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

EcoWatch

Biodiversity Risks to Linger at Least a Half Century After Global Temperature Peaks, Study Says

By: Tiffany Chaney, June 30, 2022

Even if global temperatures start to decrease, after peaking this century due to climate change, biodiversity risks are likely to persist for decades, a new study by London’s Global University (UCL) and University of Cape Town researchers finds. The potential impacts on biodiversity were modeled against pre-industrial levels if temperatures increased by more than 2°C (35.6°F), before beginning to fall again.

Climate change and all of its anthropomorphic influences are already facing a biodiversity crisis, with mass dieoffs — such as hundreds of migratory birds falling out of the sky in the Southwest in 2020. Altered reproductive events and species distributions are also among existing ill impacts.

In 2015, the Paris agreement was signed in an attempt to reduce global warming below 2°C. Since greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, many scientific models now analyze decades-long overshoots of this limit. The effects of potential carbon dioxide removal technology were also factored into this model, targeting the offset of harmful temperature increases by 2100.

A Return to Pre-Overshoot ‘Normal’ Is Uncertain at Best

Researchers studied more than 30,000 species in habitats globally and discovered that for a quarter of the areas examined, the chances of reversing the damage to pre-overshoot “normal” are either nonexistent or uncertain.

“We found that huge numbers of animal species will continue to endure unsafe conditions for decades after the global temperature peak,” said co-author Dr. Alex Pigot (UCL Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research, UCL Biosciences). “Even if we collectively manage to reverse global warming before species are irreversibly lost from ecosystems, the ecological disruption caused by unsafe temperatures could well persist for an additional half century or more.”

Researchers also looked at the possibility of CO2 emissions continuing to grow until 2040, then dipping after 2070 due to carbon cut efforts and carbon dioxide removal technology deployment. That means for several decades during this century, global temperatures would breach 2°C but fall after 2100. Researchers analyzed how quickly a species in any given location may become exposed to harmful temperatures, how long that would persist, the numbers of species it would affect and whether or not any return to “normal” were possible.

Most Species in Tropical Regions Threatened With Volatile Conditions

For most locations, dangerous temperature exposure will occur suddenly as species are pushed outside their thermal niche limits. Researchers also found that any return to comfortable thermal niches for these species would be gradual, lagging drastically behind global temperature decrease — due to volatile climatic conditions and impacts on ecosystems. The overshoot for biodiversity risks was determined to range from 100 to 130 years, twice longer than the actual temperature overshoot.

Regions facing the most impact include tropical locations for more than 90% of species in the Central Indian Ocean, the Indo-Pacific, Northern Australia and Northern Sub-Saharan Africa, all pushed beyond their thermal niches. In the Amazon, the team found more than half of all species will be exposed to volatile climate conditions. For almost 19% of all locations examined, including the Amazon, uncertainty surrounds the potential of returning to pre-overshoot levels; while 8% of regions may never return to those levels. The globe may likely face irreversible species extinction and ecosystem transformations.

Avoiding Temperature Offshoot Takes Priority

“Our findings are stark,” said co-author Christopher Trisos (African Climate and Development Initiative, University of Cape Town). “They should act as a wake-up call that delaying emissions cuts will mean a temperature overshoot that comes at an astronomical cost to nature and humans that unproven negative emission technologies cannot simply reverse.”

Carbon dioxide removal technologies and nature-based solutions, such as afforestation, are also associated with potential negative impacts, shared lead co-author Dr. Joanne Bentley (African Climate and Development Initiative, University of Cape Town). Dr. Bentley warned that if the 2°C global warming target is overshot, the loss of biodiversity could compromise the ecosystem services humanity relies on for its livelihood. She advised that avoiding temperature overshoot should be the top priority, then limiting the magnitude and duration of any overshoot.

The research was funded by a collaboration between the African Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society. The paper was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

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Phys.Org

Red wolf genes found in coyote hybrids may be the key to preserving the endangered species

by Bob Yirka , Phys.org, June 30, 2022

A team of researchers affiliated with several institutions in the U.S. reports a high percentage of red wolf genes in the genomes of coyote hybrids living in some parts of southwest Louisiana and eastern Texas. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the group describes the find as a possible means of saving red wolves from extinction.

The red wolf is native to many parts of the southeastern United States. It is a subspecies of the gray wolf and is slightly larger than a coyote. The red wolf population has been declining due to human encroachment for many years, and is very nearly extinct today—currently, only 200 exist in captivity and just 20 of them are believed to be living in the wild.

In this new effort, the researchers investigated the genomes of coyotes currently living in parts of Louisiana and Texas that once were home to large numbers of red wolves. Prior research has shown that it was common for red wolves to mate with coyotes back when both shared the same habitats. Coyotes have proven to be more resilient and are not considered to be endangered.

The researchers obtained tissue samples from 31 coyotes living in southwestern Louisiana and studied their genomes. Most specifically, they compared the genomes of the coyotes to the genomes of the red wolf, looking for commonalities. They found that 38–62% of the coyote genome comprised red wolf genes.

They also found that the higher the percentage of wolf genes in the coyote hybrids, the closer the coyote was in size to a red wolf. They also noted that coyotes with higher percentages of red wolf genes looked more like red wolves and behaved like them, as well. They suggest that those with the highest percentages should not be called coyotes at all.

The researchers believe that such large amounts of genetic material in coyote-wolf hybrids could represent a new way to save the wolf from going extinct. They suggest that in the future, when captive bred wolves are released into the wild, it be done where high-percentage coyote hybrids are living. They also suggest that the genetic material in some of the hybrids could be collected and stored to clone new animals.

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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Association of Zoos and Aquariums Award Over $9 Million in Second Wave of Federal Reimbursement Funds for Endangered Species Care During Pandemic

Press Release, June 30, 2022

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) are announcing distribution of the second wave of awards – a total of over $9 million – under the Endangered Species COVID-19 Relief program, funded by the American Rescue Plan.

“The Service continues to work with longtime partner AZA to reimburse plant and animal care facilities in this second distribution of critical American Rescue Plan funding,” said Service Director Martha Williams. “These funds will help continue these institutions’ high-quality efforts to protect the nation’s imperiled species.”

“The animal care stories we have learned through the application process are extraordinary, as are the costs associated with that care. We continue to be grateful to partner with the Service to distribute the funds. The relief this program is providing to facilities that care for federally protected species is necessary and needed,” said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA.

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, Congress recognized the dedication of zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens and other facilities across the nation in helping save animals and plants from extinction by appropriating $30 million to reimburse expenses related to the care of captive species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as rescued and confiscated wildlife that are at risk of extinction.  The first wave of reimbursements – over $1.6 million – was released in April.

The facilities receiving reimbursement funds include:

Arizona – Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center, $44,154

California – Living Coast Discovery Center, $15,701; The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens; $76,340; Oakland Zoo, $159,690; Sacramento Zoo, $45,040; Steinhart Aquarium, California Academy of Sciences, $49,291; Wild Wonders, $7,477

Connecticut – The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, $98,058

Florida – Central Florida Zoological Society, $308,213; Clearwater Marine Aquarium, $56,439; The Florida Aquarium, $449,228; Theater of the Sea, $88,097; Zoo Tampa, $480,687

Hawaii – Bishop Museum, $225,390

Illinois – Lincoln Park Zoo, $343,472; Miller Park Zoo, $25,825

Iowa – National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, $30,108

Maryland – National Aquarium, $182,143

Michigan – Binder Park Zoo, $396,656; Detroit Zoo, $198,190; John Ball Zoo, $82,642

Missouri – Endangered Wolf Center, $1,000,000; Saint Louis Zoo, $316,372

Nebraska – Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, $113,558

New Jersey – Adventure Aquarium, $65,840

New York – Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, $64,598; Buffalo Zoo, $161,865; Wolf Conservation Center, Inc., $32,663

North Carolina – North Carolina Zoo, $817,474; Rowan Wild, $16,287

Oklahoma – Oklahoma Aquarium, $183,263

Oregon – Oregon Coast Aquarium, $117,987

Pennsylvania – Lehigh Valley Zoo, $58,010; Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, $514,053

Puerto Rico – Red Caribena de Varamientos, $437,003

South Carolina – South Carolina Aquarium, $456,617

Tennessee – Tennessee Aquarium, $14,474

Washington – Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, $331,917; Northwest Trek, $102,304; Seattle Aquarium, $256,122

Texas – Dallas Zoo, $156,749

Utah – Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, $83,546

Virginia – Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Foundation, Inc., $344,386

Wisconsin – New Zoo and Adventure Park, $32,691

Funds released today will be directed toward reimbursing these 44 facilities for expenses such as:

Food.

Veterinary care/medicine.

Direct animal/plant care staff time.

Life-support systems.

Transport for medical, reintroduction into the wild, and captive breeding purposes.

Real property debt and holding space improvements/modifications.

Utilities essential for the care of species (e.g., electricity/gas/natural gas to power essential services).

Zoos, aquariums and other facilities work alongside the federal government to support recovery programs, rehabilitate injured animals, care for confiscated wildlife, and help save endangered species from extinction, including manatees, sea turtles, black-footed ferrets, California condors, Florida corals, Mexican wolves, red wolves, northern and southern sea otters, Eastern indigo snakes, Wyoming toad and many others.

Additional information about the Endangered Species COVID-19 Relief program can be found on AZA’s website at http://www.aza.org/endangered-species-COVID-funding.

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Yahoo! News/Aiken Standard (Aiken, SC)

Rare CSRA plant likely to become endangered species

Samantha Winn, Aiken Standard, June 28, 2022

A rare plant native to the Savannah River region and the Ocmulgee River is likely to become protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The Ocmulgee Skullcap is a lilac and purple colored flower that grows in the watersheds of Georgia and South Carolina. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found through rigorous reviews that the plant meets the definition of a threatened species and proposing critical habitat.

“Native species like the Ocmulgee skullcap deserve our attention and protection,” Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, the service’s regional director, said. “Our conservation partners have done some incredible work protecting the species on their lands, but now is the time for us to give it the protection it deserves under the (Endangered Species Act). Listing the species under the (Endangered Species Act) will generate greater awareness about threats impacting this plant and will help inspire conservation opportunities with diverse partners on its behalf.”

A status report on the plan started in 2019.

The review found that the threat to the plant’s current future condition comes from habitat loss and fragmentation due to development and urbanization with nonnative invasive species. Herbivory from white-tailed deer and the effects of climate change were also listed.

According to the Fish and Wildlife service, the proposed critical habitat units consists of over 65,000 acres within 10 Georgia counties and Aiken and Edgefield counties in South Carolina. The habitat land would be about 85 percent private ownership and state-leased lands and 14 percent state owned lands.

(The Fish and Wildlife Service are seeking comments based on scientific and commercial data available. Comments can be made online by Aug. 22, 2022, via docket number FWS — R4 — ES — 2021 — 0059.)

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched Over Federal Failure to Protect Shortfin Mako Shark

WASHINGTON—(June 28, 2022)—Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity sent a notice today of their intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to protect the shortfin mako shark under the Endangered Species Act.

The law requires the Fisheries Service to determine if endangered species protection is warranted for the shortfin mako within 12 months of receiving a listing petition on which it has made a positive 90-day finding. Defenders of Wildlife filed the listing petition on Jan. 25, 2021. The Service issued a positive 90-day finding that listing may be warranted on April 15, 2021, meaning a final determination was due no later than Jan. 25, 2022.

“The shortfin mako shark is the world’s fastest-swimming shark, but it can’t outrace the threat of extinction,” said Jane Davenport, a senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “The government must follow the science and provide much-needed federal protections as quickly as possible. This will demonstrate America’s leadership in fisheries and ocean wildlife conservation both at home and on the world stage.”

The shortfin mako is a highly migratory species whose geographic range extends throughout the world’s tropical and temperate ocean waters. The shortfin mako shark faces a barrage of threats, especially overfishing from targeted catch and bycatch. The species’ highly valued fins and meat incentivize this overexploitation.

“The Fisheries Service failed to protect the shortfin mako despite an international scientific consensus that conservation action is urgently needed,” said Alex Olivera, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Mexico representative and a senior scientist at the Center. “Even as the rest of the world scrambles to save these sharks from extinction, they have no protections under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. That needs to change.”

Overfishing has resulted in steep population declines in the Atlantic Ocean and slightly more moderate declines in the North Pacific and Indian oceans. In the North Atlantic, scientists estimate that, even if fishing ceased today, it would take 50 years for the population to recover. The threat of overfishing is compounded by ocean pollution, climate change and other risk factors driving the species towards extinction.

In 2019 the International Union for Conservation of Nature classified the shortfin mako as “endangered” on its Red List of Threatened Species. In 2021 the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, an intergovernmental organization responsible for managing tuna populations, announced a two-year ban on retaining, shipping or landing North Atlantic shortfin mako sharks, preventing fishers from retaining and selling these sharks even when they are unintentionally caught.

As an apex predator, the shortfin mako is an integral part of the marine food web, regulating the many species below it. Its steep decline will likely cause oceanic ecosystems to suffer. As a long-lived, slow-reproducing species, the shortfin mako cannot quickly rebound from the substantial population losses it has already experienced.

The listing petition requests that the Fisheries Service consider listing the shortfin mako as an endangered species or a threatened species throughout all or a significant portion of its range and to designate critical habitat within U.S. waters. It also requests that the Service issue a 4(d) rule to give the species statutory protections against unauthorized “take” in the event of a threatened listing, and that the agency also issue a 4(e) rule to protect species similar in appearance, especially the longfin mako shark.

After a positive 90-day finding on a petition to list a species under the Endangered Species Act, the Service must initiate a status review. Based on its review of the best available scientific and commercial data, the agency must then publish, within 12 months of receipt of the petition, one of three possible determinations: (1) the petitioned action is warranted, in which case the agency publishes a proposed rule and takes public comment; (2) the petitioned action is warranted but precluded by higher-priority listing activities; or (3) the petitioned action is not warranted. The mandatory 12-month deadline is established by statute.

Today’s notice of intent to sue starts a 60-day litigation-free window during which the Fisheries Service may resolve its violation of this deadline.

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Science Daily

Top predators could ‘trap’ themselves trying to adapt to climate change

June 27, 2022, Source: University of Washington

As climate change alters environments across the globe, scientists have discovered that in response, many species are shifting the timing of major life events, such as reproduction. With an earlier spring thaw, for example, some flowers bloom sooner. But scientists don’t know whether making these significant changes in life history will ultimately help a species survive or lead to bigger problems.

A study published the week of June 27 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows for the first time that a species of large carnivore has made a major change to its life history in response to a changing climate — and may be worse off for it.

A team led by researchers at the University of Washington, in collaboration with Botswana Predator Conservation, a local NGO, analyzed field observations and demographic data from 1989 to 2020 for populations of the African wild dog — Lycaon pictus. They discovered that, over a 30-year period, the animals shifted their average birthing dates later by 22 days, an adaptation that allowed them to match the birth of new litters with the coolest temperatures in early winter. But as a result of this significant shift, fewer pups survived their most vulnerable period because temperatures during their critical post-birth “denning period” increased over the same time period, threatening the population of this already endangered species.

This study shows that African wild dogs, which are distantly related to wolves and raise young cooperatively in packs, may be caught in a “phenological trap,” according to lead author Briana Abrahms, a UW assistant professor of biology and researcher with the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels. In a phenological trap, a species changes the timing of a major life event in response to an environmental cue — but, that shift proves maladaptive due to unprecedented environmental conditions like climate change.

“It is an unfortunate ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’ situation,” said Abrahms. “African wild dogs shifted birthing dates later in order to keep pace with optimal cool temperatures, but this led to hotter temperatures during the denning period once those pups were born, which ultimately lowered survival.”

The study demonstrates that species on high “trophic levels” in ecosystems — like large predators — can be just as sensitive to climate change as other species, something that scientists were uncertain about. Other research has shown that long-term warming can trigger phenological shifts, or shifts in the timing of major life events, in “primary producer” species like plants and “primary consumers” that feed on plants, including many birds and insects. But, until now, scientists had never documented a climate-driven phenological shift in a large mammalian carnivore. Abrahms and her colleagues show that large predators can indeed exhibit strong responses to long-term climate change, even though predators are “farther removed” up the food chain.

For this study, the team analyzed more than three decades of data that they and collaborators collected on 60 packs of African wild dogs that live across a more than 1,000 square-mile region of northern Botswana. This species breeds annually each winter. After birth, pups spend about 3 months with their mother at the den before beginning to travel and hunt with the pack.

Abrahms and her colleagues analyzed the dates that African wild dog mothers gave birth to their litters each year, which is how they determined that adults gradually delayed breeding by about one week per decade over the 30-year study period.

“Although most animal species are advancing their life history events earlier in the year with climate change, this finding represents a rare instance of a species delaying its life history, and at a rate twice as high as the average rate of change observed across animal species,” said Jeremy Cohen, a researcher at Yale University and the Center for Biodiversity and Global Change, who was not involved in the study.

Such a large shift is likely due to the rapid pace of warming in the region, and because African wild dogs have evolved to breed within a narrow “thermal window,” according to Abrahms

The team used long-term demographic data to calculate how many pups survived the denning period each year. They discovered a correlation between temperatures during the denning period and survival: Warmer denning periods led to fewer pups recruiting to packs at the end of winter, which indicated that fewer pups survived the denning period.

Average daily maximum temperatures in the study period rose by about 1.6 degrees Celsius, or 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit, over 30 years. Over the same time frame, annual maximum temperatures spiked by 3.8 degrees Celsius — just over 6 degrees Fahrenheit.

The team could not have come to its unexpected conclusions without those decades of detailed field observations led by Botswana Predator Conservation, Abrahms said.

“We could only conduct this study because of the existence of this unique, long-term dataset for a large predator, which is really rare,” said Abrahms. “It shows the value for this kind of data in studying how climate change will impact ecosystems.”

The study area in northern Botswana is part of the largest continuous habitat for African wild dogs, which are threatened by habitat fragmentation and loss, disease and conflicts with people. The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that there are only about 1,400 mature adults left in the wild.

“Large predators play extraordinarily important roles in ecosystems, but we still have a lot to learn about the implications of climate change for these animals,” said Abrahms. “Big climate-driven shifts like the one we found may be more widespread in top predators than originally thought, so we hope our findings will spur new climate-change research on other predator populations around the planet.”

(Co-authors on the study are Kasim Rafiq, a UW postdoctoral researcher in biology; Neil Jordan with the University of New South Wales; and J.W. McNutt with Botswana Predator Conservation. The research was funded by numerous public and private donors over the thirty-year study period.)

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Orlando.com (Orlando, FL)

25 non-venomous native snakes released into Alabama forest by Central Florida center

America’s longest snake, a threatened species, can grow up to 8 feet long

Ashley Bermudez, Published: June 27, 2022

ANDALUSIA, Ala. – The Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation released 25 non-venomous eastern indigo snakes into Alabama’s Conecuh National Forest on Saturday, according to zoo officials.

The eastern indigo snake is America’s longest snake and it can grow up to eight feet long, the Central Florida Zoo said. Releasing the snakes is a part of the OCIC’s efforts to reintroduce the threatened species to its native habitat.

OCIC, which is operated by the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens, has now released a total of 277 snakes to the Conecuh National Forest.

The eastern indigo snake is known as the “emperor of the forest,” James Bogan, director of OCIC, said in a press release.

“We love knowing that these latest snakes now have the opportunity to take that title, and we’re proud that we have been able to restore essential balance to this important ecosystem through our work over the years,” Bogan said.

The snake’s territory was previously restricted due to habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and the decline of gopher tortoises, zoo officials said. The animals now rely on gopher tortoise burrows for shelter.

Eastern indigo snakes are native to the southern longleaf pine ecosystems of Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.

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Jefferson Public Radio (Southern Oregon University)

New BLM plan promises to speed up forest projects, but some activists want more public input

Jefferson Public Radio | By Roman Battaglia, Published June 25, 2022

A new forest management plan from the Bureau of Land Management in Medford will help speed up proposed projects. But local activists fear the plan could hurt forests and endangered species.

The Medford BLM district is planning to implement the first project using its revised forest management plan. The so-called Late Mungers project in the Applegate River Watershed would treat almost 7,500 acres of forest.

BLM says the work would reduce fuel loads, thin overly dense forests and promote healthy habitats for the endangered northern spotted owl.

But some members of the community, including Luke Ruediger, say the way BLM is moving forward with these projects cuts out opportunities for public comment.

“So essentially what’s been done is the Medford District BLM is now planning, designing, and marking for timber sale and tree removal throughout an entire project area before they consult with the public,” he says.

Ruediger claims the plan is a guise for commercial logging in once-protected lands.

Out of the 7,435 acres proposed for treatment, 798 would be allocated for commercial thinning. That number is subdivided into areas the plan designates for development of northern spotted owl habitat, protecting nearby communities from wildfire and other miscellaneous treatments.

The remaining 6,637 acres are set aside for thinning of small diameter trees and prescribed fire treatments.

BLM Field Manager Bill Dean says the new plan is focused on creating forests that can withstand wildfire and protect endangered species far into the future.

“And sometimes the dialogue is focused on today,” Dean says. “The conditions that are standing, that are existing today; with the concept that they’re gonna stay that way in the future.”

Dean says historical fire suppression means if these forests are left untouched, they could threaten nearby communities and be difficult to navigate by wildland firefighters. But local opponents say the proposed treatments would actually make the forest less resistant to fire.

BLM says public input for individual projects is faster because this new plan was created to avoid doing duplicate work for every proposed project.

The public comment period for the Late Mungers project ends on June 28th.

Dean hopes to get the project started this fall, after reviewing input from the public. After starting, the project outline anticipates the commercial treatments could take up to five years.

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Axios Seattle

Wolves are making a comeback in Washington

Lewis Kamb, June 24, 2022

Gray wolves are growing more abundant in Washington and seem headed toward recovery — but they’re not out of the woods yet, state wildlife officials say.

By the numbers: Washington’s wolf population grew for the 13th consecutive year in 2021, climbing to 206 wolves in 33 packs, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

That’s a spike of 16% from 2020’s tally of 178 wolves statewide, per the department’s annual year-end wolf survey.

Why it matters: Gray wolves have been on the state’s endangered species list since 1980. Their recovery would mark a coup for successfully restoring a native species to the wilds of eco-friendly Washington.

The wolves also were federally relisted as endangered in the western two-thirds of Washington this year, after being taken off that list briefly last year.

Zoom out: The latest tally represents the highest count since the state started surveying wolves in 2008.

Even so, it’s likely an undercount, WDFW says.

Washington’s wolf population has grown an average of 25% each year since 2008.

Most wolf packs range across public and private lands in the state’s northeast and southeast regions, but wolves increasingly are seen in north-central and central Washington.

Yes, but: Wolves preying on livestock continues to be a problem.

Eight packs were involved in livestock depredation last year.

Two wolves were killed due to livestock depredation — one by state wildlife officials and another by a landowner with a permit.

What they’re saying: “[W]e recorded the lowest number of livestock depredation incidents in the state since 2017 and removed the fewest wolves in response to conflict since 2015,” WDFW wolf policy lead Julia Smith said in the report.

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The Hill

Biden administration reverses Trump endangered species habitat definition

By ZACK BUDRYK, 06/23/22

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services on Thursday announced a new rule reversing a Trump-era definition of “habitat” as applied to endangered animals.

Under the 2020 rule, the definition of federally-protected habitats for endangered species was narrowed to only those where a species could currently live, excluding those that could someday sustain a species. On Thursday, FWS reversed this, saying it contravened the intent of the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA). 

“The growing extinction crisis highlights the importance of the Endangered Species Act and efforts to conserve species before declines become irreversible,” Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz said in a statement. “Today’s action will bring implementation of the Act back into alignment with its original purpose and intent and ensures that species recovery is guided by transparent science-based policies and conservation actions that preserve America’s biological heritage for future generations.”

“Amidst an escalating global biodiversity crisis—the loss of species, destruction of ecosystems, and a weakening of the support system for all life—the U.S. should not be undermining the Endangered Species Act,” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “Thanks to the Biden administration for throwing out the previous administration’s harmful habitat definition. It’s welcome news, but there is still more work to be done to shore up the ESA so that imperiled wildlife have every fighting chance to survive and thrive.”

The Biden administration has taken and planned a number of actions to reverse Trump-era rollbacks, both on environmental issues in general and ESA issues in particular. With thin Democratic margins in Congress, such rollbacks have been one of the administration’s easier options to take action on environmental regulations.

Should the party lose control of one or both houses of Congress in the midterm elections, the administration is likely to become increasingly reliant on regulatory actions.

Earlier this month, the administration proposed new regulations under the ESA that broadened its options for introducing experimental animal populations. Last October it proposed to roll back two other Trump-era alterations to how a “critical habitat” is defined. Environmental advocates had argued the Trump rule was overly deferent to industry.

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The Guardian

Appetite for frogs’ legs in France and Belgium ‘driving species to extinction’

Conservationists say exploitation of amphibians leading to depletion of native species abroad

Arthur Neslen, 23 June 2022 

A voracious appetite for frogs’ legs among the French and Belgians is driving species in Indonesia, Turkey and Albania to the brink of extinction, according to a report.

Europe imports as many as 200 million mostly wild frogs every year, contributing to a serious depletion of native species abroad.

Scientists estimate that the Anatolian water frog could be extinct in Turkey by 2032, because of over-exploitation while other species such as the Albanian water frog are now threatened.

Export quotas for Indonesia’s Javan frog have also been withdrawn in a move that conservationists suspect may be as a result of population depletion.

Dr Sandra Altherr, the co-founder of the conservation charity Pro Wildlife, which co-authored the report said: “In Indonesia, as now also in Turkey and Albania, large frog species are dwindling in the wild, one after the other, causing a fatal domino effect for species conservation.”

“If the plundering for the European market continues, it’s highly likely that we will see more serious declines of wild frog populations and, potentially, extinctions in the next decade.”

Charlotte Nithart, the president of the French NGO Robin des Bois, which co-wrote the paper, said: “Frogs play a central role in the ecosystem as insect killers – and where frogs disappear, the use of toxic pesticides is increasing. Hence, the frogs’ legs trade has direct consequences not only for the frogs themselves, but for biodiversity and ecosystem health as a whole.”

Amphibians are the most threatened group among vertebrates, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the EU’s habitats directive prevents native wild frogs from being caught in member countries.

The 27-country bloc does not restrict imports and every year, however, and about 4,070 tonnes of frogs netted abroad are served up on European plates.

The craving for frog meat appears highest in Belgium, which takes 70% of the imports, but Pro Wildlife says most of these are then sent on to France, which directly imports 16.7%. The Netherlands takes in 6.4%.

The IUCN will publish a conservation status report for amphibians later this year, but Jennifer Luedtke, who manages the union’s red list assessments said that at least 1,200 amphibian species – 17% of the total – are traded on the international market.

“It causes drastic population declines in the countries where these frogs originate from, as well as the unintentional spreading of lethal pathogens to amphibians,” she said.

“A shift in public consciousness needs to take place in Europe [to realise] that the burden of these declines in amphibian populations is being placed on poorer countries because of demand in wealthier ones.”

Luedtke, who also coordinates the IUCN’s amphibian specialist group, said: “We need to talk about sustainable use and if that’s even possible.”

Indonesia provides an estimated 74% of frogs imported to the EU, followed by Vietnam with 21%, Turkey 4% and Albania 0.7%, the report says.

Over-exploitation in non-EU countries has led the IUCN to give vulnerable and near-threatened classifications to species such as the giant spiny frog in China and Cambodia’s Asian grass frog.

In Africa, fewer than 250 mature Togo slippery frogs are thought to survive, and the giant African bullfrog may already be extinct in Swaziland.

Pro Wildlife and Robin de Bois say that they want EU counties to restrict imports, ensure the traceability of frogs’ legs products, provide better information to consumers and develop listing proposals for endangered species in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

Altherr also called for an end to cruel practices such as the cutting of frogs legs with axes or scissors without anaesthetic.

EU insiders suggested it was unfortunate that the Pro Wildlife report had been published after a 17 June deadline for the submission of listing proposals to the next Cites conference of the parties, which will take place in Panama in November.

A European Commission official said: “The EU is ready to consider support for any listing proposals coming from [Cites] range states, for which there is scientific evidence demonstrating that there is a risk that international trade threatens the survival of the species.”

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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

PRESS RELEASE, June 23, 2022

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Rescind Regulatory Definition of “Habitat” Under the Endangered Species Act

To better fulfill the conservation purposes of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (together the “Services”) will rescind a final rule, published in December 2020, which established a regulatory definition of “habitat” specific to designation of critical habitat under the ESA.

The decision follows Executive Order 13990, which directed all federal agencies to review and address agency actions to ensure consistency with Biden-Harris administration objectives. The Services conclude that codifying a single definition of “habitat” could impede the Services’ ability to fulfill their obligations to designate critical habitat based upon the best available science. Eliminating the rule will provide clarity and transparency for the public in better understanding what constitutes habitat for given species.

“The growing extinction crisis highlights the importance of the Endangered Species Act and efforts to conserve species before declines become irreversible,” said Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz. “Today’s action will bring implementation of the Act back into alignment with its original purpose and intent and ensures that species recovery is guided by transparent science-based policies and conservation actions that preserve America’s biological heritage for future generations.”

“Today’s action strengthens our ability to implement the Endangered Species Act consistent with its purposes of conserving and recovering threatened and endangered marine species,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D.  “We will continue to use the best available science to inform critical habitat designations and fulfill our foundational mandates that are at the core of NOAA’s mission.”

Critical habitat designations identify those areas and habitat features that are essential for recovery of listed species.  Federal agencies must ensure that actions funded, permitted or conducted by those agencies do not destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitats. Critical habitat requirements do not apply to actions on private lands unless those actions involve the authorization or funding of a Federal agency. The ESA recognizes that areas that are either occupied or unoccupied by the species may be needed for recovery and authorizes their designation as critical habitat.

Today’s final rule will improve and strengthen implementation of the ESA by rescinding a definition of “habitat” that was unclear, confusing, and inconsistent with the conservation purposes of the ESA. The “habitat” definition rule prevented the Services from designating areas that did not currently meet a species’ needs, even if the area could in the future due to natural processes or reasonable restoration.  Because most species face extinction because of habitat degradation and loss, it is more consistent with the purposes of the ESA to enable the Services to designate critical habitat in a manner that protects listed species’ habitats and supports their recovery. The action followed a transparent rulemaking process, including a public comment period and consideration of all comments received.

The ESA is extraordinarily effective at preventing species from going extinct and has inspired action to conserve at-risk species and their habitat before they need to be listed as threatened or endangered. Since it was signed into law in 1973, more than 99 percent of all species listed under the law are still with us today.

The ESA not only inspires diverse partnerships to prevent species extinctions and recover listed species, it also supports proactive collaborations with states, private landowners, conservation groups and industry to conserve species before they require federal protection. 

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EcoWatch

Scientists Develop Robotic Fish That Consumes Microplastics

By: Olivia Rosane, June 22, 2022

One of the dangers posed by microplastic pollution in the oceans is that fish and other marine life might eat it by mistake. But could a solution to the problem involve a robot designed to consume it on purpose?

Researchers at Sichuan University in China have developed a proof-of-concept for a robotic fish that can absorb microplastics through its body.

“It is of great significance to develop a robot to accurately collect and sample detrimental microplastic pollutants from the aquatic environment,” study co-author and Polymer Research Institute of Sichuan University researcher Yuyan Wang told The Guardian. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first example of such soft robots.”

The new robotic fish was introduced in a paper published in Nano Letters on Wednesday. It is about half-an-inch long and can “swim” on its own with the help of light, according to an American Chemical Society press release published by Phys.org. An infrared laser shined on its tail causes the material to bend and flap, propelling it forward.

“The proof-of-concept robot is demonstrated to emphasize its maximum swimming speed of 2.67 body length per second, whose speed is comparable to that of plankton, representing the outperformance of most artificial soft robots,” the study authors wrote.

But what’s especially remarkable is what the robot can do while it’s swimming: gather nearby microplastics. The robot is made from materials that interact with the heavy metals, dyes and antibiotics attached to the microplastics, The Guardian explained. This, in turn, causes the microplastics to latch on to the fish’s body.

“After the robot collects the microplastics in the water, the researchers can further analyse the composition and physiological toxicity of the microplastics,” Wang told The Guardian.

The robot’s material is partially inspired by nature, BBC Science Focus Magazine reported. Specifically, researchers took their cues from mother-of-pearl, the material that coats the inside of clam shells. Mother-of-pearl, or nacre, is built in layers. The scientists designed the robot the same way, something that made it flexible enough to move but strong enough to last. First, they made nanosheets of β-cyclodextrin molecules to sulfonated graphene, according to the American Chemical Society. These were then incorporated into polyurethane latex mixtures and the final material was made using layering.

Another unique property is that the robot is able to heal itself and perform at 89 percent of its original abilities, according to The Guardian.

More work needs to be done before the robots will actually be swimming around absorbing microplastics. Currently, it can only swim at the surface of the water, but the scientists hope to develop a version that can dive to greater depths.

Eventually, it could address some of the difficulties with getting microplastics out of the ocean, such as removing them from crevices, according to the American Chemical Society.

“I think nanotechnology holds great promise for trace adsorption, collection, and detection of pollutants, improving intervention efficiency while reducing operating costs,” Wang told The Guardian. 

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Newsweek

Customs Dog Sniffs Out Hundreds of Endangered Seahorses at Airport

By JOSEPH GOLDER, Zenger News on 6/22/22

Customs officers found more than 800 endangered seahorses being smuggled through an airport to be used as “natural viagra” by bogus healers.

The dried seahorses had been stashed in a freight package going through Germany’s Leipzig/Halle Airport when they were found by a sniffer dog.

The 5-kilogram (11-pound) package was reportedly in transit from Senegal, West Africa, to Laos in southeast Asia, when it was found Thursday with the customs office releasing a statement on Monday.

Powdered sea horses are often used as a form of so-called natural viagra by users of traditional medicine in the Far East.

Marvin Christmann, spokesperson for the Main Customs Office in Dresden, said in a statement: “On June 16, 2022, customs at Leipzig/Halle Airport seized 844 pieces of seahorses weighing a total of around five kilograms during an air freight consignment inspection.

“The package was to be transported from Senegal to Laos via Germany.

“The species protection sniffer dog used during the inspection indicated on the package what drew the customs officers’ attention to the contents of the consignment.

“When opened, 844 pieces of dried seahorses were revealed.”

Christmann added: “With its controls, customs makes a decisive contribution to preserving the diversity of flora and fauna. In 2021, the customs officers at the main customs office in Dresden seized a total of 1,965 species-protected animals and plants and products made from them in 212 cases.”

The customs spokesman said seahorses are protected and subject to strict anti-trafficking measures.

He explained: “Seahorses (lat. Hippocampus) are among the endangered animal species and are subject to protection under the Washington Convention on Endangered Species.”

The Washington Convention on Endangered Species, also known as CITES – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species – protects approximately 5,000 animal species and 28,000 plant species that have become endangered due to international trade.

Christmann said: “The powder from dried seahorses is said to have a healing and potency-enhancing effect in eastern regions.

“Species-protected animals and plants and goods made from them that are imported or exported illegally or without the required documents are confiscated by the customs authorities.”

He added: “Illegal import or transit is a violation of the Federal Nature Conservation Act and can be punished with imprisonment for up to five years or a fine.”

Dried seahorses are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine, with it being incorrectly believed that they can cure asthma and skin infections, as well as impotence.

(This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.)

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Sun-Gazette Newspaper (Exeter, CA)

Common insecticides may harm three-fourths of endangered species

By John Lindt, June 21, 2022

EPA says three chemicals used to protect crops from insects are likely harmful to 1,300 plants and animals and half of the critical habitats protected under the Endangered Species Act

WASHINGTON, D.C.– Three insecticides widely used in California and Tulare County are likely harmful to three-fourths of all endangered plants and animals, according to a recent review by the Environmental Protection Agency.

On June 16, the EPA released its final biological evaluation for the chemicals clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam, part of a group of insecticides known as neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are insecticides that affect the central nervous system of insects. The chemicals are applied to leaves of many crops grown in the Valley, such as fruits, nuts and cotton.

The EPA’s assessments of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam marked the first time the agency has completed biological evaluations of any neonicotinoids’ harms to the nation’s most imperiled plants and animals, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The national, nonprofit conservation and environmental group said species found to be harmed by all three of the neonicotinoids include all 39 species of endangered amphibians, such as the California red-legged frog, as well as rusty patched bumblebees, whooping cranes, chinook salmon, northern long-eared bats and orcas.

“These deeply troubling findings leave no doubt that these dangerous pesticides are silencing the songs of frogs, the flutter of butterfly wings and the buzz of bees,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Many of the species harmed by neonicotinoids are experiencing precipitous declines, and this EPA’s choices may well determine whether or not they go extinct.”

The EPA’s announcement comes after two years of public comments and studying the chemicals’ effects on 1,700 plants, animals and insects and more than 800 critical habitats across the nation. The recently released biological evaluations found that 67% of all endangered species — 1,225 different plants and animal species — are “likely to be adversely affected” by clothianidin and that the pesticide will likely adversely modify the designated critical habitats of 446 species. In Tulare County, the chemical is most commonly used on almonds, walnuts and grapes and to control cockroaches, according to the Department of Pesticide Regulation’s California Pesticide Information Portal.

Imidacloprid, an insecticide used locally on citrus, grapes and cotton, may harm 1,445 species, about 80% of all endangered plants and animals and 658 habitats of endangered animals. Thiamethoxam was found to be harmful to 1,396 species, or 77% of all endangered species and critical habitats of 644 species. In Tulare County, the chemical is most commonly applied to citrus and grapes.

Because of these findings, EPA has begun talks with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. EPA will be working with both agencies throughout their process to draft biological opinions on the regulation of the chemicals.

The EPA anticipates releasing amended rules in 2023, which will include updates to some of the previously proposed mitigations to reduce neonicotinoid exposures for listed species. Mitigation measures will be finalized in 2024.

Neonicotinoids, which are banned in the European Union, are the most popular insecticides in the United States. Environmental groups, like the Center for Biological Diversity, say hundreds of studies have shown they play a major role in population-level declines of bees, birds, butterflies and freshwater invertebrates. More recent studies are showing they cause significant harm to mammals as well.

BEE-ING CAUTIOUS

In California, neonicotinoids are widely used as an alternative to chlorpyrifos, which the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) banned in 2020. The insecticides can accumulate in pollen and nectar of treated plants, which may be a source of exposure to pollinators. Neonicotinoids have been associated with some bee kill incidents.

Earlier this year, in an effort to reduce risks to bees, the DPR took the first step to limit how and when neonicotinoids can be used in agricultural settings. The proposed regulations would create new requirements and restrictions for the use of neonicotinoid products containing imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin and dinotefuran. DPR estimates the regulations will impact 57 products currently registered in California and will reduce the amount of neonicotinoids applied across the state by approximately 45%.

The regulations include tiered restrictions based on the chemical used, the type of crop and the time of year the neonicotinoid is applied in order to protect pollinator health. For example, applications to certain flowering plants that are attractive to bees would be prohibited when the plants are in bloom and when bees may be foraging. The regulations also set limits on applications of multiple neonicotinoids and what application methods may be used by growers. They also include an exemption for quarantine pests to provide the option, if necessary, to treat pests that can severely damage crops and food supply chains. The regulations address both risks to bees and ensures the protection of pollinators critical to growers and the agricultural sector.

The American bumblebee, once the most common bumblebee species in the United States, has declined by an estimated 89% in just the past 20 years. The Center has petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for the American bumblebee.

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Center for Biological Diversity

House Democrats Provide Long-Overdue Funding for Endangered Species Act

WASHINGTON—(June 21, 2022)—The House Appropriations Committee will vote on a funding bill today for the U.S. Department of the Interior that would provide $355 million for endangered species conservation — an increase of $77 million above last year’s budget.

The legislation would provide $25.9 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect imperiled animals and plants still waiting for protection under the Endangered Species Act. This is an increase of $4.7 million above last year’s levels and is the largest increase to the agency’s listing program in decades.

“We’re grateful to Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro for recognizing the urgent need to address the extinction crisis in this country,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Hundreds of our most vulnerable animals and plants are barely clinging to survival, so this desperately needed funding could be life-saving.”

The Service currently has a backlog of more than 300 species waiting for protection decisions, including the golden-winged warbler, dunes sagebrush lizard and monarch butterfly. A 2016 study found that species waited a median of 12 years to receive safeguards, in part due to funding shortfalls. At least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

The funding bill is also free of environmental poison pill riders, including the sage grouse rider, which would have prevented the listing of the charismatic bird for another year even as it continues to slide towards extinction.

“Preventing extinction hasn’t been a high priority for Congress in the past, but we’re hoping that’s starting to change,” said Kurose. “Now more than ever, we need to make bold investments in our natural heritage to make up for decades of underfunding and neglect. We urge the Senate to maintain these strong funding levels to give our imperiled wildlife a fighting chance.”

To process the listing backlog, the Service needs at least $78 million, or an increase of at least $15 million per year for at least the next three years.

The House recently passed the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act by a 231 to 190 vote. That legislation would provide $1.4 billion in funding to states, Tribal Nations and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the primary purpose of conserving and recovering imperiled species early enough so that they do not require the protections of the Endangered Species Act.

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KPBS Broadcasting (San Diego)

Survey of California bumble bees fails to detect 8 species historically found in the state

By Thomas Fudge / Science and Technology Reporter

Published June 20, 2022

Farming practices and destruction of habitat, along with infectious diseases, have dramatically reduced bee populations worldwide.

Now there is evidence that several species of bumble bees have gone missing in California.

Entomologists from UC Riverside collected 100 bumble bees in 17 parts of the state to examine their biodiversity. Of the 25 species historically found in California, researchers could find no bees from eight of those species.

“I would say one of the most surprising, or alarming things that we found in our study is we failed to find Bombus occidentalis, the western bumble bee,” said Hollis Woodard, an entomologist at UCR. “This is a species we know has declined but we did hope to find it. If I had carried out this exact same study in 1980 I would have found quite a few of them.”

Woodard calls herself a bumble bee researcher, specializing in the big fuzzy bee that people can immediately recognize, and she is senior author of an article in the journal Ecology and Evolution about the survey.

She said the populations of some other species of bumble bees are also dwindling.

“We’re not shocked that we didn’t find them,” she said. “It was further confirmation that these are species that used to be found in California but they’re now exceedingly rare or potentially extinct.”

The list of bees that researchers didn’t find also includes the Crotch bumble bee, the Suckley cuckoo and Franklin’s bumble bee. Those species are important because they, along with the western bumble bee, have just been given protection under state law as endangered species.

Conservationists petitioned to have them listed as endangered. And in a decision that raised many eyebrows, the state’s Third Appellate District Court ruled last month that bees are invertebrates that meet the definition of protected “fish,” under the language of the California Endangered Species Act.

The act defines a fish as “a wild fish, mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian, or part, spawn, or ovum of any of those animals.”

California bumble bees are more common in higher elevations and in cooler, milder parts of the state. Woodard said her research team tried collecting bumble bees in parts of Southern California but could not find enough bees to include them in the survey.

Woodard said bumble bees are important pollinators of California crops as well as wild native plants. Bees are crucial to pollinating crops that include almonds, tomatoes and peppers.

She said she hopes protection under the state endangered species act will motivate people to protect them. Given the changes to our environment, she said it’s no surprise bee species have been devastated.

“We have completely changed our landscapes,” she said. “We have transformed how we do agriculture and our pesticide use. We have climate change that has changed the foraging and nesting habitats of bees. So to me, it’s not a surprise that so many bumble bee species seem to be in trouble. To me, some of the bigger mysteries are why some other species have been able to persist and survive in spite of everything we’re doing.”

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University of Sydney News

Endangered Tasmanian devils insured against future threats

20 June 2022

Protected populations deemed genetically sound

The largest ever analysis of Tasmanian devil genetics has found protected populations are as robust as wild ones, raising hopes for the endangered species’ survival.

Last year a number of threatened species recovery plans were removed by the former government; now new research shows ‘insurance populations’ – isolated from threats to prevent extinctions – could help preserve many animals.

Specifically, one of the largest wildlife genetic studies in the world has found that insurance populations of the endangered Tasmanian devil, in zoos and on Maria Island off the east coast of Tasmania, are as genetically diverse as wild populations. This means insurance animals are as healthy and likely to reproduce and can be reintroduced into the wild, bolstering the species’ numbers.

The research, published iScience, is led by the University of Sydney’s Wildlife Genomics Group, in collaboration with the Tasmanian government’s Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.

At their height, Tasmanian devils – which are only found in their namesake state – were found at densities of 1.3 devils per km2. Populations across most of the state have declined by an estimated 80 percent since 1996 due to a contagious cancer, devil facial tumour disease (DFTD). The disease is not the only issue facing devils: they are also threatened by roadkill, habitat destruction, and climate changes. Although there have been no local extinctions as a result of DFTD, populations remain sparse.

The fact that the insurance population animals are as genetically robust as the wild ones shows specific breeding strategies are effective, study co-author Dr Carolyn Hogg says.

“The consistency is likely thanks to our ongoing strategic management of the insurance population, which includes over 37 zoos, as well as devils on Maria Island.

“By integrating orphan joeys that have been exposed to DFTD in the wild, we have ensured we have captured any genetic changes as a result of the disease.”

James Biggs, Director of Conservation and Population Management, Zoo and Aquarium Association, who manages the protected Tasmanian devil population, said: “This program demonstrates the role and value of zoos in buying time for a species until the primary threats are addressed, and wild populations can be restored.”

Dr Hogg added that the breeding strategy can be applied to other endangered species and is therefore a useful tool to address the global biodiversity crisis. “We have already applied it to species which are part of different safe haven (fenced site) populations on the Australian mainland, such as bilbies and woylies – an extremely rare, small marsupial,” she said. 

Around 1 million species already face extinction worldwide, many within decades, according to the recent Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) assessment report. According to the Australian Conservation Foundation, Australia leads the world in mammal extinctions.

Testing the devils

Between 2012-2021, the researchers examined over 1,300 wild and insurance population Tasmanian devils. They were collected from 31 sites across the species’ range – over 64,519 square km.

They analysed both genome-wide diversity and the diversity of over 500 critically important genes associated with immunity and reproduction and found no substantial differences between wild and insurance animals.

Additionally, they found that, despite prior University research that suggested low genetic diversity in the species, there are in fact six genetically diverse groups of devils spread throughout Tasmania. “Improving gene flow between these regions may lead to improved genetic diversity in the species,” Dr Hogg said.

The researchers commenced trial releases of insurance population devils in 2015. With the new study’s results in tow, they will continue to monitor animals’ health and genetics for at least four to six years – equivalent to two to three generations of devils.

The Tasmanian devil

The world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, the endangered Tasmanian devil is found only on the island state of Tasmania. It was once prevalent throughout Australia but is thought to have become extinct on the mainland around 400 years ago due to predation by wild dogs. The devils’ feisty name is courtesy of early European settlers, who observed them angrily fighting for mates and defending themselves against predators.

(Declaration: This work was funded by the Toledo Zoo and Aquarium, the Australian Research Council (LP180100244), the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.)

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British Ecological Society

Albatross populations declining due to invasive mouse species

19 June 2022, By BES Press Office, Press release from lead author.

New research, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, shows Long-lived species may suffer greater impacts from predation than was previously thought.

Researchers funded by the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels have utilized a sophisticated population model, which is not constrained to analyzing only breeding pairs, to shed light on decades long confusion surrounding the impact of invasive mice on the Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross. This new research is not constrained to analyzing only breeding pairs – uncovering previously missed population declines.

Conservation organisations are often plagued by limited resources and thus struggle to directly assist all threatened species. Decisions over where to allocate resources and spending therefore pose a common problem. 

The rate at which a species is decreasing is often a good indicator as to how urgent it is to intervene. A new study published this week, however, shows that, for long-lived species, a population may decrease long before this trend becomes evident in previous population studies.

Albatrosses are among the largest flying birds in the world, and can live to an incredibly old age, with one female named “Wisdom” who was marked >65 years ago still breeding today. Albatrosses achieve this long life by reproducing very slowly – they often need 5-15 years before they can start breeding. In the largest species, a breeding pair can only raise one chick every 2 years as it takes almost 12 months for the chick to grow large enough to fly, and parents need a long rest between raising chicks.

Despite being amongst the largest of birds, albatrosses are threatened by some of the smallest mammals – mice. On several islands such as Gough (UK Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha), Marion (South Africa) or Midway (USA), introduced non-native house mice (Mus musculus) eat albatross chicks and sometimes even adults. Albatross species breeding on these islands have very low breeding success as many chicks are lost to predation.

Knowledge of this problem dates back two decades, yet the consequences of mouse predation have before been difficult to evaluate due to the albatrosses’ long lifespan. As in many seabird species, only a portion of the overall population, typically the breeding adults, are considered in population research. The researchers identified that this lack of considered data may add to difficulties in assessing population trends and potential benefits of conservation action such as the management of predatory invasive species.

Since monitoring began in 2004 the Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross (Diomedea dabbenena) has lost on average half of each season’s chicks to mouse predation. Yet, over the same period, the breeding population has remained remarkably stable at ~1500 pairs every year. 

Conservationists have been left confused as to what impact mice predation has on albatross populations. The eradication of mice from Gough Island, the main Albatross breeding site, would prove an ambitious operation – though the question remains what benefits would such a project provide to Albatross populations? 

A new paper published this week in the Journal of Applied Ecology provides a compelling answer. A consortium of researchers funded by the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels used a sophisticated population model which no longer constrains research to just the breeding adults. This model accounts for all the young albatrosses, and adults taking a break from breeding, that roam the southern oceans and can therefore not be counted by ornithologists. 

As opposed to previous studies, the scientists found that the total population of the Tristan Albatross has in fact decreased by >2000 birds since 2004 – despite the stable number of breeding pairs.

Extrapolating 30 years into the future, the researchers further concluded that eradicating mice from their main breeding island would most likely result in a Tristan Albatross population that was 2-8 times larger in 2050 than if the mice remained.

The population projections come with large uncertainty though – mostly because it is very difficult to know whether young albatrosses are still alive. After fledging, albatrosses spend 2-20 years at sea where they cannot be accounted for. This uncertainty renders the estimates of population size somewhat imprecise, and when extrapolating the population 30 years into the future, the range of uncertainty spans several thousand birds. Nonetheless, the new estimates are the most robust yet and provide a lot of new information for guiding management decisions.

Bethany Clark, BirdLife International Seabird Science Officer, said: “It is incredibly difficult to monitor albatrosses because a large part of the population is always away from the breeding colony. The sophisticated population model in this study overcomes some of these challenges and gives managers quantitative evidence of the impact of invasive mice and the potential benefits of eradication.” 

Anton Wolfaardt, Project Manager for Mouse-free Marion added: “This new study is incredibly important for Marion Island, where mice also kill albatrosses. It confirms the importance of eradicating mice on Marion Island to restore and secure a positive conservation future for the island’s globally important albatross populations.”

John Cooper, Information Officer of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels stressed the importance of implementing these findings in future conservation efforts.

“Besides the persisting problems of albatross bycatch in fisheries, this study gives us hope that some albatross populations can be restored with technically feasible management actions that can be implemented now if governments honour their commitments under the Convention of Migratory Species and financially support these efforts.”

Overall, the conclusions from the study support the decision that investing in a mouse eradication on islands where mice kill albatrosses is likely to be a highly effective strategy to restore populations of these ocean wanderers.

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Eos (Science News by American Geophysical Union)

Reevaluating Ecosystems on the Basis of Climate Change Vulnerability

Climate change elevates the risk category of ecosystems across the United States, a new study finds.

By Deepa Padmanabanm, 17 June 2022

Ecosystems play a vital role in maintaining biodiversity and provide such services as water and air filtration, pollination, and erosion prevention. But globally, ecosystems are being degraded by such human impacts as land development and pollution.

To assess the status of ecosystems and guide conservation policies, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) established the Red List of Ecosystems (RLE) in 2014. Ecosystems are evaluated and categorized with terms borrowed from IUCN’s internationally recognized categories for endangered species: from least concern (the least severe) to collapsed (the most severe, akin to extinction).

Risk factors used for RLE assessment include rates of spatial decline, rates of abiotic degradation (such as erosion), and rates of disruption to biotic processes (such as epidemics).

Now a study conducted by scientists from the U.S. Forest Service and NatureServe, a nonprofit organization working on wildlife conservation, factors in climate change vulnerability as a risk factor for the RLE.

“It’s a good idea to include climate risk in the assessment to effectively conserve and manage ecosystems,” said Mahesh Sankaran, a professor of ecology at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India, who was not involved in the study, because “climatic changes will impact the structure, composition, and functioning of ecosystems.”

Developing a Vulnerability Index

Researchers first developed a framework called the Habitat Climate Change Vulnerability Index (HCCVI). The index considered such factors as exposure (the extent to which the climate within an ecosystem is likely to change), sensitivity (the degree to which any ecosystem is likely to be affected by these changes), and resilience (the ability of the system to recover).

Patrick Comer, chief ecologist at NatureServe and lead author of the new paper, said, “One needs to think about climate vulnerability differently for an ecosystem than an individual species, as we’re dealing with an assemblage of species in their environment and how they interact. That was our intent with this framework.”

The authors applied the index to 33 ecosystems in 10 discrete categories in the United States, ranging from cool temperate subalpine woodlands (the Rocky Mountains) to warm temperate grasslands (tallgrass and shortgrass prairies in the Midwest).

They characterized a climate baseline for each ecosystem type (category) using observed climate data from 1976 through 2005. Exposure measures were calculated on the basis of changes in 19 bioclimatic variables such as annual mean temperature, annual precipitation, and seasonal mean climate conditions. Measures of ecosystem resilience included landscape condition, the presence and activity of invasive species, and the vulnerability of keystone species.

When the authors applied the HCCVI to the RLE, they found that 17 of the 33 ecosystem scores shifted to higher-risk categories, including endangered.

NatureServe is currently helping various federal agencies in the United States, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, to apply the HCCVI to land management practices.

“The intent is to assess climate vulnerability of major habitats that people manage and help them think about appropriate adaptation responses. However, we’re still in early stages in terms of the actual application,” Comer added.

Local Ecosystems

Malcolm North, a research ecologist in the U.S. Forest Service who was not involved in the study, said that “the index is fairly simple and is a good first approach. But ecosystems are complex and their vulnerability to climate change is hard to accurately predict.”

“I do think this would be useful for organizations like the Forest Service as an initial index,” North said, “but each national forest develops its own 20- to 30-year forest plan built on the knowledge of the local forest ecosystems and regional climate change projections.”

Comer’s group recognized this and is starting to translate the output of the HCCVI into maps to help land managers understand the climate risk across the range of ecosystems.

“For example, in the pinyon juniper woodland that occurs across the intermountain West in the United States, in some portions we could say your vulnerability is high. And other places it’s sort of moderate,” he explained. He added that the index can even pinpoint the nature of the climate stress—for instance, whether it’s getting hotter and drier or hotter and wetter.

Sankaran said characterizing climate vulnerability will help land managers identify specific locations in ecosystems where exposure is likely to be high and allocate resources to such mitigation activities as restoration, establishing corridors to enhance connectivity and facilitate species movement, and fire and grazing management.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Oregon Commission Votes to Better Protect Wildlife From Trapping

Reduced Trap Check Times Still Longer Than Most States

PORTLAND, Ore.—(June 17, 2022)—The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted new rules today that reduce some of the state’s trap check times, making it less likely that animals will suffer for extended periods of time and more likely that non-target wildlife can be safely released.

These new rules require trappers using live restraining devices to check their traps every 48 hours. The changes were adopted by a vote of 6-1.

Oregon previously had four different trap check times, ranging from 48 hours to 30 days. For animals the state deems “predatory,” check times for live restraining traps ranged from 72 hours to seven days. Today’s decision reduces those trap check times to 48 hours. The commission also voted to reduce the trap check times for kill traps or snares from 30 days to 14 days.

“This is a step in the right direction and it brings Oregon’s rules closer to the daily or 24 hour trap check schedule that a majority of states have already adopted,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But let’s be clear that we’re talking about how long we’ll tolerate an animal suffering in a trap — injured, without food or water, and exposed to the elements and predation. This change makes trapping less inhumane, but Oregon still has a long way to go.”

Research confirms that animals suffer in traps. The longer animals stay in traps, the more likely they are to die from injury, hunger, thirst, exposure to the elements and predation. Long trap check time requirements also increase the likelihood of trapping and killing unintended targets, including threatened, endangered and sensitive species. These include wolverines, Sierra Nevada red fox, marten and fisher, as well as domesticated pets.

Thirty-six states have either 24 hour or daily trap check times for all wildlife. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies instructs new trappers to check traps daily. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends checking traps once every 24 hours, and the American Association of Mammalogists suggests twice daily or even more frequently.

The Center and its partners requested that the commission reduce trap check times in 2020. The commission then convened a Trap Check Work Group facilitated by Kearns and West. The Center served on the work group along with Portland Audubon and the Humane Society of the United States.

“Despite tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars spent on mediators, neither the trappers nor Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff were willing to budge on the current cruel and archaic trap check times,” said Read. “That’s why the commission had to step in to adopt rules that come closer to representing Oregon’s values on animal cruelty and conserving wildlife.”

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USA Today

Scientists find new population of polar bears hanging on despite rapidly changing climate

Dinah Voyles Pulver, USA TODAY, June 17, 2022

A group of polar bears clinging to existence along a remote region of Greenland’s southeastern coast has adapted to life in a perilous zone where thawing glaciers meet melting sea ice and the warming sea.

Whether these bears can continue to survive in their rapidly changing world remains unknown, but scientists who studied them said the polar bears may offer new lessons in resilience.

Unlike other polar bears, these bears hunt on both sea ice and freshwater ice, finding refuge in a mix of two icy habitats, the scientists announced Thursday in a paper published in the journal Science. Researchers also found the bears’ genetics, hunting and other behaviors make them distinct from other polar bear populations around the Arctic, including a population of bears just to the north on the Greenland coast.

The six-year study was led by Kristin Laidre, an Arctic marine mammal researcher at the University of Washington, in collaboration with the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and other international collaborators.

Polar bears generally hunt on sea ice, but with the Arctic warming at twice the rate of the rest of the Earth, sea ice is rapidly diminishing, especially in the summer. That raises great concerns about their survival.

“We’re headed for an ice-free Arctic in the summertime,” Laidre said. “What does that mean for polar bears? Where are the places that polar bears will be able to hang on?”

The remote coast of southeastern Greenland might be one example, but she said more research is needed.

She and her collaborators started this latest work by talking with Indigenous people in the region about the bears’ movements and learned the bears were experiencing “big climate changes, in sea ice, storms and glaciers,” she said. They also studied genetic samples collected from bears over 34 years by the Indigenous hunters and other researchers.

Then, for three years in a row, over a few weeks each March and April, the researchers conducted dangerous field work. Traveling mostly by helicopter, swooping low in perilous locations and landing on thinning ice, scientists watched as the bears and cubs hunted seals.

Under permits issued by the Greenland government, they felled bears briefly with tranquilizer darts to grab measurements and samples of hair and blood. If conditions were too dangerous or they were low on fuel, they’d shoot a remote biopsy dart into the bear’s rump, which would grab a quick genetic sample before popping off. Satellite collars were placed on some female bears to monitor their movements.

The estimated few hundred bears in the region use sea ice for the roughly 100 days when it’s available, Laidre said. That’s too short a period for the bears, so when the sea ice thaws, these bears supplement their diets hunting on freshwater ice in areas where it mixes with the thawing sea ice along the region’s coastal fjords.

The freshwater ice slowly moves off the continent’s ice sheet to the coast in the form of glaciers, which calve off icebergs when the glaciers reach the ocean, she said. “There is a whole landscape of that freshwater glacial ice, that’s like floating and found at the fronts of glaciers, and it can be many kilometers wide and long.”

Called a glacial melange, Laidre said the habitat is found in only two locations in the world, Greenland and Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.

With additional warming projected to lead to declines in polar bears across the Arctic, she said this research might shed light on the kinds of habitat where small numbers of bears might be able to hang on.

The bears in southeast Greenland are the most genetically isolated of any of the roughly 26,000 polar bears on the planet, the study found. Ultimately, the government of Greenland and the International Union for Conservation of Nature will decide whether the bears are a separate population from the 19 others found around the Arctic.

They live in an environment where they’re sort of penned in on all sides, Laidre said. “To the west is the Greenland ice sheet, to the east is open ocean all the way into the north. Along the coast, running south is a fast current.”

Though the glacial melange provides a buffer to ongoing sea ice loss in the region, it’s unclear how long that will last, because of the rapid change occurring on the ice sheet, she said. The width of the sea ice is declining, and the speed of the southward flowing current has increased over the past 10 years.

If a bear steps onto an ice floe, it can be quickly swept out of the area, she said.

The same edition of Science features a letter by former polar bear researcher Elizabeth “Lily” Peacock, who discussed the new research in southeast Greenland while asking whether a decades-old international conservation agreement will be enough to protect polar bears.

The international agreement was successful in bringing polar bears back from overharvesting, but it isn’t clear whether it will be able to protect the bears from the changing climate, wrote Peacock, now an emergency room doctor at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. “If the amount of carbon in the atmosphere doesn’t start to decline, we’ll have less sea ice and (the bears’) numbers will continue to decline into the future.”

No one knows whether the Greenland bears’ unique landscape will be enough to support them. It could be just a bandage or temporary buoy, Peacock told USA TODAY.

“As the climate continues to warm and sea ice disappears, the glacial melange will disappear as well,” she said. “For all we know it (this population) will blink out in a decade.”

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KCRA 3 (Sacramento, CA)

California won’t immediately list Joshua tree as threatened

By Kathleen Ronayne, June 16, 2022, AP

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—California won’t be listing the iconic western Joshua tree as a threatened species for now after the four-member Fish and Game Commission couldn’t reach agreement on how best to protect the plant from climate change.

After deadlocking on whether to list the species under the California Endangered Species Act, commissioners decided to reconsider in October. In the meantime, they voted to pursue more feedback from tribes and directed the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to work on a conservation plan for the species.

The desert plant is known for its unique appearance, with spiky leaves on the end of its branches, is found in the national park that bears its name about 130 miles (209 kilometers) east of Los Angeles and through a stretch of desert up to Death Valley National Park. There are two types of trees, the eastern and western, but only the western is up for consideration.

If the tree is listed as a threatened species, killing one would require special approval from the state. That would make it harder to win approval for housing, solar fields or other development projects on land where Joshua trees are abundant. The trees are now under conditional protection while the state decides whether to deem them threatened.

The state has never listed a species as threatened based primarily on threats from climate change, said Brendan Cummings, conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The center petitioned in 2019 to have the western Joshua tree listed as threatened, saying hotter temperatures and more intense periods of drought fueled by climate change will make it harder for the species to survive through the end of the century. It also argued wildfires and development threats harm the trees’ ability to live and reproduce.

The state’s ongoing drought, which scientists say is part of the worst megadrought in 1,200 years, is likely harming the trees’ ability to survive, Cummings said.

“We’re likely witnessing a single, large-scale mortality event right now,” he told the commission.

The commissioners broadly agreed that hotter temperatures and more extreme droughts fueled by climate change will put the species in danger over the coming decades. But they were split on whether the Endangered Species Act was the best way to address those concerns.

The California Department of Fish & Wildlife has recommended against listing the species as threatened. The department acknowledged that areas suitable for the western Joshua trees growth are likely to decline due to climate change by 2100. But it said in an April report that the tree remained “abundant and widespread,” which lowers the risk of extinction.

“The question is not, ‘Will climate change be bad for Joshua tree?’ The question is, ‘How bad will it be, and how quickly?’ And the truth is we don’t know yet,” Jeb McKay Bjerke, who presented the Department of Fish & Wildlife’s recommendation to the commission, said Wednesday.

It’s unknown how many Joshua trees exist in the state, but it could be anywhere from 4.8 million to 9.8 million, he said. It was a “close call” for the department not to recommend listing the species as threatened, he said, and three of five outside peer reviewers who were asked to look at the recommendation by the department disagreed with the conclusion.

About 40% of the Joshua trees in the state are on private land. Many of the comments focused on the development of housing and solar projects in the region. Several local and state politicians and union workers said listing the species as threatened would make it harder to move forward with necessary projects, including those that aim to fight climate change by boosting renewable energy.

California has set a requirement that 100% of its electricity be produced from non-carbon sources by 2045.

“We believe these types of projects are the best tools at combating climate change for protecting the western Joshua tree’s future,” said David Doublet, director of land use planning for San Bernardino County, which has a high concentration of the trees and many solar energy projects.

San Bernardino County, which includes Joshua Tree National Park, recently increased the penalties for illegally removing Joshua trees – a $20,000 fine and six months in jail on the third offense. County Supervisor Dawn Rowe urged the board not to list the species as threatened, saying local and county governments were best poised to set restrictions and respond to illegal removal of the tree.

“We are your partner in conservation and preservation of the species,” she said.

But numerous other speakers argued the state has no time to waste in listing the species as threatened as the state faces warmer temperatures and more extreme droughts and fires, all of which can hurt the trees. Kelly Herbinson, executive director of the Mojave Desert Land Trust, said Joshua trees are a “keystone” species of the desert, with other species reliant on its survival.

“Climate change is a threat we haven’t had to deal with yet and I get that we’re struggling to figure out the best path forward, but it’s happening and it’s happening now,” she told the commission.

In 2019, the federal government declined to list the tree as a protected species.

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Courthouse News Service

Flower found only on the Virgin Islands listed as endangered

The one-of-a-kind marrón bacora was put on the list of endangered specieafter 47 years of petitions, lawsuits, and devastation from hurricanes and human development.

MEGAN BUTLER / June 15, 2022

(CN) — After nearly five decades of pleas for protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday officially declared the marrón bacora endangered and designated 2,548 acres as critical habitat.

Endemic to the Virgin Islands, the marrón bacora is a shrub known for its bright purple flowers and towering height, reaching over nine feet tall. The plant produces a green fruit with white striations and is a member of the Solanaceae family, or nightshades, similarly to many agricultural crops such as eggplants and tomatoes.

Protection for the marrón bacora comes just a day after the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit against U.S. Fish and Wildlife, accusing it of not following through with its settlement agreement to issue the final protections in 2020.

The Arizona based, non-profit first sued the Service in 2004, for failing to act on a petition for protection submitted by the Virgin Islands government in 1996, just a few years after the believed to be extinct, rare shrub was rediscovered.

When the U.S. denied protection in 2006, the center brought a second lawsuit, and in 2011, Fish and Wildlife published a 12-month finding for the marrón bacora that finally warranted its need for protection, but has since precluded action for other higher-priority focuses.

“I’m thrilled this gorgeous plant is finally protected, but five decades is far too long to wait,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a press release. “The clear scientific evidence should have made it an easy decision to protect the marrón bacora, but cumbersome bureaucracy and political interference at the Fish and Wildlife Service delayed protections. These problems have to be addressed. The Service should be the strongest advocate fighting against extinction, but it seems far too concerned with avoiding controversy and preserving bureaucratic fiefdoms.”

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, there are only approximately 200 organisms of the flower, scientifically known as Solanum conocarpum, living in the wild; 185 of them are on private land.

The marrón bacora is a dioecious plant, meaning there are male and female individuals but the flowers are never both, and are obligate outcrossers, so they must reproduce with another of the opposite type. The fewer the numbers, the lower the species’ chance for survival.

The species has been reduced to just seven fragmented populations on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, and one population on Tortola, British Virgin Islands, which is not under U.S. Fish and Wildlife jurisdiction.

While all but one of the St. John populations is within Virgin Islands National Park, where they are protected from any future urban developments, neighboring areas are vulnerable as the human population increases.

St. John has a history of land-use changes that resulted in habitat loss and degradation, further isolating suitable habitats in patches that were not readily connected.

When Europeans came to the island in 1717, the forested landscape of St. John was parceled into more than 100 estates for agriculture, and the majority of the natural plants were cleared to grow sugarcane and cotton.

Nonnative livestock such as deer, goats, pigs and donkeys also damage the dry forests where the plant lives and eat its fruit, limiting reproduction.

Marrón bacora populations were decimated, as settlers had no economic use for the species and urban developments grew over time, especially after the introduction of white-tailed deer to St. John in the 1920s. Originally brought over to provide hunting opportunities, the deer have since increased in numbers, foraging on the native vegetation.

The island habitat was further devastated in 2017 by hurricanes Irma and Maria. According to the Service’s findings, the climate crisis is predicted to increase tropical storm frequency and intensity and cause severe droughts, both of which harm the plant.

“Despite projected increased storm intensity and frequency related to future hurricane seasons, climate change models for tropical islands predict that, for example, by the mid-21st century, Puerto Rico will be subject to a decrease in overall rainfall, along with an increase in annual drought intensity,” wrote the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in their ruling.

While the species has been successfully propagated in conservation efforts, the reintroductions have yielded unsuccessful results with a very low long-term survival rate for propagated and reintroduced plants, and even lower for relocated adult plants.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, designation of critical habitat provides protection for endangered species by prohibiting federal agencies from permitting, funding, or carrying out actions that “adversely modify” these designated areas and also by providing information to local governments and citizens as to why they should help conserve it.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Habitat for 12 Endangered Coral Species

Safeguards Needed Around Florida, Pacific Islands to Prevent Mass Extinction

WASHINGTON—(June 15, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to finalize protections for 12 coral species around Florida and islands in the Pacific Ocean. The corals all received Endangered Species Act listings in 2014 but not the critical habitat designation the law requires.

Corals worldwide are now experiencing dramatic declines due to climate change, pollution and overfishing. An estimated 50% of coral reefs worldwide have already been lost to climate change, and about one-third of reef-building coral species are at risk of extinction.

“We can’t save coral reefs without protecting coral habitat, and if federal officials sit on their hands much longer these corals could disappear,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney at the Center. “Ultimately we have to address climate change, because ocean warming and ocean acidification are existential threats to corals’ existence. But finalizing these critical habitat proposals would give us many ways to protect corals now.”

Endangered species with critical habitat protection are twice as likely to be recovering as those that don’t. Critical habitat designations wouldn’t close off areas for people to swim, fish and recreate, but their immediate benefits could include improved water quality throughout the coastal zone, limits on over-fishing, protections for spawning grounds, reduced impacts from development and dredging, and reduced human pressures on hundreds of thousands of reef-associated species.

In 2014 the Fisheries Service listed 20 species of corals as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, with 12 of those species occurring within U.S. waters. In 2020, prompted by a legal settlement with the Center, the federal government announced two proposed rules to designate more than 6,000 square miles of critical habitat protections off Florida, in the Caribbean, and in the Pacific Ocean.

Today’s legal notice involves five Caribbean corals: Dendrogyra cylindrus (pillar coral), Orbicella annularis (lobed star coral), Orbicella faveolata (mountainous star coral), Orbicella franksi (boulder star coral) and Mycetophyllia ferox (rough cactus coral). It also covers seven Pacific corals: Acropora globiceps, Acropora jacquelineae, Acropora retusa, Acropora speciosa, Euphyllia paradivisa, Isopora crateriformis and Seriatopora aculeate.

The proposed Caribbean critical habitat rule would protect 5,900 square miles of habitat off of Florida, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Flower Garden Banks in the Gulf of Mexico. The proposed Pacific rule would protect 230 square mile of marine habitat around American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Pacific Remote Islands.

The Endangered Species Act requires the Fisheries Service to finalize critical habitat designations within one year of their proposal; today’s action challenges the failure of the Fisheries Service to protect coral habitat as required by law.

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Science News

Right whales’ survival rates plummet after severe injury from fishing gear

The North Atlantic right whale is a critically endangered species with an estimated population of fewer than 350

June 14, 2022, Source: Duke University

Most North Atlantic right whales that are severely injured in fishing gear entanglements die within three years, a new study led by scientists at the New England Aquarium and Duke University finds.

North Atlantic right whales are a critically endangered species whose population has shrunk in recent decades. Scientists estimate fewer than 350 of the iconic whales are still alive in the wild today.

To examine the role fishing gear entanglements have played in the species’ decline, the researchers tracked the outcomes of 1,196 entanglements involving 573 right whales between 1980 and 2011 and categorized each run-in based on the severity of the injury incurred

The data revealed that male and female right whales with severe injuries were eight times more likely to die than males with minor injuries, and only 44% of males and 33% of females with severe injuries survived longer than 36 months.

Females that did survive had much lower birth rates and longer intervals between calving, a worrisome trend for the long-term survival of the species.

“This species is heading quickly towards extinction because of human activities,” said lead author Amy Knowlton, a senior scientist at the New England Aquarium. “This study sheds further light on the role of fishing gear entanglements in their decline. Even if a right whale survives an entanglement, the injuries it sustains endure and can impact its health.”

“Our findings underscore the urgent need for changes to the fixed gear fishing industry,” said Robert Schick, a research scientist at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who was a co-lead author of the study.

Knowlton, Schick and their colleagues published their peer-reviewed, open-access study June 14 in the journal Conservation Science and Policy.

Entanglements of North Atlantic right whales typically occur in fixed fishing gear, including lobster and crab pots and gillnets, after an animal collides with ropes in the water. The resulting injuries can range from superficial wounds with no gear still attached to the whale’s body, to cases where the fishing line wraps tightly around the body, possibly many times, causing deep wounds, impaired feeding, and much higher energy expenditure for the whale as it drags the heavy gear through the open ocean.

While most gear interactions result only in scars, the new study shows that the rate of serious entanglements — those with attached gear or severe injuries — is increasing and the sub-lethal effects of these entanglements are more pronounced than previously reported.

“What really surprised us was the reduction in survival regardless of whether gear remains attached or not, which was especially apparent in females,” said Schick.

Although right whales have shown an ability to adapt to many threats, including how climate change is making the prey species they depend on for food less predictable and harder to find, the new findings suggest they are having a tougher time adapting to changes in fishing activities, including the expansion of fishing efforts and the strengthening of ropes. These findings amplify other recent research that suggest human activities, especially fishing gear entanglements, are the primary cause of death and serious injury to North Atlantic right whales and are the primary contributor to the current population decline.

“If we are going to save right whales from imminent extinction, dramatic changes to how fixed fishing gear activities are presently conducted are required,” Knowlton said. “We believe these changes will require support from both the U.S. and Canadian governments to help the fishing industry transition to gear that will allow the industry to operate in a manner that is safer for whales and other marine species,” she said.

Knowlton and Schick conducted the new study with James Clark of Duke’s Nicholas School, and Philip Hamilton, Scott Kraus, Heather Pettis, and Rosalind Rolland of the New England Aquarium. Schick also holds a research appointment at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Funding came from the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program.

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Texas A&M Today (College Station, TX)

45 Endangered Sea Turtles Hatch On Texas Beach

This is the first time in modern history the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle has hatched on Magnolia Beach in Calhoun County, experts say.

By Sara Carney, Texas Sea Grant at Texas A&M University, June 14, 2022

A conservation success hatched Monday on the shores of Magnolia Beach in Calhoun County, Texas. A sea turtle nest containing approximately 45 hatching Kemp’s ridley eggs was discovered, and turtles successfully made their way to the water.

“This has never happened in modern times,” said Pamela Plotkin, director of Texas Sea Grant and sea turtle biologist. “Sea turtles typically nest on barrier island beaches in Texas, and so seeing a turtle nest on a beach inside any bay is rare. There are many miles of unpopulated bay shoreline along Texas’ coast, so it is possible that sea turtle nesting on these shores is more frequent and undetected.”

For sea turtles, the period after hatching is a fight for survival. In their first moments of life, hatchlings must quickly race from their nests in the sand to the water, avoiding predators, poaching, pollution and other hazards.

Eggs left on the beach only have a 45 percent chance of hatching, which is why intervention from conservationists can be critical.

Fortunately, the turtles hatching on Magnolia beach had help.

The turtles were found by maintenance workers with the Calhoun County Precinct 1 Commissioner’s Office. While picking up trash on the beach, Zach Padron and Jason Gonzalez spotted approximately 25 hatching turtles and noticed that they were heading the wrong way.

Padron said he remembered learning from nature television shows that hatching sea turtles are at risk from predators like seagulls.“I thought, ‘We better help them because it’s a good ways to the water,’” he said.

The workers and Commissioner David Hall notified Calhoun County Marine Extension Agent RJ Shelly.

Upon arriving, Shelly began excavating the turtle nest, under the guidance of Plotkin. He found more sea turtles that needed help emerging from the nest. Approximately 20 more turtles were found.

“Sure enough, once we started excavating, we saw more and more dig their way out,” Shelly said.

These turtles were within 10 feet of a roadway, making active monitoring necessary. Shelly and others supervised the hatching process, ensuring the turtles’ safe release into Matagorda Bay.

“We let them imprint on the sand and then stood there while they made their run,” Shelly said.

The Kemp’s ridley is the official state sea turtle of Texas and is critically endangered. Decades of efforts from scientists, resource managers, conservationists and others have allowed the species to begin to recover.

These conservation efforts have been ongoing in Matagorda Bay, and include a recent assessment sponsored by the Texas Office of the Comptroller. The assessment included acoustic tracking of turtles in the area by Plotkin and her team.

“Matagorda Bay is currently a vibrant healthy ecosystem with an abundance of sea turtles that live and feed there,” Plotkin said. “In the late 1800s there was a commercial sea turtle fishery operating there that decimated the sea turtles in the bay by the early 1900s. Signs of sea turtle recovery in Matagorda Bay are visible now and illustrate how reduced fishing pressure in concert with habitat restoration can save threatened and endangered species.”

The hatching comes at a special time. June 8-16 marks the celebration of Sea Turtle Week, an internationally recognized week that celebrates sea turtles and educates on the threats they face.

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Center for Biological Diversity

House Passes Historic Legislation Securing Billions for Imperiled Wildlife

WASHINGTON—(June 14, 2022)—The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, H.R. 2773, by a 231 to 190 vote today. If approved by the Senate, the legislation will provide unprecedented levels of funding to states, Tribal Nations and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conserve and recover imperiled wildlife and plant species, including those listed under the Endangered Species Act.

“I’m thrilled that Congress is finally starting to make the bold investments needed to confront the wildlife extinction crisis,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a significant down payment on recovering thousands of imperiled animals and plants. It will help so many species that have been neglected by state wildlife agencies for far too long.”

Under the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, states would receive $1.3 billion in dedicated funding for proactive, on-the-ground conservation projects to help species of greatest conservation need in their state. The bill also provides nearly $1 billion for wildlife conservation efforts on Tribal lands and secures additional short-term funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The legislation has improved significantly since it was first introduced in 2016 and now ensures that states with the most difficult conservation challenges receive the greatest amount of funding. For example, Hawaii — home to nearly one-third of all the animals and plants on the endangered species list — will receive $60 million per year, the largest share that a state may receive. Southeastern states will also receive significant shares of funding to address the freshwater extinction crisis.

Threatened and endangered species will receive dedicated funding under the act, as will plant species that are too often overlooked by state fish and game agencies. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s own data and recovery plans, saving all species currently listed as threatened or endangered will require $1.6 billion to $2.3 billion per year. While the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act’s funding for endangered species will not reach this level, it is a marked improvement from the status quo, which allocates less than $1,000 per year to hundreds of endangered species.

“Unfortunately, House and Senate appropriators have made it clear that saving endangered species is not their top priority,” said Kurose. “The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is now our best chance to combat extinction in the United States.”

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New York  Post

Most people admit having no idea which animals are going extinct: poll

By Hannah Sparks, June 13, 2022

Nearly seven in 10 adults in the US are under-informed about endangered animals, a new survey reveals.

A poll of 2,000 Americans found that 68% of them are not “very informed” about which species are thriving or which ones are on the brink of extinction, reported South West News Service on Monday.

In fact, nearly one-third of adults (30%) admitted that the issue of animal extinction isn’t even “on their radar.”

More than eight in 10 respondents were not aware that sea turtles (81%) and the Sumatran rhino (81%) are critically endangered. And — despite primatologist Jane Goodall‘s widely publicized work with the late Koko, a Western lowland gorilla, putting a spotlight on these highly intelligent endangered apes — most (83%) had no idea that Koko’s kind is near extinction.

In fact, participants weren’t aware that all kinds of apes — including orangutans, bonobos and chimpanzees — are endangered. It goes to show that even the most highly regarded in the animal kingdom — and humans’ closest evolutionary cousins, no less — are being ignored by the general population when it comes to conservation.

Of the many species — more than 8,000 — threatened with extinction, respondents were most concerned about losing sea turtles, blue whales and the red panda.

A majority of respondents — 68% — said they’d like to see more done to protect species from dying out. However, only 41% wanted more education on the subject, while 38% urged for increased media focus on endangered animals.

Though most agreed that habitat destruction, hunting and climate change were the main causes of animal endangerment, 37% of participants said they wouldn’t know how to help these species even if they wanted to.

The findings were commissioned by smartphone brand OPPO, in partnership with the National Geographic Society as support for the nonprofit’s wildlife conservation efforts, and conducted by OnePoll.

Said OPPO’s president of global marketing, William Liu, in a statement, “There are huge changes in the animal kingdom adults simply aren’t aware of as the research has shown.”

Alongside more well-known animals, the poll found that “many are curious” about how also to help less popular endangered species not to lose some of those that don’t necessarily immediately spring to mind — suggesting an “understanding [that] all have a unique contribution to make to the world,” said William.

It should come as no surprise that respondents were well-aware that species such as the saber-toothed tiger, the woolly mammoth and the dodo are, indeed, extinct.

Here’s a list of the top 20 endangered animals, ranked by the percentage of adults who were previously aware they are near extinction:

Black rhino: 22%

Asian elephant: 22%

Red panda: 21%

Blue whale: 20%

Mountain gorilla: 20%

African forest elephant: 20%

Sumatran rhino: 20%

Cross river gorilla: 20%

Sunda tiger: 19%

Sea turtle: 19%

Javan rhino: 19%

Sumatran elephant: 19%

Galapagos penguin: 19%

Fin whale: 19%

Hawksbill turtle: 18%

Sea lions: 18%

African wild dog: 18%

Ganges river dolphin: 18%

Black-footed ferret: 18%

Bluefin tuna: 18%

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Times of San Diego

San Diego Zoo Partners in Research to Save Endangered Chinese Giant Salamander

by Editor, June 13, 2022

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and conservation partners, including Ocean Park Hong Kong, are working to create a breeding group for the endangered Chinese giant salamander.

The goal is eventually to re-establish depleted populations in the Chinese giant salamander’s native range, in China’s mountain river system, while at the same time educating the public about conservation of its habitat.

The Chinese giant salamander is the largest living amphibian on the planet, with some measuring nearly 6 feet in length. However, their elusive nature has made it difficult for biologists to study their reproductive habits.

Veterinary and wildlife care specialist teams at the San Diego Zoo conducted ultrasounds on three of the creatures in an effort to determine their sex and better understand their overall health. Establishing their sex is critical to the creation of a conservation breeding plan to help bring this species of “living fossils” back from the brink of extinction.

The technique of using ultrasound to determine sex was discovered and recommended by specialists in China and colleagues in the zoo community.

Kim Gray, curator of herpetology and ichthyology at the San Diego Zoo, “males and females look very, very similar” and using ultrasound helps them see inside the Chinese giant salamanders.

“These species are really unique in how they reproduce,” Gray said. “The males and females will breed and produce around 400 to 500 eggs, and the males stay with them. Other than that, there’s not a lot known. We want to learn as much as possible.”

The Chinese giant salamander is listed as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, due to heavy poaching and harvesting for human consumption, despite laws to protect them.

Their habitat has become fragmented, and their numbers have plummeted by 80% over the last few decades.

The newly opened Denny Sanford Wildlife Explorers Basecamp at the San Diego Zoo is one of only six locations in the U.S. where guests can view Chinese giant salamanders. This large amphibian can be seen in the lower level of the Cool Critters building.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Rare Southwest Wildflower Protected Under Endangered Species Act

Water Overuse, Livestock, Invasive Species, Climate Change Threaten Arizona Eryngo

TUCSON, Ariz.—(June 9, 2022)—In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon Society, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected the Arizona eryngo under the Endangered Species Act. Only four populations of the critically imperiled wetland plant survive in Arizona and Mexico.

The Service also designated nearly 13 acres of critical habitat for the plant at La Cebadilla, east of Tucson, and Lewis Spring in the San Pedro National Riparian Conservation Area. It excluded Pima County’s Agua Caliente Park because reintroduction efforts there appear to have failed.

“I’m so glad these big, beautiful plants and the rare cienega habitats where they live are getting these badly needed protections,” said Robin Silver, a cofounder and board member at the Center. “The eryngo gives us one more reason to save the San Pedro River.”

Arizona eryngo plants along the San Pedro River are imperiled as the groundwater table connected to the plant’s wetland habitats is lowered by pumping. The groundwater overdraft in the Fort Huachuca-Sierra Vista loses more than 5,000 acre-feet per year. All recent hydrology studies predict the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area will disappear if the unsustainable water drawing continues.

More than 95% of the cienega habitats that the eryngo and many other species need to survive have already been lost. Both sites where the flower survives are threatened by groundwater overuse to support sprawling human populations. The eryngo used to be found at one site in New Mexico but is now gone from the state.

“Arizona eryngo is a bellwether for the San Pedro River,” said Silver. “We can’t keep withdrawing more groundwater than is returned in Sierra Vista, or anywhere else in Arizona, and expect these irreplaceable and imperiled species to survive.”

Arizona eryngo is in the carrot family and can grow to more than 5 feet tall, with large, cream-colored spherical flowers. It is also called ribbonleaf button snakeroot, and its scientific name is Eryngium sparganophyllum. The Arizona Native Plant Advisory Group ranks Arizona eryngo as one of the most endangered plants in the state.

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VPR News

A rare orchid, thought to be extinct, has been rediscovered in Vermont

Vermont Public Radio, By Anna Van Dine, June 8, 2022

A rare plant thought to be extinct in Vermont has been discovered in Chittenden County.

Scientists with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife have confirmed the existence of a population of small whorled pogonia on Winooski Valley Park District conservation land, the department announced Wednesday.

The plant is a globally rare orchid, and is listed as “threatened” under the Federal Endangered Species Act. It was historically found across the eastern U.S. and Ontario, but it was thought to be extinct in Vermont since 1902. Botanists in Vermont have been looking for it for decades, but to no avail.

“We had pretty much given it up for lost,” said Bob Popp, Fish and Wildlife Department Botanist. “When things disappear, they’re usually gone for good.”

More and more plant species are being affected by climate change, which is impacting everything from growing seasons to rainfall. Popp says these kinds of changes, combined with habitat degradation, make rediscoveries like this even more unusual. He says the fact that the plant was found on conserved land points to the importance of preserving habitat.

“By protecting habitat, you protect biodiversity — you don’t even know what’s on the property when you protect it,” he said.

The whorled pogonia population was discovered thanks to two citizen scientists, John Gange of Shelburne and Tom Doubleday of Colchester, using the app iNaturalist.

“Citizen scientists are just awesome,” Popp said. “Having these other eyes on the ground is phenomenal.”

Fish and Wildlife will monitor the population of small whorled pogonia, and continue to look for it on nearby land.

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National Geographic

Humpback whales face a major setback from climate change

Kieran Mulvaney, June 8, 2022

After largely recovering from decades of overhunting, one of the most iconic whale species may be at risk from climate change, as warming waters could force it away from its traditional breeding grounds in the tropics.

According to a new study published in Frontiers in Marine Science, projected sea surface temperature increases mean that many humpback whale breeding areas would no longer be within their historic temperature range by century’s end. Combined with warming of their feeding grounds, as well as the impacts from other human activities, such changes may mean that, even after years of recovery, humpbacks’ future remains far from secure.

Perhaps the most familiar of the great whales, with long pectoral fins and a penchant for leaping clear of the water—a behavior known as breaching—humpbacks are also famed for their lengthy, complex, and haunting songs. Because they swim primarily in coastal waters, humpbacks were easy and early prey for commercial whalers, who began targeting them in the 16th century and killed roughly 250,000 in the 20th century alone, reducing the global population to a few thousand. Even as some other whale populations have recovered slowly or not at all, humpbacks have rebounded strongly throughout their range.

For example, notes Philip Clapham, formerly of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and now Senior Scientist at SeaStar Scientific, the populations that migrate from the Antarctic along the coasts of eastern and western Australia “may well have been reduced to a few hundred animals by the time the Russians, in what was then the Soviet Union, finished illegally plundering them in the 1960s. But today, they number “in the tens of thousands, with continued strong growth.” He adds that “even South Georgia (Island)—where Antarctic whaling began in 1904 and where humpbacks were pretty much wiped out by 1915—has seen whales returning in significant numbers in recent years after decades of no sightings.”

Humpbacks stand their ground

In summer, humpbacks feed in cold waters in high latitudes, such as off Alaska, Antarctica, Iceland, Norway, and the eastern seaboard of Canada and the United States, migrating annually to warmer waters to breed. Exactly why they migrate is not clear, although theories range from avoiding predatory killer whales—which occur in far greater abundance in the cold feeding grounds—to rejuvenating their skin.

Another theory is that the tropical waters enable newborn calves to channel their energies into something other than keeping warm. “It isn’t as if a calf will die if it’s born in cold water, but in warm water it can channel more energy into growth,” explains Clapham. That the warm water is itself a major factor is indicated by the fact that the sea surface temperature in every humpback breeding area worldwide is between approximately 21 and 28 degrees Celsius (70 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit).

The humpbacks’ presence in these breeding grounds has led to a huge, global whale-watching industry. In Hawaii, where approximately 10,000 humpbacks travel each year from their feeding areas off Alaska, the industry pumps more than $11 million each year into the state’s economy.

However, according to the new study, all of this—humpbacks’ recovery, their breeding ground migrations, the whale-watching industry—may be at risk from climate change. In the study, Hannah von Hammerstein and Renee Setter, PhD students at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa’s Department of Geography and Environment, worked with whale experts from the university and the Pacific Whale Foundation to project sea surface temperature increases onto humpback whale breeding areas.

They found that, under a “middle-of-the-road” scenario for climate change—in which economic growth continues at historical levels but is combined with limited efforts to reduce warming—36 percent of Northern Hemisphere humpback breeding areas, and 38 percent of those in the Southern Hemisphere, would consistently experience temperatures at or above the upper limit of 82 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. However, under a scenario in which fossil fuel emissions continue apace, those figures rise to 64 percent in the Northern Hemisphere and 69 percent south of the equator.

The results were a surprise to the researchers.

“We expected to see some of the breeding grounds impacted,” says von Hammerstein “But when we looked at our projections and saw breeding ground after breeding ground come up red, it was quite jaw-dropping.”

Unknown impacts

With so little known definitively about why humpbacks select specific breeding grounds in the first place, it is difficult to ascertain the precise impacts of such a development. While it may theoretically be possible for the whales to simply select new places to breed and calve, study co-author Stephanie Stack argues that it isn’t quite that simple.

“We don’t know where they’d go if this habitat was unavailable to them,” explains Stack, chief biologist for the Pacific Whale Foundation. “Habitat worldwide is becoming degraded, so we just don’t know how they will react at all.” Furthermore, she notes, in some locations—notably Hawaii, where the nearest landmasses are California, which is more than 2,000 miles away, and Japan, nearly 4,000 miles distant—there simply are no nearby areas to which they could obviously and easily divert.

It is important to note that any changes to the breeding grounds would not be happening in isolation. Humpbacks, like other whales, are facing cumulative threats from ship strikes, fisheries, underwater noise, and other human activities. If the temperature is increasing in their breeding areas, it will be doing so in their feeding grounds, as well, with potentially even more severe impacts.

“Although the temperature threshold won’t be above their preferred temperature in their feeding grounds, we’re already seeing changes there because of ocean warming,” says Stack. Southeast Alaska, for example, has experienced a series of warm-water events in recent years; one of them, a pool of warm water that became known as “the Blob,” stretched as far south as Mexico and upended the marine food chain, shutting down fisheries, devastating salmon numbers, and resulting in dead, dying, and starving marine mammals.

“Humpback whale sightings in Hawaii and southeast Alaska dropped for a few years afterward, and to this day have not recovered to the numbers beforehand,” says Stack. “We don’t know if whales died off as a result of that or if they started going to different areas where we aren’t looking for them, or maybe a combination of those things.”

The prospect of such changes increasing in frequency and intensity and spreading to affect breeding grounds is, acknowledges von Hammerstein, a “daunting” one. “But I don’t purely see it as negative because the results also show that by implementing mitigation measures and reducing emissions, so much can be won,” she says.

To this end, the study’s authors recommend increased protection for humpback breeding grounds, to provide extra resilience in the face of climate threats, and to enable further study of how and why the whales use those areas.

“Humpbacks have been celebrated as a conservation success story, and rightfully so,” says Stack. “I think it’s our responsibility now to maintain that trend and do what we can to reduce additional stressors that are happening in the ocean. Our job is not over.”

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Offshore Engineer

BOEM, NOAA Use Drones to Tag Endangered Whales

June 8, 2022

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary on Wednesday announced the successful digital acoustic tagging of 14 sei whales in waters offshore Massachusetts. This is the first time researchers have successfully tagged an endangered species in the United States using an uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone. The data will help authorities to better inform offshore wind energy area selection.

BOEM said that the collected data would shed important light on the whales’ acoustic behavior, which researchers will use to inform mitigation strategies – including passive acoustic monitoring – to protect this endangered species from the potential impacts of offshore wind energy activities.

“Very little is known about the sei whale, which is one of the most endangered large whales in the North Atlantic. Understanding how the whales behave and use their habitat is critical for BOEM to assess potential impacts resulting from bureau-permitted offshore activities and ensure responsible offshore wind energy development,” BOEM said.

According to BOEM, digital acoustic tagging is a component of a larger BOEM study into the Spatial and Acoustic Behavior of Endangered Large Whales to address gaps in information on a variety of endangered large whale species – including sei, North Atlantic right, and fin whales – to better inform offshore wind energy area selection. UAVs enable researchers to target specific animals in a group or conduct multi-group taggings, and the collected data will also aid in conservation efforts.

“The use of UAVs to tag whales is the first major innovation related to attaching tags to whales,” said Dr. David Wiley, research ecologist at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Wiley has used various suction cup-based, computer-equipped tags to study the underwater behavior of whales for almost 30 years, BOEM said.

BOEM’s endangered large whale study is a collaboration with the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Syracuse University, University of Michigan, Ocean Alliance, and Blue World Research Institute. OceanX funded the development of the Ocean Alliance UAV-based tag deployment system. Additional funding was provided by the Volgenau Foundation and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. Funding for Ocean Alliance was provided by the Pamela K. Omidyar Trust and the Sarah K. de Coizart Tenth Perpetual Trust.

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The Guardian

The reef fish people find ugly more likely to be endangered, study finds

Discrepancy between aesthetic value and extinction vulnerability could have repercussions

Sofia Quaglia, 7 June 2022

There are plenty of fish in the sea, but “ugly” fish deserve love too, according to a study.

The reef fish people rate as most aesthetically pleasing are also the ones that seem to need the least conservation support, while the fish most likely to rank as “ugly” are the most endangered species, the research has found.

“There is a need for us to make sure that our ‘natural’ aesthetic biases do not turn into a bias of conservation effort,” said Nicolas Mouquet a community ecologist at the University of Montpellier, and one of the lead authors of the study. This discrepancy between aesthetic value and extinction vulnerability could have repercussions in the long run, he said.

Mouquet’s team first conducted an online survey in which 13,000 members of the public rated the aesthetic attractiveness of 481 photographs of ray-finned reef fish. The scientists fed the data into an artificial intelligence system, enabling them to generate predictions for how people would probably have rated a total of 2,417 of the most commonly known reef fish species from 4,400 different photographs.

The combined results suggested that bright, colourful and round-bodied fish species – such as the queen angelfish and the striped cowfish – were most often rated as more “beautiful”. But they were also the less “evolutionarily distinct” species – meaning they are more similar, genetically, to other fish.

Fish species that were lower in the aesthetic rankings and were deemed “uglier” by the public – usually “drab” fish, Mouquet notes, with elongated body shape and no clearly delineated colour patterns, like the telescope fish or the round herring – were also more ecologically distinct, at greater ecological risk, and listed as “threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

The more “unattractive” species have adapted to look this way because they often live in the water column and have to hide within a more homogeneous habitat, but this also makes them of greater commercial interest and more likely to be overfished, according to the study, published in PLOS Biology.

“Our study highlights likely important mismatches between potential public support for conservation and the species most in need of this support,” said Mouquet. He noted that biases in conservation efforts have been documented for many different types of animal species – for example vertebrates are much more represented in research than invertebrates – and aesthetic value is often an important underlying factor in these preferences.

“Species such as clownfish and colourful parrotfishes are definitely the easiest for people to connect with … and it makes sense why they are often used as the figurehead of conservation efforts,” said Chloe Nash, a researcher of biogeography of marine fish at University of Chicago, who was not involved in the study. “But the majority of fish biodiversity is actually composed of species that would not be considered to be ‘aesthetically beautiful’.”

While aesthetics are recognised as a fundamental ecosystem service, they’re often underestimated for their effect on policy and conservation decisions, said Joan Iverson Nassauer, a scholar of landscape ecology at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the study. “This research vividly quantifies the power of aesthetic experience to affect science and management,” said Nassauer. In future research, to avoid simplification, it would be helpful to consider how test participants would rank fish in their landscape context out in the wild, and at their natural size, she said.

According to Mouquet, findings such as these can help researchers understand “non-material aspects of biodiversity”, which make up what scholars call “nature’s contribution to people” – the harmful and beneficial effects of the natural world on people’s quality of life. Further research in this field could help scientists better anticipate consequences of species loss, he said, and flesh out appropriate communication strategies to tackle this subject with the public, policymakers, conservation NGOs and even other researchers.

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Courthouse News Service

US proposes experimental populations of endangered species outside historic habitat

The proposed rule change will remove a requirement that experimental populations must be reintroduced in a listed species’ historic range.

EDVARD PETTERSSON, June 6, 2022

(CN) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday it wants to introduce experimental populations of endangered or threatened species outside these species’ historical habitats where climate change and invasive species have made those habitats unsuitable.

In what the agency said was the first Endangered Species Act interpretive rule produced under the Biden-Harris administration, the proposed change will remove the requirement that experimental populations of listed species are to be reintroduced in their historic range.

“Climate change and the rapid spread of invasive species pose an ever-increasing threat to native biodiversity. The time to act — and use every tool at our disposal — is now,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement. “The growing extinction crisis highlights the importance of the Endangered Species Act and efforts to conserve species before declines become irreversible.”

Experimental populations have been used to help advance the recovery of numerous listed species, according to Fish and Wildlife, including  California condors, whooping cranes and Sonoran pronghorns. The agency said it’s considering introducing the Guam kingfisher outside its historical range because the species currently cannot be reintroduced to its former habitat on Guam given the presence of brown tree snakes. 

Under today’s proposed revisions, the Service would be able to introduce an experimental population of an ESA threatened or endangered species into suitable habitat outside of its current range and probable historical range.

Several species and ecosystems are losing habitat due to increased temperatures, altered rain and snow patterns, sea level rise, and greater frequency and intensity of drought and wildfires, according to the Service. These species include the Mt. Rainier ptarmigan in Washington state, Montana stoneflies and the emperor penguin, found in the Antarctic.

Climate change has also exacerbated existing threats to plants and wildlife, the Service said, such as greater threats from disease and invasive species. In Hawaii, increased temperatures has been driving the spread of avian malaria among some of the world’s most endangered birds, according to the Service, as mosquitoes move upslope.

“It is encouraging to see efforts to strengthen the Endangered Species Act and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stepping up to support imperiled species in the face of growing pressure from climate change and development,” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “We thank the Biden administration for their leadership to advance protection of our nation’s incredible wildlife.”

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Sierra Sun Times (Mariposa, CA)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Completes Initial Review of Endangered Species Act Petitions for Yellowstone Bison

The Service will conduct a status review of the potential Distinct Population Segment

June 6, 2022 – DENVER — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has completed a 90-day finding of three petitions to designate and list a Yellowstone bison Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of the Plains bison (Bison bison bison) in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in portions of Wyoming and Montana as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service finds that the petitions present substantial, credible information indicating that a listing action may be warranted and will initiate a comprehensive status review of the potential DPS to determine if ESA protections are warranted. 

The Plains bison is a subspecies of the American bison (Bison bison) historically found from central Canada to northern Mexico, nearly from coast-to-coast. Primarily abundant on the Great Plains, this species was eliminated from many areas of the country by the early 1800s. Following conservation efforts by landowners, Tribes, state, federal, and other partners, today, there are more than 400,000 Plains bison. 

Under the ESA, a DPS is a population of a vertebrate species or subspecies. All three petitions requested that a Yellowstone bison DPS of the Plains bison be designated in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Based on the information provided by petitioners, the Service finds that this may be a listable entity and will further evaluate the validity of the DPS as part of the status assessment.   

The Service finds the petitioners present substantial information that listing the Yellowstone bison DPS as threatened or endangered under the ESA may be warranted. The petitioners presented credible information to indicate potential threats to the DPS from reductions of its range due to loss of migration routes, lack of tolerance for bison outside Yellowstone National Park, and habitat loss. Petitioners also provided information suggesting that regulatory mechanisms (in the form of management actions intended to address disease, provided for in the Interagency Bison Management Plan), overutilization, disease, and loss of genetic diversity may pose further threats. The Service will fully evaluate potential threats as part of the status assessment. 

Substantial 90-day findings require only that the petitioner provide information that the proposed action may be warranted. The next step is to conduct an in-depth status review and analysis using the best available science and information to arrive at a 12-month finding on whether listing is warranted.  If listing the potential DPS is found to be warranted, the Service would then conduct a separate rulemaking process with public notice and comment.  

The public can play an essential role in the status review by submitting relevant information to inform the status review through http://www.regulations.gov, Docket Number: FWS–R6–ES–2022–0028. This information period will open upon publication in the Federal Register on June 6, 2022.

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The Guardian

Queensland announces more than $24m for koala population and habitat protection

Conservation groups welcome Palaszczuk government’s funding injection as part of broader threatened species package

Adeshola Ore, 4 June 2022

The Queensland government will inject more than $24m into protecting koala populations and habitats in the state’s south-east as part of a threatened species funding package.

The almost $40m funding announcement coincided with World Environment Day on Sunday. Queensland’s environment minister, Meaghan Scanlon, said the state had “good conservation success stories” such as bilbies and green turtles.

“Queensland is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. So it’s incredibly important that we protect those threatened species,” she said.

“This funding will help us do so much work for our much-loved koala population, but it also allows us to do some really important work for threatened species.”

The funding also includes $14.7m for recovery plans for threatened native species and Indigenous land and sea rangers.

The Queensland Conservation Council’s director, Dave Copeman, said the investment showed the state government “hasn’t given up on our incredible native wildlife”.

“We can save our iconic native species. We know it will take funding and research, and strong laws to protect habitat from clearing, logging and development,” he said in a statement.

“We were disappointed beyond words at the news that the outgoing federal minister Sussan Ley abolished 176 recovery plans for threatened species and habitats as one of her last acts as a minister. It seems she’d just given up on preventing the all too common march to extinction.”

Copeman urged the new federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, to review the decision.

He stressed that Queensland had the highest number of threatened species in Australia that faced habitat destruction due to “shocking rates of land clearing”.

Andrew Picone, a spokesperson for conservation project Outback to Oceans, said the funding would help reverse the decline of threatened species such as koalas.

“Investments of this size are a good sign the Palaszczuk government are taking the loss of biodiversity seriously, but matching this investment with on-ground protection will be vital,” he said.

Guardian Australia in March reported that more than 90,000 hectares of koala habitat in Queensland was cleared in a single year, with the majority (80%) occurring for beef production. The figure was based on analysis by the Wilderness Society. It examined the Queensland government’s most recent Statewide Landcover and Trees Study, which showed landholders cleared 680,688 hectares of woody vegetation in 2018-19. It estimated that 92,718 hectares of that clearing was in known or likely koala habitats.

The $24.6m investment will help continue the Queensland government’s south-east five-year koala conservation strategy that aims to increase the species’ population. The strategy involves relationships with councils, conservation groups and universities. But the Queensland Conservation Council has called for a state-wide koala protection scheme.

In February, the koala was deemed to be an endangered species in Queensland, New South Wales, and the Australian Capital Territory, meaning it faces a high-risk of becoming extinct, mainly due to habitat loss, in the short term in the two states.

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Business Insider

Russia-Ukraine war has killed ‘several thousand dolphins’ and harmed the marine ecosystem, say Black Sea scientists

Bethany Dawson, June 4, 2022

Dolphins are washing up on the coastline of the Black Sea (which borders Ukraine, Bulgaria, Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Romania, and Moldova), showing war-related injuries, including burn marks from bombs.

Ivan Rusev, research director at Ukraine’s Tuzla Estuaries National Nature Park, has been documenting the 101 days of the war on his Facebook page, using his platform to raise awareness of the ecological effects of the invasion.

Writing on Facebook, Rusev explains how dolphins are washing up on shore with burns from bombs and landmines, internal injuries, and showing signs of not eating for days. 

The ecologist states that the data collected by him and his team and other researchers around Europe show that “several thousand dolphins have already died.”

“Barbarians kill not only civilized people but smart dolphins,” Rusev wrote on Facebook.

Also raising the alarm on the mounting dolphin death toll is the Turkish Marine Research Foundation, which reported that the war is having “devastating effects” on the marine environment.

In a press release, the research foundation outlined the “crisis in biodiversity” caused by the war. It included the destruction of endangered red algae (which acts as a “living ground” for many marine species) and feeding grounds for fish — including dolphins — transformed into a maritime war zone.

It also highlighted the danger of oil and gas leaking into the sea from sunken military ships.

Before the war, 100 scientists from a Conservation group for the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and contiguous Atlantic Sea surveyed marine life to determine the number of dolphins within these areas.

Their study found that over 253,000 healthy dolphins lived in the Black Sea, the New York Times reports, with this being a sign of a well-functioning ecological system.

With the war raging on and tampering efforts for data collection, it is unknown precisely how many of these quarter of a million dolphins will survive.

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AP News

US wildlife agency to consider protecting Yellowstone bison

HELENA, Mont. (AP)—June 3, 2022—A wildlife agency that lost key court rulings over its denial of petitions to protect Yellowstone National Park bison will undertake a comprehensive study over whether the animals should be covered under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday.

The decision follows a federal court ruling in January that ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to review its 2019 denial of petitions seeking the extra protections. U.S. District Court Judge Randolf Moss of Washington, D.C., said the agency did not give a reason for its decision to rely on some scientific studies while rejecting others.

The January ruling was the second time a federal judge said the agency wrongly denied petitions seeking to have Yellowstone bison listed as threatened or endangered.

Under findings that are scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the petitions — first filed in 2014 — present substantial, credible information that the sought-after protections may be needed based on reductions of the animal’s range, the lack of tolerance to bison outside the park, and loss of habitat and genetic diversity.

The agency will now carry out a year-long review to determine whether protections are necessary, the draft notification said. The agency is asking for people to submit any new information concerning the status of, or threats to, Yellowstone bison or its habitat to be considered during the review.

Bison in and around Yellowstone National Park are managed under a federal-state agreement to maintain wild bison while preventing the spread of brucellosis — a bacterial infection that can cause animals to abort their young — to cattle in Montana. The Interagency Bison Management Plan calls for capturing bison, testing them for brucellosis and sending some to slaughter when they leave the park. Bison can also be hunted outside the park.

There have been no documented cases of bison transmitting brucellosis directly to cattle, but there have been many occasions where elk transmitted brucellosis to cattle, the National Park Service says.

Buffalo Field Campaign and the Western Watersheds Project have been fighting to have Yellowstone’s bison declared endangered or threatened based, in part, on studies that show the park has two genetically distinct herds of bison.

Biologists argue the herds need to have 2,000 to 3,000 members to avoid inbreeding. In 2021, the park’s Central herd had 1,300 to 1,500 members, according to the National Park Service. The Northern herd has an estimated 5,000 to 5,400 members.

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Reuters

Bees are ‘fish’ under Calif. Endangered Species Act – state court

By Barbara Grzincic, June 1, 2022

(Reuters) – Bumblebees are eligible for protection as endangered or threatened “fish” under California law, a state appeals court held in a win for environmental groups and the state’s Fish and Game Commission.

The Sacramento-based California Court of Appeal reversed a lower court’s ruling Tuesday for seven agricultural groups who argued that the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) expressly protects only “birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and plants” – not insects.

While “fish” is “commonly understood to refer to aquatic species, the term of art employed by the Legislature … is not so limited,” Associate Justice Ronald Robie wrote for the appeals court.

CESA itself does not define “fish,” but the law is part of the California Fish and Game Code. The code’s definition includes any “mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate (or) amphibian,” Robie wrote. All those categories “encompass terrestrial and aquatic species,” and the state legislature has already approved the listing of at least one land-based mollusk, the opinion said.

“Accordingly, a terrestrial invertebrate, like each of the four bumblebee species, may be listed as an endangered or threatened species,” Robie wrote, joined by Acting Presiding Justice Cole Blease and Associate Justice Andrea Lynn Hoch.

Matthew Sanders of Stanford Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic hailed the decision as “a win for the bumblebees, all imperiled invertebrates in California, and the California Endangered Species Act.” Insects are “foundational to California’s agricultural production and healthy ecosystems,” he added.

Sanders’ clients – the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Food Safety – petitioned the Fish and Game Commission to add the Crotch’s bumblebee, Franklin’s bumblebee, Suckley cuckoo bumblebee, and Western bumblebee to the state’s endangered species list in 2018.

The commission quickly designated all four as “candidate species,” providing them with interim protections while it considered whether to list them as endangered.

However, the Almond Alliance of California, the California Farm Bureau Federation, and five other agricultural groups filed suit in Sacramento County Superior Court to establish that CESA does not protect insects – a point on which the legislature, agencies, and courts have vacillated since 1980, they said.

In 2020, the Superior Court ruled that the law’s reference to “invertebrates” had to be read in context, and included only aquatic animals.

Paul Weiland of Nossaman, lead counsel for the agriculture groups, said in an email Tuesday that they were “disappointed” and reviewing the decision before deciding “whether to seek further review.”

Attorneys for the state did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The case is Almond Alliance of California et al. v. Fish and Game Commission et al, Xerces Society For Invertebrate Conservation et al, intervenors; California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, No. C093542.

For Almond Alliance of California et al: Paul Weiland and Benjamin Rubin of Nossaman

For the Fish and Game Commission: California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Deputy Attorneys General Jeffrey Reusch and Adam Levitan

For Xerces Society For Invertebrate Conservation et al.: Matthew Sanders, Stephanie Safdi, and Deborah Sivas of Stanford Law School, Mills Legal Clinic’s Environmental Law Clinic

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Scientific American

How Countries ‘Import’ and ‘Export’ Extinction Risk around the World

A recent study puts a number to how much our consumption imperils threatened species

By Susan Cosier, May 31, 2022

In the dense jungles of Cameroon and nearby countries, the population of the iconic and critically endangered western lowland gorilla declined by nearly 20 percent between 2005 and 2013 to about 360,000 individuals—and their number is expected to plunge by another 80 percent over about the next 65 years. Raw materials extracted from their habitat and used for goods manufactured in China and then sold in the U.S. and elsewhere have contributed to that decline. This is just one of thousands of species the world stands to lose as part of the global biodiversity crash caused by human activities, including international trade, which alone drives 30 percent of extinction threats to species.

A new study quantifies how the consumption habits of people in 188 countries, through trade and supply networks, ultimately imperil more than 5,000 threatened and near-threatened terrestrial species of amphibians, mammals and birds on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. For the study, recently published in Scientific Reports, researchers used a metric called the extinction-risk footprint. The team found that 76 countries are net “importers” of this footprint, meaning they drive demand for products that contribute to the decline of endangered species abroad. Top among them are the U.S., Japan, France, Germany and the U.K. Another 16 countries—with Madagascar, Tanzania and Sri Lanka leading the list—are designated as net “exporters,” meaning their extinction-risk footprint is driven more by consumption habits in other countries. In the remaining 96 countries, domestic consumption is the most significant driver of extinction risk within those nations.

Amanda Irwin, a Ph.D. student at the University of Sydney, and her colleagues examined global supply chain data, along with IUCN data on species populations and locations. They also consulted the organization’s Species Threat Abatement and Recovery (STAR) Metric, which weighs the scope and severity of threats to species. The researchers then paired those data with computer models of the interactions between different economic sectors. This allowed them to determine the impact of consumption from particular sectors, such as agriculture or construction, caused rapid declines in specific animal populations. “What we’re actually doing is tracing the flow of money through the global economy until we get to the point of what we call ‘final demand’ or ‘consumption,’ which is where you and I spend our money,” Irwin says.

She and her collaborators found that in western Africa, 44 percent of the extinction risk of the western gorilla (predominantly represented by the western lowland gorilla) is exported. This means a substantial amount of the threat to the species ultimately comes from international consumers. The largest single slice of that exported footprint (14 percent) stems from China’s demand for raw materials such as wood and iron. African trees logged in gorilla habitat, for example, could end up as flooring in Asia. The individual percentages for such industries may sound small, but “if we don’t have this understanding of the connection between consumption and production that ultimately happens through these many, many, many interconnected supply chains and flows of money,” Irwin says, “then we’re not in a position to really be able to slow it down at the point of production.”

Other species highlighted in the study include the Malagasy giant jumping rat, a mammal that can jump 40 inches high and is found only in Madagascar. Demand for food and drinks in Europe contributes to 11 percent of this animal’s extinction-risk footprint through habitat loss caused by expanding agriculture. Tobacco, coffee and tea consumption in the U.S. accounts for 3 percent of the extinction-risk footprint for Honduras’s Nombre de Dios streamside frog, an amphibian that suffers from logging and deforestation related to agriculture.

“This study is significant as it provides the first application of the STAR Metric to understand the biodiversity impacts associated with consumption patterns and international trade,” says Alexandra Marques, a researcher at the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, who investigates the causes of biodiversity loss and was not involved in the study.

The study authors say their findings could help consumers, companies and governments make decisions that take species health into consideration. Though this has been done in the past for certain ecosystems such as forests, the new study could help expand the number and type of products that take endangered species into account. Someone buying a dining room table, for example, could look for labels certifying that the wood did not destroy habitat for a specific species. A coffee and tea company could ensure its supply chain does not include products grown in areas that amphibians depend on or that are being deforested for agriculture. Governments could calculate specific industries’ effects on IUCN Red List species in their economic accounting and could negotiate international trade agreements to ensure that biodiversity hotspots are protected.

Even though some countries protect endangered species domestically, people might not realize the outsize impact their purchases have on species in other countries. For example, the U.S.—which accounts for the largest global consumption footprint—has effectively protected endangered species domestically and should extend that effort to other countries, says study co-author and IUCN chief economist Juha Siikamӓki. “We do need to ask whether some of that relative success came at the expense of our creating impacts elsewhere,” he says. And is it sufficient that we only focus on what’s happening in our country if our consumption, in the end, is driving impact elsewhere? We should think about our responsibility in a broader way.”

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Earthjustice

Groups sue to protect threatened grizzly bears, bull trout in Flathead National Forest

Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion failed to consider full impacts of road development and use

MISSOULA, MT—(May 31, 2022)–Friends of the Wild Swan and Swan View Coalition filed suit in U.S. District Court in Montana today targeting a 2018 U.S. Forest Service plan that allows for significant new roadbuilding in the Flathead National Forest. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) biological opinion greenlighting the plan failed to consider the full impact of road development and road use on federally protected grizzly bears and bull trout. The groups are represented by Earthjustice.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service again brushed under the rug serious threats to Endangered Species Act-protected grizzly bears and bull trout, paving the way for a new wave of road construction and logging projects in the Flathead National Forest,” said Benjamin Scrimshaw, associate attorney for Earthjustice’s Northern Rockies office. “Roads displace grizzly bears and harm bull trout by delivering harmful sediment to their streams.”

Grizzly bears have learned to avoid roads — even closed roads — and are often displaced from habitat that features them. Closed roads in the Northern Rockies also receive significant unauthorized use, including trespass by motorized vehicles. Roads and road use also increase sediment in bull trout streams, reducing survival of eggs and embryos, clogging gills, and raising water temperatures in critical habitat for these cold-water fish.

In 1995, recognizing these impacts to grizzly bears, the Forest Service implemented a forest plan amendment that set road density limits throughout the Flathead National Forest’s grizzly bear habitat. To meet those limits, the Forest Service was obligated to offset new road construction in grizzly bear habitat by reclaiming existing roads according to stringent requirements that included the removal of culverts to protect fish. The 2018 revised Flathead Forest Plan abandoned that road density commitment through sleight of hand, allowing the Forest Service to build new roads in grizzly bear habitat without counting them in total road density, if a minimal barrier was put across the entrance of the road, such as fallen trees or boulders. This new framework allows for unlimited roadbuilding, and risks significant unauthorized motorized use of closed roads in formerly secure grizzly bear habitat.

“This isn’t rocket science,” said Keith Hammer, chair of Swan View Coalition. “The impacts of roads don’t go away simply because the agencies don’t count those roads in total road density. Fish and Wildlife Service squandered an opportunity to set the record straight by not requiring what gets put on paper to match what is on the ground. The lie continues and we’re forced back into court to disprove it once again.”

In 2019, groups first challenged the 2018 revised Flathead National Forest Plan, the accompanying Environmental Impact Statement, and the FWS biological opinion in the U.S. District Court in Montana. The Court ruled that the agencies’ analysis of impacts to grizzly bears and bull trout violated the Endangered Species Act, particularly in its arbitrary abandonment of the prior forest plan amendment the agencies credited with conserving the species. In response to the 2019 challenge, FWS made a series of minor but inadequate revisions to its biological opinion, which are the basis for today’s suit.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service attempted to paper over the deficiencies cited by the court, but the on the ground impacts to bull trout and grizzly bears from roads are real,” said Arlene Montgomery, program director for Friends of the Wild Swan. “They eliminated the very standards that protected bull trout and grizzly bears and replaced them with a scheme that allows more roads to be built. More roads equals less security for griz and degraded habitat for bull trout.”

Relying on the analysis in the biological opinion, the Forest Service has advanced numerous logging projects that threaten significant new road construction in grizzly bear habitat and bull trout watersheds. While only 3.2 road miles were constructed in grizzly habitat between 1996 and 2010, proposed new projects under the revised Forest Plan include the Mid-Swan (31.9 road miles), Bug Creek (13.3 road miles), Frozen Moose (13 road miles), Lake Five (4.9 road miles), and Spotted Bear Mountain (3.4 road miles) — for a total of 66.5 miles of road construction.

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YubaNet.com (Nevada City, CA)

Southern California Fish Move Closer to Endangered Species Act Protection

Legal Victory Secures Decision Dates for Two Speckled Dace

by Center for Biological Diversity, May 31, 2022

LOS ANGELES, May 31, 2022 — In response to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed today to dates by which it will make decisions on whether Santa Ana speckled dace and Long Valley speckled dace warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“I’m relieved to see these imperiled fish getting a chance at the federal protections they need to avoid vanishing forever from California’s rivers,” said Ileene Anderson, deserts director at the Center. “Endangered Species Act safeguards would be a crucial lifeline as Santa Ana and Long Valley speckled dace try to survive climate chaos and other threats. The future will be a tough place for these little fish, and they really need our help.”

The Center petitioned in 2020 for Santa Ana and Long Valley speckled dace to be protected under the Act. The Service has until July 31, 2024, to decide whether to list the daces as threatened or endangered.

Santa Ana speckled dace inhabit the Santa Ana, San Jacinto, San Gabriel and Los Angeles river systems of Southern California. They prefer perennial streams fed by cool springs with overhanging vegetation and shallow gravel riffles for spawning. These remaining daces survive in small, fragmented populations in only about a quarter of their historical range. They are restricted mainly to headwater tributaries within national forests.

There are seven dams and numerous water diversion facilities on the Southern California rivers where the daces live. These facilities deplete stream flows and isolate fish populations. Reservoirs and dams favor introduced species that prey on and compete with daces. Roads, urban development and river channelization for flood control also degrade habitat the fish needs to survive.

Long Valley speckled dace used to live in Hot Creek and in warm springs throughout the isolated Long Valley volcanic caldera, east of Mammoth Lakes. Geothermal energy development and surface water diversions have altered the area’s hydrology and reduced or dried up hot springs throughout the valley. This has eliminated dace from creeks, lakes and isolated springs and ponds.

Only a few hundred Long Valley speckled dace are left in the world. The small population lives in an artificial pond at a managed refuge in Inyo County, outside the species’ historical range.

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Voice of America

Some African Countries Want Ban on Elephant Ivory Reconsidered

May 30, 2022, Columbus Mavhunga

HWANGE, ZIMBABWE —Some African countries with elephant populations say they want to lift an international ban on ivory trading and culling elephant herds. Representatives meeting in Zimbabwe ahead of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species later this year say elephant overpopulation is harming communities and vegetation.

Fourteen African countries say they want communities with elephant populations to benefit from them. As a result, they issued a communique Thursday after a four-day conference asking for a ban to be lifted on ivory trading and elephant culling.

The group plans to take that message to Panama in November for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species or CITES, an agreement among governments to ensure that wild animal and plant species are protected.

Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu is Zimbabwe‘s wildlife minister.

“Mainly to say as African states we hold the significant population of our elephants. It is therefore important that the ideas, the proposals that we are proffering at CITES need be taken seriously, key among them issues of our wildlife products. We are currently spending a lot of money taking custody of our ivory, which ivory we are restricted from trading. We want to believe that this is one of the key outcomes that we are anticipating to come from CITES that we can be allowed to plow back into conservation wildlife products,” said Ndlovu.

Zimbabwe says its national parks are home to nearly 100,000 elephants, double the number parks can comfortably accommodate.

Government officials say as a result, the animals are moving out of the parks and destroying local crops.

Sithembiso Mampofu Sibanda is a 59-year-old Zimbabwean widow living just outside Hwange National Park.

She said the elephants are bothering locals and invading their fields and homes, and that locals can no longer farm their fields. Farmers are asking authorities, she said, to build a fence to keep elephants out.

Some African countries, such as South Africa, which is home to 45,000 elephants, oppose lifting the ban. Officials there say South Africa uses birth control to manage the elephant population and fences on national park boundaries.

Sam Ferreira is a Large Mammals Ecologist at South Africa National Parks.

“One of the difficulties is people trying to think that the African manager of wildlife has got only one solution, in fact they don’t, they go through some very serious thinking about what can l do before they get to the really hard difficult ones, now l have to permanently remove an animal,” said Ferreira.

The European Union opposes lifting the ban on elephant ivory trading and questions the data Zimbabwe used to estimate of its elephant population.

Timo Olkkonen, the European Union Ambassador to Zimbabwe, said, “l think you know my understanding is that there is information required about carrying capacities and so forth. So, l think there is probably work to be done.”

Zimbabwe accuses the European Union and other Western countries of influencing CITES to keep the ban on trading ivory, which was implemented to protect dwindling numbers of elephant species from poachers on the continent.

The ban has encouraged the growth of elephant populations but is also causing problems for people like Sibanda.

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CHEK-TV News (Victoria, BC)

Researchers believe the new female orca brings hope to the endangered species, but there is still concern

Posted: May 29, 2022

A new female orca calf off the southern coast of Vancouver Island is exciting, but also a stark reminder of how endangered the species is, according to the Marine Education and Research Society.

In a social media post, the Washington state-based Center for Whale Research (CWR) said the calf, likely born in late February, is a female member of J-pod, one of only three remaining pods of almost exclusively salmon-eating orcas off the northwest coast.

The calf is the firstborn to J-pod since September 2020 and was named J59 shortly after birth.

Jackie Hildering, with the Marine Education and Research Society, said while this calf is great news and brings hope for the endangered whales, the reality of survival needs to be considered.

“There’s an incredibly high mortality rate in the first two years of orcas’ lives,” Hildering said. “There was a big baby boom several years ago, few of them survived.”

Hildering said there are currently just over 70 resident orcas within the three pods off the B.C. coast. Adding there hasn’t been much growth in the population due to a lack of food, contaminants in the water and ocean noise.

The CWR said an aging female population has also limited reproductive possibilities.

According to Hildering, humans need to change some of their habits in order to help J59 mature and succeed.

“Anything we can do to reduce our fossil fuel use, to consider our consumerism, where things come from, how much fossil fuels it generated and of course how we boat generally,” Hildering said.

She added that will not only give J59 a better chance to grow and hopefully reproduce, but also help the earth in general.

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Flathead Beacon (Kalispell, MT)

Federal Judge Halts Timber Project in Endangered Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Habitat

The Ripley Project area consists of 29,180 acres in the Kootenai National Forest’s Libby Ranger District

By TRISTAN SCOTT, May 29, 2022

A federal judge on May 25 temporarily halted a commercial timber project on the Kootenai National Forest, granting an injunction sought by conservation groups who argue the proposed industrial operation on an isolated swatch of grizzly bear habitat in the remote Cabinet-Yaak mountains violates federal environmental laws.

The suit, filed Sept. 21 in U.S. District Court in Missoula by Alliance for the Wild Rockies, seeks to prevent the Ripley Project from proceeding on the grounds that it violates the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. The operation consists of 29,180 acres on the Libby Ranger District of the Kootenai National Forest, including 10,854 acres of commercial logging and 238 acres of clearcutting. It also includes the construction of 13 miles of permanent roads and six miles of temporary roads, as well as maintenance or reconstruction on 93 miles of existing roads.

The Ripley Project is located two miles from the Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Recovery Zone, and less than one mile from the Cabinet Face Bears Outside Recovery Zone area. The location of at least three different radio-collared male grizzly bears have been recorded within the project area in the past half-decade, the lawsuit notes.

Mike Garrity, executive director of Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said the Kootenai National Forest’s approval of the Ripley Project violates the Endangered Species Act and its stringent requirements by failing to conduct a lawful analysis on its cumulative effects on grizzly bears.

“Roads pose the biggest threat to grizzly bears, followed closely by logging and habitat removal,” Garrity said. “And the incredibly high number of roads for this massive logging project would be disastrous for the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population, which is already in a particularly perilous condition.”

The Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear ecosystem holds about 55 grizzly bears in the remote mountains along the Canadian border with Montana. They’re dwarfed by the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which has an estimated 1,000 grizzlies in the mountains between Glacier National Park and Missoula. Today, thanks largely to an augmentation program that federal wildlife biologists helped establish, grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem have a projected growth rate of 2.1 percent annually.

Grizzly bears are protected as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act and cannot be hunted in the Lower 48 states. About 750 grizzlies are in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and surrounding Yellowstone National Park. That population was delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 2017, but a federal judge in Missoula reversed the delisting last September. Federal officials have moved forward with an appeal of the judge’s decision.

“Courts can’t issue injunctions unless the plaintiffs are likely to prevail,” Garrity continued. “Here, the Court determined the project is most likely illegal because the Forest Service failed to analyze the cumulative impacts on grizzly bears from logging and road-building on National Forests, state lands, and private lands all at the same time.”

Garrity further noted that “the most recent actual count of grizzlies shows this population of only 45 bears is dwindling, not growing.

In the order, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen said the U.S. Forest Service is enjoined from implementing the Ripley Project until the case is resolved.

For his part, Garrity urged the federal government to abandon the project.

“This decision to halt the massive logging and road-building project is a great victory for the Cabinet-Yaak grizzlies,” Garrity concluded. “But this case is not over. We urge the Biden administration to cancel the Ripley project instead of continuing to try to defend this illegal and harmful project in court.”

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Daily Press (Victorville, CA)

Advocates urge California to put western Joshua Tree on endangered list

By Martin Estacio, Victorville Daily Press, May 27, 2022

A group of more than 100 people gathered for a rally at the Mojave Desert Land Trust headquarters to garner support for placing the western Joshua tree on the state’s list of endangered and threatened species.

Speakers at Thursday’s event in Joshua Tree discussed the threats to the iconic plant and the importance of the tree to other desert species, which include humans.

“It’s helping to create oxygen, it’s helping to nourish pollinators, it’s helping to sequester carbon to help mitigate our climate change,” said MDLT’s joint executive director Kelly Herbinson. “Just by being it’s protecting us as a species.”

The California Fish and Game Commission is set make the final decision on June 15 and 16 whether to list the western Joshua tree as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act.

The listing would give the tree — which is actually a succulent and part of the Yucca genus — protections it’s had since being granted candidate status in September 2020.

Those protections include a ban on importing, exporting, taking or killing, purchasing and selling the plant except when authorized.

The western Joshua tree was given candidate status while the California Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted a review to determine whether it should be considered threatened.

Last month, the department issued a report to the commission which recommended not listing the tree under the endangered species act.

Although the department acknowledged many factors threaten the western Joshua tree, particularly warmer temperatures reducing its habitat, state officials said the tree “is currently abundant and widespread, which lessens the overall relative impact of the threats to the species, and substantially lowers the threat of extinction within the foreseeable future.

“Furthermore, the Department does not have the data to determine the extent to which climate changes that are expected to occur in the foreseeable future are likely to affect western Joshua tree range within California within this timeframe,” according to the report.

Desert cities and trade groups, such as the High Desert Association of Realtors, have opposed the listing and argue that existing regulations do enough to protect the species.

About 40% of the western Joshua tree’s range is on private land. If the plant were granted protected status, development would become more difficult.

Brendan Cummings, an attorney and conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity, authored the 2019 petition to request that the tree be considered threatened.

He described the report in a statement in April as “scientifically and legally flawed” and expressed similar beliefs at Thursday’s rally. Cummings and Cameron Barrows, a retired conservation biologist, said four out of five scientists and independent experts who peer reviewed the report — including Barrows —disagreed with the department’s recommendation.

Western Joshua trees face a tough road in reaching reproductive maturity which may take 30 to 50 years. They only flower in certain years and are only pollinated by a certain species of moth.

Seeds must be dispersed by rodents and buried without being eaten first. The seeds then only germinate under optimal conditions.

Cummings cited one study that found fewer than 1% of seeds produce seedlings.

“Even without climate change, Joshua trees have a really hard time of reproducing,” he said.

With rising temperatures of 3 degrees Celsius, the suitable habitat for Joshua tree would be reduced by 90%, according to a study partly conducted by Barrows who also spoke at the rally.

Another study in 2019 found that if major changes were made to reduce greenhouse gases, the efforts would only save 19% of western Joshua tree habitat at Joshua Tree National Park by the end of the century.

With no reduction in emissions, the park would be pretty much left without its namesake plant with 0.02% of suitable habitat.

Wildfire is also a threat as climate change has led to invasive grasses sprouting in the desert. More fuel means more destructive blazes as was seen in August 2020 when the Dome Fire in Mojave National Preserve burned more than 44,000 acres in one of the densest and largest Joshua tree forests in the world.

Cummings quoted a statement from the Fish and Wildlife report that said the department “expects that any changes in the range of western Joshua tree that are ultimately caused by climate change will likely occur very slowly, perhaps over thousands of years” based on fossil records following climate changes.

A  United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has found that Earth is warming more rapidly than previously thought and that global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next 20 years.

“We don’t have a thousand years to protect Joshua trees,” Cummings said. “The time to act is now.”

According to biologist Barrows, western Joshua trees are a keystone species which have a large effect on their habitat and are considered essential to an ecosystem.

At least two insect species would go extinct without their presence, and four species of reptiles and eight or nine types of birds would be affected if the tree were gone.

“What we’re talking about is the world becoming much, much less diverse, less species richness,” he said.

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Earthjustice

Court Restores Wolverine Protections While Agency Reconsiders Endangered Species Decision

As a candidate species, the wolverine will be afforded certain protections under the Endangered Species Act

MISSOULA, MT—(May 27, 2022)—The wolverine has regained candidate species status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) following a Montana District Court decision late Thursday. The Court agreed with conservation groups that the wolverine is entitled to additional ESA protections while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reconsiders its 2020 decision to deny a petition to list the wolverine as threatened or endangered under the ESA over the next 18 months.

“The wolverine deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act, and this is a step toward ensuring the species does not suffer additional harm before that happens,” said Amanda Galvan, associate attorney with Earthjustice’s Northern Rockies office. “FWS previously ignored key studies that illustrate the threats the wolverine continues to face due to global warming. By reviewing a more complete picture of the species’ circumstances, we are hopeful that the agency will identify the need for increased protections.”

As a candidate species, the wolverine will be afforded certain protections under the Endangered Species Act. Federal agencies must consult with FWS on any action that might jeopardize a candidate species. Restoration of candidate species status also ensures that impacts to wolverines, and their habitat, are considered in current and upcoming planning decisions that could impact critical habitat for the species.

“The wolverine is a test case. How do we protect snow dependent species in the era of climate change?” asked Joseph Vaile from the conservation group KS Wild in southern Oregon. “One thing is certain, without federal protections, this majestic species will be another climate change casualty.”

“This decision ​is a victory for wolverines,​ paving the way for desperately need​ed protections,” said Jonathan Proctor, Rockies and Plains program director with Defenders of Wildlife. “With Endangered Species Act​ protections, the wolverine might finally have a fighting chance at survival.”

“Wolverines desperately needed this good news, but it’s time to follow the science and finally grant them the full life-saving protections of the Endangered Species Act,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With wolverines facing dire threats like climate change and habitat loss, the Fish and Wildlife Service can’t waste any more time.”

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has been dragging its feet for far too long,” said Brad Smith, North Idaho director for the Idaho Conservation League. “It’s time to protect wolverines and develop a recovery plan that prevents these amazing animals from going extinct.”

“Wolverines are subject to considerable threats from a warming climate, shrinking snowpack, and increasingly fragmented habitat,” said Dave Werntz, science and conservation director at Conservation Northwest. “Endangered Species Act protections help focus resources and actions to ensure wolverines have a future in the west’s wild landscapes.”

“Today’s decision gives us hope that wolverines could once again roam Colorado’s high country,” said Megan Mueller, conservation biologist at Rocky Mountain Wild. “Wolverines need the protection of the Endangered Species Act to return to Colorado, where high elevation, snowy habitat could help these elusive and fascinating animals survive in the face of climate change.”

“When it comes to saving at-risk species, our federal agencies must act diligently,” said Paul Busch, membership and development director with Friends of the Clearwater. “This ruling is a great win for the wolverine, whose alpine habitat faces the twin threats of global warming and wanton resource extraction. The estimated 250 wolverines in the lower 48 need full listing, and this is a course correction toward their much needed protection.”

Conservation groups filed suit in December 2020 challenging the FWS decision to withhold ESA protections from wolverines in the lower 48 states, where no more than 300 wolverines remain. The snow-dependent wolverine, which is the largest terrestrial member of the weasel family, is threatened with massive habitat losses due to global warming. In response to the lawsuit, FWS has agreed to reexamine its 2020 decision, but did not commit to setting aside that decision to allow its new analysis to be done on a clean slate. The Court’s decision today requires the agency to return the wolverine to the status it held before the agency made its flawed decision.

Earthjustice represents a broad coalition of conservation groups in the lawsuit—the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Clearwater, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Sierra Club, and Rocky Mountain Wild.

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Newsweek

Hundreds of California Pelicans Are Mysteriously Sick and Dying

Robyn White, May 27, 2022

Hundreds of pelicans are becoming mysteriously sick and dying along the California coastline, baffling experts in the state.

Since May 12, over 200 brown pelicans have been found either sick or already dead. There is currently no solid explanation, although it appears many of them are starving to death.

International Bird Rescue, which is working with the Los Angeles Wildlife Center and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to rescue the birds, has dubbed the incident the “brown pelican crisis.”

Wildlife Centers have been “inundated” with the birds for weeks, International Bird Rescue said in a statement. Rescue groups have not rescued as many pelicans since 2012.

Autopsies conducted on the dead seabirds show “no indication” of disease or parasites, the CDFW said in a statement.

However, according to International Bird Rescue, many of the seabirds appear to have injuries that may have been caused by “risky efforts” to find food.

Many sick brown pelicans have been found in usual places, around 20 miles from the coast.

Experts still do not know what is causing the deaths, however, International Bird Rescue believes “the birds are failing to find enough to eat.”

“We’re seeing a mix of fledglings, second-year birds, and mature adults, which makes me think it could be a food supply issue rather than a simple influx of starving fledglings,” Dr. Rebecca Duerr, International Bird Rescue’s Director of Research and Veterinary Science, said in a statement.

The rescue center said all the surviving pelicans need “specialized rehabilitation skills” to be released back into the wild and all the birds need “extensive medical care” to heal.

Although the crisis began along the Southern California coastline, in recent weeks, there have been reports of sick pelicans in Northern California, meaning it could be a state-wide problem.

CDFW said in a statement that many carcasses of dead birds have been sent to laboratories where avian biologists are investigating the cause.

The department is asking the public to report any sightseeing of the sick and deceased birds—a sick pelican can be identified if they appear listless and weak. “For safety reasons” the department is also warning the public not to touch a sick pelican.

There is estimated to be 70,680 breeding pairs of brown pelican in California.

In 1970, they were added to the list of endangered species, following an incident where hundreds died due to exposure of DDT, an insecticide used in agricultural activities. They were taken off the list of the endangered species list in 2009. However, the current brown pelican crisis is cause for concern.

Social media users have speculated the cause in the comments section of a post by the CDFW. One Facebook user wondered whether the fish had eaten fish that was in red tide—a phenomenon caused by toxic algae.

Another speculated whether global warming was causing a diminishing food supply. .

Newsweek has contacted International Bird Rescue and CDFW for comment.

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EcoWatch

Half of UK Butterfly Species Now Threatened or Near Threatened With Extinction

By Olivia Rosane, May 26, 2022

The number of UK butterflies threatened by extinction has risen by more than a quarter.

The charity Butterfly Conservation announced its new Red List of UK butterfly species Wednesday, and found that 41 species were now threatened and nine percent were Near Threatened.

“Shockingly, half of Britain’s remaining butterfly species are listed as threatened or Near Threatened on the new Red List,” Head of Science for Butterfly Conservation Dr. Richard Fox said in a press release. “Even prior to this new assessment, British butterflies were among the most threatened in Europe, and now the number of threatened species in Britain has increased by five, an increase of more than one-quarter.”

The new Red List was published in the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity. The study authors used the same criteria to assess risk as the International Union for Conservation of Nature and based their findings on population data from citizen scientists and from the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. The assessment looked at 62 species of butterfly and found that:

*Four were Regionally Extinct.

*24, or 41 percent, were threatened, with eight Endangered and 16 Vulnerable.

*Five, or nine percent, were Near Threatened.

*29, or 50 percent, were considered Least Concern.

The situation for UK butterflies has also worsened since the last Red List was assembled in 2011, The Independent reported, with the number of threatened species increasing by 26 percent.

The species lost to the UK are the Black-veined White, the Large Tortoiseshell, the Large Copper and the Mazarine Blue, according to the press release.

Land use change remains the leading cause of butterfly decline, but the assessment also reveals the impact of the climate crisis: All four British butterflies that prefer cooler climates in the north of the country are now threatened or Near Threatened. These are the Large Heath, the Scotch Argus, the Northern Brown Argus) and the Mountain Ringlet.

However, there was a silver lining to the data. Two at-risk species that were targeted by conservation efforts have reduced their risk status. The Large Blue was considered extinct in 1979, but reintroduction efforts mean it has now moved from Critically Endangered to Near Threatened. The High Brown Fritillary went from Critically Endangered to just plain Endangered and the Duke of Burgundy and Pearl-bordered Fritillary both moved from Endangered to Vulnerable.

“Given that the overall picture is one of increasing risk, the fact that highly threatened species that have been the focus of conservation effort have become less threatened is a real positive,” Fox said, as The Guardian reported. “With significant effort and resources we can at the very least hold these species and in some cases turn them around.”

The study comes as scientists worldwide have been sounding the alarm about insect declines. Another recent study focused on the UK specifically found that the number of flying bugs landing on car license plates had fallen by nearly 60 percent in 17 years.

“We need to be making space for nature in our farming systems, our urban systems, our forestry systems, the places that people inhabit and make a living, we need to have space for nature nature, butterflies, birds and mammals,” Fox said, as The Independent reported.

In addition to rewilding efforts, Fox also said that governments should act to combat the climate crisis and nitrogen pollution, which harms butterflies by impacting the plants they feed on.

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PHYS-ORG

More reptile species may be at risk of extinction than previously thought

by PLOS Biology, May 26, 2022

The iconic Red List of Threatened Species, published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), identifies species at risk of extinction. A study in PLOS Biology publishing May 26 by Gabriel Henrique de Oliveira Caetano at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, and colleagues presents a novel machine learning tool for assessing extinction risk, and then uses this tool to show that reptile species that are unlisted due to lack of assessment or data are more likely to be threatened than assessed species.

The IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species is the most comprehensive assessment of the extinction risk of species and informs conservation policy and practices globally. However, the process for categorizing species is laborious and subject to bias, depending heavily on manual curation by human experts; many animal species have therefore not been evaluated, or lack sufficient data, creating gaps in protective measures.

To assess 4,369 reptile species that were previously unable to be prioritized for conservation and develop accurate methods for assessing the extinction risk of obscure species, these researchers created a machine learning computer model. The model assigned IUCN extinction risk categories to the 40% of the world’s reptiles that lacked published assessments or are classified as “DD” (“Data Deficient”) at the time of the study. The researchers validated the model’s accuracy, comparing it to the Red List risk categorizations.

The researchers found that the number of threatened species is much higher than reflected in the IUCN Red List and that both unassessed (“Not Evaluated” or “NE”) and Data Deficient reptiles were more likely to be threatened than assessed species. Future studies are needed to better understand the specific factors underlying extinction risk in threatened reptile taxa, to obtain better data on obscure reptile taxa, and to create conservation plans that include newly identified, threatened species.

According to the authors, “Altogether, our models predict that the state of reptile conservation is far worse than currently estimated, and that immediate action is necessary to avoid the disappearance of reptile biodiversity. Regions and taxa we identified as likely to be more threatened should be given increased attention in new assessments and conservation planning. Lastly, the method we present here can be easily implemented to help bridge the assessment gap on other less known taxa.”

Coauthor Shai Meiri adds, “Importantly, the additional reptile species identified as threatened by our models are not distributed randomly across the globe or the reptilian evolutionary tree. Our added information highlights that there are more reptile species in peril—especially in Australia, Madagascar, and the Amazon basin—all of which have a high diversity of reptiles and should be targeted for extra conservation effort. Moreover, species-rich groups, such as geckos and elapids (cobras, mambas, coral snakes, and others), are probably more threatened than the Global Reptile Assessment currently highlights; these groups should also be the focus of more conservation attention.”

Co-author Uri Roll adds, “Our work could be very important in helping the global efforts to prioritize the conservation of species at risk—for example using the IUCN red-list mechanism. Our world is facing a biodiversity crisis, and severe man-made changes to ecosystems and species, yet funds allocated for conservation are very limited. Consequently, it is key that we use these limited funds where they could provide the most benefits. Advanced tools—such as those we have employed here—together with accumulating data, could greatly cut the time and cost needed to assess extinction risk, and thus pave the way for more informed conservation decision making.”

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EcoWatch

Monarch Butterfly Count Up 35% in WWF-Mexico Survey

Paige Bennett,  May 25, 2022

After many years of plummeting populations of migrating monarch butterflies, a WWF-Mexico survey brings good news: during the 2021-2022 overwintering period, the monarch butterfly presence observed in the forests of Mexico was 35% higher than the previous year. While the butterflies are still vulnerable and require more conservation efforts, the survey gives some hope for recovery.

The survey, Forest Area Occupied by the Colonies of Monarch Butterflies in Mexico During the 2021-2022 Overwintering Season, measured the amount of forest the butterflies cover, since it is too difficult to count each butterfly. In total, WWF-Mexico noted that 10 colonies of monarch butterflies spanned 2.835 hectares (7.005 acres) of forest in late December 2021, up 35% from the 2.10 (5.189) hectares covered in 2020. Six colonies covered 2.174 (5.372 acres) hectares inside the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site. An additional 0.661 hectares (1.633 acres) of forest outside the reserve were also covered in butterflies.

“The increase in monarch butterflies is good news and indicates that we should continue working to maintain and reinforce conservation measures by Mexico, the United States, and Canada,” Jorge Rickards, general manager of WWF-Mexico, said in a press release. “Monarchs are important pollinators, and their migratory journey helps promote greater diversity of flowering plants, which benefits other species in natural ecosystems and contributes to the production of food for human consumption.”

The forest coverage for monarch butterflies varies from year to year, but it has been on a general decline for decades. In the 1996-1997 overwintering period, experts measured 18.19 hectares (44.726 acres) of forest covered in butterflies. In recent years, the butterflies covered just over 6 hectares in 2006-2007 and 2018-2019.

Several factors contribute to the overall population decline. Monarch butterflies rely on milkweed for reproduction, but agricultural practices, including reliance on Round-Up-ready crops, has depleted the number of milkweed plants across the migration route. Other insecticides and herbicides, as well as the bacterial pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis, further threaten the butterflies, as do parasites and pathogens.

Illegal logging has decreased the amount of forests in the reserve and beyond where butterflies migrate to. Climate change has also impacted the migration of monarch butterflies, as the increasing temperatures can shift environmental cues for migration and make their overwintering habitat too warm.

The latest population survey gives hope for recovery for monarch butterflies, but more work is needed to combat the threats that have contributed to their steady decline.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched to Seek Habitat Protection for 49 Endangered Hawaiian Species

HONOLULU—(May 25, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect critical habitat for 49 endangered Hawaiian Islands species. These species include the ‘Akē‘akē, also known as the band-rumped storm-petrel, and the Nalo Meli Maoli, also called the Hawaiian yellow-faced bee.

These 49 animal and plant species are found nowhere else in the world outside of Hawai’i. They’re threatened by urbanization, damage from nonnative and invasive species, wildfires and water extraction. These threats are made worse by the increasing effects of climate change.

“It seems obvious, but without places for these species to call home they will go extinct,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawai’i director at the Center. “Hawai’i is already known as the extinction capital of the world. The Fish and Wildlife Service must do more to protect habitat for these 49 irreplaceable species before it’s too late.”

The Service protected all 49 species as endangered on September 30, 2016, but failed to designate critical habitat as required.

“Given the passage of nearly six years, it’s doubtful the Service was ever going to protect habitat for these 49 species,” said Phillips. “This is an agency that’s not doing its job to protect species from extinction. It’s badly in need of reform and more resources.”

In 2021 nine other Hawaiian species were declared extinct, highlighting the need for swift action.

Background

‘Akē‘akē: This distinct population of ‘akē‘akē, or band-rumped storm petrel, in Hawaiʻi returns to land from its life at sea to mate and breed. Hawaiian mountains provide the perfect habitat for these small, oceanic birds to make burrows as nest sites for their young. Historically they were common across all the Hawaiian Islands, but their population has declined significantly because of habitat loss.

Cyanea kauaulaensis: This shrub doesn’t have a common name and produces bright orange fruit. By the time it was first found in 1989 and identified as a new species in 2012, its habitat was restricted to Kauaula Valley on Maui.

Myrsine fosbergii: These small trees are found in the wet native forests of Oʻahu and Kauaʻi and are easily spotted because of their narrow green leaves that end in a dark purple base. Although formerly common, the species is now down to fewer than 85 remaining individuals because of habitat destruction by feral pigs and goats.

Nalo Meli Maoli: Included within the 49 species are seven different species of yellow-faced bees, also known as nalo meli maoli. These bees represent one of the spectacularly rapid speciations that make Hawaiʻi a biodiversity hotspot.

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The Guardian

‘No excuses’: limited conservation efforts could save at least 47 Australian animals from extinction

Scientists hope Albanese government addresses extinction crisis as new research shows 63 vertebrates face annihilation by 2041

Lisa Cox, 24 May 2022

More than 40 Australian animals at the highest risk of extinction in the next two decades could be saved – and it would take only a small amount of extra conservation effort to achieve this, according to new research.

A team of Australian scientists has identified the 63 vertebrates they believe are most likely to go extinct by 2041, and found at least 47 can be brought back from the brink.

They say while the data is alarming it presents an opportunity for the new Albanese government to invest in conservation improvements.

The 47 animals include 21 fish, 12 birds, six mammals, four frogs and four reptiles, with nine of those species estimated to have a greater than 50% risk of extinction in the next 20 years.

Among the most desperate are small freshwater fish from the group known as galaxiids, including the stocky galaxias – found in the Kosciuszko national park – and Victoria’s Yalmy galaxias and West Gippsland galaxias.

These fish live in the headwaters of streams where the main threat to their survival is invasive trout.

Other animals considered at high risk include the western ground parrot, found in Western Australia, the swift parrot, which is under pressure from logging in its habitat range, and Victoria’s Baw Baw frog.

Prof John Woinarski, one of the paper’s co-authors, said the research was an opportunity to take action to prevent extinctions.

“We have no excuses for not saving these species. We know which species they are, where they occur and what threatens them,” he said.

There was greater concern for another 16 animals – five reptiles, four birds, four frogs, two mammals and a fish – on the list of 63, for which there were no recent confirmed records.

The scientists said at least four of those species were almost certainly already extinct, including the Christmas Island shrew, which was last seen in the 1980s, and the Victorian grassland earless dragon.

“That’s a sobering reminder that what we know of the extinction of fauna in Australia is probably a fraction of what have really become extinct,” Woinarski said.

He said the picture was also likely to be worse for invertebrate species, which were often overlooked in conservation planning.

Research leader Stephen Garnett, of Charles Darwin University, said the future for the remaining 47 species was more hopeful and that the actions required to save them were affordable.

More than half of the habitat for those animals falls within conservation reserves and the habitat range for several was small, meaning targeted conservation efforts to address threats such as invasive species were possible.

“These are not hugely expensive projects because they are localised,” Garnett said.

Some animals, such as the King Island brown thornbill and the swift parrot, would require tougher protections to prevent clearing of their habitat.

Other simple steps for government would be to ensure all of the species were officially listed for protection under national environmental laws.

At the time of research, the scientists wrote that 25 of the species, including 18 fish, were not on the national threatened species list.

Sarah Legge, one of the paper’s co-authors and a member of the threatened species scientific committee which advises the federal government on new listings, said work had begun to address this.

She said all of the species identified in the paper were now either listed for protection or were being considered for listing.

The federal election campaign delivered little focus on nature, despite multiple official reviews in the last term of government recommending major changes to arrest to decline of Australian wildlife.

But the swing to more environmentally minded candidates has sparked hope within the conservation movement.

Two days before the election, Labor announced several new environmental commitments, including that it would establish an independent environment protection agency and would commit to conservation targets on land and in marine areas.

Euan Ritchie, a professor in wildlife ecology and conservation at Deakin University, he said the scientists who worked on the paper had demonstrated more wildlife species were likely to go extinct in the near future unless there were “urgent and substantial improvements to conservation policy and actions”.

“It’s well established that Australia’s conservation record and ongoing predicament is utterly abysmal,” he said.

“With the recent change of government, perhaps we’ll also see a sorely needed change of heart and a far stronger commitment towards ending Australia’s extinction crisis.”

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E&E News/Greenwire

Feds propose listing Russian sturgeon, a fish now in a war zone

By Michael Doyle | 05/24/2022

Russian sturgeon and three other species of the large caviar-producing fish found around the tumultuous Black and Caspian sea regions would get some U.S. protections under a Fish and Wildlife Service proposal today.

Following an extended study, the federal agency proposed listing the Russian sturgeon, Persian sturgeon, ship sturgeon and stellate sturgeon under the Endangered Species Act. If finalized, the designations could pose unique challenges for regulators seeking international cooperation with nations embroiled in territorial and, for some, existential, conflict.

The four sturgeon species are native to rivers that flow through more than 40 countries. The Danube flows from Germany and ultimately into the Black Sea, while the Volga runs through western Russia into the Caspian Sea. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — launched in February — has seen high-profile clashes in and around the Black Sea, including the sinking of a Russian warship.

“Commercial fisheries have long threatened the … sturgeon, and the threat stems primarily from lethal harvest to meet consumer demand for caviar, as well as sturgeon meat,” FWS noted.

Recent global caviar demand from all sturgeon species requires production from well over 1.5 million fish annually, according to FWS. Russian sturgeon, sometimes combined with Persian sturgeon, has been the most abundant species in Caspian basin catches.

Listing of the sturgeon as a foreign endangered species would not impose U.S. environmental requirements on other countries. Unlike with domestic species, for instance, there would be no critical habitat designated.

Listing, though, is intended to encourage cooperative efforts with the foreign countries that are home to the species, and it can lead to some foreign financial and technical assistance. It would also “prohibit activities such as import, export … interstate commerce and foreign commerce” in the four species that have long attracted connoisseurs, according to FWS. With the listing still in the proposed stage, the agency today did not expound further on the potential implications for the U.S. caviar market.

FWS recounted that “remarkably,” in 1548, the Vienna, Austria, fish market once sold 55,000 tons of sturgeon from the Danube River in just a few days. In recent decades, the sturgeon catch has fallen significantly.

Pollution, dams and an invasive species called the warty comb jelly have also undermined the sturgeon populations.

The proposed ESA listing was prompted by a 2012 petition covering 15 sturgeon species filed by Friends of Animals and WildEarth Guardians (Greenwire, Aug. 25, 2021).

The fish are all native to the Black, Azov, Aral, Caspian and northern Aegean sea basins and their associated rivers.

Historically, the Russian sturgeon occurred within at least 16 river basins in the Caspian, Azov, Black, and Aegean sea basins. Now, FWS said that the species occurs in no more than 10 river basins. Overall, the species’ abundance is estimated to have declined by more than 80 percent in the last three generations.

In the Volga River at the north of the Caspian Sea, Russian sturgeon biomass decreased by more than 80 percent between 1995 and 2010. Due to heavy harvesting pressure, as of 2011, females were only about 10 percent of mature fish in the Volga and females rarely live long enough to spawn more than once.

The Russian sturgeon is gone, or nearly so, from most of its former range in the Black and Azov sea basins.

Since the inclusion of all sturgeon species in an international listing of vulnerable species in 1998, the proportion of caviar in international trade reported to be of captive-bred origin has reached nearly 100 percent.

“Still, wild-sourced caviar is very likely traded internationally using fraudulent labels or reporting,” FWS noted, adding that “it is very challenging for enforcement officials to confidently differentiate wild from cultured caviar produced from aquacultured sturgeon.”

Caviar aficionados reportedly prefer the taste of wild over aquacultured caviar, according to FWS.

Besides caviar, the species’ eggs are used as an ingredient in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, and Russian sturgeon cartilage is used in medicines while their intestines are used for sauces and in the production of gelatin. Their swim bladder can be used to make glue.

The United States has been the largest importer of sturgeon and sturgeon products since 1998.

In a statement, FWS said, “The listing rule, if finalized, would halt the trade of the four Ponto-Caspian sturgeon species (including caviar products) to and from the United States, with limited exceptions for specific permits for non-commercial purposes.”

The listing would not affect trade of products from hybrid fish of any of these four species with nonlisted species, provided the hybrids of are second-generation and subsequent generations, according to FWS.

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10 Boston TV

Rare Right Whale Sightings Reported Along New England Shoreline

The critically endangered species has been spotted a few hundred yards off shore from the beaches of North Hampton, New Hampshire, to the choppy waters of Nahant Bay

By Alysha Palumbo,• Published May 23, 2022

Several people have reported rare sightings of North Atlantic Right Whales this month along the New England coastline from Provincetown to Portsmouth.

“It is pretty rare to see them that close to shore,” Heather Pettis of the New England Aquarium said.

With its bristle-like baleen plates and distinctive callosities decorating its head to its massive size and characteristic tail flukes, the North Atlantic Right Whale has been entertaining New Englanders this spring with some shoreline shows.

“Sure enough, there was a right whale skim feeding right off of Route 1A,” Pettis said. “This time of year whales sort of leave Cape Cod Bay, where they’ve been feeding over the winter. They disperse and we have these opportunistic sightings pop up.”

The critically endangered species has been spotted skim feeding or just swimming a few hundred yards off shore from the beaches of North Hampton, New Hampshire, to the choppy waters of Nahant Bay.

“Most people will never see them in their lifetime,” said David Morin of the National Marine Fisheries Service. “I don’t recall ever having a North Atlantic Right Whale right off the New Hampshire coastline so close.”

Pettis, a research scientist at the New England Aquarium who catalogues these whale sightings, said the reports are increasingly unusual in part because there are so few of them left in the ocean.

“The most recent estimate is 336, so fewer than 350 North Atlantic Right Whales exist in the world,” Pettis said.

Hunting the protected mammals is illegal. Vessels strikes and entanglements are now their biggest predators.

“It’s serious enough that basically North Atlantic Right Whales don’t die from old age,” Morin said.

Both Morin and Pettis emphasized that without a permit, it is illegal to get within 500 yards of North Atlantic Right Whales.

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FOX 5 TV (San Diego)

How San Diego airport helps preserve endangered bird species

by: Dillon Davis, Posted: May 23, 2022

SAN DIEGO – A decades-long conservation effort to preserve an endangered bird species is underway this spring at the San Diego International Airport.

From April to September, it’s nesting season at the airport for the California least tern, a species of small migratory seabird classified by the National Audobon Society as a member of the Gulls and Terns family. They’ve been roosting and nesting in the southeastern portion of the airport since 1970, one of only a few select nesting sites — and among the most productive — in greater San Diego County.

Their preservation is part of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s Biodiversity Plan, a roadmap laid out by airport leaders to balance its operations with the management of plants and wildlife.

“We’ve been doing pretty much everything we can along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Zoological Society and (San Diego Zoo biologist) Robert Patton to protect these birds,” Cara Nager, the airport authority’s environmental affairs manager, said in an April phone interview.

The nesting season typically begins April 1, but most birds are not seen at the airport until about mid-April, Nager said. Each year, Patton visits the airport’s nesting site to monitor it along with others in the county, including North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado, the Tijuana River mouth and Misson Bay.

At the airport, four nesting ovals are carefully maintained to have the feel of the birds’ natural habitat.

That effort includes clearing out weeds prior to the nesting season and targeted training for airport staff and tenants. Training also was conducted for contractors involved in the new Terminal 1 expansion and some elements of that project are not slated to begin until after the nesting season ends in September.

To create optimal conditions, there’s a focus on keeping lights away from their nesting area at night as well as limiting the height of construction equipment and the speeds on nearby roads.

From the time their eggs are laid, it takes about 21 days for them to hatch — and then the fun part begins.

“When they first hatch, they’re already ready to run but they’re not ready to fly,” said Mayra Garcia, an airport environmental affairs specialist. “It takes a while to teach them to fly and go out to the bay.”

Garcia added, “It’s a process but right now, it’s encouraging there’s already 12 of them in the daytime.”

The least tern population has been hampered due to the effect of humans on the environment, according to the Audobon Society. In the airport’s Climate Resilience Plan, officials also note how the effects of climate change such as extreme heat and flooding potentially could impact the birds.

Their population has seen fluctuations at the airport in recent years, too, most likely attributed to “disturbances from construction activity and predators,” the Biodiversity Plan shows. Last year, 11 nests were tallied, a sizable decrease from the 157 recorded in 2005. There were between 19 and 38 nests recorded annually between 2015 and 2018.

Teens graduate program to become 1st in families to attend college

But officials are committed to the long haul, defining success in upward trends of the number of birds and nests seen on airport property, Nager said.

“The ultimate success would be to get them off the Endangered Species List,” she said, adding there are short-term successes in seeing the birds utilizing the nesting sites as intended.

For those living in the area or visiting the airport, officials recommend a few strategies to assist in their efforts. Among them, they encourage visitors not to touch or disturb the birds and to avoid littering because it attracts other larger birds and potential predators.

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Global News

Over 500 animals and birds lost or possibly extinct, new study shows

By Hina Alam, The Canadian Press, Posted May 22, 2022

A study shows a less colourful and quieter world with the possible loss of more than 500 species that haven’t been seen in over 50 years.

Arne Mooers, Simon Fraser University biodiversity professor and study co-author, said there is a good chance that some of the species may be found because they live in difficult-to-reach or inhospitable habitats, but others could be lost forever.

“We actually found there was over 500 animals that live on land that haven’t been seen in over 50 years,” he said in an interview. “That’s almost twice as many as have been declared extinct since 1500 AD. There’s a huge pool of species out there that we don’t know whether they’re still around or not.”

The researchers reviewed information on 32,802 creatures listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species and identified 562 of them lost.

The study was published this month in the journal Animal Conservation.

Mooers said they used a computer program that went through the group’s database to identify the lost species.

The criteria used to list a species lost was the missing or last-seen date, or any accounts from the first time the animal was collected and named, he said.

“There’s lots of these sort of hints that the species was in fact lost.”

One of the lost Canadian species is the Eskimo curlew, a shorebird that nested in the northernmost part of the tundra and migrated all the way to Argentina, Mooers said.

There were a few Eskimo curlews seen in Texas in 1962 and another was shot in Barbados in 1963, but that was the last confirmed sighting, he said.

“That is our most famous and only, I believe, lost species and it’s probably extinct. It’s one of the sadder ones, I think,” he said, referring to the Canadian bird.

Researchers highlighted in the study that many of the lost species are from tropical countries such as Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil.

Species go extinct because of various reasons including human-caused threats and pressures, habitat loss and overhunting, Mooers said.

Of those 562 species, he said 75 can be classified as possibly extinct. The International Union for Conservation of Nature defines extinct as “when there is no reasonable doubt the last individual of a species has died,” which can be challenging to verify, he said.

“Extinction means that you lose the last individual. As something is approaching extinction, it’s becoming rarer and rarer and rarer until there are very few left of course, right down to one and then zero,” he said.

“If a species is endangered and it lives in a habitat that is difficult to access, or it’s large like the tundra with not a lot of people, or it’s deep in the tropics or tropical islands, people may not be looking for such species often, then it can stay very rare. And maybe extinct, maybe not.”

And that is the point of the study, he said. The paper gives a list of species that people should look for because these animals haven’t been seen in a long time and it’s not known if they are still around, he added.

Mooers said he is hoping some of the species will be found again.

He pointed to the ivory-billed woodpecker, which researchers thought was extinct with the last sightings in 1944, but an April study that has not been peer-reviewed suggests the bird might still be pecking in Louisiana.

His first reaction to seeing the list of over 500 lost species was surprise, he said, and then delight when he started reading about how some of these animals have been rediscovered.

People get upset when they hear of animals going extinct, Mooers said.

“We do know that people really don’t like losing species that they are familiar with in their backyard,” he said. “But the people are sad even for the golden toad that they will have never seen and will ever see. (It) just makes them sad.”

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ESC Press Release

U.S. Celebrating Endangered Species Day on May 20

California 14-Year-Old Wins Endangered Species Day Youth Art Contest

WASHINGTON, DC —(May 19, 2022)—In the runup to Endangered Species Day on May 20, the Endangered Species Coalition today proudly announced the winners of the 2022 Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest, including the grand prize winner, Ian D., a California middle school student.

The contest was an integral part of the 17th annual national Endangered Species Day, which occurs this year on Friday, May 20th. The art contest engages school children in grades K-12 in expressing their appreciation for our nation’s most imperiled wildlife, and promotes national awareness of the importance of saving endangered species. The winning art entries can be viewed on the Endangered Species Coalition’s Flickr Gallery.

“I’m so glad I’ve been chosen as the winner,” said Ian D, the 2022 grand prize winner. “This year there are so many great works and I’m surprised I’ve been chosen! I created this because my art teacher suggested it to me and I chose the rusty patched bee because I believe bees are very important to the environment and nature around us.”

Contest winners were selected by a panel of eight artists, photographers and conservationists, including David Littschwager, a freelance photographer and regular contributor to National Geographic Magazine, as well as Susan Middletown, a photographer who has collaborated with Littschwager and whose own work has been published in four books, and Alice Tangerini, botanical illustrator for the Smithsonian Institution.

“Endangered Species Day celebrates our declared national responsibility to our children and their children to save our vanishing wildlife and plants,” stated Leda Huta, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition, primary sponsor of Endangered Species Day. “Bald eagles, sea turtles, wolves, and gray whales are just a fraction of the 1,600 species that the Endangered Species Act is saving every day.”

On Friday (and throughout May) wildlife refuges, zoos, aquariums, parks, botanic gardens, schools, libraries, museums, and community groups will hold in-person and online events. Some highlights include:

*A nationwide chalk art contest, hosted by the Endangered Species Coalition;

*Colorado Endangered Species Week, a week of free educational events and fun advocacy opportunities to protect the plant and animal species at risk in Colorado, including a bat conservation hike, webinars, and an auction, hosted by Rocky Mountain Wild and other organizations;

*A special online event for Girl Scouts with programming about endangered species from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

*A discussion on Hawaii’s reef wildlife with film directors of The Dark Hobby, local conservation leaders, and the Director of Shark Stewards and the Earth Island Institute;

*Pollinator garden plantings in states across the U.S. to create habitat for native bees, butterflies, and other pollinator species.

These and other events are listed on the Endangered Species Day website.

Endangered Species Day was first created by the U.S. Senate in 2006, when it unanimously designated May 11, 2006 as the first ever “Endangered Species Day,” to encourage “the people of the United States to become educated about, and aware of, threats to species, success stories in species recovery, and the opportunity to promote species conservation worldwide.” Across the country, organizations hold special events to celebrate Endangered Species Day each year on or around the third Friday in May. For more information about the annual art contest, winners and Endangered Species Day, visit http://www.endangeredspeciesday.org.

In 2009 the Coalition began incorporating a national youth art contest into the Endangered Species Day event. Each year, nearly two thousand students of all ages submit illustrations of their favorite endangered species to contest judges. The top winners in each age group are selected for the publication in the annual Endangered Species Art calendar, and the grand prize winner receives a special award.

The 2022 Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest winners are:

Grand Prize: Ian D., [age 14], Tustin, CA

ArtContestWinner

**Above illustration by Ian D., grand prize winner of 2022 Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest.

First Place: Lucas P. [age 5], Chandler, AZ

Grade Category Winners:

Grades K-2: Marcus L. [age 8], Clarksburg, MD

Grades 3-5: Celine M. [age 10], Cary, NC

Grades 6-8: Rachel Z. [age 13], Wayland, MA

Grades 9-12: Lainie R. [age 16], Penngrove, CA

The grand prize winner, Ian D., will receive a $200 award for art materials, museum passes, an art lesson and funding for native plants to restore pollinator habitat via Endangered Species Coalition’s Pollinator Protectors campaign.

For more information about the annual art contest, winners and Endangered Species Day, visit http://www.endangeredspeciesday.org

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Goldstream Gazette (Langford B.C.)

562 endangered species considered ‘lost’, researchers trying to find them

International study with researchers from SFU hopes to focus search efforts for lost species

BLACK PRESS MEDIA STAFF, May. 19, 2022

Over the past several decades, thousands of species have been determined to be extinct or at risk of extinction due to human activity. But in some cases, scientists lack conclusive proof that species are extinct. Those species are considered “lost”, a distinction reserved for animals that haven’t been observed in at least 50 years.

A new international study that includes researchers from SFU suggests there are 562 lost species that are designated as “possibly extinct” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

Of the lost species, 257 are reptiles, 137 are amphibians, 130 are mammals and 38 are birds. Most of the lost species are in countries with high biodiversity like Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil.

“The fact most of these lost species are found in megadiverse tropical countries is worrying, given such countries are expected to experience the highest numbers of extinctions in the coming decades,” said study lead author Tom Martin from the UK’s Paignton Zoo.

The red list only shows species as “extinct” when there is no reasonable doubt that the last species has died, but that distinction is often difficult to verify.

Only 311 terrestrial vertebrate species have gone extinct, meaning there are 80 per cent more lost species than have been declared extinct. Being lost doesn’t necessarily mean that species have been wiped out. Some species, like the Miles’ robber frog of Honduras, were thought to be extinct, but were later rediscovered.

Researchers recommend focusing search efforts on megadiverse regions to determine whether the lost species are extinct. Though more funding for such searches is required.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Dunes Sagebrush Lizard From Extinction

Lizard Threatened by Oil, Gas Development in Permian Basin

SILVER CITY, N.M.—(May 19, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for again stalling in making a decision on whether to grant Endangered Species Act protections to the dunes sagebrush lizard. The agency has delayed protecting the lizard for four decades.

The lizard lives in a very small area of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico overlaying a part of the Permian Basin, which over the last decade has been one of world’s fastest-growing oil and gas extraction areas.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.

“We won’t stand by while the last dunes sagebrush lizards disappear,” said Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate at the Center. “Even as the oil and gas industry ruins our climate, it’s also destroying the lizards’ last homes. Protection under the Endangered Species Act is this unique animal’s last hope.”

The 2.5-inch-long dunes sagebrush lizard has the second-smallest range of any lizard in North America. The lizards inhabit a rare ecosystem where they hunt insects and spiders in wind-blown dunes. They burrow into the sand beneath low-lying shinnery oak shrubs for protection from extreme temperatures.

More than 95% of the original shinnery oak dunes ecosystem has been destroyed by oil and gas extraction and other development, as well as herbicide spraying to support livestock grazing. Much of the lizards’ remaining habitat is fragmented, preventing them from finding mates beyond those already living close by. The lizard is further imperiled by burgeoning sand-mining operations in the area — a secondary impact of the oil and gas industry, which uses the sand for fracking.

“Dunes sagebrush lizards are perfectly adapted to their shinnery oak dune habitats, but they won’t survive the oil and gas industry without protection,” said Robinson. “Climate change isn’t just caused by burning fossil fuels. It’s also driven by the destruction of carbon-storing natural habitats like those needed by the lizard. This destruction in turn is the main cause of the extinction crisis and thus the oil and gas industry’s destruction of the natural world is a double whammy.”

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The Guardian

Australia’s tropical rainforests have been dying faster for decades in ‘clear and stark climate warning’

Jordyn Beazley, May 18, 2022

Australia’s tropical rainforest trees have being dying at double the previous rate since the 1980s, seemingly because of global heating, according to new research that raises concerns tropical forests could start to release more carbon dioxide than they absorb.

The study, published in the journal Nature, found the average life of tropical trees in north Queensland had been reduced by about half over the past 35 years . The finding was consistent across different species and rainforests.

Scientists said it indicated natural systems such as rainforests may have already been responding to the climate crisis for decades, and suggested other tropical forests across the globe may be experiencing a similar rise in death rate.

David Bauman, a tropical forest ecologist at the University of Oxford and and the study’s lead author, said it was a shock to detect such a marked increase in tree mortality.

Oxford professor Yadvinder Malhi, a study co-author, compared the changes in Australia’s rainforests to those in corals in the Great Barrier Reef, which have suffered four mass bleaching events over the past seven years.

“The likely driving factor we identify – the increasing drying power of the atmosphere caused by global warming – suggests similar increases in tree death rates may be occurring across the world’s tropical forests,” he said.

“If that is the case, tropical forests may soon become carbon sources, and the challenge of limiting global warming well below 2C becomes both more urgent and more difficult.”

The study examined data from more than 8,300 trees in 24 north Queensland forests. Much of the data came from a CSIRO lab in Atherton. The lab is focused on tropical forest research and is closing down.

Prof Susan Laurance, a tropical ecology expert at James Cook University and a co-author of the study, said the CSIRO had been monitoring tree plots used for the study since 1971.

“The beauty of this research is that it’s one of a few long-term studies and it’s so hard to get funding to do that,” she said. “It’s a little bit sad because CSIRO was probably the only organisation in the country that was funded long-term to be able to do [that research].”

Russell Barrett, a senior research scientist at the Australian Institute of Botanical Science, said the findings of the study were significant, and should serve as a climate warning “as clear and stark as mass coral bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef”.

“It is just much harder to see and document,” he said.

He said it could cause a re-think of the potential for forests to store carbon. “A doubling of tree death risk dramatically changes our calculations for the quantity of carbon stored in our forests, and how long it is likely to stay there” he said.

A study in 2020 found tropical forests were taking less carbon from the atmosphere, increasing the likelihood of an accelerated climate breakdown. It pointed to the need to cut carbon-producing activities faster to counteract the loss of carbon sinks.

Barrett said while the study focussed on tropical forests in North Queensland, the drying atmosphere affected all Australian plant communities. It highlighted the need for more studies in a range of habitats, he said.

“This need is especially great for plant communities that are already at the edge of their climatic windows, such as alpine vegetation and wet rainforests,” he said.

Laurence said she would seek funding from the Australian Research Council to continue the research. She hoped to analyse the age of the trees affected and the implications for the ecosystem.

She said if old-growth tropical trees were the most at risk it could affect rainfall patterns.

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Hey SoCal

Brown Pelican crisis developing in Southern California

May 18, 2022

A Southland wildlife center is being inundated with sick and injured Brown Pelicans, with more than 55 patients arriving in the past four days and more expected this week, officials said Wednesday.

“We’re seeing a mix of fledglings, second-year birds and mature adults, which makes me think it could be a food supply issue rather than a simple influx of starving fledglings,” said Dr. Rebecca Duerr, director of research and veterinary science for Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center in San Pedro.

Officials with the global conservation organization say several of the birds in the latest group came in with multiple fish hooks, but some have been hit by cars or have fractures for unknown reasons. A few are just cold and starving.

“Birds in a changing world face new challenges which take time to research and understand. In this case, Bird Rescue suspects that part of the problem is a lack of available fish stocks leading to birds failing to find enough to eat or taking extra risks when foraging for food,” a Bird Rescue statement said. “That, combined with a new crop of young pelicans having to learn to feed themselves, may explain the current influx.”

Brown Pelicans were added to the endangered species list in 1970 due to exposure to DDT and then removed in 2009. In 2010 and 2012, Bird Rescue’s wildlife centers saw similar inundations of Brown Pelican patients.

“Rescue efforts like in 2010 and 2012, and the one we’re undertaking now help keep pelicans off the endangered species list,” Bird Rescue CEO JD Bergeron said.

“Thanks to our banding program, we recently spotted a former patient feeding its young four years after its release in the wild,” Bergeron added. “This proves that the hard work to save one bird at a time can affect future populations.”

Bird Rescue officials reminded fishers not to cast lines into groups of feeding birds to avoid snaring the birds. The public was also reminded to keep an eye out for pelicans landing in unusual locations such as along Pacific Coast Highway.

Those who find a pelican in need may contact International Bird Rescue’s helpline at 310-514-2573. After hours, they should contact their local animal control agency. For pelicans found in Malibu, call California Wildlife Center at 310-458-WILD (9453).

Donations for food and medical supplies for the birds can be made at http://www.birdrescue.org/donate/.

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Honolulu Civil Beat

Environmental Group Sues Feds To Better Protect Endangered Sharks

Federal officials have delayed critical scientific assessments of how commercial fishing affects oceanic whitetips, conservationists say

By Marcel Honore, May 17, 2022

A new lawsuit aims to get federal regulators to finally gauge just how severely oceanic whitetip sharks are impacted by the longline fishing fleets that operate in waters off Hawaii and American Samoa.

That analysis of how many sharks are inadvertently caught by those commercial boats – and whether the number pushes them closer to extinction – should have been done when the oceanic whitetip was first added to the endangered species list as “threatened” in 2018, the suit contends.

Such a study could compel those U.S. longline fleets to take further steps in addition to the changes they’ve already made to their fishing gear in order to reduce the number of sharks that die after getting hooked on their fishing lines.

However, the National Marine Fisheries Service has been “dragging its feet” for the past four years and hasn’t completed the impact analysis as required under the Endangered Species Act, according to the environmental law firm Earthjustice.

“We have no idea what are the impacts of these fisheries on these sharks,” Grace Bauer, an Earthjustice attorney, said Tuesday. “That’s a big, gaping question mark.”

Earthjustice filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court on behalf of the Conservation Council for Hawaii and Kona-based Hawaiian cultural practitioner Mike Nakachi. CCH and Nakachi first warned the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2019 of their intent to sue over the agency’s lack of a so-called “consultation” on the oceanic whitetip shark.

It’s not clear why NMFS has yet to complete its analysis. A spokeswoman said Tuesday that the federal agency can’t comment on matters of ongoing litigation.

“It’s a question we’re all kind of baffled on,” said Moana Bjur, the executive director for CCH. “You’ve got a species that’s heading toward extinction … I would think that as a national organization they would want to have stronger data.”

What is clear is that the oceanic whitetip, once an abundant shark species, has seen its numbers fall precipitously in recent decades, largely due to their being overfished across the Pacific as bycatch.

The species is believed to have declined by as much as 95% since the mid-1990s, according to an Earthjustice news release.

Data from the international Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission further indicates that an average of 53,500 oceanic whitetip sharks were caught annually by Western and Central Pacific fishing fleets each year from 2013 to 2017. That included more than 1,700 catches a year by Hawaii’s deep-set longline vessels.

More recently, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council reported that some 2,125 oceanic whitetips were caught by the Hawaii deep-set vessels in 2019, according to the new lawsuit. That council, also known as Wespac, manages the U.S. commercial fisheries in the region.

“Significant numbers” of the sharks caught each year die from the trauma, the suit added.

The lawsuit aims to get more reliable data on the impacts to the sharks in Hawaii and American Samoa from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observers to better hold the fishing industry accountable, Bjur said Tuesday.

In 2020, the Hawaii Longline Association announced it would voluntarily replace all the steel wire leaders at the ends of its fishing lines with less-lethal nylon ones to better protect the sharks. A NOAA ban on the wire leaders will take effect at the end of this month.

Conservationists and fishermen view the change as a positive step, although Bauer called it “a shot in the dark” when federal regulators still don’t know the full impacts of longline fleets on the sharks.

“That’s an obligation that the Endangered Species Act requires them to do,” Bauer said. “The agency was supposed to do all of this before authorizing the fisheries (for use).”

Wespac representatives did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. However, in 2019 the group’s longtime executive director, Kitty Simonds, expressed angst over the looming threat of the lawsuit and said it could potentially shut down the fisheries until the issue was resolved, according to the newsletter Environment Hawaii.

Simonds further blasted the National Marine Fisheries Service for moving too slowly in fulfilling its duties, leading to a tense exchange with the NMFS regional administrator during a Wespac meeting, Environment Hawaii reported.

Now, the potential lawsuit that Simonds expressed deep concerns about three years ago is a reality.

“We decided to continue with our fight for the reporting measures,” Bjur said. “Let’s get numbers.”

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News 19 (Columbia, SC)

Fort Jackson discovers new salamander species

Recently, a new species has been uncovered at the training post—the Chamberlain Dwarf Salamander.

Walker Lawson, Published: May 17, 2022

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Fort Jackson is a well-known U.S. Army training post, but it’s also a place full of plants, animals, and reptiles. Recently, a new species has been uncovered at the training post—the Chamberlain Dwarf Salamander.

Michelle Wilcox, wildlife biologist for Fort Jackson, explained what it looks like and what this means.

“This one has a yellow belly, whereas the other dwarf salamander does not, lives in a slightly different environment, might be a slightly different size,” Wilcox said. “This species is only recently split from another type of dwarf salamander, and we’re not sure how many there are. That’s because they are hard to find, they live underneath thick moss.”

The lot of 52,000 acres is also home to one plant that has been placed on the endangered species list, a smooth coneflower. Wilcox said they are working to keep it alive.

“It’s found only in North Carolina and South Carolina. We’re not sure why it’s endangered. It’s probably habitat loss over time, but what it requires is a prescribed fire every two to three years to help knock down the competing vegetation.”

There is also an endangered bird, the red-cockaded woodpecker, which they are working to save.

Fort Jackson says they are working hard to keep these different endangered species alive due to their impact on our ecosystem right here at home.

“Additionally, we’re helping clean air and clean water,” Wilcox said. “This is a whole segment of Richland County that we’re trying to have fresh air and fresh water.”

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E&E News/Greenwire

Judge reverses Trump-era ESA sage grouse move

By Scott Streate, | 05/17/2022

A federal judge has struck down a 2020 Fish and Wildlife Service decision that a distinct subpopulation of greater sage grouse found along the Nevada-California border does not warrant federal protection.

Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a ruling late yesterday concluding that FWS did not use the best available science in withdrawing a near decade-old decision to list the so-called bi-state population of grouse as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act.

Corley, a Biden appointee, ruled that the Trump-era FWS decision in March 2020 — which quickly led to a federal lawsuit filed by a coalition of environmental groups — had “erred” in several significant ways.

Among them, she said, FWS was wrong in “concluding that the effective population size” of the bi-state grouse “was above the minimum threshold for viability,” as determined by the service.

Thus, FWS was also wrong in “determining that the bi-state sage grouse is not likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout a significant portion of its range,” Corley wrote.

The judge also disagreed with FWS’s reasoning that “cheatgrass removal was sufficiently certain to be effective as a conservation measure.”

Corley concluded: “These combined errors undercut the Service’s broader conclusion that the bi-state sage grouse population is stable, that the portions where it is likely to be [extinct] are not significant, and that its conservation measures will reduce one or more threats enough so that the bi-state sage grouse is not threatened.

“Thus,” she continued, “these errors go to the heart of the Service’s listing decision and are not harmless.”

The judge remanded the issue of ESA protections for the bi-state grouse to FWS “to issue a new final listing decision.”

In the meantime, Corley reinstated the 2013 determination that the bi-state grouse warrants federal protections as a threatened species.

An Interior Department spokesperson said the agency is reviewing the court’s ruling. A DOJ spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

But environmental groups involved in the lawsuit were pleased.

“These rare dancing birds have a chance at survival thanks to this court decision,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, which was one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Anderson added: “We’ve watched for more than a decade as these sage grouse have continued to decline. Without the legal protection of the Endangered Species Act, multiple threats will just keep pushing these grouse toward extinction.”

Different kind of grouse

Though similar to their greater sage grouse kin, the bi-state grouse were declared a distinct population segment in 2010, in part because they’ve been breeding separately from other sage grouse for thousands of years. There are six separate population segments across 4.5 million acres of high-desert sagebrush in Nevada and California.

FWS had based its 2020 decision on a yearlong review of the bi-state population, determining at that time that the threats to the bird “no longer are as significant as believed” when the agency first proposed a rule listing the bird as a threatened species in 2013 (Greenwire, March 30, 2020).

It also based that determination on the work of “a coalition of federal, state, tribal, private and non-governmental partners” as sufficient to protect the bi-state population.

Environmental groups, however, noted estimates that only about 3,300 birds remain. They have been petitioning FWS to formally protect the bi-state population for more than a decade.

That population estimate is well below the 5,000-bird threshold that the groups say scientists have determined is the “minimum viable population” for the genetically distinct birds.

FWS said in 2020 that the decision to withdraw the proposed threatened listing was based on “the best scientific and commercial data available.”

Those data, FWS said in the Federal Register, “indicate that the threats to the [bi-state grouse] and its habitat, given current and future conservation efforts, are reduced to the point that the [grouse] does not meet” the ESA’s “definition of an ‘endangered species’ or of a ‘threatened species.’”

FWS cited as “supporting documents” a peer-reviewed “species report” it prepared for the bi-state population that “represents a compilation of the best scientific and commercial data available concerning the status of the species, including the impacts of past, present, and future factors (both negative and beneficial) affecting the species.”

The court decision comes as overall greater sage grouse populations appear to be struggling, with hundreds of thousands of acres a year of lost habitat due to a combination of severe drought, catastrophic wildfires and the spread of invasive plant species like cheatgrass that can overwhelm the sagebrush ecosystem that the bird depends upon for survival (Greenwire, May 9).

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Newsweek

Rare Red Wolf Shot in North Carolina Was Left Alive, Drowned in Mud

By ROBYN WHITE on 5/16/22

A rare red wolf was found shot in the spine and left alive to drown in the mud in North Carolina.

A necropsy of the animal, which was found in Tyrrell County, showed that its lungs were full of mud, indicating it had been severely injured by the shot but was initially still alive. It had eventually died as it lay in the muddy farm field, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement.

Animal welfare campaign, Help Ashville Bears, reposted the incident to its Facebook page, and said the wolf had died a gruesome death.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it is offering a $5,000 reward for any information that would lead to “the successful prosecution” of the case.

Red wolves are critically endangered and are only found in eastern North Carolina’s Albemarle Peninsula. The animals are federally protected species.

In 2018, it was ruled that killing the species would no longer be permitted unless individuals were proving a threat to human safety or a nuisance to livestock. There is no penalty for accidental killings, as these can occasionally happen when people mistake the red wolves for coyotes, which are abundant across the United States.

Red wolves differ in appearance from coyotes by having a reddish tint to their fur. If someone kills a red wolf by accident, they are obligated to report it to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service so that officials can retrieve any carcasses.

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service told Newsweek that there are currently no updates on the investigation.

Now one of the most endangered canids in the world, the American red wolf used to live far across the southeast of the United States until overhunting and habitat destruction pushed them to the brink of extinction. By 1970, there were hardly any left in the wild.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deployed a captive breeding program to boost the species, by capturing the last remaining few in the wild and breeding them in captivity. They were then reintroduced to the wild.

However, despite conservation efforts, there are estimated to be as few as 35 or less red wolves remaining in the wild today.

There are many threats still present to red wolves. Because of the large abundance of coyotes in their habitat, there is risk of them mating and creating hybrids. The remaining population may also come into contact with humans regularly, when they wander onto private farmlands in search of prey.

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WION (New Delhi)

Study says climate change, water sports posing threat to sea turtles

Edited By: Vyomica Berry, New Delhi, India, Updated: May 15, 2022

A new study conducted by the University of Exeter has found that climate change and water sports are posing a threat to sea turtles.

The study, published in the journal Endangered Species Research, shows that tens and thousands of sea turtles are dying every year.

During the research, scientists reviewed the evidence about sea turtles from the last 57 years along the coast of Kenya, Somalia, Mozambique, South Africa, and Tanzania.

According to the study’s leader author Casper van de Geer, a Ph.D. student at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, “Turtles face many threats along the African east coast, from egg to adult.”

“Our aim was to bring together everything that is currently known about these turtles and to identify opportunities to better protect them in this rapidly developing region. We found that there’s still a lot we don’t know about these turtle populations, like how many there actually are or where they spend most of their time and migrate to.”

“If we use clutches of eggs laid as a measure of population, then we see that some have recovered well in some places. For example, loggerhead turtles appear to be recovering in South Africa and Mozambique. However, leatherbacks in the same areas have not responded as positively to conservation efforts—suggesting there’s something going on in their lifecycle that’s stopping them from bouncing back as quickly,” Geer added.

Kenyan waters are host to the green, loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback, and olive ridley turtles. The most frequently encountered off Tiwi and Diani beaches south of Mombasa are the hawksbill turtle and green turtles.

Sometimes Kenyan people are lucky enough to get a rare sighting of loggerheads or leatherbacks. But these sea turtles face a multitude of obstacles to their survival.

“Local knowledge was key to this research, just as it is vital to turtle conservation,” explained Van De Geer.

“Conservation work is most effective when it is supported by the local stakeholders and this is achieved through genuine engagement and cultural sensitivity.”

“There are great examples of this along the African east coast where people are trained and employed as rangers or monitors in the area where they grew up, and the use of community theatre or musical performances to inform people about the marine world and conservation. Ultimately, it’s the people who live in a place who have the knowledge and motivation to protect it,” he concluded.

”There is an urgent need to identify and plan around essential areas used by marine turtles in the East African seascape,” said Gladys Okemwa, of the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute.

“Despite legal protection measures, illegal take and consumption of marine turtles, particularly green turtles, still persists in the region due to cultural values. Sustained community engagement and support towards community self-policing will help to make strides in tackling the issue.”

“While significant progress has been made with regard to awareness, education, and law enforcement in coastal towns and villages, much work remains to be done to ensure the conservation of these magnificent animals, especially offshore, where ‘ghost’ (discarded or lost) fishing gear, industrial long-liners and plastic pollution still constitute a major threat,” said Marcos Pereira, of NGO Centro Terra Viva in Mozambique.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Mexican Gray Wolf Rule Eliminates Cap on Population, Restricts Killing

New Federal Management Rule Still Falls Short on Genetic Diversity by Rejecting Science-Based Reforms

SILVER CITY, N.M.—(May 13, 2022)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed today that it will eliminate its current population cap of 325 Mexican gray wolves that are allowed to live in the wild in the Southwest. Today’s announcement follows a 2018 legal victory by conservation organizations. In the same decision, the agency rejected science-based reforms that would increase genetic diversity at a faster rate.

“Mexican gray wolves have won a reprieve from a planned massacre, but their hopes to find unrelated mates are being dashed at the same time,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s disappointing that the federal government still refuses to replenish the priceless genetic diversity lost through its own mismanagement of these wolves.”

A final environmental impact statement justifies the new rule, which temporarily curtails some federal, state and private wolf-killing.

To enhance the wolf population’s genetic diversity, the rule has a goal of ensuring that 22 captive-born wolf pups that have been introduced to the wild survive through their second year of life. But there are no requirements that those wolves breed.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is hinging genetic health to an irrelevant metric,” said Maggie Howell, Wolf Conservation Center executive director. “Unless those cross-fostered wolves who survive to breeding age actually reproduce, those animals have zero impact on the wild gene pool. So how are they moving the needle any closer to a genetic objective?”

Further, the Service decided not to resume releasing well-bonded male-female pairs with pups from captivity into the wild as families to increase their chances of survival. Instead, the agency decided to double down on its practice of placing neonatal pups removed from their captive parents into the wild with unrelated wolves.

“Cross-fostering alone will not produce a thriving, recovered, and genetically healthy Mexican gray wolf population,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. “The Fish and Wildlife Service has again missed an opportunity to do right by these highly endangered animals and to promote release of well-bonded wolf packs into Arizona and New Mexico.”

Only 13 of the 72 cross-fostered pups that have already been released to unrelated wolves are known to be alive today. Just four of these wolves are known to have reproduced, and only six of the offspring, all from just one of those four wolves, are known to be alive. Since the Service started releasing pups without their parents in 2016, inbreeding in the population has increased by 3%.

“The Service admits that they received approximately 82,000 public comments that somehow did not result in substantial changes to their final environmental impact statement,” explains Michelle Lute, Ph.D., wolf conservation and national carnivore conservation manager for Project Coyote. “This lack of accountability to the public who supports strong lobo recovery tells you everything you need to know about the Service’s leadership on the issue. So much more can and should be done to protect wolves and promote coexistence.”

“With the added stressors of accelerating climate change already falling heavily on their Southwest home, Mexican gray wolves don’t have time for Fish and Wildlife Service to sidestep the full set of actions needed to recover the lobo,” said Kelly Burke, Wild Arizona’s executive director. “The wolves are bravely doing their part, but regrettably the Service still needs to get fully onboard.”

“Sadly it has become the norm for this program to ignore the best science and public support for actual, robust wolf recovery and instead opt for the minimum,” said Chris Smith, southwest wildlife advocate at WildEarth Guardians. “These wolves need real genetic rescue, access to more habitat, and an essential designation. This rule — while a fractional improvement on the prior attempt — still fails lobos.”

The new rulemaking was prompted by a 2018 court victory by several conservation organizations over the 2015 Mexican wolf-management rule. That 2015 rule stemmed from a 2013 settlement agreement with the Center over failures in the Service’s 1998 reintroduction and management rule.

The Fish and Wildlife Service was ordered by the court to release the final wolf management rule by July 1.

Background

The Fish and Wildlife Service and its predecessor agency exterminated gray wolves from the western United States between 1915 and 1945 on behalf of the livestock industry. The government also exported poison to Mexico to enable wolf poisoning there beginning in 1950. The 1973 Endangered Species Act led to the remaining Mexican wolves being captured alive. Seven bred successfully in captivity, and the subspecies was reintroduced in the U.S. in 1998 and Mexico in 2011.

Pups are now being born, including in places that wolves last consistently occupied in the 1920s. Multiple wolves now live in the San Mateo Mountains of west-central New Mexico. A lone female has established a home range west of Albuquerque.

In addition to the 196 wolves counted in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico early this year, approximately 35 wolves live in Sonora, Mexico.

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EcoWatch

Planting Trees and Shrubs Will Help Bring Woodland Birds Back to Farms, Study Finds

Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, May 13, 2022

Oftentimes, where there are trees, there are birds, whether the landscape is woodland, forest, an urban park or rural farmland. In Australia, farmland is being revegetated to attract woodland bird species, a team of researchers wrote in The Conversation. Trees bordering paddocks are being planted, and stands of trees and shrubs that run beside creeks are being replenished.

The research team included four researchers from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia — professor of ecology Andrew F. Bennett; research fellow Angie Haslem; associate research fellow Greg Holland; principal research fellow with the Research Centre for Future Landscapes Jim Radford — as well as the director of the Monash Drone Discovery Platform and senior lecturer in ecology at Monash University Rohan Clarke. Their new study showed how the replanting of trees and shrubs on farmland is helping woodland birds to return.

The researchers’ findings, “Restoration promotes recovery of woodland birds in agricultural environments: A comparison of ‘revegetation’ and ‘remnant’ landscapes,” were published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

After comparing communities of birds living on farmland that had varying numbers of trees, the researchers said in The Conversation that increasing the amount of vegetation on open farmland from one to ten percent led to twice the number of species of woodland birds.

“This is important, because populations of woodland birds have been steeply declining in southern Australia, with species such as the southern whiteface, brown treecreeper and white-browed babbler now of conservation concern. The collective efforts of landholders can help reverse these declines by attracting species back into otherwise-cleared farmland,” said the researchers.

In many rural areas of Australia, more than 90 percent of native woodland vegetation that was once home to many species of woodland birds has been cleared and replaced with intensive farmland.

“Birds are a visible and often colourful part of Australia’s wildlife; most mammals, for example, are nocturnal and harder to see. In general, farmers, landholders and the community like to see wildlife, they’re part of our identity as Australians and they contribute to the aesthetics of the landscape and give much pleasure,” Bennett, who was lead author of the research, told EcoWatch in an email. “From a conservation perspective, we need to maintain species throughout their range. With so much land cleared, maintaining them through farmland regions is an important part of conservation.”

According to the scientists in The Conversation, there are a range of bird species that live among native farmland vegetation.

“Some species typically occur primarily in regions heavily cleared for farming, such as the ‘sheep-wheat’ belt, rather than, for example, the forested ranges where there are more national parks. Birds have a range of ecological roles in farm landscapes,” Bennett told EcoWatch.

Instead of sampling single “patches” of land like most studies that are conducted on the value of revegetation, the researchers looked at whole landscapes of about three square miles in size that spanned from one to three southwestern Victoria farms, the researchers wrote in The Conversation.

The study areas were divided into three types of landscapes comprising one to 18 percent tree cover on each. One group had tree cover from revegetation, while another had vegetation leftover after the land had been cleared, called “remnant native vegetation.” A third group was a mixture of both.

The researchers found that woodland bird species increased when more of the land was revegetated.

“For example, in landscapes with only 1% revegetation cover, most birds were open-country species such as galah, red-rumped parrot and willie wagtail, with only 11 woodland species on average. On the other hand, landscapes with 15% revegetation cover had 25 woodland species, on average, as part of the bird community,” the scientists wrote in The Conversation.

Landscapes that had been revegetated were found to support fewer and different types of woodland birds than native landscapes with mature trees.

“It takes many decades for trees to grow and mature and develop resources associated with older trees. The revegetation plots were up to about 20-45 years old, whereas a mature tree may be 100+ (and up to 250) yrs old. Some of the main differences in species between the two types of landscapes were that bird species associated with mature trees were less common or scarce in revegetation. This includes trunk and bark foragers (e.g. tree creepers), those that forage in canopy foliage (e.g. some honeyeaters, thornbills, pardalotes), and some aerial insectivores that like to forage around and perch on open canopy branches (e.g. dusky woodswallow, tree martin),” Bennett told EcoWatch.

Bennett added that revegetation is usually achieved through the planting of trees and shrubs, without ground-layer plants.

“Often there is a fairly dense shrub layer – which favours some species for foraging and shelter (e.g. New Holland honeyeater, superb fairy-wren) and hence also contributes to differences in species,” Bennett said.

Bennett added that the rows often used when revegetating an area don’t mimic native vegetation’s “natural patchy structure.”

“Remnant native vegetation is inherently patchy, with trees and shrubs spaced somewhat randomly, sometimes in clumps, sometimes with gaps; whereas revegetation is often planted in rows and more evenly spaced. Over time, the pattern of revegetation will change as some trees die, some fall, some natural regeneration may occur,” Bennett told EcoWatch.

Birds that use the trunks, large branches and canopy foliage of older trees, like the varied sitella, white-throated treecreeper, white-naped honeyeater and spotted pardalote, weren’t found as often on revegetated land, the scientists wrote in The Conversation.

“With regard to age, as revegetation gets older it develops a greater range of resources – for example, as trees get older there’s more likely to be a larger canopy, dead limbs (for perching), limbs that fall to the ground as logs, the development of tree hollows in trunk[s] and large limbs, and also with larger trunks and branches (with age) there’s a greater surface area for bark-foraging species,” Bennett told EcoWatch.

The research showed that revegetation was most successful when it was mixed with remnant vegetation, the scientists wrote in The Conversation. The combination drew types and numbers of birds akin to remnant landscapes. Diversity of types of trees and shrubs planted was also important, as was proximity to native vegetation.

“The diversity of resources (from different plant species and varied physical structure) leads to a greater range of opportunities for species – for foraging, shelter, refuge and nesting. Having a mix of both remnants and revegetation means that there will be a greater range of resources than when there’s revegetation alone – and hence more likely to support the full range of species,” Bennett wrote.

Trees scattered about the landscape are also helpful for birds too, as they “act as stepping stones,” the researchers wrote in The Conversation.

Bennet said that birds have numerous roles in the ecosystems in which they live, such as being “part of natural food webs and thus inter-related with other parts of the ecosystem (ground layer, shrubs, canopy trees and foliage etc); pest control – feeding on insects and other invertebrates that may be detrimental when abundant (e.g. defoliators associated with tree dieback); [and] pollinators for some flowering plants.”

Bennett added that, if there is a diverse community of birds, it can indicate a healthy ecosystem.

The researchers wrote in The Conversation that a long-term goal of at least ten to 30 percent of wooded vegetation cover was important to ensure enough habitat to support healthy populations of numerous woodland bird species. Of the 60 species the researchers recorded, at least 11 were not found in the revegetated landscapes.

“Natural vegetation has a greater range of species and life-forms than are typically present in revegetation. Planting for revegetation typically involves only trees and shrubs, but sometimes only trees in woodlots. It rarely/never includes planting lifeforms such as native grasses, sedges, ground-layer herbs and lilies. Further, remnant native vegetation is more likely to have components such as microbial communities (bacteria, fungi) and soil/litter invertebrates already present,” Bennett told EcoWatch. “However, I should note that much of the remnant native vegetation in this study area is far from pristine – it has a history of disturbance from grazing by stock and grass/weed invasion, so most are quite disturbed stands.”

Bennett said that revegetating land that had been used for farming comes with its own unique issues.

“Where revegetation occurs in former farmland, it is likely to have higher levels of nutrients (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorous) in the soil than in remnant vegetation, and this can contribute to greater persistence of pasture grasses and weeds.”

And revegetation isn’t just for the birds, the researchers said.

“Of course, it’s not just for woodland birds — revegetating farms has a number of benefits. Planting along creeks helps stabilise stream banks and improve aquatic environments, trees store more carbon as they grow and age, and tree lines (shelterbelts) and shade benefit livestock and farm production,” the researchers wrote in The Conversation.

The climate crisis presents distinct considerations for land managers.

“It raises questions about what the climate and environment will be like in the future (e.g. 20, 50, 100 years from now), bearing in mind that trees are long-lived. So, some are asking whether, when selecting trees and shrubs to plant, we should be selecting species that may be better able to cope with what the future climate will be like in 50 or 100 years,” Bennett told EcoWatch.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched Over Delay of Endangered Species Protections for 11 Species

Bureaucracy at Fish and Wildlife Service Threatens Species Across U.S.

WASHINGTON—(May 12, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity announced its intent today to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for delaying critically needed Endangered Species Act protections for 11 imperiled plants and animals. The species range from the Puerto Rico harlequin butterfly and the Suwannee alligator snapping turtle to a rare wetlands wildflower found only in Arizona and Mexico.

Coupled with the Service’s failure to make decisions for 66 species in fiscal year 2021, the delay in protecting these 11 species highlights persistent problems in the agency’s listing program that are placing plants and animals at increased risk. These continuing problems include politically driven decisions, crippling bureaucracy and a loss of scientific capacity.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service should be on the front lines of the fight to stop the extinction crisis. Instead, it’s bogged down in bureaucracy and politically driven decision making,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “Delays in protection have real consequences, leading to further declines and even extinction. It’s heartbreaking this agency can’t seem to get it together to make timely protection decisions.”

The lawsuit notice faults the Service for unlawfully delaying endangered species protections for the Arizona eryngo, Wright’s marsh thistle, Puerto Rico harlequin butterfly, round hickorynut, frecklebelly madtom, sickle darter, whitebark pine, Suwanee alligator snapping turtle, slickspot peppergrass, Big Creek crayfish and St. Francis river crayfish.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has long struggled to provide timely protection to species. The Endangered Species Act requires the entire process of listing species and designating critical habitat to take two years. But on average it has taken the Service 12 years, and in many cases decades, to protect species. At least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for the Service to act.

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Boston Globe

The declining size of North Atlantic right whales threatens the endangered species, new study finds

By David Abel Globe Staff, Updated May 12, 2022,

As female North Atlantic right whales decline in size, they’re producing fewer calves, which could have grave consequences for the critically endangered species, according to a new study.

Scientists found in an earlier study that right whales have been shrinking, a phenomenon they attributed to frequent entanglements in fishing gear. The previous study found that entanglements place greater stress on the whales by forcing them to drag heavy fishing gear over long distances, which consumes their energy, reduces the fat reserves they need to reproduce, and makes them more susceptible to a range of diseases.

Some 85 percent of right whales have been entangled at least once, and of those, a majority have been entangled multiple times, scientists say. Entanglements and vessel strikes have been the leading cause of death and serious injuries to the whales, whose population has plummeted by about 30 percent over the past decade.

In the latest study, published on Thursday by the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, scientists determined that the declining body length and girth of the whales have likely resulted in their low birth rates in recent years.

“Smaller females appear to have less capacity to raise calves as frequently as larger whales,” said Joshua Stewart, a research biologist with NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center, one of the authors of the study. “Their smaller size means they may take longer to recover from the energetic cost of giving birth, especially in light of other stresses on the population.”

The scientists said their research reflects the need for further protection of the whales, whose overall population has declined to fewer than 350.

“With this study, [we] have gained further insights into how these stressors are affecting their reproduction,” said Amy Knowlton, a senior scientist at the New England Aquarium, who was also an author. “The remedies to address these threats are clear: shifting how humans operate in the ocean so that they do not inadvertently harm whales.”

Right whales can grow to 60 feet long and weigh more than 250,000 pounds. Previous studies have estimated that a calf born in recent years was likely, when mature, to be about 3 feet shorter in length than those born in the 1980s. Entanglements have become more of a problem for whales in recent decades, as ropes have increasingly used synthetic materials and become stronger.

The link between entanglements and calving rates underscored the need for fishermen to use weaker ropes and for federal officials to prod the lobster industry to adopt ropeless fishing gear, she said. The whales are believed to be entangled mainly in the vertical buoy ropes of the lobster and crab fisheries, which use heavy ropes that stretch from their traps on the seafloor to buoys on the surface.

Scientists based their conclusions on the aerial photos of 41 female right whales from 2000 to 2019, allowing them to compare their sizes with their reproductive histories. The relationship showed that smaller whales produced fewer offspring per reproductive year.

The study also found that larger female right whales also appeared to have more calves over the course of their reproductive years.

The scientists noted that other factors, which are more difficult to observe, could also influence the reproduction rates of the whales, including the availability of food, impacts of climate change, and the overall health of each whale.

“Doing everything we can to relieve pressure on the population and help support their recovery and resiliency will become increasingly important in the face of a rapidly changing ocean,” Stewart said.

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The Guardian

Labor pledges millions in funding to protect threatened species and Great Barrier Reef

Opposition says it will also provide a response to the Samuel review into Australia’s national environmental laws

Lisa Cox, 12 May 2022

Labor says it will establish a national threatened species program and provide a full response to the independent review of national environmental laws if it forms government.

In a policy announced Thursday evening the party promised $224.5m over the forward estimates for a national threatened species program that will include addressing the backlog of almost 200 overdue and outdated species recovery plans.

The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, and Labor’s environment spokesperson, Terri Butler, said they would also work with state and territory governments to develop a national conservation strategy.

They did not say what the conservation strategy would entail.

The threatened species funding includes an extra $24.5m for koala conservation, $24.8m to address invasive yellow crazy ants in Cairns and Townsville and $75m for the equivalent of 1,000 full-time Landcare rangers to work on environmental restoration.

Labor is also promising an additional $194.5m for protection programs for the Great Barrier Reef, which has suffered its sixth mass bleaching and the first in a La Niña year.

The money will be used for programs including working with farmers on land management practices, $85m for reef restoration projects, and research into thermal-tolerant corals in partnership with the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

“Seeing the wonder of the Great Barrier Reef is a highlight for so many Australians,” Albanese said.

“But parents and grandparents are worried their children will not be able to see this incredible natural wonder for themselves.

“That’s why it’s so important we act on climate change and species protection – to protect the reef and the tens of thousands of jobs that rely on it.”

The 2020 independent review of Australia’s national environmental laws, led by the former competition watchdog head Graeme Samuel, found Australian governments had failed to protect the country’s unique environment.

He recommended an overhaul of Australia’s system of protections, underpinned by new national environmental standards and independent oversight.

Butler said Labor, if elected, “will provide a full government response to the Samuel review”.

“The Saving Native Species program will go towards protecting Australia’s threatened species, including by addressing the backlog of recovery plans amassed during a near-decade of Liberal-National government neglect,” she said.

Basha Stasak, of the Australian Conservation Foundation, said whoever formed government needed to deliver a comprehensive response to Samuel’s recommendations.

“If we want to see koalas, gang-gang cockatoos and bogong moths survive, we need strong environment laws and an independent regulator implemented in this next term of government,” she said.

“The once-in-a-decade review of our environment laws by Prof Graeme Samuel sets out a clear roadmap to achieve this.”

Scientists have estimated Australia needs a tenfold increase in nature spending to recover endangered wildlife.

The Invasive Species Council, backed this estimate in a recent report, saying it would require expenditure of about $1.5bn to $2bn annually.

Tim Beshara, of the Wilderness Society, said Australia’s environment was in disrepair partly because successive governments “had let their environmental protection and management frameworks fall into disrepair themselves”.

“The backlog of actions and the backlog of reforms for a future environment minister will not be solved with a couple of hundred of million dollars,” he said,

“But it’s encouraging to hear Labor acknowledge the problem in nature itself and that there is some intent to undo the damage that has happened to environmental administration over the last decade.”

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California Department of Fish & Game

CDFW Seeks Public Comment Related To Mojave Desert Tortoise

May 11, 2022

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is seeking public comment on a proposal to uplist the Mojave Desert Tortoise from threatened to endangered under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

The Mojave Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is found in the Mojave Desert, the western Sonoran Desert and the southern Great Basin Desert. They spend much of the year underground in burrows to shelter from extreme temperatures. When they do emerge, they feed on native grasses. Their densities have declined drastically in many places in California in the past 20 years. Threats include habitat fragmentation, development in these desert regions, increasing drought due to climate change, invasive grasses out-competing food items preferred by tortoise, disease, predation by coyotes and ravens, and human-caused mortality.

In March 2020, the Defenders of Wildlife submitted a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission to formally uplist the Mojave Desert Tortoise as an endangered species under CESA. The Commission published findings of its decision to advance the species to candidacy on October 14, 2020, triggering a period during which CDFW will conduct a status review to inform the Commission’s decision on whether to uplist the species.

As part of the status review process, CDFW is soliciting public comment regarding the species’ ecology, biology, life history, distribution, abundance, threats and habitat that may be essential for the species, and any recommendations for management. Comments, data and other information can be submitted by email to wildlifemgt@wildlife.ca.gov. If submitting comments by email, please include “Mojave Desert Tortoise” in the subject heading.

Comments may also be submitted by mail to:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Wildlife Diversity Program
Attn: Anne Hilborn
P.O. Box 944209
Sacramento, CA 94244-2090

All comments received by June 10, 2022 will be evaluated prior to submission of the CDFW report to the Commission. Receipt of the report will be placed on the agenda for the next available meeting of the Commission after delivery and the report will be made available to the public at that time. Following the receipt of the CDFW report, the Commission will allow a 30-day public comment period prior to taking any action on the petition.

CDFW’s Mohave Desert Tortoise petition evaluation report (PDF)(opens in new tab) can be found on the CDFW website.

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EcoWatch

More Than 90% of Great Barrier Reef Impacted by Sixth Mass Bleaching Event

Olivia Rosane, May 11, 2022

More than 90 percent of the Great Barrier Reef was impacted by coral bleaching during the Australian summer of 2021-2022.

This is the conclusion of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which released the results Tuesday of aerial surveys taken of 719 reefs between Torres Strait and the Capricorn Bunker Group.

“The surveys confirm a mass bleaching event, with coral bleaching observed at multiple reefs in all regions,” the authority wrote. “This is the fourth mass bleaching event since 2016 and the sixth to occur on the Great Barrier Reef since 1998.”

The surveys revealed that 654 reefs, or 91 percent of those surveyed, had experienced some bleaching. The bleaching is especially notable this year because it is the first time it has happened under La Niña conditions, which usually result in cooler ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, as AP News pointed out.

“This is heartbreaking. This is deeply troubling,” Climate Council researcher Simon Bradshaw told AP News. “It shows that our Barrier Reef really is in very serious trouble indeed.”

Coral bleaching occurs when warmer than normal ocean temperatures turn the chemicals that coral-dwelling algae produce into poisons, prompting the coral to expel the algae. Because the algae provide the coral with both nutrients and color, the remaining coral turns white.

This summer, the waters around the Great Barrier Reef began to heat up in December of 2021, the authority said. Ocean temperatures exceeded historical summer maximums that typically don’t occur until later in the summer. Between December and early April, the area experienced three distinct marine heat waves. The surveys were conducted after the last heat wave, which lasted from March 12 to 23.

The bleaching recorded in the report does not necessarily mean that the impacted corals will die.

“It is important to note that bleached coral is stressed but still alive,” the authority wrote. “As water temperatures cool, bleached corals may regain their colour and survive this stress event, as happened in 2020 when there was very low coral mortality associated with a mass bleaching event.”

During back-to-back mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, however, the reef experienced higher death tolls, according to AP News. Scientists predict that this year will be more like 2020.

“The early indications are that the mortality won’t be very high,” the authority’s chief scientist David Wachenfeld said, as AP News reported.

However, the reef remains in hot water as long as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. The authority has said that the climate crisis is the single biggest threat to the reef, and a 2020 study found that the reef had already lost more than half its corals in the past 25 years because of human-induced global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that allowing temperatures to rise to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will kill 99 percent of all tropical reefs, while limiting warming to 1.5 degrees could save 30 to 10 percent of them.

The report comes as Australia prepares for federal elections later this month, AP News noted. Current Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party has promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, while the Labor Party has promised steeper cuts of 43 percent by 2030.

Australian Marine Conservation Society campaign manager Lissa Schindler told The Guardian that reducing emissions should be a priority for the next government.

“This was a La Niña year, normally characterised by more cloud cover and rain,” she said. “It should have been a welcome reprieve for our reef to help it recover and yet the snapshot shows more than 90% of the reefs surveyed exhibited some bleaching. Although bleaching is becoming more and more frequent, this is not normal and we should not accept that this is the way things are. We need to break the norms that are breaking our reef.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit: EPA Must Protect Manatees From Water Pollution

Hundreds Starved to Death in 2021 Because Unchecked Pollution Is Killing Seagrass

ORLANDO, Fla.—(May 10, 2022)—Three conservation groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today for failing to protect manatees and sea turtles from water pollution in Florida.

Over half of the more than 1,000 manatee deaths in Florida in 2021 were attributable to starvation. The mass die-off is being caused by pollution-fueled algal blooms that have killed thousands of acres of seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon, highlighting the inadequacy of the state’s federally approved water-quality standards.

Earthjustice is representing the Center for Biological Diversity, Save the Manatee Club and Defenders of Wildlife. Today’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Middle District of Florida, pushes the court to require the EPA to reinitiate consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act to reassess its approval of Florida’s water-quality standards for the Indian River Lagoon.

The Florida manatee is currently experiencing an officially declared unusual mortality event along Florida’s east coast, which includes important manatee warm-water habitat like the Indian River Lagoon. The lagoon supports more species of plants and animals than any other estuary in North America.

“Manatees need clean water to live in — it’s that simple,” said Earthjustice attorney Elizabeth Forsyth. “The pollution in the Indian River Lagoon is preventable. We’re asking EPA to step in and ensure the protection of the Indian River Lagoon and the species that depend on it.”

Unchecked pollution in the Indian River Lagoon — stemming from wastewater-treatment discharges, leaking septic systems, fertilizer runoff and other sources — fuels algal blooms that kill seagrass and prevent it from growing back. Nearly a decade ago, the EPA approved the state’s water-quality criteria for nitrogen and phosphorous, concluding the standards would not “adversely affect” manatees. New information, including the mass die-off of manatees in the lagoon, calls this conclusion into question.

“Hundreds of manatees are dying in the Indian River Lagoon as the water quality plummets, and the EPA must confront the massive nutrient pollution behind this disaster,” said Ragan Whitlock, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The existing water-quality standards just aren’t strong enough to preserve this important ecosystem and save these amazing animals.”

Florida’s 2021 manatee deaths were more than double the average annual death rate over the previous five years. The number of deaths represents 19% of the Atlantic population of Florida manatees and 12.5% of all manatees in Florida.

“Florida’s beloved manatees will continue to suffer and die as long as EPA maintains inadequate water quality standards,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “There simply is no more time for EPA to waste in reinitiating consultation.”

State and federal agency staff continued to witness high levels of malnourished and starving manatees throughout the winter of 2021-22, implementing a first-of-its-kind supplemental feeding program. In recent weeks the surrounding water has warmed, causing the manatees to disperse, and the program has been suspended. Unfortunately many manatees continue to suffer the long-term health consequences of starvation.

“Although nothing we do will bring back those nearly 1,000 manatees that suffered and died from years of neglect despite repeated warnings, we insist that the EPA join forces with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure that improved water quality standards are expeditiously set and met to bring an end to this travesty.” said Patrick Rose­­, an aquatic biologist and executive director of Save the Manatee Club, who has worked for over 45 years to help bring the species back from near extinction since it was first listed as endangered in 1967.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted the manatee from endangered to threatened in 2017. Since then the species has suffered significant setbacks from habitat degradation, red tide, cold winters and now unprecedented mass starvation from the catastrophic seagrass die-off.

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Metro (London)

Whale sharks are dying in large numbers and now we know why

Nina Massey, May 10, 2022

Whale sharks, the largest fish in the oceans, are dying in large numbers.

And scientists have determined the global shipping industry is to blame.

The number of times large ships hit whale sharks with fatal consequences is hugely underestimated, new research suggests.

It could be the reason why whale shark populations are decreasing around the globe.

Because the endangered animals spend a lot of time in surface waters and gather in coastal regions, experts have suggested being hit by ships could be causing substantial whale shark deaths.

But there was previously no way of monitoring this threat.

University of Southampton PhD researcher Freya Womersley, who led the study as part of the Global Shark Movement Project, said: ‘The maritime shipping industry that allows us to source a variety of everyday products from all over the world, may be causing the decline of whale sharks, which are a hugely important species in our oceans.’

Led by marine biologists from the Marine Biological Association (MBA) and the University of Southampton, the groundbreaking study tracked the movements of both whale sharks and ships across the world to identify areas of risk and possible collisions.

Satellite tracked movement data from nearly 350 whale sharks was submitted into the Global Shark Movement Project, led by researchers from the MBA.

Researchers mapped shark hotspots that overlapped with global fleets of cargo, tanker, passenger and fishing vessels – the types of large ships capable of striking and killing the ocean giants, which can grow up to 20 metres long.

They found that more than 90% of whale shark movements fell under the footprint of shipping activity.

According to the study, whale shark tag transmissions were ending more often in busy shipping lanes than expected, even when technical failures were ruled out.

The researchers from 50 international research institutions and universities concluded that loss of transmission was likely due to whale sharks being struck, killed and sinking to the ocean floor.

Whale sharks are slow-moving and feed on microscopic animals called zooplankton.

They help to regulate the ocean’s plankton levels and play an important role in the marine food web and healthy ocean ecosystems.

Professor David Sims, senior research fellow at the MBA and University of Southampton and founder of the Global Shark Movement Project, said: ‘Incredibly, some of the tags recording depth as well as location showed whale sharks moving into shipping lanes and then sinking slowly to the seafloor hundreds of metres below, which is the ‘smoking gun’ of a lethal ship strike.’

‘It is sad to think that many deaths of these incredible animals have occurred globally due to ships without us even knowing to take preventative measures,’ he added.

At present there are no international regulations to protect whale sharks against being hit by ships.

The research team say that this species faces an uncertain future if action is not taken soon.

(The findings are published in PNAS.)

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Travel Awaits

Endangered Birds Fly Over Redwood National Park For First Time In 100 Years

Greg Robertson, May 9, 2022

Two California condors were released from captivity this week, marking the first time the massive birds have flown over northern California and the Pacific Northwest in more than 100 years.

The birds were released from a pen in Redwood National Park just south of the Oregon border as part of a project to restore the birds in the region.

Two others are set to be released at a later date once observers determine the first two have shown appropriate behavior in the wild.

“They just jumped up and took flight off into the distance,” said Tiana Williams-Claussen, wildlife director for the Yurok tribe, according to the Associated Press.

California condors, the largest native North American bird, have not been seen in the region since 1892.

The birds had all but disappeared anywhere by the 1970s due to poaching, poisoning, and the destruction of their habitats. In the 1980s, the 22 known condors in the wild were trapped and brought into a captive breeding program.

Birds began being released in southern California in the early 1990s. The release this week in northern California was particularly significant for the Yurok tribe, which calls them prey-go-neesh and considers them sacred.

“The loss of the condor has limited our capacity to be Yurok because prey-go-neesh is such an important part of our culture and traditions,” Williams-Claussen told the North Coast Journal. “In a very real way, restoring condor habitat and returning condor to Yurok skies is a clear restoration of the Yurok people, homeland, ecological systems, culture, and lifeway.”

She noted the release is particularly significant for the younger generation.

“I have a 3-year-old-daughter. She is going to grow up with condors in her sky for her entire life. She is not going to know what it is to miss condors,” Willams-Claussen said. “She will always live in a relationship with condors, which is really what this project is all about.”

The vultures have a wingspan of up to 10 feet and can live for 60 years. Their ability to fly long distances in search of food means the birds could be spotted throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The condors released this week were both males. The two set to be released in the near future are a male and a female. Two were hatched at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, and two at the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.

The birds are between the ages of 2 and 4, so a long life in the wild should be ahead of them.

“This is just incredible, exciting times,” Williams-Claussen told Jefferson Public Radio. “This has literally been my life’s work.”

The release of the birds involved moving them to a staging area where a remote-controlled gate was opened. After only a few minutes, the birds went through the opening and took flight.

“That was just as exciting as I thought it was going to be,” Williams-Claussen said. “Those guys just took right off.”

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VPR (Colchester, VT)

Rare North Atlantic right whale spotted feeding off N.H. coast

New Hampshire Public Radio, By Dan Tuohy, Published May 6, 2022

New Hampshire’s coast had a rare visitor Friday: a North Atlantic right whale could be seen feeding just off the shore in North Hampton.

The right whale has been on the federal endangered species list since 1970. There are fewer than 350 left.

Dianna Schulte, director of research for the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, has observed right whales in New England for over 25 years — but never one right off the New Hampshire coastline.

“It is extremely rare for a North Atlantic right whale to be that close around here,” Schulte said. “To have that endangered of an animal coming in and having a bunch of people be able to look at it from the beach is actually really special for all those folks who did get to see it.”

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Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

Mountain butterfly in New Mexico could see federal protections from extinction

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus, May 6, 2022

A rare butterfly in New Mexico and other western states could soon be at risk of extinction, and the federal government planned to begin recovering the species before its threats worsened.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the silverspot butterfly as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), opening a 60-day public comment period to conclude July 5.

Threatened status provides federal protections for a species the Service believes could soon warrant an “endangered” listing that implies extinction is imminent.

The silverspot butterfly was known to dwell in 10 population groups across northern New Mexico, southwestern Colorado and eastern Utah, typically at elevations between 5,200 and 8,300 feet.

Silverspots grow up to a 3-inch wingspan and are known for silvery-white spots on the underside of their wins.

They require moist, open meadows to survive with available vegetation to lay eggs on.

The butterfly requires bog violets to lay eggs on our near, which their larvae feed on exclusively between hatching in September to the May.

Federal regulators identified climate change, livestock grazing and habitat loss as threats to the animal.

The Fish and Wildlife Service did not propose any critical habitat restrictions to protect the butterfly but noted its environment could change significantly over the next 30 years.

The proposal came after the Fish and Wildlife Service released a Species Status Assessment (SSA), using research and studies into the animal’s present viability and future impacts.

It pointed to climate change as minor factor today that would likely grow into a major threat in the coming decades.

“The climate already appears to be changing from human impacts with earlier springs and warmer temperatures,” read the report. “The butterfly has survived through the more severe past droughts and, despite noted changes in climate over the last 36 years, climate has thus far not been a detectable factor in reduction of species viability.

“However, climate appears to be at the verge of becoming a major factor.”

Another rule was proposed to support conservation efforts for the species to allow for agricultural and other necessary land uses.

“As summarized in the SSA report, climatic conditions are expected to change across the range of the silverspot butterfly over the next 30 years, such that the viability of the subspecies may decrease in the future,” read a report from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Fish and Wildlife Service initially proposed the butterfly, then known as the Great Basin silverspot butterfly, for a listing in 1978 and withdrew the proposal about a year later.

The species found again a listing might be warranted in 1984, adding to a list of candidate species, but removed it again from consideration in 1996.

In making its most recent proposal, the Service evaluated multiple factors for species’ potential extinction, along with human industrial impacts, and found federal regulations were presently inadequate for its survival.

“These factors represent broad categories of natural or human-caused actions or conditions that could have an effect on a species’ continued existence,” read the proposal.

“In evaluating these actions and conditions, we look for those that may have a negative effect on individuals of the species, as well as other actions or conditions that may ameliorate any negative effects or may have positive effects.”

Santa Fe-based environmental group WildEarth Guardians petitioned the Service in 2013 to list the silverspot butterfly for protections, and in 2016, the Service found WildEarth Guardians’ petition presented “substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted,” and began reviewing the species for listing.

Joe Bushyhead, attorney with WildEarth Guardians said listing the animal for protections was a crucial step in preventing its extinction and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

“Listing offers silverspots a much-needed lifeline,” Bushyhead said. “We’re hopeful the ESA can provide a path to both recover the butterfly and safeguard its vanishing habitat.”

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NPR/Empire KVCR (San Bernardino, CA)

Scientists say endangered porpoise isn’t doomed — so long as humans stop killing them

May 5, 20222, KENDAL BLUST

The vaquita marina, Spanish for “little sea cow,” is considered the world’s most endangered marine mammal.

The gray porpoise – known for its small size and characteristic black markings around its eyes and mouth – only lives in the northernmost part of Mexico’s Gulf of California, where fishing has brought the species to the brink of extinction.

But research now finds that, genetically speaking, there is still hope the vaquita population can recover.

“We’re really pushing back on the idea that the species is doomed,” says Jacqueline Robinson, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of California, San Francisco and an author of the study, which is published in the journal Science.

While all future vaquita will be descendants of just an estimated 10 remaining porpoises, the study shows that the negative impacts of inbreeding would be minimal. In fact, Robinson and her team found the species would have a good chance of recovering – if it can be better protected from gillnets, walls of netting submerged underwater that can trap and drown the small mammal.

Predicting the vaquita’s chance of survival

The study’s authors note that vaquita populations have historically been small. That means there’s actually little genetic variation between the porpoises, which tend to weigh about 100 lbs and can grow about 4 to 5 feet long.

“The fact that they’ve had low population sizes and low genetic diversity for a very long time in their evolutionary history kind of gives them an edge for rebounding from this current extreme population decline,” Robinson says. “They have less hidden, harmful genetic variation that could become a problem with future inbreeding.”

To understand the vaquita’s chances of recovery, the researchers started by sequencing and analyzing 20 vaquita genomes taken from archival tissue samples. The species’ genetics helped researchers understand the vaquita’s history and its past population size, which they estimate remained under 5,000 for tens of thousands of years because of its restricted habitat.

The recent dramatic population decline is largely due to vaquitas being ensnared in fishing nets, which are often set up by poachers in the waters of Baja California to catch totoaba — a huge endangered fish that’s extremely lucrative on the black market in China where it’s sold for its swim bladder.

The study drew on their genetic analysis and what’s known about the vaquita’s biology – its lifespan and reproductive behavior – to model population growth or decline assuming different levels of gillnet deaths.

If those deaths stopped entirely, the scientists only found a 6% chance that the vaquita would go extinct in the next 50 years, based on simulation estimates. But if fishing continues to kill off the animals, even at significantly reduced levels, the likelihood of extinction increases dramatically.

“Our results show a major impact of the gillnet mortality rates,” says UCLA researcher and study co-author Chris Kyriazis, who developed the team’s simulations. Even with an 80% reduction in gillnet deaths, chances for the species’ survival plummet, he says.

Robinson says their research shows that genetic diversity is not the problem for the endangered porpoise and that humans can intervene to keep them from vanishing.

Without the pressures of harmful fishing in their habitat, “there is a very good chance that vaquitas would rebound on their own,” she says. “And that is what has not been happening so far.”

Enforcing ‘zero tolerance’

Stopping harmful fishing practices has been a long-term struggle in the Upper Gulf of California.

Regulations to protect the vaquita marina have been on the books for decades in Mexico, and there is a “zero tolerance” zone in the area considered most critical for the little porpoise, where gillnet fishing is prohibited.

But enforcement of those rules is lax.

“The vaquita’s population won’t recover without protection,” says Alex Olivera, senior scientist and Mexico representative for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need more enforcement from the Mexican government.”

Despite pressure from conservation groups, the U.S. government and international organizations, Olivera says Mexico has failed to adequately protect the few remaining vaquita.

This new study on the genetic viability of the species shows there is still time to act, he says: “This adds to the argument that the species can be saved, they can recover, even though there are only a few individuals left.”

UCSF’s Robinson says their research makes it clear that the recovery of the vaquita ultimately depends on keeping the waters where it lives free of fishing nets. And while past efforts have been insufficient, she’s still hopeful.

“I think the takeaway is not to write off a species because it has low genetic diversity, or to say it’s doomed. That’s an assumption, and it’s probably a flawed one,” she says.

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CNBC

SpaceX Starbase expansion plans will harm endangered species, according to Fish and Wildlife Service

Published May 3, 2022, Lora Kolodny

SpaceX must take steps to track and mitigate its impact on endangered species and their habitat in order to gain approvals for testing and commercial launches of its Starship Super Heavy lift-launch vehicle in Boca Chica, Texas, according to documents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service obtained by CNBC.

The documents, released by the federal agency in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, show that recent declines in an endangered bird species, the piping plover, have already been correlated with SpaceX activity at the South Texas facility.

The documents also reveal that SpaceX is, for now at least, reducing the amount of energy it plans to generate at a utility-sized natural gas power plant on the 47.4-acre launch site there.

The company did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the documents.

What’s at stake

Ultimately, the Federal Aviation Administration must decide and is liable for final approvals and oversight of SpaceX in Texas.

The company’s ability to expand its business, and conduct launches beyond its existing Falcon rockets, hinges on this FAA approval. So does the fate of SpaceX’s business commitments in Texas.

In February, CEO Elon Musk said that his reusable rocket and satellite internet company could shift its Starship Super Heavy launch activity to the state of Florida, and turn its Boca Chica spaceport into more of an R&D campus, if regulatory hurdles in Texas proved insurmountable.

SpaceX sent its most recent known proposal for the Boca Chica facility to the FAA in September 2021. At that time, the company had said it wanted to build a new launch pad, new landing pad, power plant, natural gas processing facilities, and water infrastructure, including deluge systems and retention ponds used for cooling the launch pad there.

SpaceX is seeking from the FAA a permit and/or vehicle operator license that would allow it to build out new facilities and conduct launches of its larger Starship rockets near the cities of Brownsville and South Padre Island, Texas. The facility is on a small piece of land surrounded by wildlife refuge areas.

Before granting these licenses and permits, the FAA considers research from a number of other federal and state agencies and local environmental specialists.

Part of the FAA’s process includes a consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that the agency won’t violate the Endangered Species Act if it gives SpaceX a go-ahead for its proposed activity.

Wildlife impacts

The FWS has determined — and written in a document known as a draft biological and conference opinion (BCO) — that if SpaceX moves ahead with the proposal it sent to the FAA, it would impact some species protected under the Endangered Species Act, as well as hundreds of acres of their critical habitat, although the activity would not completely wipe out those species.

Of greatest concern is the company’s anticipated impact to the mating, migration, health and habitat of the piping plover, red knot, jaguarundi and ocelot populations. Disruptions and harm can be caused by everything from regular vehicle traffic, to the noise, heat, explosions and fragmentation of habitat caused by construction, rocket testing and launches.

Several species of sea turtles are also of concern, but FWS deferred to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for marine life expertise. One of the turtles is known as the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, which nests on the beaches of Boca Chica. It is the most critically endangered sea turtle in the world.

The draft opinion cautions that some 903.65 acres of piping plover critical habitat surrounds the facility and 446.27 acres of that will be lost from the direct impact of SpaceX activity under the proposal submitted to the FAA.

Among its recommendations and requirements, the FWS wants SpaceX to monitor affected animal populations carefully, limit construction and launch activity to specific seasons or times of day and night, and use shuttles to reduce vehicle traffic of workers on location.

The agency is also encouraging further research to understand potential effects on the monarch butterfly, which is under consideration to be listed as a threatened or endangered species in the U.S. now.

Overall, the FWS opinion may be good news for SpaceX.

The agency requires very little in the way of spending, conservation and other commitments by SpaceX, says Jared Margolis, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who read a copy of the draft BCO.

He said, “It seems the Fish and Wildlife Service is bending over backwards to figure out a way to permit more of what has been a very detrimental use of the Boca Chica site as far as impacts to wildlife go.”

Margolis said FWS did not ask for well-defined or large commitments by SpaceX where conservation is concerned. He pointed to FWS requiring SpaceX to donate a meager $5,000 to an ocelot conservation group per year.

He also said that too many of the agency’s requests were merely recommendations, and not enforceable under the terms and conditions of an eventual FAA permit.

“This is a company with very deep pockets,” Margolis added, “the least they could do is address these harms in a meaningful way.”

CNBC contacted the press office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service but officials were not immediately available to comment on Margolis’ assertions.

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Mongabay

To secure a future for wildlife, look to their distant past, study says

by Suzana Camargo on 3 May 2022, Translated by Maya Johnson

“Anywhere you find humans, you find the extinction of species,” says biologist Mathias Pires, a professor of biology at Campinas State University (UNICAMP) in Brazil.

The near-eradication of the American bison (Bison bison), the largest land animal in North America, is a case in point. These one-ton bovines once roamed the prairies in herds numbering in the millions. The bison’s distribution was so vast that it was found from Alaska all the way down to northern Mexico.

But with the arrival of the first European colonialists in North America, the bison was hunted near to extinction. In the 19th century, fewer than 100 of the animals remained in the wild. Today, their numbers have recovered slightly, and they can be found in small herds mostly in protected areas.

Pires’s observation of the destructive power of humans isn’t new, but now he and several colleagues have put into numbers the impact that we as a species have had on the other species that share this planet since Homo sapiens first migrated out of Africa 50,000 and 11,000 years ago.

“The late Pleistocene was the period when the great human migrations out of Africa began to take place,” says Lilian Sales, a UNICAMP researcher and the lead author of the new study that maps out the original and current distributions of 145 large mammal species. “Man’s arrival and the disappearance of some species were synchronous.”

The study, published in March in the journal Global Change Biology, shows how species such as bison were wiped out from much of their range — nearly a third, on average — because of human activity and forced to move into other habitats and climates.

Some, including the greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) and the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), are today found in less than 50% of the habitats where they once occurred. Others, like the Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and the European bison (Bison bonasus) are restricted to an area that’s just 1% of their original range.

“The impact of human presence on the reduction of mammal megafauna species distribution has been well documented in fossil records,” Sales says. “The study’s main objective was to analyze whether the changes in these species’ geographic distribution led to changes in the niches they occupy.”

Species in Asia the most affected

The reason that large mammals were chosen for the study — megafauna defined as weighing more than 44 kilograms (97 pounds) — is that their large bodies are more likely to leave a fossil record, and hence identify patterns of change. They’re also more vulnerable to humans because of their size.

According to the study, large mammals in Asia have experienced the greatest impact from human activity. The list of those whose ranges were reduced the most includes the two rhino species, as well as the wild water buffalo (Bubalus arnee), Père David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus) and the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx). These last two were at one point declared extinct in the wild, but thanks to reintroduction programs, have once again begun to populate parts of their original ranges.

In South America, the marsh deer (Blastocerus dichotomus) and the jaguar (Panthera onca) are among those species whose distribution shrank the most, by 76% and 40% of their original territory, respectively. The latter, the largest cat in the Americas, was originally found from the southeastern U.S. through to northern Argentina. Today, jaguar sightings in the U.S. are rare, and the species is also seldom in Mexico.

Climate refugees

The changes in species’ niches that Sales speaks of are driven by factors such as the temperature and its variability, and rainfall. Many of the species that have gone locally extinct across much of their original range are now confined to regions where the climate is no longer optimal for them.

This is the case with the Javan rhino, which today is restricted to a single national park with humid forest on the western tip of the Indonesian island of Java. In the past, the species occupied a wide range of habitats, from lowland forest to high-altitude forest, marshes to humid prairies, throughout much of Southeast Asia.

Another species, the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), an animal associated today with the savannas of Africa, originally also occurred in the steppes and prairies of Europe and Asia — a range much larger than the African continent.

Sales says large animals need suitably large ranges to live. They also tend to have low reproduction rates, which also leaves them more vulnerable to change.

This is why researchers already refer to some species like the Javan rhino and spotted hyena as “climate refugees.” This term, however, is used in a different context than when referring to human populations forced to leave regions rendered inhospitable by climate change.

“Many species we know today are actually found in less-than-ideal climates, different from those in which their ancestors lived,” says Mauro Galetti, a co-author of the article and faculty member at Brazil’s Paulista State University and assistant professor at the University of Miami. “This is due to the fact that the populations of these species in perfect climates were made extinct by humans.”

Given this scenario, the study authors stress the importance of taking these historical distribution changes into account when making projections for the species’ future and to better plan conservation actions. Without considering these animals’ original ranges, they warn, we could be making mistakes about choosing the best environments for them where they can avoid extinction.

“If we ignore the past and look only at the present, we have only the perspective of already-impoverished environments,” Pires says. “We must also consider the habitats of these species before the arrival of Homo sapiens.”

The vast majority of models in use today for predicting species’ responses to climate change are based on current events. But if they show only a small part of the ranges that these animals originally occupied, they may be making an incorrect diagnosis.

“All of Earth’s species are restricted in space by just a few variables like temperature and humidity,” Galetti says. “This is easy to understand. If you want to know where to find a polar bear [Ursus maritimus], you will look in cold, high-latitude regions with little rainfall. But if we kill off 90% of all the polar bears and scientists in the future try to restore their distribution based only on those in existence, we will have an erroneous ‘map’ as to the ideal climate in which they lived.”

That’s because climate conditions across the Arctic are not homogenous. There are warmer and colder regions, others in which the temperature varies more during the year, and regions with more rainfall. In a future conservation project for reintroducing polar bears in the event they become nearly extinct, the map of their current occurrence won’t represent the species’ true distribution area over the past centuries. And this could affect the success of any conservation or reintroduction program.

The authors say the survival of Earth’s existing fauna depends on humans keeping a careful eye on the past — as in, thousands of years ago — and not maintaining a myopic focus on today’s “environmentally compromised” situation for most of these threatened and iconic species.

(Citation: Sales, L. P., Galetti, M., Carnaval, A., Monsarrat, S., Svenning, J., & Pires, M. M. (2022). The effect of past defaunation on ranges, niches, and future biodiversity forecasts. Global Change Biology. doi:10.1111/gcb.16145  This story was reported by Mongabay’s Brazil team and first published here on our Brazil site on April 21, 2022.)

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United Nations News

Natural resources must be ‘part of the solution’ in fight against deforestation

3 May 2022

Between 2010 and 2018, the rate of deforestation worlwide slowed by nearly 30 per cent compared to the previous ten years, according to a key report launched on Tuesday by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The Global Forest  Resources Assessment Remote Sensing Survey warned however, that from livestock grazing in South America to the expansion of croplands in Asia, the earth’s tropical rainforests still face a tremendous threat. 

“This survey is important, not just for the new numbers it gives us but for what it tells us about forest area trends and what’s driving deforestation, also the crucial ability it gives us to monitor how things are evolving,” said FAO Deputy Director-General, Maria Helena Semedo.

Losses halved

Annual deforestation decreased by around 29 per cent – from 11 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2010, to 7.8 million hectares from 2010 to 2018, the survey revealed.

Moreover, net forest area losses have more than halved during the survey period – from 6.8 million hectares annually between 2000 and 2010 down to 3.1 million hectares per year from 2010 to 2018. 

By region, the highest level of deforestation between 2000 and 2018 occurred in South America (68 million hectares deforested), followed by Africa (49 million hectares).

This is despite a slower deforestation rate in South America and South and southeast Asia between 2000 and 2018.

“Unsustainable agricultural development and other land uses continue to put intense pressure on our forests, especially in many of the poorest countries,” Ms. Semedo explained.  

Unsustainable development

Meanwhile from 2000 to 2018, tropical forest losses accounted for more than 90 per cent of global deforestation.

And while that equals 157 million hectares – roughly the size of western Europe – annual deforestation in the tropics slowed significantly from 10.1 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2010 to seven million hectares annually 2010 to 2018.

“There are win-win solutions which we can and must scale up, to feed the world without destroying our forests,” assured the FAO official.

Driving deforestation

Cropland expansion is the main driver of deforestation, responsible for nearly half of global deforestation, followed by livestock grazing, accounting for 38.5 per cent.  

From 2000 to 2018, oil palm planting alone accounted for seven per cent of the global deforestation.

While the survey suggests that tropical regions of Central America are most severely threatened by land-use conversion, similar phenomena were detected in the region’s tropical dry forest and shrubland. 

However, the small number of samples in these ecoregions, means further investigations are needed to confirm these findings.

Tap solutions in nature

The XV World Forestry Congress (WFC) opened on Monday, in Seoul, Korea, as well as online.

Kicking off the event, Ms. Semedo said that “no matter which crises we are facing – a pandemic, conflicts, climate change – and [their] resulting economic recession and food insecurity, we must consider our forests and our natural resources as part of the solution and integrate them in recovery plans and strategies.” 

The Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) states that protecting forests helps  tackle climate change, boost food security, conserve biodiversity and boost efforts to create a poverty-free world. 

State of forests

Under the main theme Building a green, healthy and resilient future with forests, leaders from the FAO, the World Bank, and youth and Indigenous representatives participated in discussions 

In addition to the survey launch, as part of the Forestry Resources Assessment 2020, FAO on Monday launched its flagship State of the World’s Forests Report 2022.

The report underscored the three mutually reinforcing pathways of halting deforestation and maintaining forests; restoring degraded lands and expanding reforestation; and ensuring sustainable value chains. 

Other key findings included the need to enshrine tenure rights; provide incentives and remove disincentives for forest conservation; and the urgency of addressing the conflict between forest conservation and other development needs.

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Wisconsin Examiner (Madison, WI)

Six Wisconsin tribes write letter opposing bill to delist wolves

By HENRY REDMAN, May 2, 2022

Six Ojibwe tribes in Wisconsin wrote a letter this week to Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson opposing a bipartisan bill co-authored by Baldwin (a Democrat) and Johnson (a Republican) that would remove the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list in the Western Great Lakes region and Wyoming.

Delisting of the gray wolf would allow the animal to be hunted again. Baldwin and Johnson argue that the wolf populations in these parts of the country are healthy and therefore management should be returned to the states.

The letter sent Wednesday to Wisconsin’s two U.S. senators was signed by the Bad River, Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau, Red Cliff, Sokaogon Chippewa and St. Croix Chippewa tribes.

The letter states that neither senator reached out to the tribes to discuss how the delisting would affect their rights or treaty-protected resources. The letter notes that in 2021 when the wolf was delisted, the hunt held that February was badly mismanaged by the state and led to hunters overshooting the planned quota.

In that hunt, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources had set a quota of 200, with a portion of that meant to be for the tribes. The tribes didn’t participate in the hunt, but hunters still went past the total quota — killing 218 wolves.

“You both have stated that management of the gray wolf, or Ma’iingan in Anishinaabemowin, should be undertaken by the state,” the letter states. “However, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (“WNDR”) has demonstrated that it is unable to effectively manage the gray wolf population under the state’s current statutory and regulatory framework, as evidenced by Wisconsin’s botched February 2021 wolf hunt. That hunt yielded an excessive removal of wolves that surpassed the state’s hunting quota and consumed the tribes’ entire treaty-protected share of wolves through the actions of state-licensed hunters in just three days. The hunt was ill-advised not only because of its brutality, occurring as it did during wolf breeding season, but also because such hunts destabilize packs, causing dispersal and increasing livestock predation.”

Another hunt was planned for November 2021 with a quota of 300 wolves but a Dane County Circuit Court judge put a halt to it, finding that the DNR had failed to put in place permanent rules guiding the hunt and therefore was unable to move forward.

This February, a federal judge restored endangered species protections for wolves in most of the country.

After introducing the bill, Baldwin told the Wisconsin Examiner that the wolf population is healthy in Wisconsin and that the state can responsibly manage its control — despite increasing polarization over the issue and conservative meddling in the body responsible for setting quotas.

“There is scientific consensus that the population of gray wolves has recovered and the federal government can safely return the stewardship of the animals to the state of Wisconsin,” she said. “In crafting policies to manage these animals, I urge all stakeholders in the state to come to the table in a good faith effort to reach a consensus on hunting regulations.”

In the letter, the tribes specifically call out Baldwin for failing to consult them on her decision to co-author the legislation.

“Senator Baldwin, you have recognized that tribes work to protect Wisconsin forests, lakes, and rivers to ensure that they will be there for the next generation,” the letter states. “We remind you that our work also extends to protection of the species that populate this landscape, such as the gray wolf. That work is imperative to the perpetuation of all species upon which we depend and upon which our descendants will depend. You also have spoken in the past of your trust and treaty responsibilities to tribes, as well as the importance of tribal sovereignty. We are disappointed that you introduced this bill without consulting the eleven federally recognized tribes in Wisconsin to learn our position on what level of protections should apply to Ma’iingan. If you had spoken with us, you would have learned about our efforts to protect Ma’iingan, and the important role they play in the ecosystem, and in our culture.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Seeks Documents on Biden Administration Plans to Weaken Endangered Species Act

WASHINGTON—(May 2, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a lawsuit challenging the Biden administration’s failure to release documents detailing discussions between political officials, other agency staff, and members of Congress over potential legislation that would further weaken the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, comes after documents previously obtained by the Center revealed that political officials within the Office of the Secretary of the Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service may be considering legislation to weaken the legal requirements for the Forest Service to assess the conservation needs of endangered species at the landscape scale.

“It’s disturbing that the administration would even consider crippling protections for our most imperiled animals and plants during this unprecedented extinction crisis,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center. “If Biden officials truly care about conserving our natural heritage, they shouldn’t be working with the worst anti-wildlife members of Congress who are bent on pushing some of our most iconic species toward extinction.”

In 2018 when the Republican Party held control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, Sen. Steve Daines successfully passed the so-called “Cottonwood” rider, which temporarily exempted the Forest Service from the requirement to reassess and potentially strengthen land-management plans after a species was listed or critical habitat was designated on the affected national forest.

Since the Cottonwood rider passed, Sen. Daines has introduced additional legislation that would expand and make permanent this exemption. It would also allow the Forest Service to ignore “any new information” — including new information about climate change’s threats to protected species like the Yellow-billed cuckoo or Yosemite toad — for years or even decades to come.

“We sincerely hope the Biden administration will publicly reject this head-in-the-sand approach to the climate emergency and extinction crisis,” said Hartl. “It’s time for Biden’s political appointees to stop playing games, come clean by turning over these documents, and stop pandering to Sen. Daines.”

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Lootpress (Beckley, WV)

NOAA announces $6.2 million in endangered species recovery grants

By Tyler Barker, May 1, 2022

(LOOTPRESS) – NOAA Fisheries is proposing 12 new projects and the continuation of 13 multi-year projects under the Species Recovery Grants Program, with up to $6.2 million in new funding. The program supports management, research, monitoring and outreach activities that have direct conservation benefits for endangered species.

Up to $3.6 million in funding for new awards are proposed for projects in Alaska, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Florida, Maryland, Oregon, Puerto Rico and to the Makah Tribe. And up to $2.6 million in funding will continue to support 13 existing projects approved through prior grant cycles.

“States and tribes play an essential role in conserving and recovering species,” said Janet Coit, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, and acting assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator. “NOAA is responsible for endangered species that may spend all or part of their lifecycle in state waters, and successful conservation depends on our cooperation with valued state and tribal partners.”

This year’s recommended projects support our state and tribal partners in a range of activities, such as:

*Assessing and monitoring endangered and threatened species, including evaluating abundance, spawning and foraging behaviors.

*Collecting demographic and genetic information to improve understanding of population distribution, habitat use and impacts from human threats.

*Assessing the impacts of climate change on species’ predator-prey interactions, and population distribution, abundance and recovery.

*Improving captive reproduction, health and survival of endangered species.

*Assisting with animal stranding responses.

*Assessing threats of specific prey populations to the diet of endangered species.

*Engaging the public in conservation of Endangered Species Act-listed species.

The Species Recovery Grant Program began in 2003 and is an example of how NOAA advances funding opportunities and partnerships towards recovering species while supporting our mission of preserving marine resources for future generations.

During this period of the selection process, the application approval and obligation of funds is not final. Each application is being “recommended” for funding. This is not an authorization to start the project and is not a guarantee of funding. A complete list of funded projects to states and tribes is available online. Awardees will be notified directly when applications are approved in the coming months. For more information about this year’s proposed projects, please visit the NOAA Fisheries website.

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The Times of Israel

First birth of an Asiatic cheetah in captivity takes place in Iran

Only a dozen of the endangered breed of the world’s fastest land animal remain in Islamic Republic, down from an estimated 100 in 2010

By AFP, 1 May 2022

TEHRAN, Iran — An Asiatic cheetah gave birth to three “healthy” cubs in Iran, the head of the environment department said Sunday, calling it a first in captivity for the endangered species.

“Iran,” one of only a dozen cheetahs found in the Islamic Republic, delivered three “healthy” cubs by C-section, Ali Salajegheh told IRNA news agency.

“This is the first birth of an Asiatic cheetah in captivity,” he said. “By preserving these cubs, we can increase the cheetah population in captivity and then in semi-captivity,” Salajegheh added.

The cubs were born in the Touran Wildlife Refuge in the Semnan province east of Tehran, where the mother and her babies are being monitored in intensive care.

The world’s fastest land animal, capable of reaching speeds of 120 kilometers (74 miles) per hour, cheetahs once stalked habitats from the eastern reaches of India to the Atlantic coast of Senegal and beyond. They are still found in parts of southern Africa, but have practically disappeared from North Africa and Asia.

Iran is one of the last countries in the world where the Asiatic cheetahs live in the wild and began a United Nations-supported protection program in 2001.

The subspecies “Acinonyx jubatus venaticus,” commonly known as the Asiatic cheetah, is critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In January, Deputy Environment Minister Hassan Akbari said Iran is home to only a dozen Asiatic cheetahs — down from an estimated 100 in 2010.

Their situation “is extremely critical,” Akbari said at the time, adding that the animals have been victims of drought, hunters and car accidents.

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The Canberra Times

New frog species already endangered

By Finbar O’Mallon, April 29 2022

Australian scientists have discovered a new species of frog in south-east Queensland and it’s already classified as endangered.

The new mountain frog’s only known habitat is the world heritage-listed Gondwana rainforests which were extensively burned during the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires.

Dubbed Philoria knowlesi, after Sydney environmentalist Ross Knowles, the frog was discovered thanks to extensive genetic testing.

Queensland’s environment department said it was already moving to protect the habitat of the newly identified species.

“There are a number of measures rangers are taking to support the recovery of fire-impacted areas,” senior conservation officer Harry Hines said.

University of Newcastle’s Professor Michael Mahony said the frog’s habitat, the Gondwana rainforests, were of “special significance” for the evolution of Australia’s plant and animal life.

“There are currently seven known species of mountain frog, six of which are found only in the Gondwana rainforest area,” Professor Mahony said.

The discovery is part of a joint effort from the Queensland government ecologists, the University of Newcastle, South Cross University, CSIRO and the South Australian Museum.

Scientists have been gathering and analysing the DNA of the mountain frogs in the rainforest since 2006.

Over the last 16 years they have been busy confirming they are all distinct species.

Philoria knowlesi comes in different shades of brown and lets out a deep “bop”-like croak.

It breeds in spring and early summer in small bogs and along the banks of mountain streams. When mating, the male creates a small breeding chamber where the tadpoles develop.

Philoria knowlesi’s biggest threat is habitat loss, with rangers working to keep out stray cattle, control feral pigs and weeds and reduce the risk of future bushfires.

Part of a national bushfire recovery fund will go to protecting the Gondwana rainforests, with $3.85 million for recovery projects of the World Heritage icon.

Areas of Gondwana that had never been touched by fire before Black Summer had blazes threatening numerous plant and animal species. Populations in the rainforest are still struggling to recover more than two years on.

Australia has the world’s worst rate of wildlife extinctions.

(Australian Associated Press)

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National Parks Traveler

Defenders Of Wildlife: Pinyon Jay Needs ESA Protection To Dodge Extinction

By NPT Staff, April 29th, 2022

The pinyon jay, a gregarious bird that’s an icon on the Western landscape, is plummeting in number and needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act if it’s to avoid extinction, according to Defenders of Wildlife.

Defenders petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday to protect the pinyon jay under the ESA. The species is experiencing a precipitous decline throughout the western United States due, in part, to the loss and degradation of its piñon-juniper woodlands habitat, according to Defenders. Over the past 50 years, the pinyon jay population declined by 85 percent, and, without the protections afforded by the ESA, half of its remaining global population is expected to be lost by 2035, the group said.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must act now to prevent the extinction of the pinyon jay,” said Defenders of Wildlife New Mexico representative Patricia Estrella. “This remarkable bird is threatened by a suite of factors including removal of its piñon-juniper habitat, drought, and climate change. Due to the combined threats facing the pinyon jay, the bird warrants the federal protection of the ESA.”

A species warrants ESA protection if it is determined to be endangered or threatened in all or a significant portion of its range based on any one or combination of five factors. The Pinyon Jay satisfies several of the factors set forth in the ESA such as habitat destruction, the inadequacy of state and federal legal protections, and other man-made factors.

The pinyon jay is a charismatic, social bird that travels in large flocks and plays a significant role in maintaining the biodiversity of the West. The range of the pinyon jay includes 13 states. It facilitates piñon pine tree regeneration by extracting and burying the seeds, commonly known as pine nuts. The birds do not retrieve all their cached seeds, allowing the seeds to germinate and replenish the woodlands. Without pinyon jays, it’s not clear that the piñon pine tree would continue to persist.

Loss of piñon pine would disproportionately affect Native American and Hispanic communities in the Southwest, which have cultural connections with pine nuts. For generations, Native Americans in the Southwest have harvested and consumed the seeds. During the fall harvest, families collect the nutritional seeds and store them for the winter. This important cultural tradition would likely be lost if the pinyon jay went extinct.

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Spectrum News

NOAA introduces new rule to save oceanic whitetip sharks

By Michelle Broder Van Dyke/Hawaii, April 29, 2022

NOAA Fisheries introduced new rules Thursday that will protect oceanic whitetip sharks from being hooked by longline fishers, according to a news release.

The new rules prohibit the use of steel wire leaders on hooks deployed in the Hawaii deep-set longline fishery, which operates around the main Hawaiian Islands, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and the U.S. Pacific Remote Island Areas. Instead, monofilament nylon leaders should be used.

The rules also require fishers in the Western Pacific longline fisheries to remove fishing gear from oceanic whitetip sharks that get caught in it.

Oceanic whitetip sharks have distinct white markings on the tips of their dorsal fins, grow up to 11 feet long and can live for up to 25 years. They exist around the world in tropical and subtropical waters and often reside near the surface of the water.

NOAA Fisheries listed oceanic whitetip sharks as threatened in 2018 under the Endangered Species Act. In the Pacific, the species has declined by 80-95% since the mid-1990s.

The sharks are threatened because they get caught in longline fishing gear, large fishing nets and gillnets. Not meaning to capture the sharks, fishers often discard them, in what is known as bycatch. Oceanic whitetip sharks are also harvested internationally for their fins.

NOAA said the new rules, which go into effect on May 31, are anticipated to increase the species bycatch survival by 30%.

The gear used by deep-set longline fishers usually comprises a continuous mainline set below the surface, which is supported horizontally in the ocean by floats with branch lines attached at intervals. Each branch line has a single baited hook at its end, and wire leaders are short metal wire fishing lines that attach the rest of the fishing line to the baited hook, according to NOAA.

However, the metal lines are too strong for sharks to cut themselves free when they are hooked. Replacing them with nylon will allow the sharks to bite through the line and free themselves. If a shark doesn’t bite through the nylon, a fisher can also cut the line close to the hook to free the shark.

NOAA said it made the rules in conjunction with Hawaii longline fishers and the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council. Some longline fishers, who are usually fishing for tuna, already made the change to monofilament nylon leaders starting in Nov. 2020.

“The Hawaiʻi fishing fleet sets the standard for longline tuna fishing, with high levels of observer coverage and strong regulations to limit the effects of the fishery on protected species,” said Michael Tosatto, Regional Administrator, NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office.

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KUOW/FM—NPR (Seattle, WA)

Scientists race to rescue world’s fastest sea star from oblivion

April 28, 2022, By John Ryan

Scientists are racing to revive a critically endangered species that has succumbed to a mysterious underwater pandemic up and down the West Coast.

The species is the sunflower star, a pizza-sized predator that can have two dozen arms. Since 2013, a wasting disease of unknown origin has turned some 5 billion sunflower stars, or 90% of the global population, into goo.

“I think there’s a pretty high potential for extinction of this species, particularly in certain geographies, so we’re all moving as quickly as we can,” Nature Conservancy scientist Walter Heady said during a panel on sunflower stars Wednesday at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference.

While some other species hit by the wasting disease have shown signs of recovery, sunflower stars have not.

Scientists say a few scattered fjords in British Columbia and Washington state still harbor remnant pockets of decent-sized populations of the endangered species. Recreational divers report finding patches of adult sunflower stars on the eastern shoreline of Whidbey Island.

Researchers are working to find what’s causing the wasting disease, why it kills some stars but not others, and how to help survivors of the the world’s worst underwater pandemic bounce back more quickly.

Gliding along on thousands of tiny tube feet beneath its two dozen arms, the sunflower star is the world’s fastest sea star and a dominant predator on seafloors along North America’s West Coast. But it has been unable to outrun the virus or bacterium or whatever is behind the wasting syndrome that has attacked 20 species.

“It’s always kind of blown my mind, honestly, that this disease was so broad, across so many different sea stars,” University of Washington biologist Jason Hodin said. “Maybe that doesn’t seem like such a big deal to some of you, but that’s equivalent to saying that a disease hits all different mammals that we know of.”

Biomedical researchers identified the virus behind humanity’s Covid-19 pandemic and sequenced its genome within weeks of its initial December 2019 outbreak in Wuhan, China.

It has been a different story for this underwater pandemic.

“It’s coming on 10 years after we first saw this wasting outbreak, and we still don’t know what the disease is,” Hodin said.

Researchers say until recently, very little was known about what microbes or viruses sea stars might harbor.

“When you’re working in a system where you don’t know what’s normal, it is a lot harder to find something that is new,” said biologist Alyssa-Lois Gehman of British Columbia’s Hakai Institute.

“There is a possibility that we never discover or understand what is the causative agent of sea star wasting,” said ecologist Lauren Schiebelhut of the University of California, Merced. “We obviously really hope that is not the case.”

Schiebelhut has found genetic differences between healthy sea stars and diseased ones in the wild. She said pinpointing those differences could help efforts to breed disease-resistant stars—even without identifying the cause of the disease.

Even in pre-underwater-pandemic times, studying sunflower stars was challenging. In the lab, researchers wear gloves and carry the big stars upside down so their many tube feet don’t attach to human arms.

“These animals are so strong that it can be difficult to get them off if they decide to attach, particularly without harming them,” Gehman said.

“They have lots of interesting structures on their skin that can jab and grab predators, competitors or my arm hairs,” Gehman said.

The mass die-off of sea stars further complicated the work, from biosecurity measures to the supply of lab animals drying up.

Gehman has been hunting for the cause of the disease by injecting healthy sunflower stars with tissue from diseased stars.

“For a while we were unable to run experiments because we couldn’t get access to animals,” Gehman said.

With an invisible killer stalking sunflower stars, researchers have had to take further precautions to keep stars healthy, including separating the gregarious animals.

“They were very touchy-feely with one another, and that could be not a very good thing for transmitted disease,” Hodin said.

Like Covid-19 among humans, the wasting disease can be spread by individuals who don’t have symptoms. And it kills fast: within two to four days.

In 2020, the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the sunflower stars critically endangered, the first sea star to gain that unfortunate status.

Neither the U.S. nor the Canadian government has given endangered species protections to the sunflower star.

The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service in August to list the sunflower star, Pycnopodia helianthoides, as an endangered species. The federal agency launched a review in December to determine whether the species deserves an endangered listing.

Even without a government mandate, an international working group has been putting together a “roadmap to recovery” for the species to coordinate research efforts and prepare to expand the number of captive-rearing facilities.

“We need to transition from only studying and documenting to acting,” Schiebelhut said. “Pycnopodia may not have the time for us to delay any longer.”

Scientists speaking at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference wouldn’t estimate how long it might take before all the pieces are in place to start reintroducing the critically endangered species to the sea on a large scale.

“That’s something our team wrestles with on a daily basis,” Heady said. “It’s that mix of being really careful and yet setting us up to be as quick as possible.”

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories currently have 900 juvenile sunflower stars growing in tanks. The two-year-olds are about the size of an outstretched human hand. Hodin said he hopes to have enough full-size adults by next year to put some of them in undersea cages off San Juan Island for divers to monitor how the lab-raised animals fare in the wild.

Marine biologists say bringing the big stars back could help all sorts of ocean life, since sunflower stars prey on sea urchins. With fewer predators around in recent years, urchins have been chewing their way through the kelp forests that many species rely on.

From observing them in the lab, Hodin said, scientists have found that young sunflower stars can devour up to six young sea urchins in a day—ten times the appetite of adult sunflower stars for adult urchins.

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The Independent (UK)

Endangered butterflies and spiders ‘being sold illegally on Amazon’

Most expensive insect researchers discovered for sale was $3,850 birdwing butterfly

Tom Batchelor, April 28, 2022

Rare, endangered and threatened insects and spiders are being sold online as pets, researchers have found.

Experts at Cornell University claimed a Luzon peacock swallowtail, one of the rarest butterflies which is listed as endangered and is illegal to trade, was found for sale at Amazon for around $110 (£88).

Many species of live tarantulas which are not endangered but whose trade is tightly controlled were also listed for sale.

John Losey, professor of entomology and lead author of the paper, Insects and Spiders on the Web: Monitoring and Mitigating Online Exploitation of Species and Services, said: “We surveyed the web to determine if there were species available for sale that are rare, threatened, or for which commerce is in some way regulated.

“As they get rarer and rarer, they become more and more valuable to collectors, and then the amount of collecting and sale, if not done sustainably, has greater impact on those species.”

The most expensive insect the researchers discovered for sale was a birdwing butterfly species named Ornithoptera allottei, which they said was listed on eBay for $3,850 (£3,070).

The team also found species for sale that should only be bought through regulated sources, such as ladybugs released for pest control.

They said inadvertently releasing diseased insects, the wrong strain or batches not suited for certain areas could have a negative impact on wild populations of animals.

Paul Curtis, a senior co-author on the paper and an extension wildlife specialist in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, said: “Hopefully, our findings will lead to better enforcement of the illegal online sale of rare insects and protect those species in the wild.”

The study, which has been shared with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, was published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.

An eBay spokesperson said: “eBay does not permit the sale of endangered or threatened species. We have block filter algorithms aimed to prevent the sale of prohibited items and, on the very rare occasion that such items evade our filters, our security teams will remove them from the site.

“We have identified a small number of animal-related listings that contravene our policy and are removing them. We will also take enforcement action against sellers breaching this policy, which may include suspending accounts or permanent bans.”

An Amazon spokesperson said: “Third party sellers are independent businesses and are required to follow our selling guidelines and all applicable laws, when selling animals or animal-related products.

“We clearly prohibit the sale of endangered species, we are investigating the product in question and will take appropriate action on any non-compliant listings.”

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EcoWatch

Up to 40% of the World’s Land Is Degraded by Humans, UN Report Warns

Olivia Rosane, Apr. 28, 2022

Human activity has degraded as much as 40 percent of the world’s land, impacting half of the people on Earth and putting about half of global gross domestic product at risk.

That’s the stark finding of the Global Land Outlook 2, a new report from the UN’s Council to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). With more than 1,000 references and the support of 21 partner organizations, the publication is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the state of the world’s land, and it offers both a dire warning and promising solutions.

“In a world of profligate consumerism, global supply chains, and a growing population, land resources – our soil, water, and biodiversity – are rapidly being depleted. As a finite resource and our most valuable natural asset, we can no longer afford to take land for granted. We must move to a crisis footing to address the challenge and make land the focus,” UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw wrote in a foreword to the new report. 

Mining vs. Managing

More than 70 percent of the Earth’s land has been altered by human activity, and up to 40 percent is degraded, meaning that it has become less biologically or economically productive over a sustained period of time. Land degradation increases poverty and pollution and puts the people who live on or near it at risk for diseases and disasters.

One major driver of this degradation is the global food system, which is the leading cause of land-based biodiversity loss and is also behind 80 percent of deforestation and 70 percent of freshwater use. Yet UNCCD members emphasized that the main problem was not any particular type of land use, but rather the dominant economy’s overall attitude towards land.

“We have been mining land, we have not been managing it,” Thiaw told reporters in a Wednesday press conference.

He defined mining as a linear approach that favored using and discarding resources, while managing would mean a more circular approach that uses and reuses resources sustainably.

“It is the way that our economy is shaped right now,” UNCCD Deputy Executive Secretary Andrea Meza Murillo agreed.

In an interview with EcoWatch, UNCCD lead scientist Barron Joseph Orr said that the land-use conversation had moved on from 10 years ago, when it had focused on single direct drivers like overgrazing.

“We know now that the cup of coffee that you or I may have had this morning may have contributed to land degradation somewhere very far away, as is true for almost everything that we eat, that we wear, etc.,” he said. “And so unsustainable consumption and production is probably the underlying, major indirect driver.”

Three Scenarios

The new report outlined three scenarios for how humanity might respond to this land-use crisis and what their impact would be by 2050.

**Business-as-usual: If we continue with current consumption and production patterns, we will lose an additional 16 million square kilometers (approximately six million square miles) of land by 2050, an area the size of South America. Further, land-use change and soil degradation will pump an additional 69 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the growth in crop yields will decrease and biodiversity loss will continue.

**Restoration: If we restore five billion hectares – 35 percent of the Earth’s land area – through measures like conservation agriculture, agroforestry and improved grazing, this will increase carbon stocks by 17 gigatonnes, increase crop yields by five to 10 percent in most developing countries compared to the first scenario and prevent 11 percent of biodiversity loss predicted in the first scenario.

**Restoration and Protection: This scenario builds on the restoration scenario with the additional protection of areas important for biodiversity, water, soil and carbon storage. Together, the measures would impact nearly half of the Earth’s land area, storing an additional 83 gigatonnes of carbon and reducing projected biodiversity loss by one third. However, in order to feed the world’s population, agricultural yields would have to increase by nine percent compared to the business-as-usual scenario.

All of these scenarios illustrate one of the report’s major messages: that land degradation is intimately linked to all of the other environmental and social crises facing humanity today.

“What’s really important about this report is that it brings together that we have to look at nature, people, climate, water, etc. – all together,” Orr told EcoWatch. “That you can’t anymore deal with these in separate ways, and, at the same time, it makes it clear that land is underneath all of these, and if you do well with land, you can make a difference in all of those categories through restoration.”

‘Enabling Environment‘

If the problems surrounding land-use change are all interconnected, the solutions also require a holistic approach. The report called for an “enabling environment” in which governments, financial institutions, businesses, scientists and local communities all work together to restore land.

Orr said that restoration must also look beyond single acts of conservation to consider a systemic approach that decides where it is best to build a biodiversity corridor or launch a climate mitigation project. He offered the example of Africa’s Great Green Wall, which focuses on land restoration in the Sahel covering 8,000 kilometers (approximately 4,971 miles) and 11 countries.

“In recent years, the vision has evolved from a tree-planting program to an integrated ecosystem management approach, striving to optimize a mosaic of different land use systems,” the report wrote.

On a global level, UN Sustainable Development Goal Target 15.3 has called for Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) by 2030, which is defined by the UNCCD as  “a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security remain stable or increase within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems,” according to the report. Currently, land restoration targets made by 115 countries, nearly half of them LDN targets, would restore a total of one billion hectares.

The report also joined with the emerging scientific consensus that protecting the land rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities is essential for protecting the land itself.

“In the face of rising threats to tropical forests — UN and other climate and biodiversity experts have begun to argue for expanding the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities and for drawing on their traditional knowledge as a proven solution for protecting intact ecosystems,” General Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin José Gregorio Diaz Mirabal said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “The new global land report for the first time recommends scaling up the land rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities – not just as a climate solution — but as a means for ensuring the success of projects to restore nature.”

The report comes at an opportune time to make a difference. It was released weeks ahead of the UNCCD’s 15th session of the Conference of Parties in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire in May and in the first year of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

“It will not be the end all of all that comes out on this, but it certainly will generate a lot of energy and movement,” Orr said.

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Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, FL)

Feds ponder endangered species protection for Florida gopher tortoises

By Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida, April 28, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — Federal wildlife officials will decide in the coming months whether increased protections are needed for gopher tortoises, as Florida looks for ways to move the animals out of the path of developers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity reached a settlement this week that will require the federal agency to determine by Sept. 30 whether gopher tortoises in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and eastern Alabama should be listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The settlement came in a lawsuit that the Center for Biological Diversity filed last year that accused the federal agency of “dragging its feet” on listing gopher tortoises and other species.

“The tortoises need large, unfragmented, long-leaf pine forests to survive,” the center said in an announcement about the settlement. “They’re severely threatened by development-caused habitat loss and fragmentation, which limits food availability and options for burrow sites and exposes them to being crushed in their burrows during construction, run over by cars or shot.”

Gopher tortoises are already listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in Louisiana, Mississippi and western Alabama. If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services decides that listing is warranted in Florida and the other states, it appears most likely that gopher tortoises would be listed as threatened, Elise Bennett, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity said in an email.

Gopher tortoises have long spurred debates in Florida, as development continues and conservationists push for protecting the habitats.

Tuesday’s announcement of the settlement came after Florida wildlife officials and the Legislature in recent months have taken steps to increase the sites where gopher tortoises can be moved. Gopher tortoises are considered threatened by the state, which has a permitting process for capturing and relocating the animals.

The Legislature last month passed a bill (SB 494) that, in part, would direct state agencies to consider using parts of certain public lands as gopher tortoise “recipient” sites.

Among other things, the bill calls for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to “streamline and improve the review of applications for public and private gopher tortoise recipient sites.”

The bill has not been formally sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

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The Guardian

One in five reptiles faces extinction in what would be a ‘devastating’ blow

Largest analysis to date on the state of the world’s reptiles warns of threat to ecosystems as more than 1,800 species fight to survive

Graeme Green, 27 April, 2022

More than a fifth of all reptile species are threatened with extinction, which could have a “devastating” impact on the planet, a new study warns.

The largest ever analysis of the state of the world’s reptiles, published in Nature, found that 21% of reptile species are facing extinction. From lizards to snakes, such a loss could have disastrous impacts on ecosystems around the world, the study says.

“We would lose a combined 15.6bn years of evolutionary history if each of the 1,829 threatened reptiles became extinct,” said Neil Cox, co-leader of the study and manager of the biodiversity assessment unit at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Conservation International. “This is evolution that we could never get back. It would be a devastating loss.

“If we remove reptiles, it could change ecosystems radically, with unfortunate knock-on effects, such as increases in pest insects,” he added. “Biodiversity, including reptiles, underpins the ecosystem services that provide a healthy environment for people.”

Fifty-two experts analysed data from the Global Reptile Assessment, which has received contributions from more than 900 scientists across six continents in the past 17 years. While 1,829 of 10,196 species are known to be threatened, the status of 1,489 could not be determined. Allowing for these data deficient species, the authors estimate that, in total, 21% are threatened.

The study was led by NatureServe, the IUCN and Conservation International.

Although many reptiles live in arid environments such as deserts and scrubland, most species occur in forests, where they suffer from threats such as logging and conversion of land for agriculture. The study found 30% of forest-dwelling reptiles are at risk of extinction, compared with 14% in arid habitats. The king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), for example, listed as globally ‘vulnerable’, is declining across much of its range in Asia, largely due to the loss of forest habitat.

Hunting is also a major threat to reptiles, especially turtles and crocodiles, many of which are at risk of extinction. Another major contributing factor is the introduction of invasive species.

Like birds or freshwater fish, reptiles tend to be less popular than iconic species of land mammals or marine life, but more reptile species are threatened than birds, suggesting more work is needed to protect them, said Mike Hoffmann, head of wildlife recovery at the Zoological Society of London, and one of the scientists involved with the study.

“From turtles that breathe through their genitals to chameleons the size of a chickpea and giant tortoises that can live to more than 100, they’re utterly fascinating. Our hope is that this first-ever assessment of the world’s 10,000-plus reptiles helps put them in the spotlight and goes some way to highlighting this diversity, and just how much we have to lose.”

As well as controlling rats, mosquitoes and other “pests”, reptiles deliver many other benefits. “They help disperse seeds, especially in island environments,” said Hoffmann. “We’ve also achieved many medical advances from studies of reptiles. Snake venom, for example, has resulted in critical drug discoveries, including for treating hypertension.

“The impending loss [of reptile species] could lead to wide-ranging and unforeseen impacts on our environment and our own wellbeing.”

In Australia, home to about 10% of the world’s species, reptiles face a growing number of threats. “Most of Australia’s threatened reptiles have declined due to habitat loss and predation by invasive cats and foxes,” said Nicki Mitchell from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Western Australia, who also contributed to the study.

“Climate change is an emerging threat to species confined to small fragments of habitat, as the microclimates they occupy will change and may no longer be optimal for a population to thrive.”

The study is not all doom. Scientists noted that conservation efforts to help other animals are likely to be protecting reptile species as collateral. “We found, surprisingly, that if you set out to protect places where threatened birds, mammals and amphibians live together, you’ll simultaneously protect many more threatened reptiles,” said Bruce Young, co-leader of the study, and chief zoologist and senior conservation scientist at NatureServe.

Yet reptiles also require direct, global, efforts to protect them, said Cox. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity is scheduled to convene Cop15’s second phase in Kunming, China, later this year, where governments will negotiate new targets to protect biodiversity, including reptiles.

“We need solid conservation plans, global policy agreement, and to have countries fully invest in turning around the looming biodiversity crisis if we are to prevent the ongoing extinction catastrophe,” he said.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Monarch Butterflies, Dozens of Other Species One Step Closer to Endangered Species Protections

Legal Victory Secures Decision Dates for 27 Animals, Plants Across Country, Hundreds More Still Waiting

WASHINGTON—(April 26, 2022)—In response to three lawsuits brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed today to dates for decisions on whether 18 plants and animals from across the country warrant protection as endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The Service will also consider identifying and protecting critical habitat for another nine species.

“I’m so glad these 27 species are finally getting a shot at badly needed protections and a chance to avoid extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “It’s incredibly frustrating, however, that some of these animals and plants have waited decades for help. Disturbingly, the Fish and Wildlife Service has done little to nothing to address the problems that caused these delays.”

Twenty-one of the species will see protection decisions by the end of fiscal year 2022. These include tricolored bats threatened by disease, eastern gopher tortoises threatened by Florida’s runaway sprawl, and longfin smelts in the collapsing ecosystem that is San Francisco Bay.

Western pond turtles and black-capped petrels will see decisions in fiscal year 2023. Monarch butterflies, whose population has been declined by 85% in two decades, will have to wait until fiscal year 2024, as will Bethany Beach fireflies and Las Vegas bearpoppies. The Mojave poppy bee will get a decision in 2026.

The court order addressed only a portion of the species for which the Center is seeking protection. Another 158 species, including Venus flytraps, Cascades frogs and golden-winged warblers, will continue in litigation. Roughly another 100 species are waiting for protection decisions but are not part of the litigation. Hundreds more have been identified as at risk of extinction by scientific organizations like NatureServe or IUCN yet aren’t under consideration by the Service.

The Service has taken 12 years on average to list species under the Act, but according to the law it is supposed to take two. Five of the Florida plants awaiting critical habitat and included in today’s court victory were first identified as needing the Act’s protection in 1975 but didn’t receive it until 2016 or 2017 — more than 40 years later. Even then, the Service still didn’t provide critical habitat protections at the time as required. At least 47 species have gone extinct while under consideration for endangered species protections.

“The Service’s slow, bureaucratic process for listing species has tragic consequences, like further declines, more difficult recoveries and sometimes even extinction,” said Greenwald. “This is simply unacceptable. We’re in an extinction crisis, and scientists are warning of the impending loss of more than a million species. We need a Fish and Wildlife Service that does its job and acts with urgency.”

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Phys.Org

Three critically endangered Sumatran tigers killed in Indonesia

April 25, 2022

Three critically endangered Sumatran tigers were found dead in western Indonesia on Sunday after being ensnared by traps, police said, dealing another blow to the species’ rapidly declining population.

Rampant deforestation has reduced the tigers’ natural habitat and increasing conflict with humans has left only several hundred of the endangered species remaining in the wild, according to estimates.

Two of the dead tigers were first found by local conservationists in Aceh—which sits on the the northern tip of Sumatra island—before police were alerted, conservation officials said.

Authorities found the two intact tiger carcasses next to each other with their feet ensnared by steel slings at a palm oil plantation in East Aceh district, a police statement said.

A few hours later, police found a third dead tiger about 500 metres (1,600 feet) away from where the other two tigers were discovered. Its feet were also ensnared by a sling and the body had started to rot.

“Our initial suspicion is that the tigers died after being caught by a boar trap, because when we found them their feet were ensnared by thick steel sling,” local police chief Hendra Sukmana said in a statement late on Sunday.

Officials will conduct autopsies to determine the causes of the tigers’ deaths.

“We strongly condemn this incident… if the tests reveal there’s intentional action that caused the deaths of these protected species, we will take strict action,” head of Aceh conservation agency Agus Arianto told AFP on Monday.

Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with fewer than 400 believed to remain in the wild.

Up to 10 tigers are killed yearly, according to the Indonesian forestry ministry.

Tigers are also targeted by poachers for their body parts that are widely used in traditional medicine—particularly in China—despite overwhelming scientific evidence that they have no beneficial value.

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NPR

For the first time in 4 years, a litter of red wolf pups was born in the wild

April 23, 2022, DUSTIN JONES

U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff in North Carolina welcomed a litter of six red wolf pups into the world earlier this week. It’s the first time in four years that a pair of wild red wolves — a species teetering on the brink of extinction — gave birth to a litter in the wild.

The newborn pups, four females and two males, were found in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge along the coast of northeastern North Carolina. Staff at the Red Wolf Recovery Program announced the paw-sitive news on Facebook Thursday.

“This new litter is the first wild-born litter of red wolves since 2018. This red wolf pair was formed through the combination of several management actions and the two red wolves subsequently following their natural instincts in pairing, establishing their territory and mating,” the post read. “Every generation yields a new born hope for the red wolf…a cause for joy and celebration!”

Before settlers arrived in North America, red wolves thrived throughout the Southeast U.S, from Florida to the Great Plains and the Ohio River Valley, according to national conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife. But through hunting, extermination and the expansion of cities and towns, humans drove the species to near extinction.

There were a mere 17 wolves left to save when the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973. Before 14 of the remaining 17 wolves were trapped and transferred into captivity, the handful of survivors lived across a small area of the Louisiana and Texas coast.

The remaining wolves disappeared, Fish and Wildlife said, attributed to continued human persecution and a loss of habitat. The red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980.

Just four years later, there were 63 healthy red wolves in captivity, which were being prepared to release into the wild with hopes of giving the species a second chance. As part of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, the Red Wolf Recovery Program said, more than 60 adult wolves were released into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge between 1987 and 1994.

In the following years, the wolves did what came naturally: They maintained territories, formed packs and more importantly, began to breed.

As other environmentalists marveled at the success of the Red Wolf Recovery Program, it became a model for reintroduction efforts of gray wolves, Mexican wolves, California condors and the black-footed ferret.

In 2012, the population reached a peak of 120. According to the FWS, this was the first time a large carnivore was brought back from extinction and reintroduced to the wild in the U.S.

But once again, humans threatened the handful of the surviving wolves.

Conservationists came to the wolves’ aid once again in 2012, after one red wolf after another was shot and killed, having been mistaken for a coyote, according to a Southern Environmental Law Center news release. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission had recently approved a temporary rule allowing hunters to kill coyotes, which occasionally breed with the wolves, at night in the area where red wolf was trying to make a comeback.

The population had dropped to 100 by the time a settlement was reached between environmentalists and the NCWRC. Spotlight hunting at night was outlawed and hunters were required to carry a permit for coyote hunting during daylight hours.

But the number of wolves continued to dwindle, reaching a concerning low population estimate of 17-20 in 2020 and 2021. There has been a steady decline in red wolves born in the wild from 2008, which saw 47 new wolves, to only four pups in 2018. Fish and Wildlife didn’t report a single red wolf birth in the wild in 2019, 2020 or 2021.

Which is why the recent litter of six is such exciting news to conservationists and wolf enthusiasts alike. As of today, there are an estimated 15 to 17 red wolves living in the wild. Another 241 exist in captivity. They continue to be one of the most endangered animals on the planet.

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Ventura County Star (Ventura, CA)

Southern steelhead fish get broader protection as state studies endangered species status

Cheri Carlson, Ventura County Star, April 22, 2022

The state Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously Thursday to give the Southern steelhead temporary protection under the state’s Endangered Species Act.

The decision means development in Ventura County and elsewhere along the coast may be required to take steps to lessen any impacts to the species.

On a 4-0 vote, commissioners granted a year-long protection for the native steelhead as state officials review whether the fish merits a state listing as “endangered” or threatened” with extinction.

“The information before us, certainly for me, supports a finding that listing may be warranted,” Commission President Samantha Murray said at the meeting Thursday.

In June, the nonprofit California Trout conservation group petitioned the state to put Southern steelhead on its list of endangered species. The listing could broaden protections the fish has had since 1997 as a federally designated endangered species.

Steelhead once ran by the thousands in local coastal rivers and streams and now faces possible extinction. CalTrout says the state listing would strengthen legal protection, increase opportunities for monitoring steelhead populations and potentially attract funding to help the fish.

Scientists with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife found a state listing may be warranted. The commission’s decision Thursday means the fish becomes a “candidate” species during the year-long scientific review.

During that time, the fish gets the same protections as animals and plants already listed.

Water agencies in Ventura County and elsewhere have said that protection could delay projects and potentially limit water supplies. Commissioners delayed a decision in February to allow those agencies and others time to discuss potential limited exemptions under state regulations.

Federal agencies have allowed some exemptions over the years, including for facilities that tap rivers for drinking water or agricultural use and may harm fish. Those federal exemptions, however, would not automatically apply under state law now that steelhead are a candidate species.

On Thursday, the commission voted to allow some state exemptions for emergencies. But instead of a list of exempted projects, the state will consider those that meet specific criteria.

Conditions include flood control projects, highway work that benefits public safety and essential water supply or treatment. Projects also must have valid federal authorization for the work.

Some public speakers, including those with CalTrout, opposed any exemptions while others said the waivers didn’t go far enough.

Erika Zavaleta, the commission’s vice president, said Southern steelhead likely will experience exceptional stress and mortality over the next year of the prolonged drought.

Drought limits water supply not only for people but also for fish. Steelhead start their lives in freshwater streams, migrate to the Pacific Ocean, then return to streams to reproduce. A prolonged drought can keep steelhead from reaching the ocean for years.

“It is a serious issue to sustain activities that will continue to cause mortality over this year, and we should get it right,” Zavaleta said.

Water agencies urged commissioners to consider adding restoration work to the list of possible exemptions. State officials, however, said restoration efforts have other avenues for a streamlined approval and may not be considered emergency projects.

Commissioners voted 3-1 to allow the proposed criteria for emergency exemptions. Murray voted no, saying she worried about carving out too many exceptions.

In its petition, CalTrout seeks protections for steelhead below dams and other impassable barriers in coastal rivers and streams from San Louis Obispo to Mexico.

Steelhead can get stuck behind dams that cut off access to their historic spawning grounds. The species also faces threats from climate change, pollution, wildfire and development.

Historically, thousands of adult steelhead were found in Southern California rivers. Fewer than 200 adult steelhead have been documented in the past 25 years, according to the petition.

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Associated Press

Biden order aims to protect old-growth forests from wildfire

MATTHEW DALY AND JOSH BOAK, April 22, 2022

SEATTLE (AP)—President Joe Biden is taking steps to restore national forests that have been devastated by wildfires, drought and blight, using an Earth Day visit to Seattle to sign an executive order protecting some of the nation’s largest and oldest trees.

Old-growth trees are key buffers against climate change and provide crucial carbon sinks that absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Biden’s order directs federal land managers to define and inventory mature and old-growth forests nationwide within a year. The order requires the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service to identify threats to older trees, such as wildfire and climate change, and develop policies to safeguard them.

The order does not ban logging of mature or old-growth trees, the White House said.

By signing the order on Friday, Biden can publicly reassert his environmentalist credentials at a time when his administration has been preoccupied by high oil and gasoline prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Gas costs have been a drag on Biden’s popularity and created short-term political pressures going into this year’s midterm elections, yet the Democratic president has been focused on wildfires that are intensifying because of climate change.

The measure is intended to safeguard national forests that been severely damaged by wildfires, drought and blight, including recent fires that killed thousands of giant sequoias in California. Redwood forests are among the world’s most efficient at removing and storing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and provide critical habitat for native wildlife and watersheds that supply farms and communities in the West.

Blazes so intense to kill trees once considered virtually fire-proof have alarmed land managers, environmentalists and tree lovers the world over — and demonstrated the grave impacts of climate change. A warming planet that has created longer and hotter droughts, combined with a century of fire suppression that choked forests with thick undergrowth, has fueled flames that extinguished trees dating to ancient civilizations.

A senior administration official noted that forests absorb more than 10% of U.S. annual greenhouse gases, while also providing flood control, clean water, clear air and a home to wildlife. The official insisted on anonymity to discuss details of Biden’s order before it was made public.

Biden’s ambitious climate agenda has been marred by setbacks, a year after he took office amid a flurry of climate-related promises. The president hosted a virtual summit on global warming at the White House last Earth Day. He used the moment to nearly double the United States’ goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, vaulting the country to the front lines in the fight against climate change.

A year later, his most sweeping proposals remain stalled on Capitol Hill despite renewed warnings from scientists that the world is hurtling toward a dangerous future marked by extreme heat, drought and weather.

In addition, Russia’s war in Ukraine has reshuffled the politics of climate change, leading Biden to release oil from the nation’s strategic reserve and encourage more domestic drilling in hopes of lowering sky-high gas prices that are emptying American wallets.

While Biden is raising fuel economy standards for vehicles and included green policies in last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, the lack of greater progress casts a shadow over his second Earth Day as president.

Timber industry representative Nick Smith said before the order was made public that loggers are worried it will add more bureaucracy to a forest management framework already unable to keep up with growing wildfires due to climate change.

That would undercut the Biden administration’s goal of doubling the amount of logging and controlled burns over the next decade to thin forests in the tinder-dry West, said Smith, a spokesman for the American Forest Resource Council, an Oregon-based industry group.

“The federal government has an urgent need to reduce massive greenhouse gas emissions from severe wildfires, which can only be accomplished by actively managing our unhealthy and overstocked federal forests,” he said.

But former U.S. Forest Service Deputy Chief Jim Furnish said wildfire risks and climate change would be better addressed by removing smaller trees that can fuel uncontrolled blazes, while leaving mature trees in place.

For many years the Forest Service allowed older trees that are worth more to be logged, to bring in money for removal of smaller trees, Furnish said. But that’s no longer necessary after Congress approved more than $5 billion to reduce wildfire risks in last year’s infrastructure bill, he said. The law includes money to hire 1,500 firefighters and ensure they earn at least $15 an hour.

Timber sales from federal forests nationwide more than doubled over the past 20 years, as Republicans and Democrats have pushed more aggressive thinning of stands to reduce small trees and vegetation that fuel wildfires.

Critics, including many forest scientists, say officials are allowing removal of too many older trees that can withstand fire.

A letter signed by 135 scientists called on Biden to protect mature and old-growth forests as a critical climate solution.

“Older forests provide the most above-ground carbon storage potential on Earth, with mature forests and larger trees driving most accumulation of forest carbon in the critical next few decades. Left vulnerable to logging, though, they cannot fulfill these vital functions,” the scientists wrote Thursday. Former Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck and Norman Christensen, founding dean and professor emeritus at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, were among those signing the letter.

Protecting mature forests also “would set an important, highly visible example for other major forest-holding nations to follow as they address climate change threats,” the scientists wrote.

Associated Press writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this story.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Rare Parasitic Bumblebees That Play Critical Role in Keeping Other Bee Populations Diverse, Robust

TUCSON, Ariz.— (April 21, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

These unique parasitic pollinators were once common in prairies, meadows and grasslands across the western United States and Canada but have declined by more than 78%. The last sighting of the bees was in Oregon in 2017. Over the past two decades, a few scattered individuals have been spotted in California, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.

“Protecting these parasitic bees may seem strange, but parasites play an irreplaceable role in keeping other bee populations healthy,” said Jess Tyler, a staff scientist at the Center and a petition co-author. “Imperiled insects like Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees deserve the same rigorous protection consideration we give to mammals and fish. When we fail to aggressively prevent the extinction of small creatures, we create huge ecological ripple effects that end up harming many other species.”

Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees are threatened by declines in their host species, habitat degradation, overgrazing, pesticide use and climate change.

“The fundamental purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to preserve imperiled species,” said Kylah Staley, a legal fellow at the Center. “Delays in providing Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees the protections they need to survive undermines our laws protecting endangered wildlife.”

In April 2020 the Center petitioned to protect Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees. The deadline for the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a final listing decision was April 2021; today’s lawsuit seeks to require the Service to complete its legally required review.

Background

The decline of Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees is part of a troubling downward trend in many of the 46 species of bumblebees and approximately 3,600 species of native bees in the United States that are needed to pollinate wild plants. The generalist pollinator is among a rare group of parasitic cuckoo bumblebees that play important regulatory roles in bumblebee communities and ecosystems.

While their specific methods remain unknown, female Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees must fight or sneak into a host colony, then kill or subdue the host queen. The cuckoo bee then lays her own eggs and controls the workers to continue collecting pollen and nectar to feed her offspring.

The survival of Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees is dependent on the welfare of their primary host, western bumblebees, who have declined by 93%. The Center is also working to obtain Endangered Species Act protection for western bumblebees.

Today’s legal complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.

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Public News Service

CO Lawmakers Raise Awareness About Biodiversity Crisis, Possible Solutions

Lily Bohlke, Producer, April 21, 2022

Advocates for endangered species and wildlife are raising awareness about the biodiversity crisis the nation is facing, and approaches for addressing it.

This Earth Month, Colorado state lawmakers took the opportunity to highlight how important biodiversity is in the Centennial State. State Rep. Alex Valdez – D-Denver – was one of them, and he noted that 74 species native to Colorado are endangered or threatened.

And he added that the state is home to more than 900 species of native bees, as well as hundreds of butterflies and 11 species of migratory hummingbirds.

“We have a pollinator crisis, but pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food you take,” said Valdez. “About a half a trillion dollars of global crops are at risk from a pollinator crisis.”

Valdez added that three quarters of terrestrial and two thirds of marine environments in Colorado have been altered beyond repair.

State lawmakers across the nation have signed a letter in support of a resolution in Congress calling for a National Biodiversity Strategy, introduced by U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse – D-Lafayette. It would guide and mobilize a coordinated response to the crisis.

Robert Dewey, vice president for government relations with Defenders of Wildlife, noted there are five main causes of biodiversity loss: climate change, habitat loss, pollution, the threat of invasive species and the direct over-exploitation of wildlife – such as commercial overfishing, for instance.

He cited a study that predicts a million species are at risk of going extinct in the coming decades. He said dealing with it via a national strategy makes sense.

“This is not something unheard of,” said Dewey. “In fact, today, 193 countries around the world have some form of national biodiversity strategy. And yet the U.S. lacks one.”

He added that in addition to lawmakers, more than 120 organizations are calling for the establishment of a National Biodiversity Strategy as well as leading scientists.

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Newsweek

Biggest Elephant in Botswana Killed by Trophy Hunters for 8ft Tusks

Robyn White, April 19, 2022

The biggest elephant in Botswana has been killed by trophy hunters for its near 8-foot-long tusks.

The elephant had been carrying 200 pounds of ivory in its tusks, and was the largest to be hunted in the country since 1996, according to Wildlife At Risk International.

The trophy hunter had traveled to Botswana and paid $50,000 to partake in the hunt along Botswana’s northern border, The Times reported.

Photographs of the trophy hunter standing next to the ginormous tusks have sparked debate on social media.

African elephants are an endangered species and Botswana has one of the largest populations. According to National Geographic, there are around 130,000 elephants in the country and this accounts for a third of the remaining population in Africa.

In recent years, poaching for ivory has been on the rise. Ivory is typically used to make figurines, ornaments and other trinkets. It has high demand in China and is mainly seen as a status symbol.

Former Botswana president Ian Khama imposed a trophy hunting ban across the country in 2014 to better protect the nation’s wildlife. However, this ban was scrapped in 2019 by Khama’s successor, Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Masisi lifted the ban in an attempt to manage human-wildlife conflicts. In some areas, elephants can prove problematic to local people by damaging crops and infrastructure. Large bulls in particular can also pose a danger to human life if they stray too close to populated areas.

Khama said on his Facebook page that the dead tusker elephant had been an “iconic attraction” for tourists in the country.

“How does it being dead benefit our declining tourism due to poor policies. Our tourism is wildlife based,” he said. “No wildlife means no tourism, no tourists no jobs, and no revenue stream. Incompetence and poor leadership have almost wiped out the rhino population, and now this!”

Blood Origins, a non-profit in favor of the hunting industry, posted details of the hunt on its Facebook page. The group claims the elephant was killed in line with Botswana’s “elephant management plan,” a government initiative that aims to manage the country’s population.

The page slammed the former president’s comment that the elephant had been a tourist attraction as “there are no ecotourism operators” in this area.

“Elephant populations are at their highest level and have stabilized in Botswana. Hunting is NOT a population control measure. Hunting is a mechanism to relieve small amounts of human wildlife conflict and provide meat and income into areas that likely have very little of both,” the Facebook post said.

The location the hunt took place is considered a “fear zone” for elephants, according to Africa Geographic CEO, Simon Espley.

“The surgical removal of Africa’s remaining large-tusked elephants by trophy hunters will not solve any human-elephant conflict or habitat issues,” Espley said in a statement.

“The volume of elephants hunted is not sufficient to reduce elephant populations. Instead, the likely result of the selection of large-tusked elephants as trophies will be to hasten the disappearance of tuskers from the African landscape.”

The tusks of elephants (in African elephants they can be found on both males and females) are elongated incisor teeth, with one third hidden from view and embedded in the elephant’s head. African elephant tusks are mainly used for protection, digging, lifting objects, and gathering food.

According to travel company Safari Ventures, African elephant tusks can range from 1.5-2.5 meters in length (males tend to have larger ones), and weight around 23-45 kg each.

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EcoWatch

Colorado River Tops List of Ten ‘Most Endangered’ Rivers in U.S.

 Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, April 19, 2022

Water is the lifeblood of existence and rivers are the veins that carry it, connecting organisms, minerals and species across the globe. Rivers provide habitat, help drain rainwater, replenish groundwater, instill in us a feeling of ancient connectedness to our planet and are the source of drinking water for two-thirds of U.S. residents.

American Rivers, a nonprofit conservation organization, has put together a list of the top rivers it considers the most endangered in the U.S., and the Colorado River — called the Grand River until 1921 and responsible for carving out the Grand Canyon — was named the most endangered. The Colorado River provides irrigation for five million acres of land used for farming and ranching, and drinking water to more than 40 million inhabitants in seven Southwestern States and northern parts of Mexico.

Water management of the Colorado River is outdated, and the historic overallocation of the amount of water the river has to offer, coupled with increasing temperatures and drought due to the climate crisis, has made the situation worse.

“This is a river in crisis because of climate change,” director of the American Rivers Colorado Basin programs Matt Rice said, as CNN reported. “This is not the same river it was two years ago, three years ago or five years ago. We need to learn to live with the river that we have, and we need to implement solutions to allow us to do so.”

A water shortage on the Colorado River was declared by the federal government last year, which caused mandatory water use reductions.

“[O]verestimations of the river’s bounty when the Colorado River Water Compact was ratified back in 1922 established a bank account destined to be permanently overdrawn. Following decades of wasteful water management policies and practices, demand on the river’s water now exceeds its supply, and storage levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead are critically low,” the American Rivers website states.

According to the American Rivers report, the flow of the Colorado River will be reduced by an additional ten to 30 percent by 2050 due to the climate crisis, CNN reported. If it were a country, the Colorado River basin would be the world’s seventh largest economy, the report said.

The report noted that, despite the water rights that many Tribal Nations hold to water in the Colorado River, their water infrastructure is still lacking, reported The Hill.

“The seven basin states and the Biden administration must work with Tribal Nations and Mexico to act urgently,” said Rice, as The Hill reported. “Failure is simply not an option, given all that depends on a healthy Colorado River.”

Other rivers on the top ten list include Idaho’s Snake River, which originates in Wyoming and runs along the Oregon-Idaho border into Washington State; the mighty Mississippi, the second-longest river in the U.S. after the Missouri River; and the Los Angeles River, which is threatened by development and pollution, reported CNN.

“The climate crisis is really a water crisis, and ground zero for that crisis is the Colorado River Basin,” Rice said to CNN. “We are being pushed in realtime to live with the river we have, to adapt to a hotter, drier reality in the Colorado River.”

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Honolulu Civil Beat

Lawsuit Leads To Critical Habitats For Endangered Species In The Pacific

The Pacific sheath-tailed bat and the Guam tree snail are among the species that will benefit from the settlement.

By Anita Hofschneider, April 19, 2022

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will designate critical habitats for 23 endangered species in the Pacific thanks to a legal settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The nonprofit environmental advocacy group filed the settlement Tuesday on Guam, concluding the lawsuit that it filed against the federal agency last year.

Species that will benefit from the settlement include the Pacific sheath-tailed bat, the Guam tree snail and Bulbophyllum guamense, an orchid with greenish-yellow flowers.

Maxx Phillips, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Honolulu office, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated nearly two dozen species in the Micronesian region as endangered or threatened in 2015, but blew past a 2016 deadline to designate critical habitats for the animals and plants.

“Unique Pacific island species like the Marianas eight-spot butterfly needed habitat protection years ago,” she said, adding that federal agencies including the military have been responsible for habitat loss. “Our nation really has a duty to protect the natural heritage of special places and these species that are found nowhere else on this earth.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Honolulu didn’t reply to requests for comment on Monday.

Under the settlement, the agency must submit a proposed rule to the Federal Register by June 26, 2025. That will open up a public comment period and allow people to weigh in on the proposed critical habitats before they’re finalized, Phillips said.

She said the multiyear wait to designate the habitat takes into account the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s limited funding and resources.

The settlement also includes the Marianas eight-spot butterfly, which used to be found on both Saipan and Guam but now is only found on Guam, she said. One of its homes is the National Wildlife Refuge in northern Guam, which is slated to be used as a surface danger zone for a machine-gun range in the neighboring Anderson Air Force Base.

That plan is part of the reason the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was concerned about several of the plants and animals back in 2015.

“We consider the threat from ordnance and live-fire training to be a serious and ongoing threat for four plant and three animal species addressed in this final rule,” the agency wrote in the Federal Register in 2015, noting “direct damage to individual plants and animals may be fatal, or cause enough damage to render them more vulnerable to other threats.”

The butterfly isn’t the only creature at risk —  the animals referenced also include a type of lizard called Slevin’s skink and the humped tree snail.

That’s worrisome to Julian Aguon, an attorney with Blue Ocean Law on Guam who worked with the Center for Biological Diversity on the case. He said the settlement is just one part of a long-term effort to protect Guam’s environment against destruction from military training.

“It’s the time to stand up for these creatures. It’s really now or never. It’s not enough and we need to keep doing more,” he said. “You can’t cut and paste a butterfly out of its habitat.”

He recalled how the U.S. military got an exception to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to continue bombing practice on Farallon de Medinilla, an island in the northern part of the Marianas chain, despite the presence of migratory birds that would’ve been protected elsewhere.

Normally, federal wildlife refuges can’t be surface danger zones for military training ranges but Congress made an exception for this on Guam to allow the new machine gun range to proceed.

“This is just one step along the road, there are just so many more steps we have to take,” he said.

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EcoWatch

Are Western Joshua Trees a Threatened Species? California State Biologists and Environmental Advocates Disagree

Olivia Rosane, April 18, 2022

With their branches reaching up like knobby arms with tufts for fists, western Joshua trees are an iconic part of the California desert ecosystem, and environmental advocates want to make sure they stay that way in the face of development and the climate crisis.

To that end, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a petition in 2019 to grant the trees protections under the California Endangered Species Act as a threatened species. But, on Wednesday, Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists argued that the trees were not imperiled enough to qualify.

“While the Department recognizes the threats faced by the species, and the evidence presented in favor of the petitioned action, the scientific evidence that is currently possessed by the Department does not demonstrate that populations of the species are negatively trending in a way that would lead the Department to believe that the species is likely to be in serious danger of becoming extinct throughout all or a significant portion of its range in the foreseeable future,” the report authors concluded.

The western Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) is one of two species of Joshua tree that lives in the California desert, according to CBD. Currently, the trees are “relatively widespread and abundant” in the state, the department wrote. However, environmental advocates are concerned that this will not always be the case. A 2019 study found that Joshua Tree National Park would lose almost all of its namesake trees by the end of the century if nothing is done about the climate crisis. Warmer temperatures have already forced the trees to migrate towards higher elevations in the park, and trees in the warmer, lower areas are reproducing less. Currently, the western Joshua tree’s entire range is experiencing severe drought, the Los Angeles Times reported. Further, advocates are worried that desert development, including for renewable energy, will put additional pressure on the species.

“We should take care of these trees now, before we have fewer options to work with,” California State University Northridge evolutionary geneticist Jeremy Yoder told the Los Angeles Times.

After CBD filed its petition in 2019, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to grant the trees candidate status in 2020, meaning that they were legally protected while their status was reviewed, CBD explained. This made it illegal to kill a Joshua tree without a permit.

“California wildlife officials just proposed open season on Joshua trees,” CBD conservation director Brendan Cummings, who lives in Joshua Tree, said in a CBD press release. “Before state protections took effect, developers were bulldozing these beautiful, fragile trees by the thousands to build roads, warehouses, power plants, strip malls and vacation rentals. If Joshua trees are to have any hope of surviving in a warming world, we have to stop the widespread killing of them.”

The department’s decision does not necessarily mean the trees don’t have a chance to retain these protections. Instead, the commission will review their advice and issue a final decision by June.

However, the Los Angeles Times pointed out that the state of California has never protected a species purely based on the threat of the climate crisis. Only one species has gained protections on a federal level for this reason – the polar bear.

“The state’s upcoming decision on protecting Joshua trees is a litmus test that will show whether its climate leadership is real or just empty rhetoric,” Cummings said in the release.

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Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

Human killing of endangered Mexican wolves addressed in revised federal plan

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus, April 18, 2022

Mexican gray wolves were long feared as a danger to livestock in southern New Mexico, even as their populations dwindled and the animal neared extinction.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported 14 illegally killed wolves in 2020, with six dying in vehicle collisions. The rest were likely shot by people.

About 74 percent of documented Mexican wolf deaths between 1998 and 2020 were blamed on human causes, records show, 119 of 216 deaths.

Those deaths were the focus of federal efforts to restore the wolf to its historic range and population, after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday it was revising its Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan first developed in 2017, to increase efforts to mitigate killings by people.

A draft of the altered plan was released Thursday, initiating a 30-day public comment period where landowners and other stakeholders can submit feedback to the agency.

Brady McGee, Mexican wolf recovery coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the plan was intend address human threats to the animal.

“Mexican wolves continue to make progress toward their recovery goals here in the U.S., but human-caused mortality continues to be a concern as it could hinder future population growth,” he said.

“Addressing this threat will require the support of our partners, law enforcement and members of the public.”

The draft included actions to address human wolf killing, including illegal killings, and maintain previous recovery criteria.

It proposed public outreach in wolf-occupied areas, seeking to improve awareness of wolf recovery efforts among ranchers, hunters and other land users and owners.

The plan could also increase law enforcement in areas known for high mortality rates, strengthening investigations into unlawful deaths.

And it would entail adding road enhancements to increase the wolf’s ability to cross roadways without being hit by cars.

“It is our intention that the actions we have added to the draft revised recovery plan will help alleviate the threat of excessive human-caused mortality, including illegal killing,” read the proposal.

“We will adapt our implementation of recovery actions over time to address sources of human-caused mortality, as we assess population performance, the contribution of specific sources to overall mortality levels, the availability of resources needed for implementation of specific actions, and other considerations.”

Feds seek input on wolf plan revisions

After the revised plan was published on April 14, comments will be accepted for 30 days until May 14, and a final plan will be published six months later Oct. 14, per the court order.

Those who wished to participate in the process were able to submit comments online at regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2022-0018.

“We encourage the public, federal and state agencies, tribes, and other stakeholders to review the proposal and provide comments,” read a news release from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wolf recovery draw criticism from environmentalists

Recent data from the agency showed 196 wolves living in New Mexico and Arizona, and 35 surviving in Mexico of the species that once numbered in the thousands across the American West.

It was listed as endangered in 1976, beginning decades of controversy as human killings continued and conservations sought increased protections.

The Center for Biological Diversity estimated 119 wolves were killed illegally since 1998, including 25 dead last year.

Michael Robinson, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity based in Silver City said the federal government must take action through the revised plan.

This plan has to recognize that each wolf-killing is a tragedy for the victim, pack members, and the endangered Mexican gray wolf subspecies that so many people have dedicated themselves to saving from extinction,” he said. “I hope the government will finally take resolute action.”

Robinson said the Fish and Wildlife Service must work to increase “tolerance” of wolves among local landowners and communities to fully protect them from extinction.

“The recovery plan revision process must logically connect federal actions to the broader goal of saving these endangered animals,” he said.

The proposed revisions were the result of a 2018 lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and an October 2021 court ruling calling on the agency to adjust its plans to account for human killings.

Robinson said the practice of using radio receivers by landowners to locate wolves based on their tags should be banned, pointing to “at least” two people using such devices before pleading guilty to illegal kills.

“Urging tolerance for wolves while giving wolf-killers the tools to locate them doesn’t sound cutting edge and innovative anymore,” he said.

In March, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, noted in the plan as a partnering agency with the Fish and Wildlife Service, reported the wolf’s population grew by 5 percent in 2021, credited to federal and state recovery efforts.

That agency reported the numbers grew by 14 percent the year before, and drew criticism from conservationists for the slower growth rate.

Patricia Estrella, New Mexico representative with Defenders of the Wildlife said more actions should be taken to curb illegal deaths, expand wolf habitat and improve breeding programs.

“The increase in the number of Mexican gray wolves is encouraging, but there is still significant work to be done to save this critically endangered subspecies,” she said.

“Continuing to improve conservation efforts to reduce illegal mortalities, expand areas where the wolves are allowed to roam and address the genetic problems this species faces will help the population continue to rebound.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Legal Victory Secures Habitat Protection for 23 Imperiled Micronesian Species

HAGÅTÑA, Guam—(April 18, 2022)—Following a successful legal challenge by the Center for Biological Diversity and Blue Ocean Law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must now identify and protect critical habitat for 23 endangered and threatened species located throughout greater Micronesia. The Service now has to act on critical habitat for these nine rare animals and 14 plants by June 26, 2025.

“I’m relieved these 23 beautiful Pacific Island species found nowhere else on Earth will finally get badly needed habitat protections,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawai‘i director and a staff attorney at the Center. “This is a big win, as endangered and threatened species with federally protected critical habitat are twice as likely to recover as those without such protections. Safeguarding the places these unique plants and animals require for survival is crucial in our fight against the extinction crisis.”

Found on Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia, the 23 species are threatened by habitat loss due to agricultural and urban sprawl, military expansion and training, invasive species and climate change.

The unique species, including tiny sac-winged bats, bright orange and yellow tree snails, and beautiful eight-spot butterflies, are also vulnerable because of small population sizes, invasive species and limited range. Several of the species on Guam and other islands in the northern Marianas are severely threatened by military expansion related to the relocation of 5,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the 23 species in 2015. But the agency failed to designate critical habitat for them, as required under the Endangered Species Act. Today’s agreement resolves a lawsuit filed by the Center in 2021, when habitat protections were more than five years overdue.

“With everything going on right now with the military buildup, we are in danger of losing important parts of our culture. We are the people of the land and so when our native plants and animals thrive, we thrive,” said Frances Meno, a local yo’åmte, or traditional healer. “There is no future without them.”

While listing a species as endangered or threatened is the first step in ensuring its survival and recovery, designating critical habitat is a necessary second step. That helps prevent federal actions that destroy or harm areas plants and animals need to survive — and helps conserve what remains of a species’ limited native range.

“Without critical habitat designations, native species like the Mariana eight-spot butterfly, which exists only in the Marianas Islands, would be lost, and along with them irretrievable aspects of our Indigenous ecosystem and culture,” said attorney Julian Aguon of Blue Ocean Law. “As Indigenous peoples, we stand up for our other-than-human relatives.”

Background

Pacific sheath-tailed bat: This tiny insectivorous, sac-winged bat has already been wiped out on Guam and the island of Vanuatu. Across its remaining range, the bat is threatened by habitat destruction from nonnative species, development, military training, urbanization, typhoons and climate change.

Slevin’s skink: Also known as the Mariana skink, this social creature has already been eliminated from Guam. The rest of the skink’s range is also threatened by habitat destruction from nonnative species, development, military training, urbanization, typhoons and climate change. Military training puts the skink at risk of direct harm from live-fire training exercises.

Mariana eight-spot butterfly: Native to Guam and Saipan, the butterfly is no longer found on Saipan. It is reliant on two host plant species, one of which is used as a native medicinal plant to treat various ailments. In addition to being threatened by parasitic wasps, the butterfly’s habitat is similarly threatened by nonnative species, development, military training, urbanization, typhoons and climate change.

Guam tree snail: Found only in Guam, this once-common, air-breathing snail is now endangered. In addition to the common habitat threats listed above, the Guam tree snail is threatened by fire and overcollection for commercial and recreational purposes.

Bulbophyllum guamense: Part of the Guam Plant Extinction Prevention Program, this orchid has a greenish-yellow flower that smells faintly of carrion. In the past the plant occurred in common large mat-like formations on trees. However, in addition to habitat-based threats, the orchid is being hurt by predation from non-native slugs.

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Pahrump Valley Times (Pahrump, NV)

Threatened Devils Hole pupfish are making a comeback

By Brent Schanding, Pahrump Valley Times, April 16, 2022

Biologists say populations for one of the world’s rarest fish are increasing.

Scientists recently counted 175 Devils Hole pupfish — the most they’ve observed in a spring count in 22 years. They’ve been tracking populations of the rare Devils Hole pupfish, which live in the upper 80 feet of a deep water-filled cavern and sun-lit shallow pool in Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge just west of Pahrump, for 50 years.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nevada Department of Wildlife and National Park Service have been managing this critically endangered species to ensure their survival.

Scientists typically perform deep dives to count fish in the cavern, starting at depths below 100 feet. Others handcount visible fish near the surface to keep track of populations.

Before the 1990s, the pupfish population was around 200, according to scientists, who noted declines of the fish in the past two decades when only about 90 remained each spring.

Nine years ago, fish populations hit an all-time low when only 35 pupfish were counted.

The rebound of the bright blue fish could signal important changes in the ecosystem, according to Kevin Wilson, aquatic ecologist for Death Valley National Park, who manages resources of Devils Hole.

“Such shifts highlight the importance of maintaining long-term data as we work to find out what’s changed,” he said in a release from park officials.

Scientists noted the fish appeared in remarkable condition and were very active.

“It’s exciting to see this shift, because if persistent, it allows more opportunity for study and to explore new management options,” said Michael Schwemm, senior fish biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a release from park officials.

The next pupfish count occurs next fall.

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Science Daily (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

US Nationwide maps of bird species can help protect biodiversity

(April 15, 2022)–Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison developed the maps at a fine-enough resolution to help conservation managers focus their efforts where they are most likely to help birds — in individual counties or forests, rather than across whole states or regions.

The maps span the contiguous U.S. and predict the diversity of birds that live in a given area, related by traits such as nesting on the ground or being endangered. Those predictions are based on both detailed observations of birds and environmental factors that affect bird ranges, such as the degree of forest cover or temperature in an area.

“With these maps, managers have a tool they didn’t have before that allows them to get both a broad perspective as well as information at the level of detail that’s necessary for their action plans,” says Anna Pidgeon, a professor of forest and wildlife ecology at UW-Madison who helped lead the development of the maps.

Pidgeon worked with UW-Madison professor Volker Radeloff, postdoctoral researcher and lead author Kathleen Carroll and others to publish the research and the final maps April 11 in the journal Ecological Applications. The maps are available for public download from the open-access website Dryad.

The research was designed to address two outstanding problems in conservation.

“Across the world we’re seeing huge species losses. In North America, 3 billion birds have been lost since 1970. This is across virtually all habitat types,” says Carroll. “And we’re seeing a disconnect between what scientists produce for conservation and how that translates to boots-on-the-ground management.”

Many resources previously available to conservation managers, such as species range maps, are both at too broad of a scale to be useful and not rigorously tested for accuracy.

To overcome those challenges, Carroll and her team wanted to develop data-driven maps of existing bird biodiversity. They produced the maps by extrapolating observations of birds from scientific surveys to mile-by-mile predictions of where different species really live. Those predictions were based on factors including rainfall, the degree of forest cover and the extent of human influence on the environment, such as the presence of cities or farms.

To improve the predictive power of their maps, the scientists clustered individual species by behavior, habitat, diet, or conservation status — such as fruit eaters or forest dwellers. These groups are called guilds. Many conservation decisions happen at the guild level, rather than at the level of species. Guilds can also make up for limited information on the most endangered species.

The final maps cover 19 different guilds at resolutions of 0.5, 2.5 and 5 kilometers. While the finest-grained maps were not as accurate, the 2.5-kilometer-resolution maps provided a good balance of accuracy and usefulness for realistic conservation needs, say the scientists. At the 5-kilometer resolution, the maps provide the greatest accuracy and are useful to conservationists operating across large areas.

“We see this being really applicable for things like forest management action plans for the U.S. Forest Service,” says Carroll. “They can pull up these maps for a group of interest, and they can get a very clear indication of what areas where they might want to limit human use.”

The maps may also help private land conservancies decide where to prioritize limited resources to maximize biodiversity protections.

Carroll is now working to extend the analysis down to individual species, rather than guilds made up of multiple species. The increased level of detail could help specialist conservation managers improve their work, especially those aiming to protect a single species.

This work was supported in part by the U.S. Geological Survey Landsat Science Team (grants G17PS00256) and the NASA Biodiversity and Ecological Forecasting Program (grant 20-BIODIV20-00460.

(Story Source: Materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison. Original written by Eric Hamilton.)

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EcoWatch

Climate Crisis Could Threaten More Than Half of Cactus Species With Extinction

 Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, April 15, 2022

The iconic saguaro cactus of the American Southwest may evince an image of a lonely figure in the desert, cylindrical arms stretched out and upward toward the sky in a friendly and somewhat lonely wave. But there are many other species of cactus — more than 1,500 — and not all of them thrive in arid conditions; some live in the mountains, coastal areas and even in tropical rainforests.

A team of researchers at the University of Arizona hypothesized that, since cacti adapt well to dry and hot conditions, they might thrive in the increasingly warmer climates that some regions are experiencing due to the climate crisis.

Their new study, “Elevated extinction risk of cacti under climate change,” considered how three different global warming scenarios could affect the range of 408 species of cactus, reported The New York Times. The researchers found that global warming could mean a higher risk of extinction for 60 percent of cactus species by the middle of the century. The study was published in the journal Nature Plants.

According to University of Arizona doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology Michiel Pillet, who led the study, the study did not consider extreme climate events like wildfires and droughts.

Pillet said that most species of cactus are “in some way” used to the environments and climates in which they live. “Even a slight change may be too much for them to adapt over shorter time scales,” Pillet said, as The New York Times reported.

And, even though many species of cacti can survive for long periods without rain because of their ability to store water in their stems and leaves, they do need water to survive.

“Cacti cannot survive indefinitely without water. Test[s] conducted on cacti demonstrate that after four weeks without water underwatering signs such as 1) shrinking, 2) discoloration, 3) wilting/leaves curling, and 4) dead brittle roots will appear. Cacti can survive without water from a few weeks to a few years,” Your Indoor Herbs and Garden explained.

Florida, parts of Brazil and central Mexico were some of the regions predicted by the study to have the most species at risk, reported 12News. However, the iconic saguaro cactus of Arizona is expected to be less threatened.

Even modest global warming could decrease the amount of hospitable territory for many species of cactus, Pillet said, as The New York Times reported.

“Species either adapt or they will go extinct,” said biodiversity researcher at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research Arnóbio de Mendonça, who was not part of the study, as reported by The New York Times. “As adaptation is a slow process and current climate change is occurring rapidly, it is likely that many species will be lost.”

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EcoWatch

What Is the Greenest State in the Nation?

 Olivia Rosane, April 15, 2022

What is the greenest state in the nation?

Financial advising website WalletHub has released a new report ranking U.S. states based on how well they take care of their environment.

“We should all try to do our part to save the world for future generations,” WalletHub wrote. “In order to highlight the greenest states and call out those doing a poor job of caring for the environment, WalletHub compared each of the 50 states on 25 key metrics.”

The report ranked the states according to three different categories: environmental quality, eco-friendly behaviors and climate-change contributions. To judge environmental quality the report looked at air quality, water quality, soil quality and energy efficiency. Eco-friendly behaviors included metrics like green buildings per capita, energy consumption per capita and gasoline consumption per capita. Climate-change contributions were based on carbon-dioxide emissions per capita, methane emissions per capita, nitrous-oxide emissions per capita and fluorinated greenhouse-gas emissions per capita.

Vermont took the lead as the most environmentally friendly state overall, followed by New York and Hawaii. On the other end of the spectrum, West Virginia came in last, preceded by Louisiana and Mississippi.

The entire top ten list is as follows, according to The Hill:

  1. Vermont
  2. New York
  3. Hawaii
  4. Maryland
  5. California
  6. Massachusetts
  7. Minnesota
  8. Connecticut
  9. South Dakota
  10. Maine

The nation’s most environmentally-friendly states are similar to the states selected by WalletHub in 2021, as U.S. News and World Report said at the time. Vermont and New York remained in the No. 1 and 2 slots. However, Massachusetts was third. Washington and Oregon appeared in the top ten last year, but were swapped out with Maine and South Dakota this year.

Another ranking from ConsumerAffairs put Washington, Oregon, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine in the top five slots. This list, released in February, was based on greenhouse gas emissions; waste, recycling and compost; and energy generation from renewables and nuclear. West Virginia took the bottom slot in this list as well.

The WalletHub report also ranked the states on individual metrics. For example, Wyoming had the best air quality in the nation, Oregon and Maine tied for the highest renewable energy consumption and New York had the lowest gasoline consumption per capita. California had the worst air quality in the nation, while Delaware had the lowest renewable energy consumption and Mississippi had the highest gas consumption per capita.

WalletHub is above all a financial advice website, and the report emphasized the fact that financial and ecological health can go hand in hand. It pointed out that 2021 was the third most expensive year on record in the U.S. in terms of damages from extreme weather events.

“It’s possible that living more sustainably and using greener energy sources could prevent us from having quite as bad hurricane seasons in the future – and saving a lot of money in repairs as a result,” WalletHub said.

The report also included the testimony of experts who weighed in on the relationship between the economy and the environment, and what individuals could do to make a difference.

“[I]t it is important to think of sustainable development which encompasses the Triple Bottomline, i.e. the three P’s (people, planet, and profits). A green economy is good not just for the environment, but it creates working and living conditions that allow people to thrive while corporations make equal or more profit on the same level of investment. We have been duped into believing a false dichotomy. There are many ways of incorporating green development in ways that improve the lives of the people who live and work in that economy while protecting the planet and investors,” Stockton University professor of environmental science, geology and sustainability Dr. Tait Chirenje said.

The report also found that political decisions made a difference. Blue states were on average more eco-friendly than red states, having a score of 15.24 compared to 35.76. (The greener the state, the lower the score.) This means that political participation is an important part of individual climate action.

“There are many ways individuals can help protect the environment, from recycling to home insulation to using public transportation more often. But the single most powerful way to protect the environment is our vote,” Presidential Climate Action Project executive director William Becker said in the report. “We need to elect legislators, congressional members, governors, and presidents who understand the importance of a healthy natural environment and who champion public policies that protect our forests, rivers, oceans, wilderness, soils, and biodiversity.”

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CBS News

Stranded dolphin dies after beachgoers try to “ride” it, rescuers say

Stephen Smith, April 15, 2022

An ailing dolphin stranded on a Texas beach died after a crowd of people harassed the mammal and tried to “ride” it, rescue officials said.

On Sunday, beachgoers found the sick dolphin on Quintana Beach, pushed it back out to sea and tried “to swim with and ride the animal,” the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network said in a Facebook post.

The female dolphin was ultimately stranded again on the beach where she was harassed by a crowd of people, the network said in the post, along with two images of the stranded dolphin.

“This type of harassment causes undue stress to wild dolphins, is dangerous for the people who interact with them and is illegal — punishable by fines and jail time if convicted,” the group said.

Last year, NOAA Fisheries said it had observed “continued incidents of inappropriate and illegal interactions” with another dolphin near North Padre Island.

In a separate incident this week in Florida, NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement asked the public for information about a bottlenose dolphin found dead on Fort Myers Beach. A necropsy revealed the dolphin was impaled in the head with a spear-like object while alive.

“Based on the shape, size and characteristics of the wound, it is suspected that the dolphin was impaled while  in a begging position,” NOAA said in a statement. “Begging is not a natural behavior for dolphins and is frequently associated with illegal feeding.”

Since 2002, at least 27 dolphins have stranded with evidence of being shot by guns or arrows, or impaled with sharp objects, the agency said. 

Harassing, harming, killing or feeding wild dolphins is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. NOAA says violations can be prosecuted civilly or criminally and are punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and up to one year in jail per violation.

The agency encourages people to observe marine mammals from a distance of at least 50 yards.

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Thousand Oaks Acorn (Agoura Hills, CA)

Group argues steelhead are endangered

April 14, 2022, By Scott Steepleton

The state Fish and Game Commission later this month will consider listing the Southern California steelhead trout as an endangered species.

Ahead of that vote, local water officials expressed concerns over how such a designation might affect Malibu Creek, already one of the most managed habitats in the state, and other area waterways.

With more than 25,000 miles of stream territory from San Luis Obispo County to Mexico at its disposal, the steelhead trout is mostly prevalent in the Santa Maria, Santa Ynez, Ventura and Santa Clara rivers.

The federal government listed the steelhead as an endangered species in 1997, but its numbers continue to dwindle with dams, urbanization and development practices that alter estuaries posing the most significant threats, according to California Trout, the organization pushing the state to list the rainbow-colored fish.

In addition to submitting the petition to get the steelhead on the state’s endangered list, California Trout is working to get the Rindge Dam south of Calabasas removed from Malibu Creek, arguing that human encroachment could render the species extinct before 2050.

A yes vote by the Fish and Game commission would trigger a one-year status review after which the board would be asked to make a final decision on whether the endangered listing is warranted.

At issue locally is the natural flow rate in Malibu Creek. In 2012, the Las Virgenes-Triunfo water district joint powers authority began adding treated recycled water from the Tapia Water Reclamation Facility to the creek to help sustain the steelhead, which can become stranded in down-canyon pools where water levels tend to drop.

The joint powers agency today injects 600 gallons of treated wastewater per minute into the Malibu Canyon stream as water continues to get soaked up by arid creek beds and vegetation.

The endangered listing by the state could trigger changes to the creek and affect its flow rate, said Joe McDermott, director of engineering and external affairs for the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District.

“We’re hopeful that that wouldn’t change,” he said.

Steelhead thrive in fresh water and the ocean, and can make several trips between the two. Locally, the trout passes into Malibu Creek when the sand berm at Surfrider Beach estuary in Malibu is open. When the berm closes in spring and when drought comes, some fish remain stranded upstream.

As the water evaporates and the pools they’re in shrink, the steelhead’s existence becomes threatened.

Staff at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife evaluated CalTrout’s request and determined the petition “provides sufficient scientific information on the trend of (Southern California) steelhead populations to indicate that the petitioned action may be warranted.”

Oxnard-based United Water Conservation District doesn’t want to see the steelhead listed. The 460-member Association of California Water Agencies also weighed in on the side of caution.

Michael Flood, general manager of Casitas Municipal Water District in Oak View, submitted a letter to the state warning that regulations brought about by the endangered species designation “will most likely delay projects, including recovery actions that are already in place or are in the advanced planning stages, as well as additional concerns regarding elements of recovery that CalTrout did not provide in their petition letter.”

Flood noted that his district along with the United States Bureau of Reclamation have been active in the recovery of steelhead in the Ventura River “by designing and operating a diversion with a state-of-the-art fish passage facility and fish passage life cycle monitoring station.”

The unprecedented drought stretching back to 2007, Flood writes, has had a significant adverse effect on the recovery of the species resulting in no change in steelhead numbers in the region.

“Would adding this species to the list,” Flood continues, “change that or provide additional, meaningful recovery actions not already included in the federal recovery plan?”

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Euronews.green

By Maeve Campbell, 14/04/2022

Freezing koala sperm could be the best way to save the endangered species from becoming extinct, according to researchers in Australia.

Scientists at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales propose setting up a biolab of collected sperm, to improve genetic diversity in koalas.

The process is called biobanking and involves freezing sex cells and tissues for use in assisted breeding. The technology is similar to what doctors use to help (human) couples struggling to conceive.

Biobanking could “future-proof” the species, the new study explains, through capturing the genetics of key populations and long-dead individuals and re-introducing them into at-risk populations.

“These tools could make quite a big impact in captive breeding programmes by reducing rates of inbreeding and boosting genetic diversity,” Dr Lachlan Howell, Honorary Associate Lecturer at the University of Newcastle told ABC Australia.

The other advantage is the cost, he says.

“Captive breeding is very expensive. It’s, on average, about $200,000 AUD (€136,000) per year for Australian species. And that might be required for decades.”

Howell explains that conservationists don’t have the resources to keep captive breeding populations for that long, which is why freezing sperm could be a cost-effective solution for their survival.

“We’ve identified 16 wildlife hospitals and zoos across Australia that could act as nodes to collect koala sperm.”

Are koalas endangered?

The IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) lists the koala as ‘potentially vulnerable’. This relatively low listing is influenced by the Australian state of Victoria’s apparently stable official Koala conservation status.

But research conducted by the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) strongly suggests that the species’ conservation status should be upgraded to ‘critically endangered’, especially in the South East Queensland bioregion.

The Queensland Minister for the Environment even declared koalas to be “functionally extinct” in 2019.

Koalas are in serious decline due to habitat destruction. They have been killed in their thousands as a result of bushfires in recent years.

But the animals also face threats from domestic dog attacks and road accidents. The Australian Koala Foundation estimates that there are less than 100,000 Koalas left in the wild, possibly as few as 43,000.

So freezing koala sperm could become a key part of a strategy to save the animals from extinction by 2050.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Temblor Legless Lizard Gets Closer to California Endangered Species Protection

Oil Drilling Imperils Rare Central California Lizard

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—(April 14, 2022)—The California Department of Fish and Wildlife today recommended that the Temblor legless lizard move toward protection under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The action came in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Temblor legless lizard is an unusual sand-swimming reptile found only in Kern and Fresno counties in the southwestern San Joaquin Valley. The survival of the species is jeopardized by extensive oil and gas drilling in its narrow range.

“I’m elated these unique lizards are closer to protection from oil industry pollution,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center. “The oil and gas industry’s rampant drilling is rapidly destroying the little remaining habitat these animals have left. The state must act quickly to protect these rare lizards before the fossil fuel industry wipes them out.”

Last November the Center petitioned the state to protect Temblor legless lizards under the California Endangered Species Act. In June California’s Fish and Game Commission will decide whether to accept the department’s recommendation and grant these imperiled lizards candidate status under state law.

A candidate designation triggers a yearlong review of whether the species should be formally protected under the state act. The species is legally protected during the review period.

The Temblor legless lizard is currently known to live at only five sites in Kern and Fresno counties, four of which are within oilfield boundaries and surrounded by extensive oil and gas development. In total, 31 oilfields overlap the lizard’s restricted range and more than 98% of its habitat is open to oil and gas development.

Oil and gas drilling threatens the Temblor legless lizard by destroying and fragmenting its habitat, compacting the soil, changing soil moisture levels, removing plant cover, and spilling oil and chemicals. Oil and produced-water spills are rampant in the lizard’s restricted range, including at least 20 surface spills in the past few years.

The Temblor legless lizard is also threatened by urban and industrial development, invasive grasses and non-native wild pigs, as well as rising temperatures and drier conditions caused by climate change.

In 2019 experts on the species recommended listing the Temblor legless lizard under both the California Endangered Species Act and federal law.

The Center petitioned for federal Endangered Species Act protection for the Temblor legless lizard in October 2020. In June 2021 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the species may qualify for protection. Last month the Center filed a lawsuit over the agency’s delay in determining whether the lizard warrants protection.

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Cronkite News – Arizona PBS (Arizona State University)  

New study shows nearly half of bald eagles affected by chronic lead poisoning

April 13, 2022, By Troy Hill, Cronkite News

PHOENIX, Arizona — A new study from the journal Science found that almost half of bald eagles and golden eagles in Arizona and 37 other states suffered from chronic lead poisoning.

The main way eagles consume lead is through their diet. Lead bullets and shot used in hunting game and varmints break apart on impact, and the carcasses are scavenged by birds of prey, who then ingest the lead.

Experts say solutions are simple: use nonlead ammunition or remove gut piles and carcasses from the field. The Arizona Game & Fish Department has a program that in certain cases allows hunters to swap their lead ammo for free.

“We’ve had 80 to 90% over the last decade of hunters in the area either switching to nonlead alternatives or removing their gut piles out of the environment,” said Kenneth “Tuk” Jacobson, the department’s raptor management coordinator.

Vince Sable, a wildlife research biologist and one of the authors of the Science study, said the poisoning is suppressing bald eagle populations by 4%, slowing the 10% growth seen over the past several years. Lead poisoning also can impair eagles’ ability to fly.

The study showed that 46% to 47% of bald and golden eagles had chronic lead poisoning and 27% to 33% of bald eagles had acute lead poisoning. The figure for chronic lead poisoning was determined by finding traces of lead in the birds’ bones, showing lower levels of exposure over long periods of time. Acute lead poisoning was determined by finding lead in the animals’ blood and feathers, which shows higher concentrations of exposure in shorter periods of time.

The condor population has suffered from the same lead poisoning, which nearly drove them to extinction, according to National Geographic.

“A lot of it is open areas where (scavengers) are feeding on carrion and carcasses that are left out,” said Jan Miller, animal care coordinator at Liberty Wildlife, an animal rehabilitation and refuge center in south Phoenix.

“Oftentimes, people will go out and varmint hunt, and they’ll do things like shoot rabbits or shoot coyotes and then leave it there with the intention of … animals can feed on it,” she said.

“The unfortunate thing is they don’t understand that the lead is going to poison the animals that are now going to eat that carcass,” said Miller.

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Reuters

US group says finds Facebook posts offering endangered wildlife for sale

SHANGHAI, April 13, 2022 (Reuters) – Facebook has become a “thriving marketplace” for illegal online wildlife trading, allowing the sale of many critically endangered species, a report by the U.S.-based campaign group Avaaz said on Wednesday.

Avaaz researchers said an investigation into the social media platform uncovered 129 posts listing endangered species that were up for sale, including baby tigers, African grey parrots and the pygmy marmoset, the world’s smallest monkey.

“Avaaz’s research shows that, on Facebook, wildlife trafficking takes place in broad daylight,” said Ruth Delbaere, senior legal campaigner with Avaaz.

“By insufficiently enforcing its own policies, Facebook is enabling an international trade that has devastating effects on biodiversity and the stability of natural ecosystems,” Delbaere added.

Facebook’s guidelines prohibit content that seeks to buy, sell, trade, donate or gift endangered species or their parts.

A spokesperson for Facebook owner Meta (FB.O) told Reuters that it was unfair to judge the company’s enforcement efforts on the basis of just 129 posts and said it has removed pages that violate its policies.

“The results don’t reflect the extensive work we’ve done to combat wildlife trafficking on Facebook,” the spokesperson said, adding that the company has introduced technology to find and remove such content, and to warn users who search for it.

“This is an adversarial space though, and the people behind this awful activity are persistent and constantly evolving their tactics to try to evade those efforts,” the spokesperson said.

Illegal wildlife trafficking has been under the spotlight amid claims that the virus that causes COVID-19 might have crossed the species barrier from bats to humans via China’s extensive animal trading network.

Since early 2020, China has sought to crack down on the trading of all kinds of wildlife for food.

China’s Supreme Court also issued new guidelines last week saying legal efforts to combat trafficking should cover the entire criminal supply chain, from poaching to processing.

(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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The Guardian

Back from the dead? Elusive ivory-billed woodpecker not extinct, researchers say

An expedition to the forests of Louisiana say extinction of bird, last definitively seen in 1944, has been exaggerated

Oliver Milman, Wednesday., 13 April 2022

In terms of elusiveness, it is the Bigfoot or Loch Ness monster of the bird world, so rare and undetectable that the US government declared it extinct last year. But the ivory-billed woodpecker is, in fact, still alive and pecking in the forests of Louisiana, a team of researchers has claimed.

A series of grainy pictures and observations of the bird, which had its last widely accepted sighting in 1944, show that the scrupulously furtive woodpecker is still holding on in the swampy forests of the US south, according to the team’s new research, which is yet to be peer-reviewed.

A three-year quest to find the woodpecker involved scientists trudging through an undisclosed portion of Louisiana woodland to observe the bird and take audio recordings. Unmanned trail cameras, set up to take pictures on a time lapse, and a drone were used to capture photos of the creature.

Steve Latta, the director of conservation at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh who led the effort, said each member of the team had encounters with the ivory-billed woodpecker and often heard its call, which has been described like hearing a child puff into a tin trumpet.

Latta himself saw the bird fly upwards in front of him, showing the distinctive white edges to its wings. “It flew up at an angle and I watched it for about six to eight seconds, which was fairly long for an ivory-billed woodpecker,” he said. “I was surprised. I was visibly shaking afterwards. You realize you’ve seen something special that very few people had the opportunity to see.”

The size and the markings of the bird captured in the photos is strong evidence that it is not another woodpecker, such as a pileated or red-headed woodpecker, Latta said. “It reinforced to me that, yes, this bird does exist and left me feeling a sense of responsibility to protect it for the future,” he said.

Ivory-billed woodpeckers were once relatively common, stretching from the Carolinas through the south-east US to Texas. They were, or are, the largest woodpeckers in the US, with the males sporting a distinctive red crest on their heads. They enjoy feasting on insects that accumulate in the bark of recently deceased trees.

Their numbers started to drop sharply in the 19th century due to human interference with their habitat and overhunting, with their scarcity spurring collectors to hunt them further as valuable specimens. They were also eaten by poverty-stricken people of the time who turned to devouring the woodpecker, wild turkeys, gopher tortoises and other wildlife.

With just a few of the birds occupying largely inaccessible forests, confirmed sightings, let alone clear pictures, became almost impossible. Last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), after years of listing the woodpecker as critically endangered, declared the species extinct.

“No one has held a camera and got a picture of one in years because it’s a scarce bird in tough swampy habitat and they don’t want people close to them because they’ve been shot at for 150 years,” said Geoffrey Hill, a biologist at Auburn University who took part in another, largely frustrating, trip to find the bird in Florida in 2005.

“They have better eyes than we do, they are high in the trees and actively flee people. They aren’t great thinkers but they have developed a pretty simple strategy to avoid people.”

Hill said Latta’s research was “very interesting” and that he thought it likely that the bird pictured is indeed an ivory-billed woodpecker. He added that the FWS was premature to decide the species was extinct and that several dozen could still be holding on in forests across the south.

“Some people cannot believe a bird can defy documentation by modern humans because we have such dominion over nature but it is endlessly interesting because if it has done that, it’s one pretty impressive bird,” Hill said.

“People who are into birds are fascinated by them. Ivory bills couldn’t care less, though. They hate all people.”

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Environmental Protection Agency

EPA Announces Plan to Protect Endangered Species and Support Sustainable Agriculture

New comprehensive workplan will further species conservation while improving certainty for farmers, local public health agencies, and other pesticide users

April 12, 2022, EPA Press Office 

WASHINGTON (April 12, 2022) – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its first-ever comprehensive workplan to address the decades-old challenge of protecting endangered species from pesticides. The plan establishes four overall strategies and dozens of actions to adopt those protections while providing farmers, public health authorities, and others with access to pesticides.

“Today’s workplan serves as the blueprint for how EPA will create an enduring path to meet its goals of protecting endangered species and providing all people with safe, affordable food and protection from pests,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “The workplan reflects EPA’s collaboration with other federal agencies and commitment to listening to stakeholders about how they can work with the Agency to solve this longstanding challenge.”

“The workplan announced today will allow us to better protect wildlife, imperiled species, and ecosystems” said White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory. “I look forward to continuing to work collaboratively across the federal government to better protect wildlife from extinction and minimize the impacts of pesticides.”

“USDA appreciates the steps EPA is taking today.  We are confident that EPA can streamline ESA consultations around pesticides in a way that continues to conserve wildlife while allowing farmers access to the tools they need to produce the food and fiber that all of us rely on,” said USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is eager to help EPA achieve its vision to protect federally listed threatened and endangered species while fulfilling its obligations related to authorizing the safe use of pesticides,” said Martha Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director.

“NOAA supports the Environmental Protection Agency’s ESA-FIFRA workplan and looks forward to continued collaboration with our interagency partners to ensure the protection of federally listed species and their habitats. Implementation of this work plan will lead to a more consistent and timely regulatory process, and better outcomes for our species and our partners,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D.

EPA has an opportunity and an obligation to improve how it meets its duties under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) when it registers pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). For most of EPA’s history, the Agency has met these duties for less than five percent of its FIFRA decisions. This has resulted in over 20 ESA lawsuits against the Agency, which have increased in frequency in recent years, creating uncertainty for farmers and other pesticide users, unnecessary expenses and inefficiencies for EPA, and delays in how EPA protects endangered species.

EPA currently has over 50 pesticide ingredients, covering over 1,000 pesticide products, with court-enforceable deadlines to comply with the ESA or in pending litigation alleging ESA violations. Completing this work will take EPA past 2040, yet the work represents less than five percent of all the FIFRA decisions in the next decade for which ESA obligations exist. This is an unsustainable and legally tenuous situation, in which EPA’s schedule for meeting its ESA obligations has historically been determined through the courts. The workplan must provide a path for the Agency to meet those obligations on its own, thus protecting endangered species while supporting responsible pesticide use.

Today’s workplan also sets a new vision for a successful ESA-FIFRA program that focuses on protecting species under the ESA, while minimizing regulatory impacts to pesticide users, supporting the development of safer technologies to control pests, completing timely FIFRA decisions, and collaborating with other agencies and stakeholders on implementing the plan.

The workplan describes four strategies and multiple actions to further the vision.

*A key strategy is for EPA to meet its ESA obligations for all FIFRA actions that invoke ESA. Because EPA does not have the capacity or scientific processes in place to meet all these obligations immediately, it has identified the FIFRA actions that are the highest priority for fulfilling its ESA obligations. These include actions with court-enforceable deadlines and new registrations of conventional pesticides.

*A second strategy is to improve approaches to identifying and requiring ESA protections, especially for species facing the greatest risk from pesticides.

*A third strategy is to improve the efficiency and timeliness of the ESA consultation process for pesticides, in coordination with other federal agencies.

*And the final strategy is to engage stakeholders more effectively, to better understand their pest control practices and implement species protection measures.

EPA needs the help of other federal agencies, state agencies, and stakeholders to implement these actions. Through the workplan, EPA is describing its future directions in the hope of collaborating with all these organizations on implementation. Over the coming months, EPA will engage with a wide range of stakeholders to identify opportunities for collaboration and will continue seeking input on more effective and efficient ways to meet its ESA obligations. The workplan is a living document that EPA will periodically revisit to incorporate lessons learned from implementation.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Nevada’s Railroad Valley Toad

Small Toad’s Survival Threatened by Proposed Lithium Project

RENO, Nev.—(April 12, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition today with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the critically imperiled Railroad Valley toad, which is threatened by a proposed lithium production project and oil drilling.

This recently identified species is found at just one spring-fed wetland complex in Railroad Valley, Nevada. It has an estimated distribution of only 445 acres and is isolated from other toads by miles of arid desert. Like many of Nevada’s groundwater-dependent species, this unique toad relies on consistent spring flow for survival.

The Railroad Valley toad’s sole habitat is imminently threatened by a proposed lithium production project that would be located less than 10 miles away. The project is seeking to extract billions of gallons of groundwater, or brine, per year, threatening the springs the toad depends on. Post-processed brine would also be reinjected underground, potentially degrading the water quality of the wetland complex.

“While we strongly support the transition to renewable energy and recognize that lithium is an important component, it can’t come at the expense of these rare toads’ survival,” said Krista Kemppinen, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Center. “We’re in a biodiversity crisis, and amphibians are more imperiled than any other group of vertebrates. Lithium production needs to minimize threats to species and water consumption and maximize recycling.”

In addition to lithium production, oil and gas development in the valley also threatens the Railroad Valley toad. There are dozens of active oil wells in Railroad Valley, and the Bureau of Land Management has leased out much of the public land in the valley, including land around the toad’s habitat, to oil companies.

The Railroad Valley toad has a brown and gray back with prominent warts and a black and white belly. It has evolved to survive in a rare spring-fed habitat in a geothermally active area. Described as a distinct species in 2020, it is one of the smallest members of the Anaxyrus boreas species group.

“The Railroad Valley toad has been a survivor for millennia at its aquatic desert home,” said Kemppinen. “Without protection under the Endangered Species Act, this unique toad will disappear forever.”

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EcoWatch

Children Believe Humans and Farm Animals Should Be Treated Equally, Study Finds

But They Tend to Lose This Belief in Adolescence

Paige Bennett, April 11, 2022

According to a new study, children believe humans and farm animals should be treated in the same ways, but they start to lose these beliefs as they become teenagers. The study notes that speciesism is learned in adolescence.

The study, done by researches at Exeter University and Oxford University, asked people of different age groups: kids 9 to 11, young adults ages 18 to 21 and adults ages 29 to 59 about treatment toward animals, including animals considered food.

The researchers found that the children showed less speciesism overall compared to the young adults and older adults. Speciesism is considered a moral hierarchy that ranks the value of different animal species.

The study also said that the children tended to associate farm animals as pets more so than food compared to the adult groups. The kids also had higher instances of wanting better treatment for farm animals and they considered eating meat as less morally acceptable.

“Humans’ relationship with animals is full of ethical double standards,” Luke McGuire, study lead author and a lecturer at the University of Exeter, told The Guardian. “Some animals are beloved household companions, while others are kept in factory farms for economic benefit. Judgments seem to largely depend on the species of the animal in question: dogs are our friends, pigs are food.”

The research is considered an important step toward understanding “moral aerobics” where humans may have moral double standards or contradicting beliefs. For instance, through the course of the study, the kids noted that dogs deserved better treatment than pigs, but that pigs still deserved equal treatment to humans. The adult groups wanted dogs and humans to be treated equally and both to be treated better than pigs.

“Something seems to happen in adolescence, where that early love for animals becomes more complicated and we develop more speciesism,” McGuire explained. “It’s important to note that even adults in our study thought eating meat was less morally acceptable than eating animal products like milk. So aversion to animals — including farm animals — being harmed does not disappear entirely.”

Although McGuire noted that changes in attitudes and beliefs is natural over time, understanding these shifts could help society shift to more sustainable lifestyles by introducing eco-friendly behaviors, like plant-based diets, early.

“If we want people to move towards more plant-based diets for environmental reasons, we have to disrupt the current system somewhere,” McGuire told The Guardian. “For example, if children ate more plant-based food in schools, that might be more in line with their moral values, and might reduce the normalization towards adult values that we identify in this study.”

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The Denver Post

Lauren Boebert and fellow Republicans want gray wolves removed from federal endangered species list

The wolves are fully recovered and don’t need federal protections, Boebert and 23 other members of Congress argued

By CONRAD SWANSON, April 11, 2022

Colorado’s U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert and 23 other Republican members of Congress wrote federal officials this month, asking that they remove the gray wolves from the federal endangered species list.

A northern California judge’s February ruling placed the gray wolves on the federal endangered species list once more after they were taken off during former president Donald Trump’s administration.

“Some activist judge from California shouldn’t be able to overturn the best available science and contradict the law based on his own leftist political beliefs,” Boebert said in a release announcing the effort to delist the wolves.

Boebert and the other representatives, including Colorado’s Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn, addressed the April 7 letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, asking her to appeal the February ruling, calling wolf populations “fully recovered.”

Experts and environmentalists argue otherwise, though. While wolf packs in the Great Lakes region might be doing well, their numbers are still lacking elsewhere across the country, especially in the Rocky Mountain region where they were hunted to near extinction generations ago.

In Colorado, gray wolves remain on the state endangered list and the issue came to a tipping point in 2020 when the state narrowly approved a contentious ballot measure requiring officials to reintroduce the species by the end of 2023. The state already has one pack of gray wolves in Jackson County, which made news after its members killed several cows and dogs in the area.

The majority of counties in Boebert’s expansive district covering the Western Slope, where the wolves will be reintroduced, opposed the statewide measure.

Rather than leaving gray wolves on the federal endangered species list, the letter argued that the protections should instead be left up to individual states. It pointed to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming as states that “far exceeded” federal management objectives.

While wolf populations have increased in Rocky Mountain states, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming permit wolf hunting, which environmentalists say undercuts efforts to restore their populations.

In Colorado anyone who hunts or kills wolves could face a fine and jail time. Department of the Interior representatives could not immediately be reached for comment and Haaland has not indicated that she would appeal the California ruling. Instead, she has repeatedly expressed her support for federal protections.

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6ABC/WATE.com (Knoxville, TN)

Plant found only on Cumberland Plateau taken off endangered list

by: Robert Holder, Posted: April 10, 2022

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A plant found only in a small area of the Cumberland Plateau has been taken off the federal endangered species list. Since the Cumberland sandwort, Minuartia cumberlandensis, was put on the list in 1988, Tennessee and Kentucky environmental officials – as well as federal agencies and conservation groups – have been working to protect the plant.

State and federal officials met Friday at Hazard Cave at Pickett CCC Memorial State Park to celebrate the milestone.

“This is a meaningful day for conservation,” said David Salyers, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation commissioner. “It’s a tribute to the partnerships involved that made this happen. This is another example of the great natural resources of our state and the determination to protect them.”

Cumberland sandwort occurs at the base and ledges of sandstone cliffs or rock overhangs in only four Tennessee counties – Pickett, Fentress, Morgan and Scott – and one county in Kentucky, McCreary.

“The recovery of the Cumberland sandwort is a conservation success that would not be possible without our dedicated partners,” said Dr. Catherine Phillips, the Service’s assistant regional director for Ecological Services. “Partnerships are essential to the success of the Endangered Species Act and the reason this plant will be enjoyed for years to come.”

The plant was first described to science in 1979 by Robert Kral of Vanderbilt University and Eugene Wofford of the University of Tennessee. Cumberland sandwort is now found in 71 places, 66 of which are on federal and state lands, managed by the National Park Service, Tennessee Division of Forestry, Tennessee Division of Natural Areas or Tennessee State Parks. Pickett CCC Memorial State Park has 29 of the 71 occurrences.

Hazard Cave also provides a reachable location to view the plant, as does Slave Falls at the Big South Fork National Recreation Area.

At the time of the listing, only 28 occurrences of the plant were known.

To keep the ensure the species’ viability, TDEC Division of Natural areas and partners will continue monitoring the species for five years.

The National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, and Missouri Botanical Garden also aided in the protection of the plant.

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The Guardian

Police in Spain seize €29m haul of stuffed endangered animals

Haul of more than 1,000 specimens includes over 400 protected species from polar bears to Bengal tigers

Reuters, 10 April 2022

Police in Spain have seized one of the largest hauls of taxidermy animals in Europe as they investigate potential smuggling, after a warehouse in Valencia was found to contain stuffed rhinos, polar bears, elephants and other animals.

The Guardia Civil discovered more than 1,000 specimens in a 50,000 sq metre (538,000 sq ft) industrial warehouse in Bétera, Valencia, on Wednesday, it said in a statement on Sunday.

The haul included more than 400 protected species, including some that have been extinct in the wild, such as the scimitar oryx, or severely threatened, such as the Bengal tiger. Others included lions, leopards, cheetahs and lynx.

The warehouse owner was under investigation for smuggling and crimes against flora and fauna, police said. He has not been arrested.

Investigators estimate the stuffed animals are worth €29m (£24.2m).

The discovery was the culmination of an investigation by Valencia police’s nature protection team that began in November 2021 when agents became aware of a possible private collection in Bétera.

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Anthropocene

Reducing food waste is an overlooked solution to saving endangered species  

According to a new study, reducing food waste by just half could be a more effective way to protect biodiversity than changing people’s diets.

By Emma Bryce, April 8, 2022

Halving rates of food waste in the United States could slash global biodiversity losses driven by American consumption, according to a new paper published in PNAS. What’s more, the analysis suggests that cutting food waste may be even more effective at reducing species loss than some nationally-recommended diets.

Biodiversity is often left out of the equation when calculating environmental impacts, explain the researchers in the new paper, which is why they made it the focal point of their analysis. They set out to tally up the amount of land—domestically and internationally—that’s required to feed the US, and the number of species that are consequently threatened by this production.

To drill down into these impacts they looked at how this land use and biodiversity impact would change under several dietary scenarios, including the Planetary Health Diet, as well as several diets officially recommended by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), including a vegetarian, and a Mediterranean-style diet—the latter of which is rich in fruits, vegetables and fish. The researchers also factored in the impact of substantial food waste reductions at the national scale.

They calculated that eating vegetarian and plant-rich diets uses less land and therefore reduces the overall threat to global biodiversity by around 30%, compared to baseline US diets.

However, when viewed through the lens of biodiversity, these more sustainable diets include some notable environmental trade-offs. The researchers found that 20% of the land required to produce food for US consumers occurs outside the country, and this foreign land represents 39% of the biodiversity risk driven by US diets. That’s because food imports to the US often come from countries including Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico where farmland is more likely to overlap with biodiversity hotspots, driving the destruction of rainforest and other wildlife-harboring habitats.

The reliance of plant-based diets on imported fruit and veg therefore skews its environmental footprint, increasing its biodiversity impact and offsetting some of the benefits of this greener diet: “Increasing the number of people eating plant-based diets would be incredibly beneficial for global biodiversity, but that we have to think carefully about where those calories are coming from,” explains lead author Quentin Read, who was working as a data scientist at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center when he produced this paper (he is now an applied statistician with the USDA.)

Meanwhile the nationally-recommended Mediterranean-style diet, which includes plenty of fruit, veg, fish and dairy, actually increased land pressures compared to the baseline (large amounts of land are devoted to pastureland to raise dairy cattle, and to grow feed for fish that are increasingly derived from aquaculture). In fact this diet, which is meant to be healthier for humans, isn’t so for nature: the extra land use increases the threat to global biodiversity by 10%, the study found.

Against these varied and complex dietary scenarios, tackling food waste offers an unexpectedly effective and elegant solution for saving biodiversity, the models suggest.

The researchers calculated that even if we leave current US diets unchanged, simply cutting avoidable food waste by half would reduce required food production, taking huge amounts of pressure off farmland, reducing the area required to fulfill American dietary needs, and therefore reducing biodiversity loss—all by about 17%. Food waste reduction is “way more beneficial for environment and biodiversity than it might appear at first glance,” says Read.

This figure significantly outpaces the biodiversity benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet. And while it isn’t as effective as the 30% reduced biodiversity threat achieved by a nationwide vegetarian diet, tackling food waste could make US food production more efficient, reducing the need for fruit and veg imports from biodiversity-rich regions—and thereby helping tackle the trade-offs of this more sustainable diet.

What’s more, slashing the US’s food waste by half can still accomplish the bulk of the biodiversity benefit achieved by sustainable diets, but with comparably less effort. “Changing diets is an incredibly fraught and problematic thing, making it all the more important to put resources toward food waste reduction—in addition to diet shifts. But we can expect more short-term success with food waste reduction,” says Read.

However we approach the challenge, the study reveals the importance of including biodiversity measures when we account for the environmental pressures of our food systems. By labelling diets as ‘sustainable’ just because they reduce emissions, for instance, we see only part of the picture and risk falling into a trap that puts nature and our food futures at risk.

Likewise, no single solution will achieve the deep reductions in biodiversity loss that our planet needs to see. In fact, the researchers found that the biggest biodiversity benefits occur when food waste reductions are combined with dietary change: slashing US food waste by half, and pairing it with more sustainable consumption could reduce the country’s food-related global biodiversity threat by almost 45%, they determined.

“Together, diet shifts and food waste reduction can help us achieve that crucial goal,” the researchers write.

(Read, et. al. “Biodiversity effects of food system sustainability actions from farm to fork.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2022.)

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Fox News

Wind energy company kills 150 bald eagles in US, pleads guilty

Fox Business, April 7, 2022

A subsidiary of one of the largest U.S. providers of renewable energy pleaded guilty to criminal charges and was ordered to pay over $8 million in fines and restitution after at least 150 bald eagles were killed at its wind farms in eight states, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

NextEra Energy subsidiary ESI Energy was also sentenced to five years probation after being charged with three counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act during a court appearance in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The charges arose from the deaths of nine bald eagles at three wind farms in Wyoming and New Mexico.

In addition to those deaths, the company acknowledged the deaths of golden and bald eagles at 50 wind farms affiliated with ESI and NextEra since 2012, prosecutors said. Birds were killed in eight states: Wyoming, California, New Mexico, North Dakota, Colorado, Michigan, Arizona and Illinois.

NextEra, based in Juno Beach, Florida, bills itself as the world’s largest utility company by market value. It has more than 100 wind farms in the U.S. and Canada and also generates natural gas, nuclear and solar power.

Almost all of the eagles killed at the NextEra subsidiary’s facilities were struck by the blades of wind turbines, prosecutors said. Some turbines killed multiple eagles and because the carcasses are not always found, officials said the number killed was likely higher than the 150 birds cited in court documents.

Prosecutors said the company’s failure to take steps to protect eagles or to obtain permits to kill the birds gave it an advantage over competitors that did take such steps — even as ESI and other NextEra affiliates received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal tax credits from the wind power they produced.

NextEra spokesperson Steven Stengel said the company didn’t seek permits because it believes the law didn’t require them for unintentional bird deaths. The company said its guilty plea will resolve all allegations over past fatalities and allow it to move forward without a continued threat of prosecution.

The criminal case comes amid a push by President Joe Biden for more renewable energy from wind, solar and other sources to help reduce climate changing emissions. It also follows a renewed commitment by federal wildlife officials under Biden to enforce protections for eagles and other birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Criminal prosecutions had been halted under former President Donald Trump for birds killed inadvertently by industry.

It’s illegal to kill or harm eagles under the migratory bird act. However, a wide range of industries — from energy firms to manufacturing companies — have lobbied for years against enforcing the law for accidental bird deaths.

The bald eagle — the U.S. national symbol since the 1700s — saw its populations widely decimated last century due to harmful pesticides such as DDT and other problems. Following a dramatic recovery, it was removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2007. Biologists say more than 300,000 bald eagles now occupy the U.S., not including Alaska.

Golden eagles have not fared as well, with populations considered stable but under pressure from wind farms, collisions with vehicles, illegal shootings and poisoning from lead ammunition.

Most of the eagles killed at the ESI and NextEra wind farms were golden eagles, according to court documents.

There are an estimated 31,800 golden eagles in the Western U.S. with an estimated 2,200 killed annually due to human causes, or about 60% of all deaths, according to a study released last week by leading eagle researchers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other entities.

The study concluded that golden eagle deaths “will likely increase in the future” because of wind energy development and other human activities.

Companies historically have been able to avoid prosecution under the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty law if they take steps to avoid deaths and seek permits for those that occur.

Charging documents said company representatives, including ESI’s president, were warned that eagles would be killed if the company built two wind farms in central and southeastern Wyoming, and also knew about a risk to eagles when they authorized the repowering of a New Mexico wind farm, about 170 miles from Albuquerque.

The company proceeded anyway and at times ignored further advice from federal wildlife officials about how to minimize the deaths, according to court documents.

“For more than a decade, ESI has violated (wildlife) laws, taking eagles without obtaining or even seeking the necessary permit,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division in a statement.

ESI agreed under a plea deal to spend up to $27 million during its five-year probationary period on measures to prevent future eagle deaths. That includes shutting down turbines at times when eagles are more likely to be present.

Despite those measures, wildlife officials anticipate that some eagles still could die. When that happens, the company will pay $29,623 per dead eagle under the plea deal.

NextEra President Rebecca Kujawa said collisions of birds with wind turbines are unavoidable accidents that should not be criminalized. She said the company is committed to reducing damage to wildlife from its projects.

“We disagree with the government’s underlying enforcement activity,” Kujawa said in a statement. “Building any structure, driving any vehicle, or flying any airplane carries with it a possibility that accidental eagle and other bird collisions may occur.”

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EcoWatch

Commercial Fishers Kill Sharks to Retrieve $1 Hooks in New Zealand, Report Finds

Paige Bennett, April 06, 2022

Documents collected via the Official Information Act in New Zealand show that commercial fishers in the area have been killing or injuring sharks to retrieve their fishing gear, including hooks that cost as little as $1.

The documents come from government observers who worked to oversee commercial longline fleets in the country from 2016 to 2021.

Fishing gear on its own already presents problems for wildlife that may become entangled in nets or fishing lines.

“Bycatch accounts for about half of global shark catches. Longlines are mostly responsible, but bycatch in nets is also important,” according to WWF New Zealand. “In the Pacific Ocean alone, 3.3 million sharks are caught each year as bycatch on longlines. Indeed, in terms of numbers, sharks are the most significant bycatch species in the world’s major high seas fisheries. They are also particularly vulnerable to over-fishing due to their relatively slow reproductive rate, with several species showing recent drastic declines.”

Yet commercial fishers trying to retrieve their gear are another threat, as the observers documented that these workers would kill or maim sharks that accidentally became entangled in the gear.

The documents noted that fishers would throw sharks, swing them around by their tails, or cut through their jaws to collect fishing hooks, as Plant Based News reported. After cutting off the sharks’ jaws, fishers would throw the still-alive sharks back into the water.

Another document noted that a skipper, or person in charge of a fishing boat, told crew members to kill off blue sharks to reduce the population, even though the species is considered Near Threatened by IUCN due to overfishing and hunting for shark fins.

“The Blue Shark is caught globally as target and bycatch in commercial and small-scale pelagic longline, purse seine, and gillnet fisheries,” IUCN reported. “Most of the catch is taken as bycatch of industrial pelagic fleets in offshore and high-seas waters. It is also captured in coastal longlines, gillnets, trammel nets, and sometimes trawls, particularly in areas with narrow continental shelves.”

Experts have called the documents horrific and appalling and are calling for reforms to prevent these shark killings.

“While I can understand the frustration of the fishers in incidentally catching a shark that is not wanted, nothing justifies such inhumane and callous action,” said Laws Lawson, chief executive of Fisheries Inshore New Zealand.

Activists have drafted a petition for better shark protections and more monitoring of fishing vessels. The petition also wants fishers to release any bycatch, including sharks, with “as little harm as possible.”

“Sharks that aren’t intended for food should be released back to the sea alive and unharmed by cutting the line,” said Geoff Keey, spokesperson for Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand, also known as Forest & Bird. “Forest & Bird is urging the fishing industry to end the practice of killing and maiming unwanted sharks and calls on the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries to ban this horrific practice.”

At the time of writing, the petition has just over 30,000 signatures and is looking to reach 100,000.

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Center for Biological Diversity

140 Groups Call for Major Reforms at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Restore Scientific Integrity

Protection of Species Hindered by Bureaucratic Interference, Inefficiency

WASHINGTON—(April 6, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity and 139 other organizations sent a letter today urging U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams to take immediate action to reform the agency’s process for listing imperiled species as threatened or endangered.

The agency’s process for protecting species involves multiple layers of bureaucracy and upwards of 20 people who only vet listing decisions based on political concerns.

Today’s letter states that “it is frequently the case — especially with politically controversial species — that listing decisions are made in Washington, D.C., including reversing the original listing recommendations of the Services’ own scientists.” As a result, “the agency has failed to protect species for years, even decades — making extinction much more likely and recovery much more difficult and expensive.”

“Instead of fighting at the front lines to combat the extinction crisis, the Service has been crippled by decades of bureaucratic boondoggles and illegal political interference at all levels of decision-making,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “It’s clear that drastic reform is desperately needed to fix this broken agency. We only hope that Director Williams will be bold enough to do so.”

More than 300 animals and plants are still awaiting protection decisions — including the western pond turtle, lake sturgeon and western bumblebee — while hundreds more imperiled species are not even under consideration. On average, the agency has taken 12 years to protect species even though under the Endangered Species Act, it should take no more than two. Nearly 50 unlisted species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

The Service has failed to make dozens of required protection decisions every year, violating promises in a workplan developed by the agency. In fiscal year 2021, the Biden administration failed to make decisions on 66 imperiled species. The agency failed to make required findings for 30 species in fiscal year 2017, 78 species in fiscal year 2018, 46 species in fiscal year 2019, and 58 species in fiscal year 2020.

The Service has also often denied protection for clearly endangered species, resulting in repeated court battles to overturn politically motivated decisions. For more than 20 years the American wolverine has been under consideration for protection with the agency seesawing between proposing protection and withdrawing it, only to have the withdrawal overturned in court.

“The Service is doing no better at protecting species in a timely manner than it did under the Trump administration, which was the most anti-wildlife administration in recent history,” said Greenwald. “Williams has the public support to make transformative changes within the agency, but she needs to muster the political will to do so.”

More than 24,000 members of the public so far have also called on Williams to reform the agency.

The Center recently filed a comprehensive legal petition urging the Service to, among other things, reduce political interference in the listing process by empowering career scientists to make science-based decisions without fear of political reprisal.

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ABC News

Experts estimate 8 endangered porpoises may remain in Mexico

April 6, 2022

The Sea Shepherd environmental group says scientists estimate that only about eight of the world’s most critically endangered porpoises may remain in the Gulf of California, the only place where the vaquita marina lives

By The Associated Press, April 5, 2022

MEXICO CITY — Scientists estimate only about eight of the world’s most critically endangered porpoises may remain in the Gulf of California, the only place where the vaquita marina lives, an environmental group said Tuesday.

Pritam Singh, chairman of the Sea Shepherd group, said its crews had not seen any of the elusive porpoises during about three dozen trips this year to what is believed to be the last area in the gulf where vaquitas live.

But he said scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature reviewed images taken late last year that suggest eight adults and perhaps one or two calves are still in the the Gulf, also known as the Sea of Cortez.

Vaquitas drown in illegal nets set by fishermen to catch totoaba, a fish whose swim bladder is a delicacy in China and sells for thousands of dollars per pound (kilogram).

The Mexican government has been criticized for partially giving up on efforts to enforce a zero-fishing zone in the last known area of the Gulf where vaquitas live. But Singh said that while there were a lot of small fishing boats in the zero-fishing area early this year, coordination between Sea Shepherd and the Mexican navy has helped cut down on the vessels.

Singh said that the first three days Sea Shepherd patrolled the area this year, they sighted 58 fishing boats on the first day, 35 the second and 27 on the third. During their most recent trip, those numbers were down to between one and three boats per day, he said.

“That is great news,” Singh said. “That helps to give the vaquita a chance.”

Last year, the Mexican government abandoned the policy of maintaining a “zero tolerance” zone in the upper Gulf. It then introduced a sliding scale of punishments if more than 60 fishing boats are seen in the area on multiple occasions.

For years, Mexico relied on Sea Shepherd boats to remove most of the illegal nets that trap and drown vaquitas, while doing relatively little to combat violent attacks by poachers on the environmentalists’ ships. The group estimates it removed about 1,000 of the long, heavy nets over the last six years.

But the environmentalists were forced to leave the Gulf in January 2021 after a New Year’s Eve attack in which fishermen rammed a Sea Shepherd vessel with their boat. One of the fishermen later reportedly died of injuries sustained in that attack.

Since then, the job of locating and removing nets has been largely left to Mexico’s navy, acting on reports from Sea Shepherd vessels. Mexican authorities allowed the group to return to the Gulf about a year after it was forced out, but it no longer allows the group to remove illegal nets.

In February, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office filed the first trade-based environmental complaint against Mexico for failing to protect the vaquita marina, which is the world’s smallest porpoise.

The office said it had asked for “environment consultations” with Mexico, the first such case it has filed under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade pact. Consultations are the first step in the dispute resolution process under the treaty, which took effect in 2020. If not resolved, it could eventually lead to trade sanctions.

Mexico’s Economy Department said after the complaint was announced Thursday that “the Mexican government reaffirms its commitment to the proper implementation of the USMCA and the responsibilities it has within it.”

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has expressed his dislike of foreign interference, and his desire to balance the interests of fishermen and endangered species.

“We don’t need foreigners telling us what to do or placing sanctions on our country’s fishermen,” López Obrador said in 2021. He insisted that “we can reach an agreement that seeks an equilibrium between fishing and productive activities, and taking care of species.”

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The Times-Standard (Eureka, CA)

CDFW ends crab season after humpback entanglements

The Times-Standard, April 6, 2022

The following is a press release from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director Charlton H. Bonham has assessed entanglement risk under the Risk Assessment Mitigation Program (RAMP) and announced the closure of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in Fishing Zones 1 and 2 (Sonoma/Mendocino county line to the Oregon state line) effective at noon on April 20, 2022. This closure is being implemented in addition to a closure of Zones 3 through 6 announced on March 25 because of three recent humpback whale entanglements involving California commercial Dungeness crab fishing gear. All commercial Dungeness crab traps must be removed from the fishing grounds in Zones 3, 4, 5 and 6 by noon on April 8 and by noon on April 20 in Zones 1 and 2. In addition, the Director has authorized the Lost and Abandoned Gear Retrieval Program to begin removing commercial Dungeness crab traps left in the water starting April 15 at noon in Zones 3, 4, 5 and 6 and April 27 at noon in Zones 1 and 2.

“We received reports of additional humpback whale entanglements and moved quickly to close the fishery to protect migrating humpback whales that are just starting to return to California waters,” said Director Bonham. “While this poses an economic impact on certain sectors of our coastal fishing communities, it is important to protect both whales and the long-term viability of the commercial fishery. We will be working with the fishing fleet, researchers and other agencies to better understand these recent entanglement events and find ways to mitigate this risk in future seasons.”

CDFW asks fishermen and mariners to be on the lookout for and report any entangled whales so a disentanglement response team can be mobilized to remove the gear. Reports can be made to 1-877-SOS-WHALE or contact the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16. The recreational fishery remains open statewide but may be subject to a future trap restriction as humpback whales return to California waters to forage during the spring and summer. The recreational fishery should be ready to respond to minimize risk. To that end, CDFW reminds everyone in the commercial and recreational fisheries to implement best practices, as described in the Best Practices Guide.

A map of all Fishing Zones can be found on the CDFW website. For more information related to the risk assessment process, please visit CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries page. For more information on the Dungeness crab fishery, please visit CDFW’s Crab page, including FAQs for the 2021-22 commercial fishing season and FAQs for the new recreational crab trap regulations.
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The Columbian (Vancouver, WA)

Growth slows for endangered wolves

Mexican gray wolf population still struggling

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press, April 5, 2022

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There are now more Mexican gray wolves roaming the southwestern U.S. than at any time since the federal government started to reintroduce the endangered species, wildlife managers said Wednesday.

The results of the latest annual survey of the wolves show there are at least 196 in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona — the sixth straight year that wolf population has increased.

But officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the population’s growth in 2021 was tempered by higher than average pup mortality. Life was made more difficult for the wolves because of a persistent drought that has resulted in low precipitation and scant snowpack, the officials said.

Fewer than 40 percent of pups survived through the end of the year, though more breeding pairs were recorded in 2021.

“We are happy to see the wild population of Mexican wolves continue to grow year after year,” said Brady McGee, coordinator of the Mexican gray wolf recovery program. “The service and our partners remain focused on recovery through improving the genetic health of the wild population and reducing threats, while also working to minimize conflicts with livestock.”

Ranchers continue to have concerns about livestock killed by the wolves, saying efforts to scare the predators away from livestock — by horse riders, nonlethal shots fired from guns and flags put up on fences near cattle — have not been effective enough. Feeding caches for the wolves are also set up by officials to lure wolves away from livestock.

State Rep. Rebecca Dow sent a letter to McGee about two separate livestock kills on a grazing allotment in her district. The Republican from the small city of Truth or Consequences said Wednesday that she learned about ranchers forced to camp out on their property to protect their herds.

“Ranching is a way of life in our district and the release of these wolves without proper management is taking away from our community’s right to earn a living,” said Dow, who is seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Numbers disappoint

Unlike wolf reintroductions in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere in the northern U.S., wildlife managers in the Southwest must deal with a climate that has encouraged a year-round livestock calving season, meaning wolves can prey on the livestock year-round instead of several months of the year.

The rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America, the Mexican wolf was listed as endangered in the 1970s and a U.S.-Mexico captive breeding program was started with the seven remaining wolves in existence.

It’s estimated that thousands of Mexican wolves once roamed from central Mexico to New Mexico, southern Arizona and Texas. Predator eradication programs began in the late 1800s. Within several decades, the predators were all but eliminated from the wild.

There are currently about 380 Mexican wolves in more than 60 zoos and other facilities in the two countries. In Mexico, the wild population numbers around 40, officials have said.

The wolf recovery team placed 22 captive-born pups into seven wild dens in 2021 as part of a cross-fostering program aimed at boosting the population’s genetic diversity. Officials said two of the pups have since been captured and collared and that the effort to determine how many survived will continue this year.

The team also documented 25 wolf deaths in 2021. Officials rarely release many details about those cases that involve illegal shootings.

Environmentalists had hoped the U.S. population would have topped 200 in 2021. They have been pressuring the Fish and Wildlife Service to release more captive wolf packs and to allow the predators to establish new packs in areas beyond the current recovery zone in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona.

The environmentalists have said that the southern Rockies and the Grand Canyon area would be suitable wolf habitat.

“The disappointing lack of significant growth is a sign that this recovery paradigm is not working,” Chris Smith with the WildEarth Guardians group said in a statement.

Wolves “need better protection and more room to roam and re-establish themselves. U.S. Fish and Wildlife continues to flout the science and bow to political pressure,” Smith said.

Federal officials are expected this summer to finalize a new rule that will govern management of Mexican wolves in the U.S.

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New York Times

U.S. Allows Hunters to Import Some Elephant Trophies From African Countries

After settling a lawsuit filed during the Trump administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service granted six permits to bring elephant parts into the country. It may approve more in the coming months.

By Miranda Green, April 1, 2022

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service informed some hunters last month that it would allow the import of six elephant trophies into the United States from Zimbabwe. The African elephant carcasses will be the first allowed into the country in five years.

The decision reverses an agencywide hold on processing elephant trophy import permits that was put in place during the Trump administration in November 2017, and has since prevented any elephant tusks, tails or feet from being brought into the country.

The reversal is the result of a September 2021 settlement with the Dallas Safari Club, a big-game hunting organization that sued the Trump administration in December 2019 for pausing trophy permit processing. The environment and tourism ministry of Namibia was also a plaintiff in the case. The Fish and Wildlife Service is required under the settlement to process the permits of the 11 hunters named in the suit, as well as 73 other outstanding permit applications. That could potentially lead to additional trophies being brought into the United States from countries that allow limited hunting of elephants for sport.

According to a Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson, both parties “negotiated a settlement they consider to be in the public interest and a just, fair, adequate and equitable resolution of the disputes set forth in the plaintiffs’ complaint.”

The service’s decision to settle the lawsuit continues a long-running dispute between hunters and biodiversity experts over whether trophy hunting is beneficial or harmful to big game species, particularly endangered animals like the two species of African elephants. It has also prompted criticism from activists and biodiversity groups who question why the agency did not fight the lawsuit or reinstate a similar ban that was instituted during the Obama administration.

They point out that the move goes against President Biden’s commitment on the campaign trail to limiting hunting imports. The critics also say it is the latest in a series of confounding steps by the Biden administration to acquiesce to lawsuits leftover from the Trump administration and a failure to invest in more protections under the Endangered Species Act, like conserving more gray wolves. They argue these actions show that Mr. Biden hasn’t kept his word on environmental priorities.

“We expected the Biden administration would have halted everything and taken a hard look and made some tough decisions that maybe this isn’t something we should be doing given the biodiversity crisis,” said Tanya Sanerib, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “So to have the reality be the exact opposite of that, it feels like whiplash.”

For trophy hunters and big game groups, the reversal came as a long delayed win.

“It’s a victory for conservation because in a lot of these places where elephants reside, the habitat is only made available because of hunting dollars,” said Lane Easter, 57, an equine veterinarian in Texas whose trophy permit was approved under the settlement for a Zimbabwe hunt he did in 2017.

The majority of trophy hunters are from the United States. Under the federal Endangered Species Act, hunters must prove before they import a trophy that killing the animal aided in the “positive enhancement” of a species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s perspective, which predates Mr. Biden’s election, is that trophy hunting can qualify as species enhancement if it’s “legal, well-regulated hunting as part of a sound management program,” the agency spokesperson said.

Big game hunters say that the money they spend on hunts is later invested in the rehabilitation of the species and economically benefits nearby communities, preventing poaching. They also say that hunting certain animals like elephants and lions can benefit overall herd health.

Hunters can spend upward of $40,000 on an African hunt in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia and Namibia, and many of them win the rights through bidding wars held at national conferences like the Safari Club International’s annual convention.

But groups like Humane Society International say that hunting a species does not benefit its survival and that the Fish and Wildlife Service should not allow paid hunts to qualify as a method of species enhancement, especially on animals the United States considers threatened. The International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2021 revised its listing for both species of African elephant to highlight that both are at greater risk of extinction.

Critics also say there is little proof that money paid for a hunt ultimately helps the species recover, especially when corruption has been found to be rampant in several of the countries where African elephants reside.

“There is no evidence that trophy hunting advances conservation of a species,” said Teresa Telecky, a zoologist and the vice president of wildlife at the Humane Society International.

When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, big game hunters expected it would be easier to import elephant trophies. The week before Thanksgiving in 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service reversed an Obama-era ban, allowing hunters to import elephant trophies from several African countries. The news set off a storm of disapproval and criticism, with even staunch allies of Mr. Trump warning the move might increase the “gruesome poaching of elephants.”

Just 24 hours later, Mr. Trump tweeted that he would put the decision on “hold.” After that tweet, not a single elephant trophy was approved for import to the United States.

“Because the president found trophy hunting distasteful he essentially abrogated the law with a tweet,” said George Lyon, the lawyer who represented the Dallas Safari Club, “and that’s not how the administrative process is supposed to go.”

So far, the wildlife service said it had processed eight permits. In addition to the six it allowed, it denied two, and it is expected to rule in coming months on more. Mr. Lyon estimated that as of last September, close to 300 elephant trophy permits from various African countries were awaiting processing.

Mr. Easter says he’s not wasting any time to bask in his legal victory. His elephant’s tusks are already being prepared for shipment to his home in Texas.

“They are going to hang in the living room of my house, and I will remember that elephant for the rest of my life,” he said.

He has another trophy hunt in Africa booked for August.

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CarsonNow.org (Carson City, NV)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife announces emergency listing of Dixie Valley Toad as endangered species

Submitted by Jeff Munson on 04/04/2022

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

RENO — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday that it is emergency listing the Dixie Valley toad under the Endangered Species Act.

Upon publication of the emergency rule in the Federal Register, the Dixie Valley toad will be listed as endangered under the ESA and, be provided immediate federal protections for 240 days.

Concurrently, the Service is issuing a proposed rule to list the Dixie Valley toad as an endangered species and taking public comment to inform the decision on whether ESA protections should continue beyond the 240 days of the emergency listing.

The Dixie Valley toad is the smallest of the western toads and is endemic to Nevada. Its range is restricted to a 760-acre wetland complex that is fed by hot springs in the remote Dixie Valley northwest of Fallon, Nevada. In making this emergency and proposed listing determination, the Service has carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial information available regarding past, present, and future threats faced by the Dixie Valley toad.

Primary threats to the Dixie Valley toad include geothermal development, disease, predation by other non-native frog species, groundwater pumping for human and agricultural use and climate change. The Service has determined that geothermal development poses a significant risk to the well-being of the Dixie Valley toad and that emergency listing is necessary to prevent losses that may result in its extinction. Protecting small population species like this ensures the continued biodiversity necessary to maintain climate resilient landscapes in one of the driest states in the country.

Additionally, the Service seeks input from the public, Tribes, other government agencies, the scientific community, industry and other interested parties on the proposed rule to list the Dixie Valley toad under the normal rulemaking process.

Upon publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register a 60-day comment period will open. The proposal and information on how to submit comments will be posted to https://www.fws.gov/office/reno-fish-and-wildlife, and upon publication in the Federal Register can be found on http://www.regulations.gov by searching under docket number FWS-R8-ES-2022-0024.

On May 9, 2022, at 5 p.m. PST the Service will hold a virtual public informational meeting about the proposed listing rule. The informational meeting will be followed by a virtual public hearing at 5:35 p.m. PST during which the public can submit verbal comments on the proposed listing rule. Please visit https://www.fws.gov/office/reno-fish-and-wildlife for information on how to register for the public informational meeting and public hearing.

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EcoWatch

127 Reptiles Added to Global Treaty Against Wildlife Trade

 Paige Bennett, April 04, 2022

A total of 127 reptiles will have stronger protections from smugglers as they have been added by Australia to a global treaty that protects against wildlife trade. The reptile species have been targets of illegal smuggling.

Australia’s Environment Minister Sussan Ley has added the species to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) treaty. This global agreement includes 183 nations and has been in effect since 1975. It aims to ensure species are not threatened by trade of specimens.

“Sadly, our reptiles have become a major international target, and while I stress very clearly that it is already a crime under Australian law to export these animals without specialized permits, this listing will secure additional international support for their protection,” Ley said, as reported by The Guardian.

According to CITES, the 127 newly added species will appear on the protected list by the middle of this year. This is one of the biggest listings since the treaty began. There are over 38,700 plant and animal species protected by CITES, including an outright international trade ban for 1,082 species and 36 subspecies.

Although reptile trade was already illegal, smuggling has been on the rise. Australian reptiles are prized for their unique colors and patterns, and illegal traders have been advertising the animals online via trade websites and other platforms, including Facebook.

“The illegal trade in reptiles is often cruel, where live animals are bound with tape and stuffed into socks or small containers before being shipped abroad with no food or water,” said Alexia Wellbelove, a senior campaign manager at Humane Society International. “Many do not survive the journey. This listing is another weapon in our arsenal against the illegal international trade of live reptiles.”

The listings, part of CITES Appendix III, will now require Australia to report imported animals to better track the trade.

As explained by CITES, Appendix III “contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling the trade… A specimen of a CITES-listed species may be imported into or exported (or re-exported) from a State party to the Convention only if the appropriate document has been obtained and presented for clearance at the port of entry or exit.”

Wellbelove hopes the reptiles will eventually be listed under Appendix I, which would ban international trade of the species.

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EcoWatch

Seafood Watch Warns Against Consuming Lobster, Snow Crab, to Help Save Right Whales

 Paige Bennett, April 01, 2022

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program recommends that consumers avoid eating any lobster or snow crab caught in the U.S. and Canada, as commercial fishing has put the endangered North Atlantic right whales at further risk of extinction.

There are about 70 reproductively active females left of the species, as reported by NRDC, and fewer than 340 North Atlantic right whales exist. From 2015 to 2019, there was an average decline of 31 deaths and critical injuries per year. The population declined an additional 8% from 2019 to 2020.

While these whales face many challenges to survival, one major threat is entanglement in fishing gear, particularly fixed-bottom fishing equipment used for commercial fishing of lobster and crabs. Entanglement can lead to death. Even when a whale gets entangled and survives, it can be left with serious injuries that prohibit it from reproducing or raising calves.

The NRDC has written a letter in support of Seafood Watch’s stance against consuming lobster and snow crabs sourced in the U.S. and Canada, particularly along the Atlantic Coast.

“NRDC is in strong support of the overall recommendation by Seafood Watch that consumers ‘avoid’ purchase of American lobster caught by trap in the United States and Northwest Atlantic Canada, as well as Snow Crab caught by pot off Canada’s Atlantic Coast,” the letter reads. “In our view, this recommendation reflects the best available scientific information regarding the status of the North Atlantic right whale and the level of mortality, injury, and sublethal impacts to the species presently resulting from each of the three fisheries, as well as the limited effectiveness of the risk reduction strategies currently in place.”

The letter continues on, outlining the plight of the whales, which are one of the most endangered large whale species on Earth. The population declined by over 20% from 2016 to 2020, and according to a study referenced in the letter, no adult or juvenile North Atlantic right whale died of natural causes between 2003 to 2018. Instead, they have been killed by entanglement, boat strikes, and other human-related causes.

Seafood Watch has updated its assessments with draft red ratings for fishing gear, such as pots, traps, and gillnets, that are dangerous to the right whales. The NRDC further suggests that there should be partnerships to test ropeless fishing systems, which pose nearly zero entanglement risk to the whales or sea turtles.

Until more work is done to create safer methods of commercial fishing, Seafood Watch and NRDC, along with other global organizations, such as WWF-Hong Kong, advise consumers to avoid lobster and crabs caught in the North Atlantic right whales’ habitat.

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Tillamook Headlight Herald (Tillamook, OR)

Rare sand dune-dwelling plant in Oregon proposed for endangered species act protection

March 31, 2022

Following a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect the sand dune phacelia as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Just 26 populations of this rare plant remain in the coastal dunes of southern Oregon and northern California.

The Service also proposed to designate 252 acres of critical habitat in Coos and Curry Counties in Oregon and Del Norte County in California.

“This is encouraging progress for this beautiful plant that exists only in Oregon and California’s fragile coastal sandy dunes,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center. “The sand dune phacelia simply can’t survive without Endangered Species Act protections. This proposal is a hopeful and long-overdue step toward making sure this species doesn’t disappear.”

The sand dune phacelia is threatened by off-road vehicles, invasive species like European beech grass and gorse, and climate change-driven sea-level rise. Its small population size makes it even more susceptible to these stressors.

The sand dune phacelia is in the Forget-Me-Not family of flowering plants and grows to be 18 inches tall. Its white flowers are a rich source of nectar and pollen for native bees. The number and variety of bee species in dune vegetation are higher in places where phacelia grows. The plant’s silvery hairs — which are an adaptation to the harsh coastal environment — keep salt off its leaves, decrease water loss and reflect excess light.

The name “Phacelia” is from the Greek “phakelos,” meaning cluster, for its lovely, clustered flowers, and the Latin “argentea,” meaning “silvery,” for the appearance of the leaves. The sand dune phacelia blooms from March to September.

The Center’s lawsuit against the Service sought to force the agency to make timely evaluations and protection decisions for 241 plant and animal species thought to be trending toward extinction, including the sand dune phacelia.

The lawsuit followed a 2014 petition to protect the species. That petition was filed by the Center and seven other conservation groups: Oregon Wild, Friends of Del Norte, Oregon Coast Alliance, the Native Plant Society of Oregon, the California Native Plant Society, the Environmental Protection Information Center and the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Coastal California Sunflower Is Latest Endangered Species Act Success

EUREKA, Calif.—(March 30, 2022)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today changed the Endangered Species Act status of beach layia, a small sunflower that grows only in California’s coastal dunes, reclassifying it from endangered to threatened. The change is due to reduced impacts from offroad vehicles, grazing, and development throughout much of the species’ range.

“The lovely beach layia has benefited immensely from protection under the Endangered Species Act and is heading toward recovery,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Their gorgeous white, yellow and purple flowers now adorn more than 600 acres of our coastal dunes.”

The largest populations of beach layia are found on the North Coast in Humboldt County, where it grows in 13 locations — mostly around Humboldt Bay — and at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County. On the Central Coast there are three small populations on Monterey Peninsula, and there is a small South Coast population at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County.

Beach layia was protected as endangered in 1992 because of damage to dune habitat from human disturbances, particularly from offroad vehicles, agricultural activities, and development. Since a recovery plan was developed for the species in 1998, a significant amount of suitable dune habitat has been protected as preserves and conservation areas. Threats have been reduced, especially by preventing offroad vehicles from driving in the flower’s habitat. Beach layia has responded by increasing in abundance, and there are now nine robust populations of the flowers that each had more than 1 million plants during 2017 surveys.

But beach layia still faces threats, mostly from invasive plants that compete for growing space on open areas of sandy dunes. Invasive plants can also artificially stabilize coastal dunes, disrupting natural dune movement and processes that layia plants depend on. They’re further threatened by livestock grazing, erosion and disturbance from offroad and equestrian recreation, rapid climate change, drought, sea-level rise, and pesticide use.

“The future looks better for beach layia, but its survival isn’t secure yet,” said Miller. “There are still many threats to this flower, and it could benefit from reintroducing plants to former sites where it once thrived to expand its range and resilience.”

An estimated 20% of beach layia occurrences at Point Reyes National Seashore have been subject to cattle grazing, which caused an 84% decline in the flowers’ abundance in the park between 2004 to 2018. Livestock trample layia plants and increase the spread of weeds. The National Park Service has restored dune habitats where layia can thrive but recently approved a plan to continue unsustainable levels of cattle grazing at Point Reyes, over the objections of conservation groups that want to end commercial cattle ranching in the park. The Park Service plan would allow cattle to continue trampling 12% of the layia occurrences at Point Reyes.

“There’s no excuse for allowing any cattle grazing in habitat for beach layia and other endangered plants at Point Reyes National Seashore,” said Miller.

Beach layia occurs on the North Coast in five areas in Humboldt County, with the largest populations near Humboldt Bay and the mouth of the Mattole River. One of largest populations in size and acreage is at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County. Former layia populations have been eliminated from San Francisco, Point Pinos in Pacific Grove, and two locations in Humboldt County.

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Newsweek

Newly-Discovered Seabird Placed Straight On ‘Critically Endangered’ Species List

By ANAMARIJA BRNJARCHEVSKA, Zenger News, on 3/29/22

A newly-discovered seabird has been placed straight on the “critically endangered” species list.

The fate of the New Caledonian storm petrel, found in the South Pacific, rests on scientists being able to find and protect its breeding grounds.

The population is estimated at between 100 and 1,000 pairs as they are nocturnal, discreet and tend to nest on isolated islands.

The birds were first spotted off the islands’ capital of Nouméa in 2008 and again in the Coral Sea, east of Australia, in 2010.

An international team of scientists has identified the new species as Fregetta lineata in a study published in the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club, but they say time is running out for the species unless the breeding grounds are found quickly.

“We present evidence that confirms the streaked Fregetta lineata is a valid extant species that breeds on New Caledonia and endorse the vernacular name New Caledonian Storm Petrel,” the study’s abstract stated.

The birds are distinct from other storm petrels because of their streaked belly compared with the latter’s white belly.

Five specimens collected during Pacific expeditions more than 100 years ago were recently rediscovered in museum collections around the world, but they had been wrongly assigned to different species.

Three of these specimens have now been identified as the New Zealand storm petrel, which was once thought to be extinct but was later spotted in 2003.

Scientists initially thought they had glimpsed this New Zealand species in New Caledonia in 2008.

But the recent study of the morphology and genetics of the other two mysterious museum specimens — one collected from the Marquesas Islands in 1922 and one from Samoa in 1839 — revealed they were in fact members of a new, distinct species.

A third, more recent, specimen collected in 1973 on an island off Brisbane, Australia, was also confirmed to be a member of the new species.

The researchers have already spent many nights searching for the birds’ breeding grounds on small islands in the southern lagoon of New Caledonia but have had no luck.

They believe it could be located on islands in the unexplored Bouloupari Lagoon or further inland along the Tontouta River Valley, where another species of petrel breeds.

“It is now vitally important to find breeding burrows where immediate protective measures will be required. … Compared to breeding on islets, nesting in the mountains would be far more difficult to confirm and conservation management far more difficult to implement,” the authors wrote in the study.

Between one and five new bird species are reportedly discovered every year, adding to the 10,000 — or as many as 18,000, according to a 2016 study — that have already been documented worldwide.

(This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.)

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UC Santa Cruz News (Santa Cruz, CA)

Local pumas don’t sense danger in places where they’re most often killed by humans

March 28, 2022, By Allison Arteaga Soergel

A new study led by UC Santa Cruz researchers suggests that pumas in the Santa Cruz Mountains don’t make accurate assessments of where they are most likely to be killed by humans, especially when it comes to the threat of being killed in retaliation for loss of livestock.

Mountain lions fear humans and alter their behavior in order to avoid areas with high housing density, where human activity is most obvious. But it’s actually areas of intermediate housing density that prove the most lethal for pumas in the Santa Cruz Mountains. That’s largely because these areas are where conflicts arise over livestock. Between 2009 and 2019, the leading cause of death for mountain lions in the region was “retaliatory killings,” where a landowner kills a puma for preying on livestock—most often goats kept in small numbers on rural residential properties.

Researchers analyzed data on retaliatory killings over this 10-year time period and found that they accounted for 36% of all puma mortality and the majority of human-caused deaths. The team then looked for patterns in the distribution of risk from these killings over space and time. They compared this with tracking data from pumas outfitted with GPS collars, which shows how the cats choose habitats. This comparison demonstrated what is likely a mismatch between pumas’ perception of risk and actual risk from humans over 17% of the study area.

Chris Wilmers, a professor of environmental studies who leads the Santa Cruz Puma Project, was the senior author on the paper, and Anna Nisi, a former graduate researcher in Wilmers’ lab, was the study’s lead author. The team believes their findings show that humans are “unpredictable predators” for pumas.

“The people who carry out retaliatory killings are distributed in places where there are fewer cues related to overall levels of human activity that pumas can use to understand risk,” Nisi explained. “So, while pumas usually behave in ways that allow them to avoid encountering humans, there are places that appear safe to them that actually carry a lot of risk.”

Pumas did tend to avoid regions of intermediate housing density during the day, but they seemed to actually prefer these high-risk habitats at night. Researchers didn’t find any indication that this was related to hunting behavior. Domestic animals make up only 4% of puma diets, and the team’s analysis showed that pumas killed for preying on livestock weren’t skinnier than others and hadn’t gone longer since the last kill of their primary food source: deer. This means pumas likely weren’t attracted to these areas because of the opportunity to eat livestock. The research team has a different theory.

“Pumas’ spatial requirements are quite large, which means that, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, most animals have some degree of habitat fragmentation in their home ranges,” Nisi said. “We think the reason why we see them using these intermediate housing density areas at night is that they simply need to traverse these spaces, so they end up doing that at night, when there’s less chance of encountering a person.”

Unfortunately, crossing these areas at night doesn’t spare pumas from chance encounters with livestock. And if a mountain lion seizes the opportunity for an easy meal, they may then become a target for retaliatory killing. Hunting or killing of mountain lions has been illegal in California since 1990, but there are exceptions for the protection of livestock. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife issues “depredation permits” that allow for killing of mountain lions in verified instances when a domestic animal has been attacked.

The vast majority of retaliatory killings analyzed in the study were permitted. However, after the study period, the process for issuing depredation permits in the Santa Cruz Mountains changed significantly. In 2020, local pumas received temporary special protections as part of a proposal to list certain regional populations of mountain lions under the California Endangered Species Act. These temporary protections require a step-wise process of nonlethal efforts to deter mountain lions before a depredation permit can be issued.

Nisi says improved animal care practices—like keeping livestock in a covered enclosure at night—can significantly reduce the risk of pumas preying on domestic animals. If the proposal to list local mountain lions under the California Endangered Species Act is approved, these types of nonlethal measures might become a first-resort on a more permanent basis. Also, Chris Wilmers, who has been studying local mountain lions for over a decade, says he hopes the new paper’s findings will draw attention to the broader issue of how development patterns set the stage for conflict.

“This study is an example of how low-density, exurban areas are where we see the most human-wildlife conflict, and that can turn a place that could have been a potential habitat into an area with high mortality,” Wilmers said. “I think that should give us pause about how much of this type of sprawl we’re allowing across the landscape, especially since it’s the most rapidly increasing kind of development throughout the American West.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Biden Budget Shortchanges Key Programs to Protect, Recover Endangered Species

WASHINGTON—(March 28, 2022)—Despite an overall increase of $86.4 million for endangered species conservation, President Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget request, released today, still falls short of what’s needed to stem the loss of our nation’s biodiversity and halt the global extinction crisis.

The Biden administration is proposing just $23.9 million — a mere $2.7 million above last year’s levels — to protect the more than 400 imperiled animals and plants still waiting for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The data shows that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs at least $78.7 million, more than three times the proposed amount, to process the backlog of species waiting for protections.

A 2016 study found that species waited a median of 12 years to receive safeguards, in part due to funding shortfalls. At least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

“The Biden administration’s lack of urgency about saving the hundreds of imperiled species on the brink of extinction is distressing,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center. “We’re losing rare animals and plants faster than ever before. Without significantly more funding for the Service’s listing program, species like the golden-winged warbler and dunes sagebrush lizard will keep declining until the only place they can be found is in children’s books.”

The budget proposal increases funding for endangered species recovery by $17 million. While this represents a modest increase from last year’s budget, the Endangered Species Act has been severely underfunded for decades, resulting in already-protected species receiving few dollars for their recovery. According to the Service’s own data, hundreds of endangered animals and plants receive less than $1,000 for their recovery in a typical year, with several hundred receiving no funding at all from the agency.

Based on the Service’s own recovery plans, at least $2 billion per year is needed to recover the more than 1,700 endangered species across the country. The proposed budget fails to even come close to closing the gap in needed funding.

In January more than 75 conservation groups asked the administration for significantly more funding for endangered species. This request echoed similar pleas from more than 100 members of the House of Representatives and 24 senators.

“Fighting the extinction crisis can’t be an afterthought anymore. For the sake of our planet and preserving our natural heritage, the Biden administration must do better,” said Kurose.

In 2021 the Service announced it would remove 22 animals and one plant from the endangered species list because those species had gone extinct. They will now join the list of 650 species in the United States that have likely been lost to extinction. Globally, an additional 1 million animal and plant species face extinction within the coming decades.

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Public News Service

Bipartisan Conservation Bill Would Stem Species-Decline ‘Crisis’

Eric Tegethoff, Procucer, March 28, 2022  

A bipartisan effort in Congress to curb the loss of plant and animal species could get a Senate committee vote as soon as this week.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would invest $1.4 billion annually in state and tribal conservation efforts, and dedicate at least 15% to recovering threatened and endangered species.

Danielle Moser, wildlife program coordinator with the group Oregon Wild, said it would send nearly $25 million annually to the state for the Oregon Conservation Strategy and Nearshore Strategy.

“These two strategies are our premiere wildlife conservation measures in the state,” said Moser. “But unfortunately they have been woefully underfunded for far too long. So, passage of this legislation at the federal level would be a huge boost for Oregon’s wildlife conservation programs.”

The Senate version could receive a vote in the Environment and Public Works Committee as soon as Wednesday. Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley sits on that committee.

The bill has 32 cosponsors in the Senate, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

Moser said the measure would help not only species on the brink, but also proactively save Oregon species like the western painted turtle, which isn’t listed as threatened.

She said the turtle species found in the Columbia River Basin and the Willamette Valley lays its eggs near the water, but faces pressure from habitat loss.

“This one in particular,” said Moser, “if there were an actual infusion of dollars into the Oregon Conservation Strategy, it means the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife could finally take the necessary steps to better protect this species and its habitat that it’s relying on.”

Mike Leahy is director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy for the National Wildlife Federation. He said states have identified more than 12,000 species of animals and plants in need of conservation assistance, and called this a “silent crisis.”

“There is awareness of some of the more charismatic species out there that are in decline,” said Leahy. “But there is widespread wildlife and biodiversity declines with pollinators, aquatic species, fish, various types of birds.”

If the Senate committee approves the bill this week, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will be ready for a floor vote in both the House and Senate.

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Signals AZ.com (Prescott, AZ)

ADOT Project Helps Save Endangered Species

By Staff | on March 26, 2022

The recent completion of an Arizona Department of Transportation bridge replacement project near Globe means new life for an endangered species of cactus.

The location of the US 60 Pinto Creek bridge is also home to the endangered hedgehog cactus, which grows only within a several mile radius of the site. About a foot high, usually covered in spines and often with red flowers at the top, Arizona hedgehog cactus looks something like the small animal it’s named after. The species is listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is protected under Arizona law.

When the project began in 2018, a team from Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix safely removed 34 cactus that would have been impacted by the construction work, then nurtured and propagated more, replanting a total of 61 cactus earlier this month.

This environmental protection effort took on added importance in the summer of 2021. At that time a wildfire swept through the project site, threatening some of the cacti in that area that were not removed because they were not threatened by construction.

“The plants on site could have easily been destroyed in the fire which is why it was a good thing these plants were taken back to Desert Botanical Garden out of harm’s way”, said Steve Blackwell, Conservations Collections Manager for Desert Botanical Garden. “That was an important side benefit of taking cactus out when we did. Another valuable part of this process was that we were able to hand pollinate the plants at the Garden, clone the mother plants and develop a seed bank for future preservation. This is a great win for the environment”

“ADOT has a responsibility to respect the environment and to make sure the plants and animals that make Arizona special are protected,” said Josh Fife, ADOT’s biology team lead. “We’re proud that the work we did will make sure the Arizona hedgehog cactus will continue to exist in the one special place in the world where they thrive.”

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Fox 11 News (Los Angeles)

California groundbreaking set for largest wildlife crossing over 101 freeway

Published March 26, 2022, Associated Press

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Groundbreaking is set for next month on what’s billed as the world’s largest wildlife crossing — a bridge over a major Southern California highway that will provide more room to roam for mountain lions and other animals hemmed in by urban sprawl.

A ceremony marking the start of construction for the span over U.S. 101 near Los Angeles will take place on Earth Day, April 22, the National Wildlife Federation announced Thursday.

The bridge will give big cats, coyotes, deer, lizards, snakes and other creatures a safe route to open space in the Santa Monica Mountains and better access to food and potential mates, said the wildlife federation’s Beth Pratt.

“Crossings like this are nothing new,” Pratt said, noting there is one outside Yosemite for toads. “This one’s historic because we’re putting it over one of the busiest freeways in the world.”

She helped organize the project along with other conservationists and state transportation officials.

Pratt said the bridge will be the first of its kind near a major metropolis and the largest in the world, stretching 200 feet (61 meters) above 10 highway lanes and a feeder road just 35 miles (56 kilometers) northwest of downtown LA.

Construction will take place mostly at night and won’t require any lengthy shutdowns of the 101 freeway, officials have said. It’s slated to be completed by early 2025.

The $90 million price tag will be covered by about 60% private donations, with the rest coming from public funds set aside for conservation purposes. The span will be named the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, for the philanthropist whose foundation donated $25 million.

Gov. Gavin Newsom called the project an “inspiring example” of public-private partnership.

“California’s diverse array of native species and ecosystems have earned the state recognition as a global biodiversity hotspot. In the face of extreme climate impacts, it’s more important than ever that we work together to protect our rich natural heritage,” Newsom said in a statement Thursday.

The star of the fundraising campaign was the mountain lion P-22. Famous for traveling across two freeways and making a huge Los Angeles park his home, the big cat became a symbol of the shrinking genetic diversity of wild animals that must remain all but trapped by sprawling development or risk becoming roadkill.

Scientists tracking cougars fitted with GPS collars found over decades that roadways are largely confining animals in mountains that run along the Malibu coast and across the middle of LA to Griffith Park, where P-22 settled.

Despite being the face of the project, P-22 is unlikely to use the bridge because he’s confined to the park many miles away. But many of his relatives could benefit, Pratt said.

Some 300,000 cars a day travel that stretch of the 101 in Agoura Hills, a small city surrounded by a patchwork of protected wildland that the new crossing will connect.

Drivers in the Liberty Canyon area will speed under the bridge 165 feet (50 meters) wide with brush and trees growing on top, seamlessly joining hillsides on both sides of the lanes.

Architects designed the topography to be indistinguishable from the scenery on either side. Berms and hollows with high edges will block sound and light from the lanes below.

Wildlife crossings — bridges and tunnels — are common in western Europe and Canada. A famous one in Banff National Park in Alberta spans the Trans-Canada Highway and is frequently used by bears, moose and elk.

The Los Angeles-area bridge has enjoyed nearly universal support, unusual for a public works project. The draft environmental impact document received nearly 9,000 comments — with only 15 opposed, according to the wildlife federation.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Species Protection Sought for Tiny Virginia Fish

Roughhead Shiner Slipping Into Extinction in James River Basin

RICHMOND, Va.—(March 25, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a legal petition today seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the roughhead shiner, an olive-colored minnow found only in the upper James River watershed in western Virginia.

The 3-inch fish, named for the bumps on its head, lives in the Cowpasture River and its tributary creeks in Alleghany, Bath and Craig counties, where it’s being displaced by the telescope shiner, an invasive fish.

“The roughhead shiner is an emblem of the quiet extinction crisis unfolding in our nation’s rivers,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “Endangered Species Act protection will bring a recovery plan to pull it back from the brink.”

The shiner was first identified as threatened 50 years ago and was put on a waiting list for federal protection in 1994. The state of Virginia has identified it as a species of critical concern but doesn’t have the necessary funding for monitoring or restoration.

“People ask, Why save one little fish when there are so many other kinds? But it’s like March Madness. How boring would it be without all the different teams? The roughhead shiner is like St. Peters, finally getting its day in the sun,” said Curry.

North America has lost 57 kinds of freshwater fish to extinction in the past 125 years. Nearly 40% of the continent’s fish are at risk of extinction due to dams, pollution, invasive species and climate change. The extinction rate for freshwater fish is now nearly 900 times greater than the historical rate.

Another Virginia fish, the ironically named slender chub, hasn’t been seen since 1996 and is likely extinct. The fish was so rare that when it wasn’t detected in surveys, scientists expected to find it during the next survey. Sadly it wasn’t brought into captivity in time to survive and propagate.

“There’s still time to save the roughhead shiner so that it doesn’t become another ‘don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ fish like the slender chub,” said Curry. “Endangered Species Act protection is the surest way to make sure it’s still here for future generations.”

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CNN

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef suffers sixth mass bleaching event

By Hilary Whiteman, CNN , March 25, 2022

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is suffering its sixth mass bleaching due to heat stress caused by climate change, the reef’s managers confirmed Friday.

The update comes mid-way through a 10-day monitoring mission by UNESCO scientists as they consider whether to add one of the world’s seven natural wonders to their “in danger” list.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) said Friday that aerial surveys of around 750 reefs show widespread bleaching across the reef, with the most severe bleaching observed in northern and central areas.

“More than half of the living coral cover that we can see from the air is severely bleached completely white and can have signs of fluorescence in the colors of pink, yellow and blue,” said AIMS coral biologist Neal Cantin.

“The corals are producing these fluorescent pigments in an attempt to protect their tissue from heat and from the intense sun during these marine heatwaves.”

The latest bleaching event comes despite La Niña, a weather system that typically creates more movement in the water and increases rain and cloud cover, helping to reduce average maximum temperatures.

It’s the fourth mass bleaching in six years and the first since 2020, when about one quarter of the reef surveyed showed signs of severe bleaching. That event came just three years after back-to-back bleaching events in 2016 and 2017. Previous bleaching occurred in 1998 and 2002.

David Wachenfeld, chief scientist at the GBRMPA, said the coral was stressed but not dead.

“If the water temperature decreases, bleached corals can recover from this stress. It is important to remember that we had a mass bleaching event in 2020, but there was very low coral mortality,” Wachenfeld said.

Natural wonder under threat

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef stretches 1,400 miles (2,300 kilometers) down the Queensland coast. Before the pandemic forced borders to close, it attracted around three million tourists each year.

This year aerial surveys with helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft showed the worst of the bleaching is near Townsville. Tourist areas near Cairns and Port Douglas have been less affected due to lower levels of heat stress.

Bleaching occurs when stressed coral ejects algae from within its tissue, depriving it of a food source. If conditions don’t improve, coral can starve and die, turning white as its carbonate skeleton is exposed.

“Even the most robust corals require nearly a decade to recover,” said Jodie Rummer, associate professor of Marine Biology at James Cook University in Townsville.

“So we’re really losing that window of recovery. We’re getting back-to-back bleaching events, back-to-back heat waves. And, and the corals just aren’t adapting to these new conditions,” she said.

The Australian government has been under pressure from UNESCO to prove that it’s doing enough to save the reef.

Earlier this year, the Australian government pledged one billion Australian dollars ($700 million) spread over 10 years to support new climate adaptation technology, investment in water quality programs, and protection for key reef species.

While the extra funding was welcomed, the government has been called out by global climate experts, among others, for not doing enough to transition Australia away from fossil fuels.

The Climate Action Tracker gives the country a “highly insufficient rating” for its action on climate change. “The government appears intent on replacing fossil fuels with fossil fuels,” it says, citing the government’s “gas-led recovery” program, announced in 2020 to lead the country out an economic downturn related to the spread of Covid-19.

On Monday, United Nations Chief Antonio Guterres name-checked Australia among a “handful of holdouts” in the group of G20 countries who had not announced “meaningful emissions reductions.”

He said countries and private businesses who invest in coal are costing the world its climate targets. And he said money spent on fossil fuels and subsidies was “a stupid investment leading to billions in stranded assets.”

“It’s time to end fossil fuel subsidies and stop the expansion of oil and gas exploration,” he said.

Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the Climate Council, said the real issue the government should be addressing is climate change.

“To give our reef a fighting chance, we must deal with the number one problem: climate change. No amount of funding will stop these bleaching events unless we drive down our emissions this decade,” she said in a statement.

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Courthouse News Service

Animal advocates urge feds to put hippo on endangered species list

Wildlife advocates hope adding the hippo to the U.S. endangered species list will curb the illicit trade of their parts worldwide.

Matthew Renda, March 24, 2022

(CN) — A coalition of wildlife advocacy organizations filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday, requesting the agency consider whether the hippopotamus should be added to the endangered species list.

There are no hippopotamuses in North America, but advocates argue the wildlife trade around hippo parts, which includes their prized ivory tusks, would be greatly diminished if the species were added to the list.

“Hippos are being needlessly slaughtered for commercial trade and trophy hunting,” said Adam Peyman, director of wildlife programs for Humane Society International. “As the leading importer of hippo parts, the United States should be ashamed of the role they play in the decline of this iconic species. If we don’t protect them now, hippos may disappear forever.”

The United States has imported more hippo parts, which include teeth, tusks, leather products made from the animal’s skins and other forms of trophy, than any other country on the globe, the advocates say.

Humane Society International says import records kept by federal agencies indicate that a little more than 3,000 hippos have been slaughtered as part of the legal wildlife trade program in the United States over the course of the last decade.

“We cannot continue to allow thousands of hippos to be killed for their teeth or skin, for a ridiculous trinket or a pair of boots,” said Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “This iconic species must be granted urgent protection under the Endangered Species Act to end this cruel cycle.”

The hippopotamus is a large mammal — the third-largest behind the elephant and rhinoceros — that is native to sub-Saharan Africa, although it has made incursions into parts of Colombia due to former cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar, who kept them on his sprawling estate. It is a semiaquatic animal that prefers to occupy small rivers, lakes and other water bodies. It is recognized because of its squat shape, but despite appearances, it can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour, much faster than the average human.

While many fear lions, leopards and other imposing animals native to America, the hippo is actually the most dangerous due to its aggressive and wildly unpredictable nature.

The hippo is poached both for its meat and for its canine teeth. Under President Teddy Roosevelt, lawmakers from Louisiana proposed releasing hippos into the bayou to help control and invasive weed problem while providing a source of low-cost meat.

The proposal, which Roosevelt backed, came just shy of passing in 1910.

In addition to hunting, habitat loss continues to negatively impact African mammals including the hippo. Climate change, which can exacerbate drought trends, could hamper the animals’ well-being as freshwater systems come under increasing pressure in sub-Saharan Africa.

Water diversions and other efforts to mobilize freshwater for human uses could further harm the species, advocates say.

“Limiting U.S. imports by listing hippos under the ESA will grant them important protections and will set the stage for other countries to follow,” said Tracie Letterman, vice president of federal affairs for Humane Society Legislative Fund. “As conservation leaders, but also the leading importer of hippo parts and products, the U.S. has a critical role to play in saving hippos from extinction.”

Fish and Wildlife has 90 days to review petitions and to make determinations.

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The Lawyer’s Daily (Published by LexisNexis Canada)

Court of Appeal to interpret meaning of ‘damage’ under Endangered Species Act for first time

By Amanda Jerome, March 23, 2022

In a case highlighting an endangered bird habitat, the Ontario Court of Appeal will be interpreting for the first time a provision of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that “could affect protected species across the province,” a lawyer for Ecojustice said.  

On March 11, environmental groups intervened at the court to address “the meaning of ‘damage’ to habitat under section 10 of the ESA, which makes it an offence to damage or destroy an endangered or threatened species’ habitat,” a release from Ecojustice explained.

The court granted Environmental Defence Canada Inc. (Environmental Defence) and the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (Ontario Nature) leave to intervene in a case between the Town of South Bruce Peninsula (the appellant) and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (the respondent).

According to court documents, the piping plovers are “migratory shorebirds identified as endangered on the Species at Risk in Ontario List.” These birds “nest seasonally on Sauble Beach which is maintained by the appellant.”

In April 2017, “shortly before the plovers had returned to Sauble Beach, the appellant mechanically raked the beach, and after the plovers had left the beach later that summer, it graded the beach area with a bulldozer and agricultural cultivator,” the court explained.

In March the following year the appellant “was charged with two counts of damaging piper plover habitat on Sauble Beach, contrary to s. 10(1)(a) of the ESA.” The appellant was granted leave to appeal as “the interpretation of ‘damage’ in s. 10(1) of the ESA is a legal question and it is essential in the public interest …”

Lindsay Beck, a lawyer for Ecojustice who represented Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature as interveners in the case, said s. 10(1) is framed “as a broad prohibition on damage to the habitat of endangered or threatened species.”

She emphasized that “maintaining a really robust interpretation of that meaning of damage in section 10 of the Endangered Species Act is important to the protection of endangered species across the province.”

“A lot of the case law about regulatory offences, particularly in the environmental protection context, focuses not just on the acting question, but on what damage could be caused by cumulative effect if that damage is not sanctioned under whatever provision is at issue,” she said, noting the Act itself “recognizes the importance of the protection of habitat to the protection of the at-risk species because habitat loss is a primary driver of species loss.”

Beck stressed that although this case is about piping plover habitat at Sauble Beach, “this is the Ontario Court of Appeal’s first opportunity to interpret this provision of the Endangered Species Act, so it matters because what the court says about this could affect protected species across the province.” 

There are “115 endangered species and 56 threatened species” in Ontario, she explained 

Ecojustice noted that the piping plover returned to Ontario “after a 30-year absence” and “their return highlights new hope for species recovery efforts and the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem as a whole.”

“The birds nest on dry, sandy, or gravelly beaches with sparse vegetation. The survival and recovery of the species is principally being threatened by habitat loss and degradation; beach raking has been identified as a significant threat to their habitat,” an Ecojustice release explained.

The interpretation of “damage” in the ESA will not just affect the piping plover, but “endangered and threatened species across the province,” Beck told The Lawyer’s Daily.

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EcoWatch

The Demand for This Toad’s Psychedelic Venom Puts the Species at Risk, Conservationists Warn

By  Olivia Rosane, March 23, 2022

The Sonoran Desert toad excretes a chemical that can induce a psychedelic experience so memorable that some people call it the “God molecule.” But, unfortunately, the largest native toad in the U.S. is not immortal.

Conservationists are now warning that demand for the toad’s psychedelic toxin could put the species at risk.

“There’s a perception of abundance, but when you begin to remove large numbers of a species, their numbers are going to collapse like a house of cards at some point,” Robert Villa, president of the Tucson Herpetological Society, told The New York Times.

The Sonoran Desert toad can grow to be more than eight inches long and 900 grams in weight, according to the Tucson Herpetological Society. It is found primarily in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and Mexico, though its habitat extends into California and New Mexico, Undark reported. However, it is believed to be extinct in California and is considered threatened in New Mexico, partly because of overcollection. That overcollection comes because, in the last few decades, it has gained an “unfortunate notoriety,” as the Tucson Herpetological Society put it.

When threatened, the toad secretes a cocktail of toxins strong enough to kill a dog, The New York Times explained. One of these toxins is called 5-MeO-DMT. When dried into crystals and smoked in a pipe, this toxin can produce a psychedelic experience lasting 15 to 30 minutes. As psychedelics gain acceptance as treatments for mental health problems and addiction, it has become increasingly popular as a retreat experience both in Mexico, where it is legal, and in the U.S., where it is technically a Schedule 1 substance but authorities tend to look the other way.

“I saw why they call this the ‘God molecule’ after I got a full central nervous system reset,” former Navy SEAL Marcus Capone, who says the toxin helped him with anxiety and depression and now helps run a nonprofit providing the chemical to other Special Operations veterans, told The New York Times.

Villa, however, worries that the toad will suffer the same fate as the Asian river turtle, which is at risk from extinction partly because people believe it can cure diseases like cancer.

It is possible to collect the poison without killing the toad through a process called milking, which involves stroking the toad under its skin until it releases the toxin. However, some have argued that this puts unnecessary stress on the toad.

“Toads offer those secretions in a defensive context, in a stressed and violent context,” Villa told Undark. “Ultimately, people are self-medicating at the expense of another creature.”

There is a potential compromise, however. Researchers have found that a synthetic version can also reduce anxiety and depression, according to a study published in Psychopharmacology. Capone told The New York Times that said he supported using the synthetic chemical, but others refuse.

“We’re a church, and this is sacred medicine,” 42-year-old Brooke Tarrer, who founded the Universal Shamans of the New Tomorrow as a church that uses the toxin in key rituals, told The New York Times.

Another solution is to farm the toads, but Villa said this risks spreading diseases like chytrid fungus.

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Missoula Current (Missoula, MT)

Wolverine research underway again in Glacier National Park

By KEILA SPZALLER (DAILY MONTANAN), March 22, 2022

One of the first wolverine studies in the lower 48 states took place in Glacier National Park from 2002 to 2008 and now, research on the ferocious and rarely seen carnivore is again underway in the park.

“It’s exciting to see the park back in the wolverine business,” said Doug Mitchell, head of the Glacier National Park Conservancy, in a recent interview. “It’s such an iconic animal and indicator of so many things.”

In April, before grizzly bears start ambling about too frequently, a research team will start pulling equipment from the field on a couple of wolverine projects. One study follows up on research completed five years ago that’s part of an expanded multistate project, and it takes place alongside a separate effort that looks more closely at wolverines inside Glacier National Park.

“They are one of the rarest animals in North America,” said John Waller, supervisory wildlife biologist with Glacier National Park. “And so anytime you can see one is an amazing experience just because you know you may never see another one.”

Glacier National Park is a hot spot for wolverines, which are part of the weasel family. Still, Waller, a wildlife biologist for more than 30 years, said he can count on one hand the number of times he’s seen a wolverine in the wild outside of a trap.

“Being able to get your hands on one is pretty neat,” he said. “They’re an amazing animal. They’re tough. They have a growl that sounds like a grizzly bear.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently denied wolverines endangered species protections.

A “coarse” estimate has put the wolverine population in the lower 48 states at 300, but Waller said it’s hard to come up with an accurate number because of their low density, and the National Park Service notes sudden declines could go unnoticed. However, Waller also said he believes the current research will contribute to a lot more information about the wolverine, an animal the Conservancy notes has been tracked moving nearly 500 miles in just eight days.

“When we can do these landscape-scale projects of species across the range, I think we’re going to learn a lot more about how populations perform, how they use the environment, and hopefully get some insights about how they’ll fare under a changing climate and development pressure,” Waller said.

Waller, who in June will have been with Glacier park for 20 years, noted the first wolverine research there started in 2003 and ran through 2008. Researchers trapped wolverines, put tiny radios in their abdominal cavities (they don’t have much of a neck for collars), and tracked their movements, he said, and the work formed the basis for Montana author Douglas Chadwick’s “The Wolverine Way.”

From 2008 to 2012, for roughly four or five years, the researchers landed on a DNA-based method of collecting information, Waller said. They attached bait to a tree, and below it, placed wire brushes that grab the wolverine’s hair when it scrambled up for the bait, and they estimated at the time roughly 40 wolverines in the park.

“It’s challenging just because they’re such a rare animal,” Waller said. “It’s sort of a catch-22. The rarer an animal it is, the harder it is to estimate how many of them there are.”

In 2016, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and other parties put together a large project that looked at wolverine distribution across four states: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington. The Conservancy described it as the first range-wide survey for wolverines in the western United States. Waller said it was a feat to pull together so many entities, such as national forests, Native American tribes, fish and game departments, and national parks, on one project, which included 185 remote camera stations and hair snares.

“I thought that was cooler than heck, and of course, Glacier was all in,” he said.

A report on the project noted more than 22,000 wolverine photos and 240 wolverine DNA samples were obtained, and Waller said the study showed wolverines were doing pretty well in those four states, with Glacier as a hot spot. There was an agreement the research would relaunch in five years, and this time, Colorado, California, Utah and Oregon also are participating in the Western Wolverine Occupancy Survey for eight states altogether, Waller said.

However, Waller said the large-scale project only has five sites within the park, so he overlaid a much finer grid for sampling inside the park. The Conservancy notes 34 wolverine stations are placed in a grid across Glacier from “Kintla, Marias Pass, the Belly River Drainage, and everything in between.”

The remote stations have a small canister with a little electric pump that automatically squirts wolverine scent lure every day, and the researchers use that setup along with a camera and hair snag in places that are difficult to check in the winter. Challenges include steep canyons, high avalanche risk, and no motorized use. In the past, Waller took arduous treks pulling a 70-pound sled through crusty snow.

“It’s just logistically challenging to get to these places,” he said.

Volunteers do most of the field work, he said, and they’re the kind of people who are good backcountry skiers, savvy in winter camping, and not easily going to get into avalanche trouble. He’s going to tally up all the miles they travel during the project, from Dec. 1 to April 1.

“It’ll be thousands of miles, I’m sure, skiing,” Waller said. “It’s quite an effort, but it is largely a volunteer effort funded by the National Park Foundation and Glacier Park Conservancy.”

They’ll start pulling the equipment out of the woods starting April 1, and it will likely take the better part of the month to do so, he said. Then, they’ll catalog all the genetics, photos and DNA samples, and the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation in Missoula will conduct the testing. Scientists will plug the results into models, and they’ll have results ready for publication in a year or two.

In an interview with the Conservancy and posted on its website, Glacier wildlife technician Shawn Servis said the research is important because wolverines are a highly specialized species and have an increased risk of population decline if “detrimental changes” take place in their range.

“This makes them a species of precedence to focus on and learn as much as we can about them,” Servis said in the interview. “The more knowledge we gather today, the more capable we will be to (make) decisions in the future. Glacier is a honey hole for wolverine habitat in the contiguous United States and will serve as an excellent baseline to help serve the population as a whole. With some prudence and good will, we can help to ensure a future for these incredible animals.”

Mitchell, with the Glacier National Park Conservancy, said one of the reasons the fundraising arm of the park exists is to help support just the type of research Glacier is conducting. Parks have seen resources grow more scarce, he said, and at the same time, they’ve seen visitation rise significantly.

So parks have to invest their money into public health, wellness and safety, and in some cases, robust research, such as the earlier wolverine project, ended up partly a budget casualty. However, he said the Conservancy has grown from being able to provide some $300,000 a year in support to the park to more than $2 million in private philanthropy every year since 2018, including some $60,000 for the current wolverine study.

“It still takes a huge commitment from the park,” Mitchell said. “They are spending money. They are spending time.”

Philanthropic dollars don’t magically launch the projects, he said, but donors allow the Conservancy to think strategically about funding meaningful, long-term research that speaks to Glacier’s “wilderness, wildlife and wonder.” He said the funds actually mean more work for the park, which makes the research a priority, offers project leadership, and provides the “scaffolding,” or processes for the work to be done.

“So the park deserves a ton of credit in really staying very active and committed,” Mitchell said. “While the wolverine research may have a gap, their eye has never left the ball about what can we do to look at species in the park. And so this new research piece that we’re helping fund this year is really exciting because it kind of gets our oar, the park’s oar, back in the water on wolverines.”

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AP News

Fungus-ravaged bat proposed for endangered species listing

By JOHN FLESHER, March 22, 2022

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Federal officials on Tuesday proposed designating the northern long-eared bat, once common but ravaged by a deadly fungus, as an endangered species.

The population has plummeted since colonies infected with white-nose syndrome were spotted in New York caves in the mid-2000s. The bat is likely to go extinct without a dramatic turnaround, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.

“It’s going to be difficult but we’re going to do everything humanly possible to stop the decline,” said Charlie Wooley, director of the service’s Midwest region.

Named for white, fuzzy spots that appear on infected bats, white-nose syndrome attacks their wings, muzzles and ears as they hibernate in caves and abandoned mines.

It causes them to become active and sometimes fly outside too soon. They burn up their winter fat stores and eventually starve.

Where the fungus originated is unknown, but scientists say it may be carried on people’s clothes and shoes. It has spread to a dozen U.S. bat species, but the northern long-eared is among the hardest hit.

Found in 37 central and Eastern states and much of Canada, it roosts alone or in small groups during summer in tree cavities or crevices, or beneath the bark. Emerging at dusk, it flits through forests to feed on moths, beetles and other insects.

Bats are believed to give U.S. agriculture a $3 billion yearly boost by gobbling pests and pollinating some plants.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern long-eared as threatened in 2015. Since then, white-nose syndrome has spread across nearly 80% of its range and is expected to cover it all by 2025, prompting the proposal for the more severe designation.

Scientists have no estimate of how many remain, said Shauna Marquardt, supervisor of the agency’s ecological field office for Minnesota and Wisconsin. But they’ve recorded drop-offs of 97%-100% in caves where population surveys have been taken for decades.

“There might have been thousands before and now we’re seeing fewer than 100, and in some cases they’re absent completely,” Marquardt said.

Officials will take public comment through May 23 and decide in November whether to approve the “endangered” designation, which would make it illegal to kill the bats. Under the “threatened” status, the agency sets rules to conserve them but can allow small numbers to be sacrificed for economic development projects.

Preservation efforts include working with loggers, power companies, road builders and other industries to protect trees where the bats nest in summer and give birth, Wooley said. Winter hibernation areas also need security, he said.

“We have a strong foundation in place for working with stakeholders to conserve the bat while allowing economic activities within the range to continue to occur, and will continue to build on these,” an agency statement said.

Wind turbines also pose a danger to migrating bats, although much less than white-nose syndrome, Marquardt said. The wind energy industry has 16 habitat conservation plans and is developing 13 others, she said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is leading a campaign involving more than 150 agencies, private organizations and Native American tribes to research white-nose syndrome, reduce its presence where bats hibernate and help them recover. Work on a vaccine is underway, Marquardt said.

Approval of the endangered status and stepped-up rescue efforts are urgently needed, said Winifred Frick, chief scientist for Bat Conservation International, a research and advocacy group.

“We either need to find a solution to white-nose syndrome or ways to improve the body conditions of the bats that are still remaining on the landscape to have the best chance of survival,” Frick said.

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Center for Biological Diversity

400,000 Native Animals Killed by Federal Program Last Year, New Data Shows

WASHINGTON—(March 22, 2022)—The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services reported killing 404,538 native animals in 2021, according to new data released by the program today. The federal wildlife-killing program targets wolves, coyotes, cougars, birds and other wild animals, primarily to benefit the agriculture industry in states like Texas, Colorado and Idaho.

According to the report, the multimillion-dollar program last year killed 324 gray wolves, 64,131 coyotes, 433 black bears, 200 mountain lions, 605 bobcats, 3,014 foxes, 24,687 beavers, and 714 river otters. These figures almost certainly understate the actual number of animals killed, as program insiders have revealed that Wildlife Services kills many more animals than it reports.

“It’s stomach-turning to see this barbaric federal program wiping out hundreds of thousands of native animals,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Killing carnivores like wolves and coyotes to supposedly benefit the livestock industry just leads to more conflicts and more killing. This is a truly vicious cycle, and we’ll continue to demand change from Wildlife Services.”

The reported number of native animals killed in 2021 was similar to the 433,192 killed in 2020. These numbers reflect a steep decline compared to 2019, when approximately 1.3 million native animals were killed. The red-winged blackbird is an example of a species with fewer individuals intentionally killed by Wildlife Services, with 15,096 killed in 2021 compared to 364,734 in 2019.

According to the new data, the wildlife-killing program unintentionally killed more than 2,746 animals in 2021, including bears, bobcats, mountain lions, foxes, muskrats, otters, deer, turtles and dogs. Its killing of nontarget birds included wood ducks, tree swallows, herons and turkeys. Such data reveals the indiscriminate nature of leghold traps, snares, poisons and other methods used by federal agents.

Wildlife Services poisoned 7,573 animals using M-44 cyanide bombs in 2020. Of these deaths, 314 were unintentional. This month marks the fifth anniversary of an Idaho teen nearly being fatally poisoned by an M-44. The incident received worldwide media coverage and spurred federal and state efforts to ban these devices.

“It’s inexcusable that Wildlife Services continues to target rare and ecologically important animals like wolves and grizzly bears, forcing them to suffer and die in cruel traps and snares,” Adkins said. “Taxpayer-funded wildlife slaughter needs to stop and be replaced with a program that provides nonlethal tools that effectively prevent most conflicts with wildlife.”

In the last few years, litigation and community opposition curtailed Wildlife Services operations in numerous states, including California, Idaho, Minnesota and Washington, as well as localities such as Humboldt County and Minneapolis.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Rare Sand Dune-Dwelling Plant in Oregon, California Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection

PORTLAND, Ore.—(March 21, 2022)—Following a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect the sand dune phacelia as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Just 26 populations of this rare plant remain in the coastal dunes of southern Oregon and northern California.

The Service also proposed to designate 252 acres of critical habitat in Coos and Curry Counties in Oregon and Del Norte County in California.

“This is encouraging progress for this beautiful plant that exists only in Oregon and California’s fragile coastal sandy dunes,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center. “The sand dune phacelia simply can’t survive without Endangered Species Act protections. This proposal is a hopeful and long-overdue step toward making sure this species doesn’t disappear.”

The sand dune phacelia is threatened by off-road vehicles, invasive species like European beech grass and gorse, and climate change-driven sea-level rise. Its small population size makes it even more susceptible to these stressors.

The sand dune phacelia is in the Forget-Me-Not family of flowering plants and grows to be 18 inches tall. Its white flowers are a rich source of nectar and pollen for native bees. The number and variety of bee species in dune vegetation are higher in places where phacelia grows. The plant’s silvery hairs — which are an adaptation to the harsh coastal environment — keep salt off its leaves, decrease water loss and reflect excess light.

The name “Phacelia” is from the Greek “phakelos,” meaning cluster, for its lovely, clustered flowers, and the Latin “argentea,” meaning “silvery,” for the appearance of the leaves. The sand dune phacelia blooms from March to September.

The Center’s lawsuit against the Service sought to force the agency to make timely evaluations and protection decisions for 241 plant and animal species thought to be trending toward extinction, including the sand dune phacelia.

The lawsuit followed a 2014 petition to protect the species. That petition was filed by the Center and seven other conservation groups: Oregon Wild, Friends of Del Norte, Oregon Coast Alliance, the Native Plant Society of Oregon, the California Native Plant Society, the Environmental Protection Information Center and the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

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The Guardian

Australian government ‘aggravating extinction’ through land-clearing approvals, analysis finds

Campaigners say the pace at which native species habitat is being cleared for mining is accelerating despite warnings of an endangered species crisis

Adam Morton, Climate and environment editor, 21 Mar. 2022

The pace at which the Australian government is approving the destruction of habitat relied on by threatened species has increased in recent years, despite scientists warning of an escalating extinction crisis, according to an environment group analysis.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) compiled publicly available information on federal decisions that gave the green light to developments that involved clearing of forests and other areas relied on by threatened species.

It found levelling of more than 200,000 hectares of threatened species habitat – an area larger than Queensland’s Fraser Island (K’gari), or more than 100,000 Melbourne Cricket Grounds – was approved over the decade to the end of 2021. More than half of that total (120,000 hectares) had been approved in the five years since 2016.

ACF found nearly three-quarters of the clearing approved under national environment laws was for new and expanded mining developments. The most affected species was the koala, which in February was listed as endangered in New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT.

The foundation found more than 25,000 hectares of koala habitat had been approved for clearing. A fifth of that was to make way for one mine, the Olive Downs metallurgical coalmine in central Queensland, which last year received a $175m federal government loan to support its construction.

Other significantly affected threatened species included the critically endangered swift parrot, the greater glider (7,400 hectares), the forest red-tailed black cockatoo (1,800 hectares) and the spot-tailed quoll (1,200 hectares).

Jess Abrahams, a national nature campaigner with ACF, said the investigation had exposed the cumulative impact of federal government decisions made in isolation. It showed the commonwealth was “aggravating extinction” rather than protecting vulnerable native animals, she said.

Abrahams said federal data gave only a partial picture of land clearing across the country as two major industries – agriculture and native forest logging – were rarely assessed under national laws. Logging is effectively exempt from the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act under forestry deals between Canberra and the states.

“If we value Australia’s unique wildlife and plants we must do more to protect them,” Abrahams said. “That means stronger environment laws to stop the rampant wrecking of habitat revealed by this research, increased funding and specific plans for threatened species recovery.”

A spokesperson for the federal environment minister, Sussan Ley, said the ACF analysis looked at only one aspect of the environmental approval process, and did not take into account offset requirements to protect threatened species or how much approved clearing had ultimately occurred.

The spokesperson said $128.5m funding announced last week to “advance environmental law reform” would lead to better management of the cumulative impacts of developments in some areas by moving from project-specific to region-level assessment. It would also pay for a review of national offset strategies and improvements to data on threatened species, they said.

The opposition’s environment spokesperson, Terri Butler, said if elected later this year Labor would consider last year’s review of the EPBC Act led by the former competition watchdog head Graeme Samuel, including its advice about the importance of taking into account the cumulative impacts of developments.

“We will also address delays in recovery plans, including the one for the koala which is seven years late,” she said.

Dr. Megan Evans, a lecturer and research fellow at the University of New South Wales in Canberra, said the results of the investigation were not surprising.

Evans said the federal government had no central record of how much threatened species habitat remained and officials relied almost entirely on information provided by developers when assessing proposals. Developments were routinely approved with a promise that offsets to limit their environmental impact would be decided later, she said.

“There is no centralised database of protected habitat data and offsets. The system is not transparent and it is getting worse,” she said.

Australia is the world’s capital for mammal extinction, with 34 species known to have died out since European colonisation. The Samuel review found Australia’s natural environment is in decline and the EPBC Act is failing.

A report by the auditor general last week found the federal government could not demonstrate it was protecting Australia’s endangered wildlife as it was not monitoring most species, habitats or threats. Meanwhile, a study by 38 scientists working across Australia and Antarctica last year found 19 ecosystems were collapsing due to the impact of humans and warned urgent action was required to prevent their complete loss.

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Oregon Capital Chronicle (Salem, OR)

State takes next steps on plan to protect threatened species in western forests

By ALEX BAUMHARDT, March 21, 2022

A plan to protect critical animal habitat in nearly 640,000 acres of western Oregon state forests is moving towards its final stages.

An environmental impact review of the Western Forests Habitat Conservation Plan was released March 18, and Oregonians have 60 days to submit their thoughts and concerns to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who will be in charge of permitting for the plan.

The 70-year plan is designed to better protect 17 species identified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. These animals live in the state’s western forests where logging occurs.

The plan also would offer some legal protections to logging companies, giving them more assurance about where they could harvest trees and help them to avoid being sued under the Endangered Species Act.

The plan creates a patchwork of protected habitat areas, mostly in Tillamook and Clatsop counties, that cover about 4% of the Oregon Coast Range.

Currently, the state Forestry Department determines where logging can occur by spot surveying areas to see if any threatened species are present. This costs the agency a lot of time and money and upends some logging operations, according to Michael Wilson, a manager at the department who worked on the habitat conservation plan.

Under the new plan, which took nearly four years to develop, the agency will focus on the protection of critical habitat in areas where the species are known or prone to gather, spawn or forage in, rather than surveying spots of western state forests for nests and animals.

In newly protected habitat areas, there would be wider no-logging zones on land abutting rivers and streams to protect threatened coho and chinook salmon from sediment and heat. It also would prohibit or enact seasonal logging bans against areas known to be nesting and foraging grounds for threatened birds like the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet.

The 1,850 page environmental review of the habitat conservation plan includes a “recommended option” and five alternative options for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider as they issue critical permits to the Oregon Department of Forestry during the next year.

One of those permits would allow the “incidental take” of the threatened animals who are killed or displaced in areas outside the 640,000 acres of protected habitat, in exchange for stricter regulations within the protected habitat areas.

Public comment on the environmental impact statement will be accepted until May 17, and a virtual public meeting will be held by the national fisheries agency from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6.

The state Forestry Department hopes to have its final environmental impact statement done by early 2023 and to have the Western Forests Habitat Conservation Plan ready by next spring for approval by the state Board of Forestry.

Once implemented, the plan and the health of the threatened animals would be monitored by the state Forestry Department and enforced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Science Alert

There Is Something Similar Among Many Species at Risk of Extinction

Clare Watson, 20 MARCH 2022

Human activities are pushing plants and animals to extinction at a sickening rate. From habitat loss, overfishing and poaching, to global heating and pollution, species are dying out faster than we can comprehend.

A new study by conservation ecologist Haydee Hernandez-Yanez and two colleagues from Alexander Center for Applied Population Biology at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, has identified common traits among plants, birds, or mammals at risk of disappearing – with some unexpected results.

“Certain combinations of life history traits and demographic rates can make a population more prone to extinction than others,” explains Hernandez-Yanez of the Woodwell Climate Research Center and colleagues in their paper.

But, as they point out, until only recently, few studies have tested predictions of what makes one species more vulnerable to the next across diverse taxonomic groups using real-world data on a global scale.

Patterns and timing of survival, growth and reproduction all factor into whether populations of plants and animals can withstand or adapt to an onslaught of human-made environmental change.

In this new study, Hernandez-Yanez and team compiled data on growth rates, lifespans and reproduction for 159 species of herbaceous plants, trees, mammals, and birds, and crosschecked the species’ most current endangered status from the IUCN Red List, the world’s foremost record of threatened species.

“Despite our relatively small sample of species, we found that species with certain demographic patterns are more at risk of extinction than others, and that the important predictors differed between taxonomic groups,” writes the trio of researchers.

For example, mammals that have longer generation times are most at risk of extinction, perhaps because the longer it takes species to mature and reproduce, the harder it is for them to adapt to rapid environmental change – and especially if animals only reproduce once in their lifetime.

Meanwhile birds that reproduce often and grow fast, from chicks to fledglings to mature adults, are more vulnerable to extinction, which was somewhat unexpected – you might think producing lots of offspring ups a species’ survival odds.

In contrast, other studies have found birds with smaller clutch sizes face greater extinction risks, so the data vary and differences might reflect the many ways reproduction can be measured, the researchers note.

When it comes to species similarities among plants, soft-stemmed herbaceous perennials – the type that die back before winter and bloom in springtime and summer – are more likely to perish if they mature early and have high survival rates as juvenile seedlings. No clear patterns were observed for endangered woody trees, though.

“After all, deforestation for growing crops and urbanization do not discriminate among tree species,” Hernandez-Yanez and colleagues write.

The findings add to those of another recent study predicting extinction risk which found species that sit atop the food chain, have sparse populations, or small geographic ranges are most vulnerable.

But these types of studies are often limited by the scope of the IUCN Red List, which captures only a fraction of endangered species – mostly within highly threatened biodiversity hotspots – and is heavily skewed towards birds and mammals.

Amphibians, for example, are among the most vulnerable, with a third of all known amphibian species facing extinction and thousands of species not yet assessed by the IUCN or lacking data to do so.

And that’s before we get to insects and other invertebrates that pollinate plants, disperse seeds and cycle nutrients through ecosystems – and the innumerable species yet to be discovered which are going extinct faster than we can describe them.  

“Most of these extinctions are unrecorded, so we do not even know what species we are losing,” conservation ecologists Elizabeth Boakes and David Redding wrote in a 2018 article describing the “incalculable loss”.

All of which is to say, try as scientists might, we are most likely underestimating the true extent of biodiversity loss and extinction risk. Nearly 350 herbaceous plant species analyzed in the current study had no IUCN status

Conservationists refuse to bury their heads in the sand when the threat is nigh and the stakes are high. We know what needs to be done to curb biodiversity loss and protect endangered species; it’s whether or not we can turn the extinction tide before it’s too late.

Acknowledging this, Hernandez-Yanez and colleagues hope that a better understanding of what traits put plants and animals at most risk of disappearing helps with conservation efforts. The findings could be used to assess which species are more or less vulnerable to extinction, especially when abundance data is lacking.

(The research was published in PLOS One.)

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Talker News

Why birds of prey are dying from lead poisoning

By Gwyn Wright via SWNS, March 17, 2022

Birds of prey numbers across Europe are far lower than they should be because of lead poisoning from ammunition, according to a new study.

Scientists from the University of Cambridge, England have found toxic lead from guns left in the animals that birds of prey eat, which ends up killing the birds.

When birds such as eagles and Red Kites, eat fragments of the toxic lead in large doses they become poisoned and suffer slow and painful deaths.

Lower doses of the toxin can change the birds’ behavior and physiology.

The researchers estimate lead poisoning alone has led to an absence of around 55,000 birds from Europe’s skies.

Species such as eagles that have a high life expectancy have few young per year, and breed later in life are particularly badly affected.

However, species loved by bird-watchers across Britain, such as Red Kites and Common Buzzards, would also be more numerous if it were not for lead ammunition poisoning.

It is believed Europe’s white-tailed eagle population is 14 percent smaller than it would have been without more than a century of exposure to lethal levels of lead in some of its food.

Golden Eagles and Griffon Vultures are also fewer in number than they would have otherwise been- with populations being 13 and 12 percent smaller than they would have been.

Northern Goshawk numbers are six percent smaller, and both Red Kite and Western Marsh Harrier populations are three percent smaller than they should be.

While Common Buzzard populations are just one and a half percent smaller, this equates to almost 22,000 fewer adults of this widespread species, the researchers say.

They estimate that the overall European population of ten raptor species is at least six percent smaller than it should be, solely as a result of poisoning from lead ammunition.

For the study, the scientists used data on lead levels in the livers of more than 3,000 birds of prey found dead in more than a dozen countries to work out how much damage the poisoning had caused.

The team, who worked with researchers in Germany, then used population modeling to work out how big Europe’s bird populations would have been without the impact of lead ammunition poisoning.

They took data gathered since the 1970s from the livers of dead birds of prey in 13 countries and tracked the relationship with ‘hunter density,’ the average numbers of hunters per square kilometer in each country, using data from the European Federation for Hunting and Conservation.

More poisoned birds of prey were found in places with a higher density of hunters.

The scientists then used this relationship to predict rates of poisoning in countries without data from bird livers, but where “hunter density” is known.

Results indicate a country with no hunters using lead ammunition would have almost no lead-poisoned raptors.

The team says their estimate is likely to be an underestimate given how limited and difficult to gather data on poisoned birds of prey and the fact there was not enough data to work out how great the risk is to many European species.

The researchers say a range of alternatives to lead shotgun cartridges and rifle bullets are widely available to hunters and work well.

However, efforts by British hunters’ organizations to instigate voluntary bans on lead shot in hunting have had almost no effect.

The same team last month found more than 99 percent of pheasants killed in the UK are still shot with lead, despite hunting groups having urged members to switch to non-toxic gunshot with the aim of phasing out lead use by 2025.

Only two European nations, Denmark and the Netherlands, have banned lead shot.

Denmark plans to soon ban lead rifle bullets.

Both the European Union and the UK are considering legal bans on all lead ammunition due to effects on wildlife and the health of human consumers of game meat, but many hunting groups are opposed to it.

Some birds of prey are poisoned when they scavenge from dead animals killed with lead ammunition.

This can be a whole carcass lost or abandoned by hunters, or, for example, the guts of a hunted deer, discarded to reduce carrying weight.

As well as vultures, which rely on scavenging, many other raptors also scavenge when they get the opportunity, including eagles, buzzards and kites.

Many dead pheasants at UK roadsides carry lead shot and fragments in their bodies and are scavenged by buzzards and kites.

Other species, such as falcons and goshawks, are exposed through preying upon live animals with lead embedded in their bodies from being shot and injured but not killed.

X-ray studies of wild ducks in the UK have shown that about a quarter of live birds have lead shot in their bodies.

Injured ducks or pigeons are less likely to be able to evade predatory birds.

Lead study author Professor Rhys Green said: “The continued blanket use of lead ammunition means that hunting as a pastime simply cannot be considered sustainable unless things change.

“Unfortunately, efforts to encourage voluntary shifts away from lead shot have been completely ineffective so far.

“The kinds of reductions in raptor populations suggested by our study would be considered worthy of strong action, including legislation, if caused by habitat destruction or deliberate poisoning.”

Study co-author Professor Debbie Pain said: “It’s taken decades for researchers from across Europe to amass sufficient data to enable us to calculate the impacts of lead poisoning on raptor populations.

“We can now see just how substantial population impacts can be for some of our most charismatic and vulnerable species – species that are protected by EU Regulation and the UK Wildlife & Countryside Act.

“The avoidable suffering and death of numerous individual raptors from lead poisoning should be sufficient to require the use of non-toxic alternatives. These population-level impacts make this both doubly important and urgent.”

(The findings were published in the journal Science of The Total Environment. The post Why birds of prey are dying from lead poisoning appeared first on Talker.)

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Newsweek

Seal Slaughter Starts in Canada Just Weeks After Mothers Give Birth

Hannah Osborne, March 17, 2022

The seal slaughter season on the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence begins today, with the Canadian government announcing those with commercial and personal licenses can begin hunting in designated areas on March 17.

The Canadian seal hunt has taken place for hundreds of years, with early 17th-century settlers targeting harp seals in the region. Archaeological evidence also suggests indigenous people have hunted the species for about 4,000 years. The hunt has social, cultural and economic importance, although the latter appears to be in decline.

The hunt, which is considered one the biggest slaughtersw of marine mammals on the planet, is regulated by the Canadian government. Hunting levels peaked in the mid to early 2000s. In 2004, 366,000 seals were killed. Kill rates have plummeted in the last decade as demand for seal-related products falls. In 2019, 32,071 harp seals were slaughtered.

Sealing is divided into different areas. Around 30 percent of the seals killed as part of the annual harvest come from the Magdalen Islands, the Quebec North Shore and Western Newfoundland. The remaining 70 percent come from the ‘Front,’ which is east of Newfoundland.

The region being targeted from March 17 surrounds the Magdalen Islands, which is a harp seal nursery. Seals begin to gather around the islands around December, giving birth in late February and early March. Mothers feed their pups for around 15 days, at which point they leave the young to fend for themselves.

It has been illegal for hunters to kill seal pups, known as whitecoats, since 1987. Young seals lose their white fur by the time they are three or four weeks old.

The Government of Canada says it ensures the harvesting of seals is humane by implementing a strictly enforced kill method. Harvesters must shoot or strike the seal on the top of the head with a gun, club or hakapik. They must then check if the skull has been crushed, meaning they know the seal is either dead or unconscious. The seal is bled via two axillary arteries for at least one minute before it is skinned.

Animal rights groups have strongly opposed seal hunting for decades, calling on the Canadian government to put an end to the practice. Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International/Canada, told Newsweek the suffering of seal pups is “utterly heartbreaking.”

“Sealers shoot at these seals from moving boats and pups are often wounded and suffer terribly,” she said. “Many escape into the water where they die slowly and painfully. Others are impaled on metal hooks and dragged onto vessels where they are clubbed to death.

“The seals are killed primarily for their fur, and the skins of very young seals fetch the highest prices. Government reports confirm more than 98 percent of the seals killed in the commercial seal hunt are pups less than three months old. Veterinary experts have concluded that all legal methods of hunting in Canada’s commercial seal hunt are inherently inhumane, and the slaughter should be ended as a result.”

A spokesperson from Fisheries and Oceans Canada told Newsweek the government of Canada is committed to providing a sustainable, highly-regulated and humane seal harvest that supports rural, coastal and indigenous communities. They said that while Total Allowable Catch levels are not assigned, it closely monitors how many are landed each year.

Harp seal numbers are currently not a cause for concern. However, climate change is currently altering their breeding habits. Sea ice, which they give birth on, is forming later and less consistently. This means many newborn pups are dying as they do not have a safe and stable place to gain the weight they need to fend for themselves. In 2021, the lack of sea ice meant seal pup mortality was extremely high. It is thought that as warming trends continue, harp seal numbers will decline.

“The commercial harvests of harp and grey seals remain well within sustainable levels, representing only a small fraction of scientifically advised sustainable removal levels,” the department spokesperson said.

They also said market demand for seals, as well as participation in seal fishery, has been low.

Last year, Canada exported C$224,223 ($177,178) worth of seal products— primarily marine mammal oil and fats. The biggest importers were Norway, followed by Japan, Hong Kong, South Africa, South Korea and China. Ukraine represented the smallest market, importing just over C$1,600.

“The department continues to support efforts to maintain existing markets for Canadian seal products and support the development of potential new markets,” the spokesperson said.

Aldworth says the seal hunt must stop. “The commercial sealing industry has been reduced to a fraction of its former size, and demand continues to plummet even further as seal product markets continue to close,” she said. “Today, 90 percent of licensed commercial sealers no longer participate in the hunt because it is no longer profitable for them to do so. Yet every year, tens of thousands of seal pups are still slaughtered in the commercial seal hunt, and we are calling on the Canadian government to put a final end to this outdated and cruel industry.

“We are advocating for a fair transition program for the few hundred sealers who continue to engage in the industry. In particular, we believe seals can be worth far more alive than dead to coastal communities, and that the government should invest in development of responsible marine ecotourism in the areas currently engaged in commercial sealing.”

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Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

Feds will not protect imperiled native Pecos River turtle after decades of debate

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus, March 16, 2022

A small turtle native to the Pecos River in southeast New Mexico was found to not need federal protections to save the species after years of conflict between conservationists and landowners.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the Rio Grande cooter did not warrant listing as endangered or threatened by the federal agency, per a March 14 notice in the Federal Register, despite being listed for protections by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a species can be listed as either “endangered,” meaning extinction is imminent, or “threatened” which means endangered status is likely in the future.

The two classes involve varying degrees of protections for the animal, protections for the species’ habitat lands, or require the federal government devise plans to restore populations.

The Blanco blind salamander will also not be listed, per the same notice, a lizard species believed to dwell in the Blanco River near San Marcos, Texas of which only one specimen was ever collected in 1951 and believed to be either extinct or actually the Texas blind salamander.

But the Rio Grande cooter is known to exist in multiple tributaries of the Rio Grande in several states.

The Fish and Wildlife Service reported its known habitats included the Pecos River in southeast New Mexico, Devil’s River in West Texas, the Rio Salado in southern Arizona and the Rio San Juan basins in the Four Corners Region including parts of northwest New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah.

It grows to about 15 inches long, living in freshwater streams and pools throughout the Rio Grande watershed.

Threats to the turtle were described as degrading water quality and quantity amid widespread drought in the cooter’s range, but the federal government reported it existed in all of its historical range.

The Rio Grande cooter was described as having a “moderate to low” risk of extinction.

“Because the species has adequate levels of resiliency, redundancy and representation across its distribution currently and into the foreseeable future, we find that it is not warranted for listing under the ESA,” read a statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Contaminants in the water could harm the cooter, and low stream flows can impede its ability to breed and nest.

Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity contended these threats could get worse amid intensifying climate change.

He said the Center planned to review the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision and hoped the petition, despite its denial, could lead to additional research to conserve the animal.

“The Rio Grande cooter is an essential inhabitant of its namesake river and tributaries, yet those watercourses are less hospitable for the turtle because clean flowing water has been taken for granted, overused and abused,” Robinson said.

“We are not convinced that all is well for this turtle and will decide on any next steps after we review the federal decision.”

But the despite these threats, the Fish and Wildlife Service said it found multiple “resilient populations” of the turtle throughout its range.

“Based on these conditions, the current risk of extinction for the Rio Grande cooter is low,” read the notice. “Thus, the best available information does not indicate that the magnitude and scope of individual stressors would cause the species to be in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future.”

Debate to conserve the cooter dates back to 2012

The decision to not list the animals came after 12-month findings were completed following petitions that requested the species’ status be reviewed.

Damage to habitat, disease, man-made factors and present regulatory impacts were considered in the decisions.

The cooter was included in a 2012 petition to list it and 52 other amphibious animals for protections, and a 90-day finding found it and 20 other species could warrant such a listing.

Listing the Rio Grande cooter for protections was controversial as conservationists accused the federal government of postponing the decision for about a decade after the petition was filed in 2012.

The Center for Biological Diversity in October 2021 accused the federal government of missing several deadlines for listing decisions that year, including the Rio Grande cooter, set by a 2016 workplan.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center said the Fish and Wildlife Service’s process of listing species was “too slow” to address widespread extinctions brought on by pollution and climate change.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service’s process for listing species is just too slow to address the extinction crisis, and Biden officials need to speed things up,” Greenwald said. “If the Service can’t streamline its decision-making and follow its own workplan, we’re going to lose more plants and animals to extinction.”

The Center also advocated for an at least $63.7 million increase in funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to aid in species conservation. 

“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, 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.”

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Talker News

Scientists warn that over 850 species could be wiped out if humans continue to do this

By Stephen Beech via SWNS, March 16, 2022

More than 850 species could be wiped out by the growth of towns and cities around the world over the next 30 years, according to a new study.

Researchers warned that a projected urban expansion of more than 500,000 square miles over the next three decades threatens the survival of hundreds of breeds of birds and animals.

But a focus on urban planning that protects habitats can mitigate the impact, say scientists.

The global urban population is projected to increase by 2.5 billion people over the next 30 years, which will greatly increase the spread of towns and cities.

Much of the forecast urban expansion is predicted to occur in biodiversity hotspots — areas rich with species that are at a high risk of destruction due to human activity.

Expansion is projected to result in up to 1.53 million square kilometers (590 square miles) of new urbanized land, directly threatening 855 species, according to the findings of the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The study identified “hotspot” cities whose growth are predicted to have particularly large impacts on species habitats. Many of the cities are in equatorial regions where urban growth coincides with biodiverse habitats.

The cities that pose the greatest threat to species due to expansion are predominately located in the developing tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa, South America, Mesoamerica, and Southeast Asia.

Species listed as “threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List are disproportionately represented among those most heavily impacted, according to the findings.

But focusing global efforts on minimizing impacts on habitats in these growth regions can help conserve and protect species, say the research team led by scientists from Yale University in the US.

The study relied on data from Yale’s Map of Life – a collection of species distribution data used to monitor, research, and create policies that protect species worldwide.

It also used a recently developed suite of land-use projections to assess future habitat loss from urban land expansion for more than 30,000 terrestrial species globally. The study found that urban land expansion is a significant driver of habitat loss for about one-third of these.

The study comes as the 15th Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity prepares to convene next month to decide the new post-2020 biodiversity conservation framework.

Co-author Professor Karen Seto, of Yale School of the Environment (YSE), said: “Cities are actually part of the solution.

“We can build cities differently than we have in the past. They can be good for the planet; they can save species; they can be biodiversity hubs and save land for nature.’’

The study found that the largest impacts on species are not from the world’s largest cities, but from urban areas that have a myriad of endemic species and where expansion can destroy habitats. And these areas are rapidly becoming more urbanized.

Study lead author Rohan Simkin, a Ph.D. student at YSE, said: “One of the aims of the study was to identify those species, not that just are threatened, but that are specifically threatened by urban land development.

“I think that the average person on the street is very aware of the climate crisis now, but I’m not sure they are aware of the biodiversity crisis.”

But obstacles to containing sprawl include economic pressures, governance structures, and awareness of the importance of habitats and preserving biodiversity. It’s easier to build out, not up, noted Prof. Seto.

Species under the most pressure from expansion are concentrated in areas from central Mexico through Central America, the Caribbean, Haiti, Nigeria, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Brazil, and Ecuador.

Robert McDonald, lead scientist for nature-based solutions at The Nature Conservancy, said: “We are at a critical moment when the world’s governments are renegotiating their commitments to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“This study is important since it lets us quantify, for the first time, which specific species are most threatened by urban growth and where urban protected areas are needed to safeguard them.”

Professor Walter Jetz, director of the Yale Centre for Biodiversity and Global Change, said: “The study offers vital decision-support in regions across the world to plan for urban growth that minimizes the loss of biodiversity.

“It leverages the Species Habitat Index, a central biodiversity change indicator of the draft post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity, to assess future scenarios.”

Despite the potential for loss of species from land expansion, Prof. Seto says the study highlights how cities can proactively protect biodiversity.

She added: “The majority of these places have yet to be built.

“Science-driven policies that guide how the cities of tomorrow get built will have a tremendous effect.”

(The post Scientists warn that over 850 species could be wiped out if humans continue to do this appeared first on Talker.)

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Arizona’s Family

Forest Service to remove ‘feral’ horses from Alpine to protect endangered species

By Kim Powell, Published: Mar. 15, 2022

ALPINE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) – The US Forest Services will be collecting ‘feral’ horses in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Alpine starting Mar. 21st. The removal of the horses comes after the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit group based out of Tucson, filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service for violating the Endangered Species Act. The group claims the Forest Service fails to control feral animals’ damage to the meadows and streams, which are the New Mexico Jumping Mouse’s federally protected habitat.

“Since the early 2000s, feral horses have been causing severe damage to the habitat of threatened and endangered species in an area including the Chiricahua leopard frog, narrow-headed garter snake, loach minnow, and Apache trout, and New Mexico meadow jumping mouse – which is nearing extinction. There are indirect effects on habitats of Three Forks spring snail and Mexican spotted owl. Collection of these feral horses is an ongoing process and necessary for responsible forest management for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests,” said Jeffrey Todd, the spokesperson for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest (ASNF).

The Center for Biological Diversity says the jumping mouse relies heavily on the tall grass and streams in the Alpine area, which they claim unauthorized livestock are damaging.

“What is really the damage the horses are doing? Because when you have elk and deer and cattle and they’re all kind of using the same area, you can’t really say it’s the horses doing the damage,” said Simone Netherlands, an Arizona wild horse advocate. Netherlands says she and other horse advocates were notified two days ago of the roundup and wish they had more notice. “We think it’s really sad we’re only getting seven days to try to save these horses. That’s not enough time for the public to give their input.”

The Forest Service says they have a contract for passive baiting and trapping of unauthorized feral horses, which they say is the least dangerous process for collecting them. Robin Silver, who is with the Center for Biological Diversity, says they want all of the feral horses out of that habitat, but the Forest Services doesn’t know when they will all be collected.

“The ASNF is starting with up to 20 heads. There are approximately 400 head of unauthorized feral horses. We are working closely with the local community, grassroots collaborative, multiple horse rescues, permittees, and Arizona horse advocates to find creative solutions,” Todd said.

Silver says they do not want to harm the horses by any means, and they’ve spent the last three years trying to get horse activists to help remove the horses. Netherlands says they’ve been invited to the public auctions but have a hard time outbidding “kill buyers.”

“The fact is that the Forest Service will bring them to the Holbrook auction; now they cannot guarantee at that auction they won’t be purchased by kill buyers,” Netherlands said. “There’s no way for them to guarantee that these horses are not going to end up on a dinner plate abroad,” Netherlands said her main goal is to work with the Forest Service and conservation groups to make sure the horses are treated humanely and not sent out for slaughter. “If there really is 400, it would be reasonable to leave about 200 and treat them with humane fertility control, so the herd doesn’t grow too large, and it doesn’t put too much pressure on the environment.”

Netherlands said she and other horse advocates are heading up to Alpine on Friday to discuss options with the Forest Service.

“We would really like the Forest Service to postpone this action of bait trapping these wild horses until they can guarantee these Arizona wild horses will not end up in slaughter,” Netherlands said. “We just want all Arizona wild horses treated humanely, and that’s literally all we ask.”

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The Guardian

National Trust creates Northumberland ‘ark’ to protect endangered crayfish

Trust creates refuge for white-clawed crayfish in old cattle drinking hole on Wallington estate near Morpeth

Mark Brown, North of England correspondent, 15 March 2022

An “ark” refuge is being created by the National Trust to help save one of the UK’s most endangered native species from extinction.

The white-clawed crayfish is the UK’s only indigenous crayfish but the population has been almost wiped out because of the introduction of a bigger American species in the 1970s.

The trust on Tuesday said it wanted to do its bit to help by creating the refuge in an old cattle drinking hole at the Wallington estate in Northumberland.

It will move up to 100 of the crustaceans from the River Wansbeck, which runs through the estate, to the site, where it is hoped they will breed.

Matthew Fitch, the National Trust ranger at Wallington, said the white-clawed crayfish was “on a knife-edge”.

He added: “It’s so important we shore up the healthy populations, like the one we’re fortunate to have here on the Wansbeck, as quickly as we can to make sure it doesn’t vanish from our rivers altogether.”

Fitch said the site would be a haven “but also contribute to the long-term protection of the animal, as the crayfish that are kept here can in theory be used to repopulate other waterbodies”.

Populations of white-clawed crayfish have more than halved across Europe in recent decades. In the UK an estimated 70% of the population has been lost.

The losses can be traced back to the introduction of the American signal crayfish, a bigger species introduced to Europe in the 1970s as a restaurant delicacy.

They were deliberately introduced to British waterways in 1976 by a government that hoped they would be an export money spinner, supplying the lucrative Scandinavian market. Grants were made available for estate owners and others to take part.

The consequences have been devastating for indigenous crayfish. As well as outcompeting smaller crayfish for food and habitat, the interloper often carries a plague that is harmless to itself but can wipe out other species of crayfish in weeks.

The Wallington estate is, at 13,500 acres, the largest estate in the care of the National Trust. Rangers at Wallington have spent 15 months diligently taking water samples and surveying to make sure the project will succeed. The 200-year-old cattle drinking hole is fed by a spring, with the water flowing over barriers before it reaches the Wansbeck, meaning the chances of signal crayfish or plague entering are low.

Around 250,000 visitors a year go to Wallington. As well as the marvellous Pre-Raphaelite artworks in the house people will soon be able to see a display tank of white-clawed crayfish in the property’s reception area.

Ian Marshall, who is the Environment Agency’s national lead on white-clawed crayfish, said Northumberland had some of the best populations.

“They are vital to our ecology, helping to keep our waterways clean and providing a source of food for other native species.

“The Northumberland Crayfish Partnership is working hard to better protect them and this brilliant project at Wallington is one of many big plans to make 2022 the best year yet for the recovery of native crayfish across the region.”

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Public News Service

Budget Bill Blocks Endangered Species Protection for Sage Grouse

Suzanne Potter, Producer, March 14, 2022

Conservation groups are slamming a spending deal in Congress that’s expected to pass this week – because it would forbid Endangered Species Act protections for an imperiled bird in the West.

The sage grouse population in the high desert country of Western states has dropped 80% since 1965. Yet federal spending bills have included this prohibition since 2014.

This year, the initial bill dropped the ESA prohibition – but the final version restored it. Robert Dewey, vice president for government relations with the group Defenders of Wildlife, called it a huge missed opportunity.

“Policy on the sage grouse must be driven by science and not politics,” said Dewey. “I think it’s time to end this prohibition and allow biologists to determine whether this species needs federal protection.”

Sage grouse rely on sagebrush for food and shelter, and their habitat has dwindled with development and energy exploration.

In 2015, the Obama administration negotiated a major compromise to protect the bird – a settlement between conservation groups, state agencies, the feds, ranchers, tribes, and the oil industry. However, the Trump administration opted to weaken that agreement.

Dewey said this year, Republicans insisted on maintaining the requirement to keep the sage grouse from being classified as endangered. He blamed pressure from the fossil-fuel industry.

“Since 2015, 1.6 million acres of sage grouse habitat have been leased for oil and gas purposes,” said Dewey. “So there’s no doubt the oil and gas industry is no fan of greater protections for the sage grouse.”

Sage grouse habitat covers 11 states, from California east to the Dakotas. The same area supports more than 350 other declining species, including pronghorn, mule deer, pygmy rabbit, elk and almost 200 species of birds.

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The Hill

US hunters imported more than 700K trophies in ‘disturbing’ trend: Report

Jenna Romaine | March 14, 2022

U.S. hunters imported more than 700,000 hunting trophies – including skulls, mounts, and teeth, among others – over the course of 5 years.

According to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, from 2016 through 2020 hunting trophies – largely of exotic animals, such as giraffes, rhinos, and zebras – were imported to the United States.

“The vast volume of hunting trophies pouring into the United States represents a massive exploitation of wildlife during a global extinction crisis,” Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the center, said in a press release.

Data show a largely “steady and sizable annual increase” of trophy imports between 2016 and 2019, excluding a minor decline in 2017. In 2016, 109,579 hunting trophies were imported to the U.S.; a slight decline to 108,490 in 2017; 212,393 imports in 2018; and a whopping 234,532 imported hunting trophies in 2019.

The center said that the data reveals “disturbing U.S. trophy trends,” noting that some wealthy trophy hunters were still likely traveling during the pandemic.

There was a decline between 2019 and 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic first began and travel restrictions were in place. However, even with coronavirus travel restrictions, 2020 still saw a significant number of imports, with 55,990 hunting trophies brought into the U.S. during this timeframe. Giraffe trophies dipped only slightly in 2020, the group says, despite the pandemic.

“While most people in the United States were on lockdown, with many living paycheck to paycheck, elite trophy hunters were still jet-setting around to kill wildlife for skins, skulls, mounts, bones, wings, teeth and feet,” said Sanerib.

Though the overall number of imports saw a considerable decrease between 2019 and 2020, some species were still significantly affected. For example, there was an increase in zebra trophy imports, with 3,795 imported in 2019 compared to 7,199 in 2020.

According to the Humane Society International, the U.S. is the largest importer of hunting trophies, bringing in roughly 345 trophies per day. Conservationists hope the eye-opening data will spur the U.S. government to enact stronger conservation measures.

“Giraffes, rhinos and other imperiled animals are gunned down for trophies, along with animals from wallabies, zebras and porcupines to birds and lizards,” Sanerib said. “The Biden administration should take a hard look at how greenlighting trophy imports contributes to the biodiversity emergency.”

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The Guardian

Conservationists seek collaboration to end illegal Pangolin trade

By Gbenga Akinfenwa, 13 March 2022

Experts have warned that unrestricted poaching, hunting, and trafficking of pangolins can lead to the extinction of the animal, unless urgent steps are taken to tackle practice.

The Chairman and convener, Pangolin Conservation Guild Nigeria, Olajumoke Morenikeji, gave the warning at an event organised by the body, in collaboration with the US Consulate, One Health Development Initiative (OHDI), and the Wildlife of Africa Conservation Initiative (WACI), as part of activities to mark the 2022 World Pangolin Day in Lagos.

While noting that pangolins are the most smuggled mammal in the world because of their meat and scales, Morenikeji said to solve the problem, the existing conservation laws in the country should be amended and better enforced, to discourage hunting and poaching of pangolins and other wildlife animals.

In her keynote address, the Minister of State for Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, represented by the Director General of National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), Aliyu Jauro, said achieving sustainability without community action is a challenge to sustainable wildlife resources.

Ikeazor said the ministry’s mission is to ensure environmental protection, natural resources conservation, and sustainable development, adding that the country is set to sign a Cooperation Framework Agreement on Transboundary Ecosystem Conservation and Sustainable Management of Forestry and Wildlife Resources with Cameroun.

The Conservator-general, National Park Service, Ibrahim Goni, said President Muhammadu Buhari had recently approved the establishment of 10 new national parks in the country, to enhance efforts and commitment to tackling illegal wildlife trade in the country.

According to him, the theme for the 2022 World Pangolin Day is especially relevant because the conservation of any animal species, including the pangolins, is impossible without the cooperation of the community where these species are found.

Also speaking, a representative from the department of Public Affairs, United States consulate, Lagos, Jenny Foltz, said “the joint project between the United States Consulate and the Pangolin Conservation Guild Nigeria is focused on promoting advocacy, drive awareness and curb the threats from pangolin trafficking on the environment and human health.”

She added that the US mission to Nigeria, embassy in Abuja, and the consulate in Lagos would work closely with the country to train enforcement agencies on how to identify pangolins and the traffickers of pangolin meat and scales.

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WION (London)

Plant species that are not useful to humans are going extinct, says study

WION Web Team, London Published: Mar 11, 2022

Most of the plant species are going extinct in the world as people don’t need them, found researchers.  

More than 80,000 plant species have been categorised worldwide.

The plant communities of the future will largely depend on humans and will be hugely homogenised than those of today, as per the paper, which was published in the journal ‘Plants, People, Planet’. 

The findings show a dark picture of the threat to biodiversity. The study covered less than 30% of all known plant species. It is like a “wake-up call”, say the researchers, who highlighted the need for more work in this field.

There are 6,749 plants, which are winners and helpful to humans, such as rice, corn, wheat and other crops. They cover 40% of the surface of the planet. There are 164 plants, which are winners and but not useful to humans. These include weedy species like kudzu. 

About 20,290 species of plants have been categorised as losers as they are mostly not useful to humans. They are already recognised as endangered species like magnolia tree from Haiti, etc.  

The scientists have also branded 26,002 species as potential losers, and 18,664 species as potential winners. These last two categories are plants, which are currently considered neutral. And 571 plant species have already gone extinct.

John Kress, botany curator emeritus, Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and lead author of the paper, said, “We’re actually beginning to quantify what’s going to make it through the bottleneck of the Anthropocene, in terms of numbers. It’s not the future, it’s happening. The bottleneck is starting to happen right now. And I think that’s part of the wake-up call that we are trying to give here. It’s something we might be able to slow down a little bit, but it’s happening.” 

(With inputs from agencies)  

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E&E News/Greenwire

White House starts key ESA ‘critical habitat’ review

By Michael Doyle | 03/11/22

The Fish and Wildlife Service this week stepped closer toward erasing a Trump administration rule that crimped the Endangered Species Act’s definition of “critical habitat.”

On Tuesday, records show, the federal agency, along with NOAA Fisheries, submitted a long-awaited ESA rule for final White House review. Once the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has done its thing, it will be go time for one of the environmental community’s priorities.

“The Endangered Species Act has saved hundreds of irreplaceable plants and animals from extinction, but it could be doing so much more good,” Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

Kurose added that “despite the law’s remarkable success, the services have been reluctant to fully implement it, succumbing to years of political and industry pressure to weaken what is the only hope for imperiled species.”

On Tuesday, the same day the federal agencies handed the ball to White House reviewers, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a sweeping petition urging FWS and NOAA Fisheries to take a variety of actions.

The petition, according to the environmental group, “calls on the services to holistically address the threat of climate change, reduce illegal political interference that undermines scientific integrity, strengthen law enforcement and add new measures to ensure accountability for extractive industries that harm the habitats of endangered species.”

The proposed federal rule now at the White House, while significant, is considerably more focused than that broad call for action.

Instead, it would cancel the Trump administration’s December 2020 final rule adding a definition of the term “habitat” to the existing ESA regulations.

That new rule, for the first time, stated that “for the purposes of designating critical habitat, habitat is the abiotic and biotic setting that currently or periodically contains the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.”

Under the ESA, critical habitat is considered “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 the action is not likely to destroy or damage a critical habitat. But, as the Supreme Court noted, the term “habitat” had not been itself defined, leading to regulatory ambiguity.

In 2012, FWS included more than 1,500 acres of private land in Louisiana in its designation of critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog. The frog used to live throughout coastal Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, but most individuals now inhabit a single pond in Mississippi.

The Louisiana landowners argued that their 1,544 acres shouldn’t qualify as critical habitat because the land would need restoration to be useful. In a 2018 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts observed that the ESA does not provide a “baseline definition” of habitat.

“It identifies only certain areas that are indispensable to the conservation of the endangered species,” Roberts wrote. “The definition allows the [Interior] Secretary to identify the subset of habitat that is critical, but leaves the larger category of habitat undefined.”

The federal government and the landowners in the case subsequently reached a settlement and left unresolved questions over how “habitat” should be defined in the law (Greenwire, Nov. 27, 2018).

FWS said last year it had determined that the subsequent Trump-era definition would “inappropriately constrain the Services’ ability to designate areas that meet the definition of “critical habitat” under the law.

“This [Trump administration] definition of ‘habitat’ excludes areas that do not currently or periodically contain the requisite resources and conditions, even if such areas could meet this requirement in the future after restoration activities or other changes occur,” the agency explained last year.

FWS added that the “attempt to codify a single, one-size-fits-all definition of ‘habitat’ … was one that neither stemmed from the scientific literature nor had a clear relationship with the statutory definition of ‘critical habitat.’”

FWS subsequently received nearly 13,000 public comments on the critical habit definition issue, many of them identical.

“The [Trump rule] to narrowly limit the definition of ‘habitat’ to only areas that currently can support individuals of an imperiled species represents a 180-degree reversal of past agency practice,” Earthjustice wrote.

The environmental group, writing on behalf of itself and other organizations, added that “for decades, the Services have designated critical habitat in unoccupied areas that were not, at the time, habitable for the listed species, but were nonetheless deemed essential for conservation.”

Others have urged retention of the Trump administration’s definition.

“Given the significant scientific uncertainty with many listed species and the ecosystems in which they reside and the failure of the ESA regulators to look at the many varied stressors affecting them, the agencies need to step back and rethink the consequences of their actions,” the Family Farm Alliance wrote.

On a related front, the ESA further states that critical habitat is to be designated “on the basis of the best scientific data available and after taking into consideration the economic impact, the impact on national security, and any other relevant impact.”

The law allows exclusion of areas if “the benefits of such exclusion outweigh the benefits of specifying such area as part of the critical habitat,” unless the exclusion “will result in the extinction of the species concerned.”

A Trump-era rule allowed that “other relevant impacts” may be considered, including public health and safety and risk of wildfire or pest and invasive species management (Greenwire, Dec. 17, 2020).

FWS is working to reverse this rule, as well.

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NBC News

Rare wolverine photographed in Yellowstone National Park

Tim Fitzsimons, March 11, 2022

A tour guide and former park ranger last weekend had what he called a “phenomenal” encounter with one of Yellowstone National Park’s rarest and most elusive animals: a wolverine.

He even snapped a picture to prove it.

MacNeil Lyons, owner of Yellowstone Insight, was with a tour group in the park’s northern reaches March 5 when the visitors spotted what he calls a “unicorn.”

The wolverine — the largest species in the mustelid, or weasel, family — is related to otters, ferrets and minks.

In North America, the wolverine’s southernmost range touches Yellowstone National Park, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Fewer than 10 wolverines are thought to call Yellowstone and its 2.2 million acres home.

When Lyons spotted the animal this month, it was the first time he had done so in more than 20 years of working and traveling in the park.

Expert animal tracker James Halfpenny visited the site where the wolverine was spotted to make some determinations about the animal.

He said the wolverine had followed moose tracks through deep, packed snow and then turned, finding itself at a nearly empty road near Cold Creek, where it encountered Lyons and his group.

“I would like to think that this might have been the first human encounter that this elusive, more backcountry creature had,” Lyons said.

Lyons said wolverines are known to search far and wide for food in winter and may even sniff out an avalanche-buried moose carcass that it can burrow deep into snow and scavenge from for weeks.

“A wolverine is a scavenger, and it’ll eat anything it can put its mouth around, and in that bleak, high-snow country, it’s looking for dead animals, anything that’s died, a carcass,” Halfpenny said.

In normal years, Halfpenny says, it’s typical to get three solid reports of wolverine sightings in Yellowstone, but never a photo.

“I haven’t had time to run through our tracking databases yet to decide if it’s a male or female,” he said.

Halfpenny, who runs the tracking education company A Naturalist’s World and is licensed to submit animal data to Yellowstone officials, said members of the Yellowstone Cougar Project this week found more wolverine tracks and even obtained a hair sample.

If a follicle is attached or a nearby scat pile identified, Halfpenny said, researchers might have valuable DNA information to submit to Yellowstone Wolf Project, which collects data on wolves and other rare mammals.

“If they can prove whether it’s one or two, that would be neat,” he said.

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PhillyVoice (Philadelphia, PA)

Endangered, miniature bat from Pennsylvania sets migration distance record

Indiana bats have a been a target of conservation efforts as their populations face man-made and natural threats

Michael Tanenbaum, PhillyVoice Staff, March 10, 2022

A tiny female bat weighing no more than 10 paper clips has completed the longest-known migration of her species in a single season, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The Indiana bat, a federally endangered species, is native to the Midwest and tends to have its largest populations in the caves of Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri. The species is found in much of the eastern U.S., including Pennsylvania, but has experienced significant decline over the last 50 years due to habitat disturbance and the ravaging spread of white-nose syndrome, a disease caused by fungus.

Last September, the Pennsylvania Game Commission banded and placed radio transmitters on bats from the last-known Indiana bat colony of breeding females in Pennsylvania. The bats received bright orange bands on their wings and 21-day transmitters on their backs.

The research is intended to help wildlife experts monitor migration patterns and determine where the bats hibernate so that conservation resources can be maximized.

During the course of the study, the Game Commission tracked a single female bat that flew at least 418 miles from her summer roost in Pennsylvania to a winter cave in Carter County, Kentucky. That distance represents a straight line, meaning the bat likely flew an even longer distance to arrive at her destination.

Indiana bats are sometimes called “the social bat” because they form large clusters in the caves where they hibernate. This helps them dampen disruptive sounds and collectively respond to the presence of predators.

In Pennsylvania, the Game Commission estimates that only about 1,000 Indiana bats hibernate at about 18 known sites in 11 counties. The stability of these cave sites are reinforced by the installation of gates, which have sometimes been successful in drawing bats back to locations they have abandoned due to human encroachment. Indiana bats also are known to sometimes inhabit man-made structures such as mines, though the conditions of these tunnel sites are less favorable to them than natural caves.

The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome is found in some cave habitats and grows on bats’ skin. This disturbs their their hibernation leaves bats dehydrated, which often results in starvation and death. Pennsylvania is part of a multi-state program to create a regional response to white-nose syndrome.

Indiana bats and many other threatened bat species play an important ecological role as the primary predators of night-flying insects and anthropoids that wreak havoc on crops. Bats also pollinate and disperse the seeds of hundreds of plant species in the United States.

In addition to annual studies on bat populations, the Pennsylvania Game Commission conducts research on highway design and man-made obstacles to the recovery of Indiana bats. The Game Commission also works with private consultants and university researchers to develop knowledge of the bats’ behavior that aids ongoing conservation efforts.

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WQCS/FM— Fort Pierce Campus of Indian River State College (Ft. Pierce, FL)

Beachgoers Reminded to Be Sea Turtle Friendly, the Nesting Season Has Begun

WQCS | By Kevin Kerrigan, Published March 10, 2022

Sea Turtle nesting season has begun along the Treasure Coast. It runs from March 1st to November 15 every year.

Over the coming months the Green Sea Turtle, the Leatherback, and the Loggerhead will be crawling ashore to nest. All 3 are on the Endangered Species list.

Treasure Coast beaches have been designated as “a critical nesting habitat” for these sea turtles says Ken Gioeli, He is the Natural Resources Extension Agent in Fort Pierce. “Instinctively they come back to these beaches and lay their eggs … this is home for them.”

The female turtles dig a nesting chamber and drops 100 to 150 ping pong sized eggs. Disturbing a nesting chamber, or touching any the baby turtles is against the law.

Last year 2,619 sea turtle nests were laid along St. Lucie County beaches alone. That was a 7.5% increase over 2020. Loggerheads produced 2,193 nests in 2021, followed by Green Turtles with 381 and Leatherbacks laid 45 nests.

Ahead of the peak nesting season this summer St. Lucie County is reminding beach-goers to practice sea turtle friendly habits.

Beachgoers are asked not to leave any beach chairs or other gear on the beach overnight because of the danger of entanglement. Sandcastles and holes on the beach should be returned to their natural condition to prevent sea turtle entrapment or injury.

Bonfires and flashlights are discouraged, as well as interior lighting that may illuminate the beach from homes and condos. Water front residents are encouraged to turn out all unnecessary interior lights during nesting season and close curtains and blinds at night.

“If there is too much lighting on the beach … that could attract predators,” said Gioeli. “Raccoons are an example, they will disturb these nesting sea turtles, so lighting is best when reduced.”

The turtles, says Gioeli seek out the darkest beaches where they feel safest. Too much light is also a concern when the eggs hatch and the baby turtles crawl out in search of the ocean and safety.

“If there is lighting behind the dunes what happens is that messes with their instinct, and the hatchlings, instead of going towards that moonlit horizon,  they will go backwards towards the light. And if they end up going the wrong way, they burn up all their energy and they will literally die.”

Walton Rocks Beach is the only dog-approved beach in St. Lucie County and dogs should be on leashes to prevent them from digging up sea turtle nests.

St. Lucie County enforces sea turtle lighting codes during sea turtle nesting season and if you observes sea turtle nest poaching or harassment officials ask that you call 911 or the Florida Fish and Wildlife hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC.

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KNDO 23/NBC News (Kennewick, WA)

Gov. Little petitions to axe grizzly bears from Endangered Species Act

BOISE, Idaho—March 10, 2022—Idaho Gov. Brad Little is joining efforts to remove grizzly bears from the Endangered Species Act.

Montana has been pushing for the removal of grizzly bears off the Endangered Species Act since 2021.

A release from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said Gov. Little submitted a petition to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Thursday saying there’s no ecological reason to keep grizzly bears on the list.

“Bureaucratic gridlock is keeping healthy grizzly populations on the threatened species list un-necessarily. When there’s no exit for healthy grizzly populations from the Endangered Species Act, it’s time to demand a reset,” Gov. Little said in the release. “For decades, Idaho, our sister states, tribes, local governments – and especially our rural communities – have invested considerable resources in this effort, and they have shouldered much of the burden of rebuilding grizzly bear populations.”

When they were added in 1975, there were only a few hundred bears across northern states of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Washington.

Now there are more than two thousand in those states.

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EcoWatch

Climate Change Is Transforming Europe’s Birds

 Paige Bennett, March 10, 2022

A new study has found that the climate crisis is causing major disruptions to European birds, from shifting their nesting dates to decreasing their chick numbers to even changing their general body sizes.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that rising temperatures and non-temperature effects of climate change are transforming European birds, such as garden warblers, chiffchaffs, and crested tits.

The authors focused on data collected on 60 species in Britain since the mid-1960s, reviewing changes in egg-laying, body form, and number of offspring. From there, researchers determined what impacts were caused by higher temperatures and what other factors played a role in these transformations.

More than half, about 57%, of the effects were linked to increasing temperatures, but other factors, like habitat loss, pollution, invasive species, and diseases, also contributed. About 32% of the 60 species studied experienced body changes related to heat stress. The researchers found that 86% of birds in the study experienced a shift in egg-laying dates, with 31% of the 60 birds also experiencing a change in the regular number of offspring.

“For example, climate change caused chiffchaffs to lay their eggs six days earlier over the last 50 years, but other unknown environmental factors led to an additional six days, meaning in total they now lay their eggs 12 days earlier than they did half a century ago,” Martijn van de Pol, lead author of the paper from James Cook University in Australia, told The Guardian.

Similarly, garden warblers saw a decrease in offspring by 26%, which can be detrimental to the species. While some species are experiencing lower offspring numbers and shrinking body sizes, some of the birds in the study faced opposite impacts. Redstarts are growing larger and having more offspring.

“The study gives a well-grounded explanation for why different species change at such different rates,” Shahar Dubiner, an ecologist at Tel Aviv University and was not involved in the study, told The Guardian. “And it is not to do with temperature sensitivity, but with those other, non-temperature factors.”

Dubiner’s research on birds in Israel, including migratory birds, has found similar changes in the birds’ body shapes and sizes.

The study highlights that while warming is clearly causing challenges for bird species, there are other factors that need attention, too.

“As we increase our understanding of how changes in climate directly impact species and how nonclimatic variables simultaneously drive changes, we can better identify those species or populations most at risk from climate change,” the study concluded.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Congress Urged to Increase Spending to $700 Million for Endangered Species Conservation

WASHINGTON— (March 10, 2922)—Citing the global extinction crisis, more than 150 groups urged Congress today to significantly increase the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget for endangered species conservation from $300 million to $704 million — an increase of more than $400 million over the fiscal year 2022 budget.

Today’s plea comes one day after the Democratic-controlled Congress released its omnibus budget, which undercut President Biden’s budget request and maintained inadequate status quo funding levels for our most imperiled species. For example, the bill would increase funding for the recovery of the nation’s 1,800 endangered species by just $3 million, while funding for the listing program would remain frozen at last year’s levels.

According to the Service’s own data, hundreds of endangered animals and plants receive less than $1,000 for their recovery in a typical year, with several hundred receiving no funding at all from the agency. The requested budget increase would ensure every federally protected species receives a minimum of $50,000 per year to get them on the road to recovery.

“Congress needs to do more than the bare minimum if it truly wants to stop extinction, and that starts with fully funding the Endangered Species Act,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ve already lost too many unique animals and plants to extinction. During a global extinction crisis, it’s heartbreaking that Congress continues to underfund this critical work.”

Today’s letter notes that “the majority of extinctions are entirely preventable, so when we lose a species to extinction it represents an unforgiveable moral failure. The U.S. has one of the most powerful tools to end extinction — the Endangered Species Act — yet decades of underfunding has kept it from realizing its full potential.”

“Red lights and alarms have to be going off right now as the extinction crisis and biodiversity loss threatens life on this planet. Yet, our nation’s strongest conservation tool, the Endangered Species Act, is starving for adequate funding,” said Mary Beth Beetham, legislative affairs director for Defenders of Wildlife. “Tragically, hundreds of species are being left at the brink of extinction simply because there isn’t enough money to recover them. Next year’s appropriations must reflect the dire straits of the crisis we face.”

The proposed funding package requests $78.7 million for the Service’s listing program — nearly four times the wildlife agency’s current budget. The listing program has been chronically underfunded for decades, and as a result, more than 400 animals and plant species have been waiting in most cases more than a decade to be reviewed for protections under the Endangered Species Act.

In 2021 the Service announced it would remove 22 animals and one plant from the endangered species list because those species had gone extinct. These species will now join the list of 650 species in the United States that have likely been lost to extinction. Globally, an additional 1 million animal and plant species face extinction within the coming decades.

Other groups signing today’s letter include the League of Conservation Voters, Earthjustice, Sierra Club and The Humane Society of the United States.

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AP

Mexican wildlife managers release two pairs of wolves

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press, March 9, 2022

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Wildlife managers in the United States say their counterparts in Mexico have released two pairs of endangered Mexican gray wolves south of the U.S. border as part of an ongoing reintroduction effort.

The wolves came from the Ladder Ranch in southern New Mexico and were placed in two areas in the state of Chihuahua, officials with the Arizona Game and Fish Department announced Tuesday.

The wolf population in Mexico now numbers around 45, with 14 litters being born since 2014, officials said.

“Through international cooperation, recovery efforts are moving forward in Mexico and contradict the contention of some critics that recovery can’t occur in that country,” Jim deVos, Mexican wolf coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said in a statement.

The U.S. reintroduction program has been operating in New Mexico and Arizona for more than two decades. The most recent count in early 2021 showed at least 186 wolves in the wild in the two states, marking a 14% increase over the previous year and a doubling of the population over the last five years.

The results of a new survey of the U.S. population are due soon.

Agencies in the U.S. and Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas have been working for years to help the species recover.

The Mexican grey wolf is the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America and was listed as endangered in the U.S. in 1976.

The wolf was once common throughout portions of the southwestern U.S. and throughout Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental and Oriental regions, but had been all but eliminated from the wild by the 1970s due to extensive predator control initiatives.

Officials said the Mexican commission along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife managers are in final negotiations for a letter of intent aimed at strengthening the program. It will include efforts focused on conflicts with livestock where the predators are reintroduced.

Ranchers in Arizona and New Mexico have been critical of reintroduction efforts because the wolves have been known to kill livestock, but environmentalists have been pushing for the release of more captive wolves into the wild.

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Natural Resources Committee

Press Release—3/8/22

Chair Grijalva Blasts Fish and Wildlife Service Finding that Pesticide Malathion Does Not Jeopardize Endangered Species

Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today expressed disappointment in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) newly released final biological opinion, which determined that malathion—a dangerous and likely carcinogenic pesticide linked to developmental disorders in children—does not jeopardize a single endangered species.  

The new findings starkly contradict the draft biological opinion on malathion released in April 2021, which concluded that ongoing use of the pesticide would jeopardize the continued existence of 78 endangered species of wildlife and would adversely impact 23 critical habitats. FWS had never published a level of risk and harm that severe on a given substance.  

A 2017 biological opinion by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on malathion and other pesticides produced similarly grave findings. It showed that continued use of malathion is likely to jeopardize 38 of the 77 listed species under NOAA’s jurisdiction, and adversely modify nearly 75 percent of designated critical habitats.

FWS largely attributed their new finding to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s agreement to incorporate measures that would potentially restrict use of malathion.

“The extinction crisis we are facing today can no longer be ignored. The previous draft opinion makes it clear that we must stop using malathion as soon as possible—theoretical restriction measures are simply not enough,” Grijalva said. “This was an opportunity for the Biden administration to act on indisputable evidence that would protect dozens of critically endangered species. Instead, they put out a final biological opinion that relies on tricks devised by the Trump administration to skirt robust scientific analyses. I expect to see a full explanation for these disappointing findings.”

This is not the first time FWS’ biological opinion on malathion has come under scrutiny. In 2019, the New York Times reported that President Trump’s Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, David Bernhardt, intervened in the public release of FWS’ biological opinion on malathion and other pesticides. The release was stalled indefinitely, but leaked internal briefing documents for the opinion showed that malathion “jeopardizes the continued existence” of more than 1,200 endangered species. Publication of the opinion would have mandated tighter restrictions on, and possibly led to a ban on, the pesticides. 

Malathion is widely used across the U.S. for agriculture and mosquito control. The harms of malathion to both wildlife and humans have been extensively documented since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, but decades of lobbying and industry influence have kept the substance on the market.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Petition Urges Biden Administration to Strengthen Endangered Species Act to Save Life on Earth

WASHINGTON—(March 8, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a comprehensive legal petition today urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to take bold, unprecedented action to stem the global wildlife extinction crisis by strengthening the Endangered Species Act’s implementing regulations.

Noting that “extinction is not inevitable — it is a political choice,” today’s petition calls on the two federal agencies to not only undo the Trump-era rollbacks to the Act, but to push for ambitious new regulatory safeguards that strengthen all aspects of the law.

The petition calls on the services to holistically address the threat of climate change, reduce illegal political interference that undermines scientific integrity, strengthen law enforcement and add new measures to ensure accountability for extractive industries that harm the habitats of endangered species.

“The Endangered Species Act has saved hundreds of irreplaceable plants and animals from extinction, but it could be doing so much more good,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center. “Despite the law’s remarkable success, the services have been reluctant to fully implement it, succumbing to years of political and industry pressure to weaken what is the only hope for imperiled species. The time for reform is now.”

In addition to undoing the Trump-era rollbacks — which the Biden administration has started to do, but at a sluggish pace — the petition calls for more ambitious improvements to achieve the Act’s mandate that extinction be halted “whatever the cost.” Some of those improvements include:

*Empowering career scientists to make science-based decisions without fear of political reprisal;

*Guaranteeing that federal agencies can no longer ignore the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from their actions on climate change and climate-imperiled species;

*Strengthening protections for critical habitat to protect key areas where species can live;

*Creating a scientifically defensible definition of recovery;

*Defining “significant portion of its range” to fulfill Congress’ intent that species be protected before they are threatened with worldwide extinction;

*Requiring all federal agencies to have proactive conservation programs in place for listed species harmed by their actions;

*Requiring habitat conservation plans to confer a net benefit whenever development activities harm endangered species;

*Strengthening protections for foreign listed species;

*Strengthening the regulations governing the reintroduction of experimental populations; and

*Revamping the enhancement permitting program to address dubious trophy hunting practices overseas that do not actually enhance the survival or propagation of species.

“Combating the extinction crisis and restoring our natural heritage are monumental challenges that will require the services to be more visionary than any other administration in history,” said Kurose. “We challenge Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and the Biden administration to change the status quo and do whatever it takes to protect our planet for future generations.”

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Newsweek

What Is Happening to Wildlife Inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone After Russian Invasion?

Robyn White, March 8, 2022

Since the world’s worst nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine in 1986, a 1,000 square mile area surrounding the site has been off-limits to humans.

Over the years, wildlife has returned to the exclusion zone, which due to a lack of human disturbance, has become a thriving ecosystem. Scientists have observed brown bears, wolves, lynx, bison, moose, foxes, and many more wild animals in the area. Around 200 species of birds have also returned to the zone, including a particularly rare species of eagle.

But on February 24, the first day of the Ukraine invasion, Russian soldiers captured Chernobyl and troops have been massed there for 12 days. Experts suspect the strategic benefits of basing military operations in the exclusion zone are numerous–it is a largely unpopulated area, connected by a highway that heads straight to Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv. This means troops are likely to stay there for quite some time.

So what could be affecting wildlife in the exclusion zone amid the invasion?

Hunting and noise pollution

Timothy Mousseau, professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina, told Newsweek that military action in Chernobyl will be seriously affecting the wildlife that lives there “directly and indirectly.”

He said: “Although we are not entirely sure how many troops traversed the exclusion zone, based on the size of the military convoy heading to Kyiv, it was probably tens of thousands of men. One might expect these men to be hunting wildlife along the way.”

As well as the direct impact of hunting, noise pollution from thousands of troop vehicles will likely drive the wildlife away from the roads, Mousseau said.

He said if this disturbance continues, it is likely the wildlife will gradually move away from the zone, into adjacent areas.

Landmines

The military action could also pose more serious, long-term, risks to the area’s wildlife. The area may be carpeted with landmines, Mousseau said, which could pose a “very significant threat” to larger wildlife that roams the land, such as deer and bison, “for many years to come.”

This is because landmines cause land degradation, and through toxic explosives, damage soils’ and the surrounding environment.

Forest fires

“Military activity in this region could be very risky with respect to forest fires,” Mousseau said. “The region as a whole is a tinderbox and is filled with dead organic matter and trees that were killed but not burned by previous forest fires in the region. One incendiary device could spark a major forest fire in the region.”

Forest fires would drive wildlife straight out of the area and make the area inhabitable for some time.

A lack of research

Carmel Mothersill, professor and research chair in environmental radiobiology at McMaster University, Canada, told Newsweek that scientists “have no idea” what is happening, or what will happen to wildlife in the area.

The main concern is whether scientists will be able to continue research efforts in the area, which is vital for the long-term future of many species which live in the zone.

For years, the exclusion zone has been one of the only places on earth where scientists can collect data for re-wilding projects and assess the impact of radiation on wildlife. While Chernobyl may now be a thriving ecosystem, research continues to show that the radiation has harmed animals, birds, and insects.

“Many [researchers] have long term projects in the area. It is one of the few places on earth where recovery of ecosystems can be studied,” Mothersill said. “[The area] is crucial for re-wilding projects, for studies of adaptation, for efforts to restore biodiversity … Chernobyl allowed us to get field information about the impacts of radiation on species populations and ecosystems.”

For the long-term benefit of wildlife in the area, Motehrsill said it is “vital” that research in the area can continue.

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KNAU News Talk (Flagstaff, AZ)

AZ House passes bill to strip wildlife officials of authority to stop killings of endangered wolves

KNAU News Talk – Arizona Public Radio | By Associated Press, March 7, 2022

The Arizona House has passed a bill that would strip state wildlife officials of the authority to stop the killing of endangered

Mexican gray wolves in certain circumstances.

The Arizona Republic reports, the measure would bar the Game and Fish Commission from prohibiting a person from killing a wolf if the person feels threatened or if their livestock or pets are in danger.

The bill doesn’t specifically say that only the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can set rules for killing Mexican wolves, but that would be the result if it becomes law.

Opponents of the bill say it would cause confusion.

Mexican gray wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The bill now heads to the state Senate.

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Gilmore Health News

Scientists Create Framework for Identifying Most Endangered Marine Species

By Stan Martinez | Published on March 6, 2022

Conservation and policy efforts across the globe to protect marine species would be boosted by being able to spot those at most risk. A framework that will help in that regard has now been developed.

In collaboration with marine and taxonomic experts from across the globe, University of Queensland researchers put together the framework after a review of marine biology literature. They looked into a variety of threats that confront more than 45,000 marine species, ranging from fishing to pollution and climate change. The research appeared in the journal Ecosphere.

Endangered species

Researchers noted that the uniqueness of this framework lies in its use of biological traits or characteristics. It relies on these qualities to evaluate marine species’ vulnerability to particular stressors or threats, including climate change, fishing, and pollution.

The analysis brought to light species that are under most threats from different sources, researchers noted.

Molluscs, corals, and echinoderms, such as sea urchins, were found, in particular, to be subject to a wide variety of threats.

“They’re affected by fishing and bycatch, pollution, and climate change,” said Dr. Nathalie Butt of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Queensland.

The research also showed that flowerpot corals – native to the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Persian Sea – were being threatened by stressors. These species are, in particular, impacted by stressors linked to climate change, including acidification of the ocean.

Similar climate change-linked stressors, which exist in marine environments across the globe, more and more threaten flying fish, starfish, and sea snails.

“Roughly fishes are quite vulnerable to the effects of pollution, including organic, inorganic, and nutrient pollution, which was quite a surprise, as they live at a range of depths, including deep sea, which demonstrates how far the effects of pollution are spreading,” Butt said.

Protection of most vulnerable species

Actions taken by humans are ever more causing the environment to change for the worse. The rising rate of environmental change made this project necessary, the researchers stated.

Butt said that all information existing needs to be put into use to know and protect animals that are at risk. This new framework will offer some help in that regard.

By enabling the identification of specific stressors, the framework will guide conservationists and policymakers on the most fitting courses of action.

Carissa Klein, a fellow researcher, noted that it would promote more informed decisions and better allocation of resources to protect the most at-risk marine species.

According to the UQ associate professor, the research probed all currently known marine species and threats.

“The exciting thing is that we built the framework so that we could accommodate new information, whether that be about new species or information about threatening processes,” Klein said.

What this implies is that the framework could be applied in different places using specific species and threat information in these places to preserve the ocean.

(References: A trait-based framework for assessing the vulnerability of marine species to human impacts)

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Jurist (A collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh)

Federal appeals court clears plan to kill one owl species to protect another

Sarah Kimball Stephenson | U. Nevada Las Vegas School of Law, MARCH 6, 2022

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Friday allowed the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to implement a controversial policy to restore the northern spotted owl habitat by killing a limited number of barred owls from Oregon.

Northern spotted owls have been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1990. The USFWS concluded in 2011 that an increase in barred owls, which are native to the east coast but have expanded westward over time, may be contributing to the decline in spotted owl populations in Oregon. The two species compete for habitat and food resources, and barred owls have been seen acting aggressively toward spotted owls.

In 2011, the USFWS proposed a “barred owl management” plan, which created agreements with four landowners. The landowners agreed to conduct surveys of spotted owl sightings on their property and allow the USFWS to enter and remove barred owls in exchange for the right to continue harvesting timber from sites on the property where no spotted owls were sighted. The plan provided for the “lethal removal” of 3,600 barred owls. Environmental advocacy group Friends of Animals opposed this plan, claiming that the removal permits would not result in a “net conservation benefit” to the northern spotted owl population and could potentially harm the already-fragile spotted owl species with invasive removal tactics targeting the barred owl.

USFWS argued in response that, while the removal plan would not directly cause a “net conservation benefit,” it would allow the agency to study the relationship between the barred owl’s presence and the spotted owl’s decline, which would help them formulate a long-term strategy to bolster the spotted owl population. The Ninth Circuit panel agreed with this conclusion, holding that the policy “allowed the agency to obtain critical information to craft a policy to protect threatened or endangered species.”

The panel also ruled that the USFWS would not need to conduct another environmental impact survey, as this proposed plan was “adequately contemplated” when it was first proposed.

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VTDigger (Montpelier, VT)

Southeastern Vermont’s endangered species face elevated risk of extinction

By Ethan Weinstein, March 6 2022

Southeastern Vermont may be at an elevated risk of losing its endangered species.

A new study, published in the journal of Ecological Applications and led by the nonprofit NatureServe, revealed that some federally threatened species along the Connecticut River exist primarily outside of conserved areas, putting their continued existence at risk.

State biologists pointed to several aquatic animals and plants as species of unique concern.

“The reason that southeast Vermont shows up as a hotspot is the presence of the federally endangered Northeastern bulrush,” said Bob Popp, a botanist for Vermont Fish & Wildlife. The plant, also known as Scirpus ancistrochaetus, “has about two dozen populations in Windham and Windsor counties, but very few are on land that is protected.”

According to Fish & Wildlife zoologist Mark Ferguson, who focuses on aquatic biology, the endangered dwarf wedgemussel, found in the Connecticut River, has also been losing its hold on existence.

“Historic populations (of dwarf wedgemussels) have been eliminated due to damming on the river,” he said.

The species’ distribution has been reduced in the southern Connecticut River to just the stretch between Hartland and Springfield, according to the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

Although not factored into this particular study because they don’t face global extinction, Ferguson pointed to the brook floater and cobblestone tiger beetle as southeastern Vermont species at risk of disappearing locally.

On the national level, the Biden administration has set a goal of preserving 30% of the country to prevent the loss of biodiversity, and a similar movement has sprung up internationally.

Here in Vermont, Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury, has introduced legislation that seeks to localize the initiative.

H.606 hopes to “establish State goals of conserving 30 percent of the land of the State by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050,” according to the text of the bill.

The latest study from NatureServe sought to map more at-risk organisms and habitats than ever before, thus highlighting the areas of increased, imminent risk.

Bruce Young, chief zoologist and senior conservation scientist at NatureServe, helped lead the new study. He said the finer-scale resolution of the project’s maps set it apart from previous studies.

The study also accounted for “many more taxonomic groups” and weighted species based on the relative rarity of their distribution regions, he said.

By and large, the study’s maps show New England’s endangered species are at low to moderate risk compared to much of the country. Yet parts of Windsor and Windham counties along the Connecticut River show much higher risk than the rest of the state.

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WisPolitics.com (Madison, WI)

U.S. Sen. Johnson: Introduces legislation to delist gray wolf as endangered species

WASHINGTON –(March 5, 2022)—This week U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), along with U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) introduced bipartisan legislation to return management of gray wolf populations to states and delist the gray wolf as an endangered species in western Great Lakes states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, as well as Wyoming under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

“Wisconsinites must have a say in the management of gray wolves. In the western Great Lakes region, state wildlife agencies should manage the recovered population so the wolf’s ongoing role in the ecosystem does not come at the expense of farmers, loggers, sportsmen and people who simply live in these areas. Since 2015, I’ve fought to delist the gray wolf through multiple pieces of legislation and I will keep fighting until Congress passes a law that will codify the wolf delist administrative rulings that the Department of Interior under President Obama issued,” said Senator Johnson.

“I have supported a bipartisan effort to delist the gray wolf in Wisconsin since 2011 because of the scientific conclusion that the population has recovered in the Great Lakes region and that is why we should return management to the State of Wisconsin. This bipartisan legislation is the best solution because it is driven by science and is focused on delisting in the Great Lakes region, including Wisconsin,” said Senator Baldwin.

The legislation comes after a California federal court restored endangered species protection for the gray wolf in the lower 48 states, rolling back policies supported by the current and previous administrations. Since 2015, Sen. Johnson has advocated a narrow approach to delist the gray wolf and allow wolf management plans that are based on state wildlife expertise.

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KFOR/Oklahoma’s News 4 (Oklahoma City)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Two species of freshwater mussels should be listed as ‘threatened’ under Endangered Species Act

by: Kaylee Douglas/KFOR, Posted: March 4, 2022

WASHINGTON (KFOR) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the western fanshell (Cyprogenia aberti) and newly-identified species, the “Ouachita” fanshell (Cyprogenia cf. aberti), should receive Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections.

USFWS says habitat loss, degraded water quality, changes to river and stream flows, and construction of dams and other barriers are the primary threats to the species. Continued urbanization and the effects of climate change are also expected to intensify these threats.

They also say the fanshells should receive critical habitat and 4(d) rule protections.

Critical habitat is an area that contains essential habitat features for the survival and recovery of the threatened species. A 4(d) rule promotes conservation of that species by encouraging management of the landscape to benefit both land management and conservation needs.

The western fanshell is currently found in the Lower Mississippi-St. Francis, Neosho-Verdigris, and Upper White River basins, in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma and is considered locally extinct in the Lower Arkansas basin.

The Ouachita fanshell currently resides in the Lower Red-Ouachita basin in Arkansas and historically lived in Louisiana.

There is now a 60-day public comment period that closes on May 2, 2022.

The proposed rule and supporting documents are available for comment online at regulations.gov under docket number FWS–R3–ES–2021–0061.

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10 News/WBIR (Knoxville, TN)

Zoologists discover rare threatened bat along Norris Reservoir not seen for years in East TN

The TVA said it rediscovered a rare and old friend during a cave survey in East Tennessee: the northern long-eared bat.

Tom Barclay, Published March 3, 2022

NORRIS, Tenn. — Zoologists made an exciting find recently while surveying caves along the Norris Reservoir: a threatened bat species they had not seen in East Tennessee in years.

The Tennessee Valley Authority said its terrestrial zoologists have finally been able to resume pandemic-paused fieldwork and conducted cave surveys recently to check up on East Tennessee cave life. What they didn’t expect to find but were happy they did: a northern long-eared bat.

According to TVA, these bats are not only listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act but notoriously elusive.

“These bats are notoriously hard to find in caves. They’re tiny – they fit in the palm of your hand and hibernate in small crevices or cracks,” said TVA Terrestrial Zoologist Liz Hamrick.

Once relatively plentiful, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency reported their populations have dropped off by more than 98% in the state since 2010.

The reason the bats are considered threatened: white-nose syndrome. It’s a fungal disease that spread rapidly across most of the U.S. and is responsible for killing millions of bats in North America. The northern long-eared bat is one of the hardest-hit species, seeing a decline of nearly 99% of its species since the spread of the deadly fungus.

White-nose syndrome is primarily spread between bats, but the National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey said evidence shows there’s a strong possibility it spreads inadvertently from humans to bats because the fungus can be introduced into new caves from clothes and equipment. It’s not known to be harmful to humans, but it’s devastating to bats.

The TVA cautions people should not explore caves unless they have permission to and not to disturb the bats.

“Disturbing hibernating bats contributes to the decline of this species,” zoologist Jesse Troxler said. “Avoid trespassing in caves and, if you are authorized to explore a cave, take care to not disturb resting bats and disinfect your clothing and gear after each trip.”

Bats are ecologically important to East Tennessee and are critical for farmers as “pest control” since they eat insects that damage crops like moths and beetles.

The zoologists said they continue to monitor bat populations and collect swab samples for WNS. So far, there is no treatment for bats that have it.

“Our data collection supports studies across North America, and we remain hopeful that enough bats are able to survive with white-nose syndrome in their environment that we will start to see increases in populations in the near future,” Hamrick said.

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SciTechDaily.com

Endangered Shark Species Secretly Added to Pet Food – Identified by DNA Barcoding

By FRONTIERS, MARCH 3, 2022

Pet owners may unknowingly be feeding their pets with meat from endangered shark species, shows a new study published in Frontiers in Marine Science. The researchers used DNA barcoding to investigate the occurrence of shark in different pet food products purchased in Singapore, which revealed a considerable prevalence of ingredient mislabeling. They suggested implementing global standards for pet food labels to avoid overexploitation of endangered sharks.

If you ever read the ingredient list on your pet’s favorite food, you may come across ambiguous terms such as ‘fish’, ‘ocean fish’, or ‘white bait’. Have you ever wondered what exactly these ingredients are? A team of researchers at Yale-NUS College in Singapore analyzed pet food products purchased within Singapore and discovered that these terms may refer to endangered shark meat.

Shark population declines

Sharks are crucial for the functioning of healthy marine ecosystems. As apex predators, they are at the top of the oceanic food chain. Shifting their prey’s distribution, which changes the feeding strategy of other species, they maintain a balance of the food chain. The loss of sharks has led to the decline in seagrass beds and coral reefs.

The growing shark fin and meat trade is putting shark populations at risk. Research suggests that around 100m sharks may be killed annually. Overfishing is the biggest threat to sharks worldwide, and a lack of effective monitoring and management of fishing practices adds burden to vulnerable shark species.

“Shark populations are overfished throughout the world, with declines of more than 70% in the last 50 years documented. This is indicative of the current lack of regard in which we hold our oceans,” said authors Dr. Ben Wainwright and Ian French, of Yale-NUS College.

Shark meat in everyday products

A silent contributor to the decline in shark populations is the use of shark products in everyday products such as pet food and cosmetics. For example, many people may not know that certain body care and beauty products may use shark-derived squalene (as opposed to plant-derived squalane).

Research has also discovered shark meat in pet food products. A previous 2019 study found the occurrence of shark in 78 pet food samples collected within the US.

“Given the results of a previous study performed in the US, we wanted to see if endangered sharks are also sold in Asian pet food,” explained the authors.

The researchers used DNA barcoding to investigate whether there was shark DNA in 45 different pet food products from 16 different brands on sale in Singapore.

“None of the products purchased listed shark as an ingredient, using only generic catch-all terms such as ‘fish’, ‘ocean fish’, ‘white bait’ or ‘white fish’ to describe their contents,” said Wainwright and French.

Of the 144 samples taken, 31% contained shark DNA. The most identified sharks were the blue shark (Prionace glauca), followed by the silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis), and the whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus).

The silky shark and the whitetip reef shark are listed as ‘vulnerable’ in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The silky shark is also listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix II, which means that its trade must be controlled to avoid overconsumption that would threaten survival of the species.

Transparent labels

The results demonstrate the high overfishing pressure to which sharks are increasingly subjected.

“The majority of pet owners are likely lovers of nature, and we think most would be alarmed to discover that they could be unknowingly contributing to the overfishing of shark populations,” commented the authors.

The authors urge for more transparency in the ingredient labels of pet food products. Avoiding vague catch-all terms in ingredient lists to allow consumers to make informed purchasing choices and implementing global standards for pet food labels are two steps to avoid shark overfishing.

A higher accountability throughout human and pet food seafood supply chains is needed, which would mitigate unsustainable fishing and resource use incompatible with shark populations survival.

Reference: “DNA Barcoding Identifies Endangered Sharks in Pet Food Sold in Singapore” by Ian French and Benjamin J. Wainwright, 4 March 2022, Frontiers in Marine Science.

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Center for Biological Diversity

National Marine Fisheries Service Analysis: Chlorpyrifos, Diazinon, Malathion Jeopardize Dozens of Endangered Species

Southern Resident Orcas, Salmon, Steelhead, Sturgeon Gravely Imperiled by Three Widely Used Insecticides

WASHINGTON—(March 2, 2022)—The National Marine Fisheries Service released a revised draft biological opinion today finding that three widely used insecticides — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion — jeopardize the continued existence of dozens of endangered marine species, including salmon and Puget Sound orcas.

Today’s analysis echoes a previous biological opinion on the three pesticides released by the Fisheries Service in 2017. That opinion was disavowed by Trump political appointees, forcing the agency to redo its analysis.

In the five years since the 2017 analysis, the Environmental Protection Agency has continued to allow unchecked use of the three pesticides in the habitat of endangered plants and animals, despite its knowledge that these chemicals pose an extinction-level threat to many protected species.

“The National Marine Fisheries Service should be commended for following the science and confirming that these three toxic poisons are lethal for salmon and are pushing Puget Sound orcas closer to extinction,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Despite enormous pressure during the Trump administration, the Fisheries Service maintained scientific integrity and showed real courage in not bending to the will of the pesticide industry.”

The draft biological opinion concludes that chlorpyrifos and malathion jeopardize the continued existence of 37 endangered species and adversely modify the designated critical habitat of 36. It also finds that diazinon jeopardizes the continued existence of 26 endangered species and adversely modifies the designated critical habitat of 18.

The next step will be for the Fisheries Service to receive public comments and transmit its analysis to the EPA for implementation.

The Trump administration agreed to the pesticide industry’s demands that biological opinions must consider “usage data” — data widely considered to be incomplete and unreliable — in determining harm to endangered species.

After requiring countless staffers at the Fisheries Service, EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to review and assess usage data, the Fisheries Service explained in its opinion that “Usage data (data on past use) are not available at a useful scale to predict exposure to the threatened and endangered species” and that “NMFS concluded that usage data is not sufficient to represent the extent of pesticide use that will occur over the 15-yr period of the action, particularly given NMFS’ need to insure the action doesn’t jeopardize the species or adversely modify the habitat.”

The agency’s conclusion is supported by the fact that pesticide usage data is only collected at the state level and that existing federal law prohibits finer-scale collection of such data based on privacy concerns.

In contrast to the Fisheries Service’s scientific conclusions regarding usage data, its sister agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, continues to follow the industry-requested directives first set forth during the Trump administration.

For example, in a draft biological opinion on these three chemicals released in April, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined malathion would jeopardize only 78 of the more than 1,700 endangered species under its jurisdiction. That finding contrasts with an earlier draft conclusion — reached prior to the Trump administration’s intervention — finding that 1,284 species would be jeopardized by the pesticide.

In the coming days the Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to release a final biological opinion according to the terms of a legal agreement with the Center.

“As we commend the National Marine Fisheries Service for its excellent analysis of these pesticides’ impacts, we must also condemn the Fish and Wildlife Service, which has all but given up on trying to protect endangered species from these very same pesticides in these very same places,” said Burd. “We’ll continue to fight to protect scientific integrity and these critical biological opinions that provide a lifeline to orcas and salmon alike.”

BACKGROUND

As part of a legal agreement, the Fish and Wildlife Service was supposed to issue a biological opinion by the end of 2017 identifying ways to safeguard endangered species from chlorpyrifos, malathion and diazinon, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

In January 2017 the EPA completed its part of that process when it issued a biological evaluation determining that nearly all federally protected species are likely harmed by chlorpyrifos and malathion. It also found that more than three-quarters of all endangered species are likely to be harmed by diazinon.

The World Health Organization has found that malathion and diazinon are “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Following the EPA’s announcement, officials at Dow AgroSciences asked the Trump administration to suspend the assessments.

In May 2017 the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that after nearly four years of work, its draft biological opinion assessing the pesticides’ harms was nearly complete and would be ready for public comment within months. As career staffers at the Service were preparing to make the biological opinion available for public comment, they briefed Trump’s political appointees, including then-acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, on the results of the agency’s rigorous scientific review.

Following this briefing, top officials at the Department of the Interior, including Bernhardt, acted to indefinitely suspend the release of the Service’s assessment. The Trump administration’s unprecedented efforts to undermine those findings were highlighted in a New York Times investigation.

A document obtained by the Center through the Freedom of Information Act revealed the assessments were suspended after the top political appointees were briefed on the fact that the Service’s analysis had determined that chlorpyrifos jeopardized the continued existence of 1,399 protected species.

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Newsweek

De-Extinction Scientists Are Planning To Bring a Long-Lost ‘Tiger’ Species Back to Life

Orlando Jenkinson, March 1, 2022

De-extinction scientists are hoping to bring back a long lost “tiger” back to life, almost 100 years after the last of its kind died. Researchers are planning to use stem cells to create an embryo of the Tasmanian tiger that they can implant into a surrogate animal.

Tasmanian tigers, or thylacines were a type of marsupial that went extinct in mainland Australia around 3,000 years ago. They lived on in Tasmania until European settlers wiped them out in the wild through hunting. The last living Tasmanian tiger died in captivity in 1936.

Scientists with the University of Melbourne, Australia, have been working on a project to “de-extinct” the animals for years and new funding for a state-of-the-art laboratory has brought them to the brink of resurrecting this lost species.

A philanthropic donation of over $3.6m USD made to the university is expected to go to towards the Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research (TIGRR) Lab.

Tasmanian tigers, also known as Tasmanian wolves, were a predatory marsupial that shared some characteristics with modern-day dingoes or wild dogs in Australia. They were visually striking animals with distinctive stripes similar to zebras on their hindlegs.

Scientists working at the lab said the funding be used in three main areas in their de-extinction efforts: Greater understanding of the Tasmanian tiger’s genome, using the stem cells from other marsupials to make a thylacine embryo, and transferring it to a surrogate animal such as the mouse-like dunnart.

“The level of support we have for this project now I think it is conceivable that we could a thylacine-like cell within 10 years,” Professor Andrew Pask, from the School of BioSciences at the University of Melbourne, told Newsweek.

“It’s a big job and it needs some significant support to drive it. Fortunately we now have that. It is a bit like Jurassic park—we start with a living cell from a closely related species, in this case the dunnart—and we edit that cell to turn it genome into that of the thylacine. Once you have your ‘thylacine’ cell, you can use cloning technology to turn that cell into a living animal.”

Pask said that the donation would provide 10 years of funding for the TIGRR lab. Pask and his team helped sequence the Tasmanian tiger genome in 2017. This mapped out the DNA blueprint of the animal and provided a crucial first step on the road to bringing it back to life.

Pask said that Tasmanian tigers were a good candidate for de-extinction as they played a crucial role in balancing Tasmania’s ecosystems and could do so again if they were reintroduced.

“The thylacine was our only apex predator and its loss from the ecosystem destabilizes everything that sits beneath it,” Pask said. “A great example of this is Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease, which nearly wiped [that species] out. If you have these apex predators around like the thylacine—they pick off and eat the sick animals controlling the spread of diseases.”

He said that the gene-editing technologies advanced at the lab could also help protect other key marsupial species in Australia threatened by ecosystem changes and recent wildfires because they help safeguard biodiversity from being lost in the region.

The donation came from the Wilson Family Trust.

Russel Wilson told the University of Melbourne about the decision to fund the research: “We came across Professor Pask’s incredible work, believe it or not, via some YouTube clips on him talking about his research and passion for the thylacine and Australian marsupials. We realise that we are on the verge of a great breakthrough in science through improvements in technology and its application to the genome.”

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Science Daily

Endangered, new to science orchid discovered in Ecuador with the help of a commercial nursery

February 28, 2022

An astounding new species of orchid has been discovered in the cloud rainforest of Northern Ecuador. Scientifically named Maxillaria anacatalina-portillae, the plant — unique with its showy, intense yellow flowers — was described by Polish orchidologists in collaboration with an Ecuadorian company operating in orchid research, cultivation and supply.

Known from a restricted area in the province of Carchi, the orchid is presumed to be a critically endangered species, as its rare populations already experience the ill-effects of climate change and human activity. The discovery was aided by a local commercial nursery, which was already cultivating these orchids. The study is published in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.

During the past few years, scientists from the University of Gda?sk (Poland) have been working intensely on the classification and species delimitations within the Neotropical genus Maxillaria — one of the biggest in the orchid family. They have investigated materials deposited in most of the world’s herbarium collections across Europe and the Americas, and conducted several field trips in South America in the search of the astonishing plants.

The first specimens of what was to become known as the new to science Maxillaria anacatalina-portillae were collected by Alex Portilla, photographer and sales manager at Ecuagenera, an Ecuadorian company dedicated to orchid research, cultivation and supply, on 11th November 2003 in Maldonado, Carchi Province (northern Ecuador). There, he photographed the orchid in its natural habitat and then brought it to the greenhouses of his company for cultivation. Later, its offspring was offered at the commercial market under the name of a different species of the same genus: Maxillaria sanderiana ‘xanthina’ (‘xanthina’ in Latin means ‘yellow’ or ‘red-yellow’).

In the meantime, Prof. Dariusz L. Szlachetko and Dr. Monika M. Lipi?ska would encounter the same intriguing plants with uniquely colored flowers on several different occasions. Suspecting that they may be facing an undescribed taxon, they joined efforts with Dr. Natalia Olędrzyńska and Aidar A. Sumbembayev, to conduct additional morphological and phylogenetic analyses, using samples from both commercial and hobby growers, as well as crucial plants purchased from Ecuagenera that were later cultivated in the greenhouses of the University of Gdańsk.

As their study confirmed that the orchid was indeed a previously unknown species, the scientists honored the original discoverer of the astonishing plant by naming it after his daughter: Ana Catalina Portilla Schröder.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Endangered Bats From Methane Gas Pipeline

Kentucky Pipeline is Ratepayer-Funded Giveaway to Jim Beam Distillery

CEDAR GROVE, Ky.—(February 28, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity and Kentucky Resources Council filed a formal notice of intent to sue two federal agencies for failing to protect imperiled bats from harm threatened by the construction of the proposed Bullitt County Transmission Line in Kentucky.

The conservation organizations are challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s finding that the project will not jeopardize three bat species, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers’ Clean Water Act authorization for the pipeline.

The three species — Indiana bats, northern long-eared bats and gray bats — all rely on caves and other underground habitat for survival. All three species are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“The Service and the Corps completely ignored the presence of caves and threats to endangered bat cave habitat when they authorized this pipeline,” said Perrin de Jong, a staff attorney at the Center. “We’re here to say that sticking one’s head in the sand is not a method for avoiding extinction. Kentucky’s bats deserve better.”

The path of the proposed pipeline in eastern Bullitt County is laced with abundant karst caves and sinkholes, making it likely that listed bats use the project area as habitat. Documented sinkholes in the path of the pipeline also highlight the danger of a sinkhole collapse rupturing the pipeline, resulting in a fireball that could burn nearby homes and their occupants. Numerous Kentucky pipelines — and their neighbors — have suffered a similar fate in recent years.

“Relying on inadequate visual surveys by an LG&E contractor, the federal government failed to meet its legal obligations to protect these bats and their habitat,” said Ashley Wilmes, director of the Kentucky Resources Council. “The rubber-stamping of this pipeline project is particularly concerning given that LG&E’s plans to clearcut trees, impact water resources and destroy bat habitat — including within the Cedar Grove Wildlife Corridor — are primarily for the benefit of the Jim Beam distillery.”

Under the Endangered Species Act, the Service is required to examine all potential impacts to listed bats caused by construction of the pipeline, and both the Service and the Corps are duty-bound to avoid jeopardizing the survival of endangered species.

Local residents repeatedly told the agencies that the proposed pipeline’s path is laced with caves and sinkholes. However, the Service based its “no jeopardy” finding for listed bats on the conclusion that no caves or sinkholes exist in the project area.

Beam Suntory, the owner of Jim Beam, owns a distillery in eastern Bullitt County that the proposed pipeline would serve. In 2015 Beam Suntory approached the local utility, Louisville Gas & Electric, about a new gas pipeline to support an expansion at its distillery. When Beam Suntory learned that the pipeline would cost the company $25 million, the company refused to pay for it.

The next year, LG&E proposed to increase rates on local ratepayers to finance the pipeline, and the proposal was approved by the Kentucky Public Service Commission in 2017. The pipeline is now projected to cost ratepayers $74.2 million.

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Nature World News

Humpback Whales No Longer Endangered Species, But Experts Are Still Worried

By Rain Jordan, Feb. 28, 2022

Humpback whales will be removed from Australia’s threatened-species list after a strong recovery was determined by the government’s independent scientific panel on vulnerable species.

The species was nearly extinct due to whaling. However, since the 1980s, when the practice was largely phased out, the population has exploded.

However, conservationists caution that the creatures continue to face significant dangers such as pollution and climate change while their numbers have recovered, according to ABC.

Sussan Ley, the Environment Minister, said the adjustment was made after the independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee advised her that the humpback whale population had grown strong enough to be removed from the list.

“They looked at concerns like climate change and krill fisheries, as well as all of the other factors that affect the species’ population patterns,” she explained.

Potential Threats to Humpback Whales

Despite being delisted, the species is still protected in Australian seas under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act since it is a migratory species and a cetacean, according to Ms. Ley.

It is illegal to kill, harm, take, trade, maintain, relocate, or meddle with a humpback because of its protected status.

The delisting, according to Macquarie University marine biologist Vanessa Pirotta, could help focus more attention – and funding – on whale species that haven’t recovered as well as others.

“There’s been this impetus to celebrate the conservation of these creatures, but also to reassess their classification in terms of protection,” said Dr. Pirotta.

They will continue to monitor these populations with caution, allowing us to focus our conservation dollars on other species like the southern right whale.

Dr. Pirotta cautioned, however, that the delisting did not mean authorities could rest since whales face a variety of risks, including climate change.

“Ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, acoustic pollution, marine pollution, and, of course, climate change are some of the problems that whales face internationally,” she said.

Climate change is huge because it affects where these animals move, where their prey is distributed, and, regrettably, a drop in sea ice implies a reduction in Antarctic krill habitat, which is one of these humpback whales populations’ essential food supplies.

Maintaining Caution

It’s a mixed bag because you have a rebounding whale population, which is fantastic. Still, we also need to be cautiously hopeful and continue to watch this population in the future.

Last year, when the Department of the Interior was considering removing humpback whales from the endangered species list, several conservationists expressed worries that it was too soon.

Nicola Beynon, the campaign director for Humane Society International, was one of them, warning that delisting the whales was short-sighted owing to the significant threat presented by climate change.

Ms. Beynon said, “The resurgence of humpback whales that travel up and down the Australian coast is something to celebrate.”

She believes that a more cautious approach would have been preferable to delist the whales entirely and that the government should reconsider how the listing system works.

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EcoWatch

Urgent Action Needed on Climate Change Before Nature Is Unable to Adapt, New UN Report Warns

 Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, Feb. 28, 2022

A new scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a panel of 270 researchers from 67 countries called together by the United Nations, concludes that urgent action must be taken by countries to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions before the effects of climate change — which are already reshaping the planet in drastic and myriad ways — overcome the planet and humanity’s ability to adjust and acclimate.

The report is the most meticulous appraisal of the dangers of climate change to date, reported The New York Times. The countries of the world must do more to safeguard cities and vulnerable coastlines as the dangers of climate change increase, the study said. It examined the growing threats of climate change on the security of resources, infrastructure, health and ecosystem biodiversity, NBC News reported.

The IPCC report is “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, as The New York Times reported. “With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change.”

As the climate crisis continues to affect the planet and all its inhabitants, migration will become more commonplace. More than 13 million people in Africa and Asia were displaced by extreme weather in 2019, the report said, as reported by The New York Times.

“One of the most striking conclusions in our report is that we’re seeing adverse impacts that are much more widespread and much more negative than expected,” said ecologist at the University of Texas, Austin, Camille Parmesan, one of the researchers who put together the report, as The New York Times reported.

According to the report, water and food insecurity have become widespread, affecting millions across the globe, as droughts, heat waves and floods inundate the planet, reported NBC News.

“Overall, the picture is stark for food systems,” said professor of global development at Cornell University and one of the authors of the report Rachel Bezner Kerr, as NBC News reported. “No one is left unaffected by climate change.”

The report said “transformational” changes will need to be made not only in the way we get our energy, but in the methods used in the building of new homes, in the way we grow food and in the way we protect the environment, reported The New York Times.

The report cautioned that if the greenhouse gases from fossil fuel emissions aren’t drastically reduced, soon much of the world will not be able to adapt.

“With climate change, some parts of the planet will become uninhabitable,” said marine biologist and co-chair of Working Group II for the IPCC Hans-Otto Pörtner, as USA Today reported.

If the planet sees warming higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels, many countries may not be able to manage the costs of protecting coastal inhabitants from rising sea levels.

According to Kerr, in some places farming will become more challenging as increasing temperatures make it progressively more strenuous for farm animals and people who work outside, as reported by The New York Times.

As with many aspects of the climate emergency, poorer nations will suffer the most. Fifteen times more people were killed due to storms, floods and droughts in poor nations between 2010 and 2020 than in rich ones, according to the report.

“Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frog march to destruction — now,” said Guterres, as The New York Times reported. “This abdication of leadership is criminal.”

Although many world leaders have pledged to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the current trajectory is from two to three degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

“Beyond 1.5, we’re not going to manage on a lot of fronts,” said director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center and one of the authors of the report Maarten van Aalst, reported The New York Times. “If we don’t implement changes now in terms of how we deal with physical infrastructure, but also how we organize our societies, it’s going to be bad.”

One of the main points of the report is that natural adaptation to the pace of warming that the world is currently experiencing is unrealistic.

“There has been the assumption that, ‘Well, if we cannot control climate change, we’ll just let it go and adapt to it,’” Pörtner said, as The New York Times reported. But considering the anticipated threats of our warming planet, “this is certainly a very illusionary approach.”

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CBC/Radio-Canada (Toronto, ON)

Endangered moose, bird habitat protected on N.S. South Shore

Nature Conservancy of Canada has acquired 157 hectares of land on Port Joli pensinsula

Taryn Grant, CBC News, Posted: Feb. 27, 2022

Two pieces of land on Nova Scotia’s South Shore that provide habitat to some endangered animals are being protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The newly conserved land — nearly 160 hectares in total — is made up of salt marshes, tidal flats, beaches and Wabanaki-Acadian forest. It connects with existing protected areas on the Port Joli peninsula, including Thomas Raddall Provincial Park.

Andrew Holland, spokesperson for the nature conservancy, said the protection is strategic.

“It’s not easy to find larger tracts of lands, wetlands, forests and coastal areas that have been unspoiled, so you’ve got to seize the opportunities as they come up, no matter the size,” Holland said.

The mainland moose and piping plover, both considered endangered by the provincial government, are known to live in the Port Joli area. Holland said it’s also a “hotspot” for many migratory bird species.

Forty-seven hectares of land was donated, and 110 hectares came at a cost of about $400,000 — a figure that includes the purchase of the land, as well as legal fees, staff time and contributions to stewardship endowment funds, among other costs.

Money for the conservation project came from a variety of sources, which Holland said “gives a sense of the importance.”

Those funding the project include the federal and provincial governments, local businesses and individuals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also chipped in through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.

Earlier this month, the Nature Conservancy finalized a deal to protect another swath of land in southwestern Nova Scotia — nearly 1,100 hectares next to Indian Fields Provincial Park and close to the Tobeatic Wilderness Area.

That area is also home to several endangered species, including lichens and birds.

Holland said protection of endangered, rare and at-risk species is the nature conservancy’s priority.

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The Guardian

‘It’s not rocket science’: how the world’s fastest parrot could be saved

Adam Morton, Climate and environment editor, 27 Feb. 2022

While swift parrot numbers plunge, their Tasmanian breeding grounds are still being logged. It’s a recipe for extinction, experts say

What if a critically endangered bird could be given a shot at survival by protecting 7% of Tasmanian native forests earmarked for logging?

And what if the forestry industry had – for different reasons – already argued that logging should be reduced by roughly that amount?

That’s the case made in a proposal that ecologists and environmentalists believe could halt the steep decline of the swift parrot, a migratory species that experts say could be extinct in 10 years if no action is taken.

Monitoring the world’s fastest parrot is challenging. It spends the winter in Victoria and New South Wales before nesting in different parts of Tasmania each summer, depending on where its main food source, the blue gum, is flowering.

But no one disputes that swift parrot numbers have slumped. A CSIRO-published birds guide released in December puts the population at about 750, down from 2,000 roughly a decade ago.

A new report released by BirdLife Australia, the Wilderness Society and the Tasmanian group the Tree Projects says the primary cause is the loss of large, hollow-bearing trees used for breeding.

It cites a peer-reviewed study that found nearly a quarter of Tasmania’s southern old-growth forests were logged between 1997 and 2016 – evidence, it says, of a systemic failure by the state government to act on repeated scientific advice that protecting parrot habitat was crucial for the species to survive.

Dr Jennifer Sanger, a forest ecologist with Tree Projects, says while the parrot faces other threats, including predation from sugar gliders and worsening bushfire risk due to the climate crisis, habitat loss from logging remains the “number one” issue.

“Unfortunately what we’ve seen from the government is inadequate policies over the past decade that have been exacerbating the decline,” she says. “The habitat is still being logged.”

The Tasmanian Liberal government says it has an answer. In late 2020 it released a policy, known as the public authority management agreement, under which it has promised to set aside 9,300 hectares of southern forests from logging.

The report, On the Edge of Extinction, argues this is misleading as 69% of the newly set aside area was already excluded from logging, either due to operational constraints or parts of it already being in reserves.

In reality, it says, the new policy would stop logging in only 2,900ha, and leave other areas with the mature trees the swift parrot relies on available to the forestry industry. Scientific advice to the government says all swift parrot foresting and nesting habitat on Tasmanian public land should be protected to give the species a chance.

This is not a new argument but the report includes what the groups say is a new calculation of what this would mean. It says a swift parrot protection plan would require the industry to give up just 7% of the forest area on state land available for logging. It would protect 40,000ha more mature forest and 20,000ha of regrowing forest that could provide future habitat.

It says this could be achieved by listening to the board of the state-owned forestry business, Sustainable Timber Tasmania, which in 2016 told the state government logging was not profitable if it had to meet a legislated quota of providing 137,000 cubic metres of sawlogs a year. It called for this to be cut to 96,000 cubic metres – a 30% cut in timber supply.

The call by the industry body was rejected by the state resources minister, Guy Barnett. The Liberal state government was elected in 2014 on a platform of ending a Labor-Greens “peace deal” brokered between the industry and environmentalists after decades of conflict and expanding native forestry to support jobs in regional communities. Barnett says the existing sawlog quota could be met by selling timber for higher prices while looking for lower cost areas of forest to log.

The groups behind the report say the quota should be dropped entirely, but that reducing it to the level nominated by Sustainable Timber Tasmania could be enough to stabilise parrot numbers. Sanger says it would also help other species, and retain a significant amount of carbon stored in the state’s mature wet eucalyptus forests.

“In a perfect world there would be no native forest logging, but to protect the parrot they really don’t have to do much,” she says. “At the moment they are doing nothing, really.”

Asked about the report last week, the Tasmanian environment minister, Roger Jaensch, said cutting the legislated sawlog quota was “not part of our thinking”. He said the government had committed $1m to implement priorities from a swift parrot recovery plan and he was getting advice from officials on how that money should be spent. “We’ve already made significant changes to harvesting arrangements in areas where there is swift parrot habitat,” Jaensch said.

Suzette Weeding, a general manager with Sustainable Timber Tasmania, says the current policy is a “significant step forward” in swift parrot protection, the agency “recognises its responsibility as a land manager” and a management plan including additional measures is being developed. She suggests the industry’s economic circumstances have changed since it called for the sawlog quota to be reduced in 2016.

Sustainable Timber Tasmania’s annual reports show it has posted an operating profit for the past four years. The economist John Lawrence says it would have recorded losses if not for accounting measures and government grants.

Dr Eric Woehler, an ecologist and the convenor of BirdLife Tasmania, says the government and agency’s plans do not go far enough to halt the “catastrophic decrease” in parrot numbers, and the strength of the report is that it “basically aligns with what the industry has asked for”.

“What it shows is that, with some strategic thinking and planning, we are in a position to ease the pressure on a critically endangered species,” he says. “It’s not rocket science.”

The only thing standing in the way, according to Woehler, is “political unwillingness”.

“The problem is well-known, has been for decades, and we’ve seen a weakening of protection and a business-as-usual approach to land management in the state,” he says. “It’s a recipe for the extinction of a species.”

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MSN/MarketWatch

New studies again target Wuhan market, not lab, for COVID-19 origin

Rachel Koning Beals, February 26, 2022

Scientists released two extensive studies on Saturday that again point to a market in Wuhan, China, as the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, the New York Times reported.

The two reports, totaling about 150 pages, have not yet been published in a scientific journal.

The researchers analyzed data from a range of sources to uncover how the virus first took hold. They concluded that the coronavirus was present in live mammals sold in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in late 2019.

Even in the early days of the pandemic, speculation — and plenty of cultural insensitivity and racism — emerged suggesting that Chinese “wet markets” were a probable source of origin. The markets offer wild animals — endangered species in some cases and sometimes sold live — as cuisine.

The new research suggests that the virus was spread to people working or shopping at the market. And the researchers said they found no support for an alternate hypothesis that the coronavirus emerged from a lab in Wuhan.

U.S. President Joe Biden had ordered that intelligence agencies probe how the virus emerged. Biden said that U.S. intelligence focused on two scenarios—whether the coronavirus came from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.

Interaction between humans and animals, often forced because of lost biodiversity on top of market sales, is neither exclusive to this outbreak nor likely to become less controversial absent intervention in coming years, environmentalists have warned since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most scientists see a link between deforestation and habitat change to pandemics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.

From Zika to West Nile, Ebola to SARS, Nipah to COVID-19, deforestation has had a hand in many of the world’s worst viral outbreaks as lost habitat brings animals in closer contact with humans.

“Due to anthropogenic activities, we are substantially increasing our exposure to pathogens we have never been exposed to, and thus we’re not prepared to respond to. We’re doing this in two main ways: bringing wildlife too close to us [such as markets], or us getting too close to wildlife [by way of overdevelopment],” Daniel Mira-Salama, senior environmental specialist in the World Bank’s Beijing office, has said.

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The Oregonian

Agency to decide if rare toad in Nevada warrants endangered species protection

Associated Press, Published: Feb. 26, 2022,

RENO, Nev. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed as part of a settlement with environmentalists to decide by April 4 whether a rare toad warrants endangered species protection in wetlands next to a geothermal plant being built in Nevada.

The agency’s lawyers signed the agreement this week with a conservation group that has filed a related lawsuit to block construction of Ormat Technologies Inc.’s geothermal power plant about 100 miles east of Reno.

The dispute is among a growing number of conflicts over wildlife protection and/or tribal rights on federal lands that the Biden administration faces as it pursues its agenda to combat climate change by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.

The Center for Biological Diversity and a Nevada tribe won a federal court order in Reno last month temporarily blocking construction of Ormat’s project east of Fallon.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals stayed that order Feb. 4 pending full consideration of Ormat’s appeal. The Reno-based company broke ground last week. The San Francisco-based appellate court is considering hearing oral arguments on the appeal in June.

Ormat had said it might be forced to abandon the project if it couldn’t begin work there by Feb. 28. Vice President Paul Thomsen said this week the new listing agreement won’t affect its plans.

The Center for Biological Diversity’s new settlement with the Fish and Wildlife Service is similar to one it secured last year regarding listing deadlines for a desert wildflower the agency has since proposed for endangered status at a lithium mine planned midway between Reno and Las Vegas.

Neither Tiehm’s buckwheat nor the Dixie Valley toad is known to exist anywhere else in the world.

“We’re thrilled that the Dixie Valley toad is being put on the fast-track for protection,” said Patrick Donnelly, the center’s Great Basin director.

It first petitioned for the toad’s listing in 2017. Donnelly said it’s the toad’s “last, best chance to avoid extinction.”

“Bulldozers are already destroying the toad’s habitat and preparing for a massive groundwater pumping operation that could dry up the only wetland where it lives,” Donnelly said.

Geothermal power is generated from hot water deep beneath the earth.

The Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit that claims the power plant will “turn a unique, remote desert oasis into an industrial site,” says the site is sacred to their people who have lived there thousands of years.

Thomsen said in an email to The Associated Press the mitigation plan the company spent six years developing to offset any potential environmental impacts “is not dependent on whether the toad is listed under the Endangered Species Act.”

“Ormat has long recognized the importance of conserving the Dixie Valley toad, regardless of its legal status,” he said, adding that “we remain fully committed to the sustainable development of renewable energy projects in the state of Nevada and around the world.”

Part of the foundation of future efforts to produce more “green” energy in the U.S., conservationists generally back such efforts but argue projects like the geothermal plant and a pair of lithium mines planned in Nevada shouldn’t be built if they can’t comply with federal environmental laws.

Lithium is an especially important mineral on the Biden administration’s energy agenda because it’s needed to manufacture batteries for electric vehicles.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden highlighted his efforts to counter China’s dominance in the electric battery market and bolster domestic production of lithium when he announced a $35 million in assistance to MP Materials to extract lithium from geothermal brine in Southern California near the Nevada line.

Meanwhile, his administration also announced it was delaying decisions on new oil and gas drilling on federal land after a U.S. judge in Louisiana blocked the way officials were calculating the real-world costs of climate change.

In the West, the drilling is often challenged by conservationists who say it will harm a variety of fish and wildlife, including the imperiled greater sage grouse.

Protection of grouse habitat also is part of a legal battle at another lithium mine planned in Nevada near the Oregon line.

Several tribes who have joined that suit also say Lithium Nevada’s Thacker Pass project is on land where dozens of their ancestors were massacred by the U.S. cavalry in 1865. That case also is now before the 9th Circuit.

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Maui Now

Draft Recovery Plan proposed for 50 endangered and threatened species in Hawaiʻi

February 26, 2022

Fifty endangered and threatened species in the Hawaiian archipelago are included in a draft recovery plan published by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This covers 35 plants, 13 invertebrates, and two birds.

Recovery plans are roadmaps that the Service and partners use to prevent extinction of species and support their recovery.

This draft recovery plan is available for public comment and will be made available until April 25, 2022.

Hawai’i is home to some 578 species protected under the Endangered Species Act, with many found nowhere else in the world.   Of the 50 species covered by this draft recovery plan, 48 are endangered under the ESA, meaning they are currently at risk of extinction.

The ESA defines threatened as species at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future. All of the plants and animals in the draft recovery plan face similar threats – habitat loss, introduced disease and non-native and invasive predators like rats, cats and pigs. In addition, climate change is exacerbating and accelerating these threats across Hawai’i and the Pacific Islands.

“This recovery plan for 50 species underscores just how important proactive, community-based partnerships are to our work in preventing extinctions and supporting recovery,” said Shannon Estenoz, Fish and Wildlife and Parks Assistant Secretary. “Collaborative recovery plans are especially important in places like Hawai’i, where we face significant conservation challenges including growing threats from invasive species and habitat loss, which are amplified by climate change. We look forward to continuing our important work with conservation partners in Hawai’i to preserve its unique biological heritage for future generations.” 

Plants are foundational to the unique island ecosystems of Hawai’i, and the 35 plants in this draft recovery plan co-evolved in isolation with the archipelago’s endemic wildlife. One of the two bird species in the draft recovery plan, the ʻiʻiwi, a scarlet-colored honeycreeper, developed its long, curved bill specifically for pollinating the lobeliads and other flowers unqiue to Hawai’i. Many other Hawai’i plants and animals share a similar symbiotic relationship, depending on each other for survival.

Like many endemic species, the ʻiʻiwi was once protected from invasive predators and disease. Today, forest birds like the ʻiʻiwi are threatened by avian malaria, a mosquito-borne disease that can kill a bird after one bite from an infected, non-native mosquito. Many forest birds like ʻiʻiwi are able to thrive in higher elevated areas where mosquitoes cannot survive, but rising temperatures caused by climate change are shrinking those protected areas and putting species like ʻiʻiwi in increasing danger. 

Recently the Service proposed removing 23 species from the ESA due to extinction, with nine of those once found in Hawai’i. Most of the species listed were in such decline or existed in such low numbers they did not have a chance to benefit from the protections provided by the ESA. 

In the Pacific Islands, natural resources are cultural resources as well, and when they disappear, so do their important roles in our heritage and communities. Now more than ever, it is important to work with our partners to protect Pacific Islands wildlife and plants for future generations.

The ESA has been extraordinarily effective in preventing extinctions, with more than 99 percent of all listed species still with us today. The ESA has also spurred unprecedented partnerships on behalf of wildlife conservation in America, with diverse states, federal agencies, private landowners and stakeholders coming together to conserve and recover listed species and their habitats. In total, 54 species have been delisted and 56 downlisted due to recovery since the ESA was passed into law in 1973. Recovery plans are an important tool in achieving recovery and preventing extinction. 

The draft plan will be available for public comment for 60 days. An electronic copy of the draft recovery plan is available at our website. Copies on CD are also available by request from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office. 300 Ala Moana Boulevard, Room 3­122, Honolulu, HI 96850; telephone 808-792–9400.   

To request additional information or submit written comments, please use one of the following methods. 

*Written comments and materials may be submitted to the field supervisor:  Attention: 50 Hawaiian Species Draft Recovery Plan, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, at the above Honolulu address. 

*Comments may be sent by email to megan_laut@fws.gov. Include “50 Hawaiian Species Draft Recovery Plan Comments” in the subject line. 

In order to be considered, comments on the draft recovery plan must be received on or before April 25. All comments and materials received will become part of the public record associated with this action. The USFWS will accept comments received or postmarked on or before April 25.

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The Guardian

South Africa grants permits to hunt 10 critically endangered black rhino

Government says black rhino population is growing and also gives permission to hunt 10 leopards and 150 elephants

Agence France-Presse, 25 Feb. 2022

The South African government has granted annual hunting and export permits for big game including 10 critically endangered black rhinoceros and a similar number of leopards.

It also gave permission for more than 100 elephants to be killed, in keeping with international laws on the trade of endangered species, saying its elephant population was growing and that fewer than 0.3% were hunted each year.

“A total of 10 black rhino may be hunted and 150 elephants,” the forestry and environment ministry announced.

In countries such as Botswana, trophy hunting is used to fund conservation.

Black rhino are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as critically endangered. But numbers of black rhino in the wild have doubled to more than 5,000 from a historic low three decades ago.

The government said its allocated quota for rhino was based on population estimates, “which show an increasing trend at present”.

Poaching of white rhino reached crisis levels between 2014 and 2017, when a thousand were killed on average each year. Those numbers dropped by half to 451 last year.

The animals are slaughtered for their horns, which are smuggled into Asia where they are mistakenly believed to have medicinal benefits.

The South African government said leopard hunts would be restricted to animals aged seven years and older, and allowed only in regions where the large cat populations were “stable or increasing”.

Hunting is big business in South Africa, bringing in around 1.4bn rand ($92m) in 2019, the government said.

Proceeds from government-approved annual hunting quotas go towards local marginalised and impoverished rural communities where the hunts happen.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Peppered Chub Placed on Endangered List

Great Plains Fish Gets 872 River Miles of Critical Habitat in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma

SILVER CITY, N.M.—(February 25, 2022)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added a fish called the peppered chub to the endangered species list today. The agency also designated 872 river miles of critical habitat in New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma for the chub, a 3-inch-long, torpedo-shaped fish of the Great Plains.

Peppered chubs are on the brink of extinction. They survive only in the upper South Canadian River in northern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle and in a tributary creek, comprising about 6% of their historic range. That river stretch is gaining pollution and losing water to drought.

“Peppered chubs are barely getting this lifesaving protection in time,” said Michael Robinson at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Under the Endangered Species Act, habitat protection, captive breeding and reintroduction can keep these exquisite fish from going extinct.”

Today’s actions resulted from a 2020 lawsuit filed by the Center after the peppered chub and 240 other declining animal and plant species were left in limbo with no Endangered Species Act protection. WildEarth Guardians petitioned for its protection in 2007.

The critical habitat consists of 197 miles of the upper South Canadian River and Revuelto Creek in New Mexico and Texas, which support the sole remaining population; 400 miles of the lower South Canadian River in Texas and Oklahoma; and 275 miles in the Cimarron River in Oklahoma.

“Peppered chubs once shared their rivers with thirsty bison, but their habitat has been overexploited and now these fishes are in deep trouble,” said Robinson. “We can retain a small but beautiful part of the circle of life on the Great Plains through this endangered listing and critical habitat protection, and I’m relieved and grateful.”

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Newsweek

Hundreds of Yellowstone Bison Are About To Be Slaughtered

Orlando Jenkinson, February 25, 2022

Hundreds of bison are due to be killed in Yellowstone National Park in the coming weeks, the National Park Service (NPS) confirmed on Tuesday.

Between 600 and 900 of the animals will be hunted or moved on with the cooperation of Native American tribes and the wider public as park authorities look to keep the numbers of bison in Yellowstone at a manageable level.

In a Facebook post, the NPS in Yellowstone said that operations to control bison numbers in Yellowstone began on February 13 at a northern part of the park called Stephens Creek, near Gardiner in Montana.

“Bison capture and shipping operations begin when bison migrate from the interior of the park into the Gardiner (Montana) Basin and may continue through late March,” the post read.

There are around 5,450 bison in Yellowstone, divided between two herds. The Northern Herd breeds in the Lamar Valley and surrounding plateaus, while the Central Herd breeds in Hayden Valley.

Bison were once abundant across large areas of North America but were hunted to near extinction by colonial settlers and the U.S. army in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Settlers killed the animals for meat, sport and as part of their efforts to kill or subdue the Native American peoples living in the West who depended on the animals for their way of life.

Conservation efforts launched in the 20th century have seen the number of bison rebound dramatically in the U.S. An estimated 30,000 of the animals now live in managed herds across the country, while hundreds of thousands more are kept on private land as livestock.

Yellowstone National Park said that the cull of the bison would be done in three main ways: The hunting of bison who roam outside of the park by Native American tribes and the wider public, the capture of and transferral of bison near the park’s borders to tribal people for processing, and the Bison Conservation Transfer Program, which moves healthy bison onto tribal lands.

The land in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming that makes up Yellowstone National Park has deep links to Native Americans who lived there for centuries before settlers arrived.

Numerous Native American tribes including the Blackfeet, Kiowa, Nez Perce, Cayuse, Coeur d’Alen and Shosone have historical ties to the region. The United States Geological Survey said that many of the trails now used by park rangers and public visitors in Yellowstone are Native American relics dating back as far as 12,000 years ago.

The NPS video announcing their decision to cull between 600 and 900 bison included a statement explaining their decision: “Bison from Yellowstone don’t have enough room to roam outside the park. As the population grows, more bison migrate. This migration can cause conflict. Safety concerns include property damage and disease transmission to cattle. Our goal is to preserve bison while addressing these concerns.”

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MLive (Grand Rapids, MI)

Wolves are endangered again, but pressure for a Michigan hunt remains

By Sheri McWhirter, Published: Feb. 23, 2022

GAYLORD, MI – Hunting proponents this week pressed Michigan wildlife regulators to lock and load plans for a wolf hunt, even after a federal judge recently restored endangered species protections to the apex predator.

Hunting and trapping advocates said the gray wolf going back onto the U.S. Endangered Species List crushed their hopes for a public Michigan hunt of the wild canines as early as this autumn. Now they want state wildlife regulators to get rules ready for a wolf hunt across the Upper Peninsula, just in case federal protections are ever dropped again.

A lengthy and often boisterous debate happened this week around a conference table at Treetops Resort in Gaylord, where the volunteer Michigan Wolf Management Advisory Council gathered for two days of talks. The group began work seven months ago on recommendations for the state Department of Natural Resources as it updates Michigan’s wolf management plan.

DNR officials are legally responsible to oversee control of wolves when they are de-listed, and to protect the species under federal law when under endangered species safeguards.

Farmer Richard Pershinske, the only Yooper on the council, said he had hoped for a wolf hunt in Michigan as soon as this fall and was disappointed when a federal judge in California earlier this month ordered the species back under federal protections.

“I just want this all in place so that when the de-listing occurs, we’re ready to go. Because they can frig around and spend 10 months doing something that should be done, you know, in a month’s time,” he said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service moved to de-list gray wolves across most of the country in late 2020, which prompted lawsuits by environmental and animal rights groups. DNR officials have since then said a wolf hunt couldn’t happen again in Michigan until the state’s wolf plan was updated and the legal status of the species was more permanently settled.

The last wolf hunt in Michigan was in 2013.

The only council member who voted against recommending the DNR pursue wolf hunt plans was Beatrice Friedlander, board president for Canton-based nonprofit Attorneys for Animals.

She argued the recommendation should not have been considered until the council’s March meeting in Sault Ste. Marie, when wolf hunt opponents planned to attend and make public comments. Friedlander argued the hunting and trapping question should have waited until it was listed as “old business” on the agenda.

Others on the council said they’d grown impatient and were tired of delaying the decision.

Mike Thorman, of the Michigan Hunting Dog Federation, said a host of “stakeholders are hammering our head already,” and want an answer to whether state regulators will pursue hunting plans.

“Everybody expects this to be voted on tomorrow, all our stakeholders,” Thorman said during the first day of talks.

Friedlander said “rushing this process” was a disservice to the public because whether to allow a hunt is the most important part of their recommendation for the state plan.

“The hunt proponents are not interested in updates to the science which will be available at the March meeting. They do not want to hear the DNR biologists’ updates tomorrow and then have time to craft recommendations to be presented at the March meeting, a process we have followed in every other case,” she said.

During a meeting break, DNR workers checked an audio recording of January’s council meeting in Escanaba, when the past chairperson apparently agreed to allow the wolf hunt recommendation vote to happen in February.

This month, council member Miles Falck of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission could not drive from his home in Wisconsin to attend this week’s meetings in Gaylord because of a snow and ice storm that prevented safe travel. He said the council’s hunting recommendation vote happening this month frustrated him both because he agreed with Friedlander that it was not the agreed upon process, and he wasn’t allowed to participate remotely.

“Especially in this age with the pandemic and everybody’s familiarity using video conferencing now. There’s just no reason why that shouldn’t be an option to participate,” Falck said.

He also underscored how Great Lakes Indigenous tribes do not support a wolf hunt.

The wolf management advisory council’s complete recommendations are expected to be finalized in May. The group will next meet March 15-16 in Sault Ste. Marie.

State wildlife officials last updated the gray wolf plan seven years ago, but since 2008 the DNR’s principal goals remained to maintain a viable wolf population, facilitate wolf-related benefits, minimize wolf-related conflicts and conduct “science-based and socially acceptable management of wolves.”

Council member Amy Trotter, executive director of nonprofit hunting organization Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said during this week’s session she wanted language about what constitutes socially acceptable hunting and trapping methods to be struck from the plan.

“My recommendation is to take out kind of the dimensions of what’s socially unacceptable, or things like that comment, just say, what is legal and not legal. Refer to the state statute,” she said.

More details about wolves in Michigan can be found at https://bit.ly/3IeY5Br online.

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Science X/PhysOrg

Rare hammerhead sharks found in Australian waters

by University of Western Australia, February 21, 2022

A new study by researchers at The University of Western Australia has found a critically endangered species of hammerhead shark in Perth metropolitan waters, further south than previously recorded.

The presence of a recurrent aggregation of scalloped hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini) within Perth metropolitan waters has conservation implications for the species, according to lead author Naima Andrea López, a Ph.D. candidate at UWA’s Marine Futures Lab.

The research team conducted weekly drone surveys over two summers in waters south of Perth to document the status of the aggregation.

The study, published in Austral Ecology, identified the aggregating sharks as scalloped hammerheads, a critically endangered species of hammerhead shark that typically inhabits the tropical region of Australia and has rarely been recorded south of Jurien Bay.

The species is currently listed as conservation dependent in Australia under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act), although its conservation status is currently under review.

Ms López collected more than 90 hours of hours of aerial video footage over the course of two years, which allowed her to identify, count and measure the animals.

The aggregation was reliably seen during the months of January and February, and the average length of the sharks was approximately 1.5 meters, making them sexually immature juveniles.

Ms López said that Australia should take a precautionary approach when reviewing the conservation status of the species until the southern extent of the distribution of scalloped hammerhead sharks in Western Australia could be more clearly established.

“The presence of this aggregation so far south appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon that may indicate a poleward shift in the distribution of the species as a result of warming oceans and expose these animals to greater fishing pressure,” Ms López said.

Co-author Professor Jessica Meeuwig said the current catch of scalloped hammerheads in Western Australia was unknown and relying on historical catch composition data to understand current catches may be invalid.

“Until the contemporary composition of commercial and recreational hammerhead catches can be verified, both the State and Federal governments should strengthen protection of the species, especially at their aggregation sites,” Professor Meeuwig said.

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EcoWatch

Bison Restoration on Tribal Lands Has Cultural, Ecological and Economic Benefits, Study Finds

 Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, Feb. 21, 2022

Certain sounds are ancient, like the thunder of bison hooves across the prairie that turn the Great Plains into a giant drum. The American bison, our national mammal, was hunted to near extinction beginning in the early 1800s, and by late that century, less than a thousand remained.

The largest land-dwelling mammal in America, bison aid in balancing and maintaining a healthy ecosystem and help to create habitat for many species, including plants and birds. Their hooves aerate the soil, dispersing seeds and helping plants to grow.

Widespread restoration of bison to Northern Great Plains Tribal lands can help support food sovereignty and aid in the restoration of the prairie ecosystem, according to a new study, a South Dakota State University press release stated. Impacts on agricultural systems due to climate change may also be reduced by the presence of bison.

The study, “The Potential of Bison Restoration as an Ecological Approach to Future Tribal Food Sovereignty on the Northern Great Plains,” was published last month in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

“The buffalo is important to Indian communities, to our people culturally and ecologically to our lands,” said the president of the InterTribal Buffalo Council and Blackfeet buffalo manager Ervin Carlson, the press release said. “We know bringing them back will not only heal our people but also help us with the changes we see on our grasslands due to drought.”

Once, 30 to 60 million bison traveled across the Great Plains and were a main source of hides and meat, driving the economy of many Plains Indian Tribes. In an attempt to destroy the Tribal members’ livelihood, mass hunting of bison was encouraged by the U.S. government. As bison numbers dwindled in the late 19th century, the Tribes lost their main source of food and were driven onto reservations.

“The herds today are small and isolated. Today there are about 350K Plains bison in production herds, 30K in public herds and about 20K bison in tribal herds,” Hila Shamon, lead author of the study and a landscape ecologist and mammalogist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, told EcoWatch in an email.

“Bison are a social species and rely on their herd to survive; an evolutionary strategy to maximize fitness. They group together for predator vigilance, collective foraging and learning,” Shamon said.

Bison are “megaherbivores” — large herbivores that weigh more than 1,000 kilograms — and are important contributors to the grassland system of the prairies, South Dakota State University reported. The physical impact of bison and other animals on the environment modifies it in such a way that it creates habitat for different species.

As they graze, wallow and trample, bison make the landscape more habitable for hundreds of prairie species in different ways.

In the wake of the bison’s grazing, grasses of differing heights provide birds with nesting grounds, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Some birds even line their nests with bison fur.

As the great bison wallow, they create holes that fill up when it rains, turning their wallows into amphibian breeding pools and water troughs for other prairie species. Several rare and medicinal plants also rely on these indentations in the land to grow.

“Bison’s movements drove nutrient cycles, altered vegetation structure and fire regimes that in turn supported other prairie species. They are considered ‘ecosystem engineers’,” Shamon told EcoWatch.

“Today, most bison are no longer free roaming and are kept in production or conservation herds. However, they can still have an impact on the landscape. Studies show that under some management schemes, bison can have positive impacts on riparian vegetation restoration, and create heterogenous grasslands that can support many grassland specialists,” Shamon said.

Grasses are shorter where bison commonly graze, and prairie dogs dine on these shorter grasses and dig their burrows there, World Wildlife Fund reported. When bison make their way through the deep snow of a Great Plains winter, the paths they forge become “highways” for elk and pronghorn antelope, among other inhabitants who stick around through the winter months. As they dig through the snow, bison also make the hidden prairie grass available for animals who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access it.

“Prairie species evolved alongside bison, an iconic animal central to Plains Indian culture and communities for centuries,” said Shamon, as reported by South Dakota State University. “Against the backdrop of a changing climate, continued and new research is needed to develop bison restoration and land management strategies that maximize biodiversity and address the complex socio-economic and ecological needs of Native Nations.”

For thousands of years, Great Plains Tribes used every part of the bison — including the hides, bones and horns — for food and to make clothing, shelter, tools and musical instruments, and for other specialized uses.

“Buffalo are central to our community,” said study co-author and faculty member at the Aaniiih Nakoda College Daniel Kinsey, as South Dakota State University reported. “Fort Belknap reintroduced buffalo in the late 1970s, and we are fortunate to have such a successful program that is a product of hard-working people. It is my duty to connect our students, the younger generation, to the buffalo and the ecosystem and to work with students to incorporate our traditional knowledge into the present research. We recently established a new ʔíítaanɔ́ɔ́nʔí/Tatag ́a (bison in Aaniiih and Nakoda languages respectively) Research and Education Center for this purpose.”

Bison are an extremely adaptable species able to adjust to high temperatures and lack of water. Despite their size, bison’s needs are not as great as those of cows when it comes to taking refuge in the shade and seeking water; thus, where bison graze, grassland streams are not overrun with sediment.

“Bison are adapted to the climate of the Great Plains,” Shamon told EcoWatch. “Their physiology is what makes them tolerant to extreme weather.”

Compared to the rest of the country, the Northern Great Plains is becoming disproportionately warm and dry due to climate change, reported South Dakota State University. This will put the region’s agricultural system and the prairie ecosystem at risk as the climate crisis continues. Impoverished prairie communities that depend on the environment for their livelihoods will face a greater possibility of hardship.

“What we provide in this research article are successful solutions that are implemented on Indigenous lands. Many of those solutions may be applicable on other properties and some may not. The key is maintaining a high level of diversity and innovation to enhance sustainable solutions to climate change impacts,” said director of research for the Center of Excellence for Bison Studies at South Dakota State University Jeff Martin, as South Dakota State University reported.

The quality of the land on Native American reservations is often less than optimal and poverty and food insecurity disproportionately affect Tribal communities.

“In rural Native American communities, poverty is two to three times higher than in white rural communities, and, despite much of the grasslands being used for agriculture, Native Americans are twice as likely to be food insecure than white people and are 25% more likely to remain food insecure in the future,” reported South Dakota State University.

Restoration of bison herds on the Tribal lands of the Great Plains strongly correlates with the establishment of food sovereignty for the Plains Indians. However, the numbers of bison that would be needed to attain both restoration of herds and food sovereignty for Tribes are yet to be achieved, South Dakota State University reported.

“A reintroduction plan entails a feasibility assessment. There are certain criteria that need to be met in terms of habitat requirements, population genetic viability, social tolerance, and funding. Every reintroduction is unique and needs to be tailored to a specific community and place,” Shamon told EcoWatch.

According to South Dakota State University, theories derived from both commercial and conservation bison herds may need to be used for the successful reintroduction of bison on Tribal lands.

“Future bison reintroduction success requires merging the concepts of conservation and commercial herds or the growth of both herds until production meets local community food demands and conservation meets ecosystem service needs,” reported South Dakota State University.

The study recommended that management strategies for the reintroduction of bison on Tribal lands include “Indigenous and cultural knowledge” and be in keeping with the preservation of the bison’s “wild nature” for commercial and conservation herds. It also recommended monitoring how the reintroduction of bison affects an area’s biodiversity based on agreed upon monitoring and assessment standards.

“We are renewing our relationship with the buffalo as our relative, they are central to our lives,” said study co-author and member of the Pt’e stakeholder group, Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Roxann Smith, as South Dakota State University reported. “Together, our community is reclaiming our traditional ways and piecing our ecosystem together again as we heal together.”

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Forests News

New research details complexity of growing risks to endangered pangolins

JULIE MOLLINS, 21 Feb. 2022

A dietary delicacy in some countries in Africa and Asia, the pangolin is also prized for its scales, which are used in folk and traditional remedies to treat various ailments.

Although pangolins are protected by international laws under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), estimates indicate that more than a million pangolins have been illegally trafficked worldwide since 2013.

Research published recently in the journal Biological Conservation reveals that Nigeria has become a central intercontinental hub through which the scales of an estimated 799,300 pangolins have been shipped en route to Asia between 2010 and September 2020.

Although Nigeria is a party to CITES and has other national legislation designed to prevent illegal commercial trade in endangered species, the country has been involved in more reported pangolin trafficking incidents than any other African country.

Illegal wildlife trade diminishes animal populations, threatens food security and livelihoods in local communities, endangers public health through the spread of zoonotic diseases, and undermines the rule of law due to organized criminal networks and institutional corruption, said Daniel Ingram, a postdoctoral researcher at Britain’s University of Stirling, member of the IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group, and an author on the paper.

Of the eight pangolin species, four occur in Africa, and four occur in Asia. All are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

“By putting patterns of pangolin trafficking in Nigeria under scrutiny, policies can be developed to enhance law enforcement to protect wild species threated by trans-national trade,” Ingram said, adding that illegal trade in pangolins during the study timeframe involved 21 other countries, including nine in Africa, nine in Asia and three in Europe.

The team of researchers — also from the University of Cambridge, Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), University of Oxford and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Nigeria Program — analyzed three data types, including pangolin seizure records and results of interviews, to reach their findings.

They observed that Nigeria’s law enforcement efforts to tackle pangolin trafficking increased from 2017.

“Our study demonstrates the complexity of the global illegal pangolin trade and amplifies the need for concerted conservation efforts and stronger law enforcement, backed by inspection equipment, inspection officers and sniffer dogs at seaports and borders,” Ingram said.

“COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions likely reduced trafficking in 2020, but activities have already resumed.”

LOCAL TRADE

In addition to demand for scales from Asia, in parts of West and Central Africa, pangolin meat is still consumed as part of rural subsistence diets.

They can also be found in urban bushmeat markets in Cameroon (and elsewhere in the region) where they are consumed as a luxury, despite being illegal in many cases, said Ingram, who is a senior author on a new research paper published in the African Journal of Ecology  and released to coincide with World Pangolin Day on Saturday.

All three species of pangolin found in Cameroon were available in the market. Most were the arboreal, white-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis), but pieces of the endangered giant pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) were also found, according to the research, which was a collaboration between researchers at the Universities of Stirling, Cameroon’s Yaoundé I, Britain’s St. Andrews, and Denmark’s Aalborg, the Zoological Society of London – Cameroon, and the Central Africa Bushmeat Action Group.

By monitoring pangolin trade, the authors observed a decline in the average daily number of arboreal pangolins available in 2017 compared to 2020.

Despite this, during surveys undertaken over a six-month period in 2020 — during the height of COVID-19 lockdowns worldwide — arboreal pangolins were continually available across the survey period, and most pangolins were alive.

Despite COVID-19 and national bans banning the trade of pangolins, they were still regularly and openly offered for sale in the capital city, Ingram said.

REMEDIES AND FETISHES

Pangolins are used in some traditional remedies and ritual practices in West Africa, including in Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, but little is known about the ways in which pangolins are traditionally used in other West African countries.

In a second paper published in the African Journal of Ecology on World Pangolin Day, Ingram shares results collated from a vast range of sources, including historical reports, legal documents, and interviews with wildlife experts and traditional hunters in Mali.

Pangolins have been available on the fetish market in the country’s capital Bamako — where wild animal body parts are sourced for traditional remedies and ritual practices — at least in 2008.

Authors suggest that more research is needed to understand whether these practices still occur.

“Pangolins also featured in Malian ritual arts, where they are depicted in the tyiwara headdresses of the southern region from around 1980, suggesting some level of cultural significance,” Ingram said.

“Evidence from several sources suggest that at least two species of pangolin may occur in the far south of Mali, currently not listed on the IUCN Red List.”

The research was conducted by researchers affiliated to the Universities of Stirling, Linfield, Southern New Hampshire in the United States, and the École Pratique des Hautes Études in France.

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Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, OH)

Dazzling Ohio brook trout at the risk of extinction

Dave Golowenski, Special to The Columbus Dispatch, February 20, 2022

Brook trout require cool, clear, clean water.

The Buckeye state lacks that, and so the Ohio Division of Wildlife recently recommended the trout, found natively in a single pocket in a single Geauga County stream, should be downgraded to endangered.

Currently, the dazzling fish is listed as threatened.

“We watched trout in a couple of our streams go away recently. That induced a sort of panic,” said Paul Pira, biologist with the Geauga (County) Park District and a longtime “brookie” admirer. “So, I guess I was behind a push to change the brook trout listing.”

Brook trout found a home in northeastern Ohio some 10,000 years ago when Lake Erie was forming — a reservoir of cool water left behind by the retreat of melting glaciers. Steams in the nearby land were quickly surrounded by forest, which lessened soil runoff, mitigated floods and shaded stretches from the sun and summer heat.

Fish were not forced to contend with lawn chemicals or wastewater either.

For centuries brook trout flourished until, that is, European settlers started cutting down trees, turning soil and dirtying streams.

Not long afterward, most of the indigenous Ohio brook trout were gone.

By the mid-1800s, trout could be found in only two northeastern Ohio stream systems. Their habitat further degraded, no brook trout were noted in either when naturalists looked a century later.

Suburban growth may doom efforts to save native brook trout in Ohio

A sort of reprieve for the species occurred in 1972 when a researcher identified two reproducing colonies from the original strain of the genetically distinct Ohio brook trout in the headwaters of the Chagrin River. By 1993 one of the colonies had been eradicated as the result of stream degradation caused by home building.

With but a single cluster of reproducing native brook trout remaining, the wildlife division responded by identifying 15 streams in which establishing self-sustaining populations of the fish seemed worth a try. Stocking efforts began in 1997.

Things seemed to go well for a time, Pira said, but changing land use, coupled with more frequent heavy rainfalls, a recognized outcome of climate change, thwarted the effort.

Consequently, 15 sites “are down to three,” Pira said.

One of the three sites is the last remaining refuge of native trout holding an Ohio pedigree, untainted thus far because of care taken to avoid any mixing with stocked specimens. Recent work to improve that habitat, occurring on an 800-foot stretch owned by the park district and including the deepening of some pools, went well, Pira said.

Meanwhile, renewed restoration efforts are possible at “five of 10 streams where natural reproduction had previously been documented,” said Scott Hale, the wildlife division’s executive administrator of fish management and research.

Growing to only about 6 or 8 inches in Ohio waters and off-limits to fishermen, the fish is lovely to behold, and its loss would leave the landscape emptier. That has to drive additional efforts to not let it disappear.

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Ohio State News

How vacation photos of zebras and whales can help conservation

Scientists use AI to analyze images of wildlife for crucial data

Jeff Grabmeier, Ohio State News, February 20, 2022

Vacation photos of zebras and whales that tourists post on social media may have a benefit they never expected: helping researchers track and gather information on endangered species.

Scientists are using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze photos of zebras, sharks and other animals to identify and track individuals and offer new insights into their movements, as well as population trends.

“We have millions of images of endangered and threatened animals taken by scientists, camera traps, drones and even tourists,” said Tanya Berger-Wolf, director of the Translational Data Analytics Institute at The Ohio State University.

“Those images contain a wealth of data that we can extract and analyze to help protect animals and combat extinction.”

A new field called imageomics is taking the use of wildlife images a step further by using AI to extract biological information on animals directly from their photos, said Berger-Wolf, a professor of computer science and engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State.

She discussed recent advances in using AI to analyze wildlife images and the founding of imageomics in a presentation Feb. 20 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She spoke at the scientific session “Crowdsourced Science: Volunteers and Machine Learning Protect the Wild for All.”

One of the biggest challenges that environmentalists face is the lack of data available on many threatened and endangered species.

“We’re losing biodiversity at an unprecedented rate and we don’t even know how much and what we’re losing,” Berger-Wolf said.

Of the more than 142,000 species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the status of greater than half are not known because there is not enough data, or their population trend is uncertain.

“If we want to save African elephants from extinction, we have to know how many there are in the world, and where they are, and how fast they’re declining,” Berger-Wolf said.

“We don’t have enough GPS collars and satellite tags to monitor all the elephants and answer those questions. But we can use AI techniques such as machine learning to analyze images of elephants to provide much of the information we need.”

Berger-Wolf and her colleagues created a system called Wildbook that uses computer vision algorithms to analyze photos taken by tourists on vacation and researchers in the field to identify not only species of animals, but individuals.

“Our AI algorithms can identify individuals using anything striped, spotted, wrinkled or notched – even the shape of a whale’s fluke or the dorsal fin of a dolphin,” she said.

For example, Wildbook contains more than 2 million photos of about 60,000 uniquely identified whales and dolphins from around the world.

“This is now one of the primary sources of information scientists have on killer whales – they are data deficient no longer,” she said.

In addition to sharks and whales, there are wildbooks for zebras, turtles, giraffes, African carnivores and other species.

Berger-Wolf and her colleagues have developed an AI agent that searches publicly shared social media posts for relevant species. That means many people’s vacation photos of sharks they saw in the Caribbean, for example, end up being used in Wildbook for science and conservation, she said.

Together with information about when and where images were taken, these photos can aid in conservation by providing population counts, birth and death dynamics, species range, social interactions and interactions with other species, including humans, she said.

This has been very useful, but Berger-Wolf said researchers are looking to move the field forward with imageomics.

“The ability to extract biological information from images is the foundation of imageomics,” she explained. “We’re teaching machines to see things in images that humans may have missed or can’t see.”

For example, is the pattern of stripes on a zebra similar in some meaningful way to its mother’s pattern and, if so, can that give information about their genetic similarities? How do the skulls of bat species vary with environmental conditions, and what evolutionary adaptation drives that change? These and many other questions may be answered by machine learning analysis of photos.

The National Science Foundation awarded Ohio State $15 million in September to lead the creation of the Imageomics Institute, which will help guide scientists from around the world in this new field. Berger-Wolf is a principal investigator of the institute.

As the use of AI in analyzing wildlife images continues to grow, Berger-Wolf said, one key will be to make sure the AI is used equitably and ethically.

For one, researchers have to make sure it does no harm. For example, data must be protected so that it cannot be used by poachers to target endangered species.

But it must be more than just that.

“We have to make sure that it is a human-machine partnership in which humans trust the AI. The AI should, by design, be participatory, connecting among the people, among the data and among the geographical locations,” she said.

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New York Times

After Mounting a Comeback, Eagles Face a New Threat

A study of hundreds of bald eagles and golden eagles showed that nearly half of them had chronic lead poisoning.

By Maria Cramer, Feb. 19, 2022

The bald eagle, whose resurgence is considered one of the great conservation success stories of the 21st century, is facing a serious threat: lead poisoning.

Researchers who tested the feathers, bones, livers and blood of 1,200 bald eagles and golden eagles, another bird of prey in the Northern Hemisphere, found that nearly half of them had been exposed repeatedly to lead, which can lead to death and slow population growth.

Scientists believe that the primary source of the lead is spent ammunition from hunters who shoot animals that eagles then scavenge, usually during the winter, according to the study, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.

Nearly a third of the birds tested also showed signs of acute poisoning, or short-term exposure to lead, according to the study, which was led by scientists from the United States Geological Survey, Conservation Science Global, Inc. and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The effects of lead poisoning are devastating, said Vincent A. Slabe, the lead author of the study and a research wildlife biologist for Conservation Science Global in Montana.

Lead poisoning can prevent an eagle from digesting food properly, eventually leading to starvation, he said. It can cause loss of locomotion so severe that an eagle will lose the ability not only to fly, but also to move at all, he said.

“Lead can affect every single system of an eagle’s body — their respiratory system, their digestive system, their reproductive system,” Dr. Slabe said.

The study, which examined bald eagles and golden eagles from 38 states, is the first to look at the effects of lead poisoning on the bird populations on such a large scale, said Todd E. Katzner, a research wildlife biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey.

The research also showed that poisoning slowed down population growth rates by about 4 percent for bald eagles and 1 percent for golden eagles, which number about 35,000. The population of bald eagles is now above 300,000, according to researchers.

“These percentages seem small, but, over time, thousands and thousands of individual birds are being removed from the population” because of lead poisoning, Dr. Katzner said.

Bald eagles decades ago had been killed off largely by the widespread use of the synthetic insecticide DDT. A ban on DDT in 1972 and conservation efforts helped the population to rebound, with the bald eagle being removed from Endangered Species Act protection in 2007.

Dr. Slabe said he hoped the report’s findings would help to educate hunters and encourage more of them to switch to lead-free ammunition.

“This is 100 percent human caused and totally preventable,” said Laura Hale, president of the Badger Run Wildlife Rehab in Klamath Falls, Ore., whose organization has taken in bald eagles, golden eagles, and different species of hawks that were poisoned by lead.

In 2018, the group tried to save an eagle that a hunter had found in the woods and was unable to fly and gasping for air. When Ms. Hale told the hunter that the eagle most likely became sick from feeding on contaminated gut piles — the remains left behind after a hunter strips the animal’s carcass of its meat — she said that he was stricken.

“He was horrified,” Ms. Hale recalled. “He wanted to stop hunting.”

Ms. Hale said she told him that he did not have to stop hunting; he needed only to stop using lead ammunition.

Many hunters, concerned about effects not only on wildlife, but also on game meat consumed by humans, have been moving away from lead ammunition and have begun using copper bullets.

Sporting Lead-Free, a hunters and anglers group based in Wyoming that seeks to raise awareness about the adverse effects of lead ammunition, posted a short film with testimonials from hunters who stopped using it.

“Hunters are conservationists,” said Bryan Bedrosian, a co-founder of Sporting Lead-Free and a raptor biologist. “This does not need to be a polarizing issue.”

Some hunters hesitate to switch ammunition because of tradition, a mistaken belief that copper bullets are less effective, or because they have a backlog of lead bullets, he said.

“Then there are still folks who just don’t know,” said Mr. Bedrosian, who says he uses lead bullets at the range, where he knows the ammunition will not come into contact with wildlife.

Hannah Leonard, the group’s outreach coordinator, said she hunted with lead bullets until four years ago, when she came upon an emaciated golden eagle hobbling on the ground while she was hunting in Anaconda, Mont.

“Her talons were really clenched, her wings were drooped,” Ms. Leonard said. “You could tell she was in danger.”

The eagle later died and Ms. Leonard said the animal rescue group she called to try and save the bird told her the cause of death was lead poisoning.

“It was a no-brainer for me to switch” types of ammunition, she said.

In January 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a policy to phase out the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle used on national wildlife refuges, one of the last acts by the Obama administration. The Trump administration reversed the decision less than two months later.

On Friday, the service declined to say whether that policy would be reinstated as a result of the new study.

There has been a nationwide ban on the use of lead shot for hunting waterfowl since 1991, according to the service.

California prohibits the use of lead ammunition statewide, including on federal land, largely to prevent adverse impacts of lead on the California condor, which is endangered.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses the best available scientific data to conserve wildlife populations and evaluate compatible uses on the lands that we manage, as well as under applicable local, state and federal laws,” Vanessa Kauffman, a spokeswoman for the agency, said on Friday.

Dr. Slabe said that hunters, once they were educated, would voluntarily stop using lead ammunition.

“Hunters are very receptive to this issue,” he said. “Hunters are the solution to this problem.”

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The Durango Herald (Durango, CO)

Bipartisan bill would extend Colorado and San Juan River conservation programs

 Legislation would help protect four threatened and endangered fish species

By Aedan Hannon, Herald Staff Writer, Feb. 18, 2022

A bipartisan bill led by Colorado Sen. John Hickenlooper would extend a two-decades-long conservation effort on the Colorado and San Juan rivers.

Hickenlooper, D-Colo., and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, introduced the Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins Recovery Act in the Senate on Thursday to bolster the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery and San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation programs. The legislation would extend the two programs by one year and give communities more time to develop long-term management plans for the fish species they protect.

“We must protect native fish in the Upper Colorado and San Juan River. This bill shows how states, tribes, federal entities and water users can come together to get things done,” Hickenlooper said in a news release.

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery and San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation programs aim to recover and protect four threatened and endangered fish species: humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.

The four fish species are endemic to the Southwest, meaning they are found nowhere else, but they have faced threats from invasive species, water development and drought, among others.

“These are long-standing populations, many of them unique to our rivers, and it really does demonstrate the importance of our river ecosystems for maintaining these healthy populations,” said Aaron Kimple, San Juan headwaters program coordinator for Mountain Studies Institute.

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery and San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation programs were established in the late 1980s and early 1990s with cooperative agreements between public land agencies, states, tribes and other stakeholders. Their goal was to balance fish conservation with continued water development.

Both programs study, monitor and stock the fish. Federal, state and tribal agencies have modified water releases from reservoirs to maintain the habitat needs of the fish while other projects have constructed fish passages for spawning migrations and removed predatory fish.

At the same time, about 2,500 water projects have been developed with the Endangered Species Act compliance the programs have provided, according to a 2018-19 report.

The decades long conservation efforts have largely been successful with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommending the downlisting of the razorback sucker and humpback chub from endangered to threatened in 2018.

But the added threat of climate change could affect these fish populations, with the razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow and bonytail still reliant on active management from the agencies and their partners.

“As we get into a changing climate, we’re looking at potentially changing water temperatures (and) changes in streamflow and timing of streamflow,” Kimple said. “… Really, the climate change component will be an additional challenge for those populations.”

Rep. Joe Neguse, who leads the U.S. Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands and introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives in August 2021, cited climate change in his call for legislation to extend the programs.

“In the West, unprecedented drought and climate-induced wildfires have drawn great urgency to the way we steward and protect our water resources,” Neguse, who represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Boulder and Fort Collins, said in a news release. “That’s why we introduced the Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins Recovery Act to ensure that critical water infrastructure projects in Colorado can continue operating while we protect and safeguard endangered species in these river basins.”

Hickenlooper and Romney’s legislation would authorize the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to continue funding and implementing the programs through 2024, allow for the transfer of funds from the San Juan Basin to the Upper Colorado River program and extend the U.S. Department of Interior’s reporting deadline for metrics like recovery goals and expenditures.

The House Natural Resource Committee passed the bill in November.

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Star Tribune

Rehabilitated sea turtle ‘Sheldon’ released off Florida Keys

Associated Press, FEBRUARY 18, 2022

MARATHON, Fla. — Just in time for sea turtle mating season in the Florida Keys, a rehabilitated male loggerhead turtle was released Friday off Pigeon Key.

“Sheldon,” named by his U.S. Coast Guard rescuers, was discovered earlier this month near the Old Seven Mile Bridge. The 230-pound (105-kilogram) reptile was rehabilitated at the Keys-based Turtle Hospital after being found entangled in crab trap line.

“It’s mating season in the Florida Keys, it’s important to get this massive male turtle back out to sea so that he can begin mating and help preserve the species,” Turtle Hospital general manager Bette Zirkelbach said.

Based on his size and the circumference of his head, Zirkelbach estimates Sheldon is at least 50 years old, well into his prime as a sexually reproductive male.

Treatment at the turtle rescue facility included wound care, antibiotics and a diet of mixed seafood. Loggerheads have received federal protection ever since they were listed as threatened in 1978 under the Endangered Species Act.

Before being released, Sheldon was fitted with a satellite transmitter tag by research scientists from the Summerland Key-based Mote Marine Laboratory. Sheldon’s tagging illustrates the importance of being able to see how these turtles are doing once they are released back into the wild, since males don’t return to beaches where they emerged as hatchlings, a Mote official said.

The public can track Sheldon’s movements online.

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The Maui News

Plan aims to save 44 endangered species in Maui Nui

They face loss of habitat, threats from predators and climate change

COLLEEN UECHI, Managing Editor, February 17, 2022

Federal officials are mapping out a roughly $6.5 billion plan to help bring back 44 endangered species across Maui Nui, including 40 kinds of plants, three tree snails and one yellow-faced bee.

All of the species in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s draft recovery plan face similar threats — habitat loss, introduced disease and nonnative and invasive predators like rats, cats and pigs. Climate change is also exacerbating and accelerating these threats across Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.

“Recovery plans are an important step towards the rehabilitation of a species,” Earl Campbell, Pacific Island Fish and Wildlife Office field supervisor, said in a news release Wednesday. “Hawaii is unique because many of the native and endemic species evolved for centuries in isolation, free from threats.”

Hawaii is home to 578 species protected under the Endangered Species Act, with many found nowhere else in the world. The 44 species covered in the draft plan are listed as endangered under the act and are currently at risk of extinction, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The 40 endangered plants include grasses, herbs, shrubs and vines found throughout Maui Nui, with some potentially wiped out completely at this point, according to the draft recovery plan.

One of the three snail species, the Newcomb’s tree snail, is found on Maui, while two species of pupu kani oe, or the Lanai tree snail, are found on Lanai.

The hilaris yellow-faced bee has been found in coastal habitats on Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

The plan provides a road map for conservation officials to control threats in the habitats of the endangered species, document their population size, preserve some in safe locations such as a nursery or seed bank if needed and meet population benchmarks that will help remove the species from endangered lists.

“Conservation strategies include addressing threats of invasive species, disease and habitat loss that are being amplified by effects of climate change,” Campbell said. “These challenges showcase how important it is to continue working with our conservation partners, as we strive to preserve our native and endemic species for future generations.”

Plants are foundational to the unique ecosystems of the Hawaiian Islands, with many plants co-evolving in isolation with the archipelago’s endemic wildlife, the Fish and Wildlife Service said. The 40 plants addressed in the recovery plan are losing their habitat and populations to animals, disease and even other plants.

Introduced ungulates, like deer and other hooved mammals, are destructive to the native vegetation in all the occupied or suitable habitats of the 40 plant species as they create trails that damage native vegetation cover, destabilize substrates causing erosion, injure roots and seedlings through trampling, create gullies that contribute to flooding and promote invasion of nonnative species through transportation of seeds.

Invasive plant species, threats of fire and drought, disease and predation from rodents and insects also threaten the 40 plants.

Rapid ohia death is an example of a disease that poses an ongoing threat to ohia lehua, an important canopy tree in forest habitats that are home to endangered plants and animals. Killing individual trees as well as groups of trees, the disease is present on Maui and poses a significant threat to ohia on Lanai and Molokai if it were to become established on those islands, the Fish and Wildlife Service said. Other disease threats include myrtle rust and powdery mildew.

Yellow-faced bees, meanwhile, face threats such as introduced ants, which interfere with pollinators by consuming large quantities of nectar without pollinating the plant.

Preliminary cost estimates for recovery of the species top $6.5 billion, including:

  • $1,646,260,000 to protect habitats and control threats in management units.
  • $924,500,000 to control species-specific threats.
  • $3,536,473,720 to expand the distribution of existing wild populations and establish new populations.
  • $407,200,000 to conduct additional research essential to recovering the 44 species and restoring their habitats.
  • $29,450,000 to implement regulations and policy to support species recovery.

If the recovery efforts are fully funded and followed as outlined in the plan, it could take 25 to 95 years to meet the recovery criteria depending on the species.

The Maui Nui draft recovery plan is available for public comment for 90 days. To view the plan, visit ecos.fws.gov/docs/recovery_plan/Maui_Nui_Draft_RP_20211217_Signed.pdf.

Copies on CD are also available by request from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, at 300 Ala Moana Blvd., Room 3122, Honolulu, HI 96850, or by calling (808) 792-9400.

Requests for more information or written comments can be mailed to the field supervisor at the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office in Honolulu by mail marked with “Attention: 44 Maui Nui Species Draft Recovery Plan.” Or, they can be emailed to megan_laut@fws.gov with “44 Maui Nui Species Draft Recovery Plan Comments” in the subject line.

Comments must be received or postmarked on or before May 16. All comments and materials received will become part of the public record associated with the recovery plan.

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Courthouse News Service

Joshua tree survives challenge to California endangered species classification

A judge found sufficient evidence the trees are endangered.

EDVARD PETTERSSON / February 16, 2022

(CN) — A California judge on Wednesday rebuffed an attempt by a group of business organizations to prevent the western Joshua tree from being included on the state’s list of endangered species.

Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan in Fresno denied a request by the California Business Properties Association and other construction and farming groups to order the state to remove the tree as a “candidate” for protection under the California Endangered Species Act, which makes it illegal to cut the trees down for real estate development without a special permit.

The 2020 decision by the state’s Fish and Game Commission to provide interim protection to the trees until a final review by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, expected in April, was supported by sufficient evidence, Kapetan found.

“Joshua trees and their fragile desert ecosystem just scored a huge victory,” Brendan Cummings, conservation director with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Before state protections took effect, developers were bulldozing Joshua trees by the thousands to build roads, power lines, strip malls and vacation rentals.”

Mark Harrison, an attorney representing the business groups, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the ruling.

The Center for Biological Diversity asked the California Fish and Game Commission to put the trees on its endangered species list in 2019, after the Trump administration declined to provide federal protection to the trees.

The growing popularity of Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California has spurred a building boom in the town of Joshua Tree and adjacent communities, according to the conservation group. As a result, many of the namesake trees have been cut down to make way for vacation rentals and second homes.

Not far off in the Mojave Dessert, a similar construction boom is occurring in Hesperia and surrounding areas where new warehouse projects and other industrial facilities are being proposed in Joshua tree woodlands, according to the center.

Aside from construction, the trees face threats from climate change and wildfires.

Joshua trees are dying off because of hotter, drier conditions, with very few younger trees becoming established, the center said. In 2019, scientists projected the Joshua tree will be largely gone from its namesake national park by the end of the century.

A federal judge ruled in 2021 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acted in a way that was “arbitrary, capricious, contrary to the best scientific and commercial data available, and otherwise not in accordance with the ESA” in its decision not to list the tree under the Endangered Species Act. Although the government initially filed a notice of appeal of that ruling, it dropped the appeal late last month.

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CBS News

Humans are driving a rare Texas plant that serves as an important food source for bees and butterflies “to the edge of extinction”

By LI COHEN, February 15, 2022, CBS News

Prostrate milkweed, a rare plant native to Texas and northeastern Mexico, is part of an import support system for bees and monarch butterflies. But now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering naming the plant an endangered species as humans destroy their critical habitats.

USFWS proposed the endangered species listing on Monday, saying they made their proposition based on the “best available status.”

Chris Best, a USFWS botanist in Texas, said that the prostrate milkweed’s flowers “attract and support native pollinators,” including large bees and wasps, and that it serves as a host plant for monarch butterflies.

“Unfortunately, this species is negatively impacted by competition from introduced buffelgrass and increased development in its native Tamaulipan shrubland habitat,” Best said.

The agency also pointed to humans for depleting the resource, saying that root-plowing, border security and enforcement activities, energy development, road and utility construction, and right-of-way maintenance have resulted in habitat loss and degradation.

To help conserve the plant, the service has proposed nearly 700 acres of critical habitats in eight occupied areas in Starr and Zapata counties near the Rio Grande. Those areas were decided upon because they have features that are essential for the species’ conservation.

Currently, there are just 24 populations of the plant that remain in those counties, 19 of which are rated in low condition, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, an organization that has pushed for the protected status.

Milkweeds are a vital host plant for monarch butterflies, feeding monarch larva as they develop into butterflies. They also provide large quantities of nectar to bees and tarantula hawks, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

“I’m hopeful that Endangered Species Act protection will keep the prostrate milkweed flowering in South Texas for generations to come,” Michael Robinson, who represents the organization, said in a statement. “This fascinating plant long ago secured a sunny niche in tough landscapes, but it’s being driven to the edge of extinction by human development. Federal action is crucial.”

The proposed rule was published on the Federal Register on Tuesday, where people can submit comments until April 18.

Environmentalists have long pushed for prostrate milkweed protection under the Endangered Species Act. There was a petition for the plant to be considered endangered in 2007, and in 2009, USFWS “found the petition presented substantial information that listing may be warranted.”

Protecting the milkweed could also help with bee conservation efforts.

In 2020, scientists concluded that climate change is killing bumblebees, finding that the likelihood of a bumblebee population surviving in a single location in North America and Europe has declined by an average of 30% within one human generation.

In Texas, honey production and bee colony numbers declined last year, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. The massive winter storm that shook the state in 2021 delayed wildflower bloom and killed bees, particularly in South Texas, as they were not acclimated to the sudden freezing temperatures, the service said. A lack of rain also contributed to a lack of food availability for the bees.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Petition Aims to Protect Tope Shark Under Endangered Species Act

California Population Threatened by Gillnets, Disruption of Breeding Sites

PORTLAND, Ore.—(February 15, 2022(–Conservation organizations submitted a petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service today requesting protection of the tope shark under the Endangered Species Act.

The waters off California, Oregon and Washington offer prime tope shark habitat, and sharks off Southern California face a high risk of bycatch and entanglement in Mexico’s gillnets. Also known as the “soupfin” shark, the tope shark has declined by 88% globally in the past 80 years.

Today’s petition — submitted by Defend Them All and the Center for Biological Diversity — also asks the Service to designate critical habitat essential to the survival and recovery of the tope shark, including its West Coast breeding sites.

“These sharks are spiraling toward extinction because of shark fin soup and a disregard for how many are killed as bycatch in other fisheries,” said Kristin Carden, a Center scientist. “Tope sharks need protections in offshore fishing grounds as well as in their nearshore pupping grounds. The federal government has to move quickly to safeguard these incredibly imperiled animals and their West Coast habitat.”

The tope shark is categorized as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The species is highly threatened with extinction because of commercial overfishing for liver oil, meat and fins, as well as bycatch and habitat degradation. There has not been a U.S. stock assessment or fishery management plan developed for tope sharks, so their status in the United States is largely unknown.

“The tope shark’s presence is integral to healthy ecosystems; as a top predator, extinction of the species would have disastrous effects on the coastal food chain balance,” said Lindsey Zehel, a Defend Them All attorney. “This petition is a critical first step in the long road to saving this species from preventable extinction.”

The tope shark is long and slender, reaching up to 6 and a half feet long and nearly 100 pounds. The sharks can live up to 60 years and have late maturity — on average at 12.5 years. Tope sharks are found in temperate, shallow waters along coastlines around the world, from North America to Australia to the Mediterranean. The entire West Coast of the United States is prime tope shark territory, from La Jolla in San Diego County north to Washington state.

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Vermont Journal

February 12, 2022

Bald Eagle removed from State Endangered and Threatened Species list

REGION – Seven species and three critical habitats received updated conservation designations on Vermont’s Endangered and Threatened Species List, including the highly anticipated de-listing of the bald eagle after over a decade of restoration efforts.

“The bald eagle’s de-listing is a milestone for Vermont,” said Wildlife Division Director Mark Scott. “This reflects more than a decade of dedicated work by Vermont Fish & Wildlife and partners. It shows that Vermonters have the capacity to restore and protect the species and habitats that we cherish.”

In addition to the de-listing of the bald eagle, six other plants and animals received updated designations, including the American bumblebee, which has now been listed as ‘endangered,’ and the Eastern meadowlark, which is now designated as ‘threatened.’

“These new listings reflect the stressors affecting Vermont’s plant, fish, and wildlife species,” said Wildlife Diversity Program Manager Dr. Rosalind Renfrew. “In the face of climate change and habitat loss, our mission is to conserve these species and others to the very best of our ability on behalf of all Vermonters, who demonstrate time and again that they care about the survival of wildlife populations.”

The new listings are a vital step towards enabling the department to carry out that mission. They trigger additions to existing species and habitat management plans, development of recovery metrics, initiation of population monitoring, and strengthening or establishing critical partnerships.

“We dedicate incredible resources through population monitoring, habitat conservation and improvement, and education and outreach to preventing species from reaching these thresholds in the first place,” says Scott. “But, when necessary, we also draw on our successful track record leading endangered species recovery efforts including restoring Vermont’s populations of common loon, osprey, peregrine falcon, and now the bald eagle. We will bring that same dedication to each of these new listings.”

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Sydney Morning Herald

Koalas officially an endangered species in NSW, Queensland

By Mike Foley, February 11, 2022

Koalas are now an officially endangered species in NSW and Queensland, with federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley announcing on Friday that the species is now recognised as a higher risk of extinction.

“Today I am increasing the protection for koalas in NSW, the ACT and Queensland listing them as endangered rather than their previous designation of vulnerable,” Ms Ley said.

The iconic species was first listed as vulnerable in NSW, ACT and Queensland 2012. A vulnerable listing recognises that a species faces a high risk of extinction in the medium term. An endangered listing means a species is at high risk of extinction in the short term.

Koalas have suffered a rapid decline. It’s just 10 years since the species was listed as vulnerable in 2012 by former Environment Minister Tony Burke.

Land clearing for urban and agricultural development as well as feral predators are the biggest koala-killers. It is estimated as many as one-third of NSW’s koalas – about 10,000 animals – perished in the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires and the preceding drought, and Queensland’s population shrunk by about 50 per cent in the past decade.

“The impact of prolonged drought, followed by the black summer bushfires, and the cumulative impacts of disease, urbanisation and habitat loss over the past twenty years have led to the advice,” Ms Ley.

An endangered listing doesn’t create extra rules to protect wildlife habitat. But the upgraded status may generate greater focus on conservation and more rigorous assessment of project developments by the government. The Environment Department is currently developing a koala recovery plan that could also create more stringent protections.

“The new listing highlights the challenges the species is facing and ensures that all assessments under the (Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act) will be considered not only in terms of their local impacts, but with regard to the wider koala population,” Ms Ley said.

The federal government announced in January a $50 million commitment over the next four years for habitat restoration, population monitoring and research into animal health. It followed a funding commitment of $74 million in 2019, for habitat protection and restoration, koala health research, and the government’s National Koala Monitoring Program.

Environment groups welcomed the federal government’s funding initiatives and called for further protections for koala habitat.

“This money is much needed, but without stronger laws and major landholder incentives to protect koala habitat their forest homes will continue to be bulldozed and logged,” said WWF Australia landscape restoration manager Tanya Pritchard said in January.

Humane Society International senior campaign manager Alexia Wellbelove said at the time the funding must come “in combination with a national recovery plan, and stronger national and state environment laws”.

Humane Society International, WWF and International Fund for Animal Welfare applied to the federal government to “uplist” koalas from vulnerable to endangered. The Environment Department recommended the move in October. The statutory timeframe for the minister to consider the declaration would have allowed Ms Ley to wait until after the likely May election to make the announcement.

In November last year Sussan Ley announced a population census to identify key habitat in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia, including mandatory annual reporting for state governments on koala populations and conservation strategies.

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Center For Biological Diversity

Federal Court Restores Gray Wolf’s Endangered Species Act Protection

OAKLAND, Calif.—(February 10, 2022)—A federal judge today restored protection to gray wolves, reversing a Trump-era rule that removed Endangered Species Act protection from the animals across most of the country. Today’s ruling prohibits wolf hunting and trapping in states outside of the northern Rocky Mountains.

“This is a huge win for gray wolves and the many people across the country who care so deeply about them,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I hope this ruling finally convinces the Fish and Wildlife Service to abandon its longstanding, misguided efforts to remove federal wolf protections. The agency should work instead to restore these ecologically important top carnivores to places like the southern Rockies and northeastern United States.”

In his 26-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White wrote: “…the Service’s analysis relied on two core wolf populations to delist wolves nationally and failed to provide a reasonable interpretation of the ‘significant portion of its range’ standard.” He therefore set aside the delisting rule and restored wolf protections in the Great Lakes region, West Coast states and southern Rocky Mountains.

“Again and again, we’ve had to take the fight for wolves to the courts,” said Adkins. “I’m relieved that the court set things right but saddened that hundreds of wolves suffered and died under this illegal delisting rule. It will take years to undo the damage done to wolf populations.”

Today’s win is the result of a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States, Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association and Oregon Wild.

The court ruling does not restore protection to wolves in the northern Rockies, as wolves in that region lost their protection prior to the delisting rule challenged in this case. However, in response to an emergency petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and its partners, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined in September that protecting the species in the northern Rockies may be warranted based largely on new laws in Idaho and Montana that authorize the widespread killing of wolves.

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The Guardian

Wanted lost species: blind salamander, tap-dancing spider and ‘fat’ catfish

A Texas-based group has drawn up a new list of as part of its quest to find species lost to science and possibly extinct

Oliver Milman in New York, Wed. 9 Feb 2022

A blind salamander, a tap-dancing spider and a “fat” catfish that has been likened to the Michelin man are among a list of vanished species that one US-based conservation group is aiming to rediscover in the wild and help protect.

The Texas-based group, called Re:wild, has drawn up a new list of the “25 most wanted lost species” as part of its quest to find species lost to science and possibly extinct.

The most wanted list includes the “fat” catfish, which has not been seen in its known habitat in Colombia since 1957. The species is the only freshwater catfish in the world with rings of fatty tissue wrapped around its body, leading to it being described by scientists who have previously searched for it as “the closest a fish could get to the Michelin man”.

Michael Edmondstone, communications and engagement lead at Shoal, a conservation group for freshwater species, said the organization is “tremendously excited by the prospect of the fish being found”. He added: “Everybody is hoping to learn more about it and, ultimately, put the right measures in place to ensure it can thrive for future generations.”

The Togo mouse, lost from Togo and Ghana, is a ground-dwelling mammal that is still recognized by locals who call it “Yefuli” despite its last confirmed appearance being in 1890, while a blind amphibian that dwells in underground aquifers in the US, called the Blanco blind salamander, has not been seen since 1951.

“The Blanco blind salamander has achieved near-mythical status among herpetologists, cave biologists and conservationists,” said Andrew Gluesenkamp, director of conservation at the San Antonio Zoo.

Meanwhile, the Fagilde’s trapdoor spider, known for building horizontal traps and tap dancing in front of potential mates, is being sought after seemingly vanishing from its home range in Portugal in 1931. The new list also includes the big puma fungus, not seen in South America since the 1980s, and pernambuco holly, a tree species in Brazil not recorded since 1838.

Re:wild, which has the actor Leonardo DiCaprio as a founding board member, is also continuing to search for Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna, named in honor of Sir David Attenborough, which hasn’t been spotted in 60 years and is one of just five existing species of monotreme, which is a group of egg-laying mammals found in Australia and New Guinea. A tree-dwelling kangaroo from Indonesia and a pink-headed duck from India are also being sought by the organization.

Since starting its search for lost species in 2017, Re:wild has confirmed the rediscovery of eight species through expeditions and scientific analysis, including a type of giant tortoise in the Galapagos islands and the world’s largest bee, found in Indonesia.

There are many more species lost to science, however, with an estimated 2,200 species across 160 countries missing for 10 years or more. The loss of habitat, pollution, rampant hunting and climate change is fueling what scientists have described as the Earth’s sixth mass extinction, and the first to be driven by one species, in this case humans.

“When we launched the search for lost species, we weren’t sure if anyone would rediscover any of the wildlife on our most wanted list,” said Barney Long, Re:wild’s senior director of conservation strategies. “Each new rediscovery has reminded us that we can find hope in even the most unlikely situations and that these stories of overlooked, but fascinating, species can be a powerful antidote to despair.”

Long said the organization was now looking to conduct research expeditions and devise conservation programs for rediscovered species.

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The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)

World’s most endangered wolves will be released to the wild near NC’s Outer Banks

By ALISON CUTLER, February 9,2022

Nine of the world’s most endangered wolves will be released into the wild in North Carolina, a milestone for the species, which has spent decades teetering on the brink of extinction.

The American red wolf population dwindled to only 14 wolves in the 1970s, and the only place the wolves live in the wild are along the Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges in North Carolina, according to a news release from Zoo Knoxville.

Now, with the help of conservationists, they’re fighting to make a comeback.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP) and the Red Wolf SAFE Program have teamed up to plan the release of nine red wolves into their natural habitat in Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges, according to the release.

The nine wolves include a family and two breeding pairs that are from five different facilities, including Zoo Knoxville in Tennessee, the release said.

The nine wolves are in the first stage of their release, which will allow them to acclimate to the terrain before all fencing is removed from the area and they can roam the refuges, according to officials.

Red wolves once occupied a large region between southern New York to central Texas before their population was driven close to extinction from overhunting and habitat loss, the USFWS said in a statement. By 1973, the species had been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Once the population had shrunk to fewer than 15 total wolves in the wild, the USFWS began an effort to revive the population, according to Zoo Knoxville’s release. The department captured the last 14 wild wolves and established a breeding program. Four wolves from the program were reintroduced to the wild in 1987.

Even with the conservation plan in place, the wolves remain in danger of extinction. The number of red wolves in the wild has once again dwindled to its lowest in years, at about 15 to 17 as of October, according to data from the USFWS. One decade ago, conservationists estimated there were about 120 red wolves in the wild.

Over the years, conservationists have adjusted their game plan to find the best strategy for reinstating the wolves in the wild. The last release was in 2021, according to the USFWS.

“It is so inspirational to see our partners coming together to support the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to save this national treasure. These releases highlight the important work zoos are doing to save our wildlife and wild places and gives me so much hope for the future of the American red wolf,” Regina Mossotti, program leader for the Red Wolf SAFE Program, said in the release.

One of the wolves scheduled for release, named Garnet, is from the Western North Carolina Nature Center and was brought to the center in 2018. The nature center shared their excitement for the wolves’ release.

“Garnet is a magnificent wolf, and we hope he thrives in the wild,” Animal Curator Erin Oldread said in a statement.

There are 241 wolves captive and part of the species survival plan.

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Tucson.com

Sonoran desert tortoise denied federal protection

Tony Davis, Arizona Daily Star, Feb. 8, 2022

After years of pressure and litigation from environmental groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is sticking with a previous stance that the Sonoran desert tortoise doesn’t need federal protection from development, wildfires, drought or other environmental threats.

The wildlife service announced this week that a comprehensive scientific review determined the tortoise isn’t at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future, despite a wide range of threats to the animals and their habitat. So it won’t list the tortoise as endangered or threatened, the service said.

But an activist from one of two environmental groups that’s pushed for federal protection of the tortoise accused the service of paying ignoring threats to the armored-shell animal from livestock grazing. The agency’s Federal Register notice announcing its decision made no mention of grazing as a threat to the tortoise’s existence, while listing other threats, noted Cyndi Tuell of the Western Watersheds Project.

“They’re painting this rosy picture. They’re not looking at all the risks to tortoise in their (computerized) prediction models. They are underestimating how quickly the tortoise populations will decline in the future,” said Tuell, the group’s Arizona-New Mexico director, on Tuesday.

But the service’s decision, announced Monday, iaid the tortoise numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Computer modeling indicates an estimated 49,222 square miles of suitable Sonoran desert tortoise habitat occurs in Arizona and Sonora. The service has widely varying estimates of total tortoise population, from 148,358 to 2,507,762 adults with an average estimate of about 549,000.

The Arizona Cattle Growers Association is “gratified” at the service’s decision, said Jeff Isenberg, an association lobbyist.

“We always want the Fish and Wife Service to make decisions based on the facts and science and too often in our view that is not the case. So we are gratified that the evaluation of the information led to this conclusion and we just hope it will be supported by the facts and science and it will be sustainable in court,” Eisenberg said Tuesday.

Environmentalists said the tortoise’s habitat also is degraded by invasive species, increased fire risk, housing developments, off-road vehicles, habitat fragmentation, and increased predation facilitated by human activities.

The wildlife service acknowledged many of these threats and said several, mainly development and drought, may increase over time. But the species and its associated habitat are projected to remain at levels that don’t threaten the tortoise’s survival, the service said.

“The service has found the Sonoran desert tortoise currently occupies much of its historical range where populations remain stable. … Available survey data have not indicated systematic declines or extirpations,” the service said.

Arizona cattle growers recognize that the Endangered Species Act is an established law in this country, their lobbyist Eisenberg said.

“Within the implementation of that act, to extent the agency has discretion, we also strongly believe it’s important to take into consideration the impacts of their decisions on people,” Eisenberg said “Our concern always is it’s not taken into consideration enough.”

The decision comes more than 13 years since Western Watersheds Project and Wild Earth Guardians petitioned the federal wildlife agency to list the tortoise as endangered or threatened.

The service found in 2010 that its listing was warranted but precluded by higher priority species, then found in 2015 that a listing wasn’t warranted.

The two groups sued the service in 2019 seeking to overturn the latter finding. In 2020, the service agreed in an out-of-court settlement to reconsider it, but Monday’s decision reaffirmed it.

“It’s hopeful news that the Service thinks the future is rosy for the Sonoran desert tortoise based on the agency’s modeling scenarios, and we certainly hope they are right,” said Tuell in a written statement.

But the tortoise’s habitat remains “gravely threatened,” said Tuell, who is based in Tucson.

The tortoises live in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Sonora in Mexico. Adult tortoises range from 8 to 15 inches long, with a relatively high domed shell, usually brownish with a pattern and prominent growth lines. They can live to be 35 to 40.

Sonoran desert tortoises spend most of their time in below-ground shelter areas, and their emergence into the open air is timed to availability of resources such as precipitation or forage, the service said.

Their habitat typically consists of rocky slopes and washes that support shelter sites, the service said.

The service estimated the Sonoran desert tortoise not only occupies much of its historic range, but is “abundant” in Arizona and Sonora.

The agency’s computer modeling projects future drought is expected to result in a negative growth rate for tortoise populations by the end of this century and likely declines in its overall abundance, the service said.

But the modeling found less than a 1% risk that by the end of the century, the tortoise will reach a state of quasi-extinction, in which a species population may be doomed to extinction even if individuals are still alive, the service said.

Last year, the watersheds project sent the service a detailed report, outlining what its staffers believe are grazing impacts on the tortoise. It cited peer-reviewed studies the watersheds project said identified risks to tortoises or to their habitat from grazing.

“In brief, livestock compete with tortoises for the same food, especially in late winter/early spring or monsoon rainy seasons. They crush plants tortoises rely on for food. They crush burrows and actual tortoises.”

Livestock infrastructure also harms tortoise habitat, the group said. First, fences and roads can create barriers to movement, it said. Fences provide perches for ravens and other tortoise predators, and increases in watering tanks for livestock provide increased predator populations in tortoise habitat, the group said.

Tuell noted that more than 8,500 square miles of tortoise habitat is managed by the Bureau of Land Management for livestock grazing. Over 77 percent of the bureau’s grazing allotments have 10-year permits that have been renewed at least once without analysis of impacts on the tortoise, she said.

That’s possible due to a 2014 congressional legislative rider that allows BLM to continue authorizing grazing on federal lands without requiring collection or analysis of grazing’s impacts, she said.

But last September, a wildlife service report on the tortoise said livestock grazing management is an example of how “multi-use” lands can bring at least indirect wildlife benefits and moderate conservation value to the tortoise. On those lands, “best management practices” are designed and implemented to reduce potential negative effects in some cases and provide direct benefits in others, the wildlife service said.

That report listed grazing as one of a variety of “stressors,” that may affect individual tortoises but don’t have measurable effects on population levels, the wildlife service wrote.

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Courthouse News Service

Conservationists say luxury resort’s bright lights hurt endangered seabirds

Maui’s Grand Wailea Resort’s outdoor lighting attracts endangered Hawaiian petrels, which circle the lights until they fall to the ground from exhaustion.

MARIA DINZEO / February 7, 2022

(CN) — Conservation groups took Maui’s Grand Wailea Resort to court over claims that its bright outdoor lights are killing native seabirds, specifically the endangered Hawaiian petrel.

The federal lawsuit filed in the District of Hawaii claims that although the Grand Wailea recently made some changes in response to a letter from the Center for Biological Diversity and the National Wildlife Federation affiliate Conservation Council for Hawaii, the bright lights of the luxury beachfront resort continue to put petrels in peril.

“Conservation Council for Hawaii commends Grand Wailea’s management for taking some initial steps to protect seabirds during last year’s fallout season,” said Moana Bjur, executive director at Conservation Council for Hawaii, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, fallout continued in 2021, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive modifications at the resort. It is our hope that we can come to a resolution with the Grand Wailea before the next fledging season begins in September.”

She added, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is about to declare that eight native Hawaiian birds are now officially extinct. We need to do everything we can to prevent the Hawaiian petrel from being added to that list.”

The Hawaiian petrel is a large seabird with breeding colonies on Maui, in Haleakala crater, and on Lanai, across the ‘Au‘au Channel from the Grand Wailea, according to the complaint. Small small breeding colonies also exist on the Big Island and Kauai.

On Maui, they can be found nesting in volcanic rock crevices and arriving at breeding grounds in mid-February where pairs produce only one egg per year. Listed as an endangered species in 1967, their numbers have declined precipitously since the mid-1990s, which researchers attribute at least in part to the aftermath of Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

In a study published in the journal The Condor: Ornithological Applications, Andre Raine, a researcher at the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project, said the birds face a wide array of threats and that “conservation effort needs to be focused on reducing power line collisions, fallout related to artificial lights, the control of introduced predators, and the overall protection of their breeding habitats.”

The bright lights of the Grand Wailea, a luxury beachfront resort, wreak havoc on the endangered birds. Petrels become disoriented and circle the lights until they either fall from exhaustion or run into buildings, the complaint says, noting that since 2008, 15 grounded petrels were found on the property by the Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project. Nearly all were rescued, but one was dead.

Once grounded, petrels are vulnerable to predators, vehicle collisions, dehydration and starvation. The lawsuit says the seabird recovery project most recently recovered a grounded petrel near a Grand Wailea fountain during the October 2021 fledgling season.

“Plaintiffs are informed and believe, and on the basis thereof allege, that the MNSRP data reflect only the tip of the iceberg with respect to the harm that the Grand Wailea inflicts on endangered Hawaiian petrels. Data shows that people who are not seabird experts, such as hotel staff and guests, rarely discover grounded seabirds,” the complaint says. “Moreover, birds may crash into the nearby ocean or thick vegetation and not be recovered, in which case they likely perish. Finally, grounded seabirds that are eaten by on-site predators such as cats and mongoose prior to discovery are likewise excluded from MNSRP data documenting recovery of grounded seabirds that are discovered at the Grand Wailea.”

The conservation groups complain the Grand Wailea’s “unshielded spotlights, mercury vapor and metal halide lights, lighting in large pools, and beachfront tree and path lights” all contribute to petrel fallout.

“The Grand Wailea knows that its lights are harming imperiled seabirds on Maui. This isn’t rocket science — there are pragmatic, straightforward solutions the resort could — and, by law, should — be pursuing,” Leinā‘ala Ley, an attorney for the public interest organization Earthjustice said in a statement. “We’re taking the Grand Wailea to court to ensure the resort becomes a responsible neighbor, rather than watch native birds like the Hawaiian petrel disappear.”

The Center for Biological Diversity and Conservation Council seek an order declaring that the resort’s lights continue to harm Hawaiian petrels in violation of the Endangered Species Act, absent an “incidental take” permit, which allows private entities to proceed with projects that can injure or kill animals.

The Grand Wailea Resort, which is owned by Waldorf Astoria, said through a spokesperson, “While we do not comment on pending legal matters, we will respond appropriately to correct any misunderstandings about our record.”

In a statement sent to Courthouse News, the spokesperson said the resort strives to protect local wildlife.

“Grand Wailea has made sustainability and stewardship part of everything we do – from eliminating single-use plastics to prioritizing native plants and promoting reef-safe sunscreen. Protecting all wildlife in our community is of the utmost importance to us. To that end, we partnered with a leading local expert to assist our efforts to ensure native and endangered bird species can seamlessly coexist and flourish in and around Grand Wailea.”

The resort isn’t the first to face a lawsuit over its alleged threat to endangered petrels. In 2010, the Conservation Council filed lawsuits over the bright lights of the St. Regis Princeville Resort and the electric company Kauai Island Utility Cooperative. The utility eventually obtained an incidental take permit, and the resort settled its case with an agreement that included turning off fountain lights during fledgling season and implementing a search and rescue plan for grounded birds.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Rare Montana Plant Moves Closer to Endangered Species Protection

Mining Threatens Thick-Leaf Bladderpod

BILLINGS, Mont.—(February 7, 2022)—In response to a 2021 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the thick-leaf bladderpod may qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Service will now begin a full status review of the species.

This rare plant is found only in southern Montana’s Pryor Desert, where it is under imminent threat from gypsum mining.

“This is an important step for this tiny, imperiled plant that lives only in this small, unique area of Montana,” said Kristine Akland at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If the Service lists the bladderpod, the species and its habitat will receive much needed protection from the deadly threat of proposed gypsum mining.”

In 2015 the Bureau of Land Management designated 2,606 acres of the Pryor Foothills as an “area of critical environmental concern” to protect significant cultural and biological values, including the large concentration of sensitive plant species like the bladderpod.

Because this is an “area of critical environmental concern,” damaging activities like gypsum mining should not occur. In 2015 the BLM recommended that the area be withdrawn from mineral leasing. But under the Trump administration, that did not occur.

“We hope that this decision will prompt the BLM to protect the Pryor Mountain Desert and all of its biological treasures from future mining,” said Peter Lesica, conservation chair of the Montana Native Plant Society.

Dick Walton, spokesperson for the Pryors Coalition, said, “This is a positive step toward recognition of the unique and vulnerable Pryor Mountain ecosystems.”

The thick-leaf bladderpod is found on broad plains dominated by sparse vegetation and grows in cryptobiotic soil crusts — living soils made of blue-green algae, lichens, mosses, micro fungi and bacteria. This small plant is only a few inches in size and has tiny, yellow flowers that bloom for a few weeks in June.

Gypsum mining and exploration would damage the bladderpod by removing vegetation and degrading the soil through drilling, excavation, road building and road traffic. The exploration would also increase the threat of invasive plants and off-road vehicle activity driven by improvements to existing roads. This unique habitat of cryptobiotic crust is highly sensitive to disturbances, and the mining project could lead to the extinction of the thick-leaf bladderpod unless the plant receives protection under the Endangered Species Act.

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Public News Service

Yellowstone Wolf Kills in MT, WY Pose Economic Risks

Eric Galatas, Producer, February 7, 2022

New Montana hunting regulations could have a direct effect on Wyoming businesses relying on visitors to Yellowstone National Park.

At least 21 of the nearly two dozen Yellowstone wolves killed this hunting season happened in Montana, just outside the park.

Brooke Shifrin, wildlife conservation coordinator for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, pointed to the most recent data showing the economic impacts at stake for hotels, restaurants and other businesses in Wyoming’s gateway communities.

“Roughly 80 million dollars in economic value comes as a result of wildlife-related tourism,” Shifrin reported. “Much of that is driven by the interest in seeing Yellowstone National Park wolves.”

Shifrin added wolves calling Yellowstone home have no way of knowing when they’ve left the protection of the park’s boundaries. Three wolves were killed this year in Wyoming, where the state sets limits on kills in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Ranchers have long advocated for relaxing conservation efforts that helped bring the gray wolf back from the brink of extinction, citing loss of livestock.

Shifrin argued it is important to recognize predators present real challenges to people making their living off the land coexisting alongside carnivores, but she said it is not the case in the hunting districts seeing the most killing.

“In these areas immediately adjacent to Yellowstone National Park, livestock depredation is really not an issue,” Shifrin contended. “There is very little conflict between wolves and livestock just outside of the park boundary.”

Montana wildlife commissioners set hunting limits after public outcry, and have prohibited snaring within lynx-protection zones.

Ben Scrimshaw, associate attorney for the Northern Rockies office of Earthjustice, said what is happening in Montana calls into question whether states can be trusted to manage wildlife for the benefit of all stakeholders.

“Our approach to wolf management has to be guided by science and not politics, and right now, it’s being guided by politics,” Scrimshaw asserted. “But the science said that wolves are a valuable part of the ecosystem, and we need to honor that.”

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EcoWatch

Iceland to Ban Commercial Whaling by 2024

 Olivia Rosane, Feb. 07, 2022

In two years, Iceland will officially hang up its harpoon.

The country, one of only three in the world that allows commercial whaling, will end the controversial practice when current quotas expire.

“There are few justifications to authorize whale hunting beyond 2024,” Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir said Friday in Iceland’s Morgunblaðið newspaper, as CNN reported.

Iceland’s current three-year hunting quota lasts from 2019 to 2023 and permits the hunting of up to 209 fin whales and 217 minke whales, according to an AFP story published by The Guardian. However, so far during this period, hunters have only killed one whale: a minke in 2021. Svavarsdottir said this showed that the practice had little economic benefit. One major reason is that Japan, which was once a major market for Icelandic whale meat, resumed its own commercial whaling in 2019.

“Japan has been the largest buyer of [Icelandic] whale meat, but its consumption is declining year by year. Why should Iceland take the risk of continuing fishing that has not yielded economic benefits, in order to sell a product that is in low demand?” she asked, as CNN reported.

In fact, in some ways whaling’s controversial status has hurt Iceland economically. For example, U.S. retailer Whole Foods ceased promoting Icelandic products for a period in protest.

Conservation groups celebrated the news.

“This is obviously hugely welcome news… and not before time. Icelandic whalers have killed hundreds of whales in recent years, despite almost zero domestic demand,” Vanessa Williams-Grey of Whale and Dolphin Conservation told BBC News.

During Iceland’s last full whaling season, 146 fin whales and six minke whales were killed, according to AFP.

The International Whaling Commission banned all commercial whaling in 1986, according to CNN. Iceland left the IWC in 1992, rejoined in 2002 while announcing a “reservation” about the ban and then resumed commercial whaling in 2006. Since 1986, More than 1,700 minke, fin and sei whales have been slaughtered in the country.

Fin whales are the second-largest whale species in the world, according to AFP, while minke whales are one of the smallest. Fin whales are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, while sei whales are endangered and minke whales are considered a species of Least Concern.

Once Iceland’s decision goes into effect, the only two countries to allow commercial whaling will be Norway and Japan, according to BBC News.

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Animal Welfare Institute

The America COMPETES Act Passes the House with Big Wins for Animals

Press Release, February 4, 2022

Washington, DC—Thanks to the efforts of many members of Congress who support animal welfare, the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 4521), a bill aimed at bolstering US innovation, passed the House of Representatives today with several provisions that would benefit animals.

Among them:

Protections for Sharks: Although shark finning is illegal in US waters, it plays a significant role in perpetuating this barbaric trade by providing a market for shark fins. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act would prohibit the sale, purchase, and possession of shark fins in the United States. This would remove America from the global shark fin trade and help restore healthy ocean habitats and shark populations.

Marine Mammal Conservation: Recognizing that marine mammals are important indicators of ocean health, the Marine Mammal Research and Response Act would fund efforts by local governments and nonprofit organizations to rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured marine mammals. It would also support research efforts to determine the causes of stranding events.

Reducing Bycatch: Large mesh driftnets are used to catch swordfish and thresher sharks. However, at more than a mile long, they also indiscriminately kill or severely injure many nontarget animals, including threatened and endangered marine species. The Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act would phase out harmful large mesh drift gillnets used in federal waters off the coast of California — the only place they are still used in the United States.

Preventing Future Pandemics: Several provisions recognize the urgent need for a global approach to emerging zoonotic diseases and the threats they pose. Text from the Preventing Future Pandemics Act establishes as a US diplomatic priority working with international government and nongovernmental partners to shut down certain commercial wildlife markets and build coalitions to reduce the demand for wildlife. The bill also authorizes the government to undertake programs to help transition communities globally to safer, nonwildlife sources of protein. Furthermore, H.R. 4521 includes up to a three-year emergency ban on the importation of wildlife that pose imminent threats, including to human health, and prohibits the transportation across state lines of species listed as injurious under the Lacey Act.

Wildlife Trafficking: In addition to its provisions aimed at curbing the spread of zoonotic diseases, H.R. 4521 aims to fight wildlife trafficking more broadly. It requires the treasury secretary to conduct a study on global wildlife trafficking and its illicit profits, and authorizes $150 million annually until 2030 to expand the US Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement attaché program. This program uses criminal investigators to work with other nations to combat wildlife trafficking. H.R. 4521 also includes the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Reauthorization and Improvements Act, which would make it easier for the USFWS to prosecute wildlife trafficking cases and authorize harsher penalties for wildlife traffickers, provide antipoaching resources to countries in need, and address corruption by holding countries accountable for failing to observe international antitrafficking laws.

Additional wins under the America COMPETES Act include language aimed at strengthening fisheries management and funding for coral reef restoration.

In June, the Senate passed its version of this bill, the US Innovation and Competition Act (S.1260), which included the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. The two chambers will now reconcile differences between their versions of the bill. The House and Senate will then vote on the final reconciled bill.

The Animal Welfare Institute applauds the inclusion of these important animal welfare provisions and urges Congress to retain them when finalizing this legislation.

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AP News

Plan to gun down feral cattle spurs concern among ranchers

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, February 3, 2022

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A plan by U.S. Forest Service officials to put a dent in the population of feral cattle on national forest land near the New Mexico-Arizona border is drawing fire from ranchers who say gunning down the animals from helicopters is a violation of federal law and won’t help to solve the problem.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association is concerned about the ability of the wildlife agents to delineate branded from unbranded livestock, saying mistakenly killing cows with brands would amount to the taking of private property.

Environmentalists also have long voiced concerns that leaving cow carcasses on the landscape will only help condition Mexican gray wolves to prey on livestock. Ranchers worry the upcoming aerial gunning operation on the Gila National Forest could exacerbate conflicts with the endangered species.

Forest officials said Friday they are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to remove all unbranded and unauthorized cattle from the Gila Wilderness, saying the animals pose a significant threat to sensitive habitat along streams and wetlands. A previous effort by a contractor to catch and remove wild cattle from the area netted about 20 animals.

Citing the rugged terrain, forest officials said it’s difficult to say how many feral cattle are in the wilderness, but they believe there could be as many as 250.

The Cattle Growers’ Association argues that since the exact number is unknown, there is no way to hold federal officials accountable or determine if progress is being made in reducing the population.

Loren Patterson, president of the ranchers group, said the situation is the result of “many years of mismanagement by the Forest Service.”

“New Mexico Cattle Growers’ members understand that estray cattle are not good for the multi-use doctrine embraced by our federally administered lands,” Patterson said in a statement. “This situation took years to create, and a final solution may take years to achieve.”

Regional forest service officials said in a statement Friday that the most efficient way to deal with this issue is “with the responsible removal of the cattle” and the agency’s primary mission is to protect the sustainable use of the forest.

The association contends there is no federal statute or regulation that allows for the Forest Service to gun down livestock and that rounding up and impounding livestock is allowed only after certain conditions are met. The group said government agencies should provide adequate notice and allow public comment before “imposing their will to proceed as they deem equitable.”

A similar proposal was floated by forest officials last year. That prompted a notice of intent to sue by ranchers, a coalition of Arizona and New Mexico counties and others. The New Mexico Livestock Board also rejected any discussion of aerial gunning.

Some ranchers pointed out that the planned operation follows a series of recent settlements between the federal government and environmentalists that aim to keep livestock out of riparian areas on forest lands in the Southwest. They questioned why federal officials are resorting to lethal means with cattle despite the push by environmentalists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to handle problem wolves with nonlethal methods such as hazing.

Nelson Shirley with Spur Lake Cattle Co. said persistent efforts by environmentalists to get the federal government to retire more grazing allotments have resulted in more feral cattle on the landscape.

“There’s nobody to keep the fences up and nobody there to brand these cattle and do something with them,” he said. “The Forest Service is to blame for leaving so many permits vacant. Getting ranchers back on these allotments to fix fences and gather cattle would help to solve the problem.”

Federal wildlife officials also are in the midst of conducting an annual survey of Mexican gray wolves along the New Mexico-Arizona border. The results are expected in the coming weeks.

The survey done last year showed at least 186 Mexican gray wolves in the two states. That marks the fifth straight year that the endangered species increased its numbers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday in a statement that it does not think the operation will have an effect on wolves “due to the short-term nature of the carcasses and the limited utilization of the area by Mexican wolves.”

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The Hill

Fish and Wildlife Service to release nine endangered red wolves near Outer Banks

“We are committed, more than ever before … to identify ways to encourage and facilitate a coexistence between people and red wolves,” said the USFWS’s assistant regional director in the South Atlantic-Gulf and Mississippi Basin Regions.

By Jenna Romaine | Feb. 4, 2022

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is preparing to release nine endangered red wolves to a conservation area west of the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

The red wolf, endemic to the United States and considered the most endangered wolf in the world, once called the entire Southeastern U.S. home before habitat destruction and overhunting nearly killed off the species. Red wolves were listed as endangered in 1973 under the Endangered Species Act.

Now, the USFWS is working to transfer and release nine of the wolves to a conservation area that includes the Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges. The nine red wolves consist of a family and two additional breeding pairs that conservationists hope will result in breeding to help rebound the population of the species in the wild.

The USFWS recently held a virtual meeting with local residents, landowners, and stakeholders to address concerns and ensure a smooth transition in habiting species. The service has appointed a community liaison and set up a red wolf recovery hotline to aid with the transition.

“We are committed, more than ever before, to working with our partners — the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, landowners, and other stakeholders — to identify ways to encourage and facilitate a coexistence between people and red wolves,” Catherine Phillips, the USFWS’s assistant regional director in the South Atlantic-Gulf and Mississippi Basin Regions, said in a press release. 

“The recent meeting allowed us to hear from the local community and stakeholders, and to share with them what we are doing and plan to do going forward. We cannot recover the red wolf without them.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Federal Court Invalidates Another Key Permit in Endangered Species Act Case, Casting Serious Doubt on Future of Mountain Valley Pipeline

WASHINGTON—(February 3, 2022)—The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit today invalidated the biological opinion and incidental take statement issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act for the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

The court found that the agency failed to adequately analyze the project’s environmental context when assessing the detrimental impacts to the Roanoke logperch and the candy darter, a species on the brink of extinction. The court’s decision means that construction should not move forward along the 304-mile pipeline route.

The decision is the latest setback for the Mountain Valley Pipeline after another recent decision from the 4th Circuit invalidated approvals by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for construction through Jefferson National Forest. The project continues to face several legal battles and is more than three years behind schedule, barely half complete and billions over budget.

The pipeline has been required to pay millions of dollars in fines for more than 350 water quality-related violations in Virginia and West Virginia and has disturbed and destroyed important habitat, adversely affecting local wildlife. Today’s decision should stop the pipeline’s onslaught against one of the largest remaining wild landscapes in the eastern United States.

“Three more key federal agencies have been sent back to the drawing board after failing to analyze MVP’s harmful impacts,” said Kelly Sheehan, Sierra Club senior director of energy campaigns. “The previous administration’s rushed, shoddy permitting put the entire project in question. Now the Biden administration must fulfill the commitments it has made on climate and environmental justice by taking a meaningful, thorough review of this project and its permitting. When they do, they will see the science is clear: MVP is not compatible with a healthy planet and livable communities. MVP must not move forward.”

“Sacred life prevailed today with the court’s acknowledgement of the harmful impact MVP has on everything in its path, specifically endangered and threatened species,” said Russell Chisholm, co-chair of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR) Coalition. “Holding MVP accountable to the law is key to the ultimate cancellation of this noxious fracked gas pipeline. This decision not only protects the candy darter and other endangered species, it sets us on course to stop MVP, decisively transition away from deadly fossil fuels, and reroute towards a renewable economy on a livable planet.”

“MVP’s dangerous pipeline project has already destroyed and degraded the habitat of endangered species along its route, in addition to the threat it poses to clean air, water, and our communities,” said Sierra Club Senior Attorney Elly Benson. “We have seen its harmful effects on the region’s forests and streams as MVP has put profits before people and wildlife. Today’s decision underscores that the Fish and Wildlife Service can’t minimize MVP’s impacts on vulnerable species like the Roanoke logperch and candy darter that are already facing numerous other serious threats, including climate change.”

“At a time when we need to urgently move away from fracked-gas pipelines and all the harms they bring — from impacts to endangered species to damage to water quality to climate change — the law and science prevailed in this case,” said Anne Havemann, general counsel of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

“Today’s is a sweetly welcome decision in our fight to stop the ravage of MVP,” said Roberta Bondurant of Preserve Bent Mountain, a local member group of the POWHR Coalition. “The Bent Mountain community together with our allies, have fought relentlessly, and at unspeakable costs, to protect forest, meadow and waters of our venerable Appalachians. This is a banner day for Planet Earth — the Swomee Swan soars, the Humming Fish jumps, and the Truffula Tree breathes a grateful sigh of relief.”

“Once again, the courts have found that federal regulators weren’t following the laws passed by Congress to protect the public and our environment,” said Peter Anderson, Virginia policy director for Appalachian Voices. “Communities in this region rely on its rich biodiversity to support many recreational and economic opportunities. We take seriously our laws protecting habitat and ecological function, even if Mountain Valley Pipeline does not.”

“Again, the agencies that should be guardians of our most precious resources and the public interest failed us,” said David Sligh, conservation director at Wild Virginia. “But today is a victory for sensitive and valuable species, which have already been harmed by MVP’s pollution. This decision again reinforces the truth that this destructive project must not be allowed to continue. The company needs to face that fact now and should be forced to help heal the wounds it has inflicted.”

“This is an incredible victory,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a fossil fuel nightmare that threatens the essential habitat of imperiled wildlife. These projects lock us into an unsustainable spiral of climate change that inflict incredible damage to vulnerable species. That cycle must end.”

“Enough is enough,” said Cindy Rank of WV Highlands Conservancy. “This is just one more example of how wrong this pipeline is, how much it harms the earth and the critters that make our world a treasure to be protected from unwise developments like MVP.”

Today’s announcement is a result of a case argued by the Sierra Club on behalf of a coalition of conservation organizations, including Wild Virginia, Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Defenders of Wildlife, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Preserve Giles County, Preserve Bent Mountain, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Indian Creek Watershed Association and the Center for Biological Diversity. Appalachian Mountain Advocates also represented the petitioners.

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International Business Times

Rare California Snail Inching Toward Recovery, Reclassified From ‘Endangered’ To ‘Threatened’

By Athena Chan , 02/03/22

A rare snail that can only be found along the central California coast is now recovering after years of conservation efforts. This week, authorities reclassified the conservation status of the Morro shoulderband snail from endangered to threatened.

Unlike other garden snails, this particular species is not a pest and is even beneficial to building up soil. The Morro shoulderband snail gets its name from the dark band “on the shoulder of their shells,” the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) noted.

In 1994, the species was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A recovery plan was made by 1998, and by the surveys from 2000 to 2005, more and more snails have been found.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that the snail is already recovering and officially changed its conservation status from endangered to threatened. According to the agency, this decision was based on “the best available scientific and commercial information,” which revealed that the species’ status has already improved and it is no longer in danger of extinction in “all or a significant portion of its range.”

Cat Darst, the Assistant Field Supervisor for the USFWS, called the ESA a “catalyst for recovery” in a statement from the agency.

“(W)e know it’s working when we see species large and small take steps toward delisting,” Darst said. “Thanks to city, county and state efforts that include habitat protection and increased surveying, Morro shoulderband snail numbers are now in the thousands rather than hundreds.”

“Recovery of this snail demonstrates that to save species from extinction, we have to protect the places where they live,” Jeff Miller of the CBD said in the organization’s news release, calling it “good news” for the species. “A bonus of saving the Morro snail is it helped in creating and protecting many of the local preserves and open spaces we all love, making life better for all on the Central Coast, from people to gastropods.”

However, the move doesn’t mean that the Morro shoulderband snail is already out of the woods as they are still not yet fully recovered and are still in danger of extinction “in the foreseeable future.”

According to the ruling, the species may still be at risk in the future because of threats such as habitat loss due to development, habitat degradation mainly from invasive plant species and because the “level of continued conservation efforts and habitat management is uncertain.”

They are also still threatened by wildfire conditions and changing climate, the USFWS noted. As such, they still need to be protected under the ESA “until these threats can be reduced or eliminated.”

That said, the Morro shoulderband snail is included in the list of Central Coast creatures that have benefited from the protection that the ESA provides, according to the CBD. This includes the peregrine falcon, California condor, southern sea otter and brown pelican.

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Southern Environmental Law Center

PRESS RELEASE | FEBRUARY 2, 2022

SELC statement on U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s revised proposed rule to downlist red-cockaded woodpecker

ATLANTA, Ga. — Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a revised proposal to reclassify the red-cockaded woodpecker. In response to the announcement, SELC Staff Attorney Ramona McGee released the following statement:

“We are encouraged that the Fish and Wildlife Service went back to the drawing board and took a hard look at our previously-raised concerns with how the agency had proposed to manage red-cockaded woodpeckers in the future. The revision appears to scale back many of the originally proposed rule’s vague provisions that would have allowed for a variety of harmful actions to red-cockaded woodpeckers.”

“The revised proposal would, however, still downlist red-cockaded woodpeckers from endangered to threatened status, without responding to our stated concerns that this reclassification is scientifically and legally unsupported. Although the Service now acknowledges the need for continued and expanded habitat conservation and restoration, the threat of extinction still looms for the species. Habitat loss remains a substantial threat with the majority of red-cockaded woodpeckers persisting in small, isolated pockets of pine forests.”

Unlike the previous proposal, this revised rule sets a starting point of extending the same protections that red-cockaded woodpeckers currently receive as an endangered species, and then carves out exceptions for certain, limited activities that might harm red-cockaded woodpeckers. 

Federal protections for endangered species are especially vital for the red-cockaded woodpecker as the species faces continued risks such as climate change-induced storm events and sea level rise, and the destruction of its longleaf pine habitat.

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E&E News/Greenwire

FWS proposes habitat for rare flower in path of lithium mine

By Jael Holzman, Michael Doyle | 02/02/2022

The Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed designating critical habitat for a rare flower, Tiehm’s buckwheat, that lives in the path of a proposed lithium mine in Nevada.

As proposed by FWS, critical habitat for the buckwheat would be located in Esmeralda County in the western part of the state, directly in the path of Ioneer Ltd.’s Rhyolite Ridge lithium project. The agency said in its proposed rulemaking that it was protecting the habitat — a single 910-acre plot of land — because it was “essential to the conservation and recovery” of Tiehm’s buckwheat.

“Designating critical habitat for Tiehm’s buckwheat is key to the plant’s persistence and recovery because it occupies such a small range and requires such specific habitat conditions to survive,” Marc Jackson, field supervisor for FWS in Reno, said in a statement.

It’s the latest setback for Ioneer after a federal court ruled last year in favor of environmentalists seeking protections for the buckwheat under the species law.

Since then, as FWS has pursued safeguards for the wildflower, the company has also argued against scientific research it funded studying whether it could relocate the plant on its own (Greenwire, Dec. 17, 2021).

The company has argued it can protect the plant while moving forward with the mine through precautionary measures like buffer zones. Ioneer Managing Director Bernard Rowe responded to the FWS habitat proposal in a statement to E&E News, maintaining there can be “successful coexistence” of Tiehm’s buckwheat and Rhyolite Ridge.

Projects like Rhyolite Ridge exemplify the complexities green products like electric vehicles, which use batteries that rely on mined lithium chemicals, pose for those wanting to preserve and protect biodiversity.

Tiehm’s buckwheat plants have extremely restricted range, with only one known population comprising eight subpopulations scattered across a 3-square-mile area in western Nevada’s Silver Peak Range. The agency is still expected to say later this year whether Tiehm’s buckwheat should be listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (Greenwire, Dec. 13, 2021).

In the proposal for critical habitat, FWS identified several “anthropogenic” threats to the plant within the habitat, including mineral development, and laid out a set of physical and biological features essential for ensuring survival of the species within the area.

FWS made no comments on whether the habitat designation would impact final approvals for Rhyolite Ridge. It only referenced Rhyolite Ridge in a note at the end of the notice declaring the proposed critical habitat. FWS acknowledged it considered Ioneer’s “conservation strategy” for the buckwheat to be “in the early stages.”

The agency also said proposals from the company to protect the flower “may or may not be fully implemented” because the mine “may or may not be permitted” by the Bureau of Land Management.

Conservation advocates said the proposed critical habitat demonstrates the ways developing on this one tract of land will harm a rare species.

“This proposed rule is an indication the Service is rejecting Ioneer’s plans as inadequate to save this species,” Naomi Fraga, conservation director at the California Botanic Garden, said in a statement provided to E&E News.

Rowe, with Ioneer, countered that the company has incorporated protecting the flower into its plans.

“We have always firmly understood the need to protect this species, irrespective of its listing status,” Rowe said in his statement. “Core to our strategy is avoidance (no direct impact) and minimization of any indirect impacts by our operations coupled with appropriate mitigation measures.”

Efforts to propagate and transplant buckwheat will also expand species populations, he added.

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University of Miami News

No longer endangered, manatees now face another crisis

By Robert C. Jones Jr., 02-02-2022

A massive seagrass die-off in the Indian River Lagoon, coupled with continued threats from boating strikes, is putting these gentle sea cows in peril once again.

Some never make it, perishing from deadly boat strikes in Florida waters before animal care specialists can reach them.

Others are brought to zoos and aquariums with punctured lungs, lacerations, and fins so badly damaged from net entanglements that they must be amputated.

For University of Miami researcher Jill Richardson, who has helped care for several sick and injured manatees at rehabilitation facilities in Florida, it is always a “deeply emotional” experience to see these gentle sea cows suffer from such wounds.

“The absolute goal is to help them heal, regain their health, and return them to the wild. But not all of them survive,” said Richardson, senior lecturer in the Department of Marine Biology and Ecology at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. “It’s a stark warning and harsh reality about the impacts we, as humans, are having on these iconic and sensitive mammals.”

In 2021, a staggering 1,101 manatees died in Florida, making last year the deadliest on record in the state for these slow-moving, herbivorous creatures, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

But not all the deaths can be attributed to boat collisions. Many of the manatees starved to death after pollutants in the 156-mile-long Indian River Lagoon, where the creatures gather in the winter, killed large swathes of their primary food source—seagrass.

Indeed, the recent declines in seagrass abundance and health in the lagoon and other estuaries where manatees feed are directly related to poor water quality, said seagrass expert Diego Lirman, an associate professor of marine biology and ecology at the Rosenstiel School. “The specific triggers vary spatially and temporally, but the underlying causes are related to declines in water quality,” he said.

Lirman specifically noted increases in nutrients coming from urban, agricultural, and industrial land sources, the alteration of freshwater deliveries from the Everglades that cause sudden drops in salinity and bring in an abundance of nutrient-rich water through rivers and canals that dump large amounts of fresh water over a short period of time and over a reduced coastal footprint into semi-enclosed coastal bays like Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay.

“Declines in light availability caused by sedimentation related to dredging and construction, excess nutrients, and micro- and macroalgal blooms make it hard for seagrass to photosynthesize, and they eventually die,” Lirman said. “And seagrass decomposition increases organic and inorganic matter in the water column and sediments, causing additional seagrass mortality.”

He said temperature extremes driven by climate change exacerbate the impacts of these drivers.

The water quality problem, however, cannot be resolved overnight, Richardson said. “Though replanting efforts may be a viable, short-term solution, it’s a like putting a small Band-Aid on a large, gaping wound,” she said. “Until we make significant changes to improve water quality along Florida’s coastlines, these efforts will remain futile in the long run.”

If anything, the problem will only worsen as coastal development in Florida continues at a rapid clip, Richardson reported.

“With development comes additional nutrient pollution and habitat degradation,” she pointed out. “And as Florida’s population continues to grow beyond 21 million people, with a simultaneous increase in the number of registered recreational watercraft, the potential for boat related deaths also increases.”

Laws that protect manatees have been on the books for decades. They are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Meanwhile, the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 establishes restrictions to protect the mammals from boat collisions and from harassment; to safeguard their habitats from destruction by boats or other human activity; and to provide safe havens where they can rest, feed, reproduce, give birth, or nurse undisturbed by humans.

Such restrictions as well as other conservation measures such as extensive rescue and rehabilitation efforts have helped the manatee rebound from only a few hundred in the 1970s to more than 6,000 in the Southeastern U.S. today. As such, the animals were removed from the endangered species list in 2017 and moved down to the threatened species list.

“However, without a healthy ecosystem, it’s unlikely manatees will continue to thrive,” Richardson said.

Manatees living on Florida’s east coast, she noted, have limited genetic diversity, which puts them at greater risk of significant loss during episodes of rapid change in their environments such as unusually cold winters, the widespread loss of seagrasses, and algal bloom outbreaks. “Regardless of genetics, large, anomalous increases in manatee mortalities, such as what we are seeing right now in Florida, are a significant cause for concern regarding long-term species survival,” Richardson said.

Manatees, she indicated, are a critical link in the ecosystem, consuming predominantly new seagrass growth and, thereby, promoting a high level of primary productivity in communities of that species. “In this sense, they have been deemed ‘cultivation grazers,’ clearing space for faster growing, more nutritious seagrass species to thrive,” Richardson explained.

But the widespread loss of seagrass communities has put manatees in peril, leaving them with fewer options for sustenance. “There are very serious concerns regarding the nutritional status of manatees and whether or not a continuously degrading environment can support them now and into the future,” Richardson said. “And this is exacerbated during the winter months when manatees struggle to stay warm. Despite their size, they have very little blubber and experience a condition called cold stress syndrome when exposed to water temperatures below 68 degrees for extended periods of time,” she added. “Without ample food resources, coupled by limited access to warm water, they cannot achieve the energetic demands of thermoregulation and often perish.’’

According to the researcher,  we then “add exposure to red tide events and other algal blooms to what are likely already immune compromised and nutritionally deficient manatees, and it’s a disheartening ‘perfect storm’ of potential widespread losses.”

In a move to save manatees from starvation, Florida wildlife officials recently started feeding romaine lettuce to manatees gathered at warm-water sites. But such a practice, warned Richardson, comes with concerns.

“Of course, exceptions can be made under the experienced and watchful oversight of trained managers and scientists, but it’s very important for the public to understand that feeding manatees is detrimental to their health, as it brings them into closer contact with humans and exposes them to greater associated risks,” she emphasized. “But I have no doubt that FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) and partner organizations have a very detailed plan in place to minimize this association and ensure long-term manatee health and survival. In the bigger picture, this decision is very telling and a strong indication that the coastal ecosystem is no longer able to support manatees, particularly during difficult winter months.

“I hope it is a wake-up call for all Florida residents and one that promotes significant change,” Richardson declared.

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Public News Service

OR Wildlife Crossings Bill Aims to Reduce Potentially Deadly Collisions

Eric Tegethoff, Producer, February 2, 2022

A measure in the Oregon Legislature aims to reduce vehicle collisions with wildlife.

House Bill 4130 would allocate $5 million for wildlife crossings in problem spots across the state. In Oregon, there are about 7,000 collisions with deer each year, costing Oregonians $44 million in total.

State Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, a chief sponsor of the bill, said there’s broad support for wildlife crossings, including some Republican co-sponsors.

“These types of projects are not partisan,” he said. “We’ve got Republicans and Democrats, senators and House reps on the bill already. It’ll be a great bipartisan, bicameral effort and very popular. So, the enthusiasm is certainly there in this state.”

There are an average 700 injuries and two deaths from wildlife collisions each year. Oregon lags far behind on crossings, at five, compared with other states in the West. California and Utah each have 50.

HB 4130 is scheduled for a public hearing today.

Zach Schwartz, Oregon program manager for the Wildlands Network, said the crossings already have proved to be effective on a stretch of highway between Bend and Sunriver.

“The Lava Butte crossing on Highway 97 saw a decrease in wildlife-vehicle collisions of about 85%,” he said, “so they allow for wildlife to move much safer, they allow for drivers to drive on the highways safer, and they pay for themselves really quickly.”

Tyler Dungannon, conservation coordinator for Oregon Hunters Association, said the bill is a winner for the folks he represents. He said safe crossings also improve wildlife habitat and connectivity.

“As conservationists, sportsmen and women aspire to bolster our deer, elk and other game populations for the benefit of all Oregonians,” he said, “and one way to do that is to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions on our highways via wildlife crossing structures.”

Supporters of the bill also are hopeful passing it would put the state in a better position to compete for the $350 million in federal dollars from the Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program, passed as part of Congress’ infrastructure bill last year.

(Disclosure: Wildlands Network contributes to our fund for reporting on Endangered Species & Wildlife, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Urban Planning/Transportation. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.)

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Honolulu Star Advertiser

Hawaiian monk seal rescued after it swallowed fishing hook

By Nina Wu, Feb. 1, 2022

A young Hawaiian monk seal that accidentally swallowed fishing gear is now in recovery at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital in Kailua-Kona specializing in the endangered pinnipeds.

The juvenile male seal, identified as N2, is currently in stable condition after a veterinarian at the center successfully extricated the hook from his stomach.

A call to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s hotline on Jan. 22 reported a sighting of the monk seal along Oahu’s Ka Iwi coastline with a wire fishing leader and swivel hanging from his mouth.

NOAA Fisheries staff responded, but were unable to remove the gear right away due to logistical constraints. Over the next few days, volunteers from the nonprofit Hawaii Marine Animal Response searched for N2 and eventually found him on Jan. 27 at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve.

The U.S. Coast Guard gave N2 a lift to Ke Kai Ola, where a specialized team was able to remove the hook and are now offering him a safe place to rest and recover. The team noted that N2 had been moderately malnourished, but alert.

He will be fed a diet of sustainably caught live and dead fish, along with fluids to boost his nutrition, over the next few days.

“The ingested fishing gear clearly impacted this monk seal’s condition and we’re hopeful thanks to a successful procedure, that this animal is on the road to a full recovery,” says Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, the Center’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian, in a news release. “We’re proud to be able to support patients like N2 as the only partner organization permitted by NOAA Fisheries to treat and rehabilitate Hawaiian monk seals. We will do everything we can to give this endangered animal a second chance to return to his ocean home.”

Hawaiian monk seals, with a population of only about 1,400 left in the wild, are an endangered species protected by state and federal laws.

The seals suffer from very high rates of entanglement in ocean trash and fishing gear, as well as ingestion of fishing hooks, according to NOAA. They also suffer from toxoplasmosis, a disease resulting from a parasite spread through infected cat feces, as well as intentional harm by humans.

Since 2014, Ke Kai Ola has rehabilitated and released 36 monk seals, mostly from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands within Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

Anyone who sees a monk seal or other marine mammal in distress can report sightings to NOAA’s toll-free hotline at 1-888-256-9840.

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Mountain West News Bureau (A regional collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.)

Public comment period closing soon as BLM eyes new sage grouse regulations

Boise State Public Radio News | By Madelyn Beck, Published February 1, 2022

News Brief

The Bureau of Land Management is once again reviewing how it manages sage grouse habitat across 10 Western states.

Before we get into the details, though, let’s rewind. Back in 2015, a bunch of public and private stakeholders created land use plans across the West to protect sage grouse and avoid an Endangered Species Act listing.

For many states, that plan changed in 2019, favoring more industry and development. But a federal judge in Idaho blocked the changes, and last year the Biden administration restored the plans adopted in 2015.

Now, the BLM is looking at its land use plans again.

“The BLM will examine new scientific information, including the effects of stressors like climate change, invasive grasses, wildfire and drought, to assess actions that may best support sagebrush habitat conservation and restoration on public lands to benefit sage grouse and surrounding communities,” the agency stated.

That also includes reviewing challenges with wild horse and burro populations, and the development of renewable energy, fossil fuels and energy transmission.

“Depending on who you talk to, people are calling this the sage grouse plans 3.0 or the 20th round of sage grouse restoration policy plans,” said Brian Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Idaho Wildlife Federation.

Brooks said that while all this has been happening, the grouse’s populations continued to shrink.

“Since we started in earnest tracking sage grouse numbers, the population has declined by 80%,” he said, noting recent USGS findings that the decline sped up over the last few decades.

Brooks said that shows the sage grouse conservation plans require big changes to avoid an endangered species listing, which would impose broad and potentially burdensome federal restrictions across public and private lands.

“We really can’t just be rearranging chairs on the Titanic here to do little tweaks here and there to stop a sinking ship. We really need to look at what is causing it to sink,” he said.

When it comes to issues like wildfire’s impacts on sage grouse habitat, Brooks says part of the problem is invasive species like cheatgrass, which burns easier than many other native plants.

“Fire in itself is not always bad, it’s invasive species that burn very easily and have lots of fuels that make fires a lot worse,” he said. “Little patch fires here and there (are) actually quite good.”

He says the Idaho Wildlife Federation is currently working with agriculture, sportsmen and energy interests in an effort to jointly write suggestions and comments for the BLM plan.

The public can comment on the plan, too, through February 8. Just go to the BLM’s national NEPA register.

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The Guardian

WCS, Cross River signs 10-year deal to protect gorillas, other species

By Tina Agosi Todo, Calabar/31 January 2022

Wildlife Conservation Society has signed a 10-year deal to protect gorillas and other endangered species in the Cross River State forest.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Cross River State Government is for the management and protection of Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mbe Mountains.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, the State Commissioner for Ministry of International Development Cooperation, Dr. Inyang Asibong, who represented the state governor, Prof. Ben Ayade said: “The continuous protection, maintenance and rehabilitation of wildlife and their sanctuaries is a top priority of the state.

“We must do everything possible to preserve our remaining wildlife as it has unquantifiable benefits for mankind.”

On his part, the WCS Nigeria Country Director, Andrew Dunn, estimated that only 100 Cross River gorillas survived with an additional 200 found in neighboring Cameroon.

He said: “Cross River gorillas are classified as ‘critically endangered’ which means that they are on the very edge of extinction.

“The state is the most important site for biodiversity and WCS is proud to partner with the government to save the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mbe Mountains and their endangered wildlife.

“The WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. WCS works in 60 countries across the globe to support conservation with local, national, and international stakeholders,” Dunn said.

Also speaking, the state Landscape Director of WCS, Dr. Inaoyom Imong, explained that the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mbe Mountains, which are located in Boki Local government area of the state are internationally recognised biodiversity hotspots, supporting important populations of endangered species such as the Cross River gorilla and Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee.

“The main threats to the survival of Cross River gorillas are hunting and habitat destruction due to farming and logging.

“This are Managed by the Cross River State Forestry Commission, the habitat of Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary is rapidly being eroded by farming and logging.

“The Mbe Mountains are managed by the Conservation Association of the Mbe Mountains (CAMM), with support from WCS,” he added.

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Montana Free Press (Helena, MT)

Heavy wolf harvest triggers new limits near Yellowstone

Nearly 30% of the national park’s wolves have been killed since the start of the 2021-2022 hunting season.

by Amanda Eggert, 01.28.2022

The state Fish and Wildlife Commission voted today to close wolf trapping and hunting in southwestern Montana if or when six more wolves are harvested in the region.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that 20 wolves that roamed out of Yellowstone National Park have been killed this season, the most in any single hunting season since wolf reintroduction in 1995. Park employees have since deemed one pack, the Phantom Lake Pack, “eliminated,” according to the story, which re-ignited wildlife advocates’ frustration about the state’s approach to wolf management and inspired a coalition of western environmental organizations to petition Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to issue emergency federal protections for wolves. Haaland has thus far declined to implement such a measure.

When it was setting dates for the 2021-2022 rifle-hunting and trapping seasons last year, the commission set a harvest threshold for each of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ seven regions that would trigger a regulation review with potential for “rapid in-season adjustments.” In Region Three, which covers southwestern Montana, the commission set that threshold at 82 wolves.

As of Friday afternoon, hunters and trappers have harvested 76 wolves in Region Three, with more than six weeks left before the trapping season’s scheduled close on March 15.

The commission discussed several options at the Friday meeting, including closing the season in the two wolf management units closest to the park, closing Region Three to wolf harvest effective immediately, and directing FWP to close the season on wolf hunting and trapping when 82 wolves have been harvested. The latter motion passed unanimously after the commission heard 30 minutes of public comment on the proposal.

About 15 people spoke in favor of scaling back wolf hunting and trapping in Region Three specifically or the state more generally. Many expressed concern about high harvest rates in areas close to Yellowstone National Park, where the canines are off-limits to hunters and trappers, and emphasized the animals ecological and economic benefits. With the possible exception of one illegible testimony offered at the start of the meeting, which was streamed online, no commenter called for the wolf hunting season’s continuation.

Speaking on behalf of the nonprofit Montana Wildlife Federation, Chris Servheen said the 2021-2022 wolf regulations established by the commission last year “lacked any biological justification” and requested that the commission reinstate its previous system of allowing for the harvest of one wolf from each of the two units closest to Yellowstone National Park.

“The ongoing killing of wolves along Yellowstone National Park will continue to embarrass Montana and increase the momentum to relist wolves [as an endangered species],” he said.

Cary McGary, founder of Gardiner’s In Our Nature Guiding Services, expressed frustration that nearly 30% of the national park’s wolf population has been killed since the start of the 2021-2022 hunting season and emphasized wolves’ economic value to people living and working in and near the park.

“We have a disproportionately high wolf killing where these animals have the most value alive,” she told the commission. “These animals are the most viewable wolves in the Lower 48, if not the world. Their economic value cannot be overestimated.”

Bozeman resident Phil Knight urged commissioners to consider wolves’ ecological benefit as a limitation on the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, which has been expanding its reach across Montana to the detriment of cervids like deer, elk and moose.

Many commenters’ names were likely familiar to both FWP and the commission, as wolf management has been the subject of voluminous and often heated public comment before and after the Legislature passed three bills last year aimed at aggressively reducing the state’s wolf population by expanding the trapping season, legalizing neck snares, and allowing for the use of bait and spotlights by hunters pursuing wolves on private land.

Wolf management has also found its way into the judicial system and spurred the federal government’s involvement. In September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the Endangered Species Act, decided to review whether the management of wolves in states including Montana and Idaho has imperiled the species’’ recovery. The agency is expected to issue a decision about the merits of relisting early this summer.

In December, the groups Trap Free Montana Public Lands and Wolves of the Rockies sued FWP and the commission over 2021-2022 wolf hunting regulations allowing for aerial hunting of wolves and the use of artificial light or night-vision scopes when hunting wolves on private land. The groups argue that the proper process was not followed in allowing the use of such tools because the commission did not debate them before FWP included them in its 2021-2022 wolf-hunting regulations. The organizations say the lack of debate thwarted public participation in violation of Montana law.

They’ve asked Lewis and Clark County District Court to issue a temporary restraining order to disallow those tools while the issue is in litigation. Wolves of the Rockies Executive Director Marc Cooke told Montana Free Press that the court has not yet ruled on the request, and said he anticipates the state will submit its response to the lawsuit early next week.

Concerns about unintentional snare or trap captures of grizzly bears and Canada lynx, which are federally protected, prompted the commission to decide in October to take trapping and snaring off the table within Lynx Protection Zones, which include parts of northwestern and southwestern Montana. The commission also pushed back the start date of trapping season for parts of the state that fall within the Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone on the theory that unintentional capture of the animals is less likely if trapping season starts after grizzlies have entered their dens for the winter.

If either lynx or grizzlies are captured in a trap or snare set for a wolf, the commission will be required to revisit its regulations.

In addition to setting regional wolf-harvest thresholds, the commission last year established a statewide quota that would trigger regulation review. As of Friday afternoon, 184 wolves have been harvested this season in Montana, according to FWP’s wolf quota dashboard — about 40% of the review-triggering quota of 450 wolves.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Mr. Goodbar, Famed Wandering Wolf of Borderlands, Shot in New Mexico But Survives

Mexican Gray Wolf Stymied By Border Wall Will Undergo Amputation

SILVER CITY, N.M.—(January 28, 2022)—The endangered Mexican gray wolf who spent five days pacing along the border wall in New Mexico before turning back was found shot but alive Wednesday.

The wolf, named Mr. Goodbar before his 2020 release into the wild in Arizona, suffered a gunshot wound to the knee on his lower right leg, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He was darted from the air by helicopter and transported to the Albuquerque BioPark Zoo, where veterinarians are amputating all or part of his leg.

The wolf is expected to survive and will be released to the wild after he recovers. The shooting is the subject of a federal law enforcement investigation. Mexican gray wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The maximum penalty for violating the Act is one year in jail and a $50,000 fine.

“It’s so awful that this young wolf blocked by a despicable border wall has now been shot and his own mobility curtailed with each step,” said Michael Robinson at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Mr. Goodbar’s painful experiences illustrate the inhospitable world we’ve created for Mexican gray wolves and other vulnerable animals.”

Mr. Goodbar was located during the Fish and Wildlife Service’s annual census of wolves in the Southwest, which is conducted by helicopter and entails capturing wolves to attach radio collars.

A year ago the census revealed 186 Mexican wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona. The 2021 number is expected to be more than 200 and should be released within weeks. There are also several dozen wolves in the wild in Mexico.

“We hope the criminal who shot Mr. Goodbar will be brought to justice,” said Robinson. “Here’s hoping Mr. Goodbar will be the wiliest lobo on three paws once he’s released, and that we can change federal policies that put these beautiful and vital animals at risk.”

Federal and state agencies, conservation organizations including the Center, and anonymous individuals have offered a reward totaling $49,000 for information leading to a conviction for illegally killing a Mexican wolf. A similar reward may be available for information that leads to the conviction for the attempted killing of a wolf, as in this instance. Anyone with information should call 1-844-397-8477 or email fws_tips@fws.gov.

Background

A century ago the U.S. government worked to exterminate gray wolves from throughout the western U.S. on behalf of the livestock industry. After killing what was likely the last U.S.-born wolf in the West in southwestern Colorado, the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1950 began poisoning wolves in Mexico as a foreign aid measure.

After passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, some of the last surviving wolves were captured alive in Mexico. Seven captive wolves were successfully bred in captivity. Their descendants were reintroduced into the U.S. beginning in 1998 and into Mexico beginning in 2011. The border wall constructed across southern New Mexico from 2018 to 2020 now blocks these wolves from going back and forth, which is needed to bolster their genetic diversity.

On Thursday the Service closed a public comment period around its proposal to manage Mexican wolves in the U.S. The Center for Biological Diversity, whose litigation with allies led to a new rule to be finalized by July, submitted comments criticizing the proposed continuation of policies that insufficiently protect the wolves.

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Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, ID)

Idaho looking to remove endangered species protections for grizzlies

Move coincides with similar petitions from Montana and Wyoming

By Eric Barker, for the Daily News Jan. 28, 2022

Idaho is preparing to ask the federal government to remove Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears.

The intention was announced during a presentation to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission at Boise on Thursday. It was unclear how far the state’s petition, which is expected to be completed in the next few weeks, will go and whether it will include all of the grizzly bear populations and recovery areas within Idaho or even all of those in the Lower 48. But officials said it will be timed to take advantage of grizzly bear delisting petitions recently submitted by Montana and Wyoming.

Deputy Director Jim Fredericks and Kathlene Trever, a deputy attorney general who works with the department, said leaving the bears listed under the Endangered Species Act will make it more difficult to build support for long-term conservation measures in rural communities and the federal government’s nearly 30-year old designation of grizzly bear recovery areas is legally and scientifically outdated.

Fredericks said Fish and Game officials are working with counterparts in the Office of Species Conservation to compile Idaho’s concerns.

“We expect the outcome of our scientific and legal policy review to result in a draft petition to delist grizzly bears in Idaho within the next few weeks, for review by the governor’s office and the (Fish and Game) commission,” he said.

Wyoming is asking the federal government to remove protections for grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. There are estimated to be about 1,000 grizzly bears in the area that is mostly in the Cowboy State but also includes parts of southwestern Montana and a sliver of eastern Idaho. The federal government delisted the Greater Yellowstone population in 2017 but the move was overturned by a federal judge.

Montana submitted a petition in December to delist the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem population in and around Glacier National Park. That population also numbers about 1,000 bears.

Fredericks said the Fish and Wildlife Service may choose to consolidate the Wyoming and Montana petitions, making it important for Idaho to also weigh in since those petitions did not address the Selkirk, Cabinet-Yaak or Bitterroot recovery areas. There are about 50 bears each in the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak recovery areas in the state’s northern Panhandle and none in the Bitterroot Area in north central Idaho.

Trever said the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak areas — and the grizzly bear management units within them — are quite small in comparison to other grizzly bear recovery areas and may be too small to support the number of bears called for in recovery plans. Because those bears in those recovery areas are connected to robust grizzly bear populations in Canada, the state believes they don’t require federal protection. Trever also noted protections are stronger south of the border.

“It is our perspective that if conservation measures are stronger in Idaho and the United States than Canada, the result should not be a separate listing of the grizzly bears in the United States and having grizzly bears in Canada not be on the list,” she said. “So that is one of the areas on which we will focus.”

It is unclear how the petition may address the Bitterroot Recovery area that has been identified as prime grizzly bear habitat. There were plans during the Clinton administration to release grizzly bears in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area and designate the animals as a “non-essential experimental” population, a classification that makes it easier for wildlife managers to remove problem bears. The reintroduction plans were spiked by the George W. Bush administration.

Following the meeting, Fredericks said the delisting petition is still under development. But he hinted it could be quite broad.

“I think the challenge is trying to figure out what would best meet Idaho’s needs altogether and what makes the most sense for grizzly bear conservation across the board. I can’t really go much further than that,” he said — but then did. “Is it a petition for Idaho alone or for the whole Lower 48 population?”

Gary Macfarlane, ecosystem defense director of the Friends of the Clearwater, a Moscow-based conservation group, said the state’s intentions are concerning and that the delisting would make it more difficult for bears to move and mate between populations, something needed to protect genetic diversity.

“The latest science calls for the need for connectivity,” he said.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Whales, Other Endangered Animals From Pacific Offshore Oil Drilling

LOS ANGELES—(January 26, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Biden administration today for failing to protect endangered whales, sea turtles and other species from continued oil and gas drilling off California’s coast.

Today’s lawsuit comes after an undersea pipeline connected to drilling platforms off Orange County ruptured in October, spewing tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean. The spill fouled sensitive beaches and wetlands, forced fisheries closures, and harmed or killed dozens of fish, birds and marine mammals.

“Endangered whales and other marine life have faced oil spill after oil spill off California’s coast, and the federal government has failed to protect them,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center. “These imperiled animals shouldn’t have to suffer and die because the oil industry is fouling our ocean waters. A robust, science-based analysis would show that drilling off California is just too risky to wildlife and our climate and should be phased out quickly.”

Since the spill, several oil sheens have been reported off Huntington Beach. At least one is believed to have come from another offshore pipeline. These incidents follow a long list of other oil industry spills and problems along the coast and across California, including the massive 2015 Refugio oil spill near Santa Barbara.

The Center’s lawsuit, filed against the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and National Marine Fisheries Service, says that the agencies’ existing Endangered Species Act analysis failed to predict or plan for an oil spill as big as the one in Southern California’s San Pedro Bay.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles, seeks a court order requiring the suspension of all new drilling permits off California’s coast while the agencies reexamine the threats of such activities to endangered species.

Prompted by a previous Center lawsuit, the Trump administration completed an Endangered Species Act analysis for oil and gas activity off California’s shores in 2017. It was the first consultation on drilling activities off California completed in more than 30 years.

The Trump administration’s analysis concluded that drilling off the state’s coast would not adversely affect threatened and endangered whales, sea turtles, abalone or other species. The conclusion was based on the assumption that an oil spill is unlikely and that if it did occur it would be limited to 8,400 gallons. The Center’s lawsuit highlights how the recent oil spill off California, which was several times larger than the Trump-era estimate, renders that entire analysis unlawful.

The lawsuit also asserts that the existing analysis is not based on the best available science and fails to consider new information regarding the threat to whales of being hit by ships engaged in oil and gas activity — or how existing oil drilling worsens the climate crisis and affects newly designated critical habitat for humpback whales.

The Fisheries Service recently found a 400% increase in humpback mortality and serious injury from human activities, including vessel strikes, since 2018 estimates.

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Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)

New federal lawsuit says PolyMet process violated Endangered Species Act

Plaintiffs say the proposed copper-nickel mine would threaten animal habitat.

By Jennifer Bjorhus, Star Tribune, January 25, 2022

A new federal lawsuit over PolyMet Mining’s proposed open-pit copper and nickel mine in northern Minnesota claims the project threatens essential habitat for gray wolves, Canada lynx and northern long-eared bats, and violates the federal Endangered Species Act.

The suit was filed Tuesday in federal court in Minneapolis by the Center for Biological Diversity, Save Lake Superior Association, Save Our Sky Blue Waters, Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest and Duluth for Clean Water.

Named as defendants were Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The groups challenge the agencies’ reliance on what they describe as a highly flawed wildlife assessment. The plaintiffs say the study — the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Feb. 5, 2016, Biological Opinion for the NorthMet Mine Project and Land Exchange — and the decisions based on it violate the Endangered Species Act.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s “determination that the NorthMet Mine Project is not likely to jeopardize the Canada lynx, gray wolf, or northern long-eared bat, and is not likely to adversely modify the designated critical habitat for the Canada lynx or gray wolf, is unsupported, lacks any rational basis, is in disregard of the best available science, is contrary to the evidence, and is arbitrary and capricious,” the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs want, among other measures, to void the 2018 land exchange between the Forest Service and PolyMet, and halt mine development until the matter is resolved.

The Center for Biological Diversity said it challenged the Fish and Wildlife opinion when it was first issued, but the judge said the request was premature and dismissed it because not all the mine permits had been issued.

“I’ve challenged biological opinions for other mining projects, and they’re much more extensive in their analysis,” said Marc Fink, the center’s Public Lands legal director.

The lawsuit is the latest challenge to the now-stalled $1 billion copper and nickel mine that PolyMet wants to build near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes. PolyMet is majority owned by Swiss mining giant Glencore and based in St. Paul.

PolyMet spokesman Bruce Richardson said the company is reviewing the complaint, intends to participate and is “confident” in a positive outcome. He noted that a federal judge dismissed four other challenges to the land exchange in 2019.

Over much public opposition, the Forest Service conveyed 6,650 acres, or about 10 square miles, of federal land to PolyMet that the company needed for the mine. In exchange, the agency received 6,690 acres of nonfederal land in tracts around Superior National Forest.

The Forest Service said it does not discuss litigation. The Fish and Wildlife Service said it was reviewing the matter and unable to comment.

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E&E News/Greenwire

Feds reverse course, seek protections for a New Mexico butterfly

By Michael Doyle | 01/24/2022

An endangered species dispute that goes back more than two decades took a fresh turn today as the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed federal protections for the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly in New Mexico.

The proposal to list the small butterfly as endangered reverses 2004 and 2009 determinations that Endangered Species Act protections were not warranted (, Dec. 22, 2004).

“Since we published the not-warranted rule in 2009, drought from climate change has worsened in New Mexico, worsening habitat conditions for the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly,” FWS said today.

The agency noted that “during abnormally dry conditions, both feral horses and elk switch to browsing certain plants that are important for the butterfly” and that recreation on the Lincoln National Forest has also increased in recent years.

Citing “heightened concern about the impact of these stressors on the habitat,” the agency had initiated a discretionary status review of the species in January 2021. In March 2021, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition to list the butterfly as endangered with critical habitat.

While now agreeing that ESA listing is warranted, FWS is not yet proposing to designate critical habitat.

“Careful assessments of the economic and environmental impacts that may occur due to a critical habitat designation are not yet complete, and we are in the process of working with the States and other partners in acquiring the complex information needed to perform those assessments,” the agency explained.

The butterfly is a subspecies of the Anicia checkerspot and lives in the Sacramento Mountains in south-central New Mexico. It has a wingspan of approximately 2 inches and a checkered pattern with dark brown, red, orange, cream and black spots.

It relies on a perennial plant called the New Mexico beardtongue and, for nectar, on a plant memorably called the orange sneezeweed.

Enter the horses.

FWS explained that “feral horses were inadvertently released onto the Lincoln National Forest around 2012” and that roughly 60,000 horses now live throughout the Sacramento Mountains.

New Mexico beardtongue is usually not a main food source for horses. But as drought dries up other food plants, the horses switch diets and start going after the plants that the butterfly needs.

FWS further noted that the 2020 monsoon season was an exceptionally weak one, with far less precipitation falling than in an average summer. That has meant weak growth of New Mexico beardtongue.

The organization that was then called the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition in 1999 requesting emergency listing of the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly as endangered.

In 2001, FWS proposed listing the species, but then a few years later reversed its position.

“On December 21, 2004, we published a withdrawal of the proposed rule, concluding that the threats to the species were not as great as we had perceived when we proposed it for listing,” the agency recounted today.

In 2007, the Center for Biological Diversity and the group now called WildEarth Guardians filed another petition, citing threats including feral horse grazing, climate change and an imminent plan to spray for insect pests.

In September 2009, FWS determined listing was not warranted.

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KJZZ/91.5 FM (Tempe, AZ)

Ferret cloned from frozen cells could improve prospects for endangered species

By Nicholas Gerbis, Published: Monday, January 24, 2022

A black-footed ferret at the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center in Colorado has become one of the first cloned, endangered animals to reach sexual maturity.

The stakes for successful breeding are high — and controversial.

Since the mid-1980s, conservationists have bred-back black-footed ferrets from the brink of extinction using a shallow gene pool of only seven animals.

The cloned ferret, Elizabeth Ann, comes from the cells of an eighth ferret preserved at the San Diego Frozen Zoo (SDFZ).

Opponents say cloning diverts funds and attention from efforts like habitat preservation, all for a tool with limited success and applications.

But Tara Harris, director of conservation and science at the Phoenix Zoo and Arizona Center for Nature Conservation — one of only six facilities in the world breeding black-footed ferrets for a reintroduction to the wild — says the endangered ferrets are good candidates.

“The black-footed ferret is highly endangered and has a well-established breeding and reintroduction program. But every individual on this Earth descends from only seven individuals, and that results in unique genetic challenges to recovering this species,” she said. “Cloning has the potential to infuse new genetics into this population that would otherwise be lost.”

That infusion of genetic diversity could help reduce risks of disease, infertility and genetic abnormalities. Still, Harris agrees it’s only one tool in the conservationist toolbox and not universally applicable.

“I think cloning may not be the answer for conserving a wide array of species, but several things make black-footed ferrets really good candidates for using cloning as one of multiple conservation tools to help the species,” she said.

Black-footed ferret cloning benefits from the species having an established breeding program and a close cousin — the domesticated ferret — that can donate eggs.

Phoenix Zoo was not involved in the cloning process or in providing the cells, which were obtained by SDFZ biologist Olivia Ryder from Wyoming Game and Fish veterinarian Tom Thorne in 1987. SDFZ would ultimately bank two cell lines: a male labeled Studbook #2 and a female named Willa.

“Thankfully, biologists had the foresight to create these cell lines long ago from other black-footed ferrets that didn’t pass along their genes,” said Harris.

Revive & Restore, a nonprofit focused on using biotechnology to help endangered and extinct species, worked with a pet cloning company called ViaGen Pets as well as a commercial ferret breeder to create embryos from Willa’s DNA. They hope eventually to clone the male ferret as well.

But reaching sexual maturity, though a significant feat, merely marks the beginning of a long process for the ferret and her team.

“First of all, they hope Elizabeth Ann will be fully sexually developed for breeding this season — not all 1-year-old black-footed ferrets are,” said Harris.

Assuming that holds true, the experts at the Colorado facility will need to find an experienced breeding male that is a good genetic match, then hope the pairing goes well and produces kits that grow up to reproduce successfully.

“Oftentimes, even in ones that appear to go very well, the female doesn’t actually get pregnant and then we have to keep trying or try other methods. Some facilities have tried artificial insemination in some cases,” said Harris.

Successful or not, whether conservationists can apply the approach to other animals will require more research and evaluation.

“I think the balance falls differently probably for every individual species because there’s so many different factors that make it either a useful tool, or less so,” said Harris.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Petition Aims to Protect Famed Ghost Orchids Under Endangered Species Act

Rare Florida Flower Threatened by Poaching, Development

PETERSBURG, Fla.—(January 24, 2022)—Conservation organizations submitted a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today requesting protection of the ghost orchid under the Endangered Species Act. The ghost orchid, one of the most famous and imperiled flowers in Florida, has declined by more than 90% globally.

The petition — submitted by The Institute for Regional Conservation, Center for Biological Diversity and National Parks Conservation Association — also asks the Service to designate critical habitat essential to the survival and recovery of the orchid.

“The ghost orchid is an icon of beauty and nature’s abundance,” said George Gann, executive director at The Institute for Regional Conservation. “Its long demise in southern Florida and Cuba, in part due to its immense popularity, is a bellwether of things to come. We can do nothing and watch another species go extinct in the wild, or we can act now to protect and restore this flagship orchid and its wild habitats. The Florida we envision includes a restored Greater Everglades ecosystem with all of its biological diversity, including the ghost orchid.”

The ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii), made popular by Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief and the movie Adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Nicholas Cage, is found only in Florida and Cuba.

There are only an estimated 1,500 ghost orchid plants left in Florida, and less than half are known to be reproductively mature. The Florida populations of ghost orchid have experienced a 30% to 50% decline. Chief threats to the flower include poaching, habitat degradation and the climate emergency.

“The ghost orchid is emblematic of wild, beautiful Florida, and this flower’s future depends on our ability to protect it from poaching and habitat loss,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The steady decline of ghost orchid populations coupled with the threats of the climate crisis puts this enigmatic plant at risk of extinction.”

“The ghost orchid is the rare plant species that captivates just as much attention as some charismatic megafauna in the state of Florida. This mysterious, beautiful plant captivates Floridians, reminding them of our state’s unique, wild heritage,” said Melissa Abdo, Ph.D., regional director at the National Parks Conservation Association. “While the ghost orchid has always been rare, threats to its existence have become dire in recent years. Poaching, climate change, loss and modification of habitat and direct threats to the ecosystem — even in protected areas like Big Cypress National Preserve — could spell disaster for the species. That is why it is imperative that the ghost orchid be afforded protections under the Endangered Species Act.”

Abdo has longstanding experience with the ghost orchid, having helped discover new subpopulations of the plant in Big Cypress National Preserve in the early 2000s.

The orchid is long-lived and may take 15 years or more to reach reproductive maturity. Its current range includes the Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and additional conservation and tribal areas in Collier, Hendry and possibly Lee counties.

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The Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA)

Judge orders USFWS to re-examine bison ruling

Sun., Jan. 23, 2022,  By Brett French,The Billing Gazette

BILLINGS – A U.S. District Court judge sided with bison advocates this week by ordering the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit its decision regarding a denial of evidence submitted in an attempt to have Yellowstone National Park’s bison protected under the Endangered Species Act.

In a 33-page memorandum opinion, District of Columbia Judge Randolph D. Moss said he had no view on the ESA issue. Rather, he said the Fish and Wildlife Service had applied the wrong standard and failed to address a significant aspect of the question before it when it last denied the petitioners’ arguments.

“It is concerning, to be sure, that over seven years have now passed since the 2014 petition was filed,” Moss wrote. “But it remains unclear whether sufficient basis exists to proceed to the next stage of the ESA process, and in light of the substantial amount of work done to date, the Service should be able to answer that question promptly.”

Although the judge set no deadline for the Fish and Wildlife Service response, he did require the parties to file a joint status report within 90 days to update the court.

Since 2014, Buffalo Field Campaign and Western Watersheds Project have been fighting to have Yellowstone’s bison declared endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The request is based on an argument that Yellowstone contains two genetically distinct subpopulations, the Central and Northern herds, which are often separated geographically but do intermix. To back up the claim, they pointed out that only 22 indigenous bison remained in Central Yellowstone in 1902. Meanwhile, the Northern herd is descended from 18 females from northern Montana and three bulls from Texas introduced in 1902.

The Central herd tends to remain around the Madison River while the Northern herd is found along the Yellowstone and Lamar rivers.

Under an agreement with the state of Montana, in an attempt to avoid bison infected with the disease brucellosis from passing it to livestock, the state and National Park Service agreed in 2000 to allow the slaughter of bison and bison hunting to reduce the park’s bison population. The theory was that fewer bison would mean fewer would wander out of the park in winter when they might come into contact with cattle and spread brucellosis.

Since that agreement was forged, however, the Central bison herd’s population has declined. To support a demand for boosting the bison population, the conservation groups cited a 2014 study that found the two herds were genetically distinct. So rather than set a limit of 3,000 bison for the entire park, they argued the population should be 3,000 bison for each herd.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, which implements the Endangered Species Act, dismissed the study and instead touted a different one that examined the bison’s mitochondrial DNA. This study did not support the claims of distinct bison populations. Therefore, no change to existing management was warranted, the agency argued.

The Fish and Wildlife Service had also said the petitioners “failed to adequately account for mixing between the central and northern herds.” Ignoring this “suggests that the substructure of two distinct lineages in two distinct herds may not be sustained over time.”

Judge Moss said the USFWS’s 2019 finding “offers no analysis of why, in the Service’s view,” it chose one study over the other. The agency failed to “articulate … a ‘rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.’ ”

Whether the issue will get more attention now that Martha Williams, the former director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, is on track to become the new director of the USFWS is uncertain.

When Montana congressman Ryan Zinke was appointed to lead the Department of Interior, the USFWS denied the bison ESA petition. At the same time, he was urging the Park Service to manage Yellowstone’s bison more like livestock.

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Earth.com

Lighted nets help protect endangered marine wildlife

By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.com staff writer, January 22, 2022

New research published in the journal Current Biology has found that using LED illuminated nets greatly reduced accidental catch of sharks, rays, sea turtles or other unwanted fish. This leads to a win-win situation for commercial fisheries and marine wildlife.

Gillnets are one of the most widely used fishing gear in coastal areas of the world’s oceans. However, using them often results in the bycatch of animals not targeted by fishers, including endangered, threatened, or protected species such as sharks, rays, sea turtles, or seabirds. This incidental catching of non-target species has contributed to declines in endangered species and has negatively impacted coastal ecosystems.

Luckily, during the last decade, increasingly more LED illuminated gillnets have been manufactured, which proved to be a highly effective solution to the problems entailed by accidental catch. A research team led by Arizona State University (ASU) and the Wildlife Conservation Society attached green LED lights every ten meters on gillnets along the Pacific Coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico to assess to what extent could this method reduce bycatch.

The scientists were amazed to find that using this gear reduced total fisheries bycatch by 63 percent, including a 95 percent reduction in the accidental catch of sharks, skates, and rays, an 81 percent reduction in incidental trapping of Humboldt squids, and a 48 percent reduction in catching unwanted finfish. Fortunately for fishers, this technology still allowed continued catches of targeted species, while significantly reducing bycatch.

“These results demonstrate that the potential benefits of illuminated nets extend well beyond sea turtles, while demonstrating the strong promise for net illumination to mitigate discarded bycatch in similar coastal gillnet fisheries throughout the world’s oceans,” said study lead author Jesse Senko, an expert in animal behavior and fisheries management at ASU.

“Making life easier for fishers by reducing the amount of time untangling bycatch is equally essential as reducing the bycatch biomass in nets,” added study co-author John Wang, a fisheries ecologist at the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

“It is important for fishers to know that there are tangible benefits for them. This is critical for the adoption of such technologies by the fishing industry,” he concluded.

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Turtle Island Restoration Network

Take Action for Salmon

January 22, 2022

A new Stream Conservation Area Ordinance (SCA) that could determine the fate of coho salmon in California is coming before the Marin County Board of Supervisors this March.

A new Stream Conservation Area Ordinance (SCA) that could determine the fate of coho salmon in California is coming before the Marin County Board of Supervisors this March. Despite being protected by the U.S. and California Endangered Species Act, Coho Salmon populations have plummeted 95% of their historic population numbers. They have been driven to near extinction by urbanization, habitat loss, and climate change.

The tiny 9 square mile San Geronimo Valley attributes 10% of the spawning habitat for central coast coho, making this one the vital coho spawning habitats in all of California. Yet even here, the actual number of fish is tragically low, averaging only 250 remaining adults returning to spawn each year. As the valley goes, so does the Salmon, making it paramount to preserve and protect the little remaining riparian habitat we have left.

For two decades without success, SPAWN has tried to persuade Marin supervisors to pass a science-based, common sense SCA ordinance to protect the salmon’s critical habitat.  With urban development continuing, SPAWN sued the county and won a series of important legal victories after the State Court found that Marin County’s plan to urbanize the watershed violated the California Environmental Quality Act. To mitigate any impacts, the county elected to create a science-based SCA to protect the streams from being overdeveloped. But over 14 years later, and still, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act, an effective SCA has not materialized.

The Marin County Planning Commission recently approved a version of the SCA to be voted on by the Board of Supervisors this spring.

Unfortunately, the current draft ordinance is plagued with problems that will allow continued destruction of habitat and cause coho salmon habitat and numbers to decline toward extinction. Excessive development is permitted within the SCA, lacking baseline regulations to protect the streambanks.  The SCA ordinance is absent of workable and clearly defined language, unnecessarily burdening the homeowners and the environment. It is hard to discern how development would be regulated due to the broad ill-defined exceptions and exemptions.

The SCA lacks any provisions for inspection or enforcement to ensure that the Ordinance is put into effect, making this nothing more than a toothless paper document. Also, the current SCA lacks any performance standards to measure how effective the SCA is at protecting salmon. Finally, there is no mention of adopting a mitigation program to restore degraded riparian habitat in priority areas of the Lagunitas Creek watershed that would be damaged due to development.

Warming oceans coupled with a higher probability of infrequent rain events are already creating an uphill battle for Coho Salmon to return to their native spawning grounds. For this species to survive, we must protect what little unimpaired streams we have left. Take action by letting the Marin County Board of Supervisors know that they need to adopt a common-sense science-based Ordinance that follows the

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Public News Service

Federal Funds Coming to Keep Invasive Carp Out of Great Lakes

Lily Bohlke/Producer, January 21, 2022

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to use federal funds for a project to help keep invasive carp out of the Great Lakes.

It is proposing using nearly $226 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for the Brandon Road Lock and Dam Project in Joliet.

Don Jodrey, director of federal relations for the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said carp crowd out native aquatic species, and have been moving up the Mississippi River system and into the Illinois River.

The project would modify the existing dam and locks to make it easier to detect invasive species.

“The Great Lakes have suffered over the years from invasive aquatic species, like zebra and quagga mussels and things like this,” Jodrey explained. “The concern is, if the carp move into the Great Lakes system, that they’re going to be detrimental to the fishing and recreational industries that are up there.”

He added the Army Corps is testing relatively new technology, which could help other states tackle the problem of invasive species.

Fighting invasive species is not cheap. Jodrey pointed out the money is expected to cover the planning, engineering and design phases of the project, about $28 million, plus roughly $200 million for construction, which he noted could cost another $850 million.

“They’re basically saying, as a matter of policy, that the administration supports the project,” Jodrey stated. “It’s a really important step, and it really tells us the project is going to get built.”

For the remaining funding, the eight governors of the Great Lakes states have requested the project be included in the 2022 Water Resources Reform and Development Act.

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Colorado Newsline (Denver, CO)

Trophy hunting of bobcats, Canada lynx, mountain lions would be banned under proposed Colorado bill

By: JULIA FENNELL – January 21, 2022

Colorado state representatives introduced a bill last week to ban trophy hunting of certain wildcats.

If passed, Senate Bill 22-31 would prohibit shooting, wounding, killing or trapping a bobcat, Canada lynx or mountain lion. The bill was sponsored by Democratic state Sens. Sonya Jaquez Lewis and Joann Ginal and state Reps. Judy Amabile and Monica Duran.

Mountain lions, bobcats and lynxes are Colorado’s three native feline species, according to the Colorado Virtual Library website.

The Colorado Farm Bureau, which protects, promotes and enhances agriculture and rural communities, according to its website, opposes the bill.

“It is a rancher’s first priority to care for their livestock and Colorado Farm Bureau opposes any new threat to the wellbeing of those animals such as SB22-031,” says a statement emailed to Newsline and attributed to Austin Vincent, the director of public policy and state affairs for the Colorado Farm Bureau. “Ranchers know firsthand how difficult and complex predator management is as well as protecting livestock from stress and harassment by predators. Limiting wildlife management via unwavering legislation leaves wildlife biologists on the sidelines as they manage healthy wildlife populations. Legislators taking away options to control predator populations only endangers the health of livestock and Colorado’s diverse wildlife ecosystem.”

The Humane Society of the United States supports the bill.

“Even though fur sales are plummeting across the world, trappers still target Colorado’s bobcats for their soft belly fur, which is sold on international markets,” the Humane Society of the United States’ website says. “Canada lynx, who are very similar in appearance to bobcats, could soon lose their protections under the federal Endangered Species Act, putting their small population in Colorado at risk to trophy hunting.”

The bill would allow a person to shoot, wound, kill or trap a bobcat, Canada lynx, or mountain lion in certain circumstances, including if it is immediately necessary to protect the person from bodily harm and if it’s by a peace officer or veterinarian who is acting within the scope of their duties. A person who shoots, wounds or kills one of the animals to prevent bodily harm is not allowed to move the animal and is required to notify the Colorado Parks and Wildlife within 24 hours.

Violators of the Prohibit Hunting Bobcat, Lynx And Mountain Lion bill would face a fine of up to $2,000 or up to one year in jail, an assessment of 20 hunting license suspension points and a civil restitution fee of $700 for a bobcat or mountain lion and $1,000 for a Canada lynx, according to the proposed legislation. If passed, violating the bill would be a misdemeanor.

Selling or buying a mountain lion or soliciting another person to illegally hunt a mountain lion is a class 5 felony.

Felines in Colorado

Colorado Parks and Wildlife established the lynx reintroduction program in the late 1990s, with the goal of establishing a self-sustaining population of lynxes in Colorado, according to a status report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Lynxes were considered endangered animals in Colorado in the 1970s, though theories for why the animal disappeared from the state vary. In 1999, 41 lynxes were released in Colorado. A total of 218 lynxes were reintroduced in the state as a result of the program, which lasted until 2006.

Trophy hunters kill about 500 mountain lions and about 2,000 bobcats a year in Colorado, according to a report from the Humane Society of the United States. Hunters who kill bobcats often use live traps — bobcats are drawn into the trap by bait set by hunters, who then return to kill the animal.

Bobcats and mountain lions in Colorado tend to live in areas with canyons and foothills, whereas lynxes tend to live in subalpine forest areas along mountain streams and avalanche chutes, according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

Between 3,000 and 7,000 mountain lions are estimated to live in Colorado, according to Breckenridge’s website.

Colorado is home to dozens of endangered species. The Canada lynx is listed as a threatened species federally; bobcats and mountain lions are not.

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E&E News/Greenwire

DeFazio blasts Haaland over gray wolf protections

By Michael Doyle | 01/20/2022

In a remarkably pointed critique, one of the most senior Democrats in the House yesterday voiced sharp disappointment with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland over her refusal to extend emergency Endangered Species Act protections to the gray wolf.

The chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) let loose following a phone call with Haaland to discuss the species, which was removed from the ESA list last January.

“I came away from the discussion disappointed,” DeFazio said in a lengthy statement, adding that “I am frankly dumbfounded that she would not invoke emergency relisting now.”

A longtime leading member of the House Progressive Caucus, DeFazio cited his “grave concerns” about the wolf and declared “there is simply no reason for Secretary Haaland to continue a Trump-era policy that threatens the existence of a species.”

DeFazio’s denunciation escalates both the rhetorical and the regulatory conflict over the gray wolf. Last September, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would perform a yearlong review to determine if relisting is warranted.

In theory, Haaland could use her emergency authority to relist the species for 240 days while FWS completes its latest assessment (Greenwire, Dec. 16, 2021).

Interior spokesperson Melissa Schwartz said in a statement that “the Secretary appreciated the opportunity to speak with the congressman on a topic they both care passionately about.”

“I will not go into the details of a private conversation but want to be clear — under Secretary Haaland’s leadership, the Department will address the status of the gray wolf and all species according to the science and the law, and will continue to evaluate all options for doing so,” Schwartz added.

With the gray wolf delisted, Western states including Idaho, Montana and Oregon have enacted laws that have opened the door to killing wolves.

“Sadly, Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Services has authorized the inhumane killings of gray wolf pups, which are no threat to livestock,” DeFazio said.

DeFazio has announced he is retiring after this term, capping a congressional career that began in 1987.

In December, DeFazio joined one of Haaland’s closest House allies, Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, and more than 70 other lawmakers in a letter calling for emergency relisting of the species.

The review by FWS was prompted by two petitions proposing to list the gray wolf’s northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segment (DPS), or a new Western DPS, as a threatened or endangered species.

One petition was filed by the Western Watersheds Project and 70 other organizations. The other petition asserting that Endangered Species Act protections are needed was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and several other groups.

In March 2019, FWS proposed delisting the species, first identified as endangered decades ago, after concluding that the population in the Lower 48 states had rebounded (Greenwire, July 16, 2019).

Gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains, including Montana, Idaho, and eastern portions of Oregon and Washington state, were previously delisted in 2009. The broader delisting for the Lower 48 was made final last year and took effect Jan. 4 (E&E News PM, Feb. 1, 2021).

Several weeks later, the Natural Resources Defense Council joined with other groups in suing FWS.

While that lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California is pending, the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Sheep Industry Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Public Lands Council are appealing a trial judge’s denial of their request to intervene.

“In the Coalition members’ experience, state and tribal agencies are best able to balance healthy ecosystems with the needs of local communities, including farmers and ranchers,” the groups stated in one legal filing.

The groups added that “a decision to relist the gray wolf, for example, could impair Coalition members’ ability to protect their livestock from wolves and place restrictions on their routine agricultural and timber activities.”

A Congressional Research Service report noted that the ESA requires Interior to exercise emergency authority to relist a delisted species when necessary “to prevent a significant risk to the well being” of the species.

“As of October 2020, no species had been relisted on an emergency basis under this authority,” CRS noted.

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Boston Globe (Boston, MA)

Genetic testing leads to ‘surprising discoveries’ about endangered right whales, researchers say

By Matt Yan, Globe Correspondent, January 20, 2022

Using genetic testing, scientists have discovered new information about North Atlantic right whale calves, according to a study published Thursday.

“The results of this study have changed what we know about the separation time between a mother and calf as well as calves’ physical development, all crucial information for a critically endangered species that numbers less than 350 individuals,” Philip Hamilton, lead author of the study and senior scientist at the New England Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, said in a statement.

The North Atlantic right whale is a critically endangered species, with a total population of 336 as of 2020, according to the aquarium statement. The animals typically travel close to shore along the US and Canadian coastlines, spanning from Florida to Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The study, which was published in the journal Mammalian Biology, has been in the works for over 40 years, Hamilton said in a telephone interview Thursday. He said North Atlantic right whales have been tracked via photo identification since 1980 and tracked genetically, through skin and blubber biopsies, since 1988. Data for this study was collected until 2018, he said.

When researchers compared the genetic and photo databases, “surprising” discoveries were made, Hamilton said.

“We regularly compare the two databases because you can obtain identifications from either but using very different metrics,” he said. He said that in a number of cases, researchers were able to use genetic testing to identify whales that they had not been able to identify using photographs.

Researchers said it was previously assumed that if mothers were always seen alone on the feeding ground in the calf’s birth year, then their calves were dead. But the study found, with the help of genetic testing, that four calves missing and presumed to be dead had survived. Two of the four possibly had weaned earlier than expected, the researchers said.

One of the 13 case studies, for example, involved an unnamed calf (denoted as Catalog #3970) born in 2009 and genetically sampled on the calving grounds in January 2009, with his mother, according to the statement.

The calf and his mother, Braces, were last seen together in mid-February 2009, according to the statement. But four months later, in mid-June, a young unidentified whale was spotted alone on a feeding ground 1,000 miles north.

After the whale was genetically sampled in September, it was identified as Braces’ calf, who had separated from his mother at only 7- to 8-months-old. This discovery, the statement said, helped researchers conclude that whales can wean from their mothers earlier than the typical 10 to 12 months.

Through the study, Hamilton said, researchers “gained better estimates on calf survival.”

“I don’t think it will have a big impact on the actual survival estimates because it’s just a few animals,” he said. “But everything helps to make our estimates more precise. And all of those estimates are built into assessments of, you know, what do we need in the way of protections for this species in order for them to survive?”

Right now, he said, the species is in “bad shape” with the population dwindling rapidly due to a decrease in reproduction and increases in mortality caused by vessel strikes and entanglement in ropes. And as someone who has studied whales for 35 years, he said he hopes that with this study, people recognize their importance.

“I think one thing about this study is that it shows, yet again, the power of knowing the individual,” he said. “By knowing an individual whale, we can track their behavior and their survival, and you link genetics in there, and it just makes it more refined. … The stories in this paper are about individuals, and I hope that makes the information more interesting and accessible to the reader.”

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Emory University (Atlanta, GA)

International trade bans on endangered species tend to help mammals but hurt reptiles

By Carol Clark, Jan. 19, 2022

International trade bans on endangered species generally help mammals improve their status but hurt reptiles, finds a major economics study led by Emory University.

Science Advances published the research on the impact of international trade bans by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“We find large spikes in legal trade in anticipation of the bans on reptilian species but not in anticipation of the bans on mammalian species, potentially explaining the differential effect of the bans,” says Hugo Mialon, professor of economics at Emory University and lead author of the study.

The work is the largest-scale study of its kind, spanning nearly four decades and including all mammalian and reptilian species for which threat-level assessments are available from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Co-authors include economists Tilman Klumpp, from the University of Alberta, Canada; and Michael Williams, from the Berkeley Research Group and Competition Economics LLC in Emeryville, California.

Their findings have significant implications for policymakers. Since CITES does not operate in secrecy, increased trading activity in anticipation of impending trading bans is generally not preventable.

“Anticipatory trade spikes may be especially detrimental when the bans are applied to critically endangered species, because market prices for the few remaining specimens tend to be high, so eleventh-hour trading may be more intense and post-ban recovery harder,” Mialon says. “This suggests that trade bans should be implemented at lower endangerment levels — in other words, when a species is near threatened rather than critically endangered.”

The authors propose several possible explanations for why eleventh-hour trade spikes did not occur — or were less pronounced — for mammalian species. One possibility is logistics, since many of the mammalian species in their dataset were many times larger and heavier than most of the reptilian species, requiring greater effort to ship across international borders. In addition, many of the reptilian species, such as turtles and tortoises, are easier to catch than the mammals. Finally, reptilian species traded in the exotic pet trade are known to be less likely to survive physical relocation compared to mammals.

Mialon specializes in research at the boundaries between law and economics.

“From a young age, I’ve been fascinated by wild animals and their importance to ecosystems,” he says. “The available IUCN data on endangered species and CITES bans offered a chance to apply my expertise to potentially help save animal species from extinction. As far as I know, we are the first economists to tackle this topic.”

Direct evidence for the effectiveness of trade bans by CITES has been inconclusive. Several previous small-sample studies have found that CITES regulations had a marginal effect, or no measurable effect, on endangerment.

Mialon and his colleagues took a more comprehensive approach to the question. They focused on the period starting in 1979, when data on CITES bans first became available, to 2018. Their analysis included all 41 mammalian and 20 reptilian species that have received CITES bans within the study period and the thousands of mammalian and reptilian species that have been assessed by IUCN during that period.

The status of a majority of species has deteriorated over the past four decades, due to various threats such as hunting, habitat loss and climate change. The statistical methods used by the researchers compared how the status of species that received CITES trade bans changed compared to those that did not receive bans.

Economic controls used in the study included data on GPD per capita, international trade volume as a percentage of GDP, and population density, by country and year. For each species and year, the researchers averaged each of these variables over all countries in the species’ distribution, as recorded by the IUCN. They also constructed a measure for scientific interest in a species. And the analysis controlled for factors that differ across species but do not change over time, such as a species’ average adult size.

The results indicate that, on average, trade bans work for mammals. A trade ban is associated with an average reduction in the probability that a species is assessed as endangered or worse of up to 17 percent, relative to species in which trade was not banned.

Mammalian species whose status eventually improved following a ban include the Guadalupe fur seal, the grey wolf, the northern bottle-nose whale, the ocelot, the margay, the sloth bear, the Samoan flying fox, the Pacific flying fox, Cuvier’s gazelle and the slender-horned gazelle.

“The Cuvier’s gazelle and the slender-horned gazelle are clear examples,” Mialon says. “They were endangered in 2007 when they received a CITES ban and are ‘vulnerable’ and no longer ‘endangered’ today.”

The Dorcas gazelle, however, which did not receive a CITES ban, was “vulnerable” in 2007 and remains “vulnerable” today, so it saw no improvement in status.

“All three species are closely related, share a similar geographic distribution, and face overlapping threats,” Mialon says. “This provides an example of the trade bans working and may suggest that extending a trade ban to the Dorcas gazelle could be effective, too.”

In the case of reptiles, the analysis found that an international trade ban is associated with an average increase in the probability that a species is assessed as endangered or worse of up to 42.6 percent, relative to species in which trade was not banned.

Only the American and saltwater crocodiles saw their status improve following a CITES ban. The Bolson tortoise, Simony’s lizard, the bog turtle, Kleinmann’s tortoise, the Antsingy leaf chameleon, the flat-tailed tortoise, the spider tortoise and the big-headed turtle all saw their status deteriorate following the ban.

One limitation to the study is that historical data on the use of other conservation measures besides CITES bans was unavailable so it could not be used as a control variable. Another limitation is that the analysis only looked at international bans.

“Many threatened animal species are not traded in international markets but are still traded in local and national markets,” Mialon says.

Mialon and his colleagues are currently working on another paper about the effects of CITES international trade bans on plant species.

The research received support from Competition Economics LLC and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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 th