defense Council, and other groups that intervened in the lawsuits to support the plaintiffs’ position.

Defendants who intervened in the case to oppose gray wolf protections include the National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, Michigan Bear Hunters Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Sportsmens Alliance Foundation, Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association and the state of Utah.

******

The Straits Times

Proposed changes to endangered species law include stiffer penalties for offenders

Shermaine Ang, NOV. 12, 2021

SINGAPORE – Those caught importing or exporting endangered wildlife parts illegally will face harsher penalties under a proposed law, with maximum fines raised from $50,000 per species to $100,000 per specimen, and the maximum jail term doubling from two years to four years.

The proposed changes to the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act will also strengthen the enforcement powers of the National Parks Board (NParks), protect the identity of informers in court and make clearer what is allowed or not under the Act.

The proposed amendments highlight Singapore’s resolve in the fight against the illegal trade in species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), said NParks in a virtual media presentation on Friday (Nov 12). Singapore is a signatory to Cites, under which international trade in elephant ivory has been banned since 1990.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, wildlife trafficking is the world’s fourth-largest illegal trade, after drugs, human trafficking and counterfeiting.

South-east Asia is a hotbed for this trade, with Singapore serving as a major transit hub for illegal wildlife parts.

The harsher penalties apply to those who trade wildlife listed under Appendix I of Cites – species threatened with extinction – as well as repeat offenders who trade Appendix II species, whose trade is controlled in order to ensure their survival, and Appendix III species, which are protected in at least one country.

This is to better ensure that penalties issued are proportionate to the offence so as to further deter such illegal trade internationally and domestically, said the board.

NParks also proposed to peg the maximum fine to the market value of Cites species, to fine offenders on a per-specimen basis rather than a per-species basis, and to align the lower penalties for the illegal domestic trade with those for illegal international trade through Singapore.

The board also called for stronger enforcement powers that allow it to seize and forfeit items used to conceal or convey Cites specimens, for example, timber planks used to conceal elephant ivory tusks, under the Act.

Meanwhile, ensuring the anonymity of informers will help to encourage more individuals to come forward and provide information on illegal wildlife trade, which will facilitate NParks’ investigations, said the board.

It also proposed to clarify the Endangered Species Act to provide greater clarity to traders on the regulation of animal hybrids and animal excretion, among others. For instance, animal hybrids of endangered species will be classed as full species in order to include them in the Act.

Conversely, faeces, urine and vomit – such as whale vomit or ambergris, which is used to make perfume – are excluded from the Act.

NParks will also clarify the documents needed for Cites species in transit or trans-shipping through Singapore, and align the Act more closely with Cites resolutions, which provide recommendations to ensure that international trade in wildlife does not threaten their survival.

NParks said it hopes to table the Bill in Parliament in March next year.

Speaking at Friday’s media briefing, Minister of State for National Development Tan Kiat How said: “Illegal wildlife trade is highly profitable and smugglers are constantly on the lookout for loopholes to exploit.

“We therefore need to take active steps to ensure that our regulations and enforcement tools remain up to date and effective.”

Mr Tan also launched a month-long public consultation for the proposed amendments to the Endangered Species Act.

From Nov 12 to Dec 12, the public can share their views here, or e-mail NParks.

The Ministry of National Development and NParks will review the feedback received before finalising the proposed amendments to the Act, said Mr Tan.

Mr Louis Ng, an MP for Nee Soon GRC and founder of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), told The Straits Times: “I am heartened by the changes after championing wildlife conservation for over a decade.

“But we have a long way to go, compared with other Asean countries which have harsher penalties for illegal wildlife trading.”

Other changes Mr Ng is pushing for include providing a reward to informers, recognising illegal wildlife trade as an organised crime akin to human trafficking under the law, as well as making buying illegal wildlife an offence.

NParks will hold a public webinar on Singapore’s efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade on Nov 27. It is also holding a roving exhibition from Nov 12 to 17 at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve Visitor Centre Gallery, before moving to various green spaces across Singapore over a month.

******

Smithsonian Magazine

After Being Hunted to Near-Extinction, New Zealand Sea Lions Are Reclaiming the Mainland

These blubbery critters have made grand reappearances on golf courses, swimming pools and hiking trails, startling some New Zealanders

Rasha Aridi, Daily Correspondent, November 11, 2021

Around 200 years ago, the once-flourishing population of New Zealand sea lions was completely hunted off the mainland and driven southwards to other islands. But in 1993, one female gave birth to a pup on the mainland, and since then, the population has bounced back with a blubbery vengeance—they’ve managed to wiggle themselves all the way from the ocean to places like golf courses, swimming pools and forests, reports Charlotte Graham-McLay for the New York Times.

There are currently around 12,000 New Zealand sea lions, and the species is still listed as endangered. Previous distribution models for the New Zealand sea lions didn’t completely reflect where the animals were living or moving on the mainland, so the team set out to create a more comprehensive dataset by combining algorithmic modeling with field data, according to a press release.

“It’s one thing for wildlife rangers to look out for sea lions on sandy beaches, but it’s another challenge for them to tromp through forests to find baby sea lions hiding under the trees,” lead author Veronica Frans, a Ph.D. student at Michigan State University, says in a statement. 

They mapped out different types of habitat—such as forest, sand, grass, slopes and cliffs—as well as human-created barriers like roads, farms and neighborhoods. All these elements can help scientists understand where a sea lion could live, how it would get there and the challenges it may encounter along the way. They published their findings this week in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

“While we can’t know for sure where female sea lions will go on the mainland, we can use models to make helpful predictions,” Frans says in the press release.

Using the model, Frans counted 395 spots that could serve as sea lion habitat. However, human-made obstacles such as roads and fences affect about 90 percent of those spots, reports the Times.

“Nearly 400 sites seem like an incredible potential for a bright future for these sea lions. All signs point to many more sea lion pups in the future, if we do our best to welcome them,” Frans says in the press release.

Mother sea lions can trek more than a mile into a forest for safety. These mothers are remarkably protective, and a forest keeps pups far away from aggressive adult males and shelters them from the elements. However, the journey into the forest isn’t easy—sea lions get hit by cars while crossing roads and they may encounter other barriers, like fences, that limit their movement, reports Isaac Schultz for Gizmodo.

Furthermore, not all New Zealanders are thrilled about the sea lions’ comeback. Accidentally stumbling upon a mother and pup can be startling, since mothers are loud and protective of their young. The sea lions’ presence can also be disruptive; in one instance, authorities shut down a road for a month to protect a mother and her pup, which didn’t bode well with some residents. Some people have gone as far as intentionally killing the sea lions, the Times reports.

“One way [modeling] will help is the public awareness and engagement and knowing which communities to target as the population expands,” Laura Boren, a science adviser for New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, tells the Times. “We can get people ready for sea lions coming to their town.”

Despite the sea lions’ grand return, it doesn’t mean people should be planning their days around them. There’s a way to live together, Frans tells the Times.

“It’s difficult because we imagine protected areas being areas that kind of kick people out, but people are allowed to be integrated in those places,” she says. “It’s more that we find a balance.”

******

WCIV/ABC News (Charleston, SC)

Red wolf population retains greater protection after U.S. Fish & Wildlife drops proposal

by Brittany Whitehead, November 11, 2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021 that it is withdrawing its controversial 2018 plan for managing the last remaining known population of the endangered red wolves — a move that wolf conservation groups are celebrating.

The 2018 proposed rule to replace the existing regulations surrounding the red wolves, in effect, would have decreased the Red Wolf Recovery Area of 1.7 million acres across five counties by nearly 90% and would have also allowed the immediate killing of any wolves wandering onto non-federal lands.

The last wild red wolves are a single population in eastern North Carolina consisting of just eight known (radio-collared) individuals.

Based on recent court decisions involving the North Carolina nonessential experimental population (NC NEP) as well as the consideration of public comments regarding the 2018 proposed rule, the fish and wildlife service determined dropping the proposal was the best course of action.

The red wolf is listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, except in a portion of North Carolina where it was reintroduced as a nonessential experimental population.

The NC NEP is the only known wild population of red wolves.

Withdrawal of the 2018 proposed rule means red wolves in the NC NEP will continue to be managed under existing regulations established in the 1995 rule, which recognizes the USFWS’s authority to release additional wolves and conduct adaptive management.

The NC NEP will continue to encompass the five counties of the Albemarle Peninsula (Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties).

The proposed rule that published June 28, 2018, to replace the existing regulations governing the NC NEP designation of the red wolf under section 10(j) of the ESA will be withdrawn on Nov 15, 2021, upon publication in the Federal Register.

The withdrawal of the proposed rule, comments, and supplementary documents are available at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2018-0035.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Aims to Protect African Leopards From U.S. Trophy Hunters

Increased Endangered Species Act Protections Sought to Address U.S. Threat As World’s Largest Importer of Leopard Trophies

WASHINGTON—(November 9, 2021)—Animal protection and conservation groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to propose stricter protections for African leopards under the U.S. Endangered Species Act to address the harms of trophy hunting.

The United States is the world’s biggest importer of African leopard hunting trophies and consumed more than half the global trade between 2014 and 2018. Yet despite trophy hunting’s threat to African leopards, their population declines, and these big cats’ “threatened” status under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. currently exempts trophy imports from the Act’s restrictions. Humane Society International, the Humane Society of the United States, and Center for Biological Diversity sued to close that gap in protections.

“The pathway to leopard extinction is littered with leopard trophies,” said Teresa Telecky, vice president of wildlife for Humane Society International, speaking on behalf of Humane Society International and the Humane Society of the United States. “The African leopard is being driven to extinction by U.S. trophy hunters who are enabled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which hands out import leopard trophy import permits like candy. The agency has dragged its feet for far too long and needs to step up and put stronger Endangered Species Act protections in place to curb this outrageous hobby.”

The groups petitioned in July 2016 to uplist African leopards from “threatened” to “endangered” status under the Act. Greater protection under the law would ensure closer scrutiny of African leopard trophy imports and apply a more protective standard before trophies can enter the United States.

“The tide of extinction is rolling over leopards, but U.S. wildlife officials aren’t throwing these graceful animals a life preserver,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Endangered Species Act’s full protections could ensure that the gruesome trophy trade doesn’t drive leopard decline. To defeat the extinction crisis, we need to use every weapon in our arsenal. But after trophy hunting was identified as a threat to African leopards, U.S. wildlife officials sat on their hands. The failure to help conserve these iconic cats is unacceptable.”

Under the law, the Service was required to make an uplisting determination by July 2017. But four years have passed since that deadline and the agency still hasn’t acted. The groups also petitioned the agency, as an alternative, to remove the existing exemption for the African leopard trophy trade, but five years later the Service still has not responded.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in the District of Columbia, challenges the agency’s failures to take sorely needed action to protect the species from the trophy trade.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, classifies the leopard as “vulnerable,” meaning it is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. According to IUCN, by 2020, the sub-Saharan African leopard population had likely declined by more than 30% over the previous 22.3 years, and that population is continuing to decline.

Leopards are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, human persecution, illegal wildlife trade, ceremonial use of skins, prey base declines and poorly managed trophy hunting.

Leopard populations in Asia and northern Africa are listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. However, leopards in 18 countries in sub-Saharan Africa are listed as “threatened” under the ESA, and those leopards are not entitled to the Act’s full range of protections.

While leopards receive the strictest protections under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, unscientific leopard export quotas and lax application of CITES’ import and export requirements have allowed for a poorly regulated and unsustainable trophy industry fueled in large part by U.S. hunters.

******

Austin American-Statesman (Austin, TX)

Proposal would deem rare Central Texas wildflower under threat in Endangered Species Act, feds say

Roberto Villalpando, Austin American-Statesman, November 9, 2021

A rare violet wildflower that dots the Central Texas landscape is under threat and deserving of more protection under the Endangered Species Act, according to a proposal by federal wildlife regulators.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to list the bracted twistflower, an annual wildflower that’s native to the southeastern edge of the Edwards Plateau, as a threatened species and to protect it on about 1,600 acres of critical habitat across four Texas counties, including Travis County.

Under the Endangered Species Act, threatened species are considered likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. About 1,600 species of plants, birds, fish, invertebrates, and mammals are listed as endangered or threatened.

“Much of the bracted twistflower’s range occurs along the I-35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio, which is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the United States,” said Chris Best, a botanist for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Texas.

He said the service estimates “that 33% of the species’ habitats have been lost to urban and residential development over the last 30 years.”

“The good news is that we have many dedicated local partners who are helping us protect and recover this species in the remaining occupied habitats,” Best said.

The critical habitat proposed for the bracted twistflower lies in nine areas in four counties: Travis and the San Antonio-area counties of Bexar, Medina and Uvalde. The Fish and Wildlife service said the areas, which are already managed for conservation, include:

+About 345 acres of state land at Garner State Park.

+Close to 1,200 acres on local government lands at Balcones Canyonlands Preserve in Travis County and within San Antonio Parks & Recreation Department park boundaries.

+About 63 acres on private land that is voluntarily managed for conservation.

The bracted twistflower provides nectar and pollen for pollinating insects, such as bees. Its main threats include urban and residential land development, white-tailed deer and other hoofed grazers, reduced sunlight because of increased tree cover and a lack of genetic diversity, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal also would prohibit removing, cutting, digging up, damaging or destroying the wildflower on non-federal lands “in knowing violation of any state law or regulation, or in the course of violating state criminal trespass law,” the agency said.

Only a month ago, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it was ready to deem a Central Texas fish species extinct.

The tiny San Marcos gambusia, once native to the San Marcos River, hasn’t been seen since the early 1980s, so the agency has given the public until Nov. 29 to find one and notify the federal government before the fish is officially declared extinct.

The proposal to list the bracted twistflower as threatened and designate critical habitat will be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday. Public comments will be accepted until Jan. 11.

How to help

To learn about ways you can help conserve native wildlife, visit the Texas offices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service online at fws.gov/offices/ or volunteer at a wildlife refuge by visiting fws.gov/volunteers.

******

Al.com (Birmingham, AL)

Alligator snapping turtles may get endangered species protection

By Greg Garrison, Published: Nov. 08, 2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today it has proposed adding the alligator snapping turtle to the endangered species list for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Alligator snappers are the largest freshwater turtles in North America and are known for their powerful bite – they can snap a broom handle in two with their powerful jaws.

Environmental groups praised the decision.

“Alligator snappers are some of the fiercest, wildest creatures in the Southeast, but overexploitation and habitat destruction have put their lives on the line,” said Elise Bennett, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “These freshwater giants will get a real shot at survival and recovery with the help of the Endangered Species Act and its lifesaving protections.”

This prehistoric-looking freshwater turtle is known for its spiked shell, strong, beaked jaws and worm-like tongue for luring fish. The alligator snapper faces a predicted 95 percent decline in 50 years and may be doomed to extinction in as few as 30 years under even the most optimistic predictions.

Alligator snapping turtles get their name from large, powerful jaws and shells that can resemble the rough, ridged skin of an alligator. Adult males can weigh up to 249 pounds; females are much smaller. They inhabit 14 states across the Southeast, Midwest and Southwest.

Early in the 20th century, alligator snapping turtles were plentiful in river systems draining into the Gulf of Mexico, from the waterways and lakes of the Midwest to the swamps and bayous of Florida, Louisiana and Texas. But the Service found that the species’ range has since contracted in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and possibly in Oklahoma.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal follows a review indicating that decades of overharvesting for domestic and international meat consumption, impacts from nest predation, recreational and illegal harvest and collection, and fishing activities are taking a severe toll on the turtle.

“These magnificent reptiles are sometimes called the dinosaurs of the turtle world because they look very prehistoric,” said Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional director for the South Atlantic-Gulf and Mississippi-Basin regions. “The impacts of overharvesting and other human activities, along with the reality that they take up to 21 years to reproduce combined to put the alligator snapping turtle in peril. The Service will continue to work with all the state agencies to gather the necessary science to conserve and manage this iconic species.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service will have hearings on the proposal and accept comments received or postmarked on or before Jan. 10, 2022.

******

Buckrail (Jackson Hole, WY)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife radio-collar two of 399’s cubs

Caroline Chapman, Nov. 7, 2021

JACKSON, Wyo. — Yesterday, an interagency team from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) successfully radio-collared two yearlings of grizzly 399.

The collaring was done in an effort to better monitor the bears’ location and take steps to mitigate human-bear conflicts. After collaring, the two yearlings, along with a third that was not collared, were released together in the presence of 399 and the remaining yearling.

“The Service recognizes the high level of interest in grizzly bear #399, and we thank all of our partners for coming together to do what we can to ensure both the safety of the public as well as the safety of #399 and her yearlings from growing risks of human-bear conflict,” said Acting FWS Regional Director Matt Hogan. “This preventive step will help us mitigate further conflicts to protect grizzly bear #399, her yearlings, and the public.”

In recent days there has been a significant increase in the frequency of the famous mother and her cubs lingering near human residences and accessing human sources of food, including apiculture beehives, unsecured animal feed and garbage.

The FWS reminds residents and visitors that they have the ability to prevent conflicts and food conditioning from occurring.

“It is important that bears do not feel comfortable near human-occupied dwellings. If grizzly bear 399, or any other bears, are in a residential area, people can make loud noises, such as yelling or banging pots and pans, to make bears feel uncomfortable and help move them along,” said the FWS.

Grizzly bears in the lower-48 states are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), meaning management authority for grizzlies in Wyoming rests with the USFWS, working closely with NPS, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and U.S. Forest Service.

******

Yahoo/Business Insider

A California aquarium vaccinated 8 sea otters against COVID-19 because they might be susceptible to the virus

Yelena Dzhanova, November 7, 2021

An aquarium in California has vaccinated eight sea otters since August to protect them against COVID-19.

“There’s a lot of evidence that this family of animals – ferrets, mink, otters – are susceptible,” Dr. Mike Murray, chief veterinarian at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, told the Seattle Times. “We have an obligation to protect the animals’ health.”

Each of the eight otters received two doses, three weeks apart, the Times reported. The vaccine they received is from a New Jersey-based company called Zoetis, known for manufacturing animal drugs.

Four of the otters – Ivy, Abby, Kit, and Selka – are aquarium residents, according to the Times, while the other four are rescues who were separated from their mothers in the wild.

The fear is that sea otters – considered an endangered species – will contract the coronavirus and create an outbreak, causing the population to dwindle.

There have been reports of otters contracting the disease in the United States. Earlier this year, or example, an aquarium in Georgia said its Asian small-clawed otters tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. Those otters exhibited various symptoms, including sneezing and coughing.

Monterey Bay is believed to be the first aquarium in the country to vaccinate sea otters against the coronavirus. The otters have not displayed any adverse reactions to the vaccine, Murray told the Times. “They don’t seem to miss a beat,” he said.

Sea otters dive deep into the ocean to find food on the sea floor, so if they’re lethargic or unable to breathe properly, they won’t be able to survive.

“The virus is respiratory,” Murray told the Times. “A sea otter in the wild is an Olympic-class athlete. If they can’t touch the bottom, they will starve. They’ve got to be able to breathe effectively so they can hunt.”

A zoo in Ohio is planning to vaccinate 16 species of animals, from its Sumatran tigers to lemurs to goats. The decision comes after five of the zoo’s lions tested positive for COVID-19. The Oakland Zoo in California has vaccinated some of its animals, like mountain lions and gibbons, as well.

******

Carlsbad Current- Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

New Mexico’s rarest turkeys could be recovering. State to remove from ‘threatened’ list

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus, Nov. 5, 2021

The rarest of three species of wild turkeys in New Mexico recovered from threats of extinction, state conservation managers reported, which could trigger a reduction in government protections.

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish proposed removing the Gould’s wild turkey from its list of endangered and threatened species, citing the turkey’s recent population recovery.

The Gould’s wild turkey was first listed by the State as threatened in 1974, records show, as the Department cited its limited range and uncertainty of the animal’s abundance.

It dwells mostly in southwest New Mexico in Hidalgo County, while the other two species of New Mexico wild turkeys, the Merriam’s and Rio Grande wild turkey were more widely distributed across the state.

In April 2017, a recovery plan for the turkey was initiated and implemented in the Peloncillo Mountains, a 35-mile range that runs from Hidalgo County into Cochise County in neighboring Arizona.

“Results of sustained field research conducted by the Department in recent years, in conjunction with a successful augmentation of the Peloncillo Mountains population, indicate that recovery criteria specified in the Gould’s Wild Turkey Recovery Plan have now been met,” read the Department’s announcement.

Because of the plan’s reported success, the Department planned to conduct a “delisting investigation” to analyze the impact of the recovery efforts and the potential effects of removing the species from its list.

A public comment period was planned to run until Feb. 18, 2022 to solicit feedback from those interested once the delisting proposal is finalized and published online.

Comments can be directed to John Bulger at john.bulger@state.nm.us or via mail to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, One Wildlife Way, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87507.

“In accordance with the Wildlife Conservation Act, we are accepting data, views or information about the biological or ecological status of the species for use in the investigation,” read the announcement. “A public repository file has been created to document the delisting investigation and to record public comments on the process.”

Efforts to recover the wild turkey date back decades

The Gould’s wild turkey was first documented in 1892, but there were limited records of its sightings until the 1980s, and it was listed as threatened, per a Game and Fish report, due to the lack of information.

Researchers at New Mexico State University began studying the turkey in 1982, finding population estimates in the Peloncillo Mountains as low as 12 to 75 birds in the 1980s and 1990s.

Later studies estimated up to 50 to 100 birds in the Animas Mountains in New Mexico’s southwest bootheel region and San Luis Mountains in southern Arizona.

Like other two species of wild turkey in New Mexico, the Gould’s is a popular game bird that suffered from over hunting through the 20th Century.

It’s the largest subspecies in New Mexico but has the smallest range – mostly in southwest New Mexico with some limited populations in eastern Arizona.

The Department worried the smaller populations could be threatened by inbreeding, which made them more susceptible to disease, so the state worked to relocate about 60 turkeys, the report read, from Arizona to a population in the Peloncillo Mountains.

“Small turkey populations may be vulnerable to inbreeding and genetic drift, which can make them more susceptible to disease and may decrease their biological fitness,” read the report.

“Increasing genetic diversity is important so populations are better able to survive future changes to climate, habitat and disease. Transplants provide wildlife biologists the opportunity to boost population numbers while enhancing genetic diversity.”

In the recovery plan, threats to the turkey were identified as wildfire, water scarcity, livestock overgrazing and habitat loss from fuelwood and grass harvesting.

Poaching was also a threat described in the recovery plan.

“Key recommendations for recovery of this species are to maintain and enhance limiting habitat components, augment populations as necessary, and collaborate with land managers and private stakeholders to minimize threats identified on a site-specific basis,” read the plan.

******

E&E News/Greenwire

Biden admin revives talks on endangered species and pesticides

By Marc Heller, 11/04/2021

A federal interagency task force on pesticides and endangered species has resumed its work after a long delay, pledging smoother consultations among EPA, the Interior Department and the Department of Agriculture.

In a news release, EPA said the group met Oct. 15 and agreed on general priorities including working more closely with outside groups and using pilot programs to reduce pesticides’ effects on endangered species.

At issue are the consultations among various agencies — also including the Council on Environmental Quality and NOAA — on the use of pesticides that might pose a threat to vulnerable wildlife and plants.

The interagency working group was created through the 2018 farm bill but fizzled in practice.

In June 2019, during the Trump administration, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and other officials touted the group and its mission in a meeting, calling for a streamlined consultation process under the Endangered Species Act. USDA, EPA and the Commerce Department had also signed a related agreement before the farm bill was enacted (E&E News PM, Jan. 31, 2018).

“Reconvening the IWG with a focus on interagency collaboration, open and honest stakeholder engagement, and transparency is a critical step forward to meet our ESA obligations in a way that’s practical and protective,” said EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Pesticide Programs Ya-Wei (Jake) Li in a news release.

The pesticide industry group CropLife America praised the administration’s move, which the organization had long requested. However, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity said the reconvening of the working group won’t mean much without concrete action to reduce pesticide use.

CropLife said in a statement, “We strongly support this effort and look forward to working with other stakeholders to find improvements to the process.”

At the Center for Biological Diversity, senior scientist Nathan Donley told E&E News the agencies have been “tinkering with refinements” to the process under the Endangered Species Act for a decade, without much progress.

“We’re still waiting for the day that all this talk will translate into meaningful actions. Here’s hoping it comes sooner rather than too late,” Donley said.

EPA said the group agreed to work more closely with outside groups, including possibly working with them as a task force in addition to the individual agencies’ work, and to communicate with those groups “in a transparent manner.”

******

Defenders of Wildlife

Mountaintop removal worse for endangered species than initially thought

by Defenders of Wildlife, November 4, 2021

A new study published today by journal PLOS ONE has revealed that mountaintop removal mining poses a more serious and widespread threat to endangered species and people than was previously understood. The researchers from Defenders of Wildlife’s Center for Conservation Innovation (CCI) and conservation technology nonprofit SkyTruth, combine water-quality data with satellite imagery of mountaintop removal mining activity to estimate the full extent of water-quality degradation attributable to the practice at the landscape level.

“This research really emphasizes the interconnectedness of ecosystems and how distant human activity can have ripple effects that aren’t immediately apparent,” said CCI’s Senior Conservation Data Scientist Mike Evans. “Being able to assess impacts at a landscape scale opens a completely new door for conservation.”

Mountaintop removal is a coal-mining method that clearcuts forests and then uses explosives to remove top soil and bedrock, which is often dumped in nearby valleys. The method’s negative impacts on water quality is well known, but this research is now revealing the extent of the damage.

The research found that chronic and acute toxicity thresholds for chemicals like aluminum, copper, lead and manganese as well as acidity levels in streams were exceeded thousands of times—including in areas of critical habitat—far removed from where the mines actually are. Previously, it was thought impacts were contained to the immediate area around mines.

The study combined 30 years of satellite imagery data that mapped large surface mines in central Appalachia and water-quality measurements from more than 4,000 monitoring sites across different watersheds.

“We have been watching mountaintop removal mining expand across the Appalachian landscape for years using satellite imagery,” said Christian Thomas, geospatial engineer with SkyTruth. “By combining our imagery with water-quality data, we have finally revealed how profoundly this activity harms sensitive aquatic species.”

Central Appalachia is a highly biodiverse region and the streams impacted by these mines contain many threatened and endangered species, including 39 mollusk species, 12 fish, as well as crustacean and snail species. The region includes parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia where this mining often occurs.

“More than 50 federally protected species inhabit the streams of this region, and we haven’t historically known the full impact of these mines, until now,” said Evans. “This research expands the ability for state and federal agencies to make better decisions that directly affect vulnerable people and wildlife.”

The results of this study and the same methods can now be used to improve protections for imperiled species and provide a more rigorous scientific standard for mine permitting practices going forward by representing “best-available science,” the legal standard required under the Endangered Species Act.

******

Office of Senator James Risch

Risch, Crapo, Colleagues Call for Hearing to Remove Yellowstone Grizzly from Endangered Species List

Press Release/November 3, 2021

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo (both R-Idaho) joined U.S. Senators Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) in sending a letter to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife Chair Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) calling for a congressional hearing on legislation to remove the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) grizzly bear from the endangered species list. The Bush, Obama and Trump Administrations all recognized the grizzly population in and around Yellowstone is fully recovered, yet activist groups have prevented their delisting.

“The story of the GYE grizzly bear should be one of triumph and success for federal, state, and local conservation efforts,” the senators wrote. “Instead, it has become another story of government bureaucracy and failure that only casts doubt on the efficacy of the Endangered Species Act. In 1972, population estimates of the GYE grizzly were as low as 136 bears. In 1975, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the grizzly bear as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. In 2019, the Service placed the number of bears at 728, and some estimates put the population closer to 1200 bears.”

“The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, the group of federal, state, and tribal scientists and biologists responsible for the long-term monitoring and research of the GYE grizzly, have determined that the bears are at or near the carrying capacity of the park,” the letter continues. “Grizzlies are moving well beyond areas where the bears can exist, causing loss of human life, damage to livestock, and eroding public support for the recovery of this iconic and important species.”

Senators Risch and Crapo introduced the Grizzly Bear State Management Act in March to remove grizzly bears in the GYE from the endangered species list and shift management to the states. The Idaho, Montana and Wyoming delegations also sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Interior in April urging it to follow the science and delist the Yellowstone grizzly population.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Seeks Endangered Species Act Protection for Rare California Fish

Speckled Dace Imperiled by Dams, Water Diversions, Drought, Climate Chaos

LOS ANGELES—(November 3, 2021)—The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to protect two populations of imperiled speckled dace under the Endangered Species Act. The Service failed to make required decisions on protection for the Santa Ana speckled dace, in Southern California, and the Long Valley speckled dace in Mono County, which is nearing extinction in the wild.

“Endangered Species Act protection is a badly needed lifeline for our native speckled dace,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center. “Fire, drought and reckless water policies have taken a toll on so many of the fish in Southern California’s streams. Only a handful of Long Valley speckled dace live in their native springs and streams anymore. They need emergency action and a coordinated reintroduction to survive.”

Both dace populations are endemic to California, meaning they’re not found anywhere else in the world. Santa Ana speckled dace live in the Santa Ana, San Jacinto, San Gabriel and Los Angeles river systems. Long Valley speckled dace once lived in warm springs and creeks in the Upper Owens River watershed in Mono County, but now are barely hanging on in one spring, with a few hundred more fish remaining in an artificial pond at a managed refuge in Inyo County.

The Santa Ana speckled dace has declined due to dams, water diversions, drought, wildfires, flooding, invasive species and rapid climate change. The Long Valley speckled dace faces threats from water diversions, geothermal energy development, climate change and drought, which have dried up suitable springs and stream habitats.

The Center petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for Santa Ana speckled dace and Long Valley speckled dace in 2020. The Service determined that both dace may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, but has not yet made overdue listing determinations. Today’s lawsuit was filed in the Central District of California.

Long delays in protecting species under the Endangered Species Act have been a persistent problem for decades. A 2016 study found that species waited a median of 12 years to receive safeguards. Under the statute, protection decisions are supposed to take two to three years.

Species Background

Santa Ana speckled dace: The Santa Ana speckled dace is a tiny fish endemic to the Santa Ana, San Jacinto, San Gabriel and Los Angeles river systems of Southern California. They require perennial streams, but dams and water diversion facilities have depleted stream flows.

Introduced species prey on and compete with dace, and urban development, river channelization for flood control, and roads also degrade the dace’s habitat. Due to the widespread destruction of their native habitat, Santa Ana speckled dace now occupy only remnants of their historical range and are largely restricted to headwater tributaries within national forests.

Long Valley speckled dace: The Long Valley speckled dace is a tiny fish endemic to the Long Valley volcanic caldera, east of Mammoth Lakes, in Mono County, California.

Long Valley speckled dace are adapted to warm springs and creeks. Geothermal energy development and water diversions have reduced or dried up springs throughout Long Valley and these dace have disappeared from suitable habitats, including Hot Creek, Little Alkali Lake, and various isolated springs and ponds.

There is now only one very small and declining natural population of Long Valley speckled dace at Whitmore Hot Springs. A few hundred of these fish are also maintained in an artificial pond at a managed refuge in Inyo County, outside the species’ historical range.

Other threats to Long Valley speckled dace habitat include recreational activities, livestock grazing, excessive pumping of groundwater and climate change, since their spring habitats are fed by aquifers that depend on snow melt for recharge.

*******

Monterey Herald (Monterey, CA)

Dungeness crab season delayed in the Monterey Bay area

By DENNIS L. TAYLOR, Monterey Herald, November 2, 2021

MONTEREY – State wildlife officials postponed the start of the local Dungeness crab season out of concern for entanglements of endangered humpback whales and leatherback sea turtles spotted along the Central California coast, including Monterey Bay.

Charlton Bonham, the director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife issued the decision Monday that will delay the opening of both recreational and commercial Dungeness crabbing at least until Nov. 22. The season along the Central Coast was slated to open Nov. 15.

In the written decision, Bonham said his department will conduct another assessment Nov. 22 and decide then on whether or not to open Dungeness season.

The reason cited is an abundance of whales above historic levels in two state fishing zones along the Central Coast. Zone 3 covers all of Monterey Bay from Point Arena just south of Fort Bragg down to Point Pinos in Pacific Grove. Zone 4 runs from Point Pinos down to Lopez Point in Big Sur.

In late October, staff from the Fish and Wildlife Department’s Marine Region conducted aerial surveys and observed 48 humpback whales in Fishing Zone 3 that includes all of Monterey Bay. Aerial surveys undertaken by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, researchers throughout October showed an abundance of humpback whales — from 34 to 96 whales.

“I must implement a protective management action in the commercial crab fishery,” Bonham wrote in his Monday declaration. “Observed humpback whale numbers are above average when compared to historical data, which may indicate that the bulk of the migration has yet to begin.”

Kristen Monsell, legal director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Oceans program, applauded the ruling but said it doesn’t go far enough.

“The best way to help imperiled wildlife is for state officials to push through a transition to ropeless gear,” Monsell said. “As long as the fishing industry is dropping thousands of heavy ropes into California waters, crabbers will face delays or closures and endangered whales and sea turtles will continue to be entangled and killed.”

This summer a humpback whale was found entangled in California Dungeness crabbing gear in Mexico, she said. While the technology behind ropeless gear is improving, its price is still a long way from being commercially viable, crabbers say.

The concept is to keep rope coiled on the seabed next to the crab cages. A buoy attached to the rope is encased, preventing it from rising to the surface and dragging its rope behind. This compares to the current method of keeping buoys on the surface with a rope running down to the cages resting on the seabed. Crabbers then bring the buoys aboard and haul up the cages with the rope.

With ropeless gear, a crabbing boat can pass over the cage, and the crabber can send an electronic signal that releases the buoy that brings the rope to the surface where the fisherman can then haul up the cage.

Nancy Black, a marine biologist and owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch in Monterey, said she has seen a good number — roughly 15 humpbacks – recently in the bay. Humpbacks in the bay are typical for this time of year as they feed on anchovies, she said. What’s different is the numbers.

Whaling operations in the 1800s and early in the 20th century took the number of humpbacks globally down to about 400. But in 1973 they became federally listed in the U.S. as an endangered species. Today the worldwide population is up to roughly 3,000, Black said.

In April, President Joe Biden’s administration issued a  rule protecting 116,098 square nautical miles of the Pacific Ocean as critical habitat for three populations of endangered humpbacks. The rule could begin to help protect migrating whales from ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear and oil spills, environmental groups say.

Dungeness crabs lines can be deadly to whales that become ensnared in the equipment, often causing dehydration, infected wounds, breathing or reproduction problems and even starvation.

Aerial surveys undertaken by NOAA researchers throughout October also showed at least four individual Pacific leatherback sea turtles in the Monterey fishing zone.  The number of leatherback turtles that feed in Central California waters has declined by 80% during the last two decades, according to research out of NOAA and the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.

There are an estimated 50 of these turtles in California waters, compared to 178 during the years 1990 to 2003, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Last year whale-watching trips spotted three in Monterey Bay.

Last month, the state Fish and Game Commission voted to add the turtles under the state’s Endangered Species Act.

Some crab fishermen in the Monterey Bay area are contributing to a project called the Lost Gear Recovery Project that is coordinated by the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust, which in turn is permitted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The fishermen take various routes out to their fishing grounds while looking for crab gear that had been cut loose, often by the propellers of larger purse seiners. Loose gear can drift offshore and into the feeding grounds of humpback pods.

Sherry Flumerfelt, the executive director of the Fisheries Trust, said that so far this year there have been no entanglements in the Monterey Bay area.

“The Lost Gear Recovery project is an easy win for fishermen, wildlife and all boaters,” she said. “And it’s a great example of the commitment and stewardship of our local fishing community.”

More information on the program can be found in a July Monterey Herald article: https://bit.ly/3q66KAh.

******

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Office

Feinstein, Padilla to Newsom: Brightline West Must Protect Endangered Desert Species

Nov. 01 2021

Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla (both D-Calif.) today called on Governor Gavin Newsom to require the Brightline West high speed rail project to include wildlife corridor overpasses in its design to protect endangered species in the Mojave Desert.

“It has come to our attention that Brightline High Speed Rail’s proposed Brightline West project route from Las Vegas, Nevada to Victorville, California does not account for essential wildlife corridors for some of the desert’s state and federally-protected species, including big horn sheep and mountain lions,” the senators wrote. “To resolve these unnecessary impacts to our desert, we ask you to direct Caltrans to use its existing authorities and oversight of the project’s right-of-way, to require Brightline to include no less than three wildlife corridor overpasses in its design, and to construct these structures as part of its upcoming rail construction.”

Full text of the letter follows:

November 1, 2021

Dear Governor Newsom,

It has come to our attention that Brightline High Speed Rail’s proposed Brightline West project route from Las Vegas, Nevada to Victorville, California does not account for essential wildlife corridors for some of the desert’s state and federally-protected species, including big horn sheep and mountain lions. To resolve these unnecessary impacts to our desert, we ask you to direct Caltrans to use its existing authorities and oversight of the project’s right-of-way, to require Brightline to include no less than three wildlife corridor overpasses in its design, and to construct these structures as part of its upcoming rail construction.

Brightline’s current project design has high-speed trains running 170 miles along the existing Interstate 15 highway, flanked by six foot concrete walls topped by chain link fences. An Oregon State University scientific study found that this project design would prevent bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, mountain lions, and the Mojave ground squirrel from crossing the highway into their habitat range. All of these animals are endangered or candidates for an endangered listing under the federal Endangered Species Act and California’s Endangered Species Act.

These protected animals, as well as bobcats, mule deer, and other terrestrial animals depend on movement across the I-15 corridor to maintain their population viability. Caltrans and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife documented these threats in their June 2021 recommendations to Brightline and urged the design and construction of three Designated Wildlife Overpasses to allow wildlife to travel safely across the highway. Despite these recommendations and repeated stakeholder engagement, Brightline has not committed to build wildlife crossings even though it will be seeking tax-exempt private activity bonds for this $8 billion project, with expected revenue of nearly $1 billion.

We agree that Brightline will be “offering millions of travelers a green way to travel,” as stated in their marketing material. To accomplish this, the project must heed the recommendations of scientists, regulators, wildlife advocates, and California’s own Department of Transportation. We urge you and the Department to ensure that this private venture is a careful steward of public resources and wildlife. We continue to value your partnership in protecting the California desert and its biodiversity. Please do not hesitate to contact us or have your staff reach out to ours with any questions.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein

United States Senator

Alex Padilla

United States Senator

******

Surfbirds

Senate Drops Rider Exempting Greater Sage-Grouse from Endangered Species Act

Published by surfbirds on October 31, 2021 courtesy of American Bird Conservancy

The Senate FY 22 Interior Appropriations bill released today excludes a provision exempting protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the once-abundant but now rapidly declining Greater Sage-Grouse. The House of Representatives has already passed an Interior bill without the rider. Conservation groups are urging that the rider remain out of the final spending agreement.

“Our thanks to Senators Jeff Merkley and Patrick Leahy for showing exemplary conservation leadership by excluding the sage-grouse rider from the Interior bill,” said Steve Holmer, Vice President of Policy for American Bird Conservancy (ABC). “This exemption has been in place for nearly seven years. It’s time to once again give the grouse the possibility of ESA protection and the safety net it deserves.”

The Greater Sage-Grouse is the keystone species of sagebrush habitat in the American West. Conserving the grouse also supports 350 other species of conservation concern, including the Pronghorn, Pygmy Rabbit, Mule Deer, native trout, and nearly 200 migratory and western bird species.

As many as 16 million Greater Sage-Grouse once occurred across 297 million acres of sagebrush grasslands in the West. Today, the sagebrush biome and grouse populations continue to decline. Sage-grouse habitat is less than half of what it once was, diminished by invasive species, roads, overgrazing, mining, energy development, agricultural conversion, and fires. The grouse’s populations have declined 80 percent range-wide since 1965 and nearly 40 percent since 2002.

“A recent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study provides an excellent resource to understand the magnitude of Greater Sage-Grouse loss, as well as the likelihood that grouse populations will continue to decline,” said Holmer. “It also shows that the species’ range will continue to contract absent substantial new conservation measures.”

The USGS report indicates that current management plans and other regulatory mechanisms are not sufficient to arrest the grouse’s ongoing decline, and that additional conservation measures are needed to stabilize the population.

“Efforts to revive the National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy can best be accomplished, and will have a greater chance of success, if the Endangered Species Act listing moratorium is ended,” said Holmer.

******

Casper Star Tribune (Casper, WY)

Conservation groups sue over status of black-footed ferrets

Nicole Pollack, Oct. 30, 2021

Atrio of conservation groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday over its management of black-footed ferrets in Wyoming.

Even though the black-footed ferret, North America’s only native ferret species, is still classified as endangered, the agency delegated responsibility for the species to the state in 2015. It declared the state an “experimental population area” and its ferrets “nonessential” for species recovery, easing the animals’ protections under the Endangered Species Act.

“This new rule is a good fit for Wyoming because it builds on voluntary efforts by landowners and recognizes the role they play in species conservation,” Scott Talbott, former director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said of the designation in 2015. “The final rule should have positive impacts on black-footed ferrets, and Wyoming can continue to play a leading role in the conservation of this species.”

The federal lawsuit, led by environmental nonprofit WildEarth Guardians, criticizes the rule and calls for oversight of “perhaps the rarest, most imperiled mammal in North America” to be returned to the federal government.

“What this rule does, the reason I think the rule really stretches that provision to the breaking point, is that the state of Wyoming demanded, and the service acquiesced, to relax those protections without any assurance that reintroductions would actually take place,” said Joe Bushyhead, endangered species policy advocate for WildEarth Guardians.

A single reintroduction has taken place since the state was granted management of the species. That perceived lack of reintroductions, coupled with the proposed rollback of protections for a previously reintroduced population in Thunder Basin National Grassland, motivated the group to challenge Wyoming’s arrangement with the Fish and Wildlife Service, Bushyhead said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment on the case.

Black-footed ferrets live inside prairie dog colonies; prairie dogs constitute more than 90% of the ferrets’ diet. During the first half of the 20th century, as prairie dogs’ numbers plummeted, so did ferrets’. The species was believed to be extinct until a single surviving ferret population was discovered in Wyoming in the 1980s.

Captive breeding and reintroduction programs, including a particularly successful effort at Shirley Basin, revived the species, but its status remains precarious. Prairie dogs are estimated to inhabit as little as 5% of their former range, and existing colonies continue to be threatened by poisoning, shooting and disease.

“Sylvatic plague will wipe out huge numbers of prairie dogs, and the prairie dog populations are oftentimes resilient enough to rebound,” Bushyhead said. “But ferret populations — the much smaller populations within prairie dog complexes — have really not proven resilient enough in many situations.”

Though sizable prairie dog populations are vital for self-sustaining ferret populations, the grass-eating rodents’ unpopularity among ranchers complicates conservation efforts. Prairie dogs are defined by the state as non-game animals, and can be killed year-round without a license.

The conservation groups contend that lethal prairie dog management practices jeopardize ferrets’ survival. They want to see protections expanded for some Wyoming prairie dog colonies.

“The plague has become a constant part of the environment now, and is more difficult to control,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project. “It is very easy to control and manage poisoning and shooting. So I would say that the priorities for conservation need to be to stop the poisoning and the shooting of prairie dogs.”

******

Surfbirds

SpaceX Destroys Habitat of Endangered Species, Defies Federal Approval Process

Published by surfbirds on October 30, 2021 courtesy of American Bird Conservancy

While SpaceX is focusing on exploring distant planets, the company’s operations are taking a toll on planet Earth, specifically in Boca Chica, Texas. Here, the SpaceX Starship Super Heavy Project and launch site are being built and expanded, even though some of the infrastructure has yet to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is deeply concerned about the facility’s impacts on wildlife habitat and species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), including the federally Threatened Piping Plover and Red Knot, and the Endangered Northern Aplomado Falcon.

“The ecological importance of this region cannot be overstated,” said EJ Williams, ABC’s Vice President for the Southeast Region. “It’s critically important to ensure impacts to its natural resources are minimized and mitigated.”

In addition to Threatened and Endangered birds, the area surrounding the Boca Chica SpaceX site provides sensitive habitat for other wildlife listed under the ESA — from the Ocelot and several species of sea turtle (Kemp’s Ridley, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Loggerhead, and Green) to the Gulf Coast population of the Jaguarundi. This habitat has been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as an aquatic resource of national importance (ARNI). It’s also home to some of the country’s most diverse communities of wind-tidal flats, mid-delta thorn forest, and mid-valley riparian woodlands.

“Boca Chica is incredibly important to birds,” said Williams. “The SpaceX facility in Boca Chica is surrounded by federal and state public lands used by hundreds of thousands of individual birds of many different species throughout the year. It’s an especially vital place for migratory birds that pass through here each spring and fall to rest and refuel so they can successfully continue and complete their migratory journeys.”

SpaceX operations in Boca Chica have changed significantly since the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the site was published by the FAA in 2014. For example, the 2014 EIS made no mention of the natural gas facility now being developed to extract and deliver fuel to the site. While a new EIS is warranted to account for ongoing major changes, the FAA has instead released a draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) — a faster, less comprehensive environmental review. The PEA does not fully address environmental, habitat, or wildlife concerns, nor does it outline alternatives for the public to consider during the comment period that closes on November 1, 2021.

And, despite the fact that the PEA is not yet finalized, SpaceX has proceeded with construction activities. The FAA has warned that SpaceX is building “at its own risk.”

Habitat of the Threatened Piping Plover in Boca Chica, littered with debris from SpaceX operations. Photo by Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program

Since 2014, rocket debris, fires, and construction activities have damaged federal and state public lands surrounding the Boca Chica site. Increased traffic on State Highway 4 has led to mortality of wildlife, with carcasses of Snowy Plover, Common Nighthawk, Harris’s Hawk, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Eastern Meadowlark found over the past two years. All of these species are designated as Birds of Conservation Concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Piping Plovers winter in the habitat surrounding the Boca Chica SpaceX facility. According to an analysis by Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, the Piping Plover population in the Boca Chica region has decreased by 54 percent over the past 3 years (2018-2021) since SpaceX set up operations testing and launching rockets — indicating the declining health of the bird’s habitat.

“Human disturbances, such as highly developed beaches with large numbers of people and associated coastal recreation, have been proven to lead to decreased health and survival of Piping Plovers,” said Kacy Ray, ABC’s Gulf Coastal Program Manager. “If activities like beach recreation can impact a species’ overall survival, imagine how the impacts of rocket testing, launching, and explosions could threaten the health and survival of the same species, let alone the habitat it depends on.”

“Like most people, I’m a fan of space exploration,” said Williams. “The issue is the destruction of sensitive and unique habitats that birds depend on for survival. It is critical that the FAA conduct a full-scale environmental impact study that presents multiple alternatives so the public and stakeholders can better understand and evaluate how SpaceX operations are going to impact Boca Chica and its wildlife.”

******

Associated Press

Senators urge emergency protections for wolves in US West

By MATTHEW BROWN, October 29, 2021

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A group of Democratic lawmakers on Thursday urged the Biden administration to enact emergency protections for gray wolves in the U.S. West in response to Republican-backed state laws that make it easier to kill the predators.

Twenty-one U.S. senators led by New Jersey’s Cory Booker and Michigan’s Gary Peters asked Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to shield wolves from being killed for 240 days while permanent protections are considered.

It’s been legal to hunt and trap wolves in the U.S. Northern Rockies for the past decade, after they rebounded from widespread extermination and federal endangered species protections were lifted.

But Republican officials in Montana and Idaho are intent on culling more wolf packs. Wolves periodically attack livestock and also prey on elk and deer herds that many hunters prize.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last month launched a year-long review to determine if protections need to be restored. The move did nothing to protect wolves in the interim, and Yellowstone National Park administrators have since complained after three wolves from a pack popular with tourists were killed a fter roaming into Montana.

“If continued unabated for this hunting season, these extreme wolf eradication policies will result in the deaths of hundreds of gray wolves,” the Democratic lawmakers said in a letter to Haaland. “The Department of Interior can prevent these senseless killings.”

The letter was signed by senators including from California and Nevada in the West, but no Northern Rockies lawmakers.

Native American groups and environmentalists have previously requested an emergency listing of wolves as an endangered species.

Federal officials said in response that temporary protections can’t be enacted through the legal petitions they received. However, the Endangered Species Act gives Haaland authority to do so if she determines there is a significant threat to a species.

Thirty-six wolves have been killed in Montana since the current hunting and trapping season opened last month, according to state harvest data. While it’s still early in the season, that’s not out of line with past years, said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Greg Lemon.

“We’ve had years where we’ve been over that number at this point in the season, and years where we’ve been less than this,” Lemon said.

Over 320 wolves were harvested during Montana’s 2020 hunting season — significantly more than the preceding eight-year average of 242 wolves per year, according to officials. That was before Gov. Greg Gianforte signed legislation that allowed wildlife commissioners to legalize wolf killing methods previously outlawed, including snaring, baiting and night hunting.

A new law in Idaho eased wolf hunting restrictions to allow using night-vision equipment with a permit, using bait and dogs, and allowing hunting from motor vehicles.

Hunters and trappers reported killing 89 wolves through Monday in Idaho. That’s down from the same point last year but likely to rise because hunters and trappers have 10 days to report a wolf kill, said Idaho Fish and Game spokesperson Roger Phillips.

To protect wolves around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, wildlife advocacy groups on Wednesday asked federal officials to impose a 5-mile (8-kilometer) buffer zone near park boundaries where wolves could not be hunted.

******

KNAU/Arizona Public Radio

Federal wildlife officials propose changes to endangered Mexican gray wolf management plan

KNAU News Talk – Arizona Public Radio, By Ryan Heinsius, October 28, 2021

Federal wildlife officials are proposing several changes to the recovery plan for endangered Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest. It comes after a federal judge ordered the agency to rewrite its plan to comply with federal law. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

The proposal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removes the 325-wolf population limit contained in the original 2015 plan. In addition, the agency wants nearly two-dozen released wolves to survive to breeding age by 2030 to increase genetic diversity, and temporarily restrict three forms of allowable killing of the animals.

Absent from the proposal are changes to the geographic boundary of Mexican wolves, which would keep their official territory south of Interstate-40. Wolf advocates have long called for a significant expansion of the animal’s range in the Southwest.

A federal judge in 2018 ruled elements of Fish and Wildlife’s Mexican wolf management plan didn’t comply with the Endangered Species Act and ordered the agency to rewrite it. Earlier this month Fish and Wildlife was also ordered to add strategies to limit illegal killings of the wolves.

The agency is accepting public comment on the proposal for 90 days starting Friday.

At last count earlier this year there were at least 186 Mexican wolves roaming eastern Arizona and New Mexico.

******

National Geographic

Endangered birds experience ‘virgin birth,’ a first for the species

Female California condors don’t need males to have offspring—joining sharks, rays, and lizards on the list of creatures that can reproduce without mating.

BYJASON BITTEL, October 28, 2021

“There’s something really confusing about the condor data.”

Those weren’t the words Oliver Ryder wanted to hear as he walked to his car after a long day’s work trying to save California condors, one of the most endangered animals on the planet. When his colleague Leona Chemnick explained what she was seeing, his dread quickly changed to fascination.

For decades, scientists have been trying to coax the California condor back from the edge of extinction. The entire population of these birds crashed to just 22 animals in 1982. By 2019, captive breeding and release efforts had slowly built the total population up over 500. Doing that has required careful management of captive birds, particularly selecting which males and females can breed to produce healthy offspring.

That’s how, as the scientists took a closer at genetic data, they discovered that two male birds—known only by their studbook numbers, SB260 and SB517—showed no genetic contribution from the birds that should have been their fathers. (Read about virgin birth recorded in a reticulated python, the world’s longest snake.)

In other words, the birds came into the world by facultative parthenogenesis—or virgin birth—according to a peer-reviewed paper published October 28 in the Journal of Heredity. Such asexual reproduction in normally sexually reproducing species occurs when certain cells produced with a female animal’s egg behave like sperm and fuse with the egg.

Though rare in vertebrates, parthenogenesis occurs in sharks, rays, and lizards. Scientists have also recorded self-fertilization in some captive bird species, such as turkeys, chickens, and Chinese painted quail, usually only when females are housed without access to a male. But this is the first time it’s been recorded in California condors. (Read about a Komodo dragon that reproduced without a mate.)

What’s particularly bizarre about the condors, says Ryder, is that SB260 and SB517 had different mothers, each of them housed with males. What’s more, both mothers had successfully reproduced with those males before and after.

“Why it happened? We just don’t know,” says Ryder, director of conservation genetics at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. “What we do know is that it happened more than once, and it happened to different females.”

“Will it happen again? I rather believe so,” he says.

A survival tool?

Only around 300 of this critically endangered species soar through the skies above California, Arizona, and Utah. With such a low population, it’s possible the condors may be using parthenogenesis as a survival tool, says Reshma Ramachandran, a reproductive physiologist and microbiologist at Mississippi State University who was not involved in the research.

There’s evidence in other species to suggest parthenogenesis can be a life raft of sorts for a species in trouble. For example, the critically endangered smalltooth sawfish may be turning to parthenogenesis as mates become increasingly difficult to find in the wild.

However, that theory may not hold with the California condors. For one, the captive females that produced the male birds in question had access to mates. Secondly, neither of the offspring produced by parthenogenesis survived to reproduce itself. SB260 died after less than two years; SB517 died before reaching eight. In contrast, some California condors can live to a ripe old age of 60.

Because scientists carefully screen for potential genetic disorders when breeding captive condors, it’s possible that these self-fertilized birds carried gene mutations that ultimately caused their early deaths, Ryder says.

Though an interesting idea, “it’s too early to really say how meaningful [parthenogenesis] is to the evolution of the species or its conservation,” adds Jacqueline Robinson, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of California, San Francisco. “We have so few examples of this rare phenomenon.”

To that end, earlier this year, Robinson, Ryder, and colleagues published a study detailing the California condor’s whole genome, valuable genetic data that, in the future, could help us better understand how parthenogenesis works in these animals, she says.

More common than we think?

The possibility that parthenogenesis is more widespread than previously thought is what intrigues scientists the most.

Ramachandran, who published a review of parthenogenesis research in birds in 2018, says that although virgin birth is mostly documented in captive animals, there’s no reason to think it isn’t happening in the wild.

I’m actually expecting more reports from the wild now,” she says. (Learn about a blacktip reef shark that experienced virgin birth.)

Ryder agrees. “The only reason we were able to identify that this had happened [in the condors] is because of these detailed genetic studies,” he says. “So, the birds in your backyard, are they occasionally producing a parthenogenetic chick? Nobody’s looking in deep enough detail to answer that question.”

Regardless of the answer, he says, “it’s a reminder that lest you think you understand nature, she’s always got surprises.”

******

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Propose Rescinding Critical Habitat Regulations Finalized in 2020

Press Release/October 26, 2021

To better fulfill the conservation purposes of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) are proposing to rescind two critical habitat regulations finalized in December 2020. The proposed actions would rescind the Services’ joint regulatory definition of “habitat” and FWS regulations that govern critical habitat exclusions under 4(b)(2) of the ESA.

The proposed actions follow Executive Order 13990, which directed all federal agencies to review and address agency actions to ensure consistency with Biden administration objectives.

“The Endangered Species Act is one of the most important conservation tools in America and provides a safety net for species that are at risk of going extinct,” said Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz. “If finalized, today’s proposed actions will bring the implementation of the Act back into alignment with its original intent and purpose – protecting and recovering America’s biological heritage for future generations. In this effort, we look forward to continuing to work closely with our federal, Tribal, state and industry partners on behalf of our shared interests.”

“NOAA Fisheries is committed to conserving and recovering threatened and endangered species as part of our foundational mandates under the Endangered Species Act,” said Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries Janet Coit. “If finalized, today’s proposed action of rescinding the regulatory definition of habitat will improve our ability to use the tool of critical habitat designation appropriately and effectively to conserve listed species as envisioned in the statute.”

In December 2020, FWS issued a final rule that revised the process for considering critical habitat exclusions under the ESA. FWS has re-evaluated this rule and concludes that the conservation purposes of the ESA are better met by resuming its previous approach to exclusions. That previous approach, which is currently used by NOAA Fisheries, is outlined in regulations at 50 CFR 424.19 and a 2016 policy on 4(b)(2) exclusions.

The two Services are also proposing to rescind their joint regulatory definition of the term habitat under the ESA (85 FR 81411; December 16, 2020). The Services have re-evaluated this rule and conclude that decisions regarding whether a certain area qualifies as habitat for a species should instead be made on a case-by-case basis using the best available science. The final rule could also have unintended consequences for the designation of critical habitat under the ESA because it excludes from consideration degraded areas that do not currently support species. However, the ESA is clear that such areas, some of which may be essential for the conservation of a species, could be considered “habitat.”

Both of these proposed rescissions will undergo rigorous and transparent rulemaking processes before being finalized, including publication in the Federal Register, 30-day public comment periods, and coordination with federally recognized Tribes. The comment periods for these actions will close on November 26, 2021. The proposed regulations can be found in the Federal Register Reading Room at: https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection/current.

******

Associated Press

Endangered whale population sinks close to 20-year low

AP, PATRICK WHITTLE, October 25, 2021

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A type of whale that is one of the rarest marine mammals in the world lost nearly 10% of its population last year, a group of scientists and ocean life advocates said on Monday.

The North Atlantic right whale numbered only 366 in 2019, and its population fell to 336 in 2020, the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium said. The estimate is the lowest number in nearly two decades.

Right whales were once abundant in the waters off New England, but were decimated during the commercial whaling era due to their high concentrations of oil. They have been listed as endangered by the U.S. government for more than half a century.

The whales have suffered high mortality and poor reproduction in some recent years. There were more than 480 of the animals as recently as 2011. They’re vulnerable to fatal entanglement in fishing gear and collisions with large ships, and even when they survive, they often emerge less fit and less able to feed and mate, said Scott Kraus, chair of the consortium.

“No one engaged in right whale work believes that the species cannot recover from this. They absolutely can, if we stop killing them and allow them to allocate energy to finding food, mates and habitats that aren’t marred with deadly obstacles,” Kraus said.

The whales feed and mate off New England and Canada. They then travel hundreds of miles in the fall to calving grounds off Georgia and Florida before returning north in the spring.

The whale consortium was founded in the mid-1980s by a group of science institutions including the New England Aquarium and today includes dozens of members from academia, industry, government and elsewhere.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the arm of the federal government that monitors and regulates ocean issues, cautioned that the group’s estimate is preliminary and has not yet been peer reviewed. However, the agency shares the consortium’s concern about the loss of right whales, said Allison Ferreira, a spokesperson for the agency.

“North Atlantic right whales are one of the most imperiled species on the planet, and the latest estimate shows that the substantial downward trajectory of right whale abundance documented over the last decade continues,” Ferreira said.

The whales, which can weight 135,000 pounds (61,235 kilos) have been a focus of conservationists for generations. Recently, efforts to save the whales have resulted in new restrictions on U.S. lobster fishing, and pushback from the fishing industry about those new rules.

The rules are designed to reduce the number of rope lines that link buoys to lobster and crab traps, and went into effect this year. However, the rules also resulted in a flurry of lawsuits, and a federal judge ruled this month that fishermen can continue to fish until further notice in an area off the coast of Maine that had been slated for restriction from their gear.

******

The Wildlife Society

California monarch numbers increase after record lows

Posted on October 25, 2021

Monarch butterflies are planning to spend their winters on the coast of California in greater numbers this year, according to surveys. More than 1,300 monarchs (Danaus plexippus) were reported at the Pacific Grove site in mid-October while Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove and another nearby site had 8,000 butterflies on Oct. 21. The latter two sites saw less than 300 butterflies last year, while the population in the entire area had a record low of 1,914 butterflies last year. While official counts for the whole population are still not yet underway, these initial numbers are encouraging considering the last few years’ counts have all been incredibly low. Butterfly conservationists believe the high numbers this year are a result of favorable conditions on the breeding grounds and other factors. “The Xerces Society and partners are focused on conservation at overwintering sites, in early season breeding areas and ensuring late season floral resources exist for migrating monarchs,” said Sarina Jepsen, director of the Endangered Species and Aquatics Program at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, in a release. “These are the actions that we and other scientists feel are the most important to successfully recover western migratory monarchs.”

******

CNN

10,000 trees, including giant sequoias, are a hazard and must be removed in California, park officials say

By Amanda Jackson, CNN, October 25, 2021

As fire crews work to contain the KNP Complex Fire that has destroyed many of California’s iconic sequoia trees, it has been determined that 10,000 trees are a hazard and need to be removed.

The wildfire that was sparked by lightning has been burning since early September and is only 63% contained, according to the incident report released Monday by Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Fire crews have been trying to save majestic giant sequoias that are internationally recognized treasures and historic landmarks, according to the National Park Service.

On Friday, the park service said reports are that 10,000 trees along the Generals Highway, the main road through the park, are considered a hazard and need to be removed.

“Hazard trees — weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire — have a high probability to fail in part or whole and have the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services,” reads the park’s incident report.

The trees are becoming a safety issue as crews battle the wildfire that has scorched more than 88,000 acres. The park service has several saw crews working along the Generals Highway to create safe travel zones for firefighters, residents and future visitors, the report says. The road will continued to be closed, according to NPS.

Officials are working to develop develop hazard tree mitigation actions.

******

ABC-7/Chicago

JUDGE ISSUES INJUNCTION BLOCKING FALL WISCONSIN WOLF HUNT

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

AP, Todd Richmond, October 23, 2021

MADISON, Wis. — A judge on Friday halted Wisconsin’s fall wolf season two weeks before hunters were set to take to the woods, siding with wildlife advocacy groups who argued that holding the hunt would be unconstitutional.

Dane County Circuit Judge Jacob Frost issued a temporary injunction halting the season, which was set to begin Nov. 6. The order comes as part of a lawsuit that a coalition of wildlife advocacy groups filed in August seeking to stop the hunt and invalidate a state law authorizing annual seasons.

Among other things, the coalition argued that the season is illegal because the Department of Natural Resources hasn’t updated its regulations setting up season parameters and has been relying on an emergency rule put in place shortly after then-Gov. Scott Walker signed a law in 2012 authorizing annual seasons and a wolf management plan that hasn’t been updated since 2007.

Frost said the law creating the wolf season is constitutional on its face, but that the DNR failed to create permanent regulations enacting it. The law gives the DNR great leeway in setting kill limits, hunting zone hours and the number of licenses making it all the more important that the department following the regulatory process to ensure it doesn’t violate the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches, Frost said.

“I’m not overruling the wolf hunt law. In fact, I’m saying it has to be enforced as it was written and intended,” Frost said. “The DNR is currently not following the law or following the constitution. Its decisions are built on a faulty basis, meaning they can’t stand, either.”

The judge said the injunction will remain in place until the DNR implements updated regulations on determining quotas and the number of licenses it issues and updates its wolf management plan with new wolf population goals for the state.

Hannah Jurss, an assistant attorney general representing the DNR in the case, asked Frost to stay his ruling pending appeal, calling his ruling “unquestionably a dramatic decision.” Frost refused, saying the DNR could still hold a season this year if it can move quickly on new regulations.

DNR spokeswoman Sarah Hoye said the agency would review the injunction and had no further comment.

Hunters, farmers and conservationists have been sparring for years over how to handle wolves in Wisconsin. Farmers insist that the animals are destroying their crops and that killing them is the only way to control them. Conservationists and wildlife advocates insist the wolf population is too fragile to support hunting and that the animals are too beautiful to destroy.

The state held fall wolf seasons in 2012, 2013 and 2014 before a federal judge placed the animal back on the endangered species list.

The Trump administration removed them from the list last year and the decision became final in January, triggering a hunting season in Wisconsin.

The DNR was preparing to launch a November season, but Kansas-based hunting group Hunter Nation won a court-order forcing the agency to hold a season in February. The group argued that the Biden administration could restore federal protections for wolves at any moment, robbing hunters of the chance to kill the animals.

The DNR scrambled to put together a season, setting the kill limit at 119 wolves. Hunters quickly blew past the limit, killing 218 wolves in just four days. The latest DNR estimates put the wolf population in Wisconsin at about 1,000.

Conservationists decried the season as a massacre. They urged the DNR policy board to cancel the fall season to protect what’s left of the population. Conservatives on the board brushed those concerns aside, though. During a meeting in August, they authorized the fall hunting season and set the kill limit at 300 wolves, prompting the lawsuit from the wildlife advocacy groups as well as a federal lawsuit from a half-dozen Chippewa tribes. The Chippewa consider the wolf sacred. That lawsuit is still pending.

Earlier this month, the DNR, which is controlled by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, took the unprecedented step of unilaterally reducing the kill limit to 130 wolves, openly defying the board.

The Chippewa have claimed 56 of those animals per treaty rights that allow them to claim 50% of quotas in northern Wisconsin’s ceded territory – land the tribes gave the government in the 1800s. The Chippewa consider the wolf sacred and refuse to hunt it, which means that if the season happens the working quota for state-licensed hunters will be 74 wolves.

******

Animal Welfare Institute

Federal Regulators Must Enforce Animal Welfare Law to Protect Toki

Press Release, October 22, 2021

Washington, DC—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) is urging the US Department of Commerce and the US Department of Agriculture to initiate enforcement actions against Miami Seaquarium (MSQ) for failing to protect the health and welfare of its animals, particularly Toki (also known as Tokitae, Lolita, and Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut), the world’s oldest captive orca.

Toki has been languishing in the world’s smallest orca tank for half a century. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is responsible for administering the Animal Welfare Act through regulations specific to marine mammals such as Toki. The Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is responsible for administering the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for most marine mammals, including orcas. Toki is listed as endangered under the ESA, as she is part of the southern resident killer whale population off the coast of Washington state. Her ESA status entitles her to additional protections beyond what the law requires for most captive marine mammals.

In separate letters delivered Thursday to APHIS and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, AWI notes that Toki is in imminent danger given her age (56) and pre-existing health conditions. The letters reference a June 8 USDA inspection report, released to the public last month, which details how MSQ repeatedly violated AWA regulations and disregarded its own veterinarian’s recommendations for proper animal care.

Among the serious infractions cited by the inspector, MSQ required Toki to perform moves, ill-advised for her age, that resulted in a jaw injury; fed her rotting fish for as many as eight days, leading to inflammation; maintained poor water quality in tanks; and reduced Toki’s daily fish intake by 30 pounds, prompting veterinary concerns about dehydration.

“This is, unequivocally, one of the worst inspection reports I have seen of a US marine mammal facility over my 30-year career,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, AWI’s marine mammal biologist. “How is it that MSQ—after such egregious regulatory infractions and mistreatment of its animals, including a geriatric orca—still has its federal exhibitor’s license?”

Moreover, five bottlenose dolphins and a sea lion pup died at the Virginia Keys facility during a recent 15-month period—three of them from fights with other animals after MSQ failed to keep track of which dolphins were in which enclosures.

AWI initially contacted APHIS in July regarding MSQ’s failure to provide adequate veterinary care. MSQ, which is owned by Palace Entertainment of West Mifflin, PA, continues to advertise that it is Humane Certified by American Humane and accredited by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. AWI is aware that Palace Entertainment is in the process of selling MSQ to The Dolphin Company, but this transaction should not delay enforcement action.

AWI’s recent letters note that confiscation is a viable option for Toki, as there are other locations where she could be sent, so the argument that there is nowhere else she could go is false. MSQ ignored its own veterinarian’s advice, and thus cannot be relied on to follow federal corrective action plans.

“MSQ has long benefited from toothless enforcement by federal regulators,” Rose said. “It’s past time for this troubled facility to be held accountable for inflicting serious harm on Toki.”

******

The Guardian

Eldest of world’s last two northern white rhinos retired from breeding programme

Retirement of Najin, 32, leaves her daughter Fatu as the only egg donor in embryo implantation scheme

Reuters in Nairobi, 21 Oct. 2021

One of the world’s last two northern white rhinos is being retired from a breeding programme aimed at saving the species from extinction.

Najin, 32, is the mother of Fatu, who is now the only donor left in the programme, which aims to implant artificially developed embryos into another more abundant species of rhino in Kenya.

There are no known living males and neither of the two remaining northern white rhinos can carry a calf to term.

Northern white rhinos, which are actually grey, used to roam freely in several countries in east and central Africa, but their numbers fell sharply due to widespread poaching for their horns.

A Biorescue team led by researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany has been racing against time to save the world’s most endangered mammal.

“The team has reached the decision to retire the older of the two remaining females, 32-year-old Najin, as a donor of egg cells,” Biorescue said in a statement, citing ethical considerations.

Najin’s advanced age, and signs of illness, were taken into account, they said.

Scientists hope to implant embryos made from the rhinos’ egg cells and frozen sperm from deceased males into surrogate mothers.

“We have been very successful with Fatu … So far we have 12 pure northern white rhino embryos,” David Ndeereh, the acting deputy director for research at the Wildlife Research and Training Institute, a Kenyan state agency, told Reuters.

“We are very optimistic that the project will succeed.”

The team hopes to be able to deliver its first northern white rhino calf in three years and a wider population in the next two decades.

******

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Biodiversity of islands in peril, scientists warn

Content Producer, UH Communications, Posted: Oct 21, 2021

Scientists are sounding the alarm. The biodiversity of islands around the world is becoming increasingly threatened, due in large part to habitat loss, overexploitation, invasive species and climate change. If healthy island environments are to be conserved and restored, immediate action is needed by everyone, from policymakers to the general population. These findings and recommendations are in “Scientists’ warning–The outstanding biodiversity of islands is in peril,” published in Global Ecology and Conservation in September 2021 and co-authored by a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa professor.

Islands contribute only 6.7% of the world’s land surface area, but they harbor roughly 20% of the Earth’s biodiversity, 50% of the world’s threatened species and 75% of the known extinctions.

“Sadly, humans have had huge impacts on islands,” said School of Life Sciences Professor Donald Drake. “In the last 500 years, three-quarters of the species that have gone extinct are island species, and the reason this is a warning paper is that about half of the world’s endangered species are also island species.”

Drake said we all have a responsibility to help protect the world’s threatened species from becoming extinct, including here in Hawaiʻi, which is home to hundreds of threatened and endangered plants and animals.

Some of the most recognizable species in the state include Hawaiʻi’s state bird, nēnē (Branta sandvicensis); Hawaiʻi’s state flower, maʻo hau hele (Hibiscus brackenridgei); and the Haleakalā silversword, or ʻāhinahina (Argyroxiphium sandwicense macrocephalum).

“The Hawaiian Islands are among the world’s most renowned for biodiversity. They are famous for the unique species of plants and animals that are found only here,” Drake said. “Just as on other islands around the world, we have this amazing biodiversity but it has come under threat from all sorts of human activities and so we’ve had a lot of species here go extinct, but we also have a huge number of species that are endangered that we can still pull back from extinction.”

Public’s help to save Hawaiʻi’s biodiversity

Drake noted that participation from the public can help to turn the tide.

“It’s actually surprising how many opportunities there are in the state to do work to conserve and restore native biodiversity. There are projects of just about every scale in just about every kind of habitat all across all of the islands. There are opportunities available to people of any age and any ability. There’s way more work to be done than there are people to do it,” Drake said.

Some examples of conservation programs, Drake said, include UH Mānoa’s Lyon Arboretum, the Mānoa Cliffs Restoration Project, Hawaii Audubon Society, and other community and school groups.

Research started at UH

The paper is authored by members of the board of the Society of Island Biology, a relatively new scientific society that has grown out of a series of conferences on different islands around the world, the first of which was hosted by UH Mānoa in 2014.

“The research and educational capacity of UH Mānoa places the university in a position to play a leading role in the conservation of Hawaiʻi’s biodiversity,” Drake said.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Challenges Gold Drilling in Sage Grouse Habitat in California’s Eastern Sierra Nevada

Forest Service OK’d Gold Exploration Despite Harm to Endangered Fish, Sage Grouse

SACRAMENTO—(October 21, 2021)—Conservation groups sued the U.S. Forest Service today to stop exploratory drilling in California’s eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains that threatens an endangered fish and a dwindling population of bi-state sage grouse.

“This drilling project will cause exactly the kind of noise and commotion that make bi-state sage grouse abandon their habitat. The Forest Service should absolutely know better,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s appalling that the Forest Service is willing to push these beautiful dancing birds closer to extinction for a toxic mine. We’ll do everything possible to prevent another species from being lost forever, but we urgently need the court’s help.”

Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, says the Forest Service violated federal environmental laws by ignoring the potential damage from the Kore Mining project to Inyo National Forest’s Long Valley area, including draining the streams where endangered Owens tui chubs live. The fish and its habitat are protected under state and federal endangered species laws.

“Degrading the Owens tui chub’s streams threatens this endemic fish, which is already on the brink of extinction,” said Laura Cunningham, California director at Western Watersheds Project. “The Forest Service needs to take a hard look at the potential for exploratory drilling to irreversibly damage hot springs hydrology as well as breeding and nesting habitat for dwindling populations of the bi-state sage grouse.”

Bi-state sage grouse, whose numbers have drastically declined in the past decade, live next to the 12 proposed drilling pads, threatening the birds’ survival.

The Inyo National Forest conducted the most cursory of environmental reviews — a categorical exclusion — which doesn’t allow any public input and concluded no harm would be done by the project. Categorical exclusions are supposed to be reserved for minor federal projects that will not harm the environment like rebuilding hiking trails, not drilling for gold in sensitive habitats.

“Long Valley is an important place that needs conservation protection, not a gold mine,” said Wendy Schneider, executive director of Friends of the Inyo. “The area provides critical wildlife habitat for struggling species, it is culturally significant to local tribes, and important for the recreational tourism economy in Mammoth. Further, the water in area is already overcommitted. Drilling activities will add to that burden and introduce the possibility of toxic contamination. The drilling proposal was strongly opposed by a majority in the community. The Forest Service should not have approved this proposal.”

Exploratory drilling is the precursor to a full-blown gold mine that could span more than 1,800 acres of this sensitive area in the eastern Sierra Nevada. In addition to destroying habitat for endangered species and sucking vast amounts of water from ancient aquifers, a gold mine would industrialize a landscape renowned for its majestic and scenic vistas and pollute pristine public lands.

“There couldn’t be a worse project proposed in this sensitive area, and the Forest Service’s approval of this project sets a dangerous precedent for our region,” said Kris Hohag, local tribal citizen and Eastern Sierra senior organizer for the Sierra Club. “Kore Mining is taking advantage of the flawed 1872 Mining Act that allows mining projects to profit from the destruction of our environment, and here in the eastern Sierra that means threats to our unique wildlife and the health of our water and cultural resources.”

The groups are represented by Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project, Lisa Belenky of the Center for Biological Diversity, and Talasi Brooks of Western Watersheds Project.

The gold exploration project is proposed on land in Long Valley, California, with high cultural value to the Kutzadika’a Tribe of Northern Paiute, as well as to other Paiute and Shoshone people.

******

ABC News

Rapid evolution’ of tuskless elephants caused by ivory trade, scientists say

October 21, 2021

Ivory poaching has led to a “rapid evolution” of tuskless African elephants, as elephants without tusks were far more likely to survive during the height of the ivory trade, according to new research.

Much of the distress on the species occurred during the Mozambican Civil War from 1977 to 1992, when the ivory poaching in the region was at its most intense, according to a new study published Thursday in Science. During the conflict, armed forces on both sides relied heavily on the ivory trade to finance the war efforts, according to the researchers.

The elephant population in the region declined more than 90% due to the war, and the mass hunting of the mammals for their tusks resulted in a phenotype of the species that had a better chance of survival — specifically, female elephants.

During the conflict, a tuskless female would have five times the chances of survival than a female with a tusk, Shane Campbell-Staton, an evolutionary biologist at Princeton University, told ABC News.

“So it actually seems to be a very strong selection over a very short period of time,” he said.

The explanation for the trait evolving in female elephants and not males has to do with the genetics of tooth development, according to the study. Specifically, an X chromosome male-lethal syndrome that diminishes the growth of lateral incisors,

Campbell-Staton began hearing about the rise of “tusklessness” elephants years ago when he was in graduate school, but the research to find an explanation for the phenomenon had not yet occurred, he said.

“In regions where there’s intensive poaching, there seem to be more animals without tusks,” he said. “But we had no idea what was going on, why it happened … the degree with which it happened.”

The scientists investigated the impacts of ivory hunting on the evolution of African elephants in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, during and after the civil war.

The findings shed new light on just how powerful an effect human exploitation can have on wildlife populations, the researchers said.

“The selective killing of species – whether for food, safety, or profit – has only become more common and intense as human populations and technology have grown,” the authors wrote. “So much so, it’s suggested that wildlife exploitation by humans has become a powerful selective driver in the evolution of targeted species.”

However, if the ivory trade were to continue to decline and elephant populations were to rebound, there is a chance that the evolution of tuskless elephants could be reversed, Campbell-Staton said, adding that researchers already see this to be the case.

In Gorongosa National Park, which he described as a “success story” due to the climbing population, the children of female elephants that survived the war are inheriting the trait, but only by about 50%, Campbell-Staton said.

While the notion that rapid evolution is not new, the findings were surprising to Campbell-Staton due to the long life spans of African elephants, which can live up to 70 years, and the long gestation periods, which are typically about two years.

******

Animal Legal Defense Fund

Press Release, October 20, 2021

Animals Recognized as Legal Persons for the First Time in U.S. Court

An international fight to protect Pablo Escobar’s hippos from slaughter results in a U.S. federal court order recognizing animals can be “interested persons”

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Animal Legal Defense Fund announced the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio has recognized animals as legal persons for the first time in the United States.

In pursuit of deposing two wildlife experts with expertise in nonsurgical sterilization who reside in Ohio, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an application on behalf of the plaintiffs in a Colombian lawsuit against the country’s government regarding a plan to kill roughly 100 hippos who are descendants of animals imported by Pablo Escobar.

The plaintiffs are the “community of hippopotamuses living in the Magdalena River.” In Colombia, animals have standing to bring lawsuits to protect their interests. In granting the application pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1782 to conduct discovery for use in foreign proceedings, the court recognized the hippos as legal persons with respect to that statute.

This U.S. statute allows anyone who is an “interested person” in a foreign litigation to request permission from a federal court to take depositions in the U.S. in support of their foreign case. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that someone who is a party to the foreign case “no doubt” qualifies as an “interested person” under this statute. The Animal Legal Defense Fund reasoned that since the hippos are plaintiffs in the Colombian litigation, they qualify as “interested persons” under this statute.

“Animals have the right to be free from cruelty and exploitation, and the failure of U.S. courts to recognize their rights impedes the ability to enforce existing legislative protections,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “The court’s order authorizing the hippos to exercise their legal right to obtain information in the United States is a critical milestone in the broader animal status fight to recognize that animals have enforceable rights.”

The lawsuit in Colombia was filed on behalf of the hippos by attorney Luis Domingo Gómez Maldonado on July 31, 2020, to save the animals from being killed. While the lawsuit is ongoing, the regional environmental agency involved in addressing the hippo population announced it had started to provide a fraction of the animals with the contraceptive drug GonaCon on October 15, 2021. It is unknown if the Colombian government’s use of the drug will be safe and effective, and it is also unknown how many hippos the government still intends to kill. The hippos’ lawsuit seeks an order to provide a contraceptive called PZP (porcine zona pellucida), given its historical success in hippos held in zoos and its recommendation by an International Advisory Committee assembled by Animal Balance, an international organization that focuses on sterilization of animals.

In the 1980s, Colombian drug trafficker Pablo Escobar purchased four hippos for his private zoo. After Escobar’s death, the Colombian government left the hippos on his property because it was unable to transport them to a suitable environment. In the years that followed, the hippos escaped the property, relocated to the Magdalena River, and reproduced at a rate that some ecologists consider to be unsustainable.

The testimony of Animal Balance’s wildlife experts, Dr. Elizabeth Berkeley and Dr. Richard Berlinski, will be used to bolster support for the PZP contraceptive to prevent the hippopotamuses who live in the Magdalena River from continuing to grow the population without slaughtering them.

(The Animal Legal Defense Fund thanks Robert Sparks from Strauss Troy for helping in this matter.)

*******

Field & Stream

Biologists Find Extremely Rare Endangered Spotted Gar in Lake Erie

Spotted gar are endangered in the state of Ohio. The fish’s capture brings new hope for the species in the area

BY Ken Perrotte, Oct. 20, 2021

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) biologists were elated to find a spotted gar in their fyke net while sampling Lake Erie waters near Marblehead, Ohio, during a fisheries survey earlier this month. The spotted gar is an extremely rare native fish in Lake Erie, according to USFWS biologist Kristen Towne, who participated in the survey.

“In the state of Ohio, [spotted gar] are endangered,” Towne says. “The fish isn’t federally listed, with some states having sustainable populations, but there have been only a handful of confirmed captures in the East Harbor of Marblehead, Ohio. To our knowledge, this is the first confirmed capture of a spotted gar in the West Harbor.”

Towne, along with USFWS biologists Greg Wright and Janine Lajavic, had placed the fyke nets in the afternoon and pulled them the following morning. The nets are designed for the live capture of fish. Fish enter a netted throat shaped like a cone. Entry is easy, but exit is difficult. Towne says the small size of the nets allows researchers to catch young fish while excluding larger species such as buffalo. Though the spotted gar is a native fish, the USFWS trapped the specimen while actively searching for invasive aquatic species. Catching young fish helps biologists identify potential threats early.

“We’re the front line to catch any new invasive species,” Towne says. “The idea is to detect and get them out before they are established.” Spotted gar used to be common in Lake Erie’s bays and wetlands. Their numbers plummeted due to habitat destruction, vegetation removal, nutrient and sediment loading, and the establishment of non-native species. Towne says the area where they placed the trap looked promising for gar, which thrive in habitats that are highly vegetated with low turbidity.

The caught gar measured just under 21 inches long. Spotted gar only grow to about 3 feet long, making them one of the smaller gar species in North America. “We know this was an adult, but we do not know the age or sex,” Towne adds. “With this being an endangered fish, we wanted to ensure it was returned to the water alive and not killed.” Above all, Towne says that capturing an adult spotted gar offers hope that the species is present in low but perhaps sustainable population numbers in both the East and West Harbors of Marblehead, Ohio.

******

The Timberjay (Tower, MN)

Feds face lawsuit over lynx trapping

Marshall Helmberger, October 20, 2021

REGIONAL— The USDA’s Animal Services division killed just over 1.5 million wild creatures last year, which ranged from 8,524 common ravens to 626 great blue herons, to 13 northern cardinals, to 707 river otters.

Most of the killings were intentional, undertaken by federal trappers, although thousands of birds and mammals are unintentionally killed by the service each year as well. That has included threatened and endangered species, like the Canada lynx, and it’s those deaths that appear likely to land the federal agency in court.

The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a notice of intent to sue the agency over the deaths of several lynx in Minnesota over the past several years. In a press statement, the CBD says it plans to sue over Animal Services’ inadequate analysis of the risks to lynx as a result of the agency’s wolf-trapping program in the state. That program killed 203 wolves, 167 coyotes, and 30 foxes last year.

“Wildlife Services’ cruel killing of wolves and other wildlife is harmful and totally out of touch with science,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation program director at the CBD. “The science shows that nonlethal methods of addressing conflicts with wolves work. We’re hoping to force federal officials to consider alternatives to all this needless killing.”

The CBD is asking Animal Services to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to analyze and mitigate the adverse effects of the federal program on the lynx.

The CBD has an ongoing lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for state-permitted fur-trapping, which is also causing injury and death to lynx.

“Year after year we see sickening reports of lynx getting caught and even killed by traps set for wolves and other animals,” said Adkins. “Instead of relying on barbaric and indiscriminate traps to kill predators, governmental agencies should work with livestock operators to implement modern measures to prevent conflicts with wildlife.”

The notice of intent to sue starts a 60-day clock, after which the CBD can file its lawsuit.

******

Sierra Sun Times (Mariposa, CA)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Seeks Public Comment on Southern Sierra Nevada Distinct Population Segment of Fisher Proposed Critical Habitat Rule – 554,454 Acres Across Six Counties Including Madera and Mariposa

October 19, 2021 – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comment on a proposed rule to designate 554,454 acres of critical habitat for the southern Sierra Nevada distinct population segment (DPS) of fisher. The proposed critical habitat would be located across portions of Fresno, Kern, Madera, Mariposa, Tulare and Tuolumne counties in California.

Fishers are medium-sized mammals classified in the same family as weasels, mink, martens and otters. The southern Sierra Nevada DPS of the species was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2020.

“The Service is committed to recovering this species, and identifying critical habitat is a crucial step,” said Michael Fris, field supervisor for the Service’s Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office. “This designation will enable us to work more effectively with federal partners, state agencies, Tribes and private landowners to successfully manage land for positive conservation outcomes for the fisher.”

Most of the proposed critical habitat falls on federal lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service. Both agencies have land use management plans in place that limit disturbance to denning fishers and conserve habitats used by the species to find food and raise kits. The designation of critical habitat would not affect land ownership or establish a wildlife refuge, wilderness reserve, preserve or other conservation area.

Habitat loss and fragmentation resulting from catastrophic wildfire is one of the biggest threats to the species. Tree mortality and prolonged drought are also a concern. The Service supports land management activities that contribute to healthy forest ecosystems and reduce the risk of wildfire. Through collaboration with federal and private partners, these activities can be conducted while maintaining habitat components that the species requires for successful reproduction and foraging.

Other activities that are essential for fighting fires, such as road maintenance, removing hazard trees and vegetation management activities along utility lines would also continue if critical habitat is designated.

The southern Sierra Nevada DPS of fisher is estimated to consist of 100-500 individuals. The species can be found in low to mid elevation coniferous and mixed conifer and hardwood forests from the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park south to the Greenhorn Mountains within the Sequoia National Forest. Both male and female fishers roam large distances and females use tree cavities for denning.

The proposed critical habitat rule will publish in the Federal Register on October 19, 2021, opening a 60-day public comment period. The Service will consider comments from all interested parties received by December 18, 2021. The proposal, legal boundaries, GIS shapefiles and information on how to submit comments can be found on http://www.regulations.gov by searching under docket number FWS-R8-ES-2021-0060.

******

The Hill

California project aims to bring back monarch butterflies

BY MONIQUE BEALS, 10/18/21

California is attempting to bring back monarch butterflies with a new project that aims to restore their habitats.

In the past 30 years, the monarch butterfly population in California has declined by 99.9 percent. Only 1,900 were found along the California coast in a November survey by the Xerces Society, compared to 1.2 million in 1997, according to USA Today.

In 2021, spotters have reported seeing a few more monarchs than they did in 2020.

“These are very early numbers, so we need to be cautious to not read too much into this,” Xerces Society executive director Scott Hoffman Black said to USA Today. He added that “the numbers do lend some hope that we could see a slight rebound in Western population.”

In an effort to restore the butterfly population, the Xerces Society has partnered with Orville Schell Farms owner Ole Schell to create a monarch sanctuary. Together, they have created a revitalization plan that includes planting more than 1,200 native nectar-producing flowers and plants, USA Today reported.

While some hoped the monarch would be declared a threatened or endangered species last year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the service prioritized other species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Specifically, the FWS said that it determined the monarch butterfly’s status as endangered was “warranted-but-precluded” as it simply did not have room on its list for the butterfly. The FWS will continue to consider adding the butterfly to the list annually until the species is no longer in need of protections for endangered animals.

“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,” said FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith at the time.

The Hill has reached out to FWS and the Xerces Society for comment.

******

Denver Post

Fish found only in Colorado River basin removed from the endangered species list

The humpback chub has been brought back from the brink of extinction

By James Anderson, The Associated Press, October 18, 2021

DENVER — The humpback chub, a rare fish found only in the Colorado River basin, has been brought back from the brink of extinction after decades of protection, though work must continue to ensure its survival, federal authorities said Monday in reclassifying the species from endangered to threatened status.

The fish, which gets its name from a fleshy bump behind its head, was first listed as endangered in 1967, its habitat severely disrupted by dam construction. Its numbers also declined with the introduction of predatory, non-native aquatic species.

Its change in status formally takes effect Nov. 17 under a rule published Monday in the Federal Register by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Environmentalists oppose the endangered status delisting. They argue the humpback chub’s future remains in peril as a megadrought, largely attributable to climate change, diminishes flows in the Colorado River basin, which includes seven Southwestern U.S. states and Mexico.

The delisting comes two months after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation declared an unprecedented water shortage on the river. It also follows a July Fish and Wildlife proposal to move another rare Colorado River fish, the razorback sucker, from endangered status to threatened.

Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers Program director at the environmental group WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement that it was “perplexing that the (U.S. Interior Department) would be going to so much trouble to reclassify these endangered fish at a time when so much uncertainty exists regarding climate change and the ability to continue to fund the suite of heroic measures it undertakes annually for these species to survive.”

Both the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation are part of the Interior Department.

The government considers a species “endangered” if it is in danger of extinction in all or much of its historical habitat. Protections are kept for “threatened” species, and that status means biologists can take steps to improve the overall population even if some of the fish might be hurt.

Fish and Wildlife said it finalized another rule to ensure that work with other parties — including private, state, tribal and federal agencies — continues to maintain its existing habitat and diminish the threat from predators and drought-induced water flows, among other preservation efforts.

The largest population of the humpback chub is in the Grand Canyon, with more than 12,000 adult fish. Four smaller wild populations are upstream of Lake Powell in Utah and in Colorado canyons. The species thrives in rocky waterways with swift currents but needs warm and muddy water to spawn.

The fish once had a broader range, but the construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam in Wyoming and Hoover Dam on the Nevada-Arizona border led to two other populations of the species becoming extinct. An eighth population in Dinosaur National Monument also is considered gone.

******

EcoWatch

California Grants Endangered Species Protections for World’s Largest Turtle Species

 Olivia Rosane, Oct. 18, 2021

California is taking extra steps to protect its official state reptile.

The state’s Fish and Game Commission voted Thursday to list the Pacific leatherback turtle as endangered under California’s own Endangered Species Act, as the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) announced in a press release. The action comes as the population of these turtles off the California coast has declined by 5.6 percent per year in the last almost 30 years.

“California’s action will make an outsized difference for leatherback sea turtles, even in the face of global threats like the loss of nesting beaches,” CBD attorney Catherine Kilduff said in the release. “Protecting the state’s ocean to save leatherbacks benefits not only sea turtles, but whales and people too. The California Endangered Species Act will ensure that leatherbacks’ decline gets the attention it deserves during this global biodiversity crisis.”

Pacific leatherback turtles are the largest turtle species on the planet, according to The AP. They have been protected by the federal Endangered Species Act since 1973. However, new science has revealed the importance of California waters for their lifecycle.

A subpopulation of the marine reptile hatches on beaches in Indonesia, then swims almost 6,000 miles to eat jellyfish off the California coast. From 1990 to 2003, around 178 turtles came to California’s coast to eat, CBD said. Now, that number is down to 50. Globally, their population is also in decline, and they are considered “Vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List.

One major threat to the turtles is entanglement in fishing gear. This gear can either slow the turtles down, forcing them to drag it for months, or it can cause them to drown, conservation group Oceana explained in an email to EcoWatch. While California does not officially monitor turtle entanglements, leatherbacks in the state were found tangled in rock crab gear in 2019 and Dungeness crab gear in 2016 and 2015, according to CBD.

CBD and the Turtle Island Restoration Network petitioned the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to consider greater protections. Now that they have been granted, the turtles will become a state conservation priority.

“Leatherbacks that forage for jellyfish off the California coast will now receive greater protection in our state from entanglement in fishing gear, giving them a better chance at survival,” Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network, said in the CBD release. “We are hopeful this action will put these ancient, gentle giants on a path to recovery.”

Oceana also applauded the new protections.

“Pacific leatherback sea turtles survived 100 million years virtually unchanged but may disappear from the oceans in the next 30 years unless more is done to protect them,” Oceana Pacific policy and communications manager Ashley Blacow-Draeger said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “California has the responsibility to ensure these sea turtles can safely swim and feed off our coast for many more years to come. As one of the most imperiled ocean species, every turtle matters.”

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Court Rules Federal Officials Must Address Poaching of Mexican Wolves in New Recovery Plan

Decision Forces U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Fix Flawed Recovery Plan

TUSCON, Ariz.—(October 15, 2021)—In response to a lawsuit by conservation groups, a judge has ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must add specific actions to address illegal killing of Mexican wolves to its plan for the species’ recovery.

The groups’ 2018 lawsuit claimed that the plan failed to meet basic requirements of the Endangered Species Act to provide site-specific management actions and objectives with measurable recovery criteria to address the most immediate threat facing the Mexican wolf recovery program since its inception: illegal killing.

Earthjustice represented the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Endangered Wolf Center, Wolf Conservation Center and David Parsons, former Mexican wolf recovery coordinator for the Service.

“More than 70% of documented Mexican wolf mortalities are human-caused,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, Earthjustice attorney. “We’re glad that the court has recognized that for the Mexican wolf to survive, the Fish and Wildlife Service must put in place a robust plan that includes concrete actions to address the threat of illegal killing.”

“The path to recovery for the Mexican wolf has been hampered by widespread poaching for far too long,” said Michael Robinson at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now that the Fish and Wildlife Service has to take this issue seriously, we hope these wolves will stand a better chance of survival.”

“Ensuring that wolves and people can coexist is an essential part of long-term success for Mexican gray wolf recovery,” said Bryan Bird, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “This court ruling recognizes the urgent need from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a recovery plan that addresses a significant threat to the Mexican gray wolf: poaching by people.”

“This court ruling is timely and important for securing a bright future for the critically endangered Mexican gray wolves. Recent research shows that human-caused mortality of these rare wolves, especially through poaching during times of reduced protection, has been consistently mismeasured and significantly underestimated,” said plaintiff David Parsons, the former Mexican wolf recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Too many wolves, including individuals released from our center, have already been killed by poachers,” said Maggie Howell, director of the Wolf Conservation Center. “This ruling confirms the critical need for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take meaningful action to protect these vulnerable and genetically invaluable wolves.”

Background

Mexican gray wolves, or lobos, are one of the most endangered mammals in North America and are also the most genetically distinct lineage of wolves in the Western Hemisphere. By the mid-1980s, federal hunting, trapping and poisoning on behalf of the livestock industry had caused the extinction of lobos in the wild, with only a handful remaining in captivity.

Poaching causes the deaths of more Mexican gray wolves than any other cause, with 105 wolves known to have been killed unlawfully between 1998, when reintroduction to Arizona and New Mexico began, and 2019. A similar number of radio-collared wolves disappeared, many under suspicious circumstances, during this same span.

With fewer than 250 lobos left in the wild, this critical decision will now spur the new administration to produce a recovery plan that adequately addresses the needs of the wolves and the need to protect biodiversity during an extinction crisis.

******

Security Magazine

Protections fall short in mitigating online wildlife trafficking

October 11, 2021

In a new report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), online investigators uncovered nearly 1,200 advertisements for close to 2,400 animals, parts, derivatives or products of threatened species despite current protections under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The report, entitled Digital Markets: Wildlife Trafficking Hidden in Plain Sight, details the findings following a six-week investigation of advertisements posted on 34 U.S.-based online marketplaces.

Of the three most common types of advertisements found:

*Nearly half (44%) were identified as elephant ivory, a decline from 2008 levels (73%). 34% of ivory advertisements claimed that their product was exempt from existing elephant ivory regulations.

*Over one-quarter (27%) of all advertisements were for trophies and taxidermy products, including skins, skulls, claws or other animal parts primarily for display, half of which were for species only found in the wild outside of the U.S. (giraffes, African lions, caracals and several primate species).

*Live animals to be sold as exotic pets made up 19% of total advertisements, with birds, reptiles and mammals (44%, 40%, and 16% respectively) comprising the bulk of live animals sold. Live animals tended to be of higher value, with nearly three fourths of the advertisements for protected wildlife species valued at $10,000 or higher.

The report is a follow-up to the 2008 report “Killing with Keystrokes,” representing a continuation of IFAW’s work to both monitor and shut down online wildlife trafficking. Their work includes collaborating with online marketplaces to improve their policies to reduce wildlife trafficking, implementing trainings of government enforcement officers on the latest techniques and trends for detecting trafficking, working with communities to reduce poaching and ultimately reducing demand. Report comparisons show that the demand for live turtles, tortoises, wild cats and primates has proliferated since 2008.

*******

Center for Biological Diversity

Biden Administration Urged to Triple Listing Budget for Endangered Species

Plea Follows Announcement Declaring 23 U.S. Species Lost to Extinction

WASHINGTON—(October 11, 2021)—The Center for Biological Diversity, along with 38 other conservation organizations, urged the Biden administration today to increase its request for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Act listing budget for fiscal year 2023 to at least $63.7 million — more than three times the wildlife agency’s current budget.

Today’s letter to the Service and the Office of Management and Budget comes after the Service recently proposed removing 22 animals and a plant from the endangered species list because of extinction. Many of these 23 species were only protected after they were already gone. The U.S. has already lost more than 150 species to extinction, and 500 more have not been detected in many decades and are likely extinct.

“The heartbreaking reality is that extinctions are preventable, so when we permanently lose an animal or plant, it’s really a political choice,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center. “Our most vulnerable species face a deadly combination of decades of underfunding and unnecessary bureaucratic delays within the Service. The Biden administration needs to do better.”

Today’s letter notes that at current funding rates, “it could take the Service up to 10 years to process all of the remaining species that the agency has identified as potentially needing protection. Meanwhile, if trends hold, one species will be declared extinct every year in the United States while waiting for protection under the Act. If we let that happen, it would be morally unforgivable.”

A 2016 study found that species waited a median of 12 years to receive safeguards, in part due to funding shortfalls. In total, at least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection. Scientists warn that an additional 1 million animal and plant species around the world will face extinction in the coming decades if the world fails to take immediate action.

“How many more species will we lose before our leaders say enough is enough?” said Kurose. “President Biden can choose to leave a legacy of conservation by making bold investments in protecting our nation’s wildlife. Or he can choose to be the extinction president. We hope he makes the right decision.”

Nine months into his term, Biden has yet to nominate a Fish and Wildlife Service Director. His administration also has yet to reverse any of the disastrous Trump regulations gutting the Endangered Species Act.

Other groups joining today’s letter include Earthjustice, NRDC, Defenders of Wildlife and the Humane Society of the United States.

******

Honolulu Civil Beat

The Navy Vs. Marine Mammals: How Often Do Ship Strikes Happen?

The Navy hires biologists and oceanographers to assess and document its environmental impact, but many of those impacts remain unknown.

By Kevin Knodell, October 10, 2021

The U.S. Navy is reviewing the impact of its operations on marine mammals after an environmental organization threatened to sue this summer in response to the death of two whales near San Diego.

The Navy’s Pacific military exercises from Southern California to Hawaii fall under a five-year permit approved in 2018 which gives the military an authorized “incidental take” — a calculation of the number of times the government believes Navy operations could harass, injure or kill marine mammals.

But critics question the accuracy of its estimates.

“Throughout the documents, they largely just dismiss the possibility that there will be a ship strike at all,” said Kristin Monsell, oceans program litigation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit that advocates for the protection of endangered species.

Navy officials have insisted they would know if they struck a whale. But the center threatened to sue after an Australian Navy destroyer unknowingly dragged two dead fin whales into port under its hull during a U.S.-led exercise in San Diego over the summer.

The Navy announced in July it would conduct the review. The Navy’s permit allows up to two fatal encounters with fin whales, but the Endangered Species Act also requires the government to reevaluate its calculations if new information or factors it hadn’t considered come to light.

“I think the destroyer pulling into base with those two fin whales stuck to its hull shows that those assumptions are erroneous and that ship strikes are a much larger threat to these endangered whales than the Navy considered,” Monsell said.

Over the last few decades, the Navy has hired scientists to collect and analyze data on the environmental impact of its operations. The Navy has also spent millions on supporting marine biology and oceanography research at universities and other civilian institutions.

However, the U.S. Pacific Fleet did not respond to numerous requests for interviews with its environmental team or answer questions about how many documented “incidental takes” it has recorded near Hawaii.

“In the case where you have to write it down on a logbook, that’s only when there’s like actual proof that this thing occurred and it’s unignorable,” said Navy veteran Zoe Garland, who served on both ships and aircraft over her seven-year career. “If there’s an opportunity to leave a logbook blank for something like ‘we hit a whale,’ they’re going to do it. It’s very likely that that’s going to occur.”

Unknown Variables

Joseph Mobley, a professor at the University of Hawaii Manoa who studies marine mammal behavior, has monitored Navy exercises in Hawaii over the years through a program that brings in independent scientists to record impacts on local marine wildlife and provide data to the Navy.

“We’d fly ahead of the destroyer, and if there were whales in the area, we would alert them and then they would try and go around them and so on, but also our task at that time was to assess changes in behavior,” Mobley said.

Mobley said Navy officials took his findings seriously and used them to guide operations. “We never felt like we were under the gun to try and show everything’s fine,” he said.

But while Mobley’s experiences have been positive, he said he’s not naive about why the military came to scientists like him. “This wasn’t the benevolence of the Navy,” he said. “This was basically the Navy responding to the threat of litigation and so on.”

Among the impacts Mobley watched for most closely was from sonar, as well as from other potentially noisy training.

Mobley said that overall there seems to be little impact from sonar on most local species, with the exceptions of some species of beaked whales. Sonar may frighten them and cause them to quickly ascend, causing a condition similar to the bends.

“You would think after millions of years of evolutionary adaptation they wouldn’t, but I guess, throughout their evolution they didn’t have anything like sonar until recently,” Mobley said. “That causes them disorientation, they wind up beaching themselves and then they die subsequent to being beached, usually.”

But Mobley stressed that most other species around Hawaii don’t react much to sonar or even live-fire training and rarely seemed to be harmed. He said he has seen whales lingering as close as 100 meters to ships near Hawaii.

He believes that mammals in particular have learned to recognize Navy activity around Hawaii and became habituated to it over generations. The exceptions are large training events like RIMPAC which Mobley describes as being “like a rock concert” in their habitat. Mammals tend to stay clear but return after ships have left.

Elsewhere, such as in the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas, there have been a series of beachings and whale deaths tied directly to military training. Along the California coast, mammals have been observed avoiding military vessels using sonar. Mobley said the apparent lack of impacts to wildlife in Hawaii warrants further study. “Hawaii may be something of an anomaly that way,” he said.

But Mobley said there may be unknown variables. “The caveat of course is that just because we didn’t discern it, because we were humans with eyeballs up there, it doesn’t mean that something didn’t happen,” he said.

Critics of the Navy argue that there are many unknown — and undocumented — factors.

A Crowded Ocean

The U.S. Navy’s operations don’t exist in a vacuum. Other navies also conduct constant operations in the Pacific and have environmental impacts of their own.

The Chinese military has increasingly transformed reefs into military bases and built artificial islands as it seeks to assert control over critical ocean trade routes. Satellite imagery suggests these operations are having a profound environmental impact, but scientists haven’t been able to conduct research up close.

Mobley points out that it’s also not just military vessels that can harm. The Pacific Ocean is bustling with commercial, scientific and recreational activity. Whale watchers, fishermen, yachters and merchant vessels constantly move through Hawaii’s waters and have at times collided with wildlife.

“Here in Hawaii, any boat traveling faster than, say, 15 knots, we would be concerned about ship strikes,” Mobley said.

Federal records documented at least 26 whales killed in strikes with vessels of all kinds along the West Coast from 2014 through 2018. Recent studies suggest there may be even more, with some researchers estimating that the actual number could be as much as 20 times higher since most dead whales sink without crews ever knowing.

Even without sonar or weapons firing, the constant movement of ships can also be loud. Recent research suggests that even seagrass is impacted by the noise.

Monsell said the U.S. military can take the lead in mitigating those impacts. Among them, the Center for Biological Diversity has requested the Navy slow its ships when traveling through known marine mammal habitats.

Monsell also notes policies that the Navy has abandoned that it could reinstate. “There were previously mitigation areas off Hawaii that are biologically important areas for different species and within those areas there was previously a total ban on sonar but now there’s only seasonal restrictions in place,” Monsell said.

“Those (are) some specific things that we think the Navy can do so that we don’t keep seeing more dead whales in our oceans and on our beaches,” she said.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched After California Oil Spill to Protect Whales, Other Endangered Animals From Offshore Drilling

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif.—(October 8, 2021)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent today to sue the Biden administration if it does not immediately reexamine the offshore oil industry’s threat to California’s endangered species and their habitats.

Today’s letter, sent to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, notes that the government’s existing Endangered Species Act analysis failed to predict or plan for an oil spill as big as the ongoing disaster in Southern California’s San Pedro Bay.

An undersea pipeline connected to drilling platforms off Orange County ruptured last Friday, spewing an estimated 144,000 gallons of oil into the ocean. The spill has fouled sensitive beaches and wetlands, forced the closure of fisheries, and harmed or killed dozens of fish and birds, including threatened snowy plovers.

“These dead, oil-soaked birds and fish are gruesome proof of offshore drilling’s harm to wildlife, and federal officials never saw it coming,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center. “The Biden administration needs to reexamine the oil industry’s threat to marine life, our climate and frontline communities. A robust analysis would show that oil drilling off California must be immediately phased out and all the old, decaying infrastructure scheduled for decommissioning.”

The bureaus manage and permit oil and gas activity in federal waters. They are required by section 7 of the Endangered Species Act to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the impacts of these activities on threatened and endangered species and their habitats.

The Trump administration completed an Endangered Species Act analysis for oil and gas activity off California in 2017. That analysis concludes that an oil spill is unlikely and that if it did occur it would be limited to 8,400 gallons.

The Center’s letter highlights how the recent oil spill — more than 17 times larger — renders that entire analysis unlawful. The letter also points to new information regarding the threat of vessel strikes from oil and gas activity, how existing oil drilling worsens the climate crisis, and newly designated critical habitat for humpback whales.

The Center’s letter seeks to compel the bureaus to suspend approval of all new drilling permits off California’s coast while the bureaus reexamine the impacts of such activities on endangered species.

Today’s notice of intent to sue is required before the Center can file a lawsuit to compel the bureaus to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

******

Pioneer (Big Rapids, MI)

Vermont bald eagle restoration follows years of trying

WILSON RING, Associated Press, Oct. 7, 2021

Thirteen years after Vermont lost the ignominious distinction of being the only state in the continental United States without any breeding pairs of bald eagles, the state is moving to remove the iconic national symbol from its list of threatened and endangered species.

Since 2008 the number of breeding eagles have grown to where, last year, biologists discovered 64 young eagles in the state and more than 75 were found in a recovery region, which includes portions of New Hampshire and New York.

“They are pretty amazing looking birds. They are huge, first of all, they’re just a striking predator,” said Margaret Fowle, a conservation biologist with Vermont Audubon who has been working on eagle projects in the state for almost 20 years. “For me, every time I see them, it’s kind of awe-inspiring.”

Removing the eagles from the state list was the culmination of decades of work at the state, regional and national level that benefitted a number of other species of birds and other animals, said Mark Scott, the director of wildlife for the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“When people care about something and we all come together to work on things great things can happen,” Scott said Thursday.

Habitat destruction and the use of the pesticide DDT beginning in the 1940s reduced the numbers of bald eagles across North America. By the early 1960s, bald eagles — adopted as the national symbol in the 1700s — were nearly wiped out.

DDT was banned in 1972. In 1978, the bald eagle was placed on the federal endangered species list.

Vermont’s list of threatened and endangered species is separate from the federal list, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The bald eagle was removed from the federal list in 2007.

Vermont wasn’t part of the original bald eagle reintroduction plans in the 1970s and 1980s, Fowle said. The eagles were in neighboring states and people expected them to come back to Vermont naturally.

“From what I’ve learned they are sort of slow to pioneer new places so they tend to saturate an area before they spread into new areas,” she said.

Throughout the early 2000s, Vermont biologists were repeatedly frustrated by efforts to bring back the birds, which were known to be successfully breeding in the adjacent states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York. Some were nesting within just a few hundred yards of Vermont.

The state tried to lure breeding eagles to Vermont by building nests and laying deer carcasses near them.

In 2002, eagles were spotted building a nest, but the next year great horned owls took over the nest. In 2005, eagles built two nests in southeastern Vermont but didn’t lay any eggs. Then in 2006, a pair hatched an eaglet in Rockingham — but a few weeks later, the young bird was found dead.

Around the same time biologists began raising young eagles in special boxes in the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Addison. By the time the project ended in 2006, biologists had raised 29 young eagles.

The September 2008 confirmation that a bald eagle pair had successfully raised a young eagle along the upper reaches of the Connecticut River ended Vermont’s distinction as the only state without breeding eagles. It’s unclear if those birds came from the Dead Creek program.

As a proven success to the program, this year the Vermont Endangered Species Committee determined the bald eagle population has grown to the point where it no longer needed the additional protections.

Scott said that even after the eagles are delisted, they will still be protected by state and federal laws.

But it’s not all good news: The Vermont Endangered Species committee is recommending adding the American bumblebee, some species of plants and smaller birds to the state’s list.

******

Endangered Species Coalition

New Report Justly Biodiverse Discloses Inequitable Access to the Benefits of Biodiversity  

Washington, D.C.—(Oct. 7, 2021)–The Endangered Species Coalition released Justly Biodiverse: Nature’s Lifeline for the Health of All Communities today. This 64-page report is the culmination of two years of study to assess more fully how inadequate policies and racism cause undue harm and burdens. As such, it focuses on the benefits biodiversity provides to people, while detailing how systemic environmental racism denies biodiversity’s benefits to communities of color. The Justly Biodiverse report also includes recommendations to connect environmental justice to supporting biodiversity. Divided into twelve sections and inclusive of more than 16 community members, advocates and academics, the report offers specific examples of imperiled species and habitats that demonstrate ways in which healthy biodiversity benefits humanity and safeguards communities.

“Biodiversity is our life support system,” said Leda Huta, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “We aren’t separate from nature. It’s fundamental failing to protect biodiversity is a failure to protect human rights. We live and rely on Earth—a natural planet that ensures we breathe, eat, drink, sleep, and play.” 

“Disparate impacts from environmental contamination, and the most adverse impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss, affect communities of color first and worst because of historical racism,” said Endangered Species Coalition Board Member Dr. Adrienne L. Hollis, PhD, JD. “To address these inequities and foster thriving, healthy communities, we must address the paucity of biodiversity and environmental protections. Without action, we face extreme weather events like coastal and chronic flooding, sea-level rise, and increased temperatures—our people and our planet will continue to suffer.” 

The full report, which includes recommendations on holistically integrating biodiversity protections, is available online for downloading at endangered.org/justlybiodiverse.

******

Office of Commissioner Nikki Fried

Commissioner Nikki Fried Urges U.S. Fish and Wildlife to Restore ‘Endangered’ Status for Manatees

Tallahassee, Fla.—(October 4, 2021)—Today, Florida Commissioner Nikki Fried, an independently-elected member of the Florida Cabinet, formally requested the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) work expeditiously to reclassify the West Indian manatee as an endangered species.

FWS is currently conducting its 5-year status review of the manatee’s classification, following its downlisting from “endangered” to “threatened” status in 2017. Florida has reported record high manatee deaths in 2021, with the total number of losses in 2020 surpassed within the first four months of this year. Last week, FWS reported 23 extinctions, highlighting the urgency of action to protect manatees and other endangered species from a similar fate.

Commissioner Fried’s letter reads as follows:

Dear Principal Deputy Director Williams:

As Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services and an independently elected member of the Florida Cabinet, I write to you today regarding the alarming die off of the West Indian manatee, which are native to our state, and to strongly encourage the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to take action expeditiously to reclassify these marine mammals as endangered species given the urgency that this situation demands.

As you’re aware, in March 2017, FWS downgraded the status of the West Indian manatee from endangered to threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. This action was taken despite the presence of scientific evidence that showed that the downlisting was not warranted, and widespread objections from wildlife and environmental organizations along with Florida’s bipartisan Congressional delegation.

Prior to this misguided decision, the manatee had been listed as endangered since 1967 due to risks posed from the degradation of its habitat, the growing impact of climate change, pollution, speeding boats, seagrass loss, and declining water quality – all of which still pose serious threats to their survival. These continued risks have unfortunately been realized, particularly as it pertains to seagrass loss and declining water quality, which have been widely attributed to the record number of manatee deaths being reported in Florida. According to Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there have been 957 manatee deaths so far this year. This is more than double the amount of annual deaths that happened prior to the delisting decision. Even more alarming is that by FWS’ own estimates there are only around 6,500 West Indian manatees remaining in the southeastern United States.

While we appreciate the current protections afforded the manatee and the FWS’ ongoing 5-year mandatory of the manatee’s status, the troubling report last week from FWS that more than 20 species should be declared extinct is a sad reminder of the consequences of inaction and delayed action. There are few things more quintessentially Florida than the manatee, which is why it is absolutely vital that every step to protect these treasured creatures is taken immediately, restoring its status as an endangered species.

Sincerely,

Nicole Fried, Commissioner of Agriculture

******

The Rewilding Institute

END FEDERAL SUBSIDIES FOR STATES’ WAR ON WOLVES:

Move to Disqualify States from Federal Aid for Excessive Predator Removal

(October 4, 2021) State game agencies could lose a substantial portion of their budgets for eradicating their wolf populations under a proposal put forward by the Global Indigenous Council (GIC), Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Center for Biological Diversity and a coalition of 25 Native American, conservation, and animal welfare organizations. The plan would deny federal wildlife management funding to states that excessively target predators, such as wolves, cougars, and grizzly bears.

With the removal of federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves, states across the country have expanded controversial predator control programs by permitting trophy hunting and hunting and trapping of predators, particularly wolves, without regard for maintaining sustainable population levels.

The coalition’s rule-making petition would have the Secretary of Interior, Deb Haaland, adopt regulations making states ineligible to receive grants under the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration and Sport Fish Restoration Acts if they allow hunting and trapping at levels that compromise healthy populations of wildlife, including predators. That condition is currently required under law but without an enforcement mechanism – a hole this petition would fill.

Under this proposal, Secretary Haaland, following public comment, would decide if a state applying for a federal grant is pursuing wildlife management practices inconsistent with the national goal of naturally diverse wildlife populations and healthy predator-prey dynamics.

This federal aid constitutes a significant portion of state game agency budgets across the country.  This year, approximately $1 billion in federal aid was funneled to state game agency coffers.

The petition is a reaction to recent actions in states such as Alaska, Idaho, Montana, and Wisconsin to, in essence, declare open season on wolves. In addition, the petition targets practices such as baiting and snaring of bears, “judas” wolf collaring, use of dogs to hunt predators, shooting bears, wolves, and their young in dens, aerial spotting for land-and-shoot removals, and nighttime hunting with artificial lights.

“These wolf extermination bills passed and signed into law by rightwing extremists at the state level demonstrate that they are not only hunting democracy to extinction, they are also conflating Euro-Medieval sadism with so-called wildlife management to the same ends with wolves,” stated acclaimed film director Rain, who is Executive Director of the GIC.

“A healthy predator-prey relationship is necessary for healthy wildlife populations as a whole,” added Rick Steiner, a PEER Board member, conservation specialist, and retired University of Alaska professor, noting that eligibility for federal funding is often used to leverage state compliance with federal policies. “No state, including Alaska, should receive millions of dollars in federal wildlife restoration aid each year, while they continue ecologically destructive efforts to severely reduce or eliminate populations of wolves, bears, coyotes, and mountain lions.”

“Federal officials must stop ignoring the use of conservation funding by anti-wolf states to slaughter ecologically important carnivores,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Federal wildlife management funds should only be given to states that can be trusted to conserve their wildlife for all Americans.”

Besides GIC, PEER, and the Center, groups sponsoring the petition are the Humane Society of the US, The Native Conservancy, The 06 Legacy, Alaskans for Wildlife, Attorneys for Animals, Footloose Montana, Friends of the Clearwater, Global International Council, United Tribes, Mountain Lion Foundation, National Wolfwatcher Coalition, Oasis Earth, Predator Defense, Project Coyote, Project Eleven Hundred, Protect Our Wildlife, Sierra Club-Toiyabe Chapter, Southwest Environmental Center, The Endangered Species Coalition, The International Wildlife Coexistence Network,  The Rewilding Institute, Washington Wildlife First, Western Wildlife Outreach, Wildearth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, and Professor Adrian Treves of the University of Wisconsin.

******

Business Insider

Dead fish and birds are washing up on the coast of Southern California after more than 125,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean

insider@insider.com (Lauren Frias), October 4, 2021

More than 125,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California, destroying ecosystems and causing dead wildlife to wash on the shore.

The spill occurred following an underwater pipeline breach about five miles off the coast of Huntington Beach on Sunday. The spill spanned 13-square-miles into the water, prompting city officials to close the beaches as the Coast Guard led cleanup efforts throughout the weekend into Monday.

“We’ve started to find dead birds and fish washing up on the shore,” Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said Sunday, citing a CNN report.

Foley added that the oil spill “has infiltrated the entirety” of the area’s coastal wetlands, including the Talbert Marsh, which is a crucial 25-acre ecological reserve “designed to refresh the wetlands with tidal flows required for their plants and animals to complete their life cycles,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

“These are wetlands that we’ve been working with the Army Corps of Engineers, with the Land Trust, with all the community wildlife partners to make sure to create this beautiful, natural habitat for decades,” Foley said. “And now in just a day, it’s completely destroyed.”

At a news conference Sunday afternoon, Mayor Kim Carr of Huntington Beach called the spill “one of the most devastating situations our community has dealt with in decades.”

She added that the local response is focused on “preventing an ecological disaster by mitigating the impacts of the oil on our precious wetlands and wildlife,” according to a report by The New York Times.

State Rep. Michelle Steele, a Republican representing Orange County, penned a letter Sunday to President Joe Biden requesting a major disaster declaration for the county in light of the spill.

“Constituents who live along the shoreline are already reporting oil on the beach and strong odors,” Steele wrote in the letter. “Officials are already responding to protect sea life. Dead fish and birds are already being reported on beaches and shorelines.”

“I have serious concerns about the environmental impacts of the spill and applaud the workers who are doing their best to prevent the oil from hitting sensitive wetlands,” she continued.

******

ABC News

Crews race to limit damage from major California oil spill

Crews on the water and on shore worked feverishly to limit environmental damage from one of the largest oil spills in recent California history

By AMY TAXIN and CHRISTOPHER WEBER, Associated Press, October 3, 2021

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — Crews on the water and on shore worked feverishly Sunday to limit environmental damage from one of the largest oil spills in recent California history, caused by a suspected leak in an underwater pipeline that fouled the sands of famed Huntington Beach and could keep the beaches there closed for weeks or longer.

Booms were deployed on the ocean surface to try to contain the oil while divers sought to determine where and why the leak occurred. On land, there was a race to find animals harmed by the oil and to keep the spill from harming any more sensitive marshland.

An estimated 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters) of heavy crude leaked into the waters off Orange County starting late Friday or early Saturday, when boaters began reporting a sheen in the water, officials said. The pipeline and operations at three off-shore platforms owned by Houston-based Amplify Energy Corp. were shut down Saturday night, CEO Martyn Willsher said.

He said the 17.5-mile (28.16-kilometer) pipeline that is 80 to 100 feet (24 to 30 meters) below the surface was suctioned out so no more oil would spill as the location of the leak was being investigated.

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the beaches of the community nicknamed “Surf City” could remain closed for weeks or even months. The oil created a miles-wide sheen in the ocean and washed ashore in sticky, black globules.

“In a year that has been filled with incredibly challenging issues, this oil spill constitutes one of the most devastating situations that our community has dealt with in decades,” Carr said. “We are doing everything in our power to protect the health and safety of our residents, our visitors and our natural habitats.”

Some birds and fish were caught in the muck and died, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said. But by early afternoon Saturday the U.S. Coast Guard said there so far was just one ruddy duck that was covered in oil and receiving veterinary care. “Other reports of oiled wildlife are being investigated,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.

Crews led by the Coast Guard-deployed skimmers laid some 3,700 feet (1,128 meters) of floating barriers known as booms to try to stop more oil from seeping into areas including Talbert Marsh, a 25-acre (10-hectare) wetland officials said.

A petroleum stench permeated the air throughout the area.

“You get the taste in the mouth just from the vapors in the air,” Foley said.

The oil will likely continue to wash up on the shore for several days and affect Newport Beach and other nearby communities, officials said.

The closure included all of Huntington Beach, from the city’s north edge about 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) south to the Santa Ana River jetty. The shutdown came amid summerlike weather that would have brought big crowds to the wide strand for volleyball, swimming and surfing. Yellow caution tape was strung between lifeguard towers to keep people away.

Officials canceled the final day of the annual Pacific Air Show that typically draws tens of thousands of spectators to the city of about 200,000 residents south of Los Angeles. The show featured flyovers by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

The leaking pipeline connects to an oil production platform named Elly, which in turn is connected by a walkway to a drilling platform named Ellen. Those two platforms and another nearby platform are in federal waters.

Elly began operating in 1980 in an area called the Beta Field. Oil pulled from beneath the ocean and processed by Elly is taken by the pipeline to Long Beach.

Huntington Beach resident David Rapchun said he’s worried about the impact of the spill on the beaches where he grew up as well as the local economy.

“For the amount of oil these things produce I don’t think it’s worth the risk,” Rapchun said. He questioned whether drilling for oil was a wise idea along some of Southern California’s most scenic beaches, noting the loss of the final day of the air show could deal a blow to the local economy.

“We need oil, but there’s always a question: Do we need it there?” he said.

The spill comes three decades after a massive oil leak hit the same stretch of Orange County coast. On Feb. 7, 1990, the oil tanker American Trader ran over its anchor off Huntington Beach, spilling nearly 417,000 gallons (1.6 million liters) of crude. Fish and about 3,400 birds were killed.

In 2015, a ruptured pipeline north of Santa Barbara sent 143,000 gallons (541,313 liters) of crude oil gushing onto Refugio State Beach.

The area affected by the latest spill is home to threatened and endangered species, including a plump shorebird called the snowy plover, the California least tern and humpback whales.

“The coastal areas off of Southern California are just really rich for wildlife, a key biodiversity hot spot,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program.

The effects of an oil spill are wide-ranging, environmentalists said. Birds that get oil on their feathers can’t fly, can’t clean themselves and can’t monitor their own temperatures, Sakashita said. Whales, dolphins and other sea creatures can have trouble breathing or die after swimming through oil or breathing in toxic fumes, she said.

“The oil spill just shows how dirty and dangerous oil drilling is and oil that gets into the water. It’s impossible to clean it up so it ends up washing up on our beaches and people come into contact with it and wildlife comes in contact with it,” she said. “It has long-lasting effects on the breeding and reproduction of animals. It’s really sad to see this broad swatch oiled.”

(Associated Press reporters Felicia Fonseca in Phoenix and Julie Walker in New York contributed.)

******

The Guardian

Australia’s ‘black summer’ bushfires pushed 11 bee species closer to extinction

Eleven species are now eligible to be listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list of threatened species

By Donna Lu, October 2, 2021

The devastating 2019–20 bushfires had a significant impact on native Australian bees, threatening 11 species, according to new research.

Australian scientists have analysed the effect of the fires on 553 Australian native bee species – one-third of all bee species discovered in the country to date.

They found that 11 species are now eligible to be listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list of threatened species.

Prior to the fires, only three Australian bee species were listed as threatened.

The researchers modelled the bees’ extinction risk from the fires using publicly available data, including information about fire intensity and frequency as well as the bees’ distributions.

Two bee species, Leioproctus nigrofulvus – commonly known as the solitary bee – and Leioproctus carinatifrons, now fit the IUCN’s criteria for an endangered listing, as large areas of their native habitat were intensely burnt during the bushfires.

Nine bee species were assessed as being “vulnerable”.

Study co-author Stefan Caddy-Retalic, an adjunct lecturer at the University of Adelaide, said it was surprising that a single fire event – that killed or displaced nearly 3 billion animals – pushed the 11 bee species much closer to extinction.

There are 1,654 known bee species in Australia, but scientists believe the real figure may be between 2,000 and 3,000.

“There are so many native bees that are still left to discover – a lot of these species are at risk of being lost before they’re even found, which is an incredible indictment on on the impact that we’re having on Australia’s biodiversity,” Caddy-Retalic said.

“This really highlights the need for the Australian government to act on climate change.”

Even the loss of a single bee species was significant, he added.

“Each organism that exists on the planet is an answer to the riddle of how to survive,” he said. “Every time we lose one of the organisms, we lose the interactions that it has with other parts of the ecosystem, we lose the specialised services that they provide, and that has the potential to drag other species along with it.”

Introduced species such as the European honey bee and the bumblebee in Tasmania, which compete with native bees for resources, had the potential “to push some of our native species to the brink”, Caddy-Retalic said.

Few invertebrates are listed by the IUCN, suggesting they have not been considered a priority, he added.

“We’ve been a lot more focused on pandas and koalas and platypuses and things like that,” he said. “We’re really starting to see a groundswell [of attention for] some of these invertebrates, which after all represent the majority of animal life on earth.”

The team have submitted their findings to the IUCN, which is expected to provide an assessment on the status of the bee species by the end of the year.

The research was published in the journal Global Change Biology.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Tiehm’s Buckwheat Moves Toward Endangered Species Act Protections

LAS VEGAS—(October 1, 2021)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposed rule today to list the rare wildflower Tiehm’s buckwheat as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The proposed rule comes as a result of litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity, which has worked for three years to protect Tiehm’s buckwheat from an open pit lithium mine.

The Rhyolite Ridge Mine, a project proposed by Ioneer, an Australian mining company, would destroy up to 90% of the global population of Tiehm’s buckwheat. That threat prompted more than 100 scientists and 15 conservation groups to send a letter urging President Biden to protect the plant.

“I’m thrilled that Tiehm’s buckwheat is on the path to protection,” said Naomi Fraga, a botanist who helped organize the scientists’ letter. “Ioneer has already caused significant damage to the buckwheat’s habitat. We can only hope that this will put an end to the company’s harmful activities and kickstart the buckwheat’s recovery process.”

Tiehm’s buckwheat is found only in the Silver Peak Range of Esmeralda County, Nevada, and grows on just 10 acres of lithium-rich soils. A recent range-wide census by the California Botanic Garden revealed there are just 15,757 plants in the global population of Tiehm’s buckwheat — a 64% decline from previous surveys.

After mysterious damage in summer 2020 severely harmed the buckwheat, it has become one of the most high-profile plant conservation causes in the world, appearing in media outlets from London to New York to Sydney.

“This is a banner day for native plant conservation,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center. “This vulnerable little wildflower has captured the imagination of people around the world. Extinction is a political choice, and the Biden administration made the right call to prevent this special plant from disappearing forever.”

Background

Tiehm’s buckwheat (Eriogonum tiehmii) is a rare species of wildflower in the buckwheat family. Over millennia the plant adapted to soils rich in lithium and boron in the Silver Peak Range of Esmeralda County, Nevada. It was identified as a possibly distinct taxon by Jerry Tiehm in 1983 and described as a species by James Reveal in 1985.

In a 1995 status review, the Nevada Natural Heritage Program recognized the danger faced by the plant, stating, “immediate and aggressive measures are needed to prevent [Tiehm’s buckwheat’s] extinction.”

The plight of Tiehm’s buckwheat was first made known to the world by a whistleblower at the Bureau of Land Management Tonopah Field Office, whose story was detailed in a Politico Magazine article in 2020. The whistleblower observed numerous impacts from Ioneer’s mineral exploration activities within the buckwheat’s habitat and alerted the Center to the issue.

The Center petitioned the Service to protect Tiehm’s buckwheat under the Endangered Species Act in 2019, citing the extinction threat posed by the proposed lithium mine.

Later that year, the Center sued the BLM and Ioneer over harms from Ioneer’s mining exploration activities, which included bulldozing roads in buckwheat habitat. That lawsuit was settled out of court, resulting in a termination of the exploration activities.

The Center has also pursued protection of Tiehm’s buckwheat in the regulatory arena. In 2020 the Center filed a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint against Ioneer, alleging the company was misleading investors by touting an unrealistic permitting timeline.

In March 2021 the Center formally petitioned the BLM to protect Tiehm’s buckwheat’s habitat as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

In April of 2021, the Center won a partial victory in litigation seeking to have Tiehm’s buckwheat protected under the Endangered Species Act on an emergency basis. A subsequent agreement with the Service led to today’s proposed rule.

******

People.com

Kentucky Ecologists Design Bat-Friendly Bridge to Protect Endangered Species

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet teamed up with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to design a bridge that doubles as a suitable habitat for gray bats

By Vanessa Etienne, October 01, 2021

A bridge in Kentucky has become the perfect habitat for bats — and is the first of its kind in the state.

During a routine inspection in 2018, the Bridging Kentucky Project found that a state bridge had deteriorated due to weather, and gray bats lived in the structure’s large cracks.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the gray bat has been on the endangered species list since 1976. After discovering that the infrastructure was a good habitat for the bats, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) decided to design a new bat-friendly bridge.

“Bats were finding cracks and crevices that were safe from wind, from predators, and safe from rain and it created almost like a cave-like habitat. We wanted to recreate those exact gaps but do it from the very first day the bridge was built and not have to wait for 30 years of deterioration,” said Andrew Logsdon, a KYTC ecology and permitting branch manager, in a video detailing the project.

The KYTC partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to design a bridge that had a habitat for the bats within its structure, include 1.5-inch gaps for the species to use as roosting space.

Construction kicked off in January during gray bats hibernation, and, thanks to the help of ecologists and engineers, the bridge was completed by March.

“This bridge project is the first of its kind in Kentucky, using an innovative and collaborative approach to mitigate the effects of much-needed bridge repairs on an important endangered species,” KYTC Secretary Jim Gray said, WPSD6 reports. “KYTC delivered a new bridge that is not only safe for motorists but is now providing habitat for an estimated 1,100 gray bats.”

During the organization’s June 2021 survey, the team counted around 400 bats using the bridge as a habitat. Two months later, ecologists estimated that more than 1,100 bats are currently using the bridge.

“It’s nice to be able to help an imperial species of bat that is heavily affected by construction, human interaction, as well as white nose syndrome. It’s great to be able to aid in that,” ecologist Drew Powell said in KYTC’s clip.

In order to prevent interference with the habitat, KYTC is not releasing the exact location of the bridge.

******

Florida State University News

FSU researchers find endangered species remain vulnerable in some marine-protected areas

By MCKENZIE HARRIS, September 30, 2021

Florida State University researchers have found that some marine-protected areas may not work as predicted in safeguarding and conserving endangered species.

A team of international researchers found that hawksbill turtles in Brazil are most often searching for food and breeding outside the boundaries of marine-protected areas, which are designated regions of seas, oceans, the Great Lakes and estuaries set aside for conservation purposes.

The study is published in the September 2021 edition of the journal Biological Conservation.

“This means that established protections for marine migratory species are not having the intended effect, highlighting a lack of protection,” said Armando Santos, a doctoral candidate in the FSU Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science, part of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Santos and Associate Professor of Oceanography Mariana Fuentes assessed the effectiveness, design and impact of marine-protected areas off the coast of Brazil through the analysis of critically endangered hawkbill turtles. Their work, however, is a starting point to look at conservation strategies for other marine species.

“Armando’s work helped highlight and identify areas that should be prioritized for management and conservation when thinking about sea turtle protection,” Fuentes said. “When looking at the maps in his results, the important areas for turtles are extremely broad. It’s a huge undertaking to protect these large areas, so Armando is now using fine-scale information and data analysis to pinpoint specific areas for protection.”

Marine-protected areas are among the most widely enacted strategies to conserve marine ecosystems and are typically designed to protect specific habitats rather than certain species. There are about 1,000 marine protected areas located throughout the United States, including three in the Gulf of Mexico. Across the world, there are close to 20,000 marine-protected areas.

However, just because an area is protected does not mean that the measures always work. Fisheries, marine traffic, oil and gas extraction, mining and port locations all pose significant threats to marine life.

Different levels of protection are offered by marine-protected areas, ranging from full protection from human activities to allowing for sustainable human use. By analyzing the existing threats hawksbill turtles encounter in their frequented areas, Santos and Fuentes assessed the effectiveness of each level of marine-protected areas in safeguarding hawksbill turtle habitats.

“We looked at data crucial to species conservation: spatial distribution and threat exposure,” Santos said. “This overlap of distribution and threats is important because these areas require conservation intervention. It’s also important to note that threats to species are cumulative, not individual, and consider how that magnifies the threat impact.”

This study’s dataset is the second-largest dataset of hawksbill spatial distribution in the world, and Santos plans to continue this research by next examining the diving profile of turtles to understand what drives their distribution and habitat use. This will further fine-tune the areas that require urgent protection and intervention.

“Though this research focuses on hawksbill turtles in Brazil, a lot of the work we’re doing contributes to the bigger picture of using satellite telemetry data — the collection of data at inaccessible points and their automatic transmission to satellites that’s often used in tagging marine species — and other information to inform species conservation,” Fuentes said. “Hopefully, someone working across the globe with a different migratory species can learn from this study and implement some of the findings to their location. This work is all about making information digestible to stakeholders and providing the best information for use in conservation policies.”

This research is supported by the National Science Foundation. Additional funding for this study was provided as part of a licensing requirement for seismic surveys carried out by Petroleum Geo-Services and Spectrum Geo. Co-investigators include researchers from Fundação Projeto Tamar, Centro TAMAR-ICMBio, ENGEO – Soluções Integradas em Meio Ambiente, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Texas A&M University, Imperial College London, and the Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of Rio Grande do Sul.

******

Daily Press (Norfolk, VA)

Protected too late: US officials report more than 20 extinctions

By CATRIN EINHORN, New York Times, Sept. 29, 2021

The ivory-billed woodpecker, which birders have been seeking in the bayous of Arkansas, is gone forever, according to federal officials. So is the Bachman’s warbler, a yellow-breasted songbird that once migrated between the Southeastern United States and Cuba. The song of the Kauai O’o, a Hawaiian forest bird, exists only on recordings. And there is no longer any hope for several types of freshwater mussels that once filtered streams and rivers from Georgia to Illinois.

In all, 22 animals and one plant should be declared extinct and removed from the endangered species list, federal wildlife officials planned to announce Wednesday.

The announcement could also offer a glimpse of the future. It comes amid a worsening global biodiversity crisis that threatens 1 million species with extinction, many within decades. Human activities like farming, logging, mining and damming take habitat from animals and pollute much of what’s left. People poach and overfish. Climate change adds new peril.

“Each of these 23 species represents a permanent loss to our nation’s natural heritage and to global biodiversity,” said Bridget Fahey, who oversees species classification for the Fish and Wildlife Service. “And it’s a sobering reminder that extinction is a consequence of human-caused environmental change.”

The extinctions include 11 birds, eight freshwater mussels, two fish, a bat and a plant. Many of them were likely extinct, or almost so, by the time the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973, officials and advocates said, so perhaps no amount of conservation would have been able to save them.

“The Endangered Species Act wasn’t passed in time to save most of these species,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit group. “It’s a tragedy.”

Since the passage of the act, 54 species in the United States have been removed from the endangered list because their populations recovered, while another 48 have improved enough to move from endangered to threatened. So far, 11 listed species have been declared extinct.

A 60-day public comment period on the new batch of 23 begins Thursday. Scientists and members of the public can provide information they would like the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider before making a final ruling.

Without conservation, scientists say, many more species would have disappeared. But with humans transforming the planet so drastically, they add, much more needs to be done.

“Biodiversity is the foundation of social and economic systems, yet we have not managed to solve the extinction crisis,” said Leah Gerber, an ecologist and director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes at Arizona State University.

Next month, talks will ramp up on a new global biodiversity agreement. One proposal that has gained traction recently is a plan, known as 30×30, to protect at least 30% of Earth’s land and oceans by 2030.

Scientists do not declare extinctions lightly. It often takes decades of fruitless searching. About half of the species in this group were already considered extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the global authority on the status of animals and plants. The Fish and Wildlife Service moved slower in part because it is working through a backlog, officials said, and tends to prioritize providing protection for species that need it over removing protection for those that don’t.

Many of the final confirmed sightings were in the 1980s, though one Hawaiian bird was last documented in 1899 and another in 2004.

No animal in the batch has been sought more passionately than the ivory-bill, the largest woodpecker in the United States. Once inhabiting old growth forests and swamps of the Southeast, the birds declined as European settlers and their descendants cleared forests and hunted them. The last confirmed sighting was in Louisiana in 1944.

But in 2004, a kayaker named Gene Sparling set off a flurry of searching when he saw a woodpecker that looked like an ivory-bill in an Arkansas swamp. Days after hearing about it, two experienced birders, Tim Gallagher and Bobby Harrison, flew in to join him on a search. On Day 2, paddling in their kayaks, they were getting ready to stop for lunch when suddenly a big bird flew right in front of them. “Tim and I both yelled ‘Ivory-bill!’ at the same time,” Harrison recalled.

In doing so, they scared the bird away.

But the men are adamant that they got a crystal-clear look at the distinctive wing markings that distinguish an ivory-bill from its most similar relative, the pileated woodpecker. “It was unmistakable,” Gallagher said.

A host of Cornell University ornithologists, several more searches, a few reported sightings and a blurry video later, a 2005 paper in the journal Science declared “Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) Persists in Continental North America.”

Controversy ensued. Some experts argued that the footage was of pileated woodpeckers. Repeated attempts by state and federal wildlife agencies to find the bird have been unsuccessful, and many experts have concluded that it is extinct.

When Amy Trahan, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, completed the most recent species assessment for the woodpecker, she said, she had to make her recommendation based on the best available science. At the end of the report, she checked a line next to the words “delist based on extinction.”

“That was probably one of the hardest things I’ve done in my career,” she said. “I literally cried.”

Islands, where wildlife evolved in isolation, have been especially hit hard by extinctions caused by humans introducing foreign species into the ecosystem, and 11 of the species in the delisting proposal are from Hawaii and Guam. Pigs, goats and deer destroy forest habitat. Rats, mongoose and brown tree snakes prey on native birds and bats. Mosquitoes, which did not exist on Hawaii until they arrived on ships in the 1800s, kill birds by infecting them with avian malaria.

Hawaii was once home to more than 50 species of forest birds known as honeycreepers, some of them brightly colored with long, curved beaks used to drink nectar from flowers. Taking into account the proposed extinctions in this batch, only 17 species are left.

Most of the remaining species are now under heavier siege. Birds that lived higher in the mountains were once safe from avian malaria because it was too cold for mosquitoes. But because of climate change, the mosquitoes have spread higher.

“We’re seeing very dramatic population declines associated with that increase in mosquitoes that’s a direct result of climate change,” said Michelle Bogardus, the deputy field supervisor for the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office.

Only a couple of species have shown resistance to avian malaria, she said, so most are likely to face extinction unless mosquitoes can be controlled over the whole landscape.

Freshwater mussels are among the most imperiled groups in North America, but scientists don’t know enough about the eight species on the list to say for sure why they disappeared. The extinctions are likely connected to the reservoirs that humans built over the past 100 years, federal biologists said, essentially turning the mussels’ rivers into lakes.

Did the change in habitat affect some aspect of their carefully choreographed life cycle? Were the filter feeders also injured by sediment or pollution in the water?

Freshwater mussels rely on jaw-dropping adaptations developed over untold years of evolution. Females lure in fish with an appendage that looks like a minnow, crayfish, snail, insect or worm, depending on the species. The mussels then squirt out their larvae, which attach to the fish, forcing it to shelter and ultimately distribute them.

Perhaps the mussels went extinct because their host fish moved or disappeared itself.

“I don’t think we fully understand what we lost,” said Tyler Hern, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service whose work includes freshwater mussel recovery. “These mussels had secrets that we’ll never know.”

******

The NM Political Report

Chipmunk subspecies only found in the White Mountains could be listed as endangered

By Hannah Grover, September 29, 2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking comments regarding listing the Peñasco least chipmunk as endangered.

The Peñasco least chipmunk is a subspecies of the least chipmunk that has historically been found only in the White and Sacramento mountains of southern New Mexico. However, it has not been seen in the Sacramento Mountains since 1966 and its population in the White Mountains is declining and could be destroyed by catastrophic events like fire or disease.

The nonprofit advocacy group WildEarth Guardians petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the chipmunk as endangered in 2011, citing threats like habitat loss and degradation as well as climate change.

Following the petition, the Fish and Wildlife Service found that listing the chipmunk as endangered is warranted.

“These rare animals have been on the brink of extinction for decades, and we’re glad to see the Fish and Wildlife Service finally move them out of the bureaucratic purgatory and towards recovery,” Joe Bushyhead, an endangered species policy advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said in a press release.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed designating more than 6,500 acres in three units in the White Mountains in Lincoln and Otero counties as critical habitat for the chipmunk. The critical habitat is in the White Mountains at elevations between 8,200 and 11,800 feet.

The three units proposed for critical habitat include Nogal Peak, Crest Trail and Sierra Blanca. The lands are both federal and tribal. The tribal lands belong to the Mescalero Apache Tribe. The critical habitat includes Ski Apache Resort in the Sierra Blanca unit.

According to the notice published in the Federal Register, the chipmunk has been seen at Ski Apache Resort on Lookout Mountain and the summer activities at the ski resort, including maintenance, can negatively impact the chipmunk. The Fish and Wildlife Service has had conversations with the Mescalero Apache Tribe, according to the notice.

In addition to maintenance activities, organized mountain bike races and the creation of trails could impact the chipmunk. The notice states that the chipmunk can also be hit by cars and stressed by zipline use.

Other threats the chipmunk has faced include logging, grazing and feral hogs.

More than half of the chipmunk’s range is within the White Mountain Wilderness Area in Lincoln National Forest, which prevents logging and grazing in the White Mountain Wilderness Area has also been closed for 20 years.

Additionally, the chipmunk’s range overlaps with the Mexican spotted owl’s critical habitat. However, while this restricts logging, the Fish and Wildlife Service states that grazing is still permitted and that grazing could reduce the vegetation that the chipmunk relies upon for food.

(Comments can be submitted at regulations.gov or by mail to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R2–ES–2020–0042, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: PRB/3W, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.)

******

Center for Biological Diversity

23 Species From 19 States Lost to Extinction

WASHINGTON—(September 29, 2021)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to remove 22 animals and a plant from the endangered species list because of extinction. They join the list of 650 U.S. species that have likely been lost to extinction.

Species being proposed for delisting include the ivory-billed woodpecker, Bachman’s warbler, Scioto madtom, San Marcos gambusia, eight species of Southeastern freshwater mussels, eight birds and a flower from Hawaiʻi, and a bird and bat from Guam.

“The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99% of the plants and animals under its care, but sadly these species were extinct or nearly gone when they were listed,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The tragedy will be magnified if we don’t keep this from happening again by fully funding species protection and recovery efforts that move quickly. Delay equals death for vulnerable wildlife.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been exceedingly slow to protect species. A 2016 study found that species waited a median of 12 years to receive safeguards. Several of the species in today’s announcement went extinct during a delay in the listing process, including the Guam broadbill, little Mariana fruit bat, and the southern acornshell, stirrupshell and upland combshell mussels. In total, at least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

“We’re at risk of losing hundreds more species because of a lack of urgency,” said Curry. “The Endangered Species Act is the most powerful tool we have to end extinction, but the sad reality is that listing still comes too late for most species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service badly needs to reform its process for protecting species to avoid further extinctions, and it needs the funding to do so. We can’t let bureaucratic delays cause more extinctions.”

Nine months into his term, President Biden has yet to nominate a director for the Fish and Wildlife Service. He did request more than a $60 million increase for endangered species — the largest increase requested for the program in history — but the House Appropriations Committee undercut the president’s budget request by $17 million.

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

Two bills moving through Congress would increase protection and funding for endangered species.

The Extinction Prevention Act (H.R. 3396) would create four grant programs that would provide $5 million per year to fund crucial conservation work for each of the most critically imperiled species in the United States, including butterflies, freshwater mussels, desert fish and Hawaiian plants.

The Extinction Crisis Emergency Act would direct President Biden to declare the global wildlife extinction crisis a national emergency. The legislation would spur action across the entire federal government to stem the loss of animals and plants in the United States and around the world.

“Extinction is not inevitable. It is a political choice. Saving species isn’t rocket science. As a country we need to stand up and say we aren’t going to lose any more species to extinction,” said Curry.

Extinctions by State or Territory

Alabama: Bachman’s warbler, southern acornshell, stirrupshell, tubercled-blossom pearly mussel, turgid-blossom pearly mussel, upland combshell, yellow-blossom pearly mussel

Arkansas: ivory-billed woodpecker, turgid blossom pearly mussel

Florida: Bachman’s warbler, ivory-billed woodpecker

Georgia: Bachman’s warbler, ivory-billed woodpecker, southern acornshell, upland combshell

Guam: bridled white-eye, little Mariana fruit bat

Illinois: ivory-billed woodpecker, tubercled-blossom pearly mussel

Hawai‘i: Eight birds and one flower

Indiana: tubercled-blossom pearly mussel

Kentucky: ivory-billed woodpecker, tubercled-blossom pearly mussel

Louisiana: ivory-billed woodpecker

Mississippi: flat pigtoe, ivory-billed woodpecker

Missouri: ivory-billed woodpecker

North Carolina: Bachman’s warbler, ivory-billed woodpecker

Ohio: Scioto madtom

Oklahoma: ivory-billed woodpecker

South Carolina: Bachman’s warbler, ivory-billed woodpecker

Tennessee: Bachman’s warbler, green-blossom pearly mussel, ivory-billed woodpecker, southern acornshell, tubercled-blossom pearly mussel, turgid-blossom pearly mussel, upland combshell, yellow-blossom pearly mussel

Texas: ivory-billed woodpecker, San Marcos gambusia

Virginia: green-blossom pearly mussel

West Virginia: tubercled-blossom pearly mussel

******

Bloomberg Law

American Bumble Bee Moves Toward Endangered Species Protection

Bobby Magill, Reporter, Sept. 28, 2021

Pesticides, development, and climate change are so imperiling the American bumble bee that it may need to be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday.

Such a listing could have profound implications for development, pesticide use in farming, and livestock grazing because the species is a valuable pollinator that’s highly sensitive to environmental changes.

“The implications could be really significant,” said Keith Hirokawa, an environmental law professor at Albany Law School. “A far-reaching solution would be a fundamental change in the way we build, our agricultural operations,” so that the bees’ habitat is protected.

The American bumble bee historically was common across the U.S., but its populations have declined by 89% in the last 20 years and vanished from eight states, according to a formal petition to list the bee as endangered.

Nationwide Impacts

If the bee is listed, it could be felt across industries coast-to-coast, including renewable energy developers, said Brooke Marcus, a natural resources lawyer at Nossaman LLP in Austin.

Local governments are requiring solar and other renewables developers to attract pollinators, including bees, to the land around their projects, but if a pollinator such as the bumble bee receives ESA protection, it could expose developers to legal liability if they accidentally kill bees, Marcus said.

But the scope of the impact would depend on how the Fish and Wildlife Service defines habitat for the bumble bee and regulates accidental or permitted killings, or “take,” of the bee, Marcus said.

The National Association of Home Builders, which has advocated for a delay in ESA listings for other bee species, can’t say what a possible listing’s effect on the construction industry might be until the Fish and Wildlife Service conducts more analysis, NAHB spokeswoman Liz Thompson said.

Early Step

The Fish and Wildlife Service said the bee may be declining because of habitat destruction, intensifying agriculture, climate change, loss of genetic diversity, pesticides, grazing and competition with non-native honeybees.

It was included among five species that the Fish and Wildlife Service said may warrant listing as part of a “90-day finding”— one of the first steps in listing a species under the ESA, according to a Federal Register public inspection notice published Tuesday.

The service said Tuesday that scientific evidence suggests the American bumble bee may need ESA protections, and the agency will further evaluate the threats to it before issuing a “12-month finding” with deeper analysis.

“At this early stage, we can’t speculate on potential impacts of listing on land use, pesticide use, etc.,” Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Georgia Parham said in an email. “An understanding of potential impacts of listing will depend on our 12-month finding, in which we determine whether listing is warranted.”

‘Not Really Prepared’

Earlier this year, the service considered possible protections for other bumble bee species, the rare Franklin’s bumble bee and the Suckley’s cuckoo bumble bee, under the ESA.

Pollinators, including bumble bees, are essential to sustaining plant life, crops and ecosystems.

“The dilemma is we’re not really prepared to lose our pollinators,” Hirokawa said. “We haven’t figured out what our substitute would be.”

Hirokawa’s environmental law students, who called themselves the Bombus Pollinators Association of Law Students, partnered with the Center for Biological Diversity in February to petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the American bumble bee under the ESA as part of a class project.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Oregon Coast Tiger Beetle Eyed for Endangered Species Act Safeguards

Rare Beetle Threatened by Habitat Loss, ORVs, Sea-Level Rise

PORTLAND, Ore.—(Sept. 28, 2021)—In response to a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the imperiled Siuslaw hairy-necked tiger beetle may qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The tiger beetles once lived on coastal beaches from Northern California to Washington but have been lost from most of those places. The most recent surveys found them at only 17 sites in Oregon; in Washington, they’re only known to survive at three sites. At nearly all sites, fewer than 50 individuals were located.

The species is severely threatened by habitat loss and destruction caused by off-road vehicles (ORVs), climate change, coastal erosion and trampling by beachgoers. It’s also at risk from inbreeding and invasive species. Endangered Species Act protection will ensure that the federal and state agencies that manage the beetle’s remaining populations protect it from these threats.

“As unspoiled stretches of the Oregon coast vanish to development and the impacts of climate change, we risk losing unique species like the tiger beetle,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I’m hoping Endangered Species Act protection can give these beautiful insects and their habitat a fighting chance of survival.”

Seven of 17 remaining beetle sites in Oregon are concentrated along a 10.5-mile stretch of the New River Area of Critical Environmental Concern, one of the last remaining wild places along the Oregon coast. Other Oregon sites occur on the Siuslaw National Forest in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, one of the most popular areas for ORV use in the world, as well as state parks in Oregon and Washington.

“The Siuslaw hairy-necked tiger beetle is now one step closer to protection,” said Sarina Jepsen, endangered species director at the Xerces Society. “This extraordinary beetle only lives at freshwater outflows into the Pacific Ocean that remain largely untouched. Because it spends part of its life burrowed in the sand, it’s particularly vulnerable to trampling, ORV use, and other earth-moving activities.”

Named after the Siuslaw people, who trace their ancestry back to the aboriginal inhabitants of the South-Central coast of Oregon, the Siuslaw hairy-necked tiger beetle hunts its prey in coastal areas where fresh water meets ocean beaches.

The tiger beetle is a fierce predator as both an adult and a larva. Adults are fast and mobile hunters who run across the sand in short bursts or short, hopping flights to chase prey. They run so fast that they need to stop after each burst to visually relocate their prey before continuing the pursuit. Their larvae are “sit and wait” hunters who keep their heads flush with the sand surface and, when prey walks by, reach up to half their body length out of their burrows and grab the prey with their jaws, then drag it to the bottom of the burrow to consume it.

******

Traffic (Cambridge, UK)

Announcement, September 28, 2021

Tech Companies Block More than 11.6 Million Transactions for Endangered Wildlife Online

Online technology companies in the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online reported removing or blocking over 11.6 million listings for endangered species and associated products from their online platforms to date. These listings included live tigers, reptiles, primates and birds for the exotic pet trade, as well as products derived from species like elephants, pangolins and marine turtles.

Today, the Coalition released a progress update to highlight the threat online trade poses to wildlife populations and spotlight the progress made through engagement with the private sector in an industry-wide approach. 

In addition to removing and blocking millions of listings and posts, Coalition companies have driven awareness of threats to endangered species as well as an understanding of what is prohibited on company platforms and reporting mechanisms among users through communications that have received more than 1 billion engagements on social media. Since the launch of the Coalition by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), TRAFFIC and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in 2018, the number of companies participating doubled from 21 to 47 in 2021, now including companies with operations across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas and comprising more than 11 billion user accounts around the world. 

“Since the release of the Coalition’s 2020 progress report 18 months ago, Coalition companies have removed an additional 8.3 million listings for prohibited wildlife,” said Crawford Allan, Senior Director of TRAFFIC at World Wildlife Fund. “This is due to increased availability of wildlife online and subsequent response by companies to address this threat, including enhanced automated detection systems. Overall, it is a fraction of prohibited wildlife that’s out there, but we will continue to scale our impact even further with determined efforts by more companies globally.”

Member companies have taken various actions to contribute to this progress, including strengthening wildlife policies, increasing staff ability to detect potential illegal wildlife products and live animals, taking action on suspicious listings reported by wildlife experts and volunteers in the Coalition’s Wildlife Cyber Spotter Program, enhancing algorithms through provided search words, creating reporting pathways and pop-up alerts to empower users to report suspicious content and sharing best practices with one another.

“The volunteers that are trained as part of the Coalition’s Cyber Spotter Program are our extra set of eyes on the web. They are provided with information on priority species, such as elephants, birds, and reptiles, and whenever they suspect a violation, they report it to us after which we share it with the related platforms for further action,” said Lionel Hachemin, Wildlife Campaigner at IFAW. “To date, with rounds in Germany, China, France, the US and Singapore, over 11,000 listings for illegal wildlife were reported to company members.”

Online wildlife trafficking is driven by consumer demand for wildlife products like elephant ivory, rhino horn and big cat skins, as well as for live pets, which is partly fueled by the promotion of exotic pet ownership and interactions on social media. Illegal wildlife trade, both online and in physical markets, is decimating populations of wild species and is a contributor to the catastrophic biodiversity loss seen globally.

Platform users can help keep endangered species #OfflineandIntheWild by reviewing the Coalition’s Prohibited Wildlife Policy framework to understand which species shouldn’t be traded and reporting listings directly on company platforms or through the Coalition’s online reporting page.

******

Maui Now

$5 M Earmarked for Hawai‘i to Combat Climate Change, Restore Forests, Support Endangered Species

September 27, 2021

US Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) announced that the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources will receive $5,298,701 from the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service for climate-smart forest restoration.

The restoration will occur in areas with the highest potential for carbon capture, and will also improve habitat for critically endangered bird species.

“This funding will help fight the climate crisis while ensuring that damaged forests grow back stronger than ever, maintaining the integrity of Hawai‘i’s unique environment,” said Sen. Schatz. “Supporting these native trees will help recharge the aquifers supplying the state’s water, provide habitat for endangered Hawaiian bird species, and prevent dirt from washing into the ocean where it can harm coral reefs and fish.”

The State will work will work with private landowners to plant 210,000 native trees and remove priority invasive plants from 1,650 acres, many of which are highly flammable and intensify wildfires.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Biden Administration Denies Protections to Imperiled Nevada Springsnails

LAS VEGAS—(September 24, 2021)—The Biden administration today denied Endangered Species Act protections to 10 rare species of Nevada springsnails, despite the dire threats of groundwater pumping and climate change faced by the tiny mollusks.

Nine of the 10 springsnails live only at the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Nye County, Nevada. Ash Meadows is a groundwater-fed desert oasis, where numerous springs create a biodiversity hotspot along the Amargosa River.

Today’s move comes in response to a 2009 petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from the Center for Biological Diversity, which sought protections for 42 species of springsnails across the Great Basin and Mojave Deserts.

“I’m incredibly disappointed and saddened by the Fish and Wildlife Service’s surprising denial of protections to these vulnerable springsnails,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center. “These are some of the most imperiled creatures in the Mojave Desert, and this decision really doesn’t make sense.”

Ash Meadows is home to more than two dozen species that live nowhere else on earth, including some listed under the Endangered Species Act, such as the Devils Hole pupfish and the rare Amargosa niterwort.

Ash Meadows is recognized as one of the most vulnerable ecosystems in Nevada, because of inappropriate levels of groundwater pumping in the area. Pumping water to grow alfalfa to feed cows at a dairy across the road from the wildlife refuge is forecast to cause a widespread decline in the aquifer that feeds the springs at Ash Meadows.

Recent scientific investigations by the United States Geologic Survey show that widespread aquifer drawdown in the Amargosa Basin, including from the dairy and in Pahrump Valley, threatens the groundwater dependent ecosystems at Ash Meadows.

“The science is absolutely clear that groundwater drawdown threatens spring flow at Ash Meadows, which in turn threatens unique species like these springsnails with extinction,” said Donnelly. “We’ll be reviewing the Service’s justification for this perplexing decision and evaluating our next steps. We won’t back down in our defense of the Amargosa.”

******

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)

University of Minnesota researchers drill down on ways to protect eagles in wind farms’ airspace

In trying to help create deterrents, they are learning how raptors’ react to different sounds.

By Bob Timmons Star Tribune SEPTEMBER 23, 2021

Resilient as bald eagles are, they are no match for wind turbine blades, whose spinning tips can reach speeds of up to 200 mph.

Intent on keeping the two apart, a team of University of Minnesota researchers with expertise in wildlife behavior, neuroscience and mechanical engineering is continuing its work to find solutions through what bald and golden eagles hear and how it affects their behavior. The findings might help create acoustic deterrents at wind farms that could save the raptors from injury or death as they fly in the airspace near the gargantuan structures.

The group’s initial research in 2017-2018, funded by the Department of Energy, included The Raptor Center, St. Anthony Falls Laboratory and experts in hearing sciences. The work was lab-intensive and involved measuring the response of eagles and red-tailed hawks, while sedated, to natural and artificial sounds. The new work will take those findings outdoors to monitor the behavior of bald and golden eagles during flighted tests, among other experiments.

Paid for by a $261,000 grant recommended by the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources, the next phase is well-timed.

Amid the drive for more renewable energy (wind accounted for 3% of the U.S. energy used in 2020), wind turbines stand to increase in size and number across southwestern Minnesota and the Dakotas. Some will be the equivalent of 60-story structures.

What’s unknown and appears difficult to quantify after years of studies are the species most at risk and the number of birds killed by hitting wind turbines. The American Bird Conservancy estimates more than a half-million birds are killed annually, based on three separate studies published in 2013 and 2014. By comparison, it’s estimated that about 600,000 birds are killed a year from striking windows.

One of the researchers is Julia Ponder, a professor in the College of Veterinary Population Medicine and former director of The Raptor Center, whose birds were part of the initial research. She acknowledged the challenge of collecting solid data about the mortality of eagles owing to wind farms and the effectiveness of current deterrents but said the search for solutions is important.

The search also is necessary. Although eagles are no longer an endangered species, they are protected by several federal laws, including the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Currently, some wind farms use mechanical detection to lessen their impact on wildlife. Some operators employ radar or have workers scan the skies, and shut down the turbines when they anticipate migratory birds or others moving through. Acoustic deterrents already are used in places, such as one called DTBird in parts of Europe and whose effectiveness still is being studied.

Ponder said the work on eagles could ultimately help other species.

“We have to figure out what the actual problems are and then how to mitigate and deal with them,” she said.

In the prior research, bald and golden eagles (and red-tailed hawks as surrogates) were sedated and then monitored to measure their hearing ability but also how they responded to natural sounds — ones they’d hear in the wild like eagle grunts and screams or the caws of crows — vs. human-made sounds like white noise.

The birds did react differently to different sounds and responded most to natural sounds. The more the artificial sounds were played, the less impact they had on the raptors.

The testing elicited some other new understanding about eagles’ hearing, too.

“What we learned from the test of their sensitivity while they were sedated is that they are sort of average in their hearing,” said Peggy Nelson, a language and hearing sciences professor at the University of Minnesota. “They are not remarkable.”

Nelson said other species — including humans — are likely more sensitive at more frequencies than eagles, which are sensitive to certain sounds at midranges but not very high- or low-frequency sounds.

“That surprised me,” she added. “I thought they’d be really in good in their hearing sensitivity, but they are kind of average.”

Now that the researchers know what sounds eagles react to and in what range, they will take the work outdoors to monitor the raptors’ behavior. Some tests will involve tethering the birds and observing the eagles’ reaction while in flight to different sounds. Maybe, Nelson said, the team will learn of a sound that steers them clear of trouble. But maybe not.

“Do you change your behavior at all when this sound comes on?” Nelson said. “Or are you just ignoring? We need to find this out.”

She said some natural sounds might be a deterrent — or even attractive to eagles.

One area of focus will be the effectiveness of grunts, which the eagles responded to most in the first study. Nelson said that sound that might not deter them, but attract and keep them away from trouble — for example, drawing them away from wind turbines.

“They may not be really afraid or anxious of any sound,” Nelson said. “We don’t know.”

Other approaches

Taber Allison is research director at American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI), a nonprofit with stakeholders in renewable energy and conservation. The group is evaluating systems like DTBird and is aware of the research in Minnesota and elsewhere.

Allison said studies to fine-tune possible acoustic deterrents for target species like eagles makes sense, and fits with other “minimization strategies.”

“I think it’s worth doing,” he said.

Allison said DTBird uses a camera designed to detect and track moving birds and estimate their distance, coupled with a warning sound speaker. In one test, DTBird detected 63% of drones used as surrogates for eagles but was limited by sun glare. The deterrence rate for golden eagles in response to warning signals was 52%. The system produced a large number of false-positive detections, too, resulting in unnecessary warning signals. The varied outcomes, like those in other, similar studies of bird collisions with turbines, underscore the challenges of finding solutions.

“The goal is to try to avoid and minimize as much ‘take’ as is practicable at each project,” Allison said.

As a wildlife conservationist, Ponder said she supports clean energy as earth-friendly, but that too often finding answers for the impact of development doesn’t occur early enough in the process.

“This is an opportunity to get knowledge … trying to contribute to solving the problem and finding ways that we, humans, can live in harmony and sustainability with Mother Nature and wildlife,” Ponder said. “We have only one earth and we have to take care of it.”

******

Oregon State University

Non-native fish are main consumers of salmon in reservoirs, researchers find

STORY BY:  Sean Nealon, September 22, 2021

CORVALLIS, Ore. – When warmwater fish species like bass, walleye and crappie that are not native to the Pacific Northwest, but prized by some anglers, overlap with baby spring chinook salmon in reservoirs in Oregon’s Willamette River they consume more baby salmon than native fish per individual, new research found.

The research by Oregon State University, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station scientists, recently published in the journal Ecosphere, may have implications for threatened salmon and future management strategies.

“Mixed stock fisheries are complicated and always changing,” said Christina Murphy, lead author of the paper who is a courtesy faculty member at OSU and a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Maine. “We are providing the science to help managers identify tradeoffs to make the best management decisions for each individual location.”

Fisheries managers in Oregon are increasingly identifying and grappling with threats posed by illegally introduced or invasive species overlapping with native fish populations. In part due to this new research, management actions now include removing harvest restrictions on non-native warmwater fish species, which are sought by some anglers because of their white, flaky meat and sporty fighting ability, where their presence may have negative impacts on sensitive native fish species, such as salmon.

“As the fish management agency for Oregon, it is our job to promote and achieve goals of native fish conservation and providing angler opportunity,” said Jeremy Romer, a co-author of the paper and assistant district fish biologist for ODFW in Springfield. “To do this effectively we use adaptive management and base our decisions on the most recent, reliable scientific research. We are always striving to pool resources and collaborate with colleagues to solve problems and inform management. This project is a great example of that.”

Construction of dams in the Willamette River and elsewhere created an unnatural overlap of coldwater fish, such as salmon and rainbow trout, and non-native warmwater fish, such as bass and crappie, in reservoirs. Studies on the diets of fish show that non-native species can have a large predatory impact on populations of salmonids, including spring chinook.

In the new paper, the OSU, ODFW, and U.S. Forest Service researchers studied fish in the Hills Creek and Lookout Point reservoirs on the upper Middle Fork Willamette River, just southeast of Eugene, Oregon. The spring chinook salmon found in that river are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

They studied the diets of reservoir fish in two time periods: March through June and August through September. Previously it was difficult to identify if predators had eaten baby salmon, known as fry, because they are quickly digested into indistinguishable goo. The researchers solved that problem by using two methods to identify which fish consume the spring chinook salmon in the first few months of their lives: stable isotopes and stomach contents.

Isotope analysis allows the researchers to determine what predators ate by tracking nitrogen through the food web. Nitrogen accumulates in salmon from the food they eat in the ocean. That nitrogen is then passed on from the mother to the baby salmon, and when a predator eats a salmon fry it also absorbs that nitrogen. The more fry predators eat, the higher the marine derived nitrogen level.

This elevated nitrogen level of the fry only lasted through May in the study. After that, the isotope analysis only told the scientists that the primary diet of a predator is any kind of fish. The researchers then used the actual stomach content information to determine what fish species were being consumed. 

They found that walleye, by far, were most likely to have juvenile salmon in their stomachs. In the early time period, 18.5% of walleye had salmon in their stomach contents. In the later period, 15.8% did. They were the only fish species in the later period that had salmon in their stomach.

Other predators in the early period with salmon in their stomachs were largemouth bass (5.7%), white crappie (3.1%) and then native northern pikeminnow (0.6%). The black crappie, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout and yellow bullhead studied during both time periods had no salmon in their stomachs.

The isotope signature analysis confirmed the stomach content findings. Walleye, largemouth bass and white crappie also had higher levels of nitrogen isotopic signatures

Ivan Arismendi, a co-author of the paper and an assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences in the College of Agricultural Sciences, added: “Our findings support this strategy of integrated management, emphasizing that the capture of popular non-native warmwater species such as walleye can be promoted in areas that are overlapping with conservation priorities for salmon.”

Other authors of the paper are Kevin Stertz, Ryan Emig, Fred Monzyk, all of ODFW, and Sherri Johnson, of the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis.

******

ABC/7 TV News (Los Angeles)

Helicopter water drops help fight extreme drought, give endangered species chance to survive, thrive

By Phillip Palmer, September 22, 2021

Borrego Springs, CA (KABC) — Peninsular Bighorn Sheep were listed as an endangered species in 1998 due to habitat loss and human disturbance, but this year it might be human intervention that keeps them from dying of dehydration. “We have documented cases where the only available water source has gone dry, and we’ve found just direct mortality, dead bighorn sheep in those areas,” said Jeff Villepique, a Senior Wildlife Biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Scientists in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park believe even the loss of a few sheep because of extremes drought conditions could be tragic for the recovery of the peninsular herd. With that in mind, several volunteer groups, multiple state agencies and the US Marine corps are working together to transport millions of gallons of water directly to all desert wildlife, in this case, deep into the park by helicopter. “It is kind of vast and untrodden and hard to get out there. So helicopter really helps us with the operation,” according to Dan McCamish a senior environmental scientist with California State Parks, Colorado Desert District. Villepique adds, “That area does not have any nearby alternatives. So the concern is that animals would die without this effort.” And Scott Gibson of “The society for the conservation of Bighorn Sheep” says “In the 30 year lifespan of this guzzler, we’ve never had to or nobody has ever had to haul water via helicopter before.” A fact that shows how unique these times are.

Anza Borrego has a series of “guzzlers” built in the 70s and 80s to supplement or replace lost water sources. The goal of the drinker systems is to catch rain, providing the isolated desert wildlife with water, but extreme drought conditions created a desperate need for something different. It’s expensive and dangerous for the pilots, and for the volunteers who hiked through the night to reach the guzzlers. “I think we’ve watered over 20 guzzlers by truck and pump method thus far, and we’ve also, with CalFire, hauled water in the clipper mountain range a few weeks ago,” said Gibson. McCamish adds, “We would prefer that the natural ecosystem provide for the system itself. But in instances like this, especially with a federally endangered species, we’re trying to take a little more care and making sure those population numbers don’t drop below a critical level.”

Creating a water lifeline for wildlife is an effort underway across several southwest states, but experts say it’s a temporary solution. If the drought doesn’t end, how can water be provided, when water itself becomes more scarce?

******

E & E News

Court orders feds to reconsider protections for Joshua trees

By Michael Doyle | 09/22/2021

Environmentalists won a notable victory this week with a federal judge’s order that the Fish and Wildlife Service reconsider extending Endangered Species Act protections to the iconic and stressed-out Joshua tree.

In a sharply worded opinion, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright II concluded the agency fumbled its analysis of a petition to list the desert species, calling the 2019 decision to deny protections “arbitrary and capricious.” He directed the agency to undertake a do-over.

“The Service’s findings regarding threats posed by climate change and wildfire are unsupported, speculative, or irrational,” Wright declared in his opinion issued Monday.

A George W. Bush appointee to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Wright granted WildEarth Guardians the win on summary judgment.

The environmental group says that recent scientific studies show climate change effects — including drought, wildfire and habitat loss — threaten the trees’ survival and are “poised to eradicate Joshua trees from much of their current range” by the end of the century.

“The Court’s decision represents a monumental step forward for the Joshua tree, but also for all climate-imperiled species whose fate relies upon the Service following the law and evaluating the best scientific data available with respect to forecasting future climate change impacts,” said Jennifer Schwartz, staff attorney for WildEarth Guardians.

Joshua trees are long-lived succulent plants found most famously in the Mojave Desert. Their current range comprises about 12 million acres and extends from parts of Arizona and Utah and west to southern Nevada and southeastern California.

In 2015, WildEarth Guardians filed a petition requesting that FWS list the Joshua tree as a threatened species.

In 2019, the Trump administration determined that listing the Joshua tree as threatened or endangered under the ESA was not warranted due to the species’ long life span, expansive ranges and distributions, and ability to inhabit myriad ecological settings (Greenwire, Aug. 14, 2019).

FWS evaluated what are now considered two distinct species of the Joshua tree, designated as Yucca brevifolia and Yucca jaegeriana.

“The Service found that individual trees could be impacted by threats from wildfire, climate change, and habitat loss, but concluded the species would not likely be affected at the population or species,” Wright recounted.

The judge was unconvinced, and critically noted FWS’ use of studies like one in which a Joshua tree leaf was placed in hot water to test supposed high-temperature resilience.

“In concluding that climate change will not affect Joshua trees at a population- or species level, the Service relies on speculation and unsupported assumptions,” Wright stated.

Wright elaborated that FWS “does not explain how leaf cell damage from hot water supports species tolerance at increased environmental temperatures in drought conditions, or how an isolated leaf can be extrapolated to the trees’ or the species’ responses.”

Moreover, Wright said the agency failed to explain “how a species that is historically ‘extremely limited’ in its ability to migrate will somehow save itself from the projected ‘massive declines’ in suitable habitat before the turn of the century.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment.

******

ABQ BIOPARK (Albuquerque, NM)

News Release

Plant Vandals Destroy Endangered Agave Titanota Cluster at the Garden

Some visitors have carved their initials into these plants, threatening their health and conservation of the species.

Sept. 22, 2021 – Plant vandals have all but killed a cluster of endangered agaves in the ABQ BioPark’s Desert Conservatory at the Botanic Garden.

“Our poor agaves look like graffiti walls at this point,” said Maria Thomas, ABQ BioPark plant curator. Some visitors have carved their initials and names into the Agave titanota, threatening their health and the conservation of the species, she said.

“It’s just really sad,” Thomas said. “We’re stewards of these plants. This vandalism not only puts these particular plants at risk, but it’s also concerning because this is an endangered species found only in a small area of southern Mexico.”

The Botanic Garden has been home to the Agave titanota for years, but staff started noticing carving here and there a little over a year ago. They responded by installing a sign that asked visitors not to carve into the agaves, but Thomas said that only seemed to make the situation worse. “The tagging increased tenfold,” she said.

The vandalism is affecting more than the aesthetics of the agaves; the damaged plants are now suffering from scale, a disease that impacts stressed plants and weakens them.

ABQ BioPark staff have removed some of the agaves to try to salvage them and to discourage further vandalism in the conservatory, where vandals have now moved on to tagging other plants. However, the cluster of agaves was difficult to move and one was lost in the process. Thomas said she hopes to produce some offshoots—baby plants—from the remaining adult agaves.

“It’s incredibly sad that we have to resort to moving our agaves, but hopefully we will be able to grow some new healthy plants,” Thomas said. “This has been very difficult for our garden staff, who put so much time and passion into caring for our plants. To see our collection defaced like this is disheartening.”

This species has been evaluated by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and is listed as endangered. As CITES protected species, vandalism to the Agave titanota is a federal crime and anyone who is caught damaging the plant can be prosecuted.

The ABQ BioPark is looking into installing motion detectors and/or cameras to catch anyone trying to deface any of the other plants in the conservatory. Thomas also encouraged visitors to speak up if they notice another visitor damaging plants at the garden by calling 311 or alerting garden staff.

******

Reuters

Tribes invoke treaties in lawsuit to halt Wisconsin wolf hunt

By Sebastien Malo, September 21, 2021

(Reuters) – Six tribes in northern Wisconsin sued the state in Madison federal court on Tuesday to stop a state-sanctioned November gray wolf hunt.

The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin and the other tribes claim the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ planned hunting season for the predator, whose endangered species protections were lifted in January, violates treaties signed with the U.S. government in the 19th century by nullifying their guaranteed share of natural resources.

DNR spokesperson Sarah Hoye said the agency is reviewing the lawsuit.

Gussie Lord, a lawyer with Earthjustice who represents the tribes, said in a statement, “The bands have asserted their treaty-protected rights to their share of the wolves to ensure that a healthy wolf population is protected in Wisconsin.”

The lawsuit follows a February wolf hunt during which hunters and trappers killed more than 200 wolves in about three days, twice the authorized quota for that hunt, according to the complaint.

Hunting enthusiasts only secured the February hunt after a judge in Wisconsin Circuit Court for Jefferson County sided with a pro-hunting group, Hunter Nation, earlier that month. The group had accused DNR of violating the state constitutional rights of Wisconsinites to hunt and trap game including gray wolves.

The tribes allege that the quota of 300 gray wolves set for the upcoming hunting season, scheduled to start on Nov. 6, will endanger the animal’s preservation because it is not based in sound science.

Management of the mammal following “sound biological principles” is a requirement established by precedent including in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, their complaint says.

But DNR’s quota calculation “was based on a modeling process that was flawed,” the complaint says, because “it lacked a reliable population estimate for the Wisconsin wolf population following the February 2021 hunt.”

The planned November hunt “effectively nullifies the Tribes’ treaty allocation of the wolf quota” by taking their share of the resource, they argue.

President Donald Trump’s administration removed the gray wolf from the list of Endangered Species Act-protected species on Nov. 3, saying it had been brought back successfully from the brink of extinction.

President Joe Biden, in a Jan. 20 executive order on the environment, included the delisting decision among those that agency heads must review.

DNR’s 2019-2020 midwinter count estimated that there were about 1,000 individual gray wolves in Wisconsin.

The case is Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin v. Cole, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, No. 3:21-cv-00597.

(For Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin et al: Christopher Clark of Earthjustice)

******

Mother Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

NPR/WFYI/PBS (Indianapolis)

Court Sets Deadline For Decision On Lake Sturgeon Endangered Species Listing

REBECCA THIELE, September 20, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Field and Stream

Wyoming Asks Federal Government to Delist Grizzlies from Endangered Species Act

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

BY Sage Marshall | UPDATED Sept. 20, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

FLAGLERLIVE.com (Palm Coast, FL)

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

SEPTEMBER 19, 2021, By Adrian Newton

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dipterocarps

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

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

Agarwood

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

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

African Cherry

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

Mahogany

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

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

Pacific yew

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

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

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

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

******

CBC News/British Columbia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Cherokee Phoenix (Tahlequah, OK)

US tribes demand emergency protection for wolves

The Associated Press, 9/18/21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

County 17 (Gillette, WY)

Gordon optimistic grizzlies will be removed from Endangered Species Act

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

(this story originally appeared on Cowboy State Daily)

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

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

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

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

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

Agreement

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

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

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

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

The push for delisting has been ongoing for years.

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

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

Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geography

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

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

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

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

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

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

Management

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

Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich praised the governor on Thursday.

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

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

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

Federal Support

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

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

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

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

******

Pinedale Roundup (Pinedale, WY)

Feds consider relisting wolf as endangered species

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Lake Sturgeon Will Get Endangered Species Decision in 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

******

CoastalView.com (Carpinteria, CA)

FEMA to protect endangered species, settles with environmental groups

CVN Report, Sept. 15, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Australian Broadcasting Corporation (Sydney)

Endangered eastern barred bandicoot rescued from the brink of extinction

By Melissa Brown, Posted14 Sept. 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoo breeding program ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

PENNLive.com (Mechanicsburg PA)

Study finds that illegal cannabis farms endanger wildlife

By Claudia Dimuro |September 13, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

USA Today

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

Jordan Mendoza, USA TODAY, September 13, 2021

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

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

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

So why is the species in danger? Climate change.

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

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

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

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

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

******

The Hill

Elon Musk’s SpaceX vs. the environmentalists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

WFMZ-TV/69 News (Allentown, PA)

Northern goshawk listed on endangered species list

69 News, Sept. 12, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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

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

Posted 10 Sept. 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Survival of the fittest’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Labrador of the sea’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vital to a healthy ocean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI)

Wisconsin lawmakers draft bill to end mandatory wolf hunt

Chris Hubbuch | Wisconsin State Journal, September 9, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Petition Seeks U.S. Protections for Atlantic Humpback Dolphin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Colorado Politics

Colorado environmental groups want to keep protections for the razorback sucker

By JOEY BUNCH, Sept. 8, 2021

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

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

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

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

The 60-day period for public comment ended Tuesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Office of Senator Susan Collins

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

Press Release, Posted 09/07/2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Cornell Chronicle/Cornell University

Coyotes studied as stand-ins for endangered ferrets

By Isabel Jimenez | September 7, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Center for Biological Diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

******

Voice of America

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

By Phil Mercer, September 07, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Environmental groups have broadly welcomed the zero extinction initiative.

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

September 6, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Underweight orcas; elevated risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Steps for Whales

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

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

******

The Guardian

Third of shark and ray species face extinction, warns study

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

By Karen McVeigh, September 6, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

National Geographic

These popular tuna species are no longer endangered, surprising scientists

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

BY JASON BITTEL, September 6, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How science is saving marvels of the sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope for Komodo dragons

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

India Times

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

Monit Khanna, Sept. 04, 2021

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

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

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

Indian Wolves are unique

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

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

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

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

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

Saving Indian Wolves From Extinction

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

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

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

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

******

Australian Broadcasting Corporation (Sydney)-AP

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

Posted Sat 4 Sep 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“C’mon everybody,” he said.

“Let’s get to work.”

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

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

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

******

PHYS-ORG

New project to track endangered species coming back from brink

by Kelly MacNamara, September 4, 2021

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

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

Some 28 percent are currently at risk of vanishing forever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Invisible’ work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Critical Habitat Proposed for Rare South Florida Beetle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

E&E News/Greenwire

Ariz. mine developer loses bid to shrink jaguar habitat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Sustainability Times

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

By Daniel T Cross on September 2, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Mongabay

Studies debunk ‘nature is healing’ narrative from 2020 lockdowns

by Jansen Baier on 1 September 2021

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

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

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

Air pollution and lockdowns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Animals run wild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The environment post-COVID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Citations:

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

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

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

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

******

The Sacramento Bee

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

BY MARGO ROSENBAUM, August 31, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHY IS THE FOX POPULATION ENDANGERED?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHICH FOXES SHOULD BE PROTECTED?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT IS THE FUTURE FOR RED FOXES IN THE SIERRA?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Oak Ridger (Oak Ridge, TN)

Snail darter, tiny and notorious, is no longer endangered

KIMBERLEE KRUES, Associated Press, August 31, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Center for Biological Diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

The Chronicle (Centralia, WA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loss of prey, habitat

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

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

Wildfires also have degraded habitat in Eastern Washington.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hawks and wind farms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

California Department of Fish & Wildlife

News Release, August 28, 2021

Information Received Regarding Gray Wolf In Kern County

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

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

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

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

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

Gray wolves pose very little safety risk to humans. CDFW is working to monitor and conserve California’s small wolf population and is collaborating with livestock producers and diverse stakeholders to minimize wolf-livestock conflicts.

Gray wolf management in California is guided by CESA as well as CDFW’s Conservation Plan for Gray Wolves in California, finalized in 2016. More information is available on CDFW’s wolf web page.

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

******

Oregon Public Broadcasting

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

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

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

Columbia River steelhead are in hot water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Denver Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

E&E News/Greenwire

EPA: Bee-killing pesticide harms most endangered species

By Marc Heller, 08/27/2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Biden admin actions on pesticides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Center for Biological Diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

EcoWatch

EPA Takes Action to Protect Pacific Salmon From Pesticides

By Olivia Rosane, August 25, 2021

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

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

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

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

Common Sense Measures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kicking and Screaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

New Scientist

Endangered bettong reintroduced in Australia after more than a century

24 August 2021, By Alice Klein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Courthouse News Service

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

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

MATTHEW RENDA, August 24, 2021

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

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

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

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

China’s permitting process has been equally ineffective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

WildEarth Guardians Release

Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission votes to exterminate wolves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

Posted: Aug 23, 2021 by Jamie Parfitt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

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

Adrian Hedden, August 20, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

CBS News

Biden administration backs ending regulations protecting gray wolves

Alexandra Larkin, August 20, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Montana, the state’s Republican-led House of Representatives passed two bills in March which would allow snares, wires that tighten around a prey’s neck, to be set for wolves, and would extend wolf trapping season for an additional 30 days — even though there are only an estimated 850 wolves throughout the state, according to The Associated Press.

The Humane Society of the United States has argued that Montana is waging “an outright war against wildlife.” Amanda Wight, program manager for wildlife protection for the Humane Society, said Montana’s lack of regulations will cause “a mass slaughter of wildlife, jeopardy to ecosystems, and a steep loss to the massive tourism economy and local jobs.”

Idaho has also loosened some of their hunting regulations, The Associated Press reported. The state now allows practices like hunting at night and from the air, as well as paying bounties for dead wolves, a tactic that once helped lead them to near-extinction.

Tim Preso, lead attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice’s lawsuit to restore protections for wolves outside of the Northern Rockies, told the AP that he was disappointed in the Biden administration’s choice.

“Why should we hammer the population back down and lose all the gains that have been made before any kind of remedial action? The writing’s on the wall. Montana and Idaho are clear on what they’re intending and Wisconsin is right behind them.”

Republican state officials have said they aim to reduce the gray wolf population to preserve herds of large deer, bison and elk that are prized for hunting, as well as protecting farm animals, the AP reported. The Endangered Species Act has long been considered too powerful by some Republican lawmakers, who believe that the Act’s restrictions on land use are too severe.

******

Now This

Emperor Penguins Could be Listed as Endangered Species

By Tim Ahern, 8/19/2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has proposed to list the emperor penguin as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act to protect it from the threats of melting sea ice in a changing climate. ‘The decisions made by policymakers today and during the next few decades will determine the fate of the emperor penguin,’ said FWS Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams.

The proposal coincides with the publication of a study in the journal Global Change Biology that examined the impact of climate change on the species. The study determined that by 2050, regardless of any changes to emissions, ‘the emperor penguin will be in danger of extinction throughout a significant portion of its range.’ It’s thought that if existing policies and trends continue without cuts to emissions, the species faces extinction throughout its entire range.

A threatened designation would allow the FWS to issue regulations necessary to conserve the species while there is still time to act. The FWS is asking for public comment on the proposed rule and will consider comments submitted by October 3. Comments can be submitted by visiting: go.nowth.is/threatened-penguin.

******

Politico

Court orders Biden administration to redo ‘legally flawed’ reviews of Conoco Alaska oil project

Judge Sharon Gleason wrote that the exclusion of foreign greenhouse gas emissions in an alternatives analysis was “arbitrary and capricious.”

By BEN LEFEBVRE, August 18, 2021

A federal court on Wednesday ordered the Biden administration to re-do environmental reviews necessary for permits for a controversial Alaskan oil project, throwing the decision to approve the project back to the agencies.

Details: The ruling out of the United States District Court for the District of Alaska voided several environmental reviews of the ConocoPhillips Willow project approved under the Trump administration, calling the analysis behind them “legally flawed.” Among the parts of the review the court singled out were those made by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service.

“BLM’s exclusion of foreign greenhouse gas emissions in its alternatives analysis in the [review] was arbitrary and capricious,” Judge Sharon Gleason wrote in the opinion.

The court also ruled that the endangered species review FWS made under the previous administration ”is not in accordance with the law because it lacks the requisite specificity of mitigation measures for the polar bear.”

“Because the Court concludes that portions of FWS’s biological opinion are invalid, BLM’s reliance on it is unlawful,” the court concluded.

Environmental groups and Alaskan tribes that had been fighting the project hailed the court decision.

“Today’s court win recognizes that our land and our people deserve dignity and a pursuit of greater meaning,” said Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic.

But the decision also generated outrage from Republican elected officials backing the project, including Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, who called on government lawyers to appeal the decision.

“The Biden Administration needs to keep its commitment to the Alaskan people by continuing to defend the Willow project in court for the sake of American energy,” Sullivan said via a statement through his office.

“Make no mistake, today’s ruling from a federal judge trying to shelve a major oil project on American soil does one thing: outsources production to dictatorships & terrorist organizations,” Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a statement published Wednesday. “This is a horrible decision.”

An Interior spokesperson said the department is analyzing the decision.

“In a lengthy decision, the district court identified a number of issues in the environmental reviews and approvals issued in 2020,” the spokesperson said in a written statement.

Background: The judgment comes after environmental groups and Alaska natives had panned the Biden administration’s decision to continue defending the project from lawsuits filed during the previous administration. The project was championed by Sullivan and Alaska’s other Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski.

The Willow project is one of the few new large-scale drilling projects planned for the Arctic. ConocoPhillips’ plans calls for five wells that collectively could produce up to 160,000 barrels of oil a day. The development would include a new gravel mine, airstrip, more than 570 miles of ice roads and nearly 320 miles of pipeline to the Alaskan landscape.

“We will review the decision and evaluate the options available regarding this project,” a ConocoPhillips spokesperson said in a statement.

******

Escalon Times (Oakdale, CA)

Voluntary Drought Initiative Designed To Protect Fish

Published: Aug 18, 2021, 5:04 PM

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries announced a Voluntary Drought Initiative recently designed to protect populations of salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon from the effects of the current unprecedented drought.

The initiative provides a framework for water users to enter into individual agreements with the two agencies to maintain enough water for fish spawning and survival, and implement other collaborative actions like fish rescue, relocation, monitoring, and habitat restoration. In return, landowners and water users will benefit from a simplified permitting process under the federal and state endangered species laws and may receive incidental take authorizations for California Endangered Species Act (CESA)-listed fish in case a participant unintentionally takes a listed fish species. While individual agreements under this initiative expire Dec. 31, 2021 and may be renewed on an annual basis, prospective participants may enroll at any time.

“This severe drought impacts all of California and presents unique challenges for salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon listed under the Endangered Species Act,” said Barry Thom, Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries, West Coast Region. “To help imperiled fish survive these conditions, we are asking private landowners to work with us and CDFW to implement actions that may protect sensitive aquatic ecosystems as part of a Voluntary Drought Initiative.”

As an example of how the initiative can be beneficial, in 2014 CDFW worked with Los Molinas Mutual Water Company on Mill Creek in Tehama County. The company provided access through its properties for fish population monitoring and provided flows in the creek for the benefit of spring-run Chinook salmon.

“Drought conditions create substantial challenges for many landowners or water users throughout California,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “NOAA and CDFW have found that open dialogue with drought-affected landowners or water users regarding voluntary steps to reduce significant risks to federal- and state-listed species from drought has been an effective way to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.”

A nearly identical initiative was created during the drought of 2014, but that agreement only applied to a few priority watersheds like the Klamath, Russian, and Sacramento/San Joaquin and it concluded with the end of the drought. The new Voluntary Drought Initiative does not expire but will instead be considered a “living document” that can be updated by NOAA Fisheries and CDFW at any time. Additionally, the new, ongoing initiative allows for agreements in any watershed within the state containing salmon, steelhead, or sturgeon listed under the federal Endangered Species Act or CESA, when and where determined a high priority by CDFW or NOAA Fisheries.

The initiative is separate from actions the State Water Resources Control Board may take under its authorities, or independent actions that it may pursue related to droughts, including emergency curtailments. Individual agreements cannot supersede water right priorities under the authority of the State Water Resources Control Board.

The Voluntary Drought Initiative represents the shared vision of NOAA Fisheries and CDFW that voluntary, collaborative solutions memorialized in writing can best minimize the impacts of water use on participating individuals and entities as well as vulnerable species, while providing improved regulatory certainty for local communities during drought.

******

Monterey Herald (Monterey, CA)

State advises that leatherbacks along Central Coast be listed as endangered

By DENNIS L. TAYLOR, Monterey Herald, August 18, 2021

MONTEREY — Leatherback sea turtles that migrate through waters off the Central Coast have been recommended for endangered species status by state wildlife officials.

The recommendation Monday by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to list leatherbacks as a state endangered species comes before an October vote by the California Fish and Game Commission.

Being listed as endangered means they are on a fast track to extinction, according to Fish and Wildlife reports (https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/CESA/FESA)

The reptiles, which can be traced back to the era of dinosaurs, are already protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. If the commission approves the recommendation, then they will receive added protection under state law.

The number of leatherback turtles that feed in Central California waters has declined by 80% during the last two decades, according to research out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.

There are an estimated 50 of these turtles in California waters, compared to 178 during the years 1990 to 2003, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Last year whale-watching trips spotted three in Monterey Bay,

“The state report makes it clear that entanglement in fishing gear is the biggest threat to leatherback sea turtles,” said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney for the Center, in a press release.

Depending on the size of gill-net meshing, animals can become entangled around their necks, mouths and flippers, according to NOAA Fisheries, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Entanglement can prevent proper feeding, constrict growth or cause infections. Marine mammals entangled in set gill nets can drown.

They are called gill nets because when a fish enters the meshing and then tries to retreat, its gills become caught in the mesh. These nets are deployed outside of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary but can catch migratory marine wildlife, like leatherbacks, that come into the sanctuary waters each year.

Off the Central Coast, the target species for gill nets are swordfish, sharks and tuna. But they also have ensnared humpback and endangered fin whales, porpoises and dolphins, and seals and sea lions, in addition to leatherback sea turtles, NOAA Fisheries reports.

But there are many causes for their decline, not just entanglements. Arguably the more serious threat comes on the other side of the Pacific Ocean where state and federal listings are moot.

A subset of leatherbacks that hatches on beaches in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands migrate 7,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean to the cold waters off the U.S. west coast, where they gorge on jellyfish before swimming back.

Clutches of eggs are often illegally poached from the beaches of these South Pacific islands, and the offspring that do hatch sometimes become attracted to beach resort lighting, so they crawl away from the sea instead of toward it, according to NOAA Fisheries. Adults are also victims of poaching. They are also susceptible to marine pollution and debris, sometimes ingesting plastic marine litter.

Scientists are often amazed at leatherbacks’ trans-Pacific migration.

“There are birds that go farther, but they fly. There’s a whale shark that might swim a little further, but it doesn’t have to come up for air. This animal is actually pushing water all the way across the Pacific Ocean,” said Scott Benson, an ecologist with the NOAA’s fisheries service in Monterey, who has studied the turtles for decades. “It’s just a majestic animal.”

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Agreement Reached to Protect Endangered Species From Livestock on Arizona, New Mexico Waterways

SILVER CITY, N.M.—(August 18, 2021)–The Center for Biological Diversity, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached an agreement today to protect rivers and streams in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico from cattle grazing. This agreement comes more than 20 years after the agencies first promised to keep cows off these riparian habitats to safeguard rare plants and animals.

The waterways are home to numerous endangered and threatened species, including southwestern willow flycatchers, yellow-billed cuckoos, Gila chub, loach minnow and spikedace fish, Chiricahua leopard frogs, and narrow-headed and northern Mexican garter snakes.

“This should finally keep livestock from trampling these fragile southwestern rivers,” said Brian Segee, endangered species legal director at the Center. “Habitat destruction and invasive species have put nearly all the region’s aquatic species at risk. It’s our hope that the simple step of removing cattle from these waterways will give imperiled species a fighting chance at survival and recovery.”

Today’s three-year agreement requires the Forest Service to ensure that more than 150 miles of streamside endangered species habitat in Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and the Gila National Forest in New Mexico will be protected from cattle grazing. The area covers 42 grazing allotments in the two national forests.

The Forest Service has agreed to monitor riparian areas, maintain and repair fencing, and remove trespass cattle when detected by the agency, the Center or the public. The agency also pledged to devise ways to address invasive species and other conservation challenges facing imperiled southwestern species.

The rivers covered by the suit include the Gila, San Francisco, Tularosa and Blue rivers.

In a historic 1998 legal settlement with the Center, the Forest Service agreed to prohibit domestic livestock grazing from these and other streamside habitats while it conducted a long-overdue consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service on the impacts of grazing on threatened and endangered species.

Beginning in 2017 Center staff and contractors conducted surveys that found widespread, severe cattle damage — including manure and flattened streambanks — on all major waterways in both national forests, imperiling several rare species.

In January 2020 the Center sued the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service for violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing cattle to trample the rivers and streams. Today’s agreement settles that lawsuit.

“We hope this agreement renews the agency’s commitment to protecting endangered wildlife and our spectacular public lands,” said Segee. “The government agrees with us that livestock grazing and endangered species don’t mix. It’s too bad it took another lawsuit to force the Forest Service to keep cows off southwestern rivers, but let’s hope this time it’ll stick.”

The agencies have repeatedly confirmed that livestock grazing in arid southwestern landscapes destroys riparian habitat and imperils native fish, birds and other animals dependent on that habitat. Poorly managed livestock grazing, persistent drought, dewatering, global warming and invasive species have taken an increasing toll on southwestern rivers. This has resulted in the recent federal protection of several additional threatened or endangered species that depend on southwestern riparian areas, including two species of garter snake, the cuckoo and the leopard frog.

******

The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA)

Thousands of endangered coho salmon moved from Lake Sonoma hatchery amid rising water temperatures

GUY KOVNER, The Press-Democrat, August 18, 2021

As Lake Sonoma plummeted to record low levels this summer, the water has warmed enough to threaten the coho salmon raised in the state hatchery at the base of its 319-foot dam northwest of Healdsburg.

With signs of disease appearing in the juvenile coho, an endangered species in the Russian River, federal biologists took an unprecedented step in the local watershed: trucking about 2,000 fish nearly 50 miles south to a student-operated hatchery at Casa Grande High School in Petaluma.

“They’re welcome here,” Dan Hubacker, a science teacher and director of the school’s 38-year-old United Anglers program, said after the final load of 92 fish arrived Tuesday afternoon. “We’re here to help.”

The remarkable strategy comes during a severe statewide drought and escalating climate change that has crimped water supplies to North Bay farms and cities and caused rural wells to run dry.

Further north, Chinook and coho salmon have suffered a massive kill on the Klamath River due to record low precipitation, and state officials have trucked millions of hatchery-raised juvenile Chinook salmon from the Sacramento River to San Pablo Bay and San Francisco Bay in hopes of averting a complete die-off.

Ben White, the supervisory fisheries biologist at Lake Sonoma’s Warm Springs Hatchery, said water temperatures edged into the low-60s last week about 10 degrees above the ideal level for coho salmon, which need cold, clear water to thrive.

Fish afflicted by pathogens had to be treated with chemicals and none perished, but the expansive hatchery — with 20-foot wide round green tanks clustered under a roof the size of an aircraft hangar — lacks a chiller to offset the heat, he said.

The water has since cooled a bit, but White determined to transfer half the juvenile coho intended for breeding to Casa Grande.

“We wanted to be proactive,” he said. “You don’t want to wait too long.”

California coho are “on the brink of extinction,” he noted, while coho in Oregon and farther north remain plentiful enough to continue closely regulated sport fishing.

Hatchery-bred fish are released into about 20 tributaries in the lower Russian River watershed so their offspring will return to those streams instead of the hatchery on Dry Creek.

The final batch of fish dropped off at Casa Grande were six- to eight-inch juveniles, one and a half years old, that will return from the ocean to spawn in the winter of 2022-23, he said.

Each female coho releases more than 2,000 eggs that will result in up to 1,000 offspring.

Shannon Bockmon, a fisheries biologist, donned waders to net the juveniles in a tank with knee-deep water.

“Those are the smartest ones,” White called out as the last five coho repeatedly evaded capture.

At Casa Grande’s more modest hatchery, Hubacker said, “I thought I’d never see the day coho are in this building.”

The United Anglers’ mission has focused on restoring steelhead in the Petaluma watershed, starting with nearby Adobe Creek.

But when the call for help came from the Warm Springs facility to it was “all hands on deck,” said Hubacker, a Casa graduate in 2000 who was a United Anglers member.

The campus hatchery draws water from a 500-foot well and has chillers to assure the proper temperature.

Hudson Naber, a senior in his second year with United Anglers, said it was “a privilege” to help the coho.

Dillon Arellanes, a classmate, said each truckload of fish was a thrill for him, “like a kid in a candy store.”

******

Newsweek

Conservation Groups Threaten to Sue after 900 Manatee Deaths

BY SARA SANTORA, August 16, 2021

More than 900 manatees have died in the state of Florida so far this year, a little more than double last year’s numbers. In response to the staggering data, several conservation groups announced plans to file a lawsuit against the federal government over critical habitat areas for the species. The notice of intent comes one week after it was reported that two Florida congressmen said they introduced legislation that would grant manatees with endangered status.

On Monday, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Save the Manatee Club filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) over violations of both the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). In the letter shared by the Center for Biological Diversity, the groups alleged that FWS failed to update designated critical habitat areas for the Florida manatee in accordance with federal law.

“Revised critical habitat is necessary to provide these imperiled marine mammals life-saving protections, to enhance their recovery, and to reduce the risk of their extinction,” the letter reads.

FWS designated critical habitat for the Florida manatee in 1976; however, the groups claim that amendments made to the ESA in 1978 required that critical habitat areas take into account “physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the species.”

But the groups also claim that FWS never updated critical habitat areas to include those considerations, and as a result, “the critical habitat designations for the Florida manatee only list specific waterways known to be concentration areas for manatees in 1976, and not any of the physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation of the species.”

As it turns out, these specifications go a long way in protecting the species.

According to research cited in the letter, manatees face several “habitat-based threats,” including the loss of warm water refuge and poor water quality. Additional threats include boat strikes and the loss of seagrass, which manatees rely upon as a food source.

“At least 50 percent of these deaths have been in the Indian River Lagoon where the suspected cause of mortality is starvation and malnutrition due to nutrient pollution killing off local seagrass in important warm water refuge,” the letter continues.

They also report that 70 of this year’s deaths were a result of boat strikes.

“We are deeply concerned about and actively involved in the protection of the Florida manatee and its habitat,” the letter concludes. “We are eager to address these violations without the need for litigation and to discuss with FWS prospects for amicable resolution of these issues at the earliest possible date.

“If FWS does not act within 60 days to correct these violations, however, we will have no choice but to pursue litigation in federal court.”

Last week, Florida Representatives Vern Buchanan and Darren Soto introduced legislation to grant manatees endangered status. If passed, the legislation would allow for an increase in federal funding to protect the species.

“Manatees are beloved, iconic mammals in Florida,” said Representative Buchanan in last week’s statement. “This year’s record-breaking number of manatee deaths is staggering and extremely concerning, which is why upgrading their ESA status is absolutely critical.”

Representative Soto added: “These mass deaths should alarm us all and incite us to take immediate action to protect these precious mammals.”

******

ABC News

Giant panda gives birth in rare event for endangered species

August 16, 2021

A Chinese giant panda at a Singapore wildlife park has given birth to a cub — the first born in the South-East Asian country and a rare event for an endangered species.

Pandas Kai Kai, 13, and Jia Jia, 12, entered their seventh breeding season in April this year with the aid of artificial insemination, after arriving in Singapore in 2012 on a decade-long loan from China.

Weighing about 200 grams, the cub was born on Saturday but the sex has yet to be determined, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) told Reuters, adding mother and cub were doing well.

WRS said female giant pandas can display hormonal and behavioural signs of pregnancy even when not pregnant, but the organisation detected signs last month that a cub was on the way and Jia Jia’s pregnancy was confirmed on August 10.

“Our vet picked up on ultrasound, not only a clear outline of a foetus but one with a strong heartbeat,” WRS said.

The newborn will appear in public in about three months.

Giant pandas loaned to Japan and France have also given birth to cubs this year.

China has been sending its black and white ambassadors abroad in a sign of goodwill since the 1950s as part of what is known as “panda diplomacy.”

******

PR Newswire/IFAW

Wildlife Trafficking Thrives in US Digital Market

Complex laws, legal loopholes, and savvy traders bolster proliferation of illegal wildlife market; Protective measures fall short of providing a remedy

NEWS PROVIDED BY International Fund for Animal Welfare, August 16, 2021

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — In a new report released today by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), online investigators uncovered nearly 1,200 advertisements for close to 2,400 animals, parts, derivatives, or products of threatened species despite current protections under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The report entitled Digital Markets: Wildlife Trafficking Hidden in Plain Sight, details the findings following a six-week investigation of advertisements posted on 34 US-based online marketplaces with the goal of gaining a broad understanding of the nature of the online trade in protected wildlife species in the US. The report excludes social media sites.

“These findings are a clear indication that online wildlife trafficking remains highly active and a significant challenge in the US,” said Mark Hofberg, Campaigns Officer, IFAW. “An environment of complex laws and regulations, the inherent anonymity of the internet, as well as exceptions and loopholes that allow savvy traders to circumvent restrictions, are all factors that have allowed the proliferation of the sale of protected wildlife species on online platforms despite laws and protective measures in place.”

Of the three most common types of advertisements found:

*Nearly half (44%) were identified as elephant ivory, a decline from 2008 levels (73%), though surprisingly high considering the implementation of laws and regulations regarding elephant ivory since that time;

*Over one-quarter (27%) of all advertisements were for trophies and taxidermy products, including skins, skulls, claws, or other animal parts primarily for display, half of which were for species only found in the wild outside of the US (giraffes, African lions, caracals, and several primate species); and

*Live animals to be sold as exotic pets made up 19% of total advertisements, with birds, reptiles and mammals (44%, 40%, and 16% respectively) comprising the bulk of live animals sold. Live animals tended to be of higher value and made up a large share of the overall dollar value recorded, with nearly three fourths of the 34 advertisements for protected wildlife species valued at USD 10,000 or higher.

Digital Markets: Wildlife Trafficking Hidden in Plain Sight, is a follow-up to the 2008 report Killing with Keystrokes, representing a continuation of IFAW’s work to both monitor online wildlife trafficking while taking steps to shut it down. This includes collaborating with online marketplaces to improve their policies to reduce wildlife trafficking, implementing trainings of government enforcement officers on the latest techniques and trends for detecting trafficking, working with communities to reduce poaching, and ultimately reducing demand. Report comparisons show that the demand for live turtles, tortoises, wild cats and primates has proliferated since 2008.

“The loss of wildlife from illegal trade is devastating species that are a critical part of the complex web of life which we rely on for clean air, climate change mitigation, clean water, flood mitigation, soil health, and other critical ecosystem functions,” added Hofberg. Further, the number one risk factor for zoonotic disease spillover to people is sustained contact with wild animals, especially animals that are in close confines and in stressful conditions which are key features of wildlife trade. “The US government must prioritize wildlife trafficking in new legislation that closes loopholes in existing policy to safeguard both the future of such wildlife as well as our own.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Challenge Filed Over Vermont’s Refusal to Protect Endangered Bats From Deadly Insecticide Spraying

MONTPELIER, Vt.—(August 16, 2021) The Vermont Natural Resources Council and Center for Biological Diversity sued Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources today for refusing to require the Brandon-Leicester-Salisbury-Goshen-Pittsford Insect Control District to apply for permission to harm five threatened and endangered Vermont bat species.

The Insect Control District sprays the toxic insecticides malathion and permethrin for mosquito control in the habitat of the Indiana bat, northern long-eared bat, little brown bat, eastern small-footed bat and tricolored bat, all of which are protected by Vermont’s Protection of Endangered Species Act. The coalition, along with numerous allies and supporters, provided the state agency with an expert report by Arrowwood Environmental in 2019 detailing how the district’s activities harm or can kill these imperiled bats, already threatened by white-nose syndrome and habitat loss.

“Vermont’s endangered species experts have spoken clearly,” said Mason Overstreet, staff attorney at Vermont Law School’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic. “Poorly regulated pesticide spraying is putting the state’s threatened and endangered bats at risk. ANR’s decision to ignore both the scientific consensus and the plain-preventative language of Vermont’s endangered species law abandons their responsibility to protect vulnerable wildlife.”

The pesticide spraying occurs on summer nights when bats are hunting for flying insects. Flying low through the chemical plume of pesticides, the bats are exposed to toxic droplets that they can inhale, absorb through their thin-skinned wing membranes, or get on their fur and later ingest while grooming. They can also catch and eat flying insects contaminated with the chemicals. These pesticides are known to cause neurological and physiological stress and injury to bats.

“Vermont’s Endangered Species Act is a critical law for protecting animal species from a variety of threats, including being poisoned by toxic chemicals,” said Brian Shupe, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council. “ANR generally does a commendable job of protecting endangered resources, but in this instance needs to step up and apply this law to an activity that places these endangered bats at significant risk.”

In March of 2021 the Endangered Species Committee, a scientific advisory group to the secretary of the state’s natural resource agency and the commissioner of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, unanimously and formally recommended to the agency that it require the insect-control district to begin the incidental-take permitting process to continue spraying the pesticides.

The biologists stressed that the Agency of Natural Resources was the only state body with the expertise and authority to protect bats and that a permit was the only mechanism available. The committee’s evaluation process included an independent scientific review by its Mammal Scientific Advisory Group. However, on July 19, 2021, the agency formally denied the recommendation to require a permit.

“There’s no doubt that Vermont’s refusal to follow science and the law will result in these amazing, imperiled animals being harmed by toxic insecticides,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Given that bats actually help to regulate mosquito populations, the state’s reckless decision to allow them to be killed in order to kill mosquitoes is a shortsighted choice that will cause long-term harm. It leaves us no choice but to go to court to protect them.”

The groups are represented by Mason Overstreet of Vermont Law School’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic and Ron Shems, Esq., Tarrant, Gillies, Richardson, & Shems LLP.

******

The Western News (Libby, MT)

Commissioners back feds in lawsuit over wolverines

By DERRICK PERKINS, Editor, August 13, 2021

The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners last month waded into civil litigation between the federal government and a coalition of conservation groups over the status of the nation’s wolverine population. Commissioners voted unanimously July 28 to approve a resolution to join other counties and organizations in backing a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision against designating the wolverine as a threatened species.

County Commissioner Josh Letcher (D-3) compared the resolution to a “friend of the court” brief.

“We’re just throwing our support in,” said County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2) of the resolution.

Conservation groups have pushed the federal government for decades to place wolverines under the Endangered Species Act, filing multiple lawsuits against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2013, the federal agency agreed to consider the move, but backed away last October, citing new research.

“New information from genetic and observational studies shows that wolverines in the lower 48 are connected to populations in Canada and Alaska, these populations interact on some level, and migration and breeding is possible between groups,” reads a press release issued by U.S. Fish and Wildlife that month. “Wolverines in the lower 48 states do not qualify as a distinct population segment and they are instead an extension of the population of wolverines found further north.”

As evidence, the agency held up a species status assessment, independent peer-reviewed report and an evaluation of the species’ potential stressors.

The decision leaves management of the wolverine up to state and tribal governments.

In December, a coalition of conservation groups banded together to challenge the ruling.

Western Environmental Law Center is spearheading the effort, drawing support from Wild Swan, Swan View Coalition, WildEarth Guardians, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Footloose Montana, according to earlier coverage by the Daily Inter Lake. The groups argue that shrinking mountain snowpack caused by climate change represents a major threat to the species, but also cites trapping and human disturbance as risk factors. “No greater level of certainty is needed to see the writing on the wall for this snow-dependent species standing squarely in the path of global climate change,” said attorney Matthew Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center in a prepared statement last year.

“It has taken us 20 years to get to this point.

It is the [court’s] view that if there is one thing required of the Service under the Endangered Species Act, it is to take action at the earliest possible, defensible point in time to protect against the loss of biodiversity within our reach as a nation,” he said. “For the wolverine, that time is now.”

As part of the resolution, the commissioners also added their support to the government in another lawsuit, that one concerning Canada lynx.

The suit, filed by a few of the same groups in the wolverine case, comes several years after U.S. Fish and Wildlife announced it planned to remove the threatened species tag from the lynx, according to the Associated Press.

The resolution allows the county to obtain intervener or amicus curiae status in both cases, but spares it from any legal costs, which instead be borne by the nonprofit groups opposing the lawsuit.

Bennett said he attended hearings on the wolverine several years ago. At the time, it did not appear as though the wolverine was endangered. “From what I remember of the hearings, it was scientifically proven that they weren’t endangered where they were at,” he said last month.

Letcher made the motion to approve the resolution and Bennett offered a second before it went to a vote.

******

Kentucky Today

Plant native to Ky., Tenn. off endangered list

By TOM LATEK, Kentucky Today, August 13, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – A plant native to only a small part of Kentucky and Tennessee has recovered enough that it is being removed from the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Found only in a small portion of the Cumberland Plateau in southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee, the Cumberland Sandwort was headed toward extinction before it was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1988, according to the agency. That’s when the two states, federal agencies and conservation groups stepped in to protect and restore this unique plant.

At the time it was placed on the list, the service was aware of only 28 occurrences of the plant. The species faced threats from overuse or destruction of habitat from recreational activities in the sandstone cliff lines where it occurs. Land protection and habitat management by diverse partners have been vital to protecting and recovering the sandwort. 

“Partnerships are the key to the success of the Endangered Species Act,” said Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, Fish and Wildlife Service regional director.  “Playing critical roles in the recovery of this delicate flower were the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, states of Tennessee and Kentucky, Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden and Missouri Botanical Garden. Thanks to these efforts, future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy the sandwort and the plants and animals that share its habitat.”

Conservation actions on behalf of the sandwort included installing signs, fencing and boardwalks to educate visitors about public lands and plant protection. Today, sandwort populations are healthy and stable and are found in 71 places.

To help ensure the Cumberland sandwort remains secure from the risk of extinction after it is delisted, the service will work with partners to implement a post-delisting monitoring plan, which will define thresholds for monitoring of sandwort populations for at least five years.

******

Kansas Reflector

Wildlife officials say Topeka shiner is no longer endangered, suggest listing as threatened

When it was listed as endangered in 1998, researchers believed the fish’s range had dropped by as much as 80%

By ALLISON KITE, August 12, 2021

Federal wildlife officials are recommending the Topeka shiner be removed from the list of endangered species after successful conservation projects gave the fish a “brighter and more sustainable future,” they announced Thursday.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released findings from a five-year review and recommended the fish be listed as threatened rather than endangered. The agency also issued a recovery plan to keep working on building the fish’s population.

Matt Hogan, acting regional director for USFWS, thanked state agencies across the Midwest for working with federal officials to save the fish.

“We are excited to say the recovery actions by conservation partners have led to the recommendation to reclassify the species to threatened status,” Hogan said.

The Topeka shriner is a type of minnow that was once common across the Great Plains. It’s about three inches long with silvery scales and a dark stripe along its side. The fish primarily resides in small prairie streams and off-channel pools and wetlands, but it has lost habitat, primarily to agriculture. When it was listed as endangered in 1998, researchers believed the fish’s range had dropped by as much as 80%.

Since that time, conservation efforts have helped move the fish from endangered to threatened, but it still faces threats, particularly at the southern end of its range in Kansas and Missouri. Its population loss has been especially severe in Kansas and Missouri, the southern end of its range, but it has fared better in the northern Great Plains.

According to the agency’s five-year review, a major issue facing the fish is the fragmentation of wetlands by dams, low-water crossings, culverts, bridges and channelization. The fish also faces depletion of water resources in its range.

“The currently highly modified agricultural landscape both demands water and sends it through the system at significantly increase rate; a water cycle that once took 500 years to complete may now take less than 30 as wetlands are drained, streams are channelized, fields are tilled and aquifers are depleted,” the report says.

******

New York Times

Wisconsin More Than Doubles Wolf-Hunting Quota, Angering Conservationists

The state’s Natural Resources Board will allow 300 wolves to be killed this fall, far more than the 130 recommended by state biologists.

By Neil Vigdor, Aug. 11, 2021

The state of Wisconsin on Wednesday authorized the killing of 300 wolves as part of a hunt this fall, far exceeding the recommendations of its own biologists for the once-protected species and drawing criticism from conservationists.

In a 5-to-2 vote, the state’s Natural Resources Board cast aside the quota that had been proposed by the state’s natural resources agency, which had called for a limit of 130 wolves to be killed.

The decision followed several hours of intense public debate by dozens of people over the scope of the hunting program, with animal rights activists calling it inhumane and hunting groups seeking even higher quotas.

The debate represented the latest flashpoint over the status of the gray wolf, which lost its Endangered Species Act protections under the Trump administration.

It also came amid a political standoff over the composition of the state’s conservative-leaning Natural Resources Board. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, has complained that the Republican-controlled Legislature has held up two of his nominees, who would shift the balance of power.

Those who supported the higher quota dismissed criticism that the fall hunt, the second one to take place this year, would threaten the wolf population in the state.

“I’m not really concerned about, you know, being afraid if we set that number too high we’re going to run more of a risk of them being relisted,” William Bruins, a board member, said of the prospect of wolves’ regaining their protected status.

Mr. Bruins was appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican.

Earlier this year, at least 216 wolves were killed in less than 60 hours, exceeding the state quota of 119 for that hunt and prompting Wisconsin to end the hunt, which had been meant to last a week, four days early, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

That hunt was prompted by a court order that had been issued by a county Circuit Court judge in Wisconsin after a hunting group had filed a lawsuit.

During the board’s meeting on Wednesday, officials with the Department of Natural Resources urged the panel to exercise restraint in setting quotas for the fall hunt, which begins on Nov. 6. They said they did not have enough data on the size of the wolf population after the hunt earlier this year.

“We have a small population, and regardless of whether you want more wolves or fewer wolves, from a biological management standpoint, this population is small, and that requires careful biological scientific population management,” said Keith Warnke, the administrator of the department’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Division. “This calls for a conservative quota until we have more population data, more science, to back up our decision making.”

Animal rights activists said that holding two hunts in the same calendar year was uncharted territory and too intense.

“What is being called wolf management in this state is a revenge-driven assault perpetrated by legal dog fighters, trophy killers, disingenuous special interests and their anti-wolf allies in the state Legislature,” said Paul Collins, the state director of the group Animal Wellness Action.

Hunters contended that the state’s wolf population had swelled while gray wolves were listed as an endangered species, threatening farming and livestock.

“Hunters have been responsible managers of this population,” said Luke Hilgemann, the president and chief executive of Hunter Nation, the group that previously sued over wolf hunting. “We think it will restore balance.”

Marcy West, who was appointed to the Natural Resources Board by Mr. Evers, panned the higher quota.

“But the majority asked for zero,” she said of the public input on the quota.

In a statement, Mr. Evers criticized Republicans in the Legislature for the delays in approving his nominees to the board.

“It’s ridiculous, frankly, that Republicans have turned this into a game of political chicken,” he said. “Protecting our natural resources isn’t a partisan issue — ensuring an orderly transition of power and confirming knowledgeable and dedicated people who’ve volunteered to serve our state shouldn’t be a partisan issue, either.”

Republican legislative leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday night.

******

Florida State University News

FSU professor awarded NSF grant to create new software tool

BY: AMY ROBINSON, August 11, 2021

The National Science Foundation awarded a Florida State University professor a $410,000 grant to create a software tool designed to help scientists make more accurate predictions regarding populations of endangered or commercially exploited animal species.

Peter Beerli, a professor with the Department of Scientific Computing in the FSU College of Arts and Sciences, will lead the project to develop the new tool, which will help generate more accurate estimates of population size and genetic diversity in different species. The new software could help with problems such as controlling pathogen outbreaks, improving regulations of catch quotas for commercial fishing and preservation of endangered species.

Beerli will work with former FSU postdoctoral researcher Somayeh Mashayekhi, now an assistant professor of mathematics at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, to develop the new tool.

“Somayeh and I are so excited because this grant allows us to improve on work we have done while she was here at FSU, and this allows for expanding one of the core theories in my field of population genetics,” Beerli said.

The team plans to build upon a mathematical theory they developed in 2019 that generalizes coalescence theory, a model that uses the genealogy of a random sample of individuals in a population to make statements about the population based on the descendancy of common traits.

“Currently, our generalization is limited and cannot discuss data that comes from multiple populations,” Beerli said. “We will expand our theory and our existing, open-source inference program, MIGRATE, to include these new findings.”

After using simulated data to test the new software, the team will collaborate with researchers using the MIGRATE software to reanalyze a variety of real datasets. This will help researchers establish correlations of variability of offspring numbers with the life history of different species.

The new software also aims to solve a significant problem that exists with current populations genetics theory: the assumption that a given population exists in a homogenous environment.

“With natural populations, we know that this is not true, in that some individuals are lucky and have offspring under conditions where all survive, while others may fail to produce offspring at all,” Beerli said.“We offer a theoretical advancement that allows us to measure this heterogeneity in populations. This will lead to better predictions and maintenance of populations of interest, for example, the maintenance of endangered or commercially interesting species.”

In addition to applications for predicting animal populations, the software also will serve as a valuable new tool in the global fight to stop the spread of various infectious diseases threatening humankind. Beerli points to the various coronavirus strains in the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of why this improved accuracy is so important in curbing the effects of pathogens in a population.

“This research addresses the assumption that the populations being studied have a relatively constant number of offspring per generation,” he said. “Scientific observation has shown that this assumption is incorrect. For example, some SARS-CoV-2 strains are more successful in infecting people than others, suggesting that the ancestor with a new mutation has many more ‘offspring’ than others.”

Department of Scientific Computing chair Gordon Erlebacher said the new software will be a boon to the research community and the resulting improvement to accuracy will decrease bias in data translation and analysis used in policy decisions.

“Peter Beerli is world-renowned in the realm of population genetics,” Erlebacher said. “In these days of national emergency and misinformation or disinformation, models that remove unrealistic assumptions become increasingly relevant. This award will help with the department’s mission of training students in state-of-the-art modeling and computational techniques with applications across a broad swath of subject areas.”

******

CoastalView.com (Carpinteria, CA)

ForestWatch joins movement to re-list gray wolves as “endangered”

CVN Report, August 11, 2021

ForestWatch and a coalition of 70 conservation, Indigenous and animal welfare groups have filed a formal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to re-list the gray wolf as an endangered species throughout the American West under the Endangered Species Act.

The groups cited inadequate protections and a lack of viable populations of wolves in California and all other western states. The re-listing petition comes in the wake of new laws passed in Idaho and Montana to radically reduce wolf populations below biologically appropriate levels.

“Wolves have been extinct in California since the 1920s and are entirely missing from the landscape or perilously close to extinction in other western states,” said Los Padres ForestWatch Director of Advocacy Rebecca August.

“In the lands surrounding Yellowstone National Park, where there has been a decades-long effort to reestablish gray wolves, states have revoked hunting and trapping regulations, advancing the possible extermination of these animals.”

The gray wolf (Canis lupus) was first listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1974 when there were just 1,000 individuals left in the lower 48 states. Last year, with populations hovering around just 6,000, the Trump administration stripped federal protections.

The petition highlights scientific findings of multiple threats facing wolves in the West, including unregulated hunting in several states, poaching, genetic problems associated with low population levels, fragmented habitats and disease outbreaks that strike at random and have the potential to reduce populations below critical thresholds. The petition calls upon the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect wolves in the West as a distinct population segment.

The gray wolf is native to California and has been listed under its endangered species act since 2014. There has been no effort to reestablish wolves in the state, but several individuals have migrated south from Oregon and three wolf packs have been identified in northern California. The Beckwourth Pack was reported in Plumas County as recently as June.

In April of this year, a male yearling known as OR-93 was the first wolf to appear on the Central Coast in a century, having traveled roughly 1,000 miles from his home with the White River pack in northern Oregon.

Tracked by U.S. Fish and Wildlife through a radio collar fitted in 2020, OR-93 entered California in January and February in Modoc County and began his journey southward. In March, the young wolf, followed by a growing fanbase on Facebook and Instagram, crossed Highway 99 and Interstate 5 in San Benito County. His last collar transmission was from San Luis Obispo County on April 5. His status is currently unknown.

“The wolf known as OR-93’s spectacular journey from Oregon to California’s Central Coast – until wildlife officials were no longer able to track his location – demonstrated that not only is there potential for gray wolves to once again call California home but that the species is in urgent need of better protections across its range,” said Los Padres ForestWatch conservation director Bryant Baker.

The groups’ petition comes in the wake of a groundswell of public recognition that wolves deserve to be listed under the Endangered Species Act, and that some anti-conservation state governments are actively undermining wolf recovery in the lower 48 states.

Over 120 Indigenous tribes and groups signed a wolf treaty calling for federal protection, and a documentary short film by the Global Indigenous Council highlighting the cultural importance of wolves to Indigenous peoples was recently released.

Wolves are considered a keystone species, meaning their disappearance can have consequences that cascade throughout an ecosystem to which they are native. One major benefit of robust wolf populations is natural regulation of populations of elk, deer and other large mammals.

For example, wolf reintroduction in the Yellowstone area, which began in the 1930s, has reduced the regional coyote population by 50%, increased riparian areas that had been damaged by overgrazing, and has markedly increased biodiversity and stabilized the ecosystem.

“As our region’s wildlife are under the increasing pressure of a changing climate, re-establishing the balance that the grey wolf once brought to the landscape will give our ecosystems a fighting chance,” said August.

“While the few wolves that have made it to California are protected, the state is no island. It’s clear that their survival here is too fragile to withstand the decimation that is taking place in other states.”

******

Estes Park Trail Gazette (Estes Park, CO)

Congressman Neguse introduces bill to protect, recover endangered species

By OFFICE OF CONGRESSMAN JOE NEGUSE, August 10, 2021

On Aug. 10, Congressman Joe Neguse, Chair of the U.S. Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands introduced legislation to protect endangered fish in the Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins, while allowing water development projects to proceed. The Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins Recovery Act would authorize the Bureau of Reclamation to continue the implementation of endangered fish recovery programs for the Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins through 2024 in order to protect and recover endangered fishes while water development proceeds in compliance with all applicable Federal and State laws. Actions taken under these programs also provide benefits to other native fishes in the basin and prevent them from becoming endangered in the future.

In 2019, Congressman Neguse enacted legislation into law to reauthorize the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, a similar program that protects wildlife in the Platte River Basin and coordinates with local water development.

“The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program has been working for decades to protect endangered fish found only in the Colorado River system, and sustain their natural habitats while allowing water development projects at the state and local levels to continue,” said Congressman Joe Neguse. “I’m pleased to introduce this reauthorizing bill today in partnership with local and state partners to protect Colorado wildlife and local water development and ensure the reliability and consistency of this program for the future.”

“Colorado thanks Representative Neguse for championing this important bill and Congress’ long-standing support for the Colorado River Basin endangered fish recovery programs. These programs help protect our water resources and ensure that the people who use our waters will have roles in shaping the future of the Colorado River and its tributaries,” said Governor Jared Polis.

The Upper Colorado River Basin is home to 14 native fish species, including the endangered humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow, and razorback sucker. These endangered fish are found only in the Colorado River system.

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program was first established in 1988 to help bring four species of endangered fish back from the brink of extinction: the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow, and razorback sucker. The Recovery Program is a unique partnership of local, state, and federal agencies, water and power interests, and environmental groups working to recover endangered fish in the Upper Colorado River Basin while water development proceeds in accordance with federal and state laws and interstate compacts. The goal of recovery is to achieve natural, self-sustaining populations of the endangered fish so they no longer require protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. With its demonstrated successes, the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program has become a national model for its collaborative conservation efforts to protect endangered species.

The Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins Recovery Act would also extend a reporting deadline. Current legislation requires that the Secretary of the Interior submit a report to Congress on the Recovery Programs to Congress by September 30, 2021 in consultation with the Recovery Programs.  The report will detail, among other things, activities to be carried out after FY2023 and the cost of such activities. Due to uncertainty and delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Recovery Programs’ partners are seeking a one-year extension of the Secretary’s report deadline.

******

Q13 FOX News (Seattle)

Endangered frog species released into Columbia National Wildlife Refuge

By Chambolion Fairley, August 10, 2021

OTHELLO, Wash. – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) released hundreds of an endangered frog species into the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge last week.

Native to the Pacific Northwest, the northern leopard frog used to be all over North America. Over time, their numbers have rapidly diminished in parts of Washington, Oregon and western Canada.

In order to help recover the species and grow their population, The WDFW, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Zoo, Washington State University and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park partnered to raise hundreds of this species and release them into nature.

“The Washington state population of northern leopard frogs has a unique genetic variation relative to the rest of the species range, and they are part of the natural diversity of amphibians of the region,” said Erica Crespi, WSU associate professor of biology.

“We are working to keep them here!”

WDFW first collected northern leopard frog eggs back in the spring of 2021. After several months of growing in the Oregon Zoo and Northwest Trek, the frogs were ready to be released.

In order to avoid threats during the critical early stages of frog development, the eggs were given a head start while being raised in the zoo and wildlife park.

“We’re at a critical point for this species,” said Shelly Pettit, who oversees the Oregon Zoo’s frog efforts.

“We’re doing everything we can to help northern leopard frogs thrive again in the Pacific Northwest — and a big, healthy froglet has a much better chance of surviving in the wild than an egg or a tadpole. After missing the 2020 season due to COVID impacts, we were very excited to produce a healthy group of frogs for this year’s release.”

Northern leopard frogs have been on the endangered list in Washington since 1999 with only one known wild population in the state.

Researchers believe the frogs’ cause of decline in the area is due to threats and degradation of its habitat, disease, non-native species and climate change.

******

WINK News (Ft. Myers, FL)

Legislation introduced to reclassify manatees as endangered

August 9, 2021

A record number of manatees have died this year than in any other year in Florida’s recorded history, primarily from starvation due to the loss of seagrass beds. Now, two congressmen are calling on federal officials to grant the animal “endangered” status.

U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-FL, and Darren Soto, D-FL, announced Monday they have introduced legislation to grant manatees the highest level of federal protection available.

The Manatee Protection Act, H.R. 4946, would officially upgrade the West Indian manatee from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Upgrading their designation under the ESA will not only require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to refocus their attention on manatee population rehabilitation, but also allow for increased federal resources including more funding and personnel.

“Manatees are beloved, iconic mammals in Florida,” said Buchanan. “This year’s record-breaking number of manatee deaths is staggering and extremely concerning, which is why upgrading their ESA status is absolutely critical. We must do everything we can to protect these gentle giants and Florida’s official marine mammal.”

Congressman Darren Soto said, “2021 was the deadliest year for the West Indian manatee in our home state of Florida. These mass deaths should alarm us all and incite us to take immediate action to protect these precious mammals. By adding the West Indian manatee to the ESA’s endangered list, we are ensuring that necessary steps are taken to prevent any more unnecessary deaths.”

According to Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), 890 manatees have died in just the first seven months of this year. That number has already surpassed the previous record of 830 deaths in all of 2013. Eighty-four of those deaths occurred in Lee County, which ranks second in the state behind Brevard (319) for manatee mortality.

The most recent FWS data estimates that there are only around 6,500 West Indian manatees in the southeastern United States.

Most experts attribute the soaring manatee death count to a significant loss of seagrass along the Atlantic coast, which is causing many manatees to starve to death, as well as a worsening bout of red tide in the Gulf. They also face continued threats from habitat loss and watercraft collisions.

In 2016, Buchanan objected to the FWS downgrading the manatee’s ESA designation from endangered to threatened, noting that they may have been using outdated data to support the reduction in protection. Buchanan was concerned the manatee’s population would decline if their status was downgraded to threatened. The manatee was previously listed as an endangered species dating back to 1966.

In a June letter to FWS, Buchanan called on the agency to upgrade the manatee from “threatened” to “endangered,” citing the degradation of the water quality in manatee habitats, growing levels of water pollution and an increase in harmful algal blooms that kill off seagrass.

The U.S. House recently passed a Buchanan measure to transfer $2 million to FWS to examine the record number of manatee deaths in Florida this year and report to Congress on ways to protect the species.

******

Wall Street Journal

U.N. Panel Issues Stark Climate-Change Warning

Robert Lee Hotz, August 9, 2021

Rising seas, melting ice caps and other effects of a warming climate may be irreversible for centuries and are “unequivocally” driven by greenhouse-gas emissions from human activity, a scientific panel working under the auspices of the United Nations said Monday in a new report.

Issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an organization of 195 governments, the report is drawn from a three-year analysis of 14,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies. It is the first major international assessment of climate-change research since 2013 and the first of four IPCC reports expected in the next 15 months.

“We’ve known for decades that the world is warming, but this report tells us that recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid and intensifying, unprecedented in thousands of years,” said Ko Barrett, vice chair of the panel and the senior adviser for climate at the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Further, it is indisputable that human activities are causing climate change.”

Dan Lunt, a climate scientist at the U.K.’s University of Bristol and one of 234 co-authors of the report, said, “It is now completely apparent that climate is changing everywhere on the planet.”

The report “connects the dots in a way we really haven’t seen before,” said climate scientist Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, who wasn’t involved with the report. “The message eerily resonates with what we’re seeing this summer in Canada, the U.S. and Europe as extreme weather events play havoc on us and our infrastructure.”

The report highlights human responsibility for record heat waves, droughts, more intense storms and other extreme weather events seen around the world in recent years. It also sharpens estimates of how sensitive the climate is to rising atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases—a key metric in forecasting the rise of global temperatures in the years ahead.

Levels of carbon dioxide released into the air by the burning of fossil fuels, cement production and deforestation and other land-use changes reached a modern seasonal high of 419 parts per million in May. That is higher than at any time in the past 3.6 million years, according to NOAA.

Atmospheric levels of methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas, are now about 2½ times their preindustrial levels and steadily rising, according to the International Energy Agency.

The report establishes scientific baselines for COP26, a key climate-change summit to be held in Glasgow in November. Representatives from 197 countries are expected to present updated plans for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

A global agreement resulting from a 2015 climate summit in Paris called on nations to take steps to limit future global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). But the efforts are falling short.

“This report tells us that we probably need even more action by all the major economies to work together to avoid even worse impacts than we’re already seeing now,” said Jane Lubchenco, deputy director for climate and the environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She wasn’t involved in the IPCC effort.

Greenhouse-gas emissions from human activity have raised global temperatures by 1.1 degrees Celsius since around 1850, the report said. Without rapid reductions in emissions, global temperatures could rise more than an additional 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next 20 years, the report forecasts.

“We know there is no going back from some changes in the climate system, but some can be slowed or stopped if emissions are reduced,” said NOAA’s Dr. Barrett.

The report reflects new scientific methodologies honed in an era of growing climate disturbances. It draws on a better understanding of the complex dynamics of the changing atmosphere and greater stores of data about climate change dating back millions of years, as well as a more robust set of satellite measurements and more than 50 computer models of climate change.

“We are now much better at integrating all the information,” said Gavin Schmidt, NASA’s senior climate adviser and director of the Goddard Institute for Space Sciences in New York, who wasn’t involved with the report.

Last year, global temperatures tied for the warmest on record, capping the warmest decade in modern times. Oceans are warming, and sea level is increasing by 3.7 mm, or about 0.1 inch, a year, the scientists said in the report. Mountain glaciers, sea ice and polar ice sheets are steadily melting. Weather around the world has grown more extreme by many measures, the scientists said, with more frequent heat waves and prolonged droughts in some regions and heavier rainfall and flooding in others.

“When you see what has happened this summer with heat waves in Canada and the heavy precipitation in Germany, I think this is showing that even highly developed countries are not spared,” said Sonia Seneviratne, a senior scientist at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and a lead co-author of the report. “We don’t really have time to adapt anymore because the change is happening so quickly.”

******

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Recovering America’s Wildlife Act primed for another push

Paul A. Smith, August 7, 2021

Encouraged by the recent introduction of a Senate bill, supporters of a plan to transform funding for non-game wildlife across the U.S. are poised to push for passage of the legislation this year.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would dedicate $1.3 billion annually to state fish and wildlife agencies to implement their science-based wildlife action plans and an additional $97.5 million for tribal fish and wildlife managers.

The Senate version (S.2372) was introduced in late July by Senators Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) and Roy Blunt (R-Missouri).

It joins the House (H.R.2773) bill introduced in April by Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.)

Both are designed to provide critical funding and proactive conservation efforts to prevent non-game species from becoming threatened or endangered.

The bills are based on recommendations from a 2016 Blue Ribbon panel and have been tried in very similar forms in three previous Congresses.

None was passed despite impressive bipartisan support.

This year, though, could be different because of changes in control of the Senate and the White House.

National Wildlife Federation president and CEO Collin O’Mara called the legislation “bold and collaborative.”

“It will have an immediate impact all across the country, without raising taxes or creating new regulations,” O’Mara said. “It’s the kind of legislation that brings people – and Congress – together, and it offers a solution that matches the magnitude of the challenges we face.”

O’Mara said the bill also provides a historic, past-due investment in the conservation work being done by Tribal nations.

Scientists estimate as many as one-third of U.S. wildlife species are at risk of being listed as threatened or endangered, according to the Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife.

Boosting funding so states and tribes can address wildlife needs could not only help the species but buoy the economy.

Healthy, sustainable fish and wildlife populations drive many sectors of our economy, especially the $788 billion outdoor recreation industry, according to the AAFW.

The Senate version of the bill would derive its revenue from fines for natural resource or environmental-related violations “not directed to be deposited in a fund other than the general fund of the Treasury or have otherwise been appropriated.”

About $2.9 billion in such revenue has been available annually over the last 5 years, according to the AAFW’s Sean Saville.

The House version doesn’t currently identify a source of funding.

Funds would be apportioned to state fish and wildlife agencies based on a formula of 50% proportion of land and water in a state, 25% proportion of human population and 25% proportion of threatened and endangered species in the state.

States would be required to provide a 25% match in funds. No state would receive more than 5% or less than 1% of the available pool of money.

The efforts funded by the legislation would be guided by Congressionally mandated State Wildlife Action Plans, which identify specific, science-based strategies to restore the populations of species of greatest conservation need. The plans identify more than 12,000 species in need of conservation assistance, according to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

According to a preliminary calculation, Wisconsin would receive about $19 million annually from the program, a dramatic increase from the approximately $900,000 it now gets from the State and Tribal Wildlife Grant program.

The House bill, which had a hearing July 29 in the Water Oceans and Wildlife subcommittee, has about 100 bipartisan cosponsors. It could receive a full House Natural Resources Committee markup this fall, Saville said.

The Senate version is expected to be taken up in the next couple of months by the Environment and Public Works Committee.

******

King5 News (Seattle, WA)

Conservation groups call for removal of lower Snake River Dams to save salmon, orca

The groups want the dams removed to save salmon, and replaced with other sources of renewable energy from things like electrifying railways.

Author: Kaila Lafferty (KING5), August 7, 2021

SEATTLE — Conservation groups are calling on lawmakers for the removal of all four lower Snake River Dams. The goal is to save salmon and in turn southern resident orcas.

After a blessing from the Duwamish Tribe, kayaks, canoes and paddle boards hit the Puget Sound to save the salmon and orca of the Pacific Northwest.

“Indigenous nations here in the Northwest have orca as part of their culture and their spirituality. So, if we lost these incredible animals, I don’t think we would be the same Northwest that we have been,” said Chris Connolly, with the Endangered Species Coalition.

The event was called “Rally for the River” and was put on by several organizations with one goal: the removal of the lower Snake River Dams to save salmon and orcas in the Pacific Northwest.

“These four dams in the lower Snake River were erected in the 70s and 80s, fish biologists knew then that these dams were going to really hurt salmon populations,” Connolly explained.

The four lower Snake River dams, all in eastern Washington, are hydroelectric Dams.

These groups want them removed to save salmon and replaced with other sources of renewable energy from things like electrifying railways.

Salmon use the Snake River to travel to the Sound every year. Without salmon there are no more orcas, the groups argue.

“The Southern Resident orcas, one of the most iconic species we have here in the northwest, pretty much only eats salmon. 80% of their diet is just Chinook Salmon. When the salmon die, the orca dies,” Connolly said.

On top of the harm dams cause, the recent heat wave also played a big role in recent salmon deaths.

“Climate change in really heating up their rivers which is effecting basically the way that they live so some of them are actually dying,” Connolly said.

“We are calling on Senators Cantwell, Murray and Governor Inslee to take strong action to save Orcas and salmon,” said Pam Clough with Environment Washington

“If we lost these two species that are on the brink of extinction, then what would be as a region?” Connolly said.

KING 5 reached out to Sen. Maria Cantwell, Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee’s office for comment Saturday.

Sen. Murray issued the following statement Saturday afternoon:

“Salmon, orca, and habitat recovery is an important priority for me and it’s an important part of our state and Tribes’ heritage and culture—it’s something I’ve recently brought up directly with DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the OMB Director Shalanda Young. I understand the urgency of recovery efforts, and the need to take action quickly.

“I’m glad that I was also able to help secure significant funding for salmon and habitat recovery related efforts in the bipartisan infrastructure package we are working to pass right now: $1 billion for culvert removal, replacement, and restoration; $172 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund; and $207 million for the Coastal Zone Management Program, as well as other important habitat restoration investments. I’m also pushing for major investments through the reconciliation package and the annual appropriations process.

“I am working with Governor Inslee and leaders throughout the region to prepare next steps. I appreciate everyone who is engaged on this issue and making sure their voices are heard. It’s clear there is energy, commitment, and dedication to tackling this challenge.”

******

Kentucky Today (Louisville, KY)

Running buffalo clover no longer endangered species

August 6, 2021, By TOM LATEK, Kentucky Today

FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – A plant native to Kentucky and other parts of the eastern U.S. that was once thought to be extinct, has now recovered enough to be removed from the endangered species list.

According to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, running buffalo clover was believed to be extinct before 1983, when one population was found in West Virginia.  It was listed as endangered in 1987.

Since then, additional populations have been identified, including 21 populations reported after the agency’s 2019 proposal to delist the plant.  Running buffalo clover is now known to occur in 175 populations in Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.  Of the known populations, 88 are on public lands or privately owned lands with conservation agreements.

Threats to the running buffalo clover at the time of listing included habitat destruction and competition from invasive plants, such as bluegrass and white clover.  Managers of state, federal, and locally owned lands are now providing the habitat needed by running buffalo clover to reducing these threats.

Actions that led to delisting the running buffalo clover included addressing illegal use of off-road vehicles and invasive species management on national forest lands.  As tree canopy thinned due to the loss of trees to the emerald ash borer, new plantings replaced them, enhancing habitat for running buffalo clover.  Partners and volunteers have spent years monitoring the species, and amateur botanists have discovered many new populations. 

“The recovery of the running buffalo clover is a great example of the success of conservation partnerships,” said Charles Wooley, regional director of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Great Lakes Region.  “We applaud the efforts of our state, federal and private conservation partners who came together to ensure its long-term future and who persevered in searching for and discovering new populations.” 

Running buffalo clover is named for the stolons, or runners, that extend from the base of its stems. The plant requires periodic disturbance and a somewhat open habitat.  Historically, it was often found in areas that were probably maintained by grazing herds of bison.  Today it is associated with areas where mowing, cattle grazing, trampling, logging or other moderate ground disturbance occurs.

******

Audubon

Emperor Penguins Proposed for Listing Under Endangered Species Act

The Antarctic seabirds may qualify as a ‘threatened’ species due to climate change. But without reducing carbon emissions, can the listing help them?

By Joanna Thompson, Intern, Audubon Magazine, August 04, 2021

Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a proposal to list Emperor Penguins as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The birds face steadily mounting risk from climate change, the proposal says, and they will need political protection in order to survive the century.

If the proposal is finalized, the Emperor Penguin would join a small cadre of species, including polar bears and bearded seals, protected under the ESA explicitly because of climate change. “Climate change, specifically melting sea ice, is the primary threat to the species,” FWS spokesperson Christina Meister wrote in an emailed statement to Audubon.

An ESA listing typically includes a plan to preserve the species. However, since penguins live in Antarctica, the U.S. government doesn’t have direct authority to protect their habitat. Even if it could, the effort would likely be ineffective: The only way to protect Emperor Penguin habitat is to prevent sea ice from melting. While the FWS proposal acknowledges the danger posed by climate change, it doesn’t actionably address the core cause of the birds’ plight—carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels, which trap heat in the atmosphere and raise global temperatures.

Meister, the agency spokesperson, places the responsibility to reduce those emissions on other government officials. “The decisions made by policymakers today and during the next few decades will determine the fate of the Emperor Penguin,” she wrote. “The proposed listing helps bring attention to the plight of the species and to the importance of low-emission climate scenarios, which if adhered to predict only gradual declines in Emperor Penguin breeding pairs and enough colonies to likely ensure the species’ survival in the wild.”

Still, the listing would set a “great precedent” in the fight against climate change, says Phil Trathan, a penguin researcher with the British Antarctic Survey. He hopes that an ESA listing for the Emperor Penguin will incentivize governments across the world to take climate action—or at the very least, increase general awareness of climate change. Daniel Zitterbart, an applied ecologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, says that the listing could also benefit other Antarctic species by encouraging government agencies to create more marine protected areas. “It’s the old ‘umbrella species’ concept,” he says, “If we can protect this one species, we will protect way more.”

The FWS will accept public comments until October 3, then will process and incorporate those comments to publish a verdict on the penguins’ conservation status within the year.

The ESA defines an endangered species as any organism “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” A threatened species, on the other hand, is defined as “likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future in all or a significant portion of its range.” Species threatened by climate change fit that bill.

Emperor Penguin numbers are currently robust: The global population, entirely based in Antarctica, is estimated at 270,000 to 280,000 breeding pairs. The penguins breed between April and December on sea ice fastened to the coastline. There are currently 61 known breeding colonies ringing the continent.

However, experts predict that the species could decline by 26 to 47 percent over the next three decades due to climate change-driven instability in Antarctic ice. Research shows that sea ice distribution has become increasingly unpredictable over the last 40 years due to warming waters and glacial calving. If there is too little ice, the chicks fall into the water and drown, but if there is too much, the parents’ fishing trips may take too long, causing the chicks to starve.

Trathan conducted and reviewed some of the research himself. “This is probably the most robust science modeling that has been undertaken for a species threatened by climate change,” he says. According to these models, 81 percent of Emperor Penguin colonies could be saved by keeping global warming at or below the Paris Accord’s 1.5 degree Celsius goal. However, a global temperature increase of 3 degrees would spell disaster for the birds. At the current rate of emissions, climate models predict 90 percent of Emperor Penguins will disappear by 2100.

The proposed listing doesn’t attempt to use the ESA as a lever to drive climate policy that would reduce carbon emissions. Instead, it comes with a 4(d) rule, which allows the service to prohibit specific activities that could negatively impact the birds’ survival. So far, the FWS has only directly prohibited poaching of Emperor Penguins. But it has the potential to do more, according to Brendan Cummings, an attorney and conservation director with the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned the agency to consider listing the species. The FWS could use an article called section 7 of the ESA to block new fossil-fuel plants from opening, he says. “It’s a very expansive, very powerful tool for protecting biodiversity.” So far, though, the service has declined to use the ESA to regulate fossil-fuel emissions for any species declining due to climate change, including the Emperor Penguin.

Without using that tool, the listing is more symbolic than effective. But symbols can be powerful, Trathan says, especially if the penguins’ journey parallels that of another charismatic, cold-loving species: the polar bear. Since its historic ESA listing in 2013 cited climate change, the polar bear has become both an icon of desolate Arctic beauty and a potent reminder of the need for human accountability. “It would be beneficial if the Emperor Penguin became that same icon for the Antarctic,” Trathan says.

If that were to happen, the penguin could potentially rally diplomacy towards climate action. Properly upheld, Trathan says, the listing could incentivize countries involved in the Antarctic Treaty System and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—including the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, and China—to meet their 2050 decarbonization goals. Zitterbart agrees. “In the end,” he says, “it allows for more political pressure.”

Ultimately, though, political pressure is only useful if it is acted upon. “The ESA has been and remains our most powerful wildlife law for preventing extinction,” says Cummings. “What’s lacking is not the law, not the legal toolbox, but the political will.”

******

UC San Diego News Center

New Study Holds Promise for “Critically Endangered” Giant Sea Bass

Scripps-led study recommends new assessment of giant sea bass species using data from both sides of U.S.-Mexico border

August 04, 2021 | By Brittany Hook

A new study led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and colleagues suggests that the original assessment and current listing of the giant sea bass as a critically endangered species might be inaccurate, and recommends a reevaluation of the species’ status using comprehensive biological and fisheries information from Mexican as well as U.S. waters.

Since 1996, the giant sea bass (Stereolepis gigas) has been classified as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to overfishing. Native to the North Pacific Ocean, the fish is a transboundary species that can be found in the waters off Northern California down to the tip of the Baja California peninsula in Mexico, including the Gulf of California. While strong conservation regulations have been imposed in U.S. waters, regulations in Mexico have been minimal.

In a study published Aug. 4 in Fish and Fisheries, researchers from Scripps Oceanography, NOAA, Comunidad y Biodiversidad A.C., and several other binational organizations reveal a broad asymmetry in management, regulations, research efforts, fishery trends, and economic value of the giant sea bass across the U.S. and Mexico. This asymmetry has led to a biased view of the species’ population status, said the authors.

“Our study is the first to incorporate historical and contemporary perspectives of the giant sea bass fishery throughout its entire geographic range and an exceptional case of binational research cooperation,” said lead author Arturo Ramírez-Valdez, a marine ecologist at Scripps Oceanography and recent PhD graduate. “Our analysis suggests that the population of this iconic fish is likely much larger than biologists previously thought, especially in Mexico.”

The study incorporates a systematic literature review of scientific knowledge about the giant sea bass, a historical reconstruction of fishery landings, results of biological monitoring of the Mexican fishery, and the consumptive and non-consumptive economic value of the species on both sides of the border.

Based on this research, the authors suggest that the giant sea bass species may be less endangered than its current status listing, and they recommend an updated assessment by the IUCN Red List. The last IUCN assessment occurred in 2004 and was based mainly on data from the U.S. population, citing a lack of information on the Mexican fishery.

The authors found that the number of scientific publications and annual funding related to giant sea bass are 7 times and 25 times higher in the U.S., respectively, despite the fact that 73 percent of the species’ range occurs in Mexico, where it is also more abundant. This means that the majority of what is known about the giant sea bass comes from studies carried out in only a quarter of the distribution of this species.

Study co-author Timothy Rowell said that within the U.S., the giant sea bass has received “a lot of attention and investment” as steps have been taken to better understand the life history of the species and effects of the current management actions on population restoration in California. Yet given the findings of the study, the proportion of individuals within U.S. waters is likely a small fraction of the entire population, but it has been the subject of an unproportionate amount of research and likely has influenced perceptions about the species.

“The asymmetries that we have exposed in this study highlight that transboundary fish stocks are often not treated as single connected populations, representing a barrier to how different nations monitor and manage resources that future research should help to address,” said Rowell, a research biologist at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center and a Scripps alumnus.

Ramírez-Valdez said this study shows the need for more data to be able to see, “in a very solid way,” the giant sea bass population status across the entire distribution. While the study indicates that the giant sea bass might not be “critically endangered,” the species is likely still considered “endangered” or “vulnerable,” he said, so current protections in the U.S. should remain in place, and management regulations should be imposed in Mexican waters to support the rebuilding of the population.

The study highlights the need for better collaboration and sharing of information between both countries so they can adequately assess, manage, and protect shared fish populations.

“My first goal is to see fishing managers from the U.S.—specifically from California—and fishing managers from Baja get together and start a conversation about how to manage fish in a collaborative way,” said Ramírez-Valdez. “While my focus is on the giant sea bass now, this model could be used for successfully managing and sharing information about other species.”

The giant sea bass is known for its enormous size, growing as long as 2.7 meters (8.9 feet) and weighing over 560 pounds. Ramírez-Valdez first encountered one of the behemoths while doing a scientific diving exercise off La Jolla. This encounter and subsequent dive sightings in Baja inspired him to pursue research on this species for his PhD dissertation. He also founded Mero Gigante, a program that works closely with coastal communities and stakeholders to obtain as much information as possible about the giant sea bass in Mexican waters.

Currently, Ramírez-Valdez and colleagues are leading an effort to submit a new assessment for this species to the IUCN Red List.

Co-authors of this study include Brad Erisman and Matthew Craig of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center; Katherine Dale of UC Santa Cruz; Larry Allen of California State University, Northridge; Juan Carlos Villaseñor-Derbez of UC Santa Barbara; Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor of the Simon Fraser University, Vancouver; Arturo Hernández-Velasco and Jorge Torre of Comunidad y Biodiversidad A.C.; and Jennifer Hofmeister of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

This study was funded by the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States, Grant Number: 160083; PADI Foundation, Grant App. 29020 and 33095; Mia J. Tegner Memorial Research Fellowship at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego; the Mohamed bin Zayed Species, Grant Number: 192521063; and the Link Family Foundation.

******

The Guardian

Sierra Nevada red fox wins protection as endangered species

The animals have suffered from drought, wildfires, habitat destruction, as well as poisoning and trapping

Associated Press, Tue 3 Aug 2021

The slender, bushy-tailed Sierra Nevada red fox will be listed as an endangered species, federal wildlife officials announced, saying its population has dipped to just 40 animals in an area of California stretching from Lake Tahoe to south of Yosemite national park.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service decided against listing a distinct population of the foxes in the southern Cascade Range of Oregon and near Lassen Peak in northern California. But it said in a listing rule to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday that the Sierra Nevada segment south of Tahoe “is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range”.

“While the exact number remains unknown and is also subject to change with new births and deaths, it is well below population levels that would provide resiliency, redundancy and representation to the population.”

The agency provided no estimate of the number of red foxes remaining in the Cascade Range.

One of the rarest mammals in North America, the red foxes in the Sierra are vulnerable to threats of wildfire, drought, competition in coyotes, reductions in prey and inbreeding with non-native foxes.

The foxes are also threatened by climate change, as scientists project continuing loss of snowpack and of the subalpine habitat to which the Sierra Nevada population segment has adapted, the agency said.

Degraded and reduced habitat will likely lead to increased numbers of coyotes in high-elevation areas and to increased competition between coyotes and Sierra Nevada foxes for prey, the service said.

Some biologists believed 20 years ago the Sierra Nevada population had gone extinct, until a small remnant population was confirmed in 2010. California banned red fox trapping in 1974.

The Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned for federal protection in 2011 and filed lawsuits in 2013 and 2019 before the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the species for addition to the endangered list in 2020.

The Sierra Nevada red fox has declined dramatically because of poisoning and trapping, habitat destruction from logging and livestock grazing and disturbance from off-road vehicles and snowmobiles, said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate for the center. He said the animals face the same threats in the Cascade Mountains to Mount Hood, Oregon.

“This is an important step, but the Fish and Wildlife Service should also protect these imperiled animals in the Cascades,” he said Monday.

The Sierra Nevada red fox is one of 10 North American subspecies of the red fox. The small, doglike carnivores measure about 3.5ft (1.1 meters) long and have elongated snouts, pointed ears and large tails.

With deep winter coats and small toe pads, they are specially equipped to adapt to cold, snowy areas. They feed on small mammals.

The Fish and Wildlife Service noted it is not proposing designation of critical habitat for the species at this time because habitat “does not appear to be a limiting factor for the species.”

The agency estimates the 18 to 39 animals remaining in the Sierra extend south of California state highway 88 from just south of Lake Tahoe into the easternmost portion of Yosemite park in Tuolumne and Madera counties, as well as portions of Alpine, Mono, Fresno and Inyo counties.

Most of the foxes – between 10 and 31 – are known to occupy an area north of Yosemite. About five have been spotted just east of Yosemite, and three have been identified south of Yosemite, in the general area of Mono Creek. All sightings have been on federal land.

******

CNN

A rare species thought to be extinct is clinging to survival, study finds

By Kristen Rogers, CNN, August 2, 2021

(CNN) A species of tiny chameleons presumed to be extinct due to deforestation has been found, but it is clinging to survival.

Up to only 5.5 centimeters (2.2 inches) long, the critically endangered Chapman’s pygmy chameleon (Rhampholeon chapmanorum) is native to the low-elevation rainforest of the Malawi Hills in southern Malawi, a country in southeastern Africa, according to a study published Monday in Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation.

First described by herpetologist and author Colin Tilbury in 1992, Chapman’s pygmy chameleon is one of the world’s rarest chameleons.

“They are mostly brown but they can change to quite beautiful blues and greens with little dots all over them and that’s probably a way of communicating with each other,” said the study’s lead author Krystal Tolley, a professor and research leader in the Leslie Hill Molecular Ecology Laboratory at the South African National Biodiversity Institute, in a statement. “Other chameleon species can be hysterical, hissing and biting, but pygmy chameleons are gentle and just beautiful.”

Chapman’s pygmy chameleon is one of the world’s rarest chameleons, which now clings to survival in small patches of forest in a highly disturbed ecosystem.

Chameleons’ extinction risk is much higher than the average of 15% for the reptile order they belong to, with 34% of chameleon species classified as threatened and 18% near threatened, the authors wrote. Most of the threatened species are forest specialists, which means they can only live in a specific type of environment.

Survival through agricultural takeovers

When Tilbury first described pygmy chameleons in 1992, previous researchers noticed signs of substantial deforestation in Malawi Hills, wrote the authors of the current study. To protect the species from further harm, 37 Malawi Hills-based pygmy chameleons were released into a forest patch about 95 kilometers (59 miles) north in Mikundi, Malawi, in 1998, according to the study. When Tilbury assessed the release site in 2001 and 2012, chameleons were still there.

Because pygmy chameleons are intolerant of transformed areas and Tolley didn’t discover any pygmy chameleons during related assessment work in 2014, they were thought to have possibly become extinct. Her work led the International Union for Conservation of Nature to list the chameleons as critically endangered on its Red List of Threatened Species. Using historical (1984-1985) and recent (2019) Google Earth satellite imagery of the Malawi Hills and another geographical information system, the authors of the current study estimated about 80% of the Malawi Hills forest had been destroyed from 1984 to 2019.

At night on the trails of three accessible forest patches in 2016, the authors walked, using torchlights to find and record chameleons.

“The first one we found was in the transition zone on the forest edge, where there are some trees but mostly maize and cassava plants,” Tolley said. “When we found it we got goosebumps and just started jumping around. We didn’t know if we would get any more, but once we got into the forest there were plenty, although I don’t know how long that will last.”

The researchers found seven adult chameleons along a footpath just inside the first forest patch of Malawi Hills; 10 chameleons inside a site over 6 kilometers (4 miles) southwest of the first; and 21 adult chameleons plus 11 young and hatchlings inside the patch at Mikundi, the location of the 1998 release.

Pygmy chameleons still face threats

After snipping 2-millimeter-long (0.1-inch-long) tail clips from some adult chameleons, the authors did genetic analysis. The chameleons’ genetic diversity was normal in comparison to that of other chameleons and small-bodied reptile species, the authors found. But there were significant differences in genetic structure between populations in different areas, suggesting that humans fragmenting the forest patches had disrupted the breeding ability between chameleons on neighboring patches and therefore their gene flow — an impact that increases extinction risk due to fewer options for mates, the authors wrote.

However, the authors might have overestimated the amount of genetic diversity between populations by not accounting for the way that some DNA is inherited, said Eric Routman, a professor emeritus of biology at San Francisco State University, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“And even if they had lots of loci and good genetic estimates, they have no estimate of these genetic parameters before the habitat fragmentation, so they can’t attribute any genetic effect to deforestation,” Routman added via email. “If I had been reviewing this paper, I would have recommended major revisions to the manuscript. Essentially, the genetic part of their study is inconclusive.”

The authors think effects of deforestation on genetic diversity could take time to appear. But to prevent the chameleon species from reaching a point of no return, the rainforest loss requires immediate attention, Tolley said.

“Urgent conservation action is needed, including halting of forest destruction and recovery of habitat to promote connectivity. Although part of the Malawi Hills falls within a Key Biodiversity Area (Matandwe Forest Reserve), most of the forest falls outside the reserve boundary, and the effectiveness of the forest reserve is questionable, given that most of the destruction has been within its boundaries,” the authors wrote. “Although extending the reserve to encompass all the forest patches would be a first step, measures are needed to avert the destruction of the remaining patches.”

These efforts would be important also for any other species that possibly live among these chameleons, the authors wrote. And there could be more pygmy chameleons in the patches they weren’t able to explore, they said.

For the little creatures Polley described as gentle and beautiful, “both the planning and the recommended actions require strong leadership, personnel, stakeholder engagement, including with government departments, and sufficient funding to ensure success,” the authors added.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Sierra Nevada Red Fox Population Gains Endangered Species Act Protection

SACRAMENTO—(August 2, 2021)—In response to a petition and lawsuits from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today granted endangered status to a population of one of North America’s rarest mammals, the Sierra Nevada red fox.

These secretive foxes live in remote, high mountains in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges of California and Oregon. The Service is designating only the Sierra Nevada population, which ranges from Yosemite National Park to Kings Canyon National Park, as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act even though the species occurs in the Cascades to Mt. Hood in Oregon, where the animals face the same threats.

“The Sierra Nevada red fox is a vanishing emblem of remote Sierra wilderness and a harbinger of climate change,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center. “Endangered Species Act protections can give this adorable canine a fighting chance at survival and recovery. This is an important step, but the Fish and Wildlife Service should also protect these imperiled animals in the Cascades.”

The Center petitioned for protection of the red fox in 2011 and filed lawsuits in 2013 and 2019 to force the Service to decide on the animal’s protection.

The Sierra Nevada red fox once was found throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains, but populations have declined dramatically because of poisoning and trapping, habitat destruction from logging and livestock grazing, and disturbance from off-road vehicles and snowmobiles. Trapping the species is now banned in California.

Only one small, isolated population with an estimated 18 to 39 adults remains in the Sierras, mostly in and around Yosemite National Park.

Climate change is projected to dramatically shrink the Sierra Nevada red fox’s subalpine habitat as hotter and drier conditions push its range farther up mountain slopes. Climate change is reducing the Sierra snowpack, causing increased competition for food with coyotes. These foxes are jeopardized by inbreeding depression due to small population size and hybridization with nonnative red foxes.

Disturbance from humans, particularly from snowmobiles, is also a threat. Habituation of foxes to humans and human food sources may subject them to dog attacks, dog diseases and vehicle collisions.

Active mostly at night, Sierra Nevada red foxes spend winters in dens in earthen cavities in mature forest. They summer in high meadows, fell fields, talus slopes and shrub lands. They are adapted to cold and have particularly thick and deep winter coats and furry toe pads that help them to walk over snow. Their diet consists of rodents, small mammals, fruit, birds, insects and carrion. They are born into one of three color phases (red, black or cross) and are distinguishable from other native foxes by their black-backed ears and white-tipped tails.

******

Long Beach Post (Long Beach, CA)

More than 2,000 elegant tern chicks rescued at Long Beach Harbor in last month

Crystal Niebla, August 1, 2021

Within just a month, the number of rescued baby elegant terns, a local seabird species, rose from just a few dozen to more than 2,000 as of this week, officials at International Bird Rescue in San Pedro announced.

The chicks, who aren’t quite ready to fly or swim, keep stumbling off into the water from two anchored 180-foot-long barges in the Long Beach Harbor, according to officials.

“The elegant tern chicks on the barges are beginning to fledge, testing their flight muscles, and stretching their wings,” International Bird Rescue officials wrote in a statement. “This new burst of youthful activity is adding a new flavor—and new urgency—to rescue efforts in the water.”

The seabird colony of 3,000 to 4,000 adults generally nest on sandy beaches or lagoons. But due to human encroachment and activity, nesting spaces have dwindled. Officials suspects that’s why these elegant turns chose to colonize on these barges, which leaves them vulnerable to disturbances.

Chicks that were first startled off their nesting site in early July, possibly by boaters or fireworks, according to officials.

International Bird Rescue has deployed more than 10 floating platform “haul-outs” alongside the barges for the elegant terns to get out of the water safely. The haul-outs are low enough to the water’s surface for small terns to climb onto and get warm, officials said.

International Bird Rescue staff and its partners have also been scooping up fallen chicks and caring for them at their local bird clinic. Caretakers must evaluate, dry, warm and then hand-feed each bird. Teams then quickly return healthy chicks back to the barges because they will have the best chance of surviving in the wild if they are raised by their parents, officials said.

“As the young are returned to their colony they call out for their parents, creating a chorus of joyful reunion sounds that move rescue staff to continue this arduous work day after day,” officials said.

The terns are not currently considered an endangered species, but are closely monitored because they may become “near-threatened,” which the federal government defines as “any species that is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.”

Officials said rescue staff are leading a multi-agency team to patrol and monitor the nesting site that have been the focal point of this “unusual wildlife rescue.”

The number of rescued tern chicks at International Bird Rescue far exceeds the group’s normal caseload of the birds. To donate to these efforts, visit birdrescue.org/help-terns. If you find an injured or orphaned bird, call the Southern California Bird Help Line at 310-514-2573.

******

Desert Sun (Palm Springs, CA)

Tiny desert fish at risk of extinction in Death Valley area, environmental group says

Janet Wilson, Palm Springs Desert Sun, August 1, 2021

Environmentalists are pressing forward with a fight to protect a small fish that inhabits desert springs and streams in California’s Death Valley region.

The Center for Biological Diversity on Friday announced it has filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to seek Endangered Species Act protection for three populations of speckled dace, a minnow-like species that evolved to live in dry areas. The fish is threatened by excessive groundwater pumping for farms and residential development and geothermal energy development, they say.

“Our native freshwater fish deserve a break, and (federal) protections could provide some salvation to the speckled dace,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Death Valley region is at the epicenter of the mega-drought that’s frying the West, and the speckled dace inhabit fragile desert springs and rivers suffering from the driest year on record. Unsustainable and reckless water-extraction policies piled on top of the drought could drive these unique desert fish to extinction.”

The center petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for three populations of speckled dace in the region in June 2020. The tiny fish live in freshwater streams and springs in the desert and dry environments of Amargosa Canyon, Long Valley and Owens Valley.

The environmental group said the federal wildlife agency has since failed to make required findings on whether their petition presents substantial information that protecting the populations may be warranted.

A Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a letter sent to the Center for Biological Diversity in April, agency staff said the group had not submitted all the required information for protecting the three populations in its 2020 petition, and had failed to notify state wildlife officials. The environmental group denied those claims and said if the agency does not act within 60 days, it will file suit.

The environmental group said the threats to the speckled dace are part of large losses for aquatic species across the state. More than 80% of California’s native freshwater fishes are in decline due to “degrading quality and quantity of freshwater habitats,” the group said in a statement. Thirty-three of the state’s freshwater fish species are formally listed as threatened or endangered, it said, and seven native fish species have gone extinct.

Three populations struggle

Amargosa Canyon speckled dace live in a short reach of the Amargosa River and one tributary south of Tecopa, California. The river’s seasonal flow is being reduced by excessive groundwater extraction for agriculture, rural residential development and urbanization, they said. An essential portion of riparian habitat along the Willow Creek tributary also burned this spring, potentially decimating significant stream reaches for the fish.

Long Valley speckled dace once occurred in warm springs throughout the isolated Long Valley volcanic caldera, east of Mammoth Lakes. Geothermal energy development has altered the hydrology of hot springs in Long Valley and eliminated dace from creeks, lakes, springs and ponds.

The last natural population in Whitmore Hot Springs may have been wiped out, since surveys in 2019 failed to locate any fish. That would leave only one remaining population of Long Valley speckled dace in a managed refuge.

Owens speckled dace could once be found in most of the small streams and springs in the Owens Valley, but groundwater extraction has dried up many springs. Dace are hanging on in a few irrigation ditches, but their only remaining natural habitats in the valley are several isolated springs in Fish Slough near Bishop. Further groundwater depletion is jeopardizing those springs.

A litany of other human activities are threatening the dace in the Death Valley region, the group says, including habitat alteration and vegetation clearing, river channelization, livestock grazing, off-road vehicles and recreational development of hot spring water sources. Introduced fish, crayfish and bullfrogs also prey upon on and compete with speckled dace, and invasive plants such as salt cedar are severely altering spring and riparian habitats.

Long-term changes in precipitation, snow and runoff due to climate change will also result in reduced stream flows and inadequate aquifer recharge to sustain many of the ephemeral streams and springs that speckled dace rely on in the Death Valley region, they said.

******

CBC News (Toronto)

Windsor animal crossing leads to improvements in endangered snake populations

Other animals also using bridge to safely cross Highway 401

CBC News, Posted: Aug. 01, 2021

An animal crossing built across one of Ontario’s busiest highways has led to a surge in the population of endangered Fox snakes in the Windsor area.

The crossing was built over Highway 401, which was causing serious problems for various animal species in the area, field biologist Russ Jones said.

“The traffic never slowed down, even at night,” Jones said. “So even nocturnal animals couldn’t get a break. And it was, by all accounts, impermeable to any any snake that ever tried to cross here.”

“It was an impenetrable barrier made worse by the fact that there was really suitable habitat on both sides of the road,” he said. “So you’re getting it from both sides. And it was certainly a major cause of decline in this particular population of all wildlife, but especially the small terrestrial species such as snakes and amphibians and small mammals and things like that.”

Fox snakes, in particular, were “barely holding on,” Jones said. The snakes, which can grow to five feet in length, are unique to the Great Lakes region.

“They don’t have a very large global range, and they’re not really abundant anywhere in their range,” Jones said. “So it is a species that is is just apt to decline through things like fragmentation and habitat loss.”

Fox snakes ‘entirely harmless’

The crossing, which connects Spring Garden Natural Area and Oakwood Prairie, has made a difference, Jones said.

“We’ve been able to confirm that some of our endangered snakes have used it through radio telemetry and mark and recapture studies,” he said. “But the benefits go far beyond the endangered snakes.”

“There’s a whole host of animals that use this crossing, from deer to coyotes,” Jones said. “I’ve seen birds nesting up here. There’s pollinators because it’s been planted with wildflowers.”

Jones called the project “incredibly satisfying,” and noted it has a special significance to him, personally, due to its location.

“My childhood home was demolished because it was isolated through the course of this project,” he said. “It was inaccessible. So the entire row of houses needed to be taken out.”

“The home that I grew up in as a child was actually turned into a hibernation spot for snakes,” Jones said. “So, what a legacy to leave behind. It thrilling to me to watch my old neighborhood be converted into optimum habitat for endangered wildlife.”

Tough to spot

Jones encouraged people who come across fox snakes in the area to enjoy the moment, and take some photos.

“It’s an entirely harmless snake and it’s a beneficial species,” he said. “You’re just very lucky to see one.”

Fox snakes were proving elusive to two people who were using the area this week.

“From running around here and talking to some of the locals whenever we’re training, apparently there is a nest somewhere,” she said. “A big nest.”

“Lots of people have seen snakes, Ditto said. “Luckily I’ve never seen one, hope not to.”

Michelle Nesbitt hasn’t seen any fox snakes either, but said word of their resurgence doesn’t surprise her.

“There’s lots of snakes in this area,” Daralan Ditto said. “The most wildlife I’ve seen are the deer.”

“My friends and I have walked this trail, and we watched 20 deer cross over one of the bridges,” Nesbitt said. “We have seen lots of other wildlife, but not a ton of snakes.”

******

CNN

A stranded orca was freed from a rocky coastline in Alaska after being stuck for hours

By Alaa Elassar and Andy Rose, CNN, July 31, 2021

An orca that became stranded on a rocky beach in Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, Thursday morning was freed with the help of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and sailors who happened to be nearby.

The stranded killer whale was first discovered on the rocks by a nearby vessel, the Steadfast, according to NOAA, who “authorized them to use a seawater pump to keep the whale wet and any birds away,” NOAA spokesperson Julie Fair told CNN.

The boat crew kept an eye on the whale until a NOAA officer and Alaska Wildlife Troopers arrived.

“At times during the stranding, the killer whale was vocalizing and other killer whales were spotted in the vicinity,” Fair said.

The orca finally refloated as high tide came in Thursday afternoon, according to NOAA. Bay Cetology, a Canadian conservation group, was able to determine it was a 13-year-old juvenile Bigg’s killer whale they previously monitored and identified as T146D.

Fair said NOAA is examining photos and video of the killer whale to determine if it was injured. The animal was beached less than a day after an 8.2-magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of Alaska, but NOAA does not believe that caused the killer whale to become stranded.

A TikTok user who goes by the name Aroon Melane shared a video showing people helping keep the orca wet until NOAA arrived and said the whale was able to swim free once the tide returned.

“We heard there was a beached killer whale so we went to go find it. NOAA gave permission to keep the orca wet and protected from animals until they could arrive,” Melane says in the video. “We were working on getting a hose and pump to work. In the meantime, we used buckets to keep the orca wet. The orca started getting more lively after we put water on it.”

The killer whale was stuck for about six hours, she added.

This is not the first time a Bigg’s killer whale became stuck on rocks, according to Bay Cetology.

“Our research on this specific topic published last year shows that all killer whales live stranded along the west coast of North America in the last 2 decades have been of the Bigg’s ecotype and all of them survived, sometimes with a little help,” the conservation group said.

Transient killer whales hunt sea lions, according to the Alaska Department Fish and Game. They can often find themselves live stranded “in pursuit of prey,” a Bay Cetology research study said, adding that while human help isn’t always needed, it can often save the lives of the killer whales as well as their family bonds.

It is unclear how the orca became stranded or whether it was hunting seals when it got stuck.

******

The Portugal News

Fighting to protect endangered species

By TPN/Lusa, 30-07-2021

The environmentalist association Zero and the Botany Society of Portugal have stated that the creation of a national registry of threatened and endangered species and plants is essential.

The two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have appealed to the Minister of Environment and Climate Action, for the registry to be created within a maximum period of six months, once there is an indication that the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) is preparing a proposal for a legislative document for this purpose.

They have also appealed to the deputies of the Assembly of the Republic to “inscribe this issue as a priority on their agenda, with a view to carrying out their inspection action on the Government in the area of the environment, over the next few months”.

The national register of classified natural values is an operational instrument that consists of an information file on plant and animal species considered to be threatened, according to the criteria from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The two NGOs state that the creation of the register, foreseen in legislation for almost 13 years, “will allow legal protection to all species with a threat status that occur inside and outside classified areas”

With the creation of the register, according to Zero and the Portuguese Society of Botany, certain acts likely to threaten classified plant or animal species, such as acts of harvesting, capturing, transporting or marketing, will be considered environmental infractions, which may lead to fines of up to €200,000 for individuals and €5 million for companies.

For these two NGOs, “there are no objective reasons to delay the creation of the register”, since most of the information necessary for its production is already available.

These organisations also recall that, of the 630 plants evaluated as being on the red list of vascular flora in mainland Portugal, 381 are threatened but only 17 percent of the threatened plants currently benefit from some legal protection.

******

The Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Orcas’ West Coast Habitat Receives New Federal Protection

15,910 Square Miles of Critical Habitat Added to Existing Salish Sea Protections

SEATTLE—(July 30, 2021)—Responding to legal pressure from the Center for Biological Diversity, the federal government finalized a new rule today expanding critical habitat protection along the West Coast for critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales. The population of Southern Residents stands at just 74 orcas.

The National Marine Fisheries Service designated 15,910 square miles of new critical habitat, expanding current protections in Washington’s Salish Sea south along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California to Point Sur.

The final rule, which is more protective than the one proposed in September 2019, follows an April 2019 court-ordered agreement achieved after the Center sued the Trump administration in 2018 for failing to issue habitat protections required by the Endangered Species Act.

“These critically endangered orcas are finally getting the federal habitat protections they desperately need,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney at the Center. “This long-overdue habitat rule will help save these extraordinary animals and their prey from pollution, noise, harassment and habitat degradation. But we have to do more to help this endangered population rebound, including restoring the native salmon runs they need to survive.”

The expanded critical habitat covers important foraging areas, river mouths and migratory pathways along the Pacific Coast from the Canadian border to Big Sur, California. Added to the current habitat protections in Washington’s inland waters, the total designation encompasses more than 18,000 square miles of marine habitat.

While these orcas spend much of the summer in the Puget Sound and Salish Sea (areas protected as critical habitat in 2006), they travel extensively along the West Coast during the winter and early spring, congregating near coastal rivers to rest and feed on migrating salmon.

The Center petitioned in 2014 to better protect areas off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. The Endangered Species Act prohibits federal agencies from authorizing activities that will destroy or harm a listed species’ critical habitat. Animals with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering as species without it, a Center study found.

The Center has other pending lawsuits against the federal government to protect Southern Resident killer whales. A lawsuit filed in 2019 seeks an updated analysis of how Pacific salmon fishing is harming the orcas and management measures to reduce that harm, and one filed in 2021 seeks an analysis of noise pollution, contaminants and disturbance in the orcas’ Salish Sea habitat from dredging Seattle Harbor to allow larger container ships.

******

The Colorado Sun (Denver, CO)

Coalition seeks relisting of gray wolves in US West as states pass laws to drastically cut their numbers

The groups cite unregulated hunting, poaching and genetic problems for why the gray wolf should be listed under the Endangered Species Act

By Keith Ridler, The Associated Press, July 30, 2021

BOISE, Idaho—Wildlife advocates on Thursday petitioned federal officials to restore federal protections for gray wolves throughout the U.S. West after Idaho and Montana passed laws intended to drastically cut their numbers.

Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians and others sent the petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency is supposed to respond within 90 days on whether there is enough information for a potential listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The groups cite unregulated hunting, poaching and genetic problems involving small wolf populations.

“Wolves remain completely absent from suitable habitats or perilously close to extinction in many western states, and the handful of states surrounding Yellowstone National Park are now driving the larger populations toward extinction — endangered species listing — by ramping up wolf killing and stripping away hunting and trapping regulations in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project.

In May, Idaho Republican Gov. Brad Little signed a measure lawmakers said could lead to killing 90% of the state’s 1,500 wolves through expanded trapping and hunting. It took effect July 1.

Lawmakers pushing the measure, backed by trappers and the powerful ranching sector but heavily criticized by environmental advocates, often said the state can cut the number of wolves to 150 before federal authorities would take over management. They said reducing the population would reduce attacks on livestock and boost deer and elk herds.

A primary change in the new law allows the state to hire private contractors to kill wolves and provides more money for state officials to hire the contractors. The law also expands killing methods to include trapping and snaring wolves on a single hunting tag, using night-vision equipment, chasing wolves on snowmobiles and ATVs and shooting them from helicopters. It also authorizes year-round wolf trapping on private property.

The state Department of Fish and Game reported in February that the wolf population has held at about 1,500 the past two years. The numbers were derived in part by using remote cameras.

About 500 wolves have been killed in the state in each of the last two years by hunters, trappers and state and federal authorities carrying out wolf control measures.

Wildlife authorities in Montana, following new laws, have been looking at changes such as increasing the number of wolves an individual can hunt to between five and 10. A decision is expected in August.

Authorities said this year they expect the state’s wolf population to decrease from around 1,150 to between 900 and 950 following a particularly successful hunting season. Over 320 wolves were harvested during the 2020 hunting season — significantly more than the preceding eight-year average of 242 wolves per year, according to a report released by the department in June.

The petition seeks to protect wolves in those two states as well as Wyoming, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, California, Nevada and northern Arizona. The petition said those states are part of the range of wolves.

“These wolves are at risk of extinction throughout all of their range, and unquestionably are at risk of immediate extinction in significant portions of their range,” the 63-page petition states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

******

Courthouse News Service

Perilously low funding for endangered species puts Congress into action

Congress provides only about 3.5% of the funding that the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to recover species, according to a study. A series of bills considered in a House Committee hearing on Thursday would increase funding as well as protections to endangered wildlife.

SAMANTHA HAWKINS, July 29, 2021

WASHINGTON (CN) — Multimillion-dollar funding is on the table as lawmakers consider a series of bills that would address underfunded projects to protect endangered wildlife.

“We do a remarkable job saving species when we put our mind to it, and when we invest,” Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation, said at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife on Thursday. “Unfortunately, we’re only investing in a small number of the species in need, and we are headed for an irreversible disaster if we don’t act now.”

Around the globe, an unprecedented 1 million species are at a heightened risk of extinction. In the United States, it’s more than one-third of species — including over 40% of freshwater fish and 30% of bird populations.

O’Mara said that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, ranging from large mammals to butterflies to freshwater mussels, but history shows we can remedy it.

“While preventing extinctions and recovering wildlife are huge undertakings, targeted efforts can make enormous headway,” said Erika Zavaleta, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, describing the coordinated actions by federal state and tribal agencies that brought the California condor back from extinction in the wild.

But, Zavaleta says, there needs to be targeted funding.

Out of the 15 bills under consideration at the hearing Thursday, the biggest chunk of funding could come from Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, a bill that would provide $1.4 billion annually to states and tribes to restore essential habitats to 12,000 species that State Wildlife Action Plans have identified as in need of conservation.

“That’s what this does: it empowers the states,” said Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan, the bill’s lead sponsor.

The bill passed through the committee last year 26-6, but died before getting a full vote in the House.

Congress today appropriates about $60 million in wildlife grants to states each year. A 2016 study by the Center for Biological Diversity found that Congress provides only about 3.5% of the funding that the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to recover species. As the funds are insufficient to make a dent in wildlife protection, many states secure additional funding through general appropriations or creative solutions like lottery funds or specialty license plates.

Another bill slated for consideration is the Extinction Prevention Act, which would create four grant programs, each providing $5 million per year to fund critically endangered North American butterflies, freshwater mussels, desert fish and Hawaiian plants.

Other bills would provide $125 million in emergency funding to save the western population of monarch butterflies from extinction, create grant programs funded at $5 million each to protect endangered amphibians and strengthen a successful marine mammal rescue program.

“The global extinction crisis is ravaging life on earth, so it’s heartening to see Congress begin to address the devastating decline of wildlife,” Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services supported the majority of the legislation, it noted that some of the bills weren’t necessary — like a bill that would prohibit the import, export and interstate trade of bear parts. Bear organs are sold around the world for nontraditional medicinal purposes, and their sale has caused rapid declines in Asian bear populations.

In testimony in front of the committee, Deputy Director for Policy for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Stephen Guertin said that the service appreciates the intent of the legislation but that the Lacey Act is already an effective tool in dealing with illegally traded black bear parts.

Guertin also questioned a bill that would prohibit people from owning primates, citing doubts about the service’s ability to meet the extended enforcement mandate that the bill would create and predicting that it would jeopardize the service’s main objectives to conserve endangered wildlife populations.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

House Hearing to Focus on Bills to Save Critically Endangered Species

WASHINGTON—(July 28, 2021)—The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife will hold a legislative hearing Thursday to review more than a dozen conservation bills, which would provide millions of dollars in long-overdue funding for protecting and recovering critically endangered species and ecosystems.

“The global extinction crisis is ravaging life on earth, so it’s heartening to see Congress begin to address the devastating decline of wildlife,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These bills offer real hope that help is finally on the way for some of our most neglected and endangered animals and plants.”

The Extinction Prevention Act (H.R. 3396), for example, would create four grant programs. Each would provide $5 million per year to fund crucial conservation work for some of the most critically imperiled species in the United States: North American butterflies, freshwater mussels, desert fish and Hawaiian plants.

A 2016 study found that Congress only provides approximately 3.5% of the funding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s own scientists estimate is needed to recover species. Roughly 1 in 4 species receives less than $10,000 a year toward recovery.

H.R. 1983, the Monarch Action, Recovery and Conservation of Habitat Act (MONARCH Act) would provide $125 million in emergency funds over five years to save the western population of monarch butterflies from extinction. This past winter, only 1,914 monarchs were recorded overwintering on the California coast — the lowest number ever recorded.

“This is exactly the kind of bold legislation needed for the U.S. to reclaim its position as a world leader on conservation,” said Kurose. “We’re in a race against the clock to save life on earth, so we need Congress to step up to this immense challenge now more than ever. Passing these bills would be a great start.”

Both the Critically Endangered Animals Conservation Act (H.R. 1569) and the Global Amphibian Protection Act (H.R. 2026) would establish grant programs funded at $5 million each for on-the-ground conservation actions to protect critically endangered animals and amphibians around the world.

Thursday’s hearing will consider 11 other bills, including the following legislation that would also benefit imperiled wildlife:

H.R. 2773: Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), which would provide $1.3 billion for state fish and game agencies to conserve fish and wildlife species of greatest conservation need. At least 15% of this funding would be used towards recovering federally listed threatened and endangered species;

H.R. 2325: Bear Protection Act, which would prohibit the import, export and interstate trade of bear parts and products;

H.R. 3135: Captive Primate Safety Act, which would prohibit private ownership and interstate commerce of monkeys, apes and other primates.

******

Newsweek

Endangered California Salmon Could Disappear Due to Trump Era Water Policy, Says Senator

BY ED BROWNE ON 7/28/21

A California senator has blasted a Trump-era water policy, citing the destructive impact it is having on a species of endangered salmon in the state due to droughts and high water temperatures.

Mike McGuire, a Democrat and chair of the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture (JCFA), held a hearing on Tuesday to highlight the issue and call for change.

It comes after the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) said earlier in July that persistent hot weather could result in hotter water and that this, in turn, could mean an almost complete loss of Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River.

Drought conditions are typically harmful to salmon populations, and cold-water releases from reservoirs can help alleviate this effect.

However, a policy of the Trump administration, that is still in place today, may make this more difficult because it allows more water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers to be used for agriculture purposes.

California filed a federal lawsuit in 2020 to push back against the policy because of fears it could harm species and natural resources.

Now, the policy is being scrutinized again since it is still being carried forward today by President Joe Biden’s administration.

In a statement ahead of the hearing, McGuire said: “The alarm couldn’t be louder. We are on the brink of a total species collapse due to the historic drought and arcane federal water policy.

“Tuesday’s hearing will be critical: we will discuss current conditions, how we’ve been ignoring lessons learned from the last drought, and what we can do as a state to save endangered species that are on the brink of total collapse.”

Winter-run Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, though that status is not the same for all of the species’ populations.

Other rivers also emerged as areas of concern. Joseph James, chair of the Yurok Tribe who was invited to speak at the hearing, described a “full-blown emergency issue” in the Klamath River, and said “our children’s future depends on ensuring that fish not only survive, but thrive,” according to California news outlet the Times Standard.

California is currently experiencing a drought season along with many other states in western parts of the U.S.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s drought monitor shows that 94.8 percent of California is currently experiencing “severe drought,” while a third of the state is experiencing “exceptional drought” conditions—the most severe level.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Threatened Over U.S. Failure to Protect Imperiled Wildlife From Marine Highway Program

Program Funds Expansion of Ship Traffic That Harms Protected Species

PORTLAND, Ore.—(July 27, 2021) The Center for Biological Diversity fired a shot across the bow of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration today for failing to ensure that protected species are not jeopardized by the America’s Marine Highway Program. The program seeks to expand shipping on major rivers and coastal areas in Washington, Oregon, Virginia and other states where listed species are at risk.

“Large vessels routinely kill highly endangered species like Atlantic sturgeon and chinook salmon, yet that’s being ignored by the federal agency that funds barge traffic expansion in their habitat,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center. “Federal officials need to ensure that imperiled species aren’t jeopardized by this broad program. Protecting these animals from ships is required by the law, and it’s also the right thing to do.”

The America’s Marine Highway Program aims to expand the use of the country’s navigable waters for shipping. The agency promotes and funds the expansion of the marine highway system, which includes major rivers, such as the Columbia and Hudson rivers, as well as the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The program provides grants to purchase barges known to harm protected species through collisions, spills of fuel or chemicals, and expanded transport of fossil fuels, thereby contributing to the climate crisis.

In Virginia’s James River, where the program has funded barge traffic expansion, vessel collisions have killed dozens of Atlantic sturgeon, a highly endangered species. In the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River, where barge traffic is also subsidized by the program, ship traffic threatens juvenile salmon and other fish, as well as endangered whales and leatherback sea turtles that feed at the river’s mouth.

“Federal officials can’t keep sacrificing our waters and wildlife by ignoring the impacts of a program that has the potential to cause widespread harm,” said Margolis. “The government needs to ensure that programs like this fully consider environmental risks before investments are made and species are lost.”

The Maritime Administration has funded dozens of projects across the country. It recently announced that nearly $11 million has been made available for grants in 2021.

But the agency has failed undertake the required consultation with expert wildlife agencies to ensure that the program will not jeopardize imperiled animals. This includes programmatic consultation, which is necessary to establish standards and guidelines to avoid or minimize the effects of the program by instituting protocols to track and respond to the collective impacts on endangered species from the projects funded by the agency.

******

Reuters

Utah asks to join U.S., NRA in gray wolf delisting case

Sebastien Malo, July 27, 2021

(Reuters) – The state of Utah has asked a federal court in Oakland for permission to join in a lawsuit in order to oppose conservation groups that are challenging the removal of gray wolves from the list of endangered and threatened species in the lower 48 states.

In a Monday filing, Utah said it wants to join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Rifle Association in defending the Trump administration’s December decision to de-list the gray wolf. WildEarth Guardians and other groups sued the government to undo the decision in January, alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

John Mellgren, a lawyer with the Western Environmental Law Center who represents the plaintiffs, said his clients had not yet taken a position on Utah’s move.

The Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment, said its spokesperson Vanessa Kauffman. The Utah attorney general’s office also declined to comment through a spokesperson.

Utah told Senior U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White that because the delisting of gray wolves turned over the management of its population to states, it has “legally protectable interests” in fighting the plaintiffs’ lawsuit.

Utah says that roughly 20 gray wolves live within its territory. But with neighboring Colorado recently voting to reintroduce gray wolves into the Rockies’ Western Slope in the coming years, Utah says in its court filing that it must “manage” the predator’s population to protect its livestock.

The Trump administration in October announced it would lift ESA protections for the gray wolf, arguing the species had been brought back successfully from the brink of extinction. The delisting took effect on Jan. 4.

The move was a win for ranchers who argue that larger numbers of wolves threaten livestock, while conservation groups said the species has yet to recover in much of its former range, including Northern California and the Northeast.

The conservation groups that sued the Fish and Wildlife Service over the delisting in January also include the Western Watersheds Project and Cascadia Wildlands. They argue that the wolf’s delisting “conflicts with the Service’s responsibility to take a precautionary approach to wildlife management” in accordance with the ESA.

The National Rifle Association was granted permission to intervene as a defendant in the case in May. It said that if the plaintiffs win their case, the wolves will be relisted, and its members won’t be allowed to hunt them as game during state-run wolf hunting seasons.

The case is WildEarth Guardians v. Bernhardt, U.S. District Court for the California Northern District, No. 4:21-cv-00349.

(For WildEarth Guardians et al: John Mellgren of the Western Environmental Law Center. For David Bernhardt et al: Michael Eitel with the U.S. Department of Justice)

******

Newsweek

Critically Endangered Bird Believed to Be Dead Re-Emerges After Nearly Two Years

BY ANABELLE DOLINER ON 7/27/21

The discovery of an ultra-rare, parrot-like kiwikiu on Maui—believed to have died 605 days ago—is giving scientists hope for the critically endangered species.

According to the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project (MFBRP), this species, a type of Hawaiian honeycreeper, is endemic to Maui: the birds were once found across the island in addition to neighboring Moloka’i. Now, however, a combination of habitat loss, disease, and the threat of non-native species has limited the kiwikiu to a small section of Maui.

Also known as the Maui Parrotbill, this species of bird features green and yellow coloring, as well as a large, heavy bill. Males and females of this species pair up for life, and can live as long as sixteen years. As explained by the American Bird Conservancy, the kiwikiu has previously faced an uncertain future: the species was believed to have gone extinct throughout the first half of the 20th century, but was rediscovered in 1950.

Since then, their population size has remained relatively small, with numbers currently hovering around 150.

In a Friday statement released on Facebook by Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), the agency called the re-discovery of this particular kiwikiu “remarkable” as it “provides [a] glimmer of hope for saving a species.”

The bird in question was reportedly part of an October 2019 translocation attempt. Seven kiwikiu were released into a Maui natural reserve, in an effort to help the species repopulate. The mission, however, did not go as researchers had hoped. The birds faced a deadly avian malaria, spread via non-native mosquitoes and encouraged by the warm, wet weather brought by climate change. Soon, five of the seven birds were found dead, and the two remaining, both of whom went missing, were believed to have been killed by the same disease.

Now, over 600 days later, scientists have renewed hope for the species. As reported by the agency, Zach Pezzillo of the DLNR announced his incredible discovery last week. “I first heard what I thought might be a distant kiwikiu song,” he said. “It then sang about ten times across a gulch in some koa trees. It dropped down into some kolea trees where it spent the next twenty minutes calling and actively foraging through the berries, bark, and leaves. I walked down into the gulch to get a closer look.”

Upon inspecting the bird, he noticed its distinct leg bands, clearly identifying it as a male bird known as “wild #1” from the 2019 translocation mission.

The bird’s re-emergence shows the potential for the species to recover—and highlights the grave threats posed by factors like climate change and rampant, invasive disease.

“This bird has been exposed to disease, as the others were, and has somehow persevered,” explained Dr. Hanna Mounce, MFBRP Coordinator. “This is an amazing sign of hope for the species as we still may have time to save them.”

She added: “This is a hopeful sign that a population of kiwikiu and other native forest birds could survive in restored landscapes in the future, especially without mosquitoes and disease.”

(Newsweek has attempted to contact the MFBRP and Hawaii’s DLNR for further comment.)

******

E&E News/GreenWire

Feds retain protections for Texas songbird, again

By Michael Doyle, 07/26/2021

The Fish and Wildlife Service said today it has again rejected a high-profile petition by Texas conservatives to remove Endangered Species Act protections from the golden-cheeked warbler.

Ordered by a federal appellate court to take a second look at the delisting petition, FWS said it reached the same dire conclusion about the small, migratory songbird.

“We find that the petition does not present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating the [delisting] may be warranted for the golden-cheeked warbler,” FWS said.

As a result of the finding, the agency added that it will conduct a more extensive “status review” of the species.

The golden-cheeked warbler was added to the ESA list of endangered species in 1990.

A 2014 status review concluded that the bird “is threatened by ongoing and imminent habitat loss” and noted that “there had been an estimated 29% loss of existing breeding season habitat between 1999-2001 and 2010-2011.”

In the past, juniper clearing to create pastures for cattle grazing, as well as to produce fence posts, furniture and oil, destroyed habitat. More recent habitat loss in Travis, Williamson and Bexar counties is due to rapid suburban development.

“The human population is projected to continue to increase throughout the [bird’s] range,” the status review noted. “This growth will continue to bring additional residential and commercial development, which will further reduce and fragment … breeding habitat.”

In 2015, Texans for Positive Economic Policy, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Reason Foundation filed a delisting petition. The petitioners also included Susan Combs, identified as a “fourth-generation Texan with a ranch in Brewster County” who had served as a state representative, agriculture commissioner and state comptroller.

Combs subsequently served in the Trump administration as the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for policy, management and budget and also did a stint as acting assistant Interior secretary for fish and wildlife and parks.

The 2015 petition disputed the findings from FWS about the warbler, saying that “multiple surveys and research have established that the warbler breeding habitat is five times larger … and that the warbler population is an order of magnitude greater” than the agency had originally estimated.

Last year, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a trial judge and ordered FWS to reconsider its prior rejection of the 2015 petition to delist the bird(Greenwire, Jan. 16, 2020).

Judge Carolyn Dineen King wrote that “a careful examination” showed the agency applied an “inappropriately heightened” standard requiring the delisting petition to contain information that officials had not considered and that might refute the conclusions of a prior species status review.

King was appointed to the appeals court by President Carter. Judges James Dennis, a Clinton appointee, and Edith Jones, a Reagan appointee, joined in the unanimous panel decision.

While ordering another delisting petition review, the court rejected a Texas General Land Office bid to overturn altogether the original ESA listing decision.

FWS also said today that Alexander Archipelago wolves in southeastern Alaska may warrant protection under the ESA and started a yearlong status review. The decision comes in response to a July 2020 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, Alaska Rainforest Defenders and Defenders of Wildlife. In addition, FWS in response to a 2020 petition from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation said it would review the western ridged mussel.

******

UpNorthLive TV News (Traverse City, MI)

AG Nessel in legal fight to keep gray wolves on endangered list

by UpNorthLive News, July 26th 2021

LANSING, Mich. (WPBN/WGTU) — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum have submitted a brief in the Wolf Delisting litigation fighting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove gray wolves from the list of endangered species.

Nessel said she previously urged the Service not to use Michigan’s successful recovery efforts of the species to delist the gray wolf nationwide.

More: Michigan wolf population at nearly 700 but leveling off

This brief argues that the Service made this move contrary to the Endangered Species Act and to the detriment of gray wolf populations in other states.

The brief – filed Friday in the U.S. District Court Northern District of California, asserts that the Service unlawfully delisted gray wolves based on the species’ status in Michigan and other Great Lakes states.

The reason’s highlighted in the brief on why this shouldn’t have happened:

*The Service must look to a species’ current range, i.e., where it currently exists, to determine whether it is endangered;

*The Service must analyze the five statutory factors for delisting for each state in which a species is actually located; and

*The Service may not break a species into recovered populations in a way that cuts out orphan populations that would otherwise be entitled to protection.

“By delisting the gray wolf nationwide, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service abandoned its obligation to protect endangered gray wolves wherever they are found. Turning cooperative federalism on its head, the Service weaponized our effective wolf recovery in the Great Lakes region against wolf populations struggling to recover in other states,” said Nessel. “The facts are clear here: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can only use Michigan’s successes in Michigan, not nationwide. Where wolves remain endangered, they must remain listed.”

In the brief, Nessel argues that the Endangered Species Act does not authorize the Service to pick and choose where endangered species should recover. In fact, the Service must protect the gray wolves where they are also currently found – in Washington, Oregon, California, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Kansas.

In 2019, Attorney General Nessel asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to abandon its proposal to delist the gray wolves, citing that it failed to analyze whether the gray wolves living in more than a dozen other states were in danger of extinction.

According to Nessel, the federal government, instead, focused irresponsibly and unlawfully on Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Service finalized its proposed rule and as a result, the gray wolf was removed from the endangered species list nationwide in 2020. A legal battle is currently underway, thus prompting the filing of this amicus brief by the attorneys general of Michigan and Oregon.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Rare Southeast Alaska Wolf One Step Closer to Endangered Species Protection

Alexander Archipelago Wolves Threatened by Forest Clearcutting, Trapping

SITKA, Alaska—(July 26, 2021) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that Alexander Archipelago wolves in Southeast Alaska may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act and started a year-long status review. The decision comes in response to a July 2020 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, Alaska Rainforest Defenders and Defenders of Wildlife.

“These beautiful wolves are threatened with extinction because of increased trapping and rampant logging in their forest home,” said Ted Zukoski, a senior attorney at the Center. “They’re vital to the health of the Tongass forest ecosystem, but they live in a sacrifice zone for timber mills. If these wolves are going to survive, they urgently need the Endangered Species Act’s protection, not traps and chainsaws.”

The rare gray wolf subspecies, which inhabits the coastal rainforests of Southeast Alaska and British Columbia, faces numerous threats. Legal trapping recently killed more than half the wolves in one key population on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. The Trump administration opened hundreds of thousands of acres of the wolf’s forest habitat to clearcut logging. And genetic evidence indicates the Prince of Wales population is in danger from high levels of inbreeding.

“Threats to the continued existence of these unique wolves have been worsening for many years, in terms both of habitat loss and mismanagement by the state and federal agencies that are responsible for maintaining the populations at a healthy size,” said Larry Edwards of Alaska Rainforest Defenders.

The Fish and Wildlife Service determined that protecting Alexander Archipelago wolves may be warranted based on logging and road development, illegal and legal trapping and hunting, the effects of climate change and loss of genetic diversity and inbreeding.

“The precarious position of these wolves is mainly driven by habitat loss and fragmentation caused by extensive logging and roadbuilding in old-growth forests,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director, Defenders of Wildlife. “Wolves and other wildlife are dependent on intact old-growth habitat. Protecting our rare ancient forests is critical to conserving biodiversity and an important climate change mitigation strategy.”

Background

Clearcut logging on the Tongass National Forest and adjacent state and private lands destroys and fragments the old-growth forest habitat that wolves rely on for raising pups and hunting their primary prey, Sitka black-tailed deer. Road construction for logging operations also allows increased access for trappers and hunters.

In recent years the U.S. Forest Service has authorized intensive old-growth logging and road building concentrated in the wolves’ most important habitat, including the largest timber sale in any national forest in 30 years. That’s despite direction in the Tongass land management plan to move away from old-growth logging.

In 2020 the Trump administration increased threats to the wolves by exempting the Tongass National Forest from the roadless area conservation rule, opening 168,000 additional acres of irreplaceable old-growth forest to clearcut logging. Conservation groups are suing to restore those protections.

Earlier this month the Biden administration announced the Forest Service will restore roadless protections to the Tongass and cancel three major timber projects. This new initiative to spare old and mature forests on the Tongass from large-scale logging promises to reduce future destruction of wolf habitat.

But the wolf’s low numbers, mismanagement of trapping, damage from past national forest logging, continued intensive logging of old forests on state lands and likely inbreeding means the animal is still threatened with extinction.

On Prince of Wales Island, which harbors a focal population of these wolves, an unprecedented 165 wolves were killed during the 2019-2020 trapping season. This alarming slaughter occurred after state and federal wildlife managers ignored the recommendations of their wolf management program and eliminated limits on the number of wolves that could be trapped or hunted. State and federal officials authorized a 21-day trapping season on Prince Wales Island during November and December 2020 with no limit on wolf killing. The season’s death toll was 68 wolves, the second-highest level of legal killing since 2005.

In 2016 the Fish and Wildlife Service denied Endangered Species Act protection to Alexander Archipelago wolves largely based on the claim that wolf populations in British Columbia were stable, while acknowledging the more precarious status of wolves in Southeast Alaska.

Threats to the wolves in Alaska have escalated since 2016 because of inadequate federal and state management, the Trump administration’s elimination of protections across much of their habitat, and continued logging and road building on multiple forestland ownerships.

Protection under the Act would require state and federal agencies to better manage threats to the wolves, take measures that protect their habitat and limit hunting and trapping.

******

Tampa Bay Times

Red Tide suspected as manatees deaths pile up in Tampa Bay

Manatees were already dying in record numbers in Florida this year. Now Red Tide threatens them.

By Gabe Stern, July 23, 2021

Red Tide is suspected in the deaths suffered by a vulnerable species that has already suffered greatly this year: The manatee.

The brevetoxins released by Red Tide are suspected in the deaths of eight of nine manatees recently found off the coasts of Pinellas and Hillsborough, according to data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The carcasses were found over a seven-day span starting July 15 through Thursday, when the last two were discovered. One carcass in Pinellas was discovered by a ranger about 10:30 a.m. Thursday in Fort De Soto Park. An hour later, another dead manatee was found on the other side of the bay near Riverview. That cause of death is still pending.

The manatee deaths are the latest sign of the toll Red Tide has taken on Tampa Bay’s marine ecosystem. Crews have removed more than 1,518 tons of dead sea life and debris from St. Petersburg and the Pinellas beaches, including goliath grouper and tarpon, with reports of afflicted dolphins and turtles also being found.

The Tampa Bay manatee deaths are part of a grisly situation developing on the west coast: According to state data, more than 30 manatee deaths linked to Red Tide have been discovered in an area that the FWC defines as “Red Tide Bloom Boundary.” That means the waters off the southwest coast of Florida that have shown high concentrations of Red Tide, including Tampa Bay.

Each death has been designated as either Red Tide “positive” or “suspect,” which is determined by the levels of toxins detected.

Red Tide is exacerbating what has already been a catastrophically deadly year for manatees, which in 2017 was reclassified as a threatened, not endangered, species. The state says 866 manatee deaths were recorded this year through July 16 — already surpassing the record 830 that died in all of 2013.

Most of the 2021 manatee deaths are blamed on starvation because of the lack of food sources along their Atlantic migration route, especially the loss of seagrass in the Indian River lagoon.

“The more recent mortality is shifting to a higher incidence on the west coast,” said Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of the environmental protection nonprofit Save the Manatee Club. He also said boat collisions have also returned as a leading cause of manatee deaths.

There are two ways that Red Tide toxins can harm manatees, Rose said.

Manatees can inhale the toxins while swimming through a bloom. They could also be sickened after consuming the toxins that settle in seagrass, which is their food source.

Red Tide blooms can threaten manatees in another way, by blocking the sunlight that seagrass need to grow, shrinking that food source, said J.P. Brooker of the Ocean Conservancy.

The algal bloom currently afflicting Tampa Bay and the Pinellas beaches floated north into the bay from Lee County earlier this year, and manatees appear to have died along a similar track. The last Red Tide-linked death found in Lee County was on June 8, according to state data. The first Red Tide-related manatee death in Tampa Bay was found June 17.

The manatee situation prompted Clearwater Marine Aquarium officials to announce Wednesday their plans to spend up to $2 million to build a manatee rehab center at Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs. The facility will be upgraded to house up to six manatees at a time in the big pool, which measures 40 feet across and is 8 feet deep.

“I’ve never seen it this bad after 50 years of study,” aquarium director James Powell told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this week.

He said the rehab center is needed as the species suffers from a “perfect storm” of threats: lack of seagrass in the Indian River lagoon, reckless boat drivers and now Red Tide.

******

Washington Post

Groups urge state to protect last wild Atlantic salmon in US

By Patrick Whittle, AP, July 23, 2021

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine is home to the last wild Atlantic salmon populations in the U.S., but a new push to protect the fish at the state level is unlikely to land them on the endangered list.

Atlantic salmon once teemed in U.S. rivers, but now return from the sea to only a handful of rivers in eastern and central Maine. The fish are protected at the federal level under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, but a coalition of environmental groups and scientists said the fish could be afforded more protections if they were added to Maine’s own list of endangered and threatened species.

State law allows Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher to make that recommendation, but his office told The Associated Press he does not intend to do it. The department has done extensive work to conserve and restore the fish, and the commissioner “does not believe a listing at the state level would afford additional conservation benefits or protections,” said Jeff Nichols, a department spokesperson.

The environmentalists who want to see the fish on the state list said they’re going to keep pushing for it and other protections. Adding the fish to the state endangered list would mean conservation of salmon would be treated as a bigger concern in state permitting processes, said John Burrows, executive director for U.S. operations for the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

“The state of Maine and a handful of our rivers are the only places in the country that still have wild Atlantic salmon,” Burrows said. “It’s something that should happen, and should have happened.”

Atlantic salmon have disappeared from U.S. rivers because of damming, pollution and others environmental challenges, and they also face the looming threat of climate change. Nevertheless, there have been some positive signs in Maine rivers in recent years.

More than 1,400 salmon returned to the Penobscot River in 2020. That was the highest number since 2011, the Maine marine resources department found. The Penobscot is the most productive river for the salmon. It averaged only about 700 fish per year from 2012 to 2019.

Attempts to repopulate Atlantic salmon in other states have stalled. The federal government ended an attempt to restore Atlantic salmon in the Connecticut River basin in 2012 after several decades because of lack of success.

Getting the fish listed on the Maine endangered list has long been a goal of many environmental groups. The Maine Endangered Species Act includes 26 endangered species and 25 threatened ones. The list includes two fish: the endangered redfin pickerel and the threatened swamp darter.

The list is designed to provide state-level protection to jeopardized species and is a complement to the U.S. Endangered Species Act. A few species, including the piping plover, are listed on both.

Environmentalists supported a bill in the Maine Legislature earlier this year that would have required the marine resources commissioner to recommend a state listing for any species that is federally listed as endangered or threatened. The proposal died in committee in June.

A group of 19 organizations and 10 scientists and conservationists sent a letter to the state that said Maine is one of the few states that doesn’t mandate or recommend state-level listing of federally listed species. Dwayne Shaw, director of the Downeast Salmon Federation, said wildlife advocates will continue pushing for salmon protections.

“There would be great symbolism in this, but there would also be direct implications, positive implications for the species,” Shaw said.

******

Star Advertiser (Honolulu, HI)

Maui officials discover lone kiwikiu, critically endangered bird presumed dead

By Timothy Hurley, July 23, 2021

The discovery on Maui of a lone kiwikiu — thought to be long dead following a failed attempt to establish a second population of the critically endangered species — is giving hope to conservationists working to save the bird from extinction.

The bird was spotted alive and well Wednesday in the Nakula Natural Area Reserve high on the leeward slopes of Haleakala 20 months after it disappeared and was presumed dead.

“It was a very incredible moment, to find this bird alive and doing so well,” said Zach Pezzillo with the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project. Pezzillo recounted the story of how he found the bird in a virtual news conference today.

With a pair of binoculars, Pezzillo was able to spot the bird’s unique leg bands and he knew it was the bird designated as No. 1, the first male kiwikiu captured in the Hanawi Natural Area Reserve on the windward side of Haleakala in 2019 for removal to a new home.

During the October 2019 translocation mission, seven wild kiwikiu from Hanawi were released into Nakula as part of a larger effort to establish kiwikiu in newly restored forests and expand the available habitat to help prevent the extinction of a species thought to have a population with fewer than 150 individuals.

Within a few weeks, five of the seven wild translocated kiwikiu died, the surprise victims of avian malaria, which had reached a higher elevation than had been expected. The other two were missing but scientists assumed they there felled by the same disease.

“The fact that he is doing so well out there and evading detection this long is really unbelievable,” said Hanna Mounce, coordinator of the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project.

In an earlier statement, Mounce called the discovery “an amazing sign of hope” for the species that conservationists still may have time to save.

“Work needs to continue on avian disease and mosquito control as the rate of survival from malaria is low overall for this species with only one in seven surviving. This is a hopeful sign that a population of kiwikiu and other native forest birds could survive in restored landscapes in the future, especially without mosquitoes and disease,” she said.

However, officials said the discovery is unlikely to change the current plan to save the bird, which includes capturing up to 30 kiwikiu and shipping them to zoo facilities in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Utah while officials figure out how to control the disease-carrying mosquitoes in the wild.

Lainie Berry, a biologist with the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife, told the Board of Land and Natural Resources in April that the species will reach “functional extinction” by 2027 unless officials take action.

While removing 30 birds from the wild population would shorten the extinction timeline by an estimated three years, Berry said it is worth the risk to protect a portion of the population from avian malaria.

She called the mainland move a temporary one — until a Hawaii site can be secured for safe release.

“We will carefully analyze what led to the survival of No. 1, but it’s much too soon to say whether this will change our options for trying to save kiwikiu,” Mounce said. “We thought we had lost all the translocated birds to malaria, but this one’s survival has given us hope and encouragement, that maybe, just maybe, we can save this incredible species before it’s too late.”

******

Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

Heinrich bill would unlock federal funds for New Mexico wildlife nearing extinction

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus, July 23, 2021

New Mexico Democrat U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich sought to strengthen federal actions to protect endangered species in a bill introduced alongside a Republican from Missouri.

On Wednesday, Heinrich and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) introduced the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), aiming to invest federal funds in wildlife conservation efforts across the nation.

Both Heinrich and Blunt are members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, Heinrich as Co-Chair and Blunt as a member, a group that supported the legislation.

The Act would fund conservation of more than 12,000 species of plant and animals with $1.3 billion of federal funds, and earmark $97.5 million annually to projects by Tribal nations on about 140 million acres.

It would also specify that conservation efforts outlined in State Wildlife Action Plans would lead such efforts and would accelerate the recovery of 1,600 species already listed as endangered, meaning extinction is imminent, or threatened which implies an endangered status is forthcoming.

If passed, the RAWA would also direct fees and penalties assessed for certain environmental violations to the Act’s requirements.

“Protecting America’s fish and wildlife habitat means conserving the creatures we love before they ever become imperiled,” Heinrich said. “After all, our children deserve to inherit the full breadth of American wildlife, from bumblebees to bison, that we know today. This legislation will make that possible.”

New Mexico’s Wildlife Action Plan was first published in 2016, by the Department of Game and Fish and included plans to save animals native to the state New Mexico like the lesser prairie chicken, Texas hornshell mussel or the meadow jumping mouse, along with critical habitats or areas of land and waters needed to fully restore a species to its natural state and population.

“New Mexico is one of the most biologically diverse states in the nation, home to over 6,000 species of animals that occupy habitats from hot deserts to alpine tundra,” read the plan’s executive summary.

“Maintaining the viability of every species is difficult and some have declined and are now listed as Threatened or Endangered under the Endangered Species Act.”

The plan reported on the distribution of imperiled species of wildlife, both listed under the Endangered Species Act or deemed in danger of being listed, identifying threats to the species, agencies the state could partner with on conservation activities and strategies to do so.

The plan looked at six ecological regions: the Colorado Plateaus, Southern Rocky Mountains in northern New Mexico along with, High Plains and Tablelands, the Chihuahuan Desert to the southeast, and Madrean Archipelago and the Arizona-New Mexico mountains on the western side of the state.

Areas of concern for the regions listed in the plan were impacts from industrial development leading to habitat loss, while also balancing livestock needs and the health of watersheds.

Jesse Deubel, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation said Heinrich’s bill will help support conservation in New Mexico and across the county.

Deubel said New Mexico was especially biodiverse and in need of stronger efforts to prevent extinction. 

More:Access to New Mexico rivers could be restricted to protect Texas hornshell mussel

“This bill will transform wildlife conservation in New Mexico, protecting our unique species from the Gila monster to bighorn sheep,” Deubel said. “We’re grateful to Sen. Heinrich for leading the way while reaching across the aisle, demonstrating that conservation is a core value for all Americans.”

Blunt said he hoped the bill would encourage states to enact and implement stronger strategies to conserve wildlife species for the future.

“We can better protect our land, waterways, and wildlife by encouraging states, territories, and Tribes to make significant contributions to voluntary conservation efforts,” he said. “I’m proud to help introduce this bill that will help preserve our nation’s wildlife for future generations.”

President of national conservation group the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Whit Fosburgh said the COVID-19 pandemic exposed how important access to the outdoors was for Americans.

He said outdoor recreation continued to thrive and grow as an industry in the wake of the health crisis and federal funding could help bolster the growth to meet post-COVID-19 demands.

“Considering that many Americans rediscovered nature during the pandemic and we continue to see a bump in hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation participation across the country, there is no better time to create the kind of dedicated conservation funding solutions that would be established through the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act,” Fosburgh said.

“Passage of this bipartisan legislation, as part of a strategy to support our frontline fish and wildlife management workers and create conservation jobs, is one of our top priorities for Congress this session.”

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched to Protect National Conservation Area in Arizona From Destructive Cattle Grazing

TUCSON, Ariz.―(July 22, 2021) The Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon Society filed a notice of intent today to sue the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect critical habitat for threatened and endangered species in the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area in southeastern Arizona.

Recent field surveys by the Center documented extensive cattle grazing damage in this protected area, which is a haven for birds, fish and other wildlife.

“It’s heartbreaking to see what used to be lush streams and riparian areas now extensively grazed, trampled and littered with cow feces,” said Chris Bugbee, southwest advocate at the Center. “Because the BLM has failed to protect the Gila Box, it’s been overrun by cows that aren’t supposed to be there. The agency must remove the cattle and fix these fences immediately.”

In surveys conducted in April, May and June 2021, the Center documented extensive damage to streamside habitat, which is designated critical habitat for threatened yellow-billed cuckoos and southwestern willow flycatchers. More than 32 river miles were surveyed and most of them had significant damage from cows, which are supposed to be excluded from the area.

The Gila Box is also important to other endangered species, including the Gila chub, Gila topminnow, desert pupfish, loach minnow and spikedace. The BLM describes the area as a “year-round desert oasis” and “a very special riparian ecosystem abounding with plant and animal diversity.”

“The BLM’s description of the area betrays its lack of stewardship in protecting it,” said Mark Larson, Maricopa Audubon president. “After years of doing nothing about complaints of cattle damage in the area, it’s long past time for BLM employees to do their jobs and protect this critical songbird haven.”

In the desert Southwest, livestock grazing harms threatened and endangered wildlife and is the primary driver of riparian ecosystem degradation. Removal of livestock from riparian areas is a critical component of adapting to climate change.

The Gila Box, which includes 23,000 acres of public lands, is famous for its riparian ecosystem and 1,000-foot-high cliffs towering above the Gila River. Bonita Creek, which meets the Gila River in the conservation area, is renowned as a refuge for vanishing native fish. The area is a popular boating and birdwatching destination, with more than 200 bird species.

******

Newsweek

Rainforest Home to Elephants, Other Endangered Species Taken Off World Heritage in Danger List

BY ED BROWNE ON 7/22/21

Africa’s largest tropical rainforest reserve has been removed from UNESCO’s list of threatened sites due to improvements to its conservation.

Salonga National Park, located in the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC), was designated a World Heritage site in 1984 and a List of World Heritage in Danger site in 1999. It has in the past suffered from poaching, vegetation loss and water pollution.

On Monday, the World Heritage Committee (WHC) said on that the park’s management has been strengthened over the years, notably in terms of anti-poaching measures.

In addition, national authorities told the committee that oil concessions overlapping with the park were “null and void and that those sites will not be included in future auctions.”

In what it called an important achievement, the committee said the site was no longer on the World Heritage in Danger list.

Salonga National Park, located at the heart of the central basin of the Congo river, is the largest protected area of dense rainforest in Africa.

It is so isolated that water or air transport is the only way to get there. The park is vast, at 3.6 million hectares or nearly 13,900 square miles.

It plays an important role in climate regulation and is also home to many vulnerable or endangered species, including bonobo monkeys, the bush elephant, and the Congo peacock. The World Wildlife Federation states the forest is home to 51 species of mammal, as well as 129 fish species and 223 bird species.

What’s more, some parts of the forest have likely never been explored by people.

In Monday’s statement, the WHC said wildlife monitoring has shown that bonobo populations remain stable and that the population of forest elephants there is recovering.

Bonobos share around 98.7 percent of their DNA with humans and, along with chimpanzees, are our two closest living relatives. Their population is estimated at between 10,000 to 50,000, though this is expected to decline over coming decades due to growing threats and a low reproductive rate.

Surveillance of the Salonga park is carried out in part by guards who conduct regular patrols. The WHC states these guard numbers must be increased in the long term if the very large and hard-to-reach areas of the park are to be effectively monitored.

In 2018, WWF expressed what it called “deep concern” after the DRC government granted approval for oil production in some locations that overlapped into the park.

The wildlife group said oil contracts could threaten “exceptional flora and fauna as well as the lives and livelihoods of neighbouring communities.”

******

New Hampshire Fish & Game

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act Introduced in the Senate

Alliance for America’s Fish & Wildlife Brings Together Leaders of Outdoor Recreation, Tribes, Business, Sportsmen/women, Conservation and More to Secure Funding to Address Wildlife Crisis

Author: nhfishandgame, July 21, 2021

Concord, NH – The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department wants you to know about the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), a bipartisan bill introduced in the House recently and yesterday in the Senate that’s considered the most important conservation legislation in a generation.

An unprecedented alliance of business, academic, tribal, and conservation leaders have united to provide a solution to one of America’s greatest threats—the decline of our fish and wildlife and their natural habitats. Scientists estimate that one-third of wildlife species in the United States are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without much-needed funding for their conservation.

The bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) will dedicate $1.3 billion annually to state fish and wildlife agencies to implement their science-based wildlife action plans and an additional $97.5 million for tribal fish and wildlife managers to conserve fish and wildlife on tribal lands and waters. The goal is to provide dedicated funding so that state and tribal wildlife managers can proactively conserve fish and wildlife species of greatest conservation need before federal listing under the Endangered Species Act is warranted.

The Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife has expanded out of the strong partnership and recommendations created by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish & Wildlife Resources, consisting of members representing: the outdoor recreation, retail, and manufacturing sector; the energy and automotive industries; private landowners; educational institutions; sportsmen’s and other conservation groups; and state, tribal, and federal fish and wildlife agencies.

“We have a responsibility to ensure our diverse fish and wildlife resources are managed for future generations,” said Michael Marchand, Supervisor of the NH Fish and Game Department’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. “The maintenance of diverse and healthy wildlife populations and their habitats through science-based management, along with educating the public about those resources, is a huge part of the Fish and Game mandate, and this funding would help enormously toward fulfilling this mission. This bill would provide critical funding for New Hampshire’s Wildlife Action Plan, which sets priorities for restoring and managing our wildlife, including threatened and endangered species,” said Marchand.

New Hampshire’s Wildlife Action Plan identifies over 900 important actions for the wildlife and wildlife habitats of New Hampshire, only a portion of which have adequate existing funding to implement. For example, undersized culverts under roadways can block passage of aquatic wildlife such as fish, reptiles, and freshwater mussels, but can also result in flooding and damage to human infrastructure. Working in partnership with other state and federal agencies, municipalities, and non-profit organizations, we can reduce the impact of this threat.

Of the 500-plus vertebrate species and thousands of invertebrates that call New Hampshire home, 169 were identified as species of greatest conservation need in the Wildlife Action Plan, and 51 are listed as threatened or endangered in New Hampshire. Additional critical research and targeted conservation efforts are needed for many of these species. Ongoing efforts with New England cottontails and Blanding’s turtles could serve as a model for other species conservation efforts.

“This funding would facilitate additional future wildlife success stories,” said Marchand. “Our fish and wildlife are among our state’s most valuable resources, and proactive conservation is good for wildlife, good for taxpayers, good for business, and good for our communities. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide the needed resources for proactive conservation nationwide.”

The Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson acts originally provided critical funding for fish and wildlife on the brink of extinction, but they are not a sustainable funding model for protection of all wildlife. Now there is an opportunity to pass legislation to protect our great natural heritage.

Visit http://www.OurNatureUSA.com to learn more about the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act so that future generations may enjoy the same abundant fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation opportunities that exist today.

******

Guam Daily Post

Lawsuit: Lack of designated habitat imperils plants, animals

Phill Leon Guerrero | The Guam Daily Post, July 21, 2021

In the six years since listing 23 regional plants and animals as “endangered species,” the federal government has yet to designate any critical habitats to help protect them from extinction.

This inaction is at the heart of a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Guam by the Center for Biological Diversity. The national nonprofit conservation organization, which has more than 84,000 members, is represented locally by attorney Julian Aguon of Blue Ocean Law. Residents of the Mariana Islands are also members, according to the suit.

“We need to get serious about protecting our endangered and threatened species,” Aguon stated in a news release. “The first step is to designate critical habitat. The second is to stop giving the military a free pass. We’re suing Fish and Wildlife to remind them they must do both.”

The group filed a petition for the U.S. government to recognize these 23 species in May 2004. The designation was eventually made in 2015 for the plants and animals, which include the Marianas subspecies of the Pacific sheath-tailed bat, the Marianas skink, the Mariana eight-spot butterfly, the Rota blue damselfly, the Guam tree snail and the Micronesian cycad. The center filed a notice of its intent to bring the suit in August 2019, Post files show.

“These beautiful, dwindling Pacific Island species desperately need protected habitat or they won’t survive,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawaii director and a staff attorney at the center. “We can’t stop the extinction crisis if wildlife officials ignore the law and abandon the places where imperiled species live. Militarization, invasive species, climate change and urban sprawl have taken an enormous toll. Since government officials won’t take action, we’re asking the court to force them to.”

Federally recognized critical habitats can receive special land management considerations or protections, which can be essential for the conservation of an endangered species. The government is supposed to identify any new endangered species “concurrently” with their critical habitats, according to federal law. Even with a permissible extension for this process, the habitat designations should have occurred no later than October 2016, the center alleges in its suit.

The lawsuit was filed against Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a deputy director at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the federal agency itself. It seeks a judicial declaration that the federal government is violating the Endangered Species Act, and for the court to compel the action by establishing a timeline for compliance.

“The Service’s failure is inexcusable as it has recognized that these ‘23 Mariana Island species are experiencing population-level impacts’ as the result of serious and ongoing threats from habitat loss and degradation due to federal activities, including military activities to test weapons,” the lawsuit states. “These species’ habitat is being devastated by development, activities associated with military weapons testing, training and urbanization, nonnative ungulates and plants, brown tree snakes, fire, and climate change.”

******
Scientific American

Flashy Plants Attract More Scientists

Distinctive species get more attention than rare or endangered plants

By Jillian Kramer, Scientific American August 2021 Issue

Scientists and gardeners alike seem unable to resist the charms of a flamboyant flower or towering stalk. A new study has found that botanists’ research inexorably skews toward showy plants, whereas the drabbest, dullest and shortest are often left behind—even if they are endangered.

The analysis, published in Nature Plants, reviewed 280 studies conducted from 1975 to 2020 on 113 plant species in the southwestern Alps, a major biodiversity hotspot. Researchers collected data on the plants’ morphology (traits such as size and color), as well as their ecology and rarity. A tally of the number of studies conducted on each plant revealed that eye-catching ones attracted far more scientific attention.

Plants with blue flowers, ranging in tone from indigo to cyan, have been studied disproportionately even though blue is one of the least common flower colors, says the study’s lead author Martino Adamo, a biologist at the University of Torino in Italy. Plants with red, pink or white blossoms beat those with brown or green flowers, and plants with tall stems also stood out—and not just literally.

“Our findings don’t so much suggest that researchers focus on prettier plants,” Adamo says, “but rather that more conspicuous, easy-to-locate and colorful flowering plants are the ones receiving more attention.”

The team had expected to find more endangered species among those most studied, but it did not. This counterintuitive result could have significant implications for plant science, the researchers say. A bias toward “glamorous” plants could mean “we may be missing extraordinary, untold stories of how plants grow, evolve and adapt,” says study co-author Kingsley Dixon, a botanist at Australia’s Curtin University. “Plus, we may be missing species that could be in rapid decline toward extinction, and we don’t have even basic information on seed banking for conservation.”

Adamo adds: “These results show that probably our unconscious is stronger than expected in the species model selection; this is not a tragedy, but something to consider” when planning future work. The results echo earlier findings that brightly colored, more charismatic and popular mammals and birds are more often featured in conservation and funding efforts, regardless of scarcity.

University of Melbourne environmental psychology researcher Kathryn Williams, who was not involved in the new study, says the potential consequences of such biases “are important for plant conservation and environmental decision-making more broadly. The availability of data about species, and the strength of the evidence base,” she adds, “will weigh in as difficult decisions are made about where to direct conservation effort and funding.”

(This article was originally published with the title “A Flashy Focus” in Scientific American 325, 2, 24 (August 2021) doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0821-24)

******

E&E News/Greenwire

Feds propose expanding northern spotted owl habitat

By Michael Doyle, 07/19/2021

The Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed a significantly larger critical habitat for the threatened northern spotted owl than had been designated in the final days of the Trump administration.

The federal agency’s proposed revisions would amount to a critical habitat of more than 9 million acres for the owl under the Endangered Species Act. Last January, the Trump administration imposed changes that resulted in a critical habitat of 6.1 million acres

The Trump administration had excluded more than 3 million acres, mostly in Oregon. The final amount soared well beyond the 204,653 acres proposed for exclusion in August 2020.

“The large additional exclusions made in the January Exclusions Rule were premised on inaccurate assumptions about the status of the owl and its habitat needs, particularly in relation to barred owls,” FWS said today.

The action replaces the Trump move with a proposal to exclude a little over 200,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands in southwest Oregon.

“We’re glad to see protections for the highly imperiled spotted owl restored, but all of this land should have been safeguarded,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we’re going to address both the extinction and climate crises, we must protect more forests from logging.”

FWS listed the northern spotted owl as a threatened species under the ESA in 1990, sparking a long-running debate over its critical habitat (Greenwire, July 17, 2020).

Critical habitat is land deemed “essential for the conservation of the species.”

Any federal agency seeking to authorize, fund or carry out an action on designated land must first consult with FWS to ensure that the action is “not likely to … result in the destruction or adverse modification” of critical habitat.

A 1992 rule designated 6.9 million acres of critical habitat for the owl, all on federal lands, but was revised as a result of a 2003 settlement agreement with the timber industry.

The George W. Bush administration in 2008 finalized a revised critical habitat designation of 5.3 million acres, but that plan was later discarded by the Obama administration.

In 2012, FWS finalized, again, the owl’s habitat. About 9.3 million acres of mostly BLM and Forest Service lands, along with about 300,000 acres of state lands, mostly in Oregon, were included in the 2012 rule.

“The species has experienced rapid population declines and potential extirpation in Washington and parts of Oregon, is functionally extinct in British Columbia, and continues to exhibit similar declines in other parts of the range,” FWS noted today.

Populations of northern spotted owls in Oregon and Washington have declined by over 50%, with some declining by more than 75% since 1995, FWS said.

******

The Garden Island (Lihue, HI)

Officials slam videos of harassed Hawaiian monk seals

By Scott Yunker, The Garden Island, July 18, 2021

HONOLULU — State and federal officials are urging visitors to behave properly when faced with marine wildlife after recent social media posts depicting interference with critically-endangered Hawaiian monk seals provoked an uproar online.

Representatives of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority addressed the incidents at a press conference Friday morning.

“Our marine animals are both culturally important and ecologically unique to Hawai‘i. They should be treated with respect, always, both for the people of Hawai‘i and for general animal welfare,” Brian Neilson, administrator for the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources, said. “… The people of Hawai‘i live around these animals daily. They’re part of our lives, our culture and our identity. Harassing them for fun, or a photo op, or the post on social media is incredibly disrespectful.”

One TikTok video, posted to the Instagram account @hhhviral, depicts a woman touching a monk seal resting on a Kaua‘i beach. Disturbed, the animal snaps its jaws in response, which the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement is currently investigating. Another video, posted to the same account, shows a man touching a seal beneath a rocky outcropping.

Hawaiian monk seals are protected by the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Hawai‘i state law, which classifies harassment of the species as a Class C felony. Perpetrators can face up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) Chief Jason Redulla asked beachgoers who witness such incidents to utilize the free “DLNRTip” smartphone app; the DOCARE hotline at 643-DLNR; or the NOAA hotline at 888-256-9040.

“Going forward, DOCARE officers have been instructed to investigate cases of wildlife harassment and to refer them to county prosecutors for prosecution,” Redulla said. “Our officers cover more than 700 miles of shoreline in addition to millions of acres of state land. We cannot be everywhere at every time, and as a result, we rely on witnesses who report when people are too close or are harassing our wildlife.”

In the past two weeks, the DLNRTip app has logged 31 tips regarding seal harassment; 10 tips regarding sea turtle harassment; and two tips regarding spinner dolphin harassment, according to Redulla, who noted many of the tips concerned the two seal encounters already reported by the news media.

“If you observe harassment of our protected species, remember, it could take some time for the authorities to arrive on scene,” Redulla said. “So, if the harassment does not stop, please provide any video or photos to law enforcement when they arrive, or please send it and report it via the tip app.”

A recently published NOAA action plan reports only 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals, which are endemic to the islands, are alive in the world today.

“We greatly appreciate the community’s concern … regarding the monk seal incidents that have been posted on social media recently,” NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Wildlife Management Coordinator Adam Kurtz said. “We hope that these concerning videos will drive positive change and increase the awareness for some of the issues that these species face.

Kurtz said the “top message” is to keep a safe distance.

“That means 10 feet for sea turtles; 50 feet for Hawaiian monk seals; 50 yards for dolphins and small whales; and 100 yards for humpback whales,” Kurtz said.

Kalani Ka‘ana‘ana, chief brand officer of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, discussed ongoing messaging campaigns made in partnership with NOAA and DLNR that address the issue.

“This education isn’t something that just started in response to recent events,” he said. “It’s something that we’ve continually messaged for a number of years.”

In addition to producing public service announcements distributed to airlines and hotels, the HTA also funds community organizations “who are actually dealing with these species and educating and interacting with visitors,” Ka‘ana‘ana said. “The guys who are setting up the ropes and putting up the signs (around resting seals), we’re funding them, too.”

HTA is utilizing targeted social media advertising, as well, according to Ka‘ana‘ana.

“Organic posts aren’t going to get the eyeballs we need,” he said. “So, we’ve been investing in paid social, to make sure that these videos are seen by visitors.”

******

Paso Robles Daily News (Paso Robles, CA)

Local representatives urge designation of monarch butterfly as endangered species

Representatives Carbajal, Panetta send letter to Interior Department

Posted July 16, 2021 by News Staff

– On June 29, Congressmen Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) and Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) sent a letter with their House colleagues to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland urging her to use her emergency authority under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to save the western monarch butterfly. Earlier this year, President Biden ordered the Department of Interior to review the previous administration’s decision to delay protections for monarch butterflies until 2024 or later. Unfortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to maintain the status quo, putting the future of this beautiful and iconic species in jeopardy. The undersigned Members of Congress are calling on Secretary Haaland to reverse course and dedicate every available tool, including the ESA, to preserving the monarch butterfly population before it is too late.

“Although we on the central coast of California have long witnessed the magnificent migration of the western monarch butterflies, barely 2,000 of them returned to their wintering grounds in the past year,” said Rep. Panetta. “That shockingly low number is exactly why we in the United States Congress are calling on the Department of Interior to immediately provide the necessary federal protections to help prevent the extinction of the monarch butterfly. The prescriptions of the Endangered Species Act would help the survival and repopulation of this important pollinator and ensure that generations to come also can experience the western monarch butterfly.”

“The Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove in my district traditionally hosts the largest western monarch overwintering population in California,” said Rep. Carbajal. “When I went to visit recently, there weren’t any monarchs to be found. The western monarch’s population has dropped by 99-percent over the last 30 years and, unless we act now, they are on a path to extinction. I urge Secretary Haaland to use her authority to designate the monarch butterfly as an endangered species and help us save them from extinction. We need these beautiful pollinators to keep our planet healthy.”

The letter led by Congressman Panetta and Congressman Carbajal to Secretary Haaland was joined by Representatives Ed Case (HI-01), Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Jerry Nadler (NY-10), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Tom Suozzi (NY-03), Mark Takano (CA-41), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Juan Vargas (CA-51), and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13).

******

Microsoft News (Business Insider)

A family of bears marched past a crowd to cool off in Lake Tahoe – a cute, but terrifying, example of our climate-crisis dystopia

Morgan McFall-Johnsen, July 16, 2021

Video showing a family of bears trudging past beachgoers and straight into Lake Tahoe may look cute, but it’s actually terrifying.

The video, captured earlier this month by local beachgoer Heather Blummer, shows a hefty bear with three cubs marching right past a crowd of humans on the beach. The bear family was likely trying to cool down: It reached 91 degrees Fahrenheit in that area of Lake Tahoe on Sunday, July 11, when the video was taken. A record-breaking heat wave was sweeping the area.

Though the fluffy mammal family may look adorable, splashing and wrestling in the water with one another, bears are wild animals and a potential danger to humans, who should never be so close to the species – especially when cubs are present.

Imogen Cancellare, a conservation biologist, tweeted about the potential dangers of getting too close to a mama bear and her cubs.

“A black bear with cubs can be VERY aggressive, and what she will/won’t tolerate isn’t always clear,” Cancellare said. “If she hurts someone, the state will euthanize her, and her cubs will either starve or (if caught) spend their life in cages.”

It’s not just about humans and bears, either. Changes in species range patterns, changes in human land use, and the unpredictability of climate events will further exacerbate the challenges, according to the World Conservation Congress.

As the planet’s warming creates increasingly extreme weather, humans aren’t the only ones fleeing. Climate refugees come in all shapes and sizes. In Russia, polar bears have invaded towns in search of food as their ice-sheet habitats melt. In Australia, wounded and frightened animals have rushed out of gargantuan brush fires and into residential areas. In drought-stricken Zimbabwe, elephants have raided human communities for food and water.

Heat waves can make both humans and animals desperate, and scientists are confident climate change is making heat waves worse.

Since the beginning of June, a series of record-setting heat waves have rolled over the US West, Southwest, and Pacific Northwest. In particular, the late-June heat dome that sat over Washington and Oregon for days has astonished scientists.

Earlier this week, scientists determined the blazing heat wave killed more than one billion sea creatures, as marine life in the Pacific Northwest was cooked to death in the unrelenting sun. Scientists expect the number of dead to increase as their count continues.

Experts told Scientific American losing such substantial numbers of creatures could destabilize parts of the ocean, eventually resulting in a decline in biodiversity.

This type of extreme heat is becoming more common and more severe as humans burn fossil fuels, like coal and oil, that release heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. The planet is warming, and that’s bringing more extreme heat events.

Heat waves are occuring three times more often and lasting about a day longer than they did in the 1960s, according to records of such waves across 50 US cities. They also start earlier and continue later into the year. The heat-wave season is 47 days longer than it was in the 1960s.

But even that understanding may be outdated. The research center World Weather Attribution found the July Pacific-Northwest heat wave would have been virtually impossible without the global warming caused by human activities.

“This is something that nobody saw coming, that nobody thought possible. And we feel that we do not understand heat waves as well as we thought we did,” Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, who co-authored that study, said in a press briefing.

“We are much less certain about how the climate affects heat waves than we were two weeks ago.”

(Original article appeared in Business Insider.)

******

Reuters

Mexican fishing rule change a ‘setback’ for near-extinct porpoise, say conservationists

MEXICO CITY, July 15 (Reuters) – The Mexican government’s decision to loosen its policy of keeping a fishing free zone around a protected area in the Gulf of California region was a “setback” to keeping alive a near-extinct porpoise species, a conservation group said on Thursday.

There are thought to be only between six and 20 vaquita porpoises left and the species is on the brink of extinction as more die each year in fishing nets than are being born, biologists say.

Mexico had previously banned boats entering the species’ last sanctuary off the coast of Mexico, known as the “zero tolerance zone”. But the Ministry of Agriculture on Wednesday announced plans to regulate how many fishing boats can enter the area. Some fishing vessels had already been flouting the ban.

Under the new plans, the ministry said its staff would vary the monitoring of fishing in the area depending on how many ships were present, including a temporary closure of the zone if more than 60 vessels entered.

Alejandro Olivera, the Mexico representative of the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, said the government was planning to “tolerate” some fishing vessels so that it would not have to use up all its resources in monitoring the area.

“This is a setback for its conservation,” Olivera said.

The Ministry of Agriculture’s spokesperson declined to comment.

The main threat to the vaquita porpoise are gillnets, set up by poachers in an effort to catch totoaba, an endangered species of marine fish sought by Chinese buyers on the black market for its prized swim bladders.

(Reporting by Angulo Sharay; writing by Drazen Jorgic; editing by Richard Pullin)

******

Seattle Times

1st female grizzly in 40 years collared in Washington state

July 15, 2021, By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS, The Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Wildlife biologists have captured a female grizzly bear in Washington state for the first time in 40 years, fitting it with a radio collar so they can track its movements, officials said Thursday.

The grizzly, along with her three cubs, were released to help biologists learn more about the endangered animals, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists captured the bear about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the Washington-Idaho state line on U.S. Forest Service land.

The three cubs ran into the surrounding woods while biologists did a general health check on the mother and fitted her collar, then returned to her when the people went away, the state agency said.

“Grizzly bears once occupied much of the Cascade and Selkirk Ranges, but their numbers were severely reduced as a result of persecution by early settlers and habitat degradation,” said Rich Beausoleil, a biologist with the state. “Grizzly bear recovery started in 1981 and it took 40 years to confirm the first known female in Washington.”

Biologists became aware of the bear through images captured on cameras inside the Selkirk Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone in a remote area of the Selkirk Mountains. That is one of six recovery zones in the U.S. identified by the federal recovery plan for grizzlies.

Grizzlies in that area roam between northern Idaho, northeastern Washington, and southeastern British Columbia. The population there is considered healthy, and is growing about 3% a year, officials said.

Biologists believe the recently collared female lives in the area, and is not a bear from outside of Washington state.

“A group of bears – a mother and three cubs – were photographed on another occasion on a game camera in the same area three to four weeks prior to the capture,” said Wayne Kasworm, a grizzly bear biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The natal collar – the white ring around the neck – of one of the cubs leads us to believe this is the same family of bears.”

Four adult males were captured in 1985, 2016 and 2018, but this was the first instance of a female capture, the state agency said.

“Currently there are believed to be at least 70 to 80 grizzly bears in the Selkirk Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone,” Kasworm said. “About half those bears live on the Canadian side of the border, with the other half on the U.S. side.”

Grizzly bears are listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act and classified as an endangered species in Washington state. The state agency works collaboratively with federal wildlife officials to monitor grizzly bear survival, reproduction, home range use, food habits, genetics, and causes of death.

******

JD Supra

Service Proposes Critical Habitat Designation for Pearl Darter

Samantha Savoni, July 15, 2021

On July 13, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published a proposed rule to designate critical habitat for the pearl darter (Percina aurora) under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Listed as a threatened species under the ESA in September 2017, the pearl darter is a small, snub-nosed fish whose historical range includes Mississippi and Louisiana.  The proposed critical habitat designation for the pearl darter includes a total of approximately 517 river miles along the Pascagoula River and Pearl River basins, which run across multiple counties in Mississippi.  The Service’s notice also announces the availability of a draft economic analysis of the proposed critical habitat designation.

Under section 4(b)(2) of the ESA, the Service is required to designate any area deemed essential to the conservation of a listed species as critical habitat for the species, based on a review of “the best available scientific data after taking into consideration the economic impact, national security impact, and any other relevant impact of specifying any particular area as critical habitat.”  In its Federal Register notice for the proposed rule, the Service states that the anticipated costs of the critical habitat designation will be administrative in nature and are not expected to exceed $710,000 in any given year.  Additionally, the Service determined that because the proposed critical habitat lands are not owned, managed, or used by the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security, the designation will have no impact on national security.  Further, in making its decision to designate critical habitat, the Service determined that no habitat conservation or management plans for the pearl darter exist, and that the proposed designation does not include any Tribal lands or trust resources.  Therefore, the Service did not choose to exclude any particular areas from the critical habitat designation on the basis of impacts to national security, economic impacts, or other relevant considerations.

The agency’s proposed rule and supporting documents are available at regulations.gov, under Docket Number FWS-R4-ES-2020-0062.  The 60-day period for public comment on the proposed rule and draft economic analysis is currently set to end on September 13, 2021.

******

Environmental Defense Fund

Presence of endangered shark species in Straits of Florida renews calls for collaboration

Stronger scientific collaboration in Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean could benefit shark population

(WASHINGTON – July 14, 2021) A new long-term study expands our understanding of a critically endangered species of shark residing off the northwestern Cuban coast near the U.S. waters of Florida, renewing calls for strengthened international collaboration between countries in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean region.

The eight-year study, published in Marine and Coastal Fisheries, gathered data on a Cuban multispecies fishery and found an outsized presence of endangered juvenile oceanic whitetip sharks in the area off the Havana coast. The presence of this species — once abundant, though populations have now decreased globally by more than 98% — suggests there should be greater cooperation and collaboration in the Straits of Florida, the narrow ocean passage between the tip of Florida and Cuba’s northern coast. The paper, “Seasonal Abundance and Size Structure of Sharks Taken in the Pelagic Longline Fishery off Northwestern Cuba,” underscores the need for international scientific and conservation collaboration due to the sharks’ presence across boundaries. Such international collaboration is essential to ensure that endangered species like the oceanic whitetip shark can recover.

“In these shared waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, ocean ecosystems conservation and sustainable fisheries require international collaboration — such as through data-sharing and joint management — to ensure successful, long-term outcomes,” said Valerie Miller, Cuba director for EDF Oceans program.

The study is the result of a monitoring program from 2011-2019 on the longline fleet based in Cojímar, Cuba, a small coastal town near Havana. The longline fleet consists of 134 small-scale fishing vessels harvesting swordfish, billfish, tuna and some shark species. Data gathered during the study showed a constant presence of juvenile oceanic whitetip sharks — designated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“Their presence highlights the value of the Straits of Florida as an important migratory route for apex predators like sharks and tunas as they move across international boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea,” said corresponding author Dr. Robert Hueter of Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium.

The continued presence of the endangered sharks is a small but positive sign for a species that has suffered significant declines globally. Because continued catches — even incidentally — could undermine recovery of the species, Cuba has adopted an important national plan to conserve and sustainably manage shark species, like the oceanic whitetip, for their essential role in maintaining healthy, diverse ocean ecosystems. The Cojímar area also may be used as nursery or pupping grounds for this critically endangered shark species.

“The varying sizes of oceanic whitetip sharks in the Cojímar fishery zone suggests that sharks at multiple stages of life may be using the area, possibly as habitat safe for juveniles or as a nursery ground,” said the lead author, Alexei Ruiz of Cuba’s Center for Marine Research at the University of Havana. “This finding highlights the importance of sustainability in small-scale fisheries carried out in Cuba’s nearshore waters, where these juvenile sharks are being found.”

Species like the endangered oceanic whitetip shark regularly cross international boundaries, creating complexities and challenges to gathering data and learning more, something especially challenging if international collaboration isn’t considered. The study itself also showcases the importance and value of scientific collaboration. Environmental Defense Fund helped co-author the report with experts from Cuba, Mexico and the U.S., and EDF has worked alongside respected partners in Cuba for over two decades working to conserve marine ecosystems and build sustainable fisheries.

“To ensure success, conservation efforts must take place at different levels and in different places,” said Miller. “Collaboration across boundaries and geographies is essential and boosts our chances of creating more sustainable, climate-ready ecosystems and fisheries of the future.”

This study and the shark monitoring were led by a research team at the Center for Marine Research at the University of Havana, in collaboration with the fishers of Cojímar and advised by scientists from the Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, Eckerd College and EDF.

******

Kern Valley Sun (Lake Isabella, CA)  

Federal government considers Kern County ‘legless’ lizard for endangered species protection

By David Beasley, July 14, 2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has begun a “rigorous” year-long review of whether to place the Temblor legless lizard on the endangered species list.

The lizard, which looks like a snake, lives in “the sandy, alkali desert scrub of central California,” the federal agency said in a news release.

Its habitat is a narrow strip on the east side of the Temblor Mountain Range from Kern County to western Fresno County between the mountains and State Highway 33, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection last October.

The species faces potential threats from oil and gas development, habitat fragmentation and climate change, the news release said.

The agency will also look at urbanization, industrial solar projects and wildfires as potential threats to the species, agency spokeswoman Meghan Snow told the Kern Valley Sun.

“As our next step, we will analyze the best available science and talk to species experts to arrive at a 12-month finding,” she said.

It’s not known how many of the lizards there are but the species is considered “rare and to have a small population density,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Most of the lizard’s habitat is on private land heavily developed for oil and gas drilling, the petition said.

“Kern County is California’s largest oil‐producing county, and over 98% of the lizard’s range is open for oil and gas development,” the center said.

All oil and gas extraction threatens species but techniques used in Kern County are particularly damaging, the center said in its petition.

“Extraction techniques in Kern County, including steam flooding, cyclic steaming, water flooding and fracking, are energy and water intensive, causing a wide range of harms to species and ecosystem functions in addition to the threats from conventional extraction,” the center said. “Without adequate measures to protect the lizard, this species is at risk for extinction.”

******

CNN

Scientists are fighting to protect a shark and turtle ‘superhighway’

By Nell Lewis, CNN, July 13, 2021 

Deep in the Pacific Ocean, an underwater “superhighway” stretches roughly 700 kilometers (430 miles) between the marine reserves of Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island, off the coast of Costa Rica.

It’s vital to the sea life — including sea turtles, whale sharks and hammerhead sharks — that moves back and forth between the islands, looking for a place to nest or foraging for food.

But the route can be dangerous. Unlike the marine reserves at each end, the swimway is open to fishing vessels. Data shows that populations of migratory species, many of which are already endangered, are declining.

Protecting biodiversity hotspots around the islands is not enough, says Alex Hearn, biology professor and founding member of MigraMar, a coalition of scientists and environmental groups. His team is campaigning for the entire swimway to be protected — an area that would stretch over 240,000 square kilometres (93,000 square miles) of ocean, about the size of the United Kingdom.

This would extend fishing restrictions beyond the current 22-kilometer radius around Cocos Island and the 74-kilometer radius around the Galapagos islands, creating a narrow protected channel between the two that follows a chain of seamounts, underwater mountains that rise from the sea floor.

Like landmarks for the ocean, the seamounts are vital for navigation. Made from lava, they emit magnetic signals, which some species, such as hammerhead sharks and sea turtles, rely on to locate themselves, explains Hearn. He says these act as “stepping stones,” providing places for sea creatures to feed and rest during migration.

A game of tag

For more than a decade, MigraMar’s network of scientists have been trying to prove the importance of the swimway by documenting the species that use it. They have placed satellite and ultrasonic tags on almost 400 marine organisms to track their migratory routes.

So far, they have successfully tracked the migration of whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, silky sharks, leatherback turtles and green turtles between the two islands. And in February, for the first time, they discovered evidence of tiger sharks, when a nine-foot-long female tiger shark scientists had tagged in the Galapagos seven years ago surfaced at Cocos Island.

All of these species are suffering from population decline and are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered, except the tiger shark which is considered near threatened. As tiger sharks are one of the top predators in the Pacific, it is vital to protect their migratory pathway, says Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network and another founding member of MigraMar.

“The impact of tiger sharks is felt all the way down the food chain,” he tells CNN. “Having a healthy ecosystem where tiger sharks survive is important.”

The hook

The most common threat to these migratory species is fishing. They can be accidentally caught by fishing vessels, entangle themselves in nets, or in the case of sharks, are illegally hunted for their meat and fins.

Compared to other threats they face, such as climate change, fishing is easier for us to control, says Steiner.

Coastal countries can restrict activities in their territorial waters, he explains, and the Cocos-Galapagos swimway falls under the jurisdiction of both Ecuador and Costa Rica. “A couple of signatures on a piece of paper can start the process to protect this vitally important ecological area,” he says.

MigraMar and environmental organization Pacifico have produced a document outlining the need to create the swimway, calling for it to include “no take zones” that prohibit human disturbance such as fishing or dredging, or management zones where only sustainable and seasonal fishing is permitted.

Carlos Chacón, coordinator of Pacífico, says that finding “common ground” with the fishing sector will be crucial in ratifying the swimway as a marine protected area (MPA). The proposal has already been met with resistance from the fishing industry in both countries, he says, who claim it would have a negative impact on business.

Atunec, the Ecuadorian Tuna Boat Association, opposed a different proposal to expand the Galapagos marine reserve last year, saying that the area is very rich in fishing and creating a no-take zone would reduce its catch.

However, Chacón believes that in the long term marine protected areas will have a positive impact on fishing. “MPAs become nurseries,” he says, where fish grow and reproduce, causing overall stocks to increase and more fish to become available outside the protected area.

It could also have economic benefits in other sectors. Cocos and the Galapagos attract visitors thanks to their rich biodiversity and preserving iconic sea life could protect the tourism sector.

Time is short

Ecuador and Costa Rica are currently considering plans to protect the swimway, with MigraMar’s data being used to inform their decisions.

Both nations have signed up to the Global Ocean Alliance, a UK-led initiative that calls for 30% of the ocean to be protected by 2030. This shows political will, says Steiner, but with only 13% of Ecuador’s and 3% of Costa Rica’s waters safeguarded so far, the countries need to convert this will into action.

Costa Rica is currently “implementing a strategy to increase conservation, especially by creating and strengthening marine protected areas,” Haydée Rodríguez Romero, the government’s vice minister for water and the ocean, tells CNN. This will involve increasing conservation around Cocos Island, she says, adding that “we acknowledge the importance of protecting the swimways.”

While the government of Ecuador did not respond to CNN’s request for comment by the time of publication, it has been reported that it is looking at extending the Galapagos Marine Reserve, which would cover the entire Ecuadorian side of the swimway. Rodríguez Romero says that the two countries are in discussion over marine protected areas and law enforcement in the ocean.

“Momentum is building, and the science is clear,” says Steiner. “We’re hopeful that action will be taken in the near future.” But he warns that with some species under threat of extinction, governments need to act fast.

“We’ve taken baby steps,” he says, “but these endangered species don’t have time for that.”

******

Reuters

Draft UN agreement on biodiversity targets conservation, pollution, finance

Kanupriya Kapoor, July 12, 2021

SINGAPORE, July 12 (Reuters) – U.N. negotiators released a set of proposals to protect nature on Monday, including a plan to put at least a third of the planet under conservation protection in the next decade, but environmentalists said the draft fell short on ambition.

The 21 proposals include targets for reducing pesticide use, cutting plastic waste and channelling $200 billion a year towards protecting nature in developing countries. They will be voted on by the 196 countries in the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity when it next meets in October.

With some 1 million species now threatened with extinction, countries are being urged to conserve 30% of their land and sea territories by 2030.

Currently, about 17% of land and 7% of seas fall under some sort of protection. Elsewhere, there are few limits on the overfishing, development, mining or industrial pollution that have shrunk wild habitats worldwide.

And challenges related to climate change, including extreme weather, ocean acidification and drought, cause further stress for many species.

The United States, Britain and more than 50 countries have made the so-called “30 by 30” conservation pledge. Scientists say that for the most impact, those areas should be rich in wildlife, rather than barren.

But the proposals as drafted now could be difficult to implement across governments and industrial sectors, environmentalists said. There are so many individual targets that it could encourage countries to cherry pick those that are convenient and ignore the rest, they said.

Some plans, such as ensuring proper conservation management or that indigenous rights are respected, were too vague and open to interpretation, and there was no specified way to link these global targets to national plans, they said.

“It’s absolutely crucial for all of society to be able to see themselves within this framework and identify what contribution they can make to protecting biodiversity,” said Thomas Brooks, an ecologist at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

“This agreement is not there yet.”

Having fewer targets, however, would “undermine how complex biodiversity is”, said Francis Ogwal, a co-chair of the Convention on Biodiversity, during a virtual news conference.

The proposals also include a call for reducing harmful government subsidies, like those for the agriculture or fisheries sectors, by $500 billion a year.

The draft agreement is set to be negotiated and signed at the next global biodiversity conference, scheduled for October in Kunming, China, just a month before the U.N. holds its next climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

******

NBC4 News (Universal City, CA)

Scientists Release Endangered Frogs Into San Jacinto Mountains

A total of 253 endangered frogs were released into the area.

By Maggie More. Published July 12, 2021

A team of scientists released a group of year-old endangered Mountain yellow-legged frogs into a remote portion of the San Bernardino National Forest on July 8, in the hopes that the mix of male and female frogs will repopulate the area.

A total of 253 endangered frogs were released into the area on July 8, by scientists from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, the University of California, Los Angeles, the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

To get the frogs to the site, scientists travelled “by vehicle to a trailhead in special cooler backpacks that maintain a suitable temperature for this high-altitude species,” then undertook an over-five-mile hike to the release location.

Mountain yellow-legged frogs face a number of environmental threats that have lowered their population in Southern California over time.

Historically, the frogs were “widely distributed across the San Gabriel, San Bernardino, San Jacinto, and Palomar mountains,” according a statement from the U.S. Forest Service.

But by the time they were added to the endangered species list in 2002, there were estimated to be less than 100 adult frogs left in the wild, thanks to “non-native predators, recreation impacts, and disease.”

Those challenges haven’t gone away, according to Debra Shier Ph.D., the Brown endowed Associate Director of Recovery Ecology and Southwest hub co-leader for the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

“Climate change and chytrid fungus are creating challenges to Mountain yellow-legged frog survival that the species has never faced before,” Shier said.

Scientists and government agencies have worked together for over 20 years on recovery actions to help protect the frogs and boost their population.

Those efforts include managing lands in the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests to minimize human changes to the environment, and conservation and research from the San Diego Zoo Alliance, U.S. Geological Survey, Los Angeles Zoo, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Santa Ana Zoo, and UCLA.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife also completed an extensive habitat improvement project to benefit the frogs.

The July 8 release was the second to occur at the chosen spot in the San Jacinto Mountains, and a third release is planned for later in the year to bring the total number of frogs released up to 400.

The conditions at the release site in the San Jacinto Mountains are still favorable for the frogs, in spite of the drought conditions around California, but the frog population across their historic habitat range is still low. Recovery efforts will continue into the future, the U.S. Forest Service said.

“The Department has spent a lot of time evaluating, permitting and rehabbing release waters and we’re optimistic about the location.” said Russell Black, Senior Environmental Scientist Supervisor for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It has a large amount of drought resistant habitat that should provide a stable location for these frogs for many years.”

******

Center for Biological Diversity

517 River Miles of Lifesaving Habitat in Mississippi Proposed to Protect Threatened Pearl Darter

BILOXI, Miss.—(July 12, 2021)–Following nearly two decades of advocacy by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to protect 517 river miles of critical habitat for the pearl darter, a threatened fish from Mississippi.

“To save animals from extinction we have to protect their habitat,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Protecting rivers and streams for the Pearl darter will save this special little fish from extinction and also improve water quality for the people who live near the Pearl and Pascagoula rivers.”

The fish historically swam in about 775 river miles in Mississippi and Louisiana, but it has been extirpated from all 440 river miles where it was once found in the Pearl River watershed. Overall the species has been lost from at least 64% of its historic range.

Today’s critical habitat proposal includes a unit in the Pearl River basin where the fish can be reintroduced to help it stave off extinction and ultimately recover multiple healthy populations.

The habitat proposed for protection is found in 13 Mississippi counties: Clarke, Covington, Forrest, George, Greene, Lauderdale, Jackson, Jones, Newton, Perry, Simpson, Stone and Wayne.

The darter was first placed on the candidate waiting list for federal protection in 1991. In 2004 the Center petitioned for its protection in 2004 and filed a lawsuit over delay in 2010. In 2017 the fish was finally protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

While it’s already illegal to harm the fish, critical habitat designation adds an additional layer of protection, requiring any federally funded or permitted project to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure its habitat is not harmed by a proposed activity.

The darter’s habitat has been harmed by water pollution from oil and gas development, sand and gravel mining, urbanization and agriculture. Darters live on river bottoms and use the spaces between rocks for hiding and breeding. But habitat destruction causes erosion that fills these spaces with silt and harms the insects the darters need for food.

The Pearl darter is about 2.5 inches long, and males develop showy patterns during the breeding season. It has a blunt snout, large eyes located high on its head and a black spot at the base of its tail fin. The Southeastern Fishes Council has named the Pearl darter as one of the 12 most endangered fish in the southeastern United States.

“The fact that the Pearl darter can’t be found in its namesake river shows the global extinction crisis is unfolding right here, in the rivers of the southeastern United States,” said Curry. “Freshwater animals are at the leading edge of this crisis across the planet. By protecting the little-known fish, mussels and other critters that live in our streams and rivers, we’re creating a safer future for humans, too.”

******

Sydney Morning Herald

Southern Australian sharks and rays being ‘cornered’ by climate change

By Peter Hannam, July 11, 2021

Southern Australia’s sharks and rays face mounting threats as warmer waters push more tropical species southwards and habitats change, exacerbating threats to critically endangered species.

A study aimed at identifying the risks to some 132 different species found in waters ranging from south-west Western Australia to NSW has been published in the Fish and Fisheries journal. It seeks to give authorities a method to prepare for the threats of overfishing and climate change.

“This is the first time we’re actually bringing them together as a risk assessment,” said Terence Walker, a research fellow at both Melbourne and Monash universities and lead author of the paper. “The challenges for fisheries managers are growing all the time.”

While tighter controls on commercial fishing since the early 2000s had arrested the decline of many shark, ray and chimaera species such as elephant fish, those gains could be eroded as more tropical species such as tiger and bull sharks extend their ranges southwards, the researchers said.

The East Australian Current, which shifts tropical water southwards, is strengthening and making the Tasman Sea one of the world’s warming hot spots as sea-surface temperatures rise at about four times the global rate. The Leeuwin Current, which flows south along the WA coast, is also strengthening although not as rapidly as its eastern counterpart.

“Global warming is literally going to push southern sharks and rays into a corner, because they can only go so far south and west,” said Leonardo Guida, a shark scientist with the Australian Marine Conservation Society and a co-author of the paper. “Everything points to an urgent need to rapidly adjust how fisheries work.”

The paper also found that at present fishing levels, as many as six species already assessed as endangered including the school shark and maugean skate will have their recovery hampered by southward-migrating rivals.

Richard Reina, a marine ecologist at Monash University and another of the paper’s authors said southern Australian waters were changing faster than other parts of the country and it was also the most heavily fished by commercial firms.

While fisheries had made major efforts to monitor fish stocks and modify approved take accordingly, they were already struggling to adjust to “the southward movement of so many species … everybody’s moving south”, Professor Reina said.

Those sharks and rays that breed or feed in shallow waters “will struggle to establish themselves if they get pushed off the [continental] shelf into deeper waters”, he said.

Dr Guida said it was vital Australia and other nations cut greenhouse gas emissions that was driving the hotter climate. In the meantime, fisheries managers should start to use the new methods to assess risk.

In some cases, that will involve increasing the areas where fishing is restricted or banned to give the at-risk species a chance of survival.

Many sharks in particular sit at the top of the food chains, keeping ocean ecosystems stable.

“If you look after sharks and rays, you’re looking after our broader food chains,” Dr Guida said. “It affects what fish ends up on your table – if it gets there at all.”

******

Voice of OC (Santa Ana, CA)

Brutal Pelican Attacks in O.C. Raise Wildlife Safety Concerns, Reward for Information

BY JILLIE HERROLD, July 11, 2021

Dozens of brown pelicans have been maimed and mutilated along Orange County’s coastline, raising serious alarms about the safety of local wildlife and an effort to find those responsible with a $5,600 reward.

Only 10 of the 32 brought into the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in recent months have survived after expensive emergency surgery and long-term care, said Debbie McGuire, executive director of the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center. Other pelicans died on the beach; never reaching the center.

The birds all had a similar compound wing fracture with a bone protruding, which leads officials to believe these injuries were inflicted purposely by a human, McGuire said.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, a national legal advocacy organization for animals rights, announced on Wednesday its contribution of $5,000 to the existing $500 reward offer for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the attacks. Shortly after, another $100 was provided by an anonymous donor, McGuire said.

“Officials in the current case are extremely disturbed by what they see as a pattern of abuse, very likely committed by the same perpetrator or perpetrators. This is a community safety issue as well for both humans and non-human animals alike,” said Lori Dunn, attorney for The Animal Legal Defense Fund.

The nonprofit frequently files animal-rights lawsuits and offers tens-of-thousands of dollars per year in rewards to help solve animal abuse violations. This pelican abuse case is one of the most recent to receive funding.

Such attacks aren’t the first in Southern California.

In 2008, 11 brown pelicans washed ashore at Bolsa Chica State Beach with broken wings. Only one survived. The reward offer for information assisting the investigation reached $20,000. Although the culprit wasn’t found, bird abusers in other cases have received fines, McGuire said.

This last December, four pelicans were found in Ventura Harbor and Marina del Rey with symmetrical cuts on their throat pouches. The investigation is ongoing, McGuire said.

“The fact that it’s happened before, is what’s even more bizarre to me,” McGuire said. “Is it related? We don’t know that; we can just tell you what’s happening now.”

The Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center is working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on the investigation while also rehabilitating the abused animals.

The care center provides surgeries and long-term care for the birds that cost up to $10,000 per bird. The facility has seen all types of injured animals but found these pelican injuries significant because of the number of birds harmed and the way they were harmed.

“We know that it’s not an accident because of the type of the break in the wings,” McGuire said. McGuire also noted that since these birds are so large and stocky, these injuries must have required intentional force.

These actions have consequences.

“Depending on the nature of the attacks and details that still have yet to emerge, there could be both state and federal charges,” Dunn said.

Brown pelicans are not a rare sight along the southern and western sea coasts of the US, but this wasn’t always the case.

Their population dwindled from DDT contamination introduced in the 1940s, putting them on the endangered species list in 1970. They were removed from the list until 2009 but still face dangers such as entanglement in fishing line and illegal hunting. The most recent population estimate of the Brown Pelican subspecies is about 70,000 breeding pairs, according to a survey by California Audubon.

The birds remain protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it a federal crime to wound, capture or kill them without authorization from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The maximum penalty for maliciously and intentionally maiming or mutilating a living animal is a fine of up to $20,000 or up to three years imprisonment, or both.

“It’s extremely important for the public to know that there are laws that protect wildlife like these pelicans, and that those who commit such heinous acts against defenseless animal victims are held accountable,” Dunn said.

A few tips about the attacks have been provided thus far, but the investigation is ongoing, McGuire said.

The public is urged to call the California Department of Fish and Wildlife tip line at 1-888-334-2258 if they know anything about the attacks.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Oregon Approves Petition to Increase Marbled Murrelet Endangered Species Protection

Coastal Seabird at Risk of Extinction From Climate Change

SALEM, Ore.—(July 9, 2021) The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission today approved a petition filed by five conservation groups to give marbled murrelets more protection by reclassifying them from threatened to endangered under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The 4-3 decision comes two years after an Oregon judge ruled that the commission had violated state law by denying the petition without explanation in 2018.

“We’re relieved that after so many missteps, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will finally move forward with extending marbled murrelets the full protection of endangered status under state law,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These unique birds face serious threats in Oregon from climate change, ocean warming, wildfire, and unchecked logging of their nesting habitat and should have been protected as endangered years ago.”

The marbled murrelet is a small seabird that nests in old-growth and mature forests and forages at sea. Its population has declined dramatically in recent decades due to extensive logging in Oregon’s coast range.

The bird was listed as threatened under the Oregon Endangered Species Act in 1995. But Oregon has allowed intensive clearcut logging to continue in marbled murrelet habitat on lands owned and regulated by the state.

Habitat fragmentation, ocean warming, climate change and large-scale disturbances compound the existing threats and put this species’ future in greater jeopardy.

According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 2021 biological assessment, the marbled murrelet is considered one of the least resilient species to climate change and is at risk of being wiped out by a single catastrophic event, like wildfire.

Uplisting to endangered status requires the state to develop a management plan and survival guidelines, providing much-needed protection for the species.

“We applaud the commission for choosing to safeguard Oregon’s imperiled marbled murrelet population and its fragile forest habitat by uplisting the species to endangered,” said Danielle Moser, wildlife program coordinator for Oregon Wild. “This decision is not only in step with science and Oregon law, but also illustrates the commission’s willingness to be conservation leaders in the fight against the extinction crisis.”

The groups petitioned the commission to uplist the marbled murrelet in 2016. The Department conducted a status review the following year to assess the murrelet’s condition and found that murrelets were at high risk of extinction, due largely to loss of nesting habitat from ongoing clearcut logging on lands managed by the state of Oregon.

The status review provided copious evidence from multiple peer-reviewed studies that murrelets are at serious risk in Oregon. The best available science predicts the extinction probability at 80% by 2060 along Oregon’s central and north coasts and 80% by 2100 along Oregon’s south coast. California and Washington have already classified murrelets as endangered.

“Today’s decision is a victory for the marbled murrelet,” said Sristi Kamal, senior representative for the Northwest Program at Defenders of Wildlife. “After four years of advocating to uplist the species, this decision has been a long time coming, and we are thrilled. Marbled murrelets face significant habitat loss due to excessive logging, and warming ocean waters due to climate change is impacting the species ability to forage and nest. We applaud the commission for taking a big step in the right direction which will give this species a much-needed opportunity to recover in the state.”

In February 2018 the commission voted 4-2 to accept the petition and increase the seabird’s protections. The commission then instructed the wildlife agency’s staff to begin development of mandatory species survival guidelines as required under Oregon law. Yet, under pressure from the timber industry and its allies, the commission reversed itself without explanation and voted 4-2 in June 2018 to deny the petition it had accepted just four months earlier.

“It has been more than 25 years since the marbled murrelet was listed under the Oregon Endangered Species Act, and during that time this amazing seabird has moved closer and closer to extinction in large part because of logging of its habitat on lands owned and managed by the state of Oregon,” said Joe Liebezeit, staff scientist and avian conservation program manager with Portland Audubon. “The commission made the right choice today based on both the law and science and hopefully is setting this species on a path toward recovery. However, today’s decision is just a first step. The decision to uplist needs to result in much more aggressive action on the ground to protect murrelets in Oregon.”

“At long last, marbled murrelets will receive essential additional protections from the state of Oregon,” said Bethany Cotton, conservation director for Cascadia Wildlands. “While these protections should have been implemented years ago, we are grateful that ultimately science and law triumphed and murrelets will have a better chance in the face of a rapidly changing climate and aggressive private logging in their remaining old growth forest habitat.”

Lane County Circuit Court Judge Lauren Holland concluded in August 2019 that the Fish and Wildlife Commission had illegally changed its decision after first voting to accept the petition to list the murrelet as endangered.

“The marbled murrelet is in trouble, and today’s action is an important first step in ensuring Oregon can help the seabird recover,” said John Mellgren, general counsel for the Western Environmental Law Center. “We look forward to working collaboratively with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to ensure the murrelet can always call Oregon home.”

******

NPR

Finally Some Good News! China Says Giant Pandas Are No Longer Endangered

July 9, 2021, SHARON PRUITT-YOUNG

It’s a good day to be a giant panda. Chinese conservation officials have announced that they no longer consider giant pandas in China an endangered species.

Their status has been updated to “vulnerable,” Cui Shuhong from China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment said Wednesday, China’s state-run news agency Xinhua reports.

There are now 1,800 giant pandas living in the wild, a number that officials credit to the country’s devotion to maintaining nature reserves and other conservation initiatives in recent years. As a result, other species have also flourished: Siberian tigers, Asian elephants, and crested ibises have all seen a gradual increase in population numbers, according to the outlet.

Internationally, the giant panda has been considered “vulnerable” for five years. The International Union for Conservation of Nature removed giant pandas from its list of endangered species in 2016 — a decision that Chinese officials challenged at the time.

“If we downgrade their conservation status, or neglect or relax our conservation work, the populations and habitats of giant pandas could still suffer irreversible loss and our achievements would be quickly lost,” China’s State Forestry Administration told The Associated Press at the time. “Therefore, we’re not being alarmist by continuing to emphasize the panda species’ endangered status.”

It’s not clear that the number of giant pandas living in the wild has changed significantly since 2016, when IUCN first made its decision. At the end of 2015, there were 1,864 pandas living in the wild, according to a Reuters report that cites the Chinese government. That number was a significant increase from the 1,100 giant pandas that were living in the wild and 422 living in captivity in 2000.

In a statement to NPR, the World Wildlife Fund called it “another sign of hope for the species.”

“Thanks to decades of collaboration between the Chinese government, local communities, companies and NGOs, the giant panda’s future is more secure,” said Colby Loucks, WWF’s Vice President for Wildlife Conservation.

“China’s successful conservation of giant pandas shows what can be achieved when political will and science join forces,” he continued. “Continuing these conservation efforts is critical, but we need to stay vigilant on the current and future impacts climate change may have on giant pandas and their mountainous forest habitat.”

Still, giant pandas aren’t out of the woods just yet. They live in bamboo forests, which are at risk due to climate change.

******

University of Chicago/UChicago News

Protecting spotted owls cost far fewer jobs than timber industry claimed

New research quantifies economic effects of conservation efforts in Pacific Northwest

July 8, 2021

Last month, the Biden administration indicated it would reverse changes to the Endangered Species Act made by President Trump, who had opened up a large chunk of the threatened northern spotted owl’s habitat in the Pacific Northwest to logging. The move fueled a decades-old debate between industry and conservationists in the region—a tension that is broadly characteristic of the Endangered Species Act’s history.

“The history of the Endangered Species Act is marked by a contested choice: Should we save wildlife, or jobs? The northern spotted owl is the poster species in that debate,” said Eyal Frank, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. “But that decision is often made without needed evidence. And if we don’t quantify the costs of species protection, direct or indirect, we end up assuming they’re infinitely large.”

Frank has co-authored new research that examines the impact of the 1990 listing of the northern spotted owl as threatened under the Endangered Species Act on employment in the timber sector. Co-authored with Ann Ferris of the National Center for Environmental Economics and published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, the study found that the listing did lead to job losses—but the losses were just a small fraction (less than a quarter) of the maximum of 130,000 jobs that the industry had predicted could be lost.

When 6.9 million acres of old forests were designated as protected habitat for the owls, logging was prohibited. Timber employment did subsequently decline, by 14% compared to regional employment in the sector and by 28% in the impacted counties compared to the industry at the national level.

These reductions reflect a decline of about 32,000 jobs in the lumber and wood products sector when compared nationally, or 16,000 jobs when compared within the region. These estimates are significantly lower than the projections made by industry and align with federal projections (13,000 near-term jobs and 28,000 jobs in the long run).

“Those job losses were a short-term cost, which likely had real welfare impacts on the workers, but in exchange we got back the chance to save a species and protect many others,” said Frank, who is affiliated with the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. “The proper context should also be given here: Had the logging continued as projected, the roughly 200-years-old forests those workers were cutting down would likely be gone today—and with them, the jobs.”

To account for possible changes in global timber markets, the study compared timber employment in the impacted counties to the Canadian sector and found no similar decline in Canada. In other words, the declines in the Pacific Northwest and northern California were not due to larger industry trends. Only a small percentage of working-age men left the region, and most did not leave for jobs in other physically exertive sectors like agriculture and mining. Timber sales in the affected area declined by 45% relative to sales in unaffected forests, and the projected future price of lumber doubled relative to other commodities.

The authors note their analysis demonstrates that environmental conservation aiming to protect species’ habitats can impact related industries and employment, though it is not straightforward to generalize the spotted owl’s case to other Endangered Species Act listings and industries. While extractive industries, and especially logging, might represent the most direct impacts conservation policy can have on employment, the authors note that these impacts may be the “upper bound”: Other listings could affect fewer jobs.

“This case likely represents one of the worst labor market impacts, as it resulted in placing 40% of an industry’s resource base under protection. The listing of other species would have smaller impacts on other sectors,” Frank said. “It should therefore not be taken as a cautionary tale to prevent the listing of species, but rather an example of why we need solid data to show that the costs are real, manageable, and not infinite.”

Citation: “Labor market impacts of land protection: The Northern Spotted Owl,” Ferris and Frank, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, June 1, 2021.

—A version of this story was first published by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

******

Santa Maria Sun (Santa Maria, CA)

Fish and Wildlife Service wants to save two local plant species

BY MALEA MARTIN, July 7, 2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) wants to protect two plants that are only found in the Guadalupe-Nipomo dunes area and get them both off the federally endangered species list.

The Nipomo Mesa lupine is a small annual plant that produces vibrant purple flowers, and it’s currently only found in the Nipomo Mesa within an area that’s about 2 square miles. The species’ small geographic range contributes to likely low genetic diversity, according to a draft recovery plan for the Nipomo lupine, released by FWS on June 17. It also lacks an insect pollinator and is dependent on adequate rainfall, factors contributing to its endangered status.

The recovery plan lays out a strategy to preserve the plant by mitigating the threats to its existence. One of the most prominent threats is displacement and habitat loss due to invasive species, particularly veldt grass.

“Nipomo Mesa lupine requires sandy openings, or gaps within coastal dune scrub habitat and perennial veldt grass comes in, fills those gaps, outcompetes the lupine, changes the soil composition, and disrupts the ecosystem processes required to create and maintain those sandy gaps,” Kristie Scarazzo, a botanist with FWS, told the Sun in an email. “Residential development, activities associated with oil and gas, seed predation, stochastic loss and extinction, and climate change are also threats to the species.”

To address these threats, Scarazzo said, seed banks, propagating, and planting are crucial.

“We are bulking the seed, propagating it, and outplanting Nipomo Mesa lupine onto two publicly-owned sites in San Luis Obispo County that are being actively managed for the species’ recovery and wildlife conservation,” Scarazzo said. “And we are conducting scientific studies on these populations in a greenhouse to better understand Nipomo Mesa lupine’s basic biology, life history, and ecology.”

She added that FWS is working with the UCSB Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration and the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County to implement these conservation tactics.

The public can comment on the Nipomo Mesa lupine draft recovery plan until July 19.

Also under local conservation efforts is the La Graciosa thistle. Part of the sunflower family, this plant has “spiny leaves and flower heads,” featuring “long, white corollas with pink to purple tubes and purple anthers,” as FWS describes it. The thistle’s current geographic range is restricted to the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Complex, according to its draft recovery plan released June 11. The public can comment on this plan until July 12.

Scarazzo said that once the public comment period closes for these plants’ draft recovery plans, the FWS will make any necessary changes or updates and then finalize the plan.

“Several of the recovery actions outlined in the draft plan are already underway,” she said. “In order for the actions to be considered successful, Nipomo Mesa lupine populations must display stable or increasing demographic trends for 10 consecutive years.”

******

Los Angeles Times

California identifies new, rare gray wolf pack

By ASSOCIATED PRESS, July 7, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO —A new pack of gray wolves has been identified in Northern California, becoming the third pack to establish itself in the state in the last century, state wildlife officials and conservationists said.

Three wolves in the Beckwourth pack were first spotted in May on a trail camera in Plumas County near the California-Nevada state line, after the tracks of two wolves were detected earlier this year in the same area, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said.

For conservationists, the discovery marks a milestone in the state’s efforts to revive its population of wild wolves, SFGate reported. Gray wolves are native to California but disappeared in the 1920s. Most were killed through hunting or to control predation on other animals.

“This is such wonderful news,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior West Coast wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The species is protected under the California Endangered Species Act. Killing a wolf is a potential crime subject to serious penalties, including prison time.

Ranchers in the area are less enthusiastic about the growing wolf population.

“It’s one of our worst nightmares,” Rick Roberti of Roberti Ranch in southeast Plumas County told SFGate.

Roberti, who is president of the Plumas-Sierra Cattlemen’s Assn., said ranchers report wolf attacks on their cattle and feel there is nothing they can do to stop it.

In January, the Trump administration removed endangered species protections from gray wolves, ending long-standing federal safeguards and putting states and tribes in charge of overseeing the predators.

Environmental and animal rights groups say the move was premature because wolves haven’t returned to most of their historical range. They are pushing the Biden administration to reverse it.

Wisconsin was the first state to resume hunting of wolves. A study released this week by University of Wisconsin scientists says that as many as one-third of Wisconsin’s gray wolves died at the hands of humans in the months after the federal government announced it was ending legal protections.

The study estimates that poaching and hunting have reduced the statewide wolf total to between 695 and 751, down from at least 1,034 in spring 2020, though some other scientists say more direct evidence is needed for some of the calculations.

Scientists involved in the study said the findings should serve notice to wildlife managers in other states with wolves.

******

The Revelator

Seahorses Extinction Assessment Reveals Threatened Species and Knowledge Gaps

The charismatic animals could serve as flagship species for ocean conservation, according to researchers, but only if we understand their extinction risks.

Extinction Countdown, July 7, 2021, by John R. Platt

Last month conservationists working with SeaLife Aquarium in Australia dropped 18 biodegradable “hotels” into Sydney Harbor and Port Stephens to help one of the region’s most endangered species: tiny White’s seahorses (Hippocampus whitei).

The hotels — which look like cages but have bars spaced out enough for the 5-inch seahorses to swim through — are sorely needed. Recent research indicates that some White’s seahorse populations have fallen by as much as 95% due to commercial destruction of their marine habitats. The manmade domiciles — up to 100 of which will be deployed — will replace some of that lost habitat for both seahorses and their food. “A lot of marine growth such as sponges and coral will accumulate, and that provides a lot of food and shelter for the seahorses,” David Harasti, a marine scientist with the Port Stephens Fisheries Institute, told Australia’s 9News.

White’s seahorses are not alone in their plight. Research published this May in the journal Oryx serves as the first comprehensive assessment of the extinction risk for syngnathiform fishes, which include seahorses, pipefishes, seadragons, trumpetfishes, shrimpfishes, cornetfishes and ghost pipefishes. (A few related groups, such as goatfishes and seamoths, weren’t assessed for the paper because recent research shows they belong to a different taxonomic order.)

Collectively, the news for these varied and colorful species isn’t good, nor is it complete. The researchers — including two members of the IUCN SSC Seahorse, Pipefish & Seadragon Specialist Group — found that seahorses and their relatives face persistent threats from industrial trawl fisheries and habitat destruction, and to a lesser extent from pollution and trade. The 300 or so species often have limited ranges in coastal regions and freshwater lakes and rivers around the world, and many require specialized habitats, making them susceptible to disturbance.

As a result, researchers found, at least 6% of these species and up to 38% are threatened and at some risk of extinction.

Why the wide range? Despite seahorses’ popularity and charismatic qualities — like their prehensile tales and egg-carrying males — many of the 300-plus syngnathiform species remain cryptic. No one knows how well they’re doing or if they’re at risk. The researchers labeled 97 species “data deficient,” meaning they “could potentially be threatened.”

Of the species that could be assessed, the researchers found that 14 out of 42 seahorse species were at risk, including one endangered species and 12 considered “vulnerable to extinction.” Four additional seahorse species were discovered after the paper was submitted and aren’t included in that count. Pipefishes — which look like seahorses but have straighter bodies — have five species at risk, including one that’s critically endangered.

Luckily, the researchers evaluated 61% of these fishes as being of “least concern,” meaning they’re doing okay for now, but they still caution that this entire group of species needs targeted conservation efforts, especially in the estuaries of East and Southeast Asia and South Africa, where they face the most threat. The paper recommends “robust long-term monitoring programs … to evaluate population dynamics, fisheries, trade and habitat quality.” The researchers also call for dedicated coastal surveys, potentially using community science efforts such as iSeahorse.

All of this, the researchers wrote, would not only help seahorses and their relatives but also neighboring species: “Limiting fishing mortality, in particular by constraining bottom trawling and other nonselective fisheries, and ensuring healthy habitats is important both for the syngnathids and for other aquatic species. Given that the order is nearly global, there is potential for syngnathiformes, many of which are highly charismatic, to act as flagship species for ocean conservation.”

That’s a tall order for these tiny fish, but perhaps this research can serve to round up the support necessary to conserve both the species and their coastal habitats — or at least to fill the knowledge gap so we can learn how those 97 data-deficient species fare around the world, and then protect them before it’s too late.

******

National Law Review

ESA Rules Redux: Services Plan a Second (and, in Some Cases, Third) Look at the ESA Regulations

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Consistent with President Biden’s Executive Order (EO) 13990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (collectively, the “Services”) recently announced that they “will initiate rulemaking in the coming months to revise, rescind, or reinstate five [Endangered Species Act] regulations finalized by the prior administration.”  The Biden Administration is the third consecutive administration to undertake revisions to the Services’ Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) regulations.

Certain of the Trump-era ESA regulations are currently subject to challenge.  See, e.g., Center for Biological Diversity v. Haaland, No. 4:19-cv-05206 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 21, 2019); California v. Haaland, No. 4:19-cv-06013 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 25, 2019); and Animal Legal Def. Fund v. Haaland, No. 4:19-cv-06812 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 21, 2019).  While the Administration determined its path forward, these actions were stayed.  Although the Services have now indicated their plans to propose new rules, little detail has been provided on the scope of these rulemakings.  The Administration’s Spring 2021 Unified Agenda provides general timeframes for the proposed actions, each of which will go through a notice and comment rulemaking process.  The Services plan to:

*Rescind the 2020 regulations that revised FWS’s process for considering exclusions from critical habitat designations. On December 18, 2020, FWS revised the process it would follow when considering whether to exclude areas from designation as critical habitat pursuant to ESA § 4(b)(2).  85 Fed. Reg. 82, 376 (Dec. 18, 2020).  This regulation became effective on January 19, 2021.  FWS has announced that it will propose to rescind this regulation in its entirety and revert to implementation of the Services’ regulations, 50 C.F.R. § 424.19 and the Services’ 2016 policy on § 4(b)(2) exclusions.

*Rescind the regulatory definition of habitat. The Services will propose to rescind the final rule that defined the term “habitat” for the purposes of critical habitat designation.  85 Fed. Reg. 81,411 (Dec. 16, 2020).  The Services take the position that a regulatory definition of “habitat” is not required for designations of critical habitat in compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision in Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 138 S. Ct. 361 (2018).

*Revise the regulations for listing species and designating critical habitat. The Services will propose revisions to the prior Administration’s ESA § 4 rulemaking, 84 Fed. Reg. 45,020 (Aug. 27, 2019). The Services will propose to reinstate prior language affirming that listing determinations are made “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination.”  Other potential revisions, including provisions governing adding and removing species from the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants and clarifying the procedures for designation of critical habitat are also under discussion.  According to the Spring Regulatory Agenda, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is slated for September 2021.

*Revise the regulations for interagency cooperation. The Services will propose revisions to the final rule promulgated by the prior Administration, which revised the procedural regulations governing interagency cooperation under ESA § 7. 84 Fed. Reg. 44,976 (Aug. 27, 2019).  The Services will propose to revise the definition of “effects of the action,” and other potential revisions are under discussion, including rescinding the 2019 rule.  According to the Spring Regulatory Agenda, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is slated for December 2021.

*Reinstate FWS “blanket 4(d) rule.” FWS’s “blanket 4(d) rule” establishes the default of automatically extending protections provided to endangered species to those listed as threatened, unless FWS adopts a species-specific 4(d) rule.  This rule was withdrawn by the prior Administration, 84 Fed. Reg. 44753 (Aug. 27, 2019), and FWS plans to propose to reinstate it.  According to the Spring Regulatory Agenda, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is slated for July 2021.

In the meantime, there may be months of uncertainty regarding the exact details of these proposed actions, the timing of any changes, and the implications for listings and designations of critical habitat and consultation and other ESA requirements for projects.

******

Native News Online

Tribes Appeal to Secretary Haaland to Reverse Trump on Stripping Wolf Protections in New Film, ‘Family’

BY JACKIE ZUPSIC, July 07, 2021

BILLINGS, Mont. — “Secretary Haaland, please return Endangered Species Act protections to the wolf,” is the closing message of a powerful new film, “Family,” released today that ends with the stark warning, “Before it’s too late.” The Global Indigenous Council has released “Family” as a part of a campaign to restore federal protections to wolves across the continental United States.

Directed by critically-acclaimed filmmaker Rain (“Somebody’s Daughter”/”Say Her Name”) and narrated by award-winning actress Crystle Lightning (Trickster/Yellowstone), the short film provides insight into how wolves are foundational to Indigenous cultures and how the Trump Administration’s removal of federal protections from wolves severely undermines tribal rights.

“Family” appeals to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to reverse President Trump and relist the wolf under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Many of the country’s most influential environmental NGOs issued a joint statement today supporting the film and its objective.

“Leaving the Trump Administration’s wolf delisting rule in place contradicts President Biden’s January 26, 2021 ‘Memorandum on Tribal Consultation and Strengthening Nation-to-Nation Relationships’ as the vast array of tribes impacted by Trump’s decision were not consulted,” the release highlights.

In a recent interview on Brave Wilderness, President Biden said, “I’m in” when asked about protections for wolves. The President also articulated the message conveyed by “Family.”

Crystle Lightning (First Nations Hobbema/Enoch), who in May won the Canadian Screen Awards category for Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role (Trickster), has stressed that state laws aimed at culling surviving wolf populations by up to 90 percent have grave implications for tribes.

“We must not let state, provincial, and federal governments continue to define issues as ‘environmental’ or ‘wildlife’ when they are cultural. These are social justice issues. What is happening to the wolf is a social justice issue for Indigenous people. The wolf has a vital role in so many of our cultures – in our clans, our songs, our ceremonies. Yet, our voices are ignored. Whenever the voices of any people are silenced, it is suppression. We are the first people of this land but always the last to be heard,” Lightning said.

The February 2021 slaughter of the wolf in Wisconsin validated the concerns tribes raised about the delisting of the wolf. The treaty rights of Tribal nations in Wisconsin were routinely violated during the first post-ESA delisting state administered wolf trophy hunt.

Oneida Chairman Tehassi Hill predicted such would be the case in a letter to Trump’s Principal Deputy Director of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Margaret Everson, prior to the removal of ESA protections.

“As was demonstrated throughout the Trump Administration’s attempt to delist the grizzly bear, the delisting of the gray wolf and the conduct of FWS and DOI in the process, threatens harm to tribal sovereignty, undermines treaty rights, and puts the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in jeopardy, leaving tribes’ religious and spiritual freedoms vulnerable. Respecting our rights and upholding its fiduciary obligation to the Oneida Nation and all tribal nations is not optional for any administration,” Chairman Hill wrote.

Tribal and non-tribal biologists alike fear laws permitting similar actions might push the species back to the brink of extinction. In Montana and Idaho, governors Gianforte and Little respectively have signed a slew of bills that authorize some previously outlawed killing practices, including lethal neck snaring, use of motorized vehicles to chase and kill wolves, baiting, and spotlighting at night.

In a letter to Haaland on June 28, Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), urged the Secretary to return the wolf to ESA protections “before the wolf population is decimated, undoing the decades of work toward wolf recovery.” Native News Online reached out to the offices of other concerned Members of Congress who are expected to follow suit.

“These wolf extermination bills passed and signed into law by rightwing extremists at the state level demonstrate that they are not only hunting democracy to extinction, they are also conflating Euro-Medieval sadism with so-called wildlife management to the same ends with wolves,” said the film’s director, Rain.

Consistent with the director’s previous work through Alter-Native Media, Family is both beautiful and moving, its breathtaking visuals matched only by its emotional impact. In addition to Lightning, the film also features Juliet Hayes (Say Her Name) and Letara Lebeau. Anthony Stengel (Say Her Name) is director of photography.

“Family” also draws attention to “The Wolf: A Treaty of Cultural and Environmental Survival,” which has previously been described as “a blueprint for future wolf management.” The treaty, signed by over 120 Tribes and numerous highly respected Indigenous spiritual leaders, authors, orators, and water protectors, has a strong emphasis on Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and an adherence to the Indigenous Rights of Nature (IRON).

Chairperson Aaron Payment of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians was among the first tribal leaders to sign treaty with Chairman Harold Frazier of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Chairman Russell “Buster” Attebery of the Karuk Nation. The who’s who of signatories includes Winona LaDuke, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, and Tara Houska.

“The diversity of Tribal Nations and the demonstration of unity by the Wolf Treaty signers emphasizes that the clear and present danger that stripping ESA protections from the wolf has created not only impacts the Tribes in the 15 percent of the continental United States where the wolf survives, but the majority that live in the 85% of the country where the wolf is functionally extinct,” said Tom Rodgers, President of the Global Indigenous Council.

Contrary to the law on federally mandated tribal consultation, the Trump administration declined to meet with tribal government signatories or even accept receipt of the treaty. Rodgers said he hopes Secretary Haaland will meet with a tribal delegation soon to receive the treaty and discuss tribal concerns on the wolf crisis.

“As tribal people, we, like our brother and sister, the wolf, have experienced extermination and myth making. The modern-day state government sanctioned extermination efforts say more about humanity’s alienation from the natural world than about the wolf,” added Rodgers.

“This trophy killing of wolves and bears is a manifestation of patriarchy and misogyny. Anybody who has heard the acronym MMIWG is aware that we as Indigenous women continue to be hunted too,” emphasized Crystle Lightning.

******

Newsweek

A Billion Seashore Animals Cooked Alive During Pacific Northwest Heat Wave

Aila Slisco, July 5, 2021

|More than a billion ocean animals living along the pacific coast may have been killed during the recent unprecedented heat wave in the Northwest.

Chris Harley, a marine biologist from the University of British Columbia, told CBC on Monday that he was “stunned” by the putrid stench of death and the sight of tens of thousands of dead clams, snails, mussels and sea stars at a Vancouver beach in late June. Harley said that more than 1 billion aquatic creatures may have perished along the coast of the Salish Sea alone, an area that includes sections of western British Columbia and Washington state.

“A mussel on the shore in some ways is like a toddler left in a car on a hot day,” Harley told the outlet. “They are stuck there until the parent comes back, or in this case, the tide comes back in and there’s very little they can do. They’re at the mercy of the environment. And on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, during the heat wave, it just got so hot that the mussels, there was nothing they could do.

“Eventually, we just won’t be able to sustain these populations of filter feeders on the shoreline to be anywhere near the extent that we’re used to,” Harley said. “If we don’t like it, then we need to work harder to reduce emissions and take other measures to reduce the effects of climate change.”

The true death toll could be far higher, since the heat wave extended well beyond the Salish Sea. There have been reports of shellfish being found “cooked” on beaches across the region, with low tides helping to facilitate the carnage. Shellfish farm Hama Bay Oyster company shared images to social media of cooked clams on one of its clam beds in Hood Canal, Washington last week.

“They [the clams] look like they had just been cooked, like they were ready to eat,” the company told The Daily Mail. “It is too early to tell [how many], we have to wait for the next string of low tides.”

The toll on humans has also been devastating. The heat wave was responsible for hundreds of deaths in the region, according to a paper published Monday by the prestigious BMJ medical journal. Experts expect more potentially deadly heat waves in the future as the effects of climate change continue to progress unabated.

Temperatures exceeded 100 degrees across the Northwest late last month, with multiple cities in the region hitting all-time high temperatures, including Portland, Oregon reaching a record-breaking 116 degrees.

Both Oregon and Washington peaked at 118 degrees, equaling the state record for Washington and falling one degree below the high mark for Oregon. A scorching 121 degrees was recorded in Lytton, British Columbia—the hottest temperature experienced in the recorded history of Canada.

(Newsweek reached out to the World Wildlife Fund for comment.)

******

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

As many as a third of Wisconsin’s wolves were killed after the species dropped from the endangered species list, study says

John Flesher, Associated Press, July 5, 2021

As many as one-third of Wisconsin’s gray wolves likely died at the hands of humans in the months after the federal government announced it was ending legal protections, according to a study released Monday.

Poaching and a February hunt that far exceeded kill quotas were largely responsible for the drop-off, University of Wisconsin scientists said, though some other scientists say more direct evidence is needed for some of the calculations.

Adrian Treves, an environmental studies professor, said his team’s findings should raise doubts about having another hunting season this fall and serve notice to wildlife managers in other states with wolves.

Removing federal protections “opens the door for antagonists to kill large numbers in short periods, legally and illegally,” Treves and two colleagues said in a paper published by the journal PeerJ. “The history of political scapegoating of wolves may repeat itself.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dropped gray wolves in the Lower 48 states from its list of endangered and threatened species in January, shortly before former President Donald Trump left office. Agency biologists have long argued that the predator has recovered from persecution that nearly wiped it out by the mid-20th century.

Environmental and animal-rights groups contend the move was premature because wolves haven’t returned to most of their historical range. They are pushing the Biden administration to reverse it.

Wisconsin was the first state to resume hunting. Its Department of Natural Resources planned to wait until November but was forced to schedule a season in February after a pro-hunting organization won a court order. Officials cut it short after hunters killed 218 wolves, blowing past the target of 119.

Based on population models, Treves and University of Wisconsin environmental scientists Francisco Santiago-Avila and Karann Putrevu estimate in their paper that people killed an additional 95 to 105 wolves in Wisconsin between Nov. 3, when the plan to lift federal protections was announced, and mid-April.

They say the deaths reduced the statewide wolf total to between 695 and 751, down from at least 1,034 in spring 2020. That upends the Wisconsin DNR’s objective of keeping the population stable even with hunting, the paper says.

The department did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Treves and his colleagues blame more than half the nonhunting deaths on “cryptic poaching,” or illegal kills in which the poacher leaves no evidence, hiding the animal’s body and destroying its radio collar. Other human-caused deaths could include automobile strikes and government-approved lethal controls for wolves harassing livestock, Treves said.

His previous research has concluded that such poaching worsens when legal protections are relaxed, based largely on numbers of radio-collared wolves that disappear well before the batteries are due to fail.

Treves argues that people who are hostile toward wolves may regard easing of rules as a sign that attacking them is acceptable. A 2017 paper responding to one of his earlier studies described the claim as “based on flawed analysis and unconvincing interpretation of scientific literature.”

Daniel MacNulty, an associate professor of wildlife ecology at Utah State University, questioned the methods Treves and his team used to calculate cryptic poaching for their latest paper, saying more direct evidence was needed.

“I would interpret the findings cautiously,” he said in an interview last week.

Treves said his conclusions were justified by a variety of wolf population and social science data.

The Wisconsin DNR says on its website that it is preparing for a fall hunt “through a transparent and science-based process” that will take into account the February results. The Natural Resources Board is expected to set a kill quota in August.

But that could drive the population dangerously low, Treves said. The February hunt took place during the wolves’ breeding season and it’s unclear to what extent reproduction was disrupted, he said.

“Without information on how many pups were born this summer, it’s really fumbling in the dark to plan another hunt,” he said.

Wildlife managers in Michigan and Minnesota are also considering wolf hunts. In some Western states, Republican legislators are pushing aggressive methods such as nighttime hunts, bounty-like payments and allowing shooting from motorized parachutes, ATVs or snow machines any time of year.

Treves said his paper should caution officials in those states that unreported poaching can be “massive” and should be factored into hunting quotas.

Ed Bangs, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wolf recovery coordinator, said it was too early to draw broad conclusions based on the initial Wisconsin season, which he described as a “killing spree” that violated hunting ethics. State wildlife managers are capable of designing science-based hunts that keep wolf populations healthy if politicians and judges let them, he said.

“I have a lot of faith in wolves,” Bangs said. “They’re very resilient and can bounce back.”

******

Popular Science

An ‘extinct’ Australian mouse has been thriving on a remote protected island

The Gould mouse may live on, but the loss of other mammal species bodes poorly for overall ecosystem health.

BY GRACE WADE, July 05, 2021

On the most westerly point of Australia lies Shark Bay, a remote island where sienna-streaked cliffs meet the sea and ancient, bulbous stromatolites speckle the coastline. Not only is this ecological wonderland a UNESCO world heritage site, but it also turns out to be one of the last habitats for the elusive Gould’s mouse—an Australian rodent thought to have gone extinct more than 150 years ago. 

But according to a study published this month in PNAS, the mouse has been around this whole time, living it up on several islands in Western Australia. The study, which was conducted by researchers at the Australian National University, used 184-year-old museum specimens to sequence the genomes of eight extinct Australian rodent species and then looked at 42 of their living relatives.

“We compared the DNA of Gould’s mouse, thought to be extinct, to all living species of native rodents. What we found was that it was genetically indistinguishable from another living species, the Shark Bay mouse,” said Emily Roycroft, lead author of the study and postdoctoral fellow at the Australian National University.

“Originally, we thought the Gould’s mouse only lived in New South Wales and Victoria, but after the results of our study, it’s clear that it once roamed across most of the Australian mainland.”

Mapping out mice genomes

Australia has the highest recorded rate of mammalian extinction in the world.

Since European colonization began in 1788, 34 land-roving mammal species have disappeared from the landscape. Of those, rodents have been disproportionately affected—they’ve comprised 41 percent of mammal extinctions since settlers arrived.

“When we started the study, we set out to examine the relationships between extinct Australian rodents and living species, to determine the level of genetic diversity present before they became extinct,” Roycroft said.

To do this, the evolutionary biologists extracted DNA from 87 museum specimens and mapped out the gnawing mammalians’ genomes. Understanding the genetic diversity of a population could help ecologists determine to what extent the arrival of Europeans contributed to their extinction, said Roycroft.

One hypothesis for the mass disappearance of Australian rodents is they were already experiencing a decline due to loss of genetic diversity. Ecologists observed this when sequencing the genomes of two other Aussie animals: the endangered Tasmanian devil, which is now extinct on mainland Australia, and the fully-extinct Thylacine, a larger carnivorous marsupial also called the Tasmanian wolf or Tasmanian tiger.

Prior to colonization, these two species were experiencing a rapid reduction in genetic diversity, which indicates their numbers were already declining, leaving them more vulnerable to the threat of invaders. In other words, Europeans didn’t cause their extinction, only accelerated it.

However the study found this was not the case for rodent extinction. In fact, there was no evidence for reduced genetic diversity in the extinct species prior to the late 18th century, which indicates that their populations were large and thriving at the time. Their rapid decline following the arrival of Europeans suggests genetic diversity doesn’t necessarily protect species from rapid, catastrophic extinction.

“This shows how severe the impacts of European colonization have been, including introduced predators and land clearing, resulting in species that were relatively common becoming extinct in less than 200 years,” Roycroft said.

Rodents’ role in the Australian ecosystem

The rapid disappearance of Australia’s furry critters doesn’t just mean less scampers and squeaks—it could also have a devastating impact on almost all of the country’s ecosystems. Their presence is found in ecological niches ranging from arid deserts to the moist corners of the coastline.

“Native rodents are important ecosystem engineers and play an integral role in Australian environments as consumers of plants, fungi, and invertebrates, and as a prey source for other native species,” Roycroft said. “The ongoing loss of native rodents from the Australian landscape has the potential to lead to broader ecosystem collapse.”

Roycroft believes understanding the genome of extinct species can help inform conservation efforts for surviving species.

“Our study shows just how much we can learn about species we’ve otherwise lost to extinction using data from museum specimens,” she said. “If we can generate this type of data from across all of Australia’s native species, not just rodents, we can learn more about the broader pattern and pace of extinctions.”

Although it’s unlikely, future genome sequencing projects may uncover other living species once thought to have vanished from the face of the planet. But for now, we at least know the Gould’s mouse is still scuttling around the already-protected Shark Bay.

******

VTDigger (Montpelier, VT)

National study adds heat to local bird conservation efforts

By Emma Cotton, July 4, 2021

Local conservationists say they aren’t surprised by a new report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that lists 269 species of birds that need more protection.

The report, called Birds of Conservation Concern, lists species in the United States that aren’t considered federally endangered or threatened, but whose populations are declining.

“It reinforces what we mostly already knew,” said David Mears, executive director of Audubon Vermont and vice president of the National Audubon Society.

Birds that Vermonters commonly see in their backyards could soon edge into the “extinction zone of risk, which we want to stay well clear of,” Mears said.

Several species listed in the report are already considered threatened or endangered in Vermont, but not at the federal level. Vermont conservationists have already succeeded in boosting the populations of previously endangered birds, such as the peregrine falcon, the common loon and the bald eagle.

Among the species listed in the report are the eastern whip-poor-will, wood thrush and veery, which all live in lowland forests; the upland sandpiper, bobolink and eastern meadowlark, all grassland birds; the golden-winged and blue-winged warblers, which live in shrublands; and the chimney swift, which lives in developed areas.

Mears said Vermont has an unexpectedly strong population of golden-winged warblers, whose populations are declining across the Northeast.

“That’s just kind of interesting, that there’s ways in which Vermont’s responsibility is beyond our own borders,” he said. “These are birds that go everywhere, and in some ways, our ability to protect habitat for them is a way of providing a service to the broader globe.”

Data for the report comes from both national literature and observations from birders, and it breaks the country into numbered regions with similar habitat — Vermont is part of both the Lower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Plain and the Northern Atlantic Forest.

A 2019 study from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology shows that wild bird populations in the United States and Canada have decreased almost 30% in the last 40 years. Climate change could cause the extinction of two-thirds of North American species by the end of the century, according to a 2019 Audubon study.

Another, published in 2017, shows a 14% decline in Vermont’s forest birds over a 25-year period.

Mears and Chris Rimmer, executive director of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, say conservation efforts in the state focus on both individual species and broader habitat preservation.

Vermont recently removed bald eagles from its endangered species list, for example. The success comes from a combination of targeted efforts to reduce their exposure to harmful pesticides, and big-picture efforts to preserve their habitat — and, by extension, the habitat of other creatures.

In some ways, the collective scope of declining bird populations carries the same symbolism as a single canary in a coal mine, Mears said. Birds need insects, pollinators, grasslands and forests to breed and thrive. Stressed bird populations often show early warning signs of other environmental problems, including climate change.

Climate change is likely to stress populations of sensitive species, like the Bicknell’s thrush, which nests only in the high elevations of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and some parts of Canada. Rimmer, who has conducted extensive research on the species, said data already shows that hardwood forests are beginning to “march upslope,” slowly migrating to higher elevations.

“Some of these models show that, if we continue on some of the predicted trajectories, Bicknell’s thrush and some other birds are going to potentially disappear from all but the really high mountains, like Mount Washington,” Rimmer said. Mount Washington, at 6,288 feet, is nearly 2,000 feet taller than Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak at 4,393 feet.

The report notes that its underlying philosophy “is that proactive bird conservation is critical at a time when continued human impacts will be intensified by effects of a changing climate.”

According to the report, conservation efforts that protect species are more cost-effective than efforts to bring species back once they’re officially listed as endangered or threatened. Rimmer says many of the conservation efforts mounted by the Vermont Center for Ecostudies are volunteer-based.

“You could never do it on your own,” he said. “We could never hire enough field technicians to go out and do what all these wonderful, trained, passionate community scientists do.”

Mears hopes the broad interest in birds — which gained traction during the pandemic — might help more regular folks get involved with conservation efforts.

“As people who care about birds see this very tangible impact — the fear of not being able to see indigo buntings, or scarlet tanagers, or losing really common birds like wood thrushes — it really begins to affect the way Vermonters look at and think about these issues,” Mears said. “Realizing that the solutions that benefit wood thrushes also benefit us directly starts to pull in this broader community of public interest.”

******

Associated Press

US lobster fisheries anxious over upcoming whale protections

By PATRICK WHITTLE, July 3, 2021

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The profitable U.S. lobster fishery will soon have to contend with new rules designed to protect an endangered species of whale, and that could necessitate major changes for people in the industry.

The federal government is working on new rules designed to reduce risk to North Atlantic right whales, which number only about 360. One of the threats the whales face is entanglement in ropes that connect to lobster and crab traps in the ocean.

The new rules are expected to be released late this summer or early in fall, a spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. Early indications show that the changes required by the rules could be significant.

Right whales were once abundant off the East Coast, but they were decimated by hunting during the commercial whaling era. They’ve been listed as endangered since 1970, but the population remains small, and in jeopardy. Recent years have also brought high mortality and poor reproduction among the whales.

They’re also vulnerable to ship strikes, and face the looming threat of warming oceans. Acting NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Paul Doremus said in June that the U.S. and Canada, which also harvests lobsters, must “take and sustain additional efforts to reduce right whale mortalities and serious injuries.”

The rules will focus on reducing the number of vertical ropes in the water, and they’re also expected to modify restricted areas of ocean, the government has said. A conservation framework released by the federal government in May states that the first phase of rules will be designed to reduce risk to the whales by 60%.

Later phases, which could take effect by 2030, call for an almost complete reduction of risk to the animals. Members of the industry said that could make it harder to get lobsters to consumers.

The lobster industry is prepared to do its part to conserve the whales, but a near complete risk reduction would require a total overhaul of the fishery, said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

“The fishery as we know it cannot exist, absolutely not,” McCarron said. “We can’t solve this whole issue if whales are dying in Canada, or getting hit by ships. Everybody’s very anxious to know what the rules actually say.”

The U.S.’s new whale rules will not go into effect immediately upon release, and it’s too early to say when they will go on the books, said Allison Ferreira, the NOAA spokesperson. She said the federal government will undertake a major outreach effort to help fishermen comply when the rules are available.

“I think we will do a multipronged approach — from sending out papers, websites, meeting in person, and instructional videos — to help them understand the different components, because the different components will apply to different fishermen,” she said.

The rules are arriving at a time when the lobster industry, based mostly in Maine but also active elsewhere in New England and New York, has been very successful despite numerous challenges. Maine lobster has been worth more than $400 million at the docks for seven years in a row after never coming close to that number in its history, according to state records that go back to the 1880s.

Lobsters are also popular at the moment with consumers, who are paying higher than average prices for them this summer.

The fishery has weathered high bait prices, the coronavirus pandemic, economic turmoil with China and other difficulties in the last five years and managed to stay afloat. But whale rules represent a challenge that could make it more difficult to get lobsters to customers, said Beth Casoni, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association.

“When 700 fishermen are not on the water, there’s less lobster,” Casoni said.

******

E&E News

House infrastructure bill boosts animal corridors

Michael Doyle, E&E News reporter, July 2, 2021

The big infrastructure bill passed by the House yesterday could help wildlife wander more safely.

First introduced as stand-alone legislation, the “Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act” got tacked onto the sprawling H.R. 3684, the “INVEST in America Act,” approved by the House by a 221-201 vote (Greenwire, July 1).

The legislation, authored by Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), authorizes federal agencies to develop a national wildlife corridor system on public land, establishes a $50 million a year wildlife movement grant program and creates a corridor database, among other steps.

“Simply providing wildlife the opportunity to move across lands and waters is one of the simplest and most effective ways to help preserve the many species in the U.S. at risk of extinction due to habitat loss and fragmentation,” Beyer said.

Corridors can take different forms and are designed in part to prevent the collisions between motorists and wildlife, which by some estimates cause more than 200 human fatalities and over 26,000 injuries each year and kill more than 1 million large animals.

Wildlife crossing structures and fencing that guide animals over or under highways can reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions by up to 97%, according to some studies. The “INVEST in America Act,” a five-year reauthorization of the surface transportation bill, includes $400 million for wildlife-vehicle collision reduction projects from a competitive grant program.

“Protecting wildlife corridors is one of the most important tools we have to address the biodiversity crisis, especially in the face of climate change,” said Susan Holmes, federal policy director at the Wildlands Network.

Beyond general concerns about boosting federal spending at a time of record deficits, the bill faces skepticism from conservative Western private property advocates.

“This so-called ‘Wildlife Corridors Act’ may be the most devastating legislation ever, as it will tie up federal lands and waters like we have never seen before, further compounding the federal regulatory nightmare,” Jennifer Fielder, CEO of the American Lands Council, testified in 2019.

******

Monterey Herald (Monterey, CA)

State buy-back helps endangered species in Monterey Bay sanctuary

By DENNIS L. TAYLOR, Monterey Herald, July 2, 2021

MONTEREY — An environmental nonprofit out of Monterey is applauding this year’s state budget that is funding a transition away from deadly gill-net fishing by awarding commercial fishermen cash for turning in their nets — nets that have ensnared endangered sea turtles heading into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Gill-net fishing involves a wall of netting that hangs in the water column, typically made of monofilament or multifilament nylon. They can stretch out for a mile, and at one time a couple of miles. They ensnare everything except for fish small enough to swim between the meshing.

Depending on the size of gill-net meshing, animals can become entangled around their necks, mouths and flippers, according to NOAA Fisheries, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Entanglement can prevent proper feeding, constrict growth or cause infections. Marine mammals entangled in set gill nets can drown.

They are called gill nets because when a fish enters the meshing and then tries to retreat, its gills become caught in the mesh. These nets are deployed outside of the marine sanctuary but can catch migratory marine wildlife that comes into sanctuary waters each year.

Off California’s Central Coast, the target species include swordfish, sharks and tuna. But they also have ensnared humpback and endangered fin whales, porpoises and dolphins, and seals and sea lions, in addition to leatherback sea turtles, NOAA Fisheries reports.

Gov. Gavin Newsom in his 2021-2022 fiscal year budget has allocated the final $1.3 million to an ongoing buy-back program to take gill nets out of the water, a move celebrated by Oceana, a nonprofit in Monterey that has pushed for the legislation.

Each fisherman who turns in gill nets will receive $110,000

Under state law, the entire fleet of gill-net permits in California will be phased out by 2024. In its place is a type of fishing called “deep-set buoy gear that is more selective,” said Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California campaign director.

This buoy gear used a hook-and-buoy array to target swordfish during the daytime in deep water, with hooks commonly set at depths below 250 meters, or roughly 800 feet. They are composed of strike-indicator buoys on the surface, a vertical mainline, baited hooks and a weighted sinker to ensure that hooks reach depth rapidly. They are designed to target swordfish without ensnaring other species.

“This innovative transition program will save whales, sea turtles and other ocean wildlife by removing harmful drift gill nets from our oceans and provide opportunities for California fishermen to catch swordfish with more selective methods like deep-set buoy gear,” Shester said.

But not everyone is keen on the project. Gary Burke fishes swordfish out of Santa Barbara and is a director of Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara. He turned down the buyout for a number of reasons, not least of which is the buyout price point of $110,000.

“Guys make that in one catch,” Burke said in an interview with The Herald. The costs of transitioning to another fishery can be far more than $110,000. Changing to squid fishing, for example, can cost up to $1 million, which most fishermen would need to borrow against their boats.

Burke maintains the by-catch, as snaring other species is called, is minimal and that the alternative of deep-set buoy fishing doesn’t bring in enough of a catch to be financially sustainable. Since the onset of the program in 2018, 27 vessels in his group fished for 1,062 days and caught 1,257 fish, or an average of 1.2 swordfish a day, not enough to sustain commercial boats.

He also argued the extent of by-catch is not as much as most people think, he said. There was one gray whale and “a handful of dolphins” caught in a five-year span, Burke said, and that 74% of fish caught in gill nets were sold, and that of the by-catch, 80% were released alive.

That compares to Oceana’s numbers it says are based on NOAA Fisheries data, that in a 10-year span, gill nets will capture 27 whales, 548 dolphins, 333 seals and sea lions and 24 sea turtles.

Burke also said— that while the U.S. and California are adopting stringent regulations on fishing to protect species like leatherbacks, the real harm is in places like Papua New Guinea and Indonesia where leatherbacks are hunted and their eggs are dug up, sometimes by wild pigs roaming the islands.

“If you want to help leatherbacks, that’s where you need to start,” Burke said.

******

The University of New Mexico

UNM biologists use genomic sequencing to inform preservation efforts for Gila trout

By Sarah Bliss-Carpenter  July 01, 2021

University of New Mexico Ph.D. student David Camak, professor and curator of fishes at the Museum of Southwestern Biology Thomas Turner, and professor Megan Osborne recently published a paper about their research on analyzing genomic sequences of fish, for which they used using computing resources at the Center for Advanced Research Computing. Their work will inform local efforts to preserve Gila trout. The team collected and analyzed trout samples to assess the genetic diversity of Gila trout lineages and determine whether hybridization with rainbow trout is threatening the genetic integrity of the species. 

After being placed on the endangered species list in 1973, the Gila trout was reclassified as a threatened species in 2006 according to the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish. Despite this progress, the Gila trout is still exposed to numerous risks including climate change, hybridization with rainbow trout, and wildfire. In particular, large wildfires in the trout’s habitat have wiped out entire populations, decreasing the species’ genetic diversity. 

These threats can create what biologists call a “population bottleneck.”

“A population bottleneck is when a population gets really small and fish interbreed and then they get inbreeding depression… You get these deleterious traits in the population and they can depress the overall fitness of the population,” Turner explained.

Hybridization with non-native rainbow trout is another threat to the Gila trout. Stocking the Gila River with rainbow trout is a practice dating back to the arrival of European settlers in the Southwest. Stocking is meant to increase the number of fish that can be caught by recreational fishers, but when rainbow trout are stocked into a river with native Gila trout, the two species interbreed. This interbreeding changes the genetic profile of the fish, which could lead to broader changes to both species and the presence of Gila trout hybrids. Hybrids may not be protected by the Endangered Species Act because of their differing genetic makeup. 

To investigate the genetic integrity and diversity of Gila trout, Camak, Turner, and Osborne collected samples from remote streams in the east, middle, and west forks of the Gila River. They then generated data on the genomes of these samples and used CARC resources to organize and interpret that data.

“What CARC was really important for doing was to catalogue all those sequences [and] to match them all up so we can compare them across individuals to make sure that we’re comparing the same portion of the genome across all these individuals. And this is super computationally intensive,” Turner reported.

The group’s work revealed encouraging results. Fortunately, Gila trout have not hybridized with rainbow trout. Furthermore, Gila trout lineages appear to have exchanged genetic material with each other in recent history, meaning that different lineages could be used to bolster the genetic diversity of populations in other areas. 

The authors of this paper are now working on similar studies of other local fish. Their work will be used to inform preservation efforts by local government agencies like the restocking of fish and the establishment of instream barriers between species. 

Turner noted the importance of UNM resources to his and his colleagues’ work, commenting, “UNM resources are huge in building the capacity to do these kinds of projects. Having a place like CARC to do this kind of computation, having samples in the Museum of Southwestern Biology, and having experts in fish biology and other restoration biology make this possible.”

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Environmentalists Set Deadline for Hawai‘i Department of Transportation to Fix Lights That Injure, Kill Rare Birds on Maui, Lāna‘i

HONOLULU—(June 30, 2021)—Two conservation groups today provided formal notice of their intent to sue the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation if it fails to take immediate steps to prevent bright lighting at state-operated airports and harbors on Maui and Lāna‘i from killing and injuring three species of critically imperiled seabirds.

The Newell’s shearwater is a threatened species, and Hawaiian petrels and band-rumped storm petrels in Hawai‘i are endangered species. According to today’s notice from the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i and the Center for Biological Diversity, represented by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice, the department’s continued failure to protect these native seabirds from harmful operations at its facilities violates the federal Endangered Species Act.

In August 2017 the Center and Conservation Council sued the department to stop the deaths of these seabirds at facilities on Kaua‘i. The seabirds circle the bright lights at the department’s facilities until they fall to the ground from exhaustion or crash into nearby buildings.

Bright lights have contributed significantly to the catastrophic 94% decline in the population of threatened Newell’s shearwaters on Kaua‘i since the 1990s. They have also harmed endangered Hawaiian petrels, whose numbers on Kaua‘i have plummeted by 78% in the same period.

“We’re saddened that it may take another legal action to force the transportation department to stop ignoring its facilities’ role in the senseless deaths of Hawai‘i’s imperiled seabirds,” said Maxx Phillips, the Center’s Hawai‘i director and staff attorney. “There’s no reason why the state should be allowed to continue flouting the Endangered Species Act when simple measures could ensure bird safety.”

“The Department of Transportation has already taken steps to stop killing and injuring imperiled seabirds on Kaua‘i, so the department knows what to do,” said Leinā‘ala Ley, an attorney with Earthjustice. “To save these birds from extinction, the department needs to implement similar measures immediately on Maui and Lāna‘i. There’s no time to waste.”

“State agencies should set the gold standard for protecting Hawai‘i’s wildlife,” said Moana Bjur, executive director of the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i. “Private landowners, companies and other organizations are expected to comply with Endangered Species Act rules and standards. The department’s failure to file habitat conservation plans for their airports and harbors is negligent and unacceptable.”

The largest Hawaiian petrel breeding colony is located on Maui in Haleakalā crater, and the second-largest breeding colony is located on Lāna‘i. A breeding colony of Band-rumped Storm petrels was recently discovered at Hauola Gulch on Lāna‘i and is only the third such colony to be identified in the state, making it an important site for future efforts to protect and recover this species.

The department’s airport and harbor facilities are among the largest documented sources of seabird deaths from light attraction on Maui and Lāna‘i. The lights used by these facilities are tall, freestanding and exceptionally bright, making them attractive to the threatened and endangered seabirds. Additionally, coastal lights like those at Kahului Airport and Kahului Harbor cause more fallout than inland lights, meaning these lights are particularly dangerous for the seabirds.

The groups seek to compel the department to comply with its obligations under the Endangered Species Act by securing incidental take permit coverage for its activities on the two islands. As part of permitting, the department must develop a habitat conservation plan specifying measures it will take to minimize and mitigate harm, such as shielding or eliminating its bright lights, and fencing nesting colonies to prevent predation of nesting seabirds and their chicks. The Act requires that citizens provide 60 days’ advance notice before filing a lawsuit to address illegal activities.

******

National Geographic

Florida enacts sweeping law to protect its wildlife corridors

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Act was passed unanimously. It aims to protect green spaces, drinking water, and wildlife such as panthers.

BY DOUGLAS MAIN, June 30, 2021

Florida made conservation history by enacting a bill and securing $400 million in funding to help protect the state’s vast network of natural areas.

Known as the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, the legislation passed the Florida State Senate and House unanimously in late April. It was signed by Governor Ron DeSantis on the evening of June 29.

The act formally recognizes the existence of the Florida wildlife corridor, an interconnected web of green spaces throughout much of the state that includes forests, swamps, fields, pastures, timberlands, and even the edges of suburbs.

These areas are crucial for the existence of Florida’s rich wildlife, especially wide-ranging species such as Florida panthers, black bears, otters, alligators, and many types of birds. Habitat fragmentation, caused by roads and development, is one of the most critical but least recognized threats to biodiversity.

Along with the bill, the legislature has also earmarked $300 million toward protecting lands within the corridor, which can be used to fund conservation easements on private property or acquire land. That’s in addition to $100 million allocated generally to the main state’s land conservation program, called Florida Forever, which functions similarly, though over a slightly broader geographic area.

The act is also intended to protect agricultural lands from development, to provide for continued recreational access to natural areas, and to safeguard clean water and air. That’s vital in the third most populous state, where an average of nearly a thousand people move every day.

“It’s the best hope we got,” says Cary Lightsey, a sixth-generation cattle rancher who lives near Lake Kissimmee, of the corridor bill. Protecting these lands will “keep our natural resources going, protect our endangered species, and most of all, the landscape.” (Read more: How America’s most endangered cat could help save Florida.)

For an environmental bill to pass with unanimous bipartisan support is unusual in today’s political climate, but it shows that land conservation, and specifically wildlife corridors, can transcend  partisan divisions, says Jason Lauritsen, executive director of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Coalition.

“It’s an issue of marrying green infrastructure and a healthy ecosystem with vibrant economies,” Lauritsen says.

Many see it as part of a broader evolution in conservation planning, in which people worldwide are increasingly realizing the importance of landscape connectivity, says Tori Linder, a conservationist and managing director with Path of the Panther, an organization supported by the National Geographic Society that works to protect the corridor and helped lead the effort to pass the bill.

Linder says that some other states have made various moves to recognize and protect their wildlife corridors—such as New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Virginia—but none has made this level of investment.

“The bipartisan passage of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act presents a model for sustainable development nationally, one in which nature and people can thrive together. And that’s incredibly exciting,” Linder says.

Defining the corridor

The new law specifies what qualifies to be part of the Florida wildlife corridor. To do so, it uses information from the Florida Ecological Greenways network, a massive collection of data managed by Tom Hoctor, director of the Center for Landscape Conservation Planning at the University of Florida.

That data, which includes animal movements, ecological measurements, habitat type, water availability, and many other factors, helps determine what areas are most needed for wildlife to thrive. In all, the corridor encompasses 18 million acres of land, of which 10 million acres are currently protected.

Many species, including Florida panthers, need corridors to disperse, find mates, and maintain their large home ranges.

These endangered cats nearly went extinct by the 1970s, but bounced back following an infusion of genes from five Texas mountain lions in the 1990s. In 2016, a female was seen north of the Caloosahatchee River, a major waterway that runs from Fort Myers toward Lake Okeechobee, for the first time in 43 years.

This milestone suggests the species is moving north—which it must to survive long-term, a future that’s only possible with protected wildlife corridors.

Beyond panthers, most animals and plants rely, to some degree, upon connected landscapes to disperse and maintain genetic diversity.

The bill’s passing is the culmination of a long quest by Carlton Ward, Jr., a photographer and National Geographic Explorer who founded the Florida Wildlife Corridor campaign in 2010 and Path of the Panther in 2016. In recent years, Ward has explored much of Florida’s wildlife corridor, trekking more than 2,000 miles throughout the state and photographing wildlife, including the elusive Florida panther.

“This gives me a lot of hope for the future of land conservation in Florida,” Ward says.

Working together

In Florida, where development pressure is intense, ranchers and those working in agriculture often have more in common with environmentalists than in some other states, says Lightsey.

For instance, Lightsey has put more than 90 percent of his ranch in easements. The state pays him about 50 to 60 percent of the land’s appraised value, and in return, the land can never be developed. Easement owners are responsible for managing the land and paying property taxes, though often at reduced rates, and can receive some tax benefits such as deductions.

Lightsey and Hoctor both said the COVID-19 pandemic served as a wake-up call to the state, as many more people have flocked to Florida and to the countryside, putting more strain on rural areas.

“Everybody wants to live in the country [now],” Lightsey says. “It don’t look good if we don’t get rolling on this real quick.”

But many caution there’s more work ahead. For example, though the bill’s passing is exciting and hopeful, the funding needs to be sustained over time to have a real impact, Hoctor says.

Wilton Simpson, the Republican president of the State Senate—who helped the bill get passed and funded—says he hopes to secure “a similar level of funding” next year as well. “We’re very proud we got this done,” he says.

Meanwhile, developmental pressures are urgent. In 2019 a network of toll roads was proposed, called M-CORES, that would build more than 300 miles of roads cutting through some of the last undeveloped swathes of the state. Though the M-CORES project is on hold, conservationists are concerned new roads such as these or others could lead to further degradation of the land and damage the integrity of the Florida wildlife corridor.

Linder says that although she felt a sense of accomplishment when the corridor bill finally passed, it didn’t last long.

“It’s just the beginning of what needs to happen,” Linder says. “Every state needs to work to protect wildlife corridors.”

Jill Tiefenthaler, chief executive officer for the National Geographic Society, concurs. “Hopefully the success of this project will inspire change throughout the country and the world.”

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Golden Paintbrush Is Latest Endangered Species Act Success Story

Populations of Beautiful Prairie Flower Have Recovered in Western Washington, Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore.—(June 29, 2021)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to remove a flowering plant called the golden paintbrush, in the Pacific Northwest, from the endangered species list due to its recovery.

Historically found from southwestern British Columbia to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the golden paintbrush is a short-lived perennial herb with bright yellow flowers and covered in soft, sticky hairs. The plant, which can grow up to a foot high, was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1997, with only 10 known populations in Washington and British Columbia.

Now, thanks in part to replanting efforts, at least 48 sites of golden paintbrush have been documented — more than 560,000 plants. In Washington it lives at 19 sites: five in the South Puget Sound prairie landscape; six in the San Juan Islands; seven on Whidbey Island, and one near Dungeness Bay in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In Oregon the paintbrush has returned to 26 sites within the Willamette Valley. And in British Columbia, there are three known sites, each located on a separate island.

“The upland prairies and grasslands of the Pacific Northwest support many species that, like the golden paintbrush, are uniquely beautiful,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But without the Endangered Species Act, this fragile flower would have been pushed into extinction years ago by unchecked agricultural and residential development. It’s a good day for the paintbrush, but more needs to be done to save Puget and Willamette prairies and the many endangered species that depend on them.”

By the late 1990s the paintbrush had been eliminated from the Willamette Valley due to habitat loss caused by fire suppression, invasive species, development and recreational picking. Ongoing maintenance of the plant’s prairie and grasslands habitats helped support the paintbrush’s return to its native range in Oregon.

The Service expects the continued management of the paintbrush’s habitat will contribute to the recovery of a number of other species protected by the Endangered Species Act, including Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly and three subspecies of Mazama pocket gopher in Washington, the endangered Willamette daisy, and the threatened Kincaid’s lupine and Nelson’s checker-mallow in Oregon.

Additionally, golden paintbrush habitat supports the Fender’s blue butterfly, which the Service proposed to downlist from endangered to threatened on June 22 due to the species’ recovery in the Willamette Valley.

******

TC Palm (Stuart, FL)

City of Stuart calls for manatees to be reinstated to federal endangered species list

Lina Ruiz, Treasure Coast Newspapers, June 28, 2021

STUART — City officials are calling for greater federal protections of the West Indian manatee after data shows more than 10% of Florida’s manatee population has died this year.

The City Commission Monday approved a resolution urging the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to return the manatee to the endangered species list, while adding the St. Lucie River as a critical habitat for the animal.

“This isn’t how stuff gets listed on the endangered species list, or re-listed. But a municipality supporting it or being on the tip of the spear, causing the alarm (and) asking for further studies certainly helps,” Vice Mayor Merritt Matheson said,  “That’s the intent of this resolution.” 

At least 811 manatees have died this year as of June 18, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Thirty-five of those were reported in Martin County, 23 of which were found in Stuart.

Experts blame starvation, caused by die-offs of seagrass through algal blooms. Federal wildlife officials in March referred to the deaths as an Unusual Mortality Event.

In 2017, West Indian manatee went from “endangered” to “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act after their populations and habitats improved. Environmentalists have referred to the change as “very much premature.”

Stuart’s call to action mirrors those of RiverKidz, a local nonprofit youth organization that sent letters to the federal Department of Interior last month. It also follows proposed legislation co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City.

Mast and Democrat Stephanie Murphy, who represents portions of the Orlando area, recently introduced the Marine Mammal Research and Response Act, that could garner $7 million a year for protection and research of marine mammal deaths.

The legislation would allocate at least $42 million over six years for grants that likely would cap at $150,000, with $500,000 available for a specific rapid-response program, according to the bill.

******

Star Advertiser (Honolulu, HI)

U.S. government opens comment period for proposed recategorizing of endangered Hawaiian bird

By Nina Wu, June 28, 2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reopening the public comment period for the proposed downlisting of the Hawaiian stilt, or ae‘o, from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Public comment is now welcome through July 23. The rule was originally available for public comment from March 25 through May 24, but the USFWS decided to offer all interested parties an additional 30 days to comment.

A virtual public meeting and hearing will also be held at 5 p.m. on July 7.

USFWS said the proposal to downlist the aeʻo is “based on the best available scientific information, a thorough analysis of threats and how they have been alleviated, and the ongoing commitment and proven track record of partners to continue managing for healthy aeʻo populations.”

The ESA defines “endangered” as a species that is currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range and “threatened” as a species that is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.

“The proposed downlisting of the aeʻo is an example of the power of conservation partnerships between federal, state and private stakeholders under the ESA,” said USFWS in a news release. “Over the past three decades, a strong network of conservation actions throughout Hawaii has resulted in more wetland areas being managed compatible with the species’ needs. The State of Hawaii has been a key partner, along with efforts on National Wildlife Refuges, to protect, manage, and conserve the significant wetland habitats and supporting aeʻo populations over the last 30 years.”

The Hawaiian stilt, or aeʻo, is a slender and graceful wading bird with long, pink legs that occurs on all main Hawaiian islands except Kahoolawe.

The USFWS said it was originally listed as endangered in 1970 due to the destruction of its habitat, along with hunting, introduced predatory animals and disease. Aeʻo today continue to be threatened by non-native predators such as mongooses, cats and rats, along with habitat loss, type C botulism, and the impacts of human activities and climate change.

USFWS has determined, however, that the “imminence, severity, and magnitude of ongoing threats do not indicate the aeʻo is presently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”

Survey data and a recent analysis indicate that the aeʻo population has been at the “stable to increasing” level for several decades in the eight islands where it exists, according to USFWS, and stable population trends are expected to continue into the foreseeable future, as long as predator, water level, and vegetation management continues.

If downlisted, a federal take prohibition would also be removed under certain conditions.

At least one nonprofit group, the Center for Biological Diversity, opposes the delisting of the Hawaiian stilt.

“While the Service, State of Hawaii, and community have made strides in the conservation and recovery of aeʻo, downlisting is premature and unsupported by the best available science,” said the center’s Hawaii director Maxx Phillips in an email. “The proposed rule is in contravention of clear requirements of the Endangered Species Act as none of the required criteria for downlisting have been fully met. A variety of pressing threats, such as climate change, sea level rise, disease, and predation, continue to leave aeʻo in danger of extinction. Now is not the time to strip vital protections away from these incredible birds.”

To submit a comment, visit regulations.gov, and enter docket number FWS-R1-ES-2020-0079 in the search box.

Comments already submitted do not need to resubmitted. The USFWS said its final determination will take all comments and information received into consideration.

******

The World (Coos Bay, OR)

Once Thought Extinct, an Oregon Butterfly Reaches Recovery Milestone

June 26, 2021

On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to reclassify Fender’s blue butterfly from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The service is also proposing a special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA to provide for the conservation of the species. This announcement opens a 60-day public comment period.

This colorful butterfly, unique to the Willamette Valley upland prairie and oak savannah in Oregon, was thought to be extinct in 1937. Remarkably, after almost five decades, this butterfly was rediscovered in 1989. With the help of many collaborators, the butterfly’s populations have grown and become secure enough that it no longer meets the definition of an endangered species. This incredible conservation success story was made possible through teamwork, the support of public and private partners, and habitat restoration using the best available science.

“As with all of our recovery stories, this would not have been possible without many valued partners including private landowners who have made significant contributions to the conservation of Fender’s blue butterfly,” says Robyn Thorson, Pacific Northwest regional director. “We can’t thank them enough for voluntarily working with us to preserve this butterfly and other native species of the Willamette Valley prairies.”

Partners in this effort include the Institute for Applied Ecology, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Benton and Yamhill Counties, Greenbelt Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Washington State University, Van Duzer Vineyards and many private landowners.

“When we study the problem carefully and invest the effort to make changes, we can reverse the extinction process and set species like the Fender’s blue butterfly on a new trajectory toward recovery,” explains Tom Kaye, executive director of Institute for Applied Ecology. “One major breakthrough was learning that mowing and prescribed fire could be used to benefit the butterfly.”

This butterfly relies primarily upon Kincaid’s lupine, a native plant listed as a threatened species, as the host plant for its caterpillar. Females lay single eggs on the underside of the lupine leaves, up to approximately 350 eggs in total. Two other similar lupine species also provide food for the caterpillars, which they feed on until the plants dry out and the larvae go into diapause for the fall and winter. Butterflies generally fly between mid-April and the end of June and only live 7 to 14 days. Fender’s blue butterfly is found in the Willamette Valley in Benton, Lane, Linn, Polk, Yamhill and Washington counties in Oregon.

The 4(d) rule covers activities that facilitate conservation and management of the butterfly’s habitat by creating, restoring, or enhancing native upland prairie or oak savannah. Specific activities include planting of native vegetation, mowing and removal of invasive, nonnative plant species.

The service is seeking public comments concerning the proposal to downlist Fender’s blue butterfly, and any additional information on the species. Comments will be accepted through August 23. For instructions on how to comment go to: https://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/.

******

KPVI (6) News (Pocatello, ID)

Court rules Flathead plan fails grizzly, trout populations

ROB CHANEY, June 25, 2021

A lawsuit pitting habitat needs for grizzly bears and bull trout against road access for loggers and motorized tourists has resolved in favor of the animals in the Flathead National Forest.

However, U.S. District Judge Don Molloy ruled on Thursday that most of a new forest management plan governing the 2.4-million-acre national forest west and south of Glacier National Park may stand while the U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service fix some violations of the Endangered Species Act.

“It’s a pretty thorough and nuanced opinion,” said Lawson Fite, an American Forest Resource Council attorney representing the Montana Logging Association. “The judge said we can have a robust timber program on the Flathead that supports rural communities, keeps a healthy forest, and provides for grizzly bears continuing their impressive recovery. We’re gratified that grizzlies are recovering, and I think we should be celebrating that, rather than just keeping restrictions for their own sake.

The challenge came from WildEarth Guardians, Swan View Coalition and several other environmental groups that accused the Flathead Forest of violating National Environmental Policy Act and Travel Management Rule provisions in drafting its new forest plan without adequate research or public review.

Molloy rejected those arguments, writing “this does not appear to be a case in which the agencies cut corners. Rather, with limited exception, the record reflects that federal defendants met their statutory obligations in planning for and implementing the revised plan.”

Instead, Molloy found the agencies failed to follow the Endangered Species Act by getting rid of previous policies that helped grizzlies and bull trout. He quoted the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in noting that getting rid of those policies “is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who represented the Swan View Coalition, said the ruling confirmed studies showing the federal agencies were not actually enforcing the policies, such as complete removal of unneeded roads in wildlife habitat.

“The government was changing the rules that led to progress on grizzly bear and bull trout conservation,” Preso said. “They have to go back and rethink that.”

The Flathead National Forest includes a large part of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which has the largest single population of grizzly bears in the Lower 48 states. An estimated 1,000 grizzlies live in the mountains of Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, Flathead and Blackfeet Indian reservations and other wildlands extending south to Missoula.

The environmental groups argued that Flathead Forest officials improperly abandoned old rules limiting forest road construction and requiring removal of unnecessary roads in places critical to grizzlies and bull trout. Road access frequently leads to bears getting killed in vehicle accidents or hunting incidents, and erosion from road surfaces can ruin streambeds bull trout need to spawn.

The groups also raised a number of other objections to the new forest plan, including the way it reviewed snowmobile and off-road vehicle routes, how it calculated harm to bears and fish for management purposes and how the overall plan was approved.

However, Molloy left the Flathead Forest’s forest plan in place, noting that both sides agreed the new plan was, on the whole, better for people and animals than the 1986 plan it replaces.

That means six forest projects currently in the works should stay active. They include the Taylor-Hellroaring, Hellroaring Basin Improvements, Crystal Cedar and March Madness blowdown salvage projects.

“If the revised plan were vacated, the economic impact on defendant-intervenors and on the local communities that depend on approved projects for employment could be severe,” Molloy wrote.

That included 575 wood industry jobs with an annual payroll of more than $40 million, along with at least eight other forest projects developing under the new forest plan. Instead, Molloy relied on the Forest Service’s testimony that “any project under the revised plan would have to be examined individually; if the project impacted roads, grizzly bears or bull trout, the project would require a site-specific consultation and a biological assessment with the Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Molloy rejected the environmental groups’ argument that the Flathead Plan unlawfully expanded snowmobile access in critical wildlife habitat. Instead, he ruled those snowmobile travel plans were already in place before the new forest plan got finalized, so it didn’t produce any changes. He also dismissed challenges to the Forest Service’s interpretation of travel-management rules for off-road vehicle use.

But he agreed the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to properly analyze how new forest management might hurt bears and trout, and that the Forest Service improperly relied on the FWS’ flawed analysis. For example, the groups showed that more than two-thirds of officially closed roads in the Swan Lake Ranger District showed signs of trespassing motor vehicles.

(This article originally ran on missoulian.com.)

******

Naples Daily News (Naples, FL)

NOAA sets sail to study endangered smalltooth sawfish

Karl Schneider, Naples Daily News, June 25, 2021

Federal researchers are back in the waters near Southwest Florida to tag and study endangered smalltooth sawfish.

Scientist Andrea Kroetz, with the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, and Research Biologist John Carlson, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, returned to the Everglades and 10,000 Islands area to monitor the population and habitat use of juvenile smalltooth sawfish.

Carlson said the research is two-fold. Since sawfish are listed under the Endangered Species act, the team has been monitoring the population since 2008 to get an idea if the species is recovering.

“The other aspect is habitat use,” Carlson said. “We’re trying to gather more information to better define what features sawfish use when they’re juveniles.”

Smalltooth sawfish can grow up to 17 feet long and were historically common off Florida’s coastline, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website says. Populations declined, however, because of overfishing.

Recovery is difficult for the species since sawfish don’t produce many offspring. Sawfish have been protected in Florida since 1992.

The researchers use acoustic telemetry, which are ultrasonic tags that give off a coded frequency.

“We surgically implant the tags in the abdomen, and they can last 4-10 years,” Kroetz said. “We track the animals to see if there are changes in habitat use. It’s very useful to give us some fine-scale resolution for habitats in Everglades National Park.”

When smalltooth sawfish are still young, they’re found in shallower, red mangrove habitats. Mangroves not only provide vital habitat for a variety of life but act as a nursery and protect smaller, growing species from predators.

Taylor Hancock, a research assistant at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Water School said there are a high abundance of fish at those mangrove shorelines, but there’s been a worldwide trend of losing that habitat.

“It’s true here in Southwest Florida where we have continued beachfront development and we’re losing more and more mangrove habitat that is important to sawfish,” Hancock said. “They’re already critically endangered and one of the biggest concerns for conservation is to conserve the habitat.”

Hancock spent his graduate years studying diets of smalltooth sawfish, and while he said there isn’t a direct connection yet between diet and habitat, it’s a logical step to look at all the past research and understand the importance of mangroves to the sawfish.

“They are in those areas because those mangrove shorelines are really good nurseries for fish,” he said. “Just like the fish that are going into these shallow mangrove areas to use as nursery to reproduce and rear their young, sawfish do the same thing.”

Kroetz and Carlson are trying to narrow that focus of where these sawfish prefer to be.

Carlson said that despite red mangrove habitats looking similar, there are some areas where you’ll more likely find the sawfish, and the two hope to find out why.

“(The research) will allow us to better define which features are more important than other areas,” he said. “Some areas potentially look like good habitat but aren’t. This will definitely help us refine where they may occur.”

Kroetz is working on a model using math to help nail down those details. The modeling is still in progress but will hopefully help predict what habitat the sawfish use outside of NOAA’s sampling areas.

Generally, juvenile sawfish prefer shallow, warmer waters, between about 77-86 degrees, with higher salinity, she said.

Ultimately, Kroetz and Carlson hope that when smalltooth sawfish begin to fully recover historic populations, their work will help inform ways to offset habitat loss in more northern ranges.

Carlson said he’s optimistic that he and Kroetz will have a more normal year in 2021, getting out into the field more often than they were able during the pandemic.

The NOAA scientists spend about five days in locations ranging from Key Largo to Marco Island. Each day in the field can last 10-12 hours, all while battling mosquitoes and dealing with the wet Florida heat.

Carlson said they’re seeing the recovery and as the population increases, people should be aware of what to do if they accidentally catch one or even see one swimming along the shore.

“We want the public to be safe because these animals can be dangerous,” he said. “They can swing their rostrum (saw) aggressively. So release them safely, don’t drag them up on beach and cut the line as close to the hook as possible.”

NOAA also does public education about sawfish, and Kroetz said they’d like to do more outreach when it’s suitable to be back in public settings.

“We need citizen scientists to report sawfish,” Kroetz said. “It’s important for us to convey research to the public and how they can help.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission set up a hotline for the public to call if a smalltooth sawfish is spotted.

Sightings can be reported by calling 844-472-9347 (1-844-4SAWFISH) or sending an email to sawfish@myfwc.com.

“To file a report of a sawfish sighting or encounter, please include the date and time of the encounter, the location, the estimated length of each sawfish, the water depth, and any other relevant details,” FWC’s website says.

******

The Guardian

Coalition fails to meet endangered species targets to stem decline of birds, mammals and plants

Ecology experts say failure to hit five-year goals concerning although feral cat progress promising

Lisa Cox, June 25, 2021

A Coalition government strategy to save Australia’s endangered wildlife has failed to meet targets to stem the decline of many birds, mammals and plants.

The final-year report of the five-year threatened species strategy, which was introduced under the former environment minister Greg Hunt, has found five out of the strategy’s 13 targets were met, three were partially met and five were not met.

The targets not met include three that aimed to improve the trajectory of 20 birds, 20 mammals and 30 plants, including species such as the red-tailed black cockatoo and the eastern barred bandicoot.

The report finds this goal was only achieved for six birds, eight mammals and 10 plants.

For some of those species an improved trajectory did not mean that population numbers had improved in the five-year time frame – their decline was simply occurring at a slower rate than previously.

A goal to eradicate feral cats from five islands was not achieved, while a target to cull 2 million feral cats across Australia was considered partially met at more than 1.5 million.

In its report, the government wrote that the time frame of five years was too short to meet some of the “deliberately challenging” targets.

But it said the strategy had been successful in sharpening the public focus on threatened species and that “quantifiable progress” had been made, including in the culling and management of feral predators.

On the targets it did meet, the government said it was managing feral cats across more than 10 million hectares. Recovery work was also happening for 50 plant species and 60 ecological communities.

Ayesha Tulloch, a research fellow at the University of Sydney, said the introduction of the strategy itself had been a positive step and it was welcome that the department had found a way to report on it.

But she said it was alarming that after five years there were as many unmet targets as those that had been fully achieved.

She said this was especially the case for process-focused goals, such as a target to have up-to-date recovery plans, conservation advice and threat abatement plans in place for all of the priority species. This target was not met.

“Given that we have hundreds of threatened plants and we can’t even meet a target of 30 being improved over five years, that’s very alarming,” Tulloch said.

“The fact we can’t even meet a target of making sure there’s up to date recovery plans and conservation advice for species, let alone implement it, that’s concerning.”

Euan Ritchie, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at Deakin University, said the strategy had raised awareness about the dire predicament that hundreds of Australia’s unique plant and animal species were facing.

He said there had been some welcome successes documented in the five-year period, including the establishment of additional wildlife safe havens that were free of feral cats.

But he said the report showed “many failures”, noting that fewer than 35% of the priority plant and animal species had improved population trajectories.

“This improvement includes species that are simply declining at slower rates over recent years,” Ritchie said.

“But we still have the ability to turn things around – and quickly, if the political appetite appears, environmental laws are strengthened and sufficient investment for conservation is forthcoming.”

The government announced in May it would develop a new 10-year threatened species strategy, made up of two five-year action plans.

This strategy will include greater focus on landscapes, rather than just individual species, with the first action plan expected to include 100 priority species and 20 places. The range of species will also take in reptiles, amphibians, freshwater and marine species.

Tulloch and Ritchie said the new strategy would need to come with tougher environmental protections, including legislation to halt habitat clearing, one of the biggest threats to species.

Tim Beshara, of the Wilderness Society, said the federal government was not meeting its obligations to recover endangered wildlife and that the original strategy had narrowed the focus of the commonwealth.

“It was spun as triage or prioritisation of the range of species they were going to recover,” he said. “The strategy lowered the bar of species recovery and yet, as their own report card shows, they still managed to trip over it.”

A spokesman for the federal environment department said the first strategy had brought “ground breaking national focus” to threatened species, and its achievements in managing feral cats had contributed to improvements for species including the bilby, woylie and the central rock rat.

The spokesman said recovery would be a generational process for some species.

“This strategy was the first of its kind in Australia and was based on highly ambitious targets. It has formed a vital framework for the next decade and has already been responsible for saving species.”

******

Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL)/News Release

U.S. Representatives Newman and Garcia Introduce Legislation Requiring President Biden to Declare the Wildlife Extinction Crisis a National Emergency

The Extinction Crisis Emergency Act would address the wildlife extinction crisis as a national emergency by ensuring all federal agencies prioritize building back healthy wildlife, protecting critical habitat and addressing climate change

WASHINGTON, DC –(June 25, 2021)—Today, U.S. Representatives Marie Newman (D-IL-03) and Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL-04) introduced legislation that would require President Biden to declare the wildlife extinction crisis a national emergency under his authority in the National Emergencies Act of 1976. After more than a century of habitat destruction, pollution and climate change that has driven wildlife species to the brink of extinction, the new Extinction Crisis Emergency Act of 2021 is designed to establish a robust federal response to finally address this crisis as a national emergency.

“The devastating effects of climate change pose an immediate threat to our surrounding wildlife. Day by day, the number of animals in the U.S. facing extinction grows, creating a national emergency that needs to be addressed,” said Congresswoman Newman. “Investing in the health of our wildlife is an urgent priority. Through the Extinction Crisis Emergency Act, wildlife can begin flourishing again in their natural homes and habitats.”

Under the legislation introduced today, the President’s national emergency declaration would require all federal agencies to prioritize building back health wildlife populations, protect critical habitat and integrate climate change concerns into the recovery of endangered species. Additionally, the bill would provide supplemental funding for agencies to develop recovery plans and designate habitats for endangered species. To curb illegal wildlife trade or deforestation, the bill would establish potential trade penalties on nations that are not making significant efforts to end such practices. 

“After more than a century of habitat destruction and climate change, we are now facing a global crisis that we caused — with around one million animal and plant species at the brink of extinction. Whatever we do in the next few years will determine and define the future of humanity. We have a moral obligation to meet the moment with a bold response and the Extinction Crisis Emergency Act does just that by declaring the wildlife extinction crisis a national emergency,” said Congressman García.

A recent report released by the United Nations found that more than one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction, many within the decade. This mass extinction would have a grave impact on humanity, affecting everything from our water purification and disease regulation to worsening climate change across the globe. That is why this bill is intended to build on President Biden’s goal of protecting 30% of American lands and waters by 2030 to mitigate the negative effects of climate change. 

“The extinction crisis is a real threat to our well-being and even our survival, and Rep. Newman’s legislation provides the right road map of powerful actions needed to stop the heartbreaking decline of animals and plants,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Declaring the extinction crisis to be a national emergency would unlock key presidential powers that will halt the unraveling of the planet’s life-support systems, including pollination, air purification and disease regulation.”

By passing the Extinction Crisis Emergency Act of 2021, Congress has the opportunity to not only acknowledge this emergency but swiftly mobilize to save our planet and ensure the United States comes out as a global leader.

The Extinction Crisis Emergency Act of 2021 is endorsed by national organizations, including: Center for Biological Diversity, American Horse Protection Society, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Wellness Action, Animal Wellness Foundation, Animas Valley Institute, Athens County’s Future Action Network, Beyond Pesticides, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, Boulder Rights of Nature, Inc. , Bucks Environmental Action, Cahaba River Society, Center for a Humane Economy, Ciudadanos Del Karso, Don’t Waste Arizona, Earth Path Sanctuary, Earthkeeper Health Resources, Eastern Coyote/Coywolf Research, Eco-Eating, Endangered Species Coalition, Fuerza Mundial Global, Great Old Broads for Wilderness , In Defense of Animals, International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute, Jewish Climate Action Network – MA, League of Humane Voters NY, Los Padres Forest Watch, Massachusetts Forest Watch, NH Audubon, Northeast Oregon Ecosystems, Northwest Environmental Advocates, Oceanic Preservation Society, PSR Arizona, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Public Lands Project ,Raptors Are The Solution, RESTORE: The North Woods, Save The Colorado, SAVE THE FROGS!, Sequoia ForestKeeper®, South Asian Fund For Education , Scholarship and Training Inc, TFMPL, Trap Free Montana, Inc., Turner Endangered Species Fund, Western Watersheds Project, Wild Nature Institute.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Black-Footed Ferrets Proposed for Reintroduction Throughout Arizona

40-Million-Acre Range Expansion Would Also Include New Mexico, Utah

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.—(June 24, 2021)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to reintroduce endangered black-footed ferrets to four new areas in Arizona once their prey, prairie dogs, have increased sufficiently in numbers. A fifth area’s prairie dog population needs more growth and would be considered for ferret reintroduction later.

“Black-footed ferrets are not just exceedingly cute, they also play a fascinating evolutionary role as specialized predators of prairie dogs,” said Michael Robinson at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Returning these animals to a much wider area represents a welcome commitment to increase the numbers and distribution of prairie dogs and start healing our much-abused arid grasslands.”

A small population of black-footed ferrets was first reintroduced to northern Arizona in the 1990s. Today’s proposal could increase the eventual range of the ferrets to more than 40 million acres of potential habitat elsewhere in northern Arizona, along with eastern and southeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico and southeastern Utah.

The first four potential reintroduction sites would be in the Williams and Tusayan ranger districts of the Kaibab National Forest, the CO Bar Ranch, Petrified Forest National Park and near a reservoir called Lyman Lake. A fifth area, on Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, supports a reintroduced prairie dog population that must still grow substantially before it could support ferrets.

The federal proposal would also facilitate reintroduction to sovereign Tribal lands of the Hopi Tribe, Hualapai Tribe and the Navajo Nation, if any of these entities decide to reintroduce ferrets. The Navajo Nation is the largest Indian reservation in the United States and comprises more than 17.5 million acres in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

“Forty years ago just 18 individual black-footed ferrets survived,” said Robinson. “Thanks to the Endangered Species Act, hardworking biologists, and a forward-thinking Biden administration, we can now begin to envision the ferrets sufficiently recovered to never again teeter on the brink of extinction.”

Background

Ferrets are members of the mustelid family, which includes otters, weasels and skunks. Black-footed ferrets evolved to prey on prairie dogs and nearly went extinct in part because of a federal program to systematically poison prairie dogs on behalf of the livestock industry beginning a century ago.

In 1981, two years after the black-footed ferret was believed to have gone extinct, a small population was discovered in Wyoming. When that population became threatened by introduced sylvatic plague, the last 18 ferrets were captured alive. Fifteen of them, representing the genetic equivalent of seven distinct founders, were used to start a captive population that has been used for reintroduction in several western states.

Recovery of the black-footed ferret has been hindered by continued persecution of prairie dogs, which suppress their numbers and limit their distribution, as well as by recurring outbreaks of plague.

******

AG Week

Conservation groups threaten lawsuit over Montana wolf laws

The groups say the new laws will lead to the accidental killing of protected species

Written By: Keith Schubert, Daily Montanan, June 24, 2021

A handful of groups is threatening legal action against the state of Montana if it does not revise recently passed legislation that makes it easier to hunt gray wolves in the state, saying the new laws would violate the Endangered Species Act by leading to the accidental taking of federally protected species.

The letter of intent to sue — addressed to Gov. Greg Gianforte, Montana Fish and Wildlife Protection Director Hank Worsech, as well as FWP commission members — by the groups echo a familiar argument made during the legislative session that allowing neck snares to be used for trapping wolves and extending the trapping season will lead to more accidental deaths of non-target animals.

“These bills impose a new trapping paradigm in western Montana’s lynx and grizzly bear habitat and are likely to cause incidental trapping and injury or death of these threatened species,” the letter read.

Rep. Paul Fielder, R-Thompson, sponsored House Bills 224 and 225 that allow for neck snares and extend the trapping season by adding two weeks on each end. At the International Grizzly Bear Committee’s summer meeting, Ken McDonald, chief of wildlife staff for Fish Wildlife and Parks, said the department plans to ask the FWP commission to end the trapping season in mid-December to protect bears coming out of hibernation within grizzly bear habitats.

The groups also took issue with Senate Bill 314, which allows more harvesting per individual license, baiting within 30-feet of a trap, and the hunting of wolves on private lands outside of daylight hours with the use of artificial light or scope. The bill also directs the FWP to “establish by rule hunting and trapping seasons for wolves with the intent to reduce the wolf population in this state to a sustainable level, but not less than the number of wolves necessary to support at least 15 breeding pairs.”

The letter said the state should “at a minimum” prohibit all trapping and snaring in occupied lynx and grizzly bear habitat to avoid accidental takings.

“Unless the State takes action in the next 60 days to remedy this violation, the undersigned organizations will seek judicial enforcement of the ESA’s take prohibition,” the letter said.

Because of the overlap of habitats between grizzly bears, Canadian lynx and gray wolves, the letter said the two threatened species would increasingly fall victim to snares under the new laws. The letter was sent by Earthjustice and on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Clearwater, Humane Society of the United States, International Wildlife Coexistence Network, Sierra Club, Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Watch, and Wolves of the Rockies.

“The Montana legislature and governor’s policies on wolf management are not about hunting, they are state-sponsored eradication the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 19th century,” said Earth Justice attorney Ben Scrimshaw.

Grizzly bears were added to the endangered species act in 1975 after populations fell to a sliver of what they once were. Since receiving federal protection, bear populations have continued to rise from around 700 in 1975 to nearly 2,000 in 2020. However, a recent review of the animal’s status under the ESA by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintained its threatened status. Due to the lack of regulatory mechanisms to protect Canadian Lynx, the animal was added to the ESA in 2000. Like the grizzly, the lynx has seen positive impacts on population rates after receiving federal protections.

On June 16, again citing laws passed in Montana, many of the same organizations joined 50 conservation is petitioning the FWS to restore the ESA protections for gray wolves.

“The unsustainable management of gray wolves by the states clearly demonstrates that the states cannot be trusted to protect this iconic species,” said Tara Thornton of the Endangered Species Coalition in a press release announcing the petition. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must step in to ensure gray wolves aren’t once again exterminated in the Northern Rockies.”

On Thursday, the FWP Commissioners will meet to discuss the recently implemented laws, including the rules and regulations for wolf hunting.

******

Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, Humane Society of the United States, Endangered Species Coalition, National Wolfwatcher Coalition, Environmental Law

Campaign Launched to Overhaul State Management of Wolves

Strategic, Analytical Tools Made Available to Wolf Advocates, State Agencies

PORTLAND, Ore.— (June 23, 2021)—A new set of planning guides and resources was released today by conservation groups working to improve state management of gray wolves and move agencies across the country away from traditional practices that largely focus on killing wolves.

States have long relied on public advisory groups to help develop initial wolf plans and update existing plans. But livestock and hunting representatives on these panels outnumber and overpower scientists and organizations that are advocating for the full recovery and welfare of wolves.

Such advocacy groups are a better reflection of public sentiment. Polls have shown a majority of Americans opposed the removal of federal protection from wolves and want to see the species thrive.

State processes for wolf management plan development can produce plans that don’t reflect the most recent developments in science and best practices for wolf management. These plans may contain limits on wolf population size and range that science indicates are far below what is necessary for a recovered wolf population. Flawed state management has resulted in deadly consequences for wolves, especially evident since the loss of Endangered Species Act Protections for wolves throughout most of the country this year.

The groups developed separate editions for agencies and wolf advocates, and these include hyperlinks to a comprehensive resource bank that summarizes the scientific literature. The groups’ new stewardship approach emphasizes coexistence with wolves and asks state wildlife agencies to adhere to the following key principles:

  • Acknowledge the intrinsic value of wolves;
  • Follow the best available science;
  • Respect Tribal treaty rights and cultural ties to wolves;
  • Uphold democratic processes for public involvement in wolf planning and stewardship;
  • Address livestock-wolf conflicts through proactive, nonlethal measures;
  • Prohibit recreational wolf-hunting and trapping;
  • Consider the ethical implications of any action affecting wolf individuals or families, including research and handling of wolves; and
  • Emphasize collaboration among agencies to secure funding for wolf conservation and public education.

“New wolf plans informed by science and ethics are needed now more than ever, as the disastrous winter wolf hunt in Wisconsin showed,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With these planning guides and resources, which give new tools to people trying to help secure a future for wolves, we’re hoping to chart a more hopeful course in states’ stewardship of these beloved animals.”

“Quite simply put, post-delisting, too many wolves are being killed and there is absolutely no justification for it. No scientific justification. No ethical justification. No public safety justification. No economic justification,” said Samantha Bruegger, wildlife coexistence campaigner at WildEarth Guardians. “It is our hope that these guides will be a resource to correct course and move toward proven coexistence solutions for wolves, rather than politicized persecution.”

“Too often when wolves lose their federal protections, states rush to open trophy hunting and trapping seasons that tear wolf families apart,” said Amanda Wight, program manager of wildlife protection at the Humane Society of the United States. “By focusing on coexistence and stewardship, these materials will help shift the paradigm away from killing wolves in response to hate and misinformation to developing wolf plans that are rooted in science, ethics and inclusivity.”

“In places like Colorado where wolf restoration is just beginning, these planning tools provide a foundation and an opportunity for both wildlife agencies and stakeholders to come together to learn from best practices in wolf management, and develop science-based wolf conservation plans,” said Lia Cheek, national field campaign director at the Endangered Species Coalition.

“These guides promote coexistence with wolves using facts and scientific data, not fears, myths and embellished tales,” said Nancy Warren, executive director and Great Lakes regional director for National Wolfwatcher Coalition.

“These guides are designed to provide state agency professionals and advocates an invaluable roadmap in line with today’s best available science, ethical values and democratic principles,” said Jodi Habush Sinykin, a Wisconsin attorney with expertise in environmental policy retained by the Endangered Species Coalition for this project. “It is fortunate timing that these resources are available now to states like Wisconsin and Michigan currently launching efforts to update their states’ wolf-management plans.”

The Wolf Conservation Planning editions and Resource Bank were crafted by representatives from five conservation groups and a lead researcher. Outside experts who were consulted include scientists from academia with expertise in wolf biology, ecology, behavior, social science, ethics, philosophy, livestock-wolf conflict, and wolf hunting and trapping; Tribal members from the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission; and staffers who currently or formerly worked for state or federal agencies on wolf recovery and conservation.

Background

In May 2011 Congress stripped gray wolves of federal Endangered Species Act protection in the northern Rockies and parts of adjoining states. In January 2021, a Trump administration rule went into effect that stripped federal protection from wolves throughout most of the remaining contiguous states. In all parts of the country except the Southwest, state agencies now have full management authority over wolves.

Following federal delisting in 2011, Montana and Idaho immediately instituted wolf-hunting and/or trapping, aggressively increasing these measures in successive years. This year, following the federal delisting everywhere else, Montana and Idaho both enacted legislation or regulations that vastly expand when, where and how wolves can be killed, with goals to kill off up to 85% to 90% of their current populations.

Also earlier this year, Wisconsin held a winter wolf hunt that killed at least 20% of its entire wolf population in less than three days during the height of wolf breeding season. Currently, Wisconsin wildlife managers are preparing for another wolf hunt this fall informed by an outdated state wolf management plan from 1999.

******

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Service Proposes Downlisting Smooth Coneflower From Endangered to Threatened Under Endangered Species Act

Following a thorough scientific review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is proposing to downlist the smooth coneflower from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A 4(d) rule that tailors protections while allowing activities that do not hinder its recovery is also being proposed. The proposal represents a significant recovery milestone for the plant following years of ESA-inspired partnerships across its range in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

The ESA defines endangered as a species that is currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range and threatened as likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. The proposed downlisting is another example of the power of conservation partnerships between federal, state and private stakeholders under the ESA.

“Having healthier and more abundant populations of smooth coneflower out in the wild is proof that by working collaboratively, we can rescue species from the brink and recover them,” said Leo Miranda, the Service’s Regional Director. “Our partners have done an amazing job at reducing threats to this plant which is helping pave the way to its recovery.”

When the Service listed the smooth coneflower as an endangered species in 1992, 39 populations had disappeared, and the 21 remaining populations were vulnerable and unstable. Since then, more populations have been discovered and conservation projects have been implemented with documented success. The Service has also funded research projects that have led to increased knowledge about the coneflower’s genetics, pollination ecology, and creation of seed banks.

Today, 44 distinct populations of smooth coneflower exist in Virginia (15), North Carolina (6), South Carolina (12) and Georgia (11). Sixteen of these 44 populations are considered healthy and occur within protected national forests and nature preserves where threats from habitat modification have been reduced.

When the coneflower was listed, the primary threats to it were fire suppression, development, invasive species and highway right-of-way maintenance activities such as pesticide application and mowing. Some threats still remain, including habitat loss, degradation, fragmentation and the effects of climate change, such as drought, which can be especially detrimental during the growing season.

The U.S. Forest Service manages smooth coneflower habitat within Chattahoochee National Forest, Sumter National Forest, George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, as well as at the Savannah River Site. Since its listing, the U.S. Forest Service has designated Special Management Areas for each of their populations, thereby limiting access to the plants. They use prescribed fire to maintain suitable habitat, helping ensure smooth coneflower populations thrive.

“Being consistent with periodic prescribed fires on a three-year rotation has been critical to the restoration of habitat for this species,” said Mike Brod, fire and natural resources staff officer at Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. “Often times, prescribed fire coupled with the manual cutting of competing vegetation is needed for this species to thrive. We have been implementing these treatments on the forest for well over a decade and are continuing to see these populations expand. Our success on the forest could not be possible without the support of many partners associated with the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance.” In addition to the U.S. Forest Service, other organizations collaborating on smooth coneflower conservation include the North Carolina Botanical Garden, North Carolina Plant Conservation Program, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, county governments, and numerous other partners. These groups monitor coneflower populations on a regular basis and also plant smooth coneflower to augment existing populations. Prescribed fire is used to reduce competition from woody species, eradicate invasive species, and promote smooth coneflower germination and growth.

In addition to the U.S. Forest Service, other organizations collaborating on smooth coneflower conservation include the North Carolina Botanical Garden, North Carolina Plant Conservation Program, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, county governments, and numerous other partners. These groups monitor coneflower populations on a regular basis and also plant smooth coneflower to augment existing populations. Prescribed fire is used to reduce competition from woody species, eradicate invasive species, and promote smooth coneflower germination and growth.

The proposed 4(d) rule for the plant will allow certain management actions that would otherwise be prohibited as long as they are conducted in the manner consistent with the recovery of the species. Prohibitions in the proposed 4(d) rule include importing or exporting; certain acts related to removing, damaging, and destroying; delivering, receiving, transporting, or shipping in interstate or foreign commerce in the course of commercial activity; or selling or offering for sale in interstate or foreign commerce. Exceptions include seeds of cultivated specimens and conservation efforts by any agent of the Service or State Conservation Agency operating in a conservation program pursuant to the terms of a cooperative agreement with the Service in accordance with section 6 of the ESA.

The public will have a 60-day period to comment on this proposal, which will end on August 23, 2021. To comment, go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Search for Docket Number FWS–R4–ES–2020–0063, which is the docket number for this action.

Find out more about smooth coneflower.

******

The Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Challenges U.S. Failure to Protect Foreign Wildlife

Three Birds, Four Butterflies Await Urgently Needed Protections

WASHINGTON—(June 23, 2021)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to protect seven imperiled animals found outside U.S. borders. The animals include two beautiful Brazilian butterflies and a woodpecker threatened by U.S. jungle warfare training activities in Japan.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has acknowledged that all seven species warrant Endangered Species Act safeguards, but the Trump administration deemed protections “precluded” by other agency work. Yet the Service listed only eight foreign species throughout the Trump administration’s four-year tenure.

“Protecting these imperiled birds and butterflies would help fulfill the Biden administration’s promise of bold conservation action, both domestically and internationally,” said Sarah Uhlemann, International program director and an attorney at the Center. “The Fish and Wildlife Service should make good on those commitments by finally protecting these seven amazing animals and all others that need the Endangered Species Act’s safeguards.”

Some of the birds in the Center’s lawsuit have been on the Service’s “candidate” wait-list for over 30 years. The birds include the Okinawa woodpecker in Japan, the black-backed tanager of Brazil and the southern helmeted curassow from Bolivia. Four butterflies, including Brazil’s Fluminense swallowtail, are also wait-listed.

Scientists predict the world will lose a million species in coming decades without urgent and transformative action to combat habitat loss, over-exploitation and other threats. There are more than 600 foreign species covered by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The Act protects foreign endangered species by banning their import and sale, increasing awareness and providing financial assistance.

“As we suffer a heart-breaking extinction crisis, U.S. leadership can help save wildlife around the world,” said Uhlemann. “The Biden administration can reverse Trump’s dismal record and protect these and other deserving creatures now, before it’s too late.”

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Arizona.

Species Backgrounds

Okinawa woodpecker: Found only on the island of Okinawa in Japan, this woodpecker is one of the world’s rarest birds, with an estimated population of only 50 to 249 mature individuals. The species relies on old-growth forests, including forests located within the U.S. Marine Corps’ Jungle Warfare Training Center on Okinawa. Scientists requested the Okinawa woodpecker’s protection in 1980, and the Service deemed listing “warranted” in 1984. Yet the woodpecker has lingered on the “warranted but precluded” list for over 35 years.

Fluminense swallowtail: This beautiful butterfly has a tiny range near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Its coastal habitat is threatened by the draining of swamps, primarily for development. The species has also been found in the insect curio trade, a market that is notoriously hard to monitor. The Service received a petition to list the swallowtail in 1994 but has not yet proposed protections.

Black-backed tanager: This colorful bird with a turquoise breast and reddish head inhabits Brazil. Its rapid decline is likely due to habitat loss and fragmentation. It has also been found in the illegal cage-bird trade. The black-backed tanager has been wait-listed for protection since 1994.

Kaiser-i-Hind swallowtail: Inhabiting high-altitude Himalayan regions of Bhutan, China and India as well as Vietnam and Thailand, this rare butterfly is orange and iridescent green. It suffers from habitat destruction and is collected for the commercial trade, where it is highly valued. The Service received a petition to list the Kaiser-i-Hind swallowtail in 1994.

Southern helmeted curassow: This ground-inhabiting bird has a large, distinctive pale-blue casque on its head and is found only in central Bolivia. The species is threatened by hunting and habitat destruction, especially as “protected” land is converted to coca plantations, and the species lacks international trade protections. This curassow has lingered on the Service’s “warranted but precluded” list for over 25 years.

Jamaican kite swallowtail: The blue-green and black beauty is Jamaica’s most endangered butterfly. It is threatened by habitat loss and collection for trade, with a single specimen recently selling for $178. The Service received a petition to list the Jamaican kite swallowtail in 1994.

Harris’ mimic swallowtail: This mostly black butterfly has beautiful, white and rose-red markings. It inhabits only Brazil’s coastal Atlantic Forest region and is threatened by habitat destruction and collection for the curio trade. A single specimen recently sold for $2,200. The Service received a petition to list the Harris’ mimic swallowtail in 1994.

******

KVEO-TV/ValleyCentral.com (Harlingen, TX)

Wildlife themed license plates focus on saving endangered species

Xochilt Lagunas, Posted: June 22, 2021

HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Conservation License Plate Program is focused on bringing a creative way for the public to take action but also showcase their support for endangered species.

TPWD’s program has raised about $10 million in the last 21 years for wildlife and habitat conservation in Texas. Recently the program announced its newest addition, the Monarch Butterfly conservation license plate.

TPWD’s Program Director, John Davis said Monarch butterflies are one of the many endangered species.  

According to Davis, the species was selected based on public interest and conservation need.

He said the Monarch license plate is available for the public at a cost of $30. Davis said $22 of that cost will go directly to their funding program.

“We use the funding for our conservation license plate funds to invest in research on the conservation partnerships,” he said.

TPWD said the Monarch butterfly design was chosen by the public last September; the winning design shows one large Monarch butterfly and three smaller ones flying off the license plate.

Davis said the goal of their program funding is to help the species thrive and be around for current and future generations.

Once a license plate is added to TPWD’s Conservation License Plate Program, it remains.

“Once a license plate becomes available for purchase it’s available from then on so this is not a limited time only,” he said.

TPWD said the license plate design appeals to those who garden, enjoy wildlife watching, or simply appreciate the beauty of Monarch butterflies.

******

Sierra Sun Times (Mariposa, CA)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Publishes Birds of Conservation Concern 2021 – Report Identifies 269 Species for Highest Conservation Priorities

June 19, 2021 – In continuing proactive efforts to protect migratory birds, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its Birds of Conservation Concern 2021 report. The publication identifies 269 species of birds that represent high conservation priorities for the Service and deserve proactive attention. This science will be used for cooperative research, monitoring and management actions that can directly or indirectly affect migratory birds with the help of international, federal, state, Tribal and private partners.

“This report serves as an early warning indicator for bird species in trouble and will help stimulate the collaborative conservation action needed to bring back declining bird species well before they become threatened or endangered, said Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “Almost 3 billion birds have been lost in North America since 1970, and this scientific information will help focus conservation efforts where they are most needed.”

The species that appear in Birds of Conservation Concern 2021 include migratory bird species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that the Service considers to be in greatest need of conservation attention. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act directs the Service “to identify species, subspecies and populations of all migratory nongame birds that, without additional conservation actions, are likely to become candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).”

The Service’s goal is to eliminate the need for additional ESA protections for birds by implementing proactive management and conservation actions that sustain populations well above thresholds of endangerment.

The conservation assessment was based on several factors, including population abundance and trends, threats on breeding and nonbreeding grounds and size of breeding and nonbreeding ranges. It encompasses four distinct geographic scales: the Continental U.S., including Alaska; Pacific Ocean islands, including Hawaii; Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Navassa; and continental Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs) and Marine Bird Conservation Regions (MBCRs). Of the 269 species identified, 134 are of conservation concern at the Continental scale, 85 at the BCR scale, 30 on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and 33 on Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. The report was last updated in 2008.

Inclusion in the Birds of Conservation Concern 2021 does not constitute a finding that listing under the ESA is warranted, or that substantial information exists to indicate that listing under the ESA may be warranted.

The report and additional information is available online at https://www.fws.gov/birds/management/managed-species/birds-of-conservation-concern.php.

Source: USFWS

******

California Trout

Klamath Salmon Now Listed On California Endangered Species List

 June 18, 2021

On June 16, after hours of debate and public testimony, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to approve the petition from the Karuk Tribe to list the Klamath-Trinity River Spring Chinook as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act.

The Karuk Tribe and the Salmon River Restoration Council (SRRC) jointly filed a petition to list Spring Chinook with the Commission in August 2018. The petition is based on the discovery of the genetic sequence that defines Spring Chinook as distinct from the more abundant Fall Chinook.  That data was published in 2017 by UC Davis Professor Michael Miller and colleagues.

Adding Spring Chinook to the CA Endangered Species List will allow agencies to prioritize funding for restoration and ensure any projects in the fish’s range will have to avoid adverse impacts to the population.

“The Spring Salmon are our relative that is facing extinction, and a part of our lifestyle, cultural longevity, and the survival of my people. These aspects, as well as many more, need to be addressed, and I’m thankful, proud and hopeful to have the public comment filled with Native voices advocating for future generations. This decision on the petition is a win, not a victory, but should give the people in the Basin hope and momentum for this ongoing fight,” said Hoopa Valley Tribal Member, Yurok descendant, and Karuk Spring Salmon Ceremonial Priest, Ryan Reed, in a recent Press Statement.

Small, self-sustaining populations of Klamath-Trinity Rivers Spring-Run Chinook Salmon remain primarily in the Salmon and South Fork Trinity rivers, where they are highly vulnerable to climate change, hybridization with hatchery-origin fish, and other stressors. (Read more about the species in CalTrout’s SOS II report.) CalTrout is dedicated to saving the now-listed species by prioritizing the removal of the four lowermost Klamath dams to restore access to historical cold water habitat.

In regard to the dams, another big happening came this month for the Klamath: a monumental decision to move dam removal forward was made with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approving the transfer of the license for the Lower Klamath Hydroelectric Project from PacifiCorp to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) and the states of Oregon and California, as co-licensees.

Both decisions- listing the spring chinook and approving the license transfer- are important acts to save the ailing Klamath Basin. Regina Chichizola, co-director of Save California Salmon, exclaimed, “We hope these actions demonstrate California and the Biden administration commitment to protecting and restoring the Klamath River before it is too late.”

******

People

Over 30 Pelicans Found ‘Mutilated’ in California: ‘These Are Very Serious Injuries’

Stephanie Petit, June 18, 2021

A California wildlife organization is asking for help after over 30 brown pelicans were found with “very serious injuries.”

The Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach wrote in a statement on Wednesday that “someone is intentionally breaking Brown Pelican’s wings.”

They said around 32 pelicans have been “mutilated” between San Clemente and Huntington Beach in recent months, with 22 birds suffering compound fractures to their wings. “A compound fracture (also known as an “open fracture”) is a broken bone that is accompanied by breaks in the skin, causing the broken ends of the bone to come into contact with the outside environment,” they explained.

The cost of surgery and care for each bird will cost thousands of dollars, according to the group.

“These are very serious injuries that require emergency surgeries and long term care,” added veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth Wood.

“It was just wrong on every level,” Debbie Wayns, the nonprofit’s operations manager, told The New York Times. “There was no question that a person or persons did this.”

Of the 32 brown pelicans that the team have treated since March, only 10 have survived due to the “extensive injuries that have been brought to them,” Wayns said.

The Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center is offering a $500 reward for information, according to CNN.

Patrick Foy, public information officer for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told CNN on Thursday that the tip line had not yet received any calls. “No suspects, no motive and no evidence other than the injured pelicans,” he said.

******

Daily Mail

Largest concentration of endangered garter snakes on record is found

Stacy Liberatore For Dailymail.com, June 17, 2021

The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is now home to the largest population of endangered garter snakes.

Known as ‘the most beautiful serpent in North America,’ this fantastically colored San Francisco garter snake was believed to have a population of just one or two thousand in the wild.

However, a study by the US Geological Survey and the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the 180-acre parcel of wetlands and uplands surrounding the airport host some 1,300 garter snakes.

Experts say this is the largest concentration of the snake ever to be discovered, which raises hope that the slithering creature’s once dwindling population is on the rebound.

The San Francisco garter snake is a stunning serpent with an orange head, turquoise-blue body and bold stripes of orange and red.

Full-size adults can reach three feet or more in length, and they primarily feed on California red-legged frogs.

These frogs have also been found living at the airport, which may be why more than 1,000 garter snakes have moved into the area.

The creatures are living at the West-of-Bayshore, which is a protected habitat that stretches 180 acres across undeveloped land located across the Bayshore Freeway from the San Francisco International Airport, according to CBS News.

And both the red-legged frog and garter snake are federally protected species.

SFO wildlife biologist Natalie Reeder told CBS: ‘These results validate the environmental stewardship programs we have in place, to ensure endangered species can survive and thrive at SFO.’

Airport officials have committed responsibility to manage the habitat, which also involves protecting species that call it home.

Garter snakes lost their natural habitat to agriculture, commercial and urban development and illegal collection (because of their beauty) led to the listing of the San Francisco garter snake as “threatened” in 1967, according to the Sacramento Fish & Wildlife Office.

‘Its limited range, only on the San Mateo Peninsula, makes this species more susceptible to habitat destruction, marsh and pond drainage, and the decline of its main food item, the California red-legged frog,’ SFO shared in a statement.

‘Through cooperative efforts with the resource agencies and management of the West-of-Bayshore property, SFO is striving to protect and conserve the populations of San Francisco garter snake and California red-legged frog that occur there.’

At one point most of the West-of-Bayshore parcel was part of the San Francisco bayland, which supported tidal salt marshes, sloughs, and seasonal wetlands.

The parcel was drained and used for agriculture until approximately 1969.

‘The property supports a diversity of aquatic and upland habitats including seasonal wetlands, freshwater marshes, constructed drainage canals, riparian woodlands, and annual grasslands, SFO shard in the statement.

******

Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)

Mount Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan proposed for endangered species listing

Associated Press, June 15, 2021

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes listing a bird found in the North Cascades as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to the likelihood that climate change will shrink its high-elevation habitat throughout the state.

The Mount Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan is found in the Cascade Mountains from southern British Columbia to southern Washington, the Skagit Valley Herald reported. They are one of few animals that spend their entire lives on mountaintops. They move seasonally between snow-covered habitat and summer alpine meadows.

As temperatures continue to warm, the region’s snowpack will decline. Alpine meadows may also be at risk as conditions move tree lines to higher elevations.

“As the iconic alpine meadows of Washington diminish with climate change, this alpine bird … will be pushed out of the home it is specially adapted to,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Andrew LaValle said.

The state Department of Fish & Wildlife lists the Mount Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan as a species of greatest concern and as highly vulnerable to climate change.

The Fish and Wildlife Service proposal includes rules to protect the birds from types of intentional and unintentional harm, and states that a species recovery plan will be written after the listing becomes official.

******

Courthouse News Service

Two Native California Species Slated for Endangered Species Review

The Temblor legless lizard and Santa Ana speckled dace have faced threats from climate change, wildfires development and invasive species — protected status could save their rapidly declining populations.

June 16, 2021, SAMANTHA HAWKINS

(CN) — Two native California species could be on their way to protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Wednesday: a legless lizard and a small minnow.

Both species are dwindling, as the Temblor legless lizard faces threats from oil and gas development in Temblor Range on the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, and the Santa Ana speckled dace have declined from the construction of dams and the introduction of invasive species.

“Fire, drought and reckless water policies have made life really tough for these little fish,” Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement. “We’ve already lost seven of California’s unique freshwater fish species to extinction, and we shouldn’t have to lose any more.”

The ruling now triggers status reviews for both species.

If the agency finds that the species warrant protection, regulations could be made to divert water from the dams in a way that is less harmful to the fish and efforts could be made to remove and control invasive species. In the case of the legless lizard, oil and gas development in its habitat could be halted — crucial to the highly sensitive lizard.

“It’s completely amazing that there are any left,” Tamara Stobel, a staff scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity said in a phone interview. “There are only four known locations where this species exists, and most of its habitat is surrounded by oil and gas wells.”

Each time a petition is filed to protect a threatened species, the Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to respond and decide if the species warrants a review. Because of a backlog of petitions — and sometimes due to political reasons — it often takes much longer. The petition for the dace was filed in May 2020 and the petition for the lizard was filed in October 2020.

Most species receive a status review, since petitions often include years of scientific data and surveys about the decline of a species. But it usually takes longer and requires more litigation to get the 90-day ruling, Miller said in a phone interview.

“I’m surprised that we got a 90-day ruling this fast. There’s usually a settlement agreement after a year, and it takes about 3-4 years from the time we petition to achieve protection — and that’s litigating every step of the way,” Miller said. “There are species that go extinct waiting for a decision.”

Miller says the Center has begun to push for more funding for the endangered species program, as the Biden administration seems to be more open to it than the Trump administration.

“These are pretty resilient fish,” Miller said. “We believe they will be able to come back.”

******

The University of Utah (Salt Lake City)

What factors put Philippine birds at risk of extinction?

Paul Gabrielsen, University of Utah Communications, June16, 2021

The lush forests and more than 7,000 islands of the Philippines hold a rich diversity of life, with 258 bird species who live nowhere but the Philippine archipelago. A new study from University of Utah researchers suggests that, due to deforestation and habitat degradation, more bird species may be endangered than previously thought—including species that may not have been discovered yet. The study is published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

“Our study provides a roadmap for not only which species may warrant heightened conservation attention,” says Kyle Kittelberger, a doctoral student in the University of Utah School of Biological Sciences. “But which traits a species may have that can help inform if it may likely be more at risk of extinction.”

Birds of the Philippines

Located in Southeast Asia, the Philippines is considered a global biodiversity hotspot and one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, hosting nearly 600 bird species. A high proportion of the wildlife is endemic to the country, meaning that it is found nowhere else. The Philippines also hosts some of the highest richness of species recently identified as distinct from other closely related species, showing that scientists still have much to learn about the Philippine ecosystems.

Within the last decade the number of endemic species has risen from 172 to 258. This increase of 86 endemic species is more than all the endemic bird species in China (67) or India (75) and more than any country in South America or Africa.

Çağan Şekercioğlu, an associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences who has done ornithological field work in over 90 countries on all continents cannot forget his first visit to the islands.

“When I first visited the Philippines in 2008, I was awestruck by the diversity and especially the endemism of its avifauna but also greatly depressed by the rapid loss of habitat,” he says. Excursions into the field took hours due to extensive deforestation. “While looking for rare forest birds in the lowlands of Mindanao, we were literally trying to keep ahead of the loggers that were cutting down century-old rainforest trees within a couple hundred meters of us,” he adds. Despite that, in 13 days he saw 161 bird species he had never seen before—and still has 163 bird species to go.

Deforestation, habitat degradation and wildlife exploitation, however, threaten that biodiversity. Southeast Asia, the authors write, is forecast to lose over a third of its biodiversity over the next century. The Philippines in particular ranks eighth in the world for the number of globally threatened bird species.

“There is a pressing need to assess what traits make some species more at risk of extinction than others and to use this understanding to help inform conservation efforts,” Kittelberger says.

Traits of threatened birds

To understand the status of Philippine birds, the researchers first determined the bird traits most predictive of extinction risk by correlating bird species’ ecological and life-history traits, including body mass, diet, elevation range, and clutch size (the number of eggs laid in a nesting season) with their conservation status. A species endemic to the Philippines was significantly more likely to face an extinction risk, they found. Narrow elevation ranges, dependence on forests and high body mass also put birds at risk for extinction.

Then the researchers turned around and evaluated Philippine birds’ expected conservation status using those traits, comparing predicted conservation status with the IUCN Red List conservation designations. They found that 84 species were predicted to be in worse shape than their Red List designation, with 14 species predicted to be globally threatened (i.e. vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered) that aren’t currently classified as such.

“We predicted that the Philippine Serpent-eagle and Writhed Hornbill, two species that are not currently recognized as being globally threatened, are respectively endangered and critically endangered,” Kittelberger says. “We also predicted that the Palawan Peacock-pheasant, Calayan Rail and Philippine Eagle-owl, three species currently recognized internationally as being vulnerable, are likely endangered species. All these birds, therefore, warrant heightened conservation attention as they may be more threatened than currently believed.”

Lost before they’re found

Among the 84 species predicted to be more threatened, 12 were recently recognized as separate species, and three of those were predicted to be “vulnerable.”

“The Philippines have a very high level of endemism and it is currently estimated that there are twice as many bird species in the Philippines that have not yet been split and officially recognized, so there is a real risk of losing species before they are described,” Kittelberger says.

Kittelberger says that their research can be applied broadly to assess the conservation status of birds throughout the region.

“The most important thing that the Philippines can do to protect birds,” Kittelberger says, “is to address the high levels of deforestation, habitat degradation, and wildlife exploitation, and to increase land protection for wildlife and increase funding for conservation efforts.”

(Co-authors also include Montague H. C. Neate-Clegg, J. David Blount and Çağan Şekercioğlu of the U’s School of Biological Sciences, Mary Rose C. Posa of the California Botanic Garden and John McLaughlin of the University of California, Santa Barbara. The study was supported by the Christensen Fund.)

******

Sierra Sun Times (Mariposa, CA) 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries to Propose Regulatory Revisions to Endangered Species Act

Pacific Fisher, June 15, 2021

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (together the “Services”) have released a plan to improve and strengthen implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The set of proposed actions follows Executive Order 13990, which directed all federal agencies to review and address agency actions during the last four years that conflict with Biden-Harris administration objectives, such as addressing climate change.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to working with diverse federal, Tribal, state and industry partners to not only protect and recover America’s imperiled wildlife but to ensure cornerstone laws like the Endangered Species Act are helping us meet 21st century challenges,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “We look forward to continuing these conservation collaborations and to ensuring our efforts are fully transparent and inclusive.”

As a result of this review, the Services will initiate rulemaking in the coming months to revise, rescind, or reinstate five ESA regulations finalized by the prior administration. These are:

●      Rescind regulations that revised Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS’) process for considering exclusions from  critical habitat designations: On December 17, 2020, the FWS revised the process they would follow when considering whether to exclude areas from critical habitat designation under section 4(b)(2) of the ESA. FWS will propose to rescind this regulation (85 FR 82376) in its entirety and revert to implementation of the joint FWS/NMFS regulations at 50 CFR 424.19 and the joint 2016 policy on 4(b)(2) exclusions.

●      Rescind regulatory definition of habitat: The Services will propose to rescind the final rule that defined the term “habitat” for the purposes of critical habitat designation (85 FR 81411; December 16, 2020). A regulatory definition is not required for the Services to designate critical habitat in compliance with a 2018 Supreme Court decision.

●      Revise regulations for listing species and designating critical habitat : The Services will propose revising the final rule (84 FR 45020; August 27, 2019) to reinstate prior language affirming that listing determinations are made “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination,” along with other potential revisions also under discussion.

●      Revise regulations for interagency cooperation: The Services will propose revisions to the final rule (84 FR 44976; August 27, 2019) which revised the regulations governing section 7 consultation. The Services will propose to revise the definition of “effects of the action” and associated provisions to that portion of the rule, with other potential revisions also under discussion.

●      Reinstate protections for species listed as threatened under ESA: FWS will propose to reinstate its “blanket 4(d) rule,” which was withdrawn by the previous administration (84 Fed. Reg. 44753; August 27, 2019). The blanket 4(d) rule establishes the default of automatically extending protections provided to endangered species to those listed as threatened, unless the Service adopts a species-specific 4(d) rule.

“NOAA Fisheries is committed to the protection, conservation, and recovery of endangered and threatened marine species,” said Paul Doremus, Acting Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “We are proud to work with a range of federal, Tribal, state and community partners to achieve conservation successes, and look forward to continuing these shared efforts through clear and transparent Endangered Species Act regulations.”

Each of these recommended actions will undergo a rigorous and transparent rulemaking process, including publication of a proposed rule in the Federal Register, a public comment period and coordination with federally recognized Tribes before being finalized.
Source: USFWS

******

The Providence Journal (Providence, RI)

A secretive species: New population of one of RI’s most endangered animals discovered

Alex Kuffner, The Providence Journal, June 15, 2021

PROVIDENCE — The eastern spadefoot toad is a state-endangered animal in Rhode Island that is known to populate only a handful of sites around the state.

But a newly-employed detection technique is shedding light on the population of Rhode Island’s rarest toad while also upending historically-accepted notions of the behavior of what was thought to be a secretive species.

The confoundingly simple method of spotlighting at night has already led to the discovery of a new breeding colony in Westerly, and researchers plan to continue using it over the coming months to look for signs of the toad in other places across the state.

“It’s my hope that this technique will allow us to find additional populations of the species and use whatever tools are in our toolbelt to protect those populations,” said state herpetologist Scott Buchanan, of the state Department of Environmental Management.

Spotlighting is pretty much what it sounds like. Shine a bright light in an otherwise dark place and look for the reflection of that light in the eyes of whatever animals may be there.

It’s how Anne Devan-Song learned how to search for snakes and frogs in her native Singapore, so it seemed natural to do the same when she came to the University of Rhode Island in 2013 for a master’s degree in biology.

But it wasn’t until a few years later when she was working as a research associate under URI ecologist Nancy Karraker that her use of a headlamp to look for the “eye-shines” of animals started to yield unexpected results. While conducting night surveys for amphibians in Virginia, Devan-Song started finding astounding numbers of eastern spadefoot toads. 

The species isn’t endangered in Virginia, but the accepted wisdom was that toads could only be detected on the few rainy nights a year when they came out to mate in wetlands. A previous researcher years before found only a couple of spadefoots. Yet Devan-Song was spotting big groups of them on dry nights and in places deep within the forest.

“There were hundreds of eye-shines staring back at me,” she said.

Her results were so unexpected because the common belief among scientists was that the toads spent most of their lives in underground burrows hidden from predators. Nobody thought to search for them at night in upland areas.

Even Devan-Song questioned what she was seeing, but she followed her light to every toad she found and identified each one up close. It was a job made easier because spadefoots don’t flee when spotlighted but hunker down in place to try to hide.

She also talked to other experts on the species, and her findings started to make more sense. Spadefoots need to come up to the surface to hunt for insects and build up the energy stores they need for mating.

After returning to Rhode Island, she did some spotlighting for fun and found a spadefoot within 15 minutes of starting one night. She worked with Buchanan to search for the toads using the technique in a more organized way in some of the few places that remain in the state with suitable habitat. Over 10 nights last summer, they detected 42 toads in Westerly and Charlestown, almost equal to the total number of sightings in Rhode Island in the previous 70 years.

So when Devan-Song, now a PhD student at Oregon State University, published her research this month in the Journal of Herpetology, she titled it “Confirmation bias perpetuates century-old ecological misconception: evidence against ‘secretive’ behavior of eastern spadefoots.”

“People assume that they’re underground most of the time,” she said. “The novelty of our research is that you can detect them all year-round.”

It’s too soon to say whether the new technique will lead to a reassessment of the toad’s population in Rhode Island. The discovery of the toads in Westerly was a pleasant surprise. The numbers were robust and follow-up visits have found males and females and all life stages of toads, suggesting that they are breeding.

But even counting the new site, the species has been known to inhabit only half-a-dozen places in the state in recent years, though there is a long-term effort underway to create potential breeding pools for them in Richmond and elsewhere. 

“It is the case that this is an exceedingly rare species in Rhode Island,” Buchanan said. “That has not changed. I don’t expect that to change.”

******

Skagit Valley Herald (Mt Vernon, WA)

Climate change may land North Cascades bird on endangered species list

By KIMBERLY CAUVEL, June 15, 2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes listing a bird found in the North Cascades as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to the likelihood that climate change will shrink its high-elevation habitat throughout the state.

The Mount Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan is found in the Cascade Mountains from southern British Columbia to southern Washington. The birds are one of few animals that spend their entire lives on mountaintops, and they move seasonally between snow-covered habitat and summer alpine meadows.

As temperatures continue to warm, the region’s snowpack will decline. Alpine meadows may also be at risk as conditions allow tree lines to climb to higher elevations.

“As the iconic alpine meadows of Washington diminish with climate change, this alpine bird … will be pushed out of the home it is specially adapted to,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Andrew LaValle said.

The state Department of Fish & Wildlife lists the Mount Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan as a species of greatest concern and as highly vulnerable to climate change.

The overall white-tailed ptarmigan species is part of the grouse family, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. There are several subspecies across North America, one of which is the Mount Rainier population.

A State Wildlife Action Plan published in 2015 estimated there could be about 1,000 of the birds in the Cascades.

Despite being named for Mount Rainier, the birds are more common in the North Cascades. According to the 2005 book “Birds of Washington,” the majority of sightings recorded between the 1960s and 1990s were in the North Cascades, and according to newer Fish and Wildlife Service data, 75% of sightings have taken place in the North Cascades.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, white-tailed ptarmigans camouflage with their mountain habitat, with their plumage turning white in winter and brown in summer to blend with snow or rock. Their tail feathers remain white year-round.

During the winter, the birds congregate in areas with soft snow and dig burrows that provide shelter. They migrate to higher elevations in the spring for breeding and nesting, and they go to the highest elevations — where temperatures are coolest and where rocky areas provide shelter — during the summer.

“Every part of this ptarmigan is adapted to help it thrive in a forbiddingly frigid climate, from its feathered, snowshoe-like talons to its seasonally changing plumage to its remarkable metabolic ability to gain body mass even throughout the harsh winters of its home,” a Center for Biological Diversity web page about the subspecies states. “But on a planet with a warming climate, these same adaptations could spell the bird’s doom.”

In 2010, the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species as threatened. The Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012 agreed that the listing might be warranted.

The Center for Biological Diversity is counting the proposed listing, which was filed Tuesday in the Federal Register, as a win, but expressed disappointment in a news release that more steps to protect the birds aren’t being taken.

“These beautiful winter birds are immediately threatened by our warming world,” the center’s Endangered Species Director Noah Greenwald said, also calling the birds “a canary in a coal mine.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service proposal includes rules to protect the birds from types of intentional and unintentional harm, and states that a species recovery plan will be written after the listing becomes official.

The agency is taking public comment, online and by mail, on the proposal through Aug. 16. Comment at regulations.gov or by mail to: Brad Thompson, State Supervisor, Washington Fish and Wildlife Office, 510 Desmond Drive SE, Lacey, 98506.

******

NBC News

Gray wolf pups found in Colorado for first time since 1940s

“We welcome this historic den and the new wolf family to Colorado,” Gov. Jared Polis said.

By Hayley Vaughn, June 14, 2021

A litter of gray wolf pups has been spotted in Colorado for the first time in around 80 years, according to state wildlife officials.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife said last week that several staff members have observed at least three pups of the endangered species in June. The parents are believed to be M2101 and F1084, or John and Jane as they’re known by CPW, who were seen with the pups in the area north of Denver.

The gray wolf species was eradicated from Colorado in the 1940s and had not been seen again in the area since Jane arrived in the state in 2019 and John joined her in 2020. Now, the first pup siting marks a major milestone in the reintroduction of the species into the state.

In November, Coloradans voted on a ballot initiative that would require the state to work on a plan to reintroduce, restore and manage gray wolves in Colorado by no later than the end of 2023. With the most recent siting, Colorado officials announced that the restoration effort is well underway.

“Colorado is now home to our first wolf litter since the 1940s,” said Gov. Jared Polis in a statement. “We welcome this historic den and the new wolf family to Colorado. With voter passage last year of the initiative to require re-introduction of the wolf by the end of 2023, these pups will have plenty of potential mates when they grow up to start their own families.”

CPW staff say they will continue to monitor the pups from a safe distance, an estimated two miles from their den.

“Our hope is that we will eventually have photos to document this momentous occasion in Colorado’s incredible and diverse wildlife history, but not bothering them remains a paramount concern,” said CPW biologist Libbie Miller.

In October of 2020 it was announced that the gray wolf would be removed from federal protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) nationwide and the rule has since gone into effect as of January of 2021.

Even with the gray wolf no longer part of the federal list, they are still considered an endangered species by the state of Colorado. Capturing or killing a g