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Idaho Statesman (Boise, ID)

Idaho grizzly bears near Yellowstone could lose endangered species protections 

By NICOLE BLANCHARD, February 03, 2023

One day after Idaho officials threatened to sue the federal government for failing to respond to petitions to remove grizzly bears from Endangered Species Act protections, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it will move forward with reconsidering the bears’ position — though it won’t consider Idaho’s argument.

Fish and Wildlife on Friday issued findings on petitions from Wyoming, Montana and Idaho that sought to delist grizzlies. Idaho’s petition was the broadest, asking officials to remove protections for all grizzly bears in the contiguous United States. Wyoming and Montana petitioned to delist bears in the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone ecosystems.

Federal officials said the claims in Idaho’s petition weren’t substantial enough to prompt further review, but Wyoming and Montana’s were sufficient to initiate a status review of grizzlies in the two ecosystems.

The status review could be the first step toward removing grizzlies from Endangered Species Act protections, which would likely lead to a grizzly hunting season in Idaho. Already the decision has prompted an outcry from conservation groups, who say it could threaten the bears’ recovery, and from Idaho politicians who blasted the dismissal of Idaho’s petition.

DELISTING WOULD AFFECT SOME IDAHO GRIZZLIES

The Fish and Wildlife Service decision comes 11 months after Idaho’s petition was filed and more than a year after Montana and Wyoming’s petitions.

On Thursday, Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s office announced its intent to sue the federal government if officials did not respond to the petition by early April. Little’s office said federal officials disregarded the original 90-day deadline to respond when the petitions were filed.

In a statement provided to the Idaho Statesman via email, Little said his office will “continue to push back against the federal government” and called the decision an example of federal overreach.

“The response is seven months late, and it took a threat of legal action from the state of Idaho to simply receive a response,” Little said.

The federal agency’s findings kick off a 12-month review on the bears’ status in the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems.

While the Northern Continental Divide area is entirely in Montana, the Greater Yellowstone zone includes parts of Montana, Wyoming and the eastern edge of Idaho. Idaho also includes the Bitterroot zone and parts of the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak zones. Grizzly bears in those areas — all in North Idaho — are not part of the consideration for delisting.

In his statement, Little said Fish and Wildife’s decision will disproportionately impact North Idaho.

If bears in the two ecosystems lose their “threatened” status, it won’t be the first time grizzly protections have changed. Since they were first listed in 1975, they were removed from Endangered Species Act protections twice, in 2007 and 2017. In 2018, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game had set up a hunt for a single grizzly in eastern Idaho before a judge returned the bears to threatened status.

While Fish and Wildlife said in its findings that grizzly populations in the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide areas appear to have improved, it also noted some potential obstacles.

The federal agency applauded the three states’ recovery efforts but said “the impact of recently enacted state statutes affecting these two grizzly bear populations is of concern and will require careful consideration.”

The decision didn’t point to specific state laws, but conservation groups in recent years have sued to challenge Idaho’s expanded wolf trapping laws, arguing that they could lead to the incidental trapping of grizzlies and lynx. A judge rejected the lawsuit.

IDAHO CONGRESSMEN CRITICIZE DECISION

Several conservation groups on Friday issued statements criticizing Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to review the bears’ status. The Center for Biological Diversity said the move “could pave the way for the trophy hunting of grizzly bears in parts of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.”

Derek Goldman, national field director for the Endangered Species Coalition, told the Statesman in an emailed statement that he’s glad the Fish and Wildlife Service called out state laws that could pose a threat to grizzly recovery.

“Given the current trajectory of state policy in Montana and Idaho, state management would be a disaster for grizzly bears’ recovery and the people of Montana, Idaho and the nation,” Goldman said.

Statements from Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians expressed similar concerns.

Idaho’s congressional delegation also blasted the decision — but for vastly different reasons.

In a joint statement, Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Rep. Russ Fulcher said they “condemn” the Fish and Wildlife Service decision to dismiss Idaho’s petition.

“We stand by Gov. Little and Idaho’s wildlife managers,” they said. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to provide answers, transparency and science-backed reasoning for their decision is unacceptable.”

In his own statement, Rep. Mike Simpson said he was “disappointed” in the outcome. None of the lawmakers acknowledged the decision to review the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly population.

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News Radio 560/KPQ (Wenatchee, WA)

BILL TO DELIST GRAY WOLVES IN CERTAIN COUNTIES INTRODUCED

Mark Rattner, Published: February 2, 2023

An Okanogan County lawmaker says more needs to be done to protect ranchers, cattlemen, and rural families from a rising wolf population.

According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the state’s gray wolf population has grown nearly 28-percent each year since 2008.

State Representative Joel Kretz says environmentalists wanting wolves to remain on the state endangered list aren’t seeing the big picture.

“We’re saving the last wolf in the world. Urban people that don’t know any better send them money. For them, it’s an emotional fundraising thing. It has nothing to do with facts or science.” Kretz said.

Representative Kretz has introduced a new bill in Olympia. It would give counties the power to delist wolves from the endangered species list if wolf population goals have been met.

“What we’re saying is if a single county has four breeding pairs, that county can apply to be taken out of the endangered species state list.” Kretz said.

Kretz hopes his bill receives enough bi-partisan support for it to pass. He says it will help ranchers, cattlemen, and rural families bear the brunt of predatory wolves.

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Endangered Species Coalition/Center for Biological Diversity/Earthjustice/Wolf Conservation Center

Celebrating 50 Years of Endangered Species Act Success

Landmark Law Continues to Save Wildlife From Extinction

WASHINGTON—(February 2, 2023)—Conservation and wildlife advocacy groups are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Endangered Species Act this year, commemorating five decades of effective and crucial protection for imperiled animals and plants.

Passed nearly unanimously by Congress and signed into law by Richard Nixon on Dec. 28, 1973, the Endangered Species Act continues to be a bedrock environmental law for the United States. The Act has been tremendously successful at preventing species that are protected under it from going extinct. The Act has saved countless imperiled species, and 90% of the plants and wildlife listed under the law are recovering on schedule to meet the timetables in their recovery plans.

“This year, as we celebrate 50 years of the Endangered Species Act, we know its role in maintaining biodiversity is more important now than ever, especially as we face a worsening climate crisis and mass extinction,” said House Natural Resources Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva. “From protecting critical habitat to creating recovery plans, the Endangered Species Act has facilitated the recovery of species like the humpback whale and bald eagle, while also protecting iconic species like grizzly bears, sea turtles and jaguars. We know this milestone is also a time to reinvigorate our defense of Endangered Species Act protections. Each year, Republicans ramp up their attacks to undermine science-based decisions about listing, delisting, habitat protections and recovery, so they can more easily dole out favors for polluters. We stand ready to continue our fight for species and their habitats over the next 50 years and beyond.”

“For 50 years, the Endangered Species Act has been our safety net for fish, plants and wildlife on the brink of extinction,” said Bob Stanton, former director of the U.S. National Park Service. “As we look to the next 50 years, we owe it to future generations to fully fund and strengthen the law that protects our nation’s wildlife heritage.”

More than 1,747 imperiled species of plants, fish and wildlife in the United States were protected by the Endangered Species Act as of 2019, according to a peer reviewed study. Only 26 have gone extinct or are possibly extinct after being placed on the list of protected species. However, many other plants and animals — like the Bishop’s ʻōʻō, Guam broadbill and Tacoma pocket gopher — have disappeared while waiting for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make decisions on whether to protect them.

Despite its strong track record, and the support of 90% of American voters, the Endangered Species Act continues to face political threats. In 2017 more than 400 organizations signed a letter to members of Congress opposing efforts to weaken the law. This year provides an opportunity to reflect on the law’s successes, as well as find ways to strengthen it to protect imperiled plants and animals.

In celebration of the Endangered Species Act, conservation and animal advocacy organizations will be hosting events, releasing reports and launching a website to honor this historic law. These include holding an awards ceremony for people and organizations working to save imperiled animals, educating members of Congress about the importance of the Endangered Species Act and sponsoring a series of murals highlighting endangered species.

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International Fund for Animal Welfare

Bahrain releases endangered dolphins from illegal captivity

(Bahrain – 1 February 2023) – Three humpback dolphins have been released more than a year after being illegally captured for display at a public aquarium at a Bahrain tourist resort.

Indian Ocean humpback dolphins are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and their numbers are decreasing.

In Bahrain’s first-ever operation of its kind, the dolphins were released back into the ocean following a decision by Bahrain authorities to convict three fishermen for poaching the dolphins and selling them on to a resort specializing in shows featuring performing dolphins.

Working with key agencies in Bahrain—including the Supreme Council for Environment, Public Prosecution, Coast Guard Department, General Administration of Civil ‎Defense, Tails Veterinary Clinic and others—IFAW prepared the dolphins to ensure they were released in good condition.

“The release will be life-changing for the three dolphins—from confinement in a pool contaminated with rusty leaks from a poorly maintained ceiling, where they were forced to perform daily for public entertainment, they are now swimming free in the ocean,” said Brian Sharp, Director of IFAW’S Marine Mammal Rescue Program.

“The work does not end with the release of the dolphins. We will closely monitor these animals via satellite trackers, thanks to a contribution from the Dutch Postcode Lottery, as they re-adjust to their natural environment after over a year in illegal forced captivity. We should all dedicate ourselves to make sure this does not happen again.”

His Excellency the Minister of Oil and Environment and the Special Envoy for Climate Affairs, Dr. Mohamed bin Mubarak Bin Daina,‎ said the Constitution of Bahrain ensured the protection of the ‎environment and the preservation of its resources.‎ Bahrain is a signatory to international conventions such as CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), and the IUCN.

Najat Tarrada, Co-founder of Tails Veterinary Clinic, said that in coordination with IFAW, the clinic provided comprehensive veterinary examinations, diagnosing the health condition of the dolphins. Tails also managed their safety during the transportation of the animals to the release site, supervised the placement of the tracking devices and helped ensure the dolphins were safely released.

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Fox Weather

Western monarch butterfly population suffers due to atmospheric river storms

After the highest initial count in two decades around Thanksgiving, atmospheric river-fueled storms battered overwintering roosts and led to the loss of the iconic western monarch butterflies.

By Hillary Andrews, January 31, 2023

Western monarch butterfly proponents’ spirits soared after the highest initial annual western monarch counts over Thanksgiving in more than 20 years. Then, three weeks of storms supercharged by atmospheric rivers slammed the overwintering butterflies. The final results after a second January count showed that weather took a toll on the endangered species.

“You have severe storms, and then that means branches come down, trees topple over. We saw flooding at quite a few sites. And then we also have heard reports of monarchs being blown out of their clusters,” said Xerces Society biologist Emma Pelton.

“And if it’s too wet and too cold, they can’t regain that energy to get back up into their clusters. So higher rates of predation and mortality,” she continued.

Scientists are still crunching the numbers to get a final idea of the population drop.

The Western Monarch Count regional coordinator in Monterrey County said the groves in her area showed a 25% drop since Thanksgiving. She said other areas saw a 40% percent drop after the storms. Clusters were entirely gone in some areas.

Storm damage also prevented some observers from going out to the sites.

“On some sites, they’re still there in good numbers, and we’re hampered because of all the road closures and power outages and flooding. A lot of people just couldn’t get out safely,” said Pelton, uncertain of the exact drop in numbers.

Over 250 volunteers counted roosts and flutters from 272 overwintering sites across California and Arizona to estimate the population. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation runs the survey and counted 335,479 butterflies.

Over the winter, the butterflies huddled for warmth in groves of trees and faced day after day of tropical storm-force winds and record rainfall. Many of the trees were non-native eucalyptus which is prone to being blown over in high winds and rooted in saturated soil. Observers reported flooding, downed tree limbs and even entire trees uprooted to Xerces.

Huge mortality’ and ‘storms take it up a notch’

Xerces scientists just started the count in 2017 and are unsure what is historically normal seasonal decline. Throughout years of drought and storms, the population drops have varied from 30 to 50%.

“We do think that there’s a pretty big problem happening where we’re seeing huge mortality. And these storms take that up a notch,” said Pelton. “So we’re losing a lot of butterflies. We don’t know that it’s 100% mortality.”

She suggested that butterflies could choose another area over winter. Also, warming temperatures prompted some clusters to start mating and continue the north and eastward migration. One site posted that observers saw mating behavior which signaled an early end to winter.

Protect overwintering sites to withstand storms and droughts

“The plain fact is that if we lose overwintering sites in California, we could lose migratory western monarchs,” said Isis Howard, Xerces Society biologist. “Development, eucalyptus removal, and tree trimming all need to be managed thoughtfully if we are to leave space for these animals to survive.”

The western monarch population crashed in 2020 to only 2,000 butterflies. The 2021 population rebounded to 250,000. It’s a stark contrast to the 1980s when the wintering bugs numbered in the low millions in the West. 

“Small populations are particularly vulnerable to being snuffed out by extreme weather, so we are lucky these storms occurred in a relatively good year,” said Pelton of the tragedy after a promising initial count. “We don’t want to count on luck alone to ensure the survival of the western monarch migration.”

“This is great compared to three years ago. This is not great compared to three decades ago,” Pelton said. “We’ve seen such wild swings in the population over the last five, ten years that I really don’t think two good years in a row is an indication of a trend.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature listed migratory monarchs as “endangered,” but the butterflies have not been listed in the Endangered Species Act.

Monarch migration

After spending breeding season to the north and east, the monarchs return to mainly coastal California when the weather gets cold from November to February. Coastal forests offer food of winter flower nectar.

Dr. Arthur Shapiro, Professor of Evolution and Ecology at the University of California, Davis, says there are about 10 core wintering sites in California.  He says he doesn’t know what happened to the western monarchs over the past several years.

Shapiro doesn’t believe drought, which reduced favored monarch food like milkweed nectar, is to blame for the precipitous drop in numbers.

“What I can say is that Monarch populations had been in long, slow decline before the 5-year drought and rebounded significantly during the drought,” Shapiro told FOX Weather in 2021.

Shapiro suspects neonicotinoid insecticides may have had a role in the decline. Pesticide use is lower in drought years because many farmers leave their land fallow.

“If pesticides are a cause, I won’t say the cause of the declines, this would provide a mechanism to account for improved numbers in dry years,” he added.

Neonicotinoid pesticides accumulate in the nectar and pollen of treated crops and turf. The E.U. banned several neonicotinoid insecticides, used on crops and turf in 2013 to protect pollinators like bees.

A recent U.S. Geological Survey study also suggested that the pesticides played a role in the 57% decrease in the occurrence of the western bumblebee.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Federal Officials Miss Deadline to Protect Ghost Orchid As Endangered

Decision Delayed Despite Ongoing Florida Poaching Threat

HOLLYWOOD, Fla.—(January 31, 2023)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has missed the statutory deadline to make a decision on protecting the iconic ghost orchid, leaving the species in a regulatory limbo without crucial safeguards. The deadline was Jan. 24, but currently the Service is not scheduled to make a decision until 2026.

This delay comes as two people allegedly took a ghost orchid, and other rare orchids and air plants, from Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park late last year. In an incident report, law-enforcement officials described finding a machete and a bag filled with more than 30 rare and endangered plants. The poaching incident highlights why the famed and highly imperiled ghost orchid urgently needs to be protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“This is a most urgent matter that must not be pushed down the road,” said George Gann, executive director at The Institute for Regional Conservation. “We are deeply concerned about the growing impacts of poaching on ghost orchids and other rare plants in Florida, which make heighted protections imperative. Poaching has been identified as a key threat to the ghost orchid at the Fakahatchee, in Big Cypress National Preserve, and throughout South Florida.”

“This disastrous federal delay comes as the ghost orchid struggles to survive human greed and a multitude of other threats,” said Elise Bennett, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Endangered Species Act protection is crucial to give this hauntingly beautiful orchid a fighting chance at beating extinction. For one thing, it would impose stronger penalties for poachers. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s foot-dragging is depriving the orchid of crucial protection.”

“The heartbreaking poaching incident makes one thing clear: Existing protections for ghost orchids are not enough to keep them safe from harm, and we need action now,” said Melissa Abdo, Ph.D., Sun Coast regional director for The National Parks Conservation Association. “This tragic event, that happened inside a protected natural area no less, is a stark reminder of the threats facing nearly extinct ghost orchids and underscores the urgent need for Endangered Species Act protections. Only then will we have the tools to save this iconic species.”

Following a petition filed by The Institute for Regional Conservation, the Center for Biological Diversity and the National Parks Conservation Association, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the rare native orchid may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The agency initiated a status review to inform a final decision, which the agency was legally required to make last week.

The orchid is one of the most famous flowers in Florida, but its population has declined by more than 90% globally. Only an estimated 1,500 ghost orchid plants remain in Florida, and less than half are known to be mature enough to reproduce. Florida populations of ghost orchid have declined by up to 50%.

The best available science shows that the ghost orchid is at risk of extinction from multiple threats, including poaching, habitat loss and degradation, and the climate crisis.

The ghost orchid’s current limited 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. It is also found in Cuba.

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Fox 47 News (Lansing, MI)

The Endangered Species Act turns 50 this year. Here’s what it has accomplished

By: Chloe Nordquist, Posted on Jan. 30, 2023

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 turns 50 this year in December.

It protects species that are on the brink of extinction. A study by the Center for Biological Diversity found the Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of roughly 291 species.

“The intent of the law is to protect the whole ecosystem that the species needs to thrive,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. The center is a nonprofit conservation organization focused on ending extinction.

As a species declines in population, they are put on the endangered list.

“The bald eagle, the peregrine falcon, the American alligator, grizzly bears, gray wolves, so many species are still here because of the Endangered Species Act,” Curry said. “Eighty percent of listed species are moving toward recovery.”

While the Act has saved species and their habitats and allowed their populations to recover, critics are skeptical.

“A lot of critics of the act say, ‘Oh look, less than 100 species have ever come off the list’, but that’s because recovery takes time. It takes time to address those threats, to prop them back up, and to get them the help that they need,” she said.

A 2019 report by the United Nations found that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades.

“All of this is happening because of habitat loss, development, invasive species, pollution, pesticides, climate change, and then direct exploitation of animals,” Curry said. “Wildlife populations around the globe have declined on average 69 percent over the last 40 years.”

Experts say the Endangered Species Act is just one tool in helping protect the planet’s biodiversity. For example, this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the Fender’s blue butterfly was down-listed from endangered to threatened under the Act.

“When we decide to protect a species and give it funding, it generally does recover. Extinction isn’t inevitable, we can do something about it,” Curry said.

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Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico’s checkerspot butterfly placed on Endangered Species List

BY RICK NATHANSON, Journal Staff Writer, January 30, 2023

With more Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterflies being raised at the ABQ BioPark than found in the wild, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is placing the butterfly on the Endangered Species List as regulated by the federal Endangered Species Act.

The official listing goes into effect on March 2.

With the designation, there is the potential that more money will be available for conservation, habitat rehabilitation and more scrutiny over applications for mining, grazing and other permits, Elizabeth Bainbridge, a fish and wildlife biologist with the agency said Monday.

There is also generally greater public awareness for a species when it is placed on the Endangered Species List, she said.

The butterfly subspecies is found in only a few meadows, between 7,800 and 9,000 feet in elevation, in the Sacramento Mountains around the village of Cloudcroft in southeastern New Mexico, she said.

Only eight of these butterflies were found in the Sacramento Mountains last year, “and we saw no caterpillars, although they’re difficult to find in the wild, so it’s possible there’s more.”

The USFWS has partnered with the BioPark, which has raised 40 of the caterpillars in captivity. “We’re hoping to breed more in captivity this year and then take some back out to the wild as we work on trying to revegetate their habitat,” Bainbridge said.

The Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly is one of a suite of native pollinators that live in the Sacramento mountains and is important to that ecosystem, she said.

These butterflies are about 2-inches wide in their adult stage. As caterpillars, they spend the winter in a type of hibernation inside a silk-like tent before emerging in the spring as a chrysalis, which later turns into a butterfly with the summer rains. The butterflies then mate “and rely on a single species of host plant, the New Mexico beardtongue, on which to lay eggs,” Bainbridge said.

The dwindling numbers of this butterfly subspecies are likely due to several factors that have degraded its habitat. These include a decade-long drought, warmer temperatures from climate change, the effects of human recreation in the meadow habitat, an altered fire regime, the introduction of invasive and non-native plants, and grazing by large animals such as horses, deer and elk.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is partnering with the U.S. Forest Service, the BioPark Zoo, butterfly experts and a handful of nonprofit organizations and volunteers “to restore butterfly habitat on the Lincoln National Forest,” Bainbridge said.

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Public News Service

NM Lawmakers Weigh Next Step for Wildlife Crossings

Roz Brown, Producer, Contact, January 30, 2023

Reducing the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions is the goal of a bill before the New Mexico Legislature this session.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, is a co-sponsor, after steering passage of the New Mexico Wildlife Corridors Act in 2019. Stewart said residential and commercial development combined with climate change have fragmented wildlife habitat, forcing animals to cross roads with heavy traffic in some areas.

“So, it’s about a $20 million problem, between health and car accidents,” Stewart pointed out. “It’s hard to put a price on killing wildlife.”

Eddy, Lincoln and Otero counties have been identified as having some of the most dangerous highways in the state for local wildlife, frequently killed by motorists. State data also shows between 2002 and 2018, more than 11,000 deer were involved in crashes, or about 671 each year.

The state’s 2022 Wildlife Corridors Action Plan identified 11 safe-passage projects to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and restore habitat connectivity.

Jeremy Romero, regional connectivity director for the National Wildlife Federation, said the measure would create a $50 million dedicated fund to support implementation.

“Really, this bill is kind-of a next step to the Wildlife Corridors Action Plan, which was prioritized and developed via the first piece of legislation,” Romero explained. “This is the most critical step, because without the funding, we can’t accomplish these projects.”

While expensive, Romero argued wildlife crossings can be an effective solution.

“I have a lot of friends and family that have hit wildlife in various different capacities, some having a little bit more damage than others,” Romero noted. “You hear about it all the time, and it’s a big issue not only across New Mexico, but the country.”

He added it is estimated completing all 11 of the safe-passage projects would cost about $350 million.

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EcoWatch

Biden Admin. Protects Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Wilderness From Mining

By: Olivia Rosane: January 29, 2023

The Biden administration has taken steps to protect the most visited wilderness area in the U.S.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland signed an order Thursday protecting around 225,504 acres of national forest surrounding Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from mining operations.

“The Department of the Interior takes seriously our obligations to steward public lands and waters on behalf of all Americans. Protecting a place like Boundary Waters is key to supporting the health of the watershed and its surrounding wildlife, upholding our Tribal trust and treaty responsibilities, and boosting the local recreation economy,” Haaland said in a statement. “With an eye toward protecting this special place for future generations, I have made this decision using the best-available science and extensive public input.”

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was federally designated in 1964, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It stretches for around 150 miles along Minnesota’s border with Canada and covers more than one million acres of boreal woodland in the Superior National Forest. As the only temperate lake-based wilderness area in the U.S. wilderness system, it is especially popular with paddlers and has more than 1,200 miles of canoe routes. Further, it provides habitat for non-human animals including 316 bird species, almost 50 percent of Minnesota’s native fish and federally threatened species the Canada lynx, the northern long-eared bat and the gray wolf, according to Save the Boundary Waters. Finally, the mix of forest and wetlands acts as a carbon sink, preventing carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere and contributing to the climate crisis.

However, in recent years concern has emerged that the area could be threatened by a plan by Twin Metals Minnesota LLC to build an underground copper and nickel mine in Ely, Minnesota, as The New York Times reported. Save the Boundary Waters warned that the plan could pollute the area’s waterways with acid mine drainage, cut down trees that provide habitat and carbon storage and require as much power as the town of Duluth, Minnesota. 

In 2019, the Trump administration renewed two mining leases held by Twin Metals Minnesota since the 1960s, according to HuffPost. Twin Metals is owned by Chilean company Antofagasta, and the Trump family is connected to Chilean billionaire Andrónico Luksic who advocated for the mine. However, the Biden administration canceled the leases around one year ago, arguing that they were “improperly renewed” by the Trump administration, as the Department of the Interior (DOI) wrote at the time.

Thursday’s decision does not cancel any existing leases. What the Public Land Order 7917 signed by Haaland does is withdraw additional portions of the Superior National Forest from mining leasing for 20 years, as the DOI explained. This could mean the end for the Twin Metals mine, according to HuffPost and The New York Times.

In a statement shared with HuffPost, the company said it was “disappointed and stunned” by the announcement, and said the minerals could have aided with the renewable energy transition.

“This region sits on top of one of the world’s largest deposits of critical minerals that are vital in meeting our nation’s goals to transition to a clean energy future, to create American jobs, to strengthen our national security and to bolster domestic supply chains,” Twin Metals Minnesota added. “We believe our project plays a critical role in addressing all of these priorities, and we remain committed to enforcing Twin Metals’ rights.”

DOI said its decision was based on more than a year of study, more than 200,000 public comments and feedback from Indigenous tribes in the area. It was embraced by environmental groups.

“Today’s science-based decision is a massive win for Boundary Waters protection,” National Chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters Becky Rom said in a statement. “You don’t allow America’s most toxic industry next to America’s most popular Wilderness. The Boundary Waters is a paradise of woods and water. It is an ecological marvel, a world-class outdoor destination, and an economic engine for hundreds of businesses and many thousands of people. This decision moves America ever closer to permanently protecting this beloved Wilderness.”

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National Geographic (Press Release)

First Report of Rare Cat Discovered on Mt. Everest

New scientific finding marks the first documented discovery of Pallas’s Cat on the world’s highest mountain.

Washington, D.C. (January 26, 2023) —  Findings from a new paper published in Cat News have identified the first ever report of Pallas’s cat on Mount Everest, in the Sagarmatha National Park in Nepal. This groundbreaking finding is a result of the 2019 National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition, the most comprehensive single scientific expedition to the mountain in history.

From April 7 to May 2, 2019, Dr. Tracie Seimon of Wildlife Conservation Society’s Zoological Health Program, based at the Bronx Zoo, co-led the Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition biology field team of scientists who collected environmental samples from two locations 6 km (3.7 miles) apart at 5,110 and 5,190 m (16,765 and 17,027 ft) elevation above sea level along Sagarmatha National Park on Mount Everest’s Southern Flank. 

“It is phenomenal to discover proof of this rare and remarkable species at the top of the world,” said Dr. Seimon. “The nearly four-week journey was extremely rewarding not just for our team but for the larger scientific community. The discovery of Pallas’s cat on Everest illuminates the rich biodiversity of this remote high-alpine ecosystem and extends the known range of this species to eastern Nepal.”

The DNA analysis of scat samples collected from both sites confirmed two Pallas’s cats inhabit Mount Everest and overlap in territory with red fox. The researchers found evidence of pika and mountain weasel DNA in the samples, an important food source for Pallas’s cat. These findings also add a new species to the list of known mammals in Sagarmatha National Park, a heavily visited and protected World Heritage site.

“This is a unique discovery not only in terms of science but also conservation as this population of Pallas’s cat is legally protected under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora),” said National Geographic Explorer and co-author of the paper, Dr. Anton Seimon. “We hope that the confirmation of this new charismatic species will raise awareness of and education about the diversity of species at this iconic World Heritage Site.”

The number of tourists visiting Sagarmatha National Park and Mount Everest has been dramatically increasing, from just a few thousand in the 1970s to over fifty thousand in 2019. It is notable that Pallas’s cat went undetected in this park until 2019, and the new study demonstrates how conservation genetics and environmental sampling can be utilized as a powerful approach to discover and study cryptic and elusive species like Pallas’s cat.

Future research combining camera trap surveys and collection of additional scat samples would help to better define the Pallas’s cat population, range, density, and their diet in Sagarmatha National Park.

“The groundbreaking 2019 Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition continues to be extremely valuable to better understand the most iconic environment on our planet,” said Nicole Alexiev, Vice President of Science and Innovation Programs at National Geographic Society. “These results are a perfect illustration of why this work is important and a cornerstone of our partnership with Rolex to study and explore Earth’s critical life support systems.”

From April to May 2019, an international, multidisciplinary team of scientists conducted the most comprehensive single scientific expedition to Mt. Everest in the Khumbu Region of Nepal as part of National Geographic and Rolex’s Perpetual Planet Expeditions partnership. Team members from eight countries, including 17 Nepalese researchers conducted trailblazing research in five areas of science that are critical to understanding environmental changes and their impacts: biology, glaciology, meteorology, geology and mapping. To learn more visit: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/topic/perpetual-planet

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Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

ENDANGERED HAWAIIAN PICTURE-WINGED FLIES A KEY PIECE TO RESTORED ECOSYSTEM

News Release, January 26, 2023

(HONOLULU) – Small invertebrates and microfauna, like endangered Hawaiian picture-winged flies, play an important role in providing balance to our natural ecosystems.

Scientists and researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (UH) and the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) are working together to re-establish picture-winged fly populations, including of Drosophila hemipeza, an endangered species. The project’s aim is to help restore ecosystem stability, support natural biodiversity, and reduce the likelihood of the species’ extinction.

Historically, D. hemipeza populations were found at multiple sites in both the Ko‘olau and Wai‘anae ranges of O‘ahu. Today, their numbers are greatly diminished, and their range is significantly reduced. It is believed that Palikea, in the Waiʻanae Range, may be the only remaining site for these flies and few are left there.

“Contributing factors to their decline include a range of issues that a lot of other native insects face: deforestation, predation and competition from invasives, native host plant destruction from pigs, and climate change,” said Kelli Konicek, Entomological Research Technician with the Hawai‘i Invertebrate Program.

Konicek and a small group of researchers are working to stem that tide, rearing D. hemipeza in a lab to introduce into the wild. Through experimentation and ingenuity working with more common and abundant fly species, and leveraging long-term knowledge developed by UH researchers at the Hawaiian Drosophila Research Stock Center, the team developed an effective mass rearing regimen that has really taken off.

“I collected four D. hemipeza individuals in May 2022, and by December I had over 1,000 flies emerge,” Konicek explained. “It’s been very successful in terms of rearing, which can be a tricky process. These files are temperamental, temperature-sensitive, and will only lay eggs in certain native plants.”

Rearing is only one aspect of the process. Keeping the flies fit and healthy enough to be introduced into nature is another. Over the last few months, the group has become proficient in that regard.

Researchers are slowly releasing these flies at a Mānoa Cliff Restoration site, containing several native host plant species in which D. hemipeza are known to breed. Native ‘ōhā wai, hāhā, and ōpuhe have been planted by a dedicated group of volunteers in cooperation with DOFAW’s Plant Extinction Prevention Program.

Releases began in October 2022 and by early January, Konicek observed the first unmarked D. hemipeza at the site, a sign that the species is successfully reproducing on its own.

“It’s really promising to observe flies at the site that we know are not lab-reared,” said DLNR Entomologist Cynthia King. “However, we’ll need to continue the introductions to increase the likelihood the species will establish in the long-term.”

“One of the reasons that it’s important to introduce this native species and others is that a lot of work has been done planting native plants and protecting areas,” Konicek explained. “One of the goals for DLNR is to create a holistic, restored ecosystem. These flies have such an important relationship with their native host plants, the big goal is to create interactions to make sure that the pieces of the environment that we are trying to restore are getting put back into place.”

In conservation efforts, small invertebrates and microfauna often receive less exposure and recognition than their larger animal counterparts, but their role in supporting biodiversity and ecosystem health should be noticed.

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Daily Mail (UK)

Monstrous stingrays up to 10 FEET long are tagged in the wild for the first time: National Geographic explorers are now tracking the wondrous world of the critically endangered species

*National Geographic explorers tagged the first smalleye stingrays in the wild

*These rays are critically endangered and are rarely seen in the oceans

*The data will help experts create better processes to protect the rays

By STACY LIBERATORE for DailyMail.com, 26 January 2023

Approximately 11 monstrous stingrays measuring up to 10 feet long were tagged in the wild by divers, allowing them to see the wondrous world of the critically endangered species.

The mission revealed these elusive smalleye rays can dive more than 650 feet below the surface and swim hundreds of miles per day – facts not previously known to the scientific community.

Smalleye rays have only been previously studied through images, but the tagging is expected to produce new information that could lead to better protection for the species.

The program will take years to gather and analyze enough data to understand these creatures, but the National Geographic explorers who tagged the rays told NatGeo that it ‘promises a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of a mysterious species.

The smalleye, given its name because of its raisin-sized eyes, has a wingspan that stretches over seven feet, weighs up to 790 pounds and is distinguished from other rays by the white dorsal spots on its back.

Using this criteria, scientists have been able to examine photo IDs to study this rare animal in southern Mozambique, one of the only locations where it is regularly seen.

While most stingrays avoid humans, the smalleye appears inquisitive, sometimes swimming within feet of scuba divers.

Before the early 2000s, there were only a few verified live sightings of smalleye stingrays.

In the past fifteen years, biologist Andrea Marshall and her colleagues from the Marine Megafauna Foundation have spotted more than 70 off the coast of Mozambique.

However, their most recent expedition is the first time these rays have been tagged in their natural habitat.

Marshall told National Geographic that she immediately dove into the waters when she spotted the first ray.

With a six-foot-long pole in her hands, she touched the animal and extracted a skin sample for further analysis.

And while the fish appeared calm, Marshall stayed aware of its stinging spin, the length of a human forearm.

One small wrong would ‘would put us in mortal danger,’ she said.

While the program is still very young, the team already sees the fruits of their labor.

Researchers have theorized that smalleye stingrays travel long distances, but this idea was only made with photographs, but the tags provide concrete evidence.

Marshall and her team are now looking to uncover why this species embarks on long stretches.

The tags also reveal smalleyes congregate around reefs at night, particularly between midnight and 6 am, which suggests the massive fish eat during the evening hours.

More exciting is the data shows these rays rest on the seafloor.

Previously, the majestic creatures have only been observed swimming – no one has ever seen one inactive.

Marshall said one of the tagged rays buried itself in the sand and the behavior may be due to them consuming large meals at once and then needing time to digest.

Melissa Hoboson, who wrote about Marshall’s mission, said many questions still remain.

‘Why are smalleyes so big? What are they doing on the reef at night? Are they giving birth in the area?’ Hobons writes.

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AgNet West Radio Network

NCBA Suing Biden Administration Over Endangered Species Listing

January 25, 2023

The Biden Administration is facing a lawsuit from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) over the listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken under the Endangered Species Act. NCBA has filed a Notice of Intent to sue the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s the first step in court toward overturning the listing revoking FWS’s final rule for both the Northern and Southern Distinct Population Segments (DP).

“The lesser prairie chicken only survives today because of the voluntary conservation efforts of ranchers,” said NCBA Associate Director of Government Affairs Sigrid Johannes. “The science has proven repeatedly that healthy, diverse rangelands—like those cultivated by livestock grazing—are where the lesser prairie chicken thrives. There are numerous places where this listing goes seriously wrong and we are defending cattle producers against this overreaching, unscientific rule.”

The listing was previously set to take effect at the end of January, but thanks to pressure on the Biden administration from NCBA and our allies in Congress, the rule was delayed by 60 days. The listing will now take effect on March 27, 2023, and the states included in the species’ range are Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Colorado.

NCBA’s lawsuit follows a letter submitted to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and FWS Director Martha Williams last week requesting a delay of the effective date of the rule and flagging particular concerns with the 4(d) rule for the Northern DPS of the bird. By permitting third parties to act as grazing authorities with the power to review and approve grazing management plans within the Northern DPS, FWS has opened the door to activist groups having oversight of cattle grazing. Without these third party-approved grazing management plans, cattle producers operating inside the species’ range will be subject to a punitive degree of civil and criminal penalties for incidental take of the bird.

“This 4(d) rule would allow environmental activist groups to become ‘grazing police’ over cattle producers. Designing a third-party verification system puts political priorities over sound science and empowers distant bureaucrats over land managers and producers with decades of experience,” said Johannes.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. In addition to NCBA, the case is being brought by lead plaintiff Permian Basin Petroleum Association along with the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, Kansas Livestock Association, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, and New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association.

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Courthouse News Service

Endangered species success stories touted off Southern California coast

Five species on San Clemente Island off the coast of Southern California have “fully recovered” thanks to the Endangered Species Act, which turns 50 this year.

ALANNA MADDEN / January 24, 2023

(CN) — The San Clemente Island Bell’s sparrow made its way off the endangered species list along with four plants only found on the U.S. Navy-owned island in Southern California, thanks to population recovery.

San Clemente Bell’s sparrows — formerly known as the “SC sage sparrow” — are small, grayish-brown birds with distinct black streaks and white eye rings. The species was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1977, declining to 38 known individuals by 1984.

A celebratory announcement came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday highlighting its collaboration with the U.S. Navy over the last 40 years to preserve the five species under the Endangered Species Act — a law that turns 50 this year.

“This is an incredible comeback story for five of California’s unique Channel Island species that fought so hard to survive for decades,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “Thanks to the Endangered Species Act, we can celebrate their recovery along with the 50th anniversary of one of the world’s most successful conservation laws.”

San Clemente Island is a 57-square-mile island owned and managed by the U.S. Navy about 60 miles off the coast of San Diego. The introduction of farm animals centuries before the Navy arrived and the more recent introduction of mule deer in 1962, the indigenous species on the island eventually declined.

With the removal of nonnative herbivores and protections through the Endangered Species Act, the island’s native species have slowly returned over the last few decades. The recovered plant species in Tuesday’s announcement include the San Clemente Island paintbrush, lotus, larkspur and bush-mallow.

“The Navy is proud to have shared more than 40 years of collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to improve the habitat and recover these species,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Environment and Mission Readiness Karnig Ohannessian in a statement. “This announcement is a milestone in our efforts and should be celebrated. The Navy remains committed to our conservation efforts on San Clemente Island, and to be good stewards of the natural resources we manage as part of our national security mission.”

Fish and Wildlife’s final rule will be published in the Federal Register on Jan. 25.

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Mongabay

EU demand for frogs’ legs raises risks of local extinctions, experts warn

by Sean Mowbray on 23 January 2023

Each year, the European Union imports an estimated 4,000 metric tons of frogs’ legs. That sum is the equivalent of around 200 million frogs killed to feed demand, the majority of which are caught in the wild as part of a trade that’s unregulated and unsustainable, according to a group of conservationists and researchers.

In their recent paper, published in the journal Conservation, they underline that this trade is increasing the risk of local and regional frog extinctions in countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey and Albania, the main source countries for the EU market.

Between 2011 and 2020, the EU imported 40,700 metric tons of frogs’ legs, equating to between 814 million and 2 billion frogs; Indonesia accounted for more than 70% of that trade. This makes the EU the largest importer of frogs’ legs originating from wild-caught species in the world.

Amid a global decline of biodiversity, this trade is likely heavily involved in reducing populations of amphibians in source countries and is linked to increasing uses of pesticides due to the loss of ecosystem services provided by wild species, according to Sandra Altherr, a biologist and co-founder of German NGO Pro Wildlife.

“Hence, the frogs’ legs trade has direct consequences not only for the frog populations themselves, but also for biodiversity and ecosystem health as a whole,” Altherr, a co-author of the new paper, told Mongabay. She described the trade as a “black box,” with little information on species traded, their origins, or the environmental impact.

This lack of transparent data is a concern, according to lead author Mark Auliya, with the Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change. “As the currently most prominent species involved in the frogs’ legs trade are not listed on CITES” — the international convention on the wildlife trade — “there is no database to accurately document the volumes, species, and countries involved in international trade,” he said.

Past research from Turkey suggests that the exploitation of large-legged species is drastically increasing risks of extinction in the near term. Equivalent studies in other locations are lacking, conservationists say.

Auliya said it’s not the “prime task” of conservationists to determine the sustainability of trade through self-funded studies: “[T]hese would have to be carried out and financed by the trader side in cooperation with experts, to assure that species’ offtakes are sustainable.”

Co-author Alice Hughes, an associate professor at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden in southern China, said the trade’s absence of screening also poses a disease transmission concern. “There’s no biosafety regulation, meaning that things like ranavirus and chytrid fungus can wash out into the rivers and potentially infect native populations, and this is something that has been completely neglected,” she told Mongabay.

“Europeans might think that their frogs’ legs are completely sustainable and farmed,” Hughes added. “What we know is they include both farmed and wild-caught individuals of a variety of species, many of which are not widely disclosed, and many of which are likely not to be sustainably harvested.”

Conservationists are calling for urgent action to be taken to lessen these potential impacts and ensure the frogs’ leg trade is sustainable.

“We are urging the EU to start a listing initiative at CITES to ensure at least a trade is taking place with data at the species’ level, and to cross check the sustainability,” Altherr said. “There should also be awareness about the manifold problems linked to the frog’s leg trade [among consumers], not to forget the cruel killing methods.”

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Maui News

Reps. Case and Tokuda announce $2.5 M in USDA funds for invasive species prevention

January 21, 2023

Congressman Ed Case (HI-01) and Congresswoman Jill Tokuda (HI-02) announced that the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will award more than $2.5 million to Hawaiʻi’s Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program.

“Invasive species pose an especially grave threat to Hawai‘i’s unique ecosystems, natural resources and agricultural communities because of its unique geography,” said Rep. Case in a press release. “Hawai‘i is the most isolated island chain and one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world. A 2014 survey identified 9,975 endemic species in Hawai‘i. Tragically, due to invasive species, Hawai‘i has become the endangered species and extinction capital of the world. We currently have 503 species listed as endangered, more than any other state and almost half of the total endangered species nationwide.”

“I have walked through farms devastated by infestation and disease. I’ve talked with farmers struggling to keep their family farms going. This funding from the USDA comes at a crucial time for Hawaiʻiʻs ecological system which has been increasingly threatened by invasive species,” said Rep. Tokuda. “We are on the front lines of a climate crisis that has given rise to widespread infestations, and our producers are left with ruined crops and spending their hard earned money fighting these pests. They need support from the federal government, and I’m dedicated to making sure that Hawaiʻi receives its fair share of resources in future years to protect our precious crops.”

The funding comes at a time when Kona Coffee farmers were devastated last year by the combination of a drought, an infestation of the Coffee Berry Borer beetle and the coffee leaf rust fungus.

Funding is focused on the prevention of invasive species from entering the islands and for the prevention and mitigation of fruit fly impacts. Specific projects include:

*Hawaiʻi Detector Dog Program;

*Molecular diagnostic catalog for tracking invasive noctuid moth introductions in Hawai‘i;

*Integrative identification methods for Bactrocera fruit flies;

*Developing molecular diagnostic tools to determine strain and mating status of fruit fly incursions;

*Identification of Oriental Fruit Fly Larvae & Trap Captures;

*Field testing of bait stations containing a fungal pathogen to control invasive fruit flies;

*Development of protein food odor based chemical lure for female oriental fruit fly;

*Optimizing Bacterial Probiotic Establishment for Medfly Sterile Insect Technique;

*Developing an insecticide rotation to combat spinosad-resistance in three species of invasive Tephritidae fruit flies;

*Management of hala scale insect in Hawaii, and survey of its potential biological control agents in its native range;

*Enhanced mitigation and rapid response to introduced snails, earthworms, and flatworms in Hawai‘i;

*Systems Approach for the management of Coffee Berry Borer in Hawaiʻi and Puerto Rico with emphasis on biological control.

“Our year-round growing cycle produces some of the highest quality crops in the world, from sugar and pineapple to cattle and specialty crops like fruit and cut flowers. Hawaiʻi’s unique crops are also more susceptible to invasive species and have no natural defenses to combat the threats. This is why we are united in fighting to secure as much funding to support Hawaiʻi’s plants and agriculture resources as possible,” said the Members of Congress.

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The Spectrum (St. George, UT)

Utah loosens rules on federally-protected species of prairie dog

David DeMille, St. George Spectrum & Daily News, Jan. 20. 2023

Utah wildlife managers are rewriting some of their rules regarding the state’s federally-protected Utah prairie dog with hopes the species might be delisted under the Endangered Species Act.

Found only in the southwestern corner of the state, the Utah prairie dog has been federally listed since 1973, when its numbers dropped to about 3,000 as land was cleared for new houses, farms and ranches in and around Cedar City.

Numbers have nearly tripled since then, state managers say, and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has urged the federal government to remove the species from its Endangered Species Act list.

On Tuesday, Jan. 3, the Utah Wildlife Board approved an updated set of rules for prairie dogs, with members saying the state would continue to monitor and manage prairie dog populations but would have more flexibility to remove prairie dogs from places where they conflict with private landowners.

“Some of the approved changes to the current rule allow the taking of prairie dogs in situations where there are conflicts, while still maintaining a healthy population and ongoing conservation efforts,” said Kim Hersey, the mammal conservation coordinator at the DWR.

The state would distribute “agricultural control permits” through a tiered system and allow for the removal of prairie dogs over concerns of “human health and safety.”

The changes would only go into effect if the species was delisted though, which would require action from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The species is currently listed as a threatened species under the ESA.

Prairie dogs are considered key to the ecosystem as a food source for predators and because their burrows turn up the soil and can be used as homes by other animals. However, they often conflict with private interests, especially on new construction sites and agricultural land.

Some property owners in Cedar City sued over the species, saying the decades-old regulations designed to protect them had allowed the animals to overrun playgrounds, cemeteries and backyards.

In 2018, under the Trump administration, the agency passed new rules that would make it easier to remove or kill prairie dogs that ran into conflict with homes or businesses, drawing a lawsuit from the group Friends of Animals.

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Oregon Public Broadcasting

Group seeks reintroduction of sea otters along West Coast

By AP staff, TUCSON, Ariz. Jan. 19, 2023

A nonprofit group that aims to protect endangered species asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday to reintroduce sea otters to a stretch of the West Coast from Northern California to Oregon.

Threatened southern sea otters occupy only 13% of their historic range, with a small population of the mammals currently living on California’s central coast, the Center for Biological Diversity said.

“Bringing the sea otter back to the broader West Coast would be an unparalleled conservation success story,” said Kristin Carden, a senior scientist at the Arizona-based group. “Not only would the sea otters thrive, but they would also help restore vital kelp forest and seagrass ecosystems.”

The petition under the Endangered Species Act recommends that reintroduction occur between San Francisco Bay and Oregon and asks the Fish and Wildlife Service to assess the feasibility of reintroduction from Southern California into Baja California, Mexico.

North America’s smallest marine mammal, sea otters rely on dense fur to keep warm, attracting commercial fur traders who began slaughtering them in the mid-1700s.

Traders nearly drove the species to extinction, wiping out 99% of the global population, the Center for Biological Diversity said. Reintroductions have helped reestablish sea otter populations in Canada’s British Columbia, Alaska, Washington State and California.

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The Maui News

Moving endangered species emerges as last resort as climate warms

CHRISTINA LARSON and MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press, Jan. 18, 2023

In a desperate effort to save a seabird species in Hawaii from rising ocean waters, scientists are moving chicks to a new island hundreds of miles away.

Moving species to save them — once considered taboo — is quickly gaining traction as climate change upends habitats. Similar relocations are being suggested for birds, lizards, butterflies and even flowers.

Concerns persist that the novel practice could cause unintended harm the same way invasive plants and animals have wreaked havoc on native species.

But for the Tristram’s storm petrels on northeastern Hawaii’s Tern Island, which is just 6 feet above sea level, the relocation of about 40 chicks to artificial burrows more than 500 miles away on Oahu could offer new hope. The species is considered vulnerable to extinction, and the goal is for the young petrels return to their new home when old enough to breed.

“Tern Island is washing away,” said biologist Eric VanderWerf of the nonprofit Pacific Rim Conservation. “Climate change is causing a greater need for this — for taking a species outside its known historical range.”

A pending change to the U.S. Endangered Species Act by the Biden administration would make it easier to relocate some of the most imperiled species to places where they’ve not previously been recorded.

In response, state wildlife officials and scientists have suggested moving a portion of some species struggling with climate change, including Key deer of southern Florida, the Karner blue butterfly of the Midwest and Northeast, desert flowers in Nevada and California and the St. Croix ground lizard in the Virgin Islands.

Republicans in western states — including Montana, New Mexico and Arizona — are against the proposal saying it could wreak ecological havoc as “invasive species” get purposefully introduced.

The proposal, which federal officials expect to finalize in June, reflects a “fundamental shift in the way we think of species protection and conservation,” said University of Notre Dame biologist Jason McLachlan.

The issue goes beyond endangered species, McLachlan said, and raises questions about what should be considered “native” now that shifting temperatures are pushing some species to higher elevations or toward the planet’s poles.

Comparable temperature shifts in the past occurred over millennia, but the present one is happening over just decades and is drastically upending ecosystems. “Eventually we’re going to have to start thinking about it in ways that will make people — including me — uncomfortable,” he said. “To say this species is OK and this species is not OK, that’s asking a lot of human beings.”

To save storm petrels, VanderWerf said, scientists need to act before populations have crashed. “In 30 years, these birds will certainly be rare, if we don’t do something about it,” he said.

Relocation of species outside historical ranges is still a rarity, but U.S. wildlife officials have identified numerous threatened and endangered plants and animals already being affected by climate change: glacial stoneflies in Montana, emperor penguins in Antarctica, the Mt. Rainier ptarmigan, the saltmarsh sparrow of the Atlantic coast and numerous birds of Hawaii.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson Karen Armstrong said there are no current proposals to establish new populations of those particular species. “In the future, some species’ ranges may shift due to climate change, or their current habitats might become unsuitable due to invasive species encroachment,” Armstrong said in an email. “We view experimental population establishment outside of their historical ranges as a potential tool for their management and conservation.”

One plan now being considered by U.S. wildlife officials concerns birds native to Guam, where kingfishers were decimated by brown tree snakes accidentally brought to the island around 1950 on military cargo ships.

The last 29 wild Guam kingfishers were captured in the 1980s and have been bred in captivity to buy time. Under a pending proposal, nine kingfishers would be released back into the wild beginning this year on Palmyra Island, more than 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers) away.

If a relocation is successful, the kingfishers would become one of the few species ever upgraded from “extinct in the wild” to “critically endangered.”

The hope is that the Guam kingfisher, also known locally as sihek, will eventually be returned to their native island, if the tree snake is controlled, said Erica Royer, a bird expert at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C.

“This kind of intensive management is necessary for us to have a reasonable shot at holding onto some species,” said Don Lyons with National Audubon Society’s Seabird Institute.

Yet the potential danger — and scientific debate — lies in what humans can’t predict. Humanity has been moving species around for centuries, often inadvertently and sometimes causing great harm.

Examples abound: Asian carp have spread through rivers and streams across the U.S. Starlings from Europe destroy crops and drive out songbirds. Zebra mussels from Eurasia decimate native populations. And kudzu vines from Japan planted to stabilize soils have spread to dozens of states where they choke out other plants.

Scientist Mark Schwartz at the University of California, Davis said he was initially skeptical of moving species for conservation when biologists began discussing the idea about a decade ago. The rapid rate of extinctions more recently has him thinking that sitting idle could be a costly error.

“Many, many species” must be moved or could go extinct, said James Watson, a conservation scientist at the University of Queensland in Australia, where increasingly severe, climate-fueled wildfires have forced conversations on relocations. Unprecedented fires three years ago likely destroyed the last habitats of some endangered species, he said.

“We’ve already played Russian Roulette with the climate, we’re already on that ski run – we might as well take some more risks.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Sen. Schumer Wins 2022 Rubber Dodo Award

WASHINGTON—(Jan. 17, 2023)—Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer won the Center for Biological Diversity’s Rubber Dodo award today for inserting a last-minute rider into the 2023 omnibus budget bill that potentially condemns the North Atlantic right whale to extinction.

The annual award is given by the Center for Biological Diversity to a person or a group who has aggressively sought to drive endangered species extinct or destroy America’s natural heritage.

With a declining population of 340 individuals, including just 70 breeding females, the North Atlantic right whale is one of the world’s most endangered cetaceans. Schumer’s rider exempts the lobster fishery from the requirements of the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act until 2028, allowing right whales to be entangled and drowned in lobster gear with impunity.

“Ripping away protections for the Atlantic right whale is one of the gravest environmental errors ever made by Congress. It’s deeply unfortunate that Sen. Schumer turned his back on this magnificent species,” said Kierán Suckling, the Center’s executive director. “Fifty years ago, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act and made a bedrock commitment to protect our irreplaceable natural heritage. I’m deeply saddened that Sen. Schumer believes this commitment should be violated when it’s politically expedient to do so.”

Sen. Schumer won the Rubber Dodo award after an online contest in which thousands cast their votes. Other nominees were outgoing Arizona governor Doug Ducey, the California Independent Petroleum Association and the Plastics Industry Association.

Despite false claims from the lobster industry, the lobster fishery is killing Atlantic right whales at nearly six times the level that the remaining population can sustain. Because the vast majority of right whale entanglements are never observed and because the industry fought efforts to require comprehensive gear-markings, it is difficult to prove the full extent of the damage that this fishery causes to right whales.

Similar to the fossil fuel industry’s attempt to deny climate change, the lobster fishery and politicians in Maine have argued that additional restrictions on lobster fishing are not justified because of lack of sufficient scientific evidence.

“It’s not only foolish for Congress to ignore the best science, the courts’ judgement and the conservation challenges facing this whale, it’s a dereliction of duty,” said Suckling. “If we lose right whales, they’ll be gone forever. Let’s hope that Sen. Schumer recognizes his error and does everything in his power to fix his mistake and ensure that right whales continue to swim up and down the Atlantic coastline for generations to come.”

Previous Rubber Dodo award winners include Interior Secretary David Bernhardt (2019), President Donald Trump (2018), Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (2017), Rep. Rob Bishop (2016), Monsanto (2015), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services (2014), the Koch brothers (2013), climate denier Senator James Inhofe (2012), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2011), former BP CEO Tony Hayward (2010), massive land speculator Michael Winer (2009), Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (2008) and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne (2007).

Background on the Dodo

In 1598 Dutch sailors landing on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius discovered a flightless, 3-foot-tall, extraordinarily friendly bird. Its original scientific name was Didus ineptus. (Contemporary scientists use the less defamatory Raphus cucullatus.) To the rest of the world, it’s the dodo — possibly the most famous extinct species on Earth after the dinosaurs.

The dodo evolved over millions of years with no natural predators and eventually lost the ability to fly, becoming a land-based consumer of fruits, nuts and berries. Having never known predators, it showed no fear of humans or the menagerie of animals accompanying them to Mauritius.

The bird’s trusting nature led to its rapid extinction. By 1681 the dodo had vanished, hunted and outcompeted by humans, dogs, cats, rats, macaques and pigs. Humans logged its forest cover while pigs uprooted and ate much of the understory vegetation.

The origin of the name dodo is unclear. It likely came from the Dutch word dodoor, meaning “sluggard,” the Portuguese word doudo, meaning “fool” or “crazy,” or the Dutch word dodaars meaning “plump-arse” (that nation’s name for the little grebe).

The dodo’s reputation as a foolish, ungainly bird derives in part from its friendly naiveté and the very plump captives that were taken on tour across Europe. The animal’s reputation was cemented with the 1865 publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Based on skeleton reconstructions and the discovery of early drawings, scientists now believe that the dodo was a much sleeker animal than commonly portrayed. The rotund European exhibitions were likely produced by overfeeding captive birds.

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CNET

Toxic Toilet Paper Chemical Found in Endangered Killer Whales

The chemical is often used in paper processing during the manufacturing of toilet paper.

Amanda Kooser, Jan. 16, 2023

Southern resident killer whales are an endangered population of the famous black-and-white marine animals also known as orcas. A new study suggests certain chemical contaminants may be implicated in the orcas’ decline.

A team led by researchers at the University of British Columbia published its findings in the journal Environmental Science & Technology in December.  

The scientists analyzed tissue from six southern resident killer whales and six Bigg’s killer whales stranded along the coast of British Columbia between 2006 and 2018.

“They discovered that chemical pollutants are prevalent in killer whales, with a chemical often found in toilet paper one of the most prevalent in the samples studied, accounting for 46 percent of the total pollutants identified,” the university said in a statement last week.

The compound 4-nonylphenol (4NP) is associated with paper processing and is often used in toilet paper production. It’s listed as a toxic substance in Canada and can impact the nervous system and cognitive function.

“It can leak into the ocean via sewage treatment plants and industrial runoffs, where it is ingested by smaller organisms and moves up the food chain to reach top predators such as killer whales,” the university said.

The study is the first to find 4NP in killer whales. The researchers also found 4NP transfers from mother orcas to their fetuses, raising questions about how the chemical might impact fetal development.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the southern resident population — found near British Columbia, Washington state and Oregon — had only 74 individuals as of December 2020. They are listed as an endangered species in both the US and Canada. EPA points to vessel impacts, low availability of salmon and exposure to contaminants as threats to the orcas’ survival.

The chemical 4NP is a “contaminant of emerging concern,” meaning it’s neither well studied nor well regulated. The presence of the chemical in the stranded whales indicates it may have a wider impact on the marine environment and other animals. It could have implications for human health as well, since people eat the same salmon the whales do.

The university said governments could help the endangered whales by halting production of the chemicals found in their bodies and by addressing sources of marine pollution.

“This research is a wake-up call,” said Juan José Alava, study co-author. “Southern residents are an endangered population and it could be that contaminants are contributing to their population decline. We can’t wait to protect this species.”

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Oregon Public Broadcasting

Oregon Coast’s Chinook salmon among populations under review for endangered-species listing

By Roman Battaglia (Jefferson Public Radio), Jan. 13, 2023

The National Marine Fisheries Service, also known as NOAA Fisheries, is considering a request from several environmental groups seeking to list two types of Chinook salmon as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. One population lives along the Oregon Coast and the other farther south along the Oregon-California border.

Three environmental groups sent the petition last August showing that numerous threats have caused a sharp decline in spring-run Chinook salmon. Those groups are the Center for Biological Diversity, the Native Fish Society and Umpqua Watersheds.

Unlike fall-run Chinook, the spring-run salmon enter rivers still sexually immature and remain there through the summer.

“While they’re in the rivers in the summer there’s a lot more opportunities for factors that threaten the species, like pollution, hot water temperatures, habitat issues, to affect the species,” said Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney Meg Townsend.

Townsend said they’re specifically concerned about spring-run salmon, as their fall-run counterparts are doing better. However, the fisheries service said they’ll consider all the regional Chinook salmon populations for endangered listing together.

“They [the fisheries service] have said that if the spring-run were doing badly that listing the entire ESU may be warranted rather than separating them out,” Townsend said.

ESU refers to an Evolutionary Significant Unit, a population considered distinct enough to consider for conservation separately from the entire species. The fisheries service considered a request from environmental groups a few years ago to separate the spring-run Chinook salmon into their own ESU, but that request was denied.

“The spring-run are not separate from the fall-run,” said Gary Rule, natural resources management specialist with the fisheries service. “They’re not reproductively isolated from the fall-run. So they don’t meet the criteria to be separate.”

Rule said that despite fall-run Chinook salmon doing well, if the spring-run salmon alone are at risk of becoming endangered, that could warrant both groups being protected.

Townsend said that populations of coho salmon in the same area have improved since they were listed as endangered or threatened. She hopes protections for Chinook salmon will do the same.

Now, the fisheries service will look at the research and data submitted in the petition, as well as traditional ecological knowledge from area tribes, to decide if an endangered listing is warranted. They’re starting a 60-day request for information from the public.

The fisheries service decision is due by early August.

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CBS News

4-year-old whale of one of the world’s rarest species is “likely to die” after becoming heavily entangled, NOAA says

By LI COHEN, Jan. 13, 2023

One of the few remaining individuals of the rarest whale species in the world is now “likely to die” after becoming severely entangled, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.

The 4-year-old marine mammal is a North Atlantic right whale, a species with only a few hundred remaining members.

The whale, identified as #4904, was first seen wrapped in lines on Jan. 8 by an aerial survey team from Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The team found the whale roughly 20 miles east of Rodanthe, North Carolina, with “several wraps of line around the mouth and tail” and more line trailing behind it, NOAA said.

Those lines have left her with “numerous wounds across her body and whale lice on her head.”

“After reviewing documentation of this new entanglement case, NOAA Fisheries biologists have made a preliminary determination that it meets the criteria of a ‘serious injury,'” the agency said Thursday. “This means the whale is likely to die from this injury.”

At the time she was found, NOAA said it was “too late in the day” for an entanglement response team to go after her and she was too far from shore. However, the agency is working to find her again in an attempt to free her from the lines.

The young whale is the daughter of another tracked member of the right whale species, an adult female named “Spindle,” who was recently seen with her tenth calf off the coast of Georgia. This was the first time that Spindle’s daughter had been seen since May of last year in Massachusetts Bay, NOAA said, at which point she was not entangled.

The North Atlantic right whale is among the rarest whale species in the world. And the critically endangered species is fighting for survival amid an ongoing unusual mortality event that has left fewer than an estimated 350 whales of the species remaining, hitting the lowest population numbers in nearly 20 years in 2021. NOAA said that #4904 is the 94th right whale to be documented in the event since 2017 and the 22nd case of serious injury.

If she does die, it only further strains the ability of the species to continue. Female right whales are not able to reproduce until around the age of 10, and currently, researchers believe there are fewer than 70 female right whales left who actively reproduce. The animals are pregnant for a year and can only give birth to one calf at a time, and often only have calves every six to 10 years on average.

Since 2017, when the unusual mortality event began, only 57 whales have been born. This amount is far below what is needed, however, as the species must produce 50 or more calves a year for multiple years to stop the species’ decline.

Humans remain the leading cause of the species’ decline, primarily from entanglements and vessel strikes, NOAA data shows. Since its onset in 2017, 11 whales have been killed by vessel strikes while nine have died after becoming entangled. Twenty have been seriously injured from being entangled.

The news of this young whale comes just weeks after it was discovered that a humpback whale by the name of Moon rose to national attention. A vessel strike left the whale with a broken spine and unable to use her tail to propel her through the ocean. But even still, she managed to capture the hearts of many who learned of her, as she swam 3,000 miles from Canada to Hawaii on one “last journey.”

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Seattle Times

Can drones count endangered rabbits in Central WA better than people can?

By Amanda Zhou, Seattle Times staff reporter, Jan. 12, 2023

It’s not easy counting Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits.

Weighing less than 1 pound, the federally endangered rabbits are hard to catch on camera as they dart between burrows. However, this year, wildlife biologists hope drones are up to the task.

For the second time in four years, wildlife biologists with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will use drones to help them in their annual count of the elusive species near Quincy. Today, only 100 to 150 of the rabbits remain.

Biologists estimate the number of pygmy rabbits by counting the number of burrows in an area and collecting scat for genetic analysis, said Fish and Wildlife biologist Jon Gallie.

Traditionally, volunteers and staffers meticulously sweep the area for rabbits over several days.

Now, biologists hope the drones can cover more ground more quickly and identify possible burrow sites before sending a few people to confirm. The practice has become more common in the past few years, as drone technology is used more often to monitor other animal habitats like ground squirrels and salmon, Gallie said.

Wildlife biologists typically count the federally endangered species in the winter, when their tracks and scat are easy to spot, he said.

Fish and Wildlife manages two sites for the rabbits, encompassing 250 square miles. A third site was destroyed in 2020 during the Pearl Hill Fire, which researchers estimate killed 43% of all existing pygmy rabbits.

“Everything that we had worked for about a decade on, we lost overnight,” Gallie said.

The rabbits need dense sage brush and deep soil to survive. Their population has been whittled down over the decades as their habitats in the Columbia Basin have turned into farmland, Gallie said. Around 20 years ago, the last 16 rabbits were captured and placed in a zoo for captive breeding.

Though the rabbits have many predators, the survival rate of the released rabbits has shown success, he said.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Oregon Butterfly Is Endangered Species Act Success

Fender’s Blue Butterfly Moved From Endangered to Threatened Status

PORTLAND, Ore.—(January 11, 2023)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the Fender’s blue butterfly will be downlisted from endangered to threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. This action is based on the recovery of butterfly populations in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

“The Endangered Species Act has ensured the full recovery of more than 50 species, and the Fender’s blue is now well on its way,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This little butterfly was nearly lost to Oregon, but now we can celebrate its recovery along with the 50th anniversary of the landmark law that saved this species.”

The Fender’s blue is a tiny butterfly with a 1-inch wingspan. It’s found only in the prairie and oak savannah of the Willamette Valley. The species is so rare that it was presumed extinct until small populations were rediscovered in 1989.

When the Service listed the Fender’s blue as endangered in 2000, fewer than 4,000 of the butterflies were known to live in the wild. Although Fender’s blue numbers have fluctuated over the years, a 2016 survey found populations had grown to 29,000 total individuals.

Fender’s blue butterflies are completely dependent upon threatened Kincaid’s lupine, a flowering plant that is the butterflies’ primary host. The butterfly remains highly vulnerable to climate change, as rising temperatures harm the lupine and other plants it needs to survive.

The Service cited management efforts to restore and maintain prairie habitat in the Willamette Valley as benefiting the species. The Fender’s blue will continue to be protected as a threatened species, and the Service has developed a rule to ensure its continued recovery in the years to come.

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, and the hopeful story of the Fender’s blue butterfly demonstrates once again that this is the most effective tool we have to stop extinction,” Read said.

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Columbia Magazine

Can We Act Sooner to Save Endangered Species?

At-risk animal populations should receive protections earlier, urge Columbia researchers.

BY David J. Craig, WINTER 2022-23

Since its passage in 1973, the Endangered Species Act has in some ways been a great success, helping to prevent the extinction of hundreds of fish, plant, and animal species.

But a new study led by Columbia doctoral student Erich K. Eberhard reveals a significant flaw in the act’s administration. Eberhard and his coauthors, Princeton biologists Andrew P. Dobson and David S. Wilcove, find that at-risk species do not typically receive protection until their populations have dwindled to the point where they cannot fully recover. Inclusion in the official list of endangered species, in other words, tends to be a one-way ticket to biological purgatory: species may be prevented from disappearing altogether, but their numbers don’t bounce back to healthy levels. This is evidenced, the authors say, by the fact that of the more than one thousand species added to the endangered list over the past five decades, only fifty-four have ever rebounded enough to be removed from it.

Part of the problem, the researchers report in the journal PLOS One, is that the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the endangered-species list, takes too long to review petitions for species’ inclusion. The agency has often taken ten years or longer to evaluate petitions that are supposed to be processed within two. By the time species are finally added to the endangered list, they typically number fewer than one thousand. “For many species, this makes a robust recovery extremely difficult, if not impossible, and it substantially increases the risk of extinction,” says Eberhard, who is a PhD candidate in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology.

The researchers say that the federal government ought to allocate more money to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for assessing species vulnerability; they point out that the agency’s workload has increased significantly over the last few decades, while its annual operating budget has shrunk.

“Funding this work is essential if the Endangered Species Act is to live up to its reputation as one of the world’s most powerful environmental laws,” says Eberhard.

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The Hill

The right and wrong ways to protect endangered species

BY Stuart Mackintosh, Opinion Contributor, 01/11/23

As 2023 starts, can we be hopeful that leaders increasingly understand climate change and the degradation and despoilment of our planet and all its human and non-human inhabitants? The results of December’s United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) give some reason for optimism.

Chaired by China and hosted by Canada, the meeting saw the signature of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. The framework seeks to address biodiversity loss, restore ecosystems and protect indigenous rights. It includes measures to halt and reverse nature loss, including putting 30 percent of the planet and 30 percent of degraded ecosystems under protection by 2030 — the so-called 30-by-30 deal.

The ambitious deal lines up with the urgency of the collective task, for humans are causing the largest loss of life since the death of the dinosaurs. We are in the middle of the “Anthropocene,” and it’s bringing a mass murder of life on earth. Today 1 million species are at risk of extinction; animal populations have collapsed 69 percent in the last few decades, and still, too few citizens comprehend what is going on.

If COP15 signals leaders understand what must be done, we can start the new year with a degree of ecosystem and climate optimism, for plans are needed if goals are to be recognized and achieved. But sobriety is also warranted, for the details and implementation matter if we are to slow the mass extinction.

Two recent examples show how bad and good practices can unfold.

The Biden administration and Congress just demonstrated the conflict between goals and actual implementation, in a decision that could spell the extinction of the North Atlantic Right Whale, now down to 340 animals from 500 a decade ago. The whale is being driven to extinction because it gets fatally injured and tangled in the vertical lines attached to buoys of fishing gear used by the New England lobster fishing industry, and by boat strikes.

Action to halt this human-caused extinction led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association to propose a ban on vertical line traps by what was likely to be 2024, and minimum vessel speeds and distance from whales. However, alarmingly, this crucial regulatory change has been pushed back from 2024 to 2028, after sustained successful pressure from the lobster lobby, supported by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), where many of those self-employed fishermen live. Once again, short-sighted economic interests trumped ecosystem degradation and the survival of a critically endangered animal. Yet research shows changing the trap and line design does not cut the lobster catch but could make the difference between extinction and existence for these sentient beings.

If some senators are ill-informed and demonstrating what not to do, other communities are showing us how to respond and align COP15 conservation goals with achievements, by protecting ecosystems and organisms.

Take the case of the Union Island Gecko, a reptile the size of a paperclip. The gecko is restricted to a 123-acre area of forest in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The gecko was only discovered by scientists in 2005. Rich pet owners wanted them, and poachers responded, driving down the population by 80 percent. The defenseless gecko ended up being the most heavily trafficked reptile from the Eastern Caribbean.

Conservationists responded by educating the local population, creating an understanding of the species’ importance, setting up cameras and recruiting locals to parole and protect their forest. Locals came to feel ownership of the rescue and solution, not resist it. As a result, the gecko’s numbers have rebounded. A recent survey shows the population increased from 10,000 in 2018 to around 18,000 today, a major victory.

What these two examples show is that communities using an ecosystem, or an adjacent resource that is damaging to a species in question, often pick the short-term status quo over the better long-term outcome, especially if they are not educated and supported as they change practices and behavior. Governments must bridge this gap and not cave to lobbyists who are willfully ignorant of that which they despoil and destroy. To achieve COP15 ecosystem and species goals, which we should all support, states will need to step in again and again to underpin the necessary changes.

The North Atlantic Right Whale example demonstrates we must act fast. The Union Island Gecko shows us that doing so can deliver swift results.

Preserving our ecosystems is a massive essential task. We must all change how we think and act. Doing so swiftly can help ensure life on earth is sustained in its remarkable diversity. Continuing with current practices dooms us and our economies, for we all rely on the planet’s ecosystems for survival.

Our leaders have signaled they understand this at COP15.  Now is the time for governments and communities to pursue a myriad of goals on the ground to change our hope into large and small living victories.

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Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

News, Published, January 10, 2023

DWR, UDOT and other partners construct several structures to help wildlife and fish safely migrate across Utah in 2022

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Utah Department of Transportation, as well as other partners, are working hard to reduce wildlife/vehicle collisions around the state and to make it easier for wildlife and fish to make important annual migrations. In 2022, the agencies and other partners installed six structures to help fish and wildlife migrate in Utah.

Here are the areas where the DWR and UDOT implemented new wildlife solutions or where the DWR and other partners installed structures to help fish migrate in Utah last year:

Central Utah

*Coordinated with UDOT on installing over 1 mile of wildlife fence on I-80 at Kimball Junction as part of a multi-year fencing project.

*Coordinated with UDOT and Eagle Mountain City on installing over 1 mile of wildlife exclusion fence and a thermal wildlife detection/alert system on State Route 73 as part of the Eagle Mountain Wildlife Migration Corridor Preservation Project.

Northern Utah

*Renovated an irrigation diversion in the south fork of Junction Creek (Box Elder County) that was blocking the migration of two fish species in need of conservation: Yellowstone cutthroat trout and bluehead sucker. Renovating the diversion improved irrigation efficiency and allowed the fish to migrate through. The project was completed in April 2022 in cooperation with Trout Unlimited and a private landowner.

Northeastern Utah

*Constructed the East Fork Carter Creek fish barrier on Carter Creek, located on the North Slope of the Uinta Mountains, to protect native Colorado River cutthroat trout from reinvasion of non-native brook trout. This project will aid in the restoration of over 100 miles of stream for native cutthroat. This is part of a larger restoration effort, including the upper Carter and Sheep Creek drainages.

Southeastern Utah

*DWR and UDOT collaborated to install signage on Highway 95 and Highway 46 to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions in the area.

*Worked together with landowners in Emery County to install electric fencing along Highway 10, where many deer-vehicle collisions have occurred in the past.

Utah Wildlife Migration Initiative

The Utah Wildlife Migration Initiative was founded in 2017 to better track and study the migration patterns of different wildlife and fish species in the state and to help them make those important journeys. Most of the data comes from animals wearing GPS tracking devices or from fish tagged with implanted transmitters.

The fish and wildlife structures that assist migration vary and can include:

*Overpasses, which allow wildlife to cross over a roadway

*Bridges, which allow vehicles to cross over a river or ravine, while wildlife travel underneath the bridge

*Culverts, which allow wildlife to cross under a roadway — these make up the majority of Utah’s wildlife crossings

*Fences, which eliminate roadway crossings in certain areas and instead funnel the animals to an overpass or culvert where they can safely cross a road

*Various “fish ladders” and other structures in rivers and streams that help fish move up and downstream to meet their life history needs

Utah made history when it completed the first wildlife overpass in the U.S. in 1975 on I-15 near Beaver. Since then, at least 119 structures have been constructed around the state that allow the passage of wildlife and fish. These structures typically take several months to build, depending on the size and weather conditions, but they can take several years of prior planning and collaboration with various land management agencies, private landowners and other partners.

Wildlife/vehicle collisions

Approximately 4,900 deer were killed in vehicle collisions and removed from roadways in 2022. The number of deer killed is likely significantly higher because many incidents go unreported. In Utah, the majority of the big game animals killed in wildlife/vehicle collisions are deer, primarily because they are the most abundant big game animal in the state, but also because they migrate between winter and summer ranges each year.

“Deer typically follow the same migration routes every year,” DWR Utah Wildlife Migration Initiative Coordinator Blair Stringham said. “Many of those routes intersect roadways, which the deer will often try to cross, regardless of traffic. However, simply putting up fences can limit the migration opportunities for deer and other wildlife, and it’s not possible to fence every stretch of highway across the state. So it is important to ensure the passage of wildlife in these areas through the installation of properly placed wildlife structures.”

Studies have shown there is a 90% reduction in wildlife/vehicle collisions when there is a crossing structure and fence in the area, so the DWR has been working with UDOT to identify areas where migration routes cross roadways and these solutions can be implemented. Both agencies help fund the projects, and UDOT oversees the building and maintenance of the structures.

“Efforts like the Migration Corridor Preservation Project show that by teaming up with local governments, positive impacts can extend beyond our right-of-way,” UDOT Natural Resource Manager Matt Howard said. “We are excited to be partnering with communities to improve wildlife migration and make Utah roads safer for everyone.”

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ABC News

Endangered Mexican wolf treks further north in New Mexico

An endangered Mexican gray wolf has roamed beyond the species’ recovery area into the more northern reaches of New Mexico

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press, January 10, 2023

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An endangered Mexican gray wolf has roamed beyond the species’ recovery area into the more northern reaches of New Mexico, reigniting a debate over whether the predators should be confined to a certain stretch of the southwestern U.S. as wildlife managers work to boost the population.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday that members of the recovery team have been tracking the lone female wolf and have notified ranchers in the area, although they say it’s not a threat to human health or public safety.

Wolf-livestock conflicts have been a major challenge of the reintroduction program over the past two decades, with ranchers saying the killing of livestock by wolves remains a threat to their livelihood despite efforts by wildlife managers to scare the wolves away and reimburse some of the losses.

With news of the wolf traveling north of Interstate 40 in New Mexico, state and federal wildlife officials have been reminding people that Mexican wolves are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and that hazing or harassing the predators is not allowed, unless the wolf poses a threat to human safety.

Collared wolves have trekked north of I-40 only a handful of times since 2015, when the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area was established, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

One of the more well-documented cases involved a wolf that was captured, relocated and later found dead after heading north again. In 2022, there were reports that another female lived for months west of Albuquerque until she moved into Arizona and then back into southwestern New Mexico.

In the latest case, the wolf numbered 2754 dispersed from the Rocky Prairie pack at the end of 2022.

“We are monitoring f2754’s movements while working with our partners to evaluate management options,” agency spokeswoman Aislinn Maestas said Tuesday.

Environmentalists have been fighting in federal court to overturn a requirement that the Fish and Wildlife Service capture wolves that roam north of I-40.

In court documents, environmental groups have argued that using the interstate as the northern boundary for wolf recovery effectively curbs natural dispersal and cuts off access to the Grand Canyon and Southern Rockies. They pointed to the two regions as essential for establishing another population to meet recovery goals.

The Mexican wolf is the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America. According to the most recent survey released in early 2022, there were at least 196 Mexican wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona. It marked the sixth straight year the population had increased.

There is also a small population of wolves in the wild in Mexico.

U.S. officials said they were preparing to begin this year’s survey in Arizona and New Mexico in the coming weeks.

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Nevada Current

Lawsuit seeks to expel cattle from endangered wildflower habitat

By: JENIFFER SOLIS, January 9, 2023

A conservation group is suing the federal government in an effort to ban cattle from grazing in the habitat of an endangered wildflower that can only be found on about 10 acres of public land in Esmeralda County, Nevada.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice Monday of its intent to sue the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for failing to adequately protect the rare Nevada wildflower Tiehm’s buckwheat from cattle grazing.

Last month, the buckwheat was listed under the Endangered Species Act. federal wildlife managers also designated 910 acres in the Silver Peak Range federally protected habitat in order to support the plant’s reproduction and rehabilitation.

The notice seeks to remove cattle from the buckwheat’s federally protected habitat after the conservation group claims it discovered seven cows grazing on the habitat and destroying individual plants.

Last year the BLM assured the group all cattle had been voluntarily removed from the site.

“Tiehm’s buckwheat is one of North America’s most endangered plants, but federal officials are letting the livestock industry run roughshod over its fragile habitat,” said Patrick Donnelly, the Center’s Great Basin director, who documented the damage. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized cattle grazing as a threat to the buckwheat’s existence, but the Bureau of Land Management has done nothing to protect these wildflowers.”

The buckwheat, which produces tufts of bright yellow flowers, faces threats from predation, mining, climate change, off-highway vehicles and grazing, say federal wildlife managers.

An Australian mining company, Ioneer Corp., has proposed an open-pit lithium mine on the plant’s only known habitat, risking its extinction in the wild.

Additionally, thousands of Tiehm’s buckwheat were destroyed in a  bizarre predation event two years ago that reduced the flower’s global population by at least 50%, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Each one of these plants is precious and essential for the recovery of this endangered species,” said Donnelly. “It’s totally unacceptable that the BLM is letting cows destroy this wildflower’s protected critical habitat while greenlighting a lithium mine that could wipe out the whole species. We’re going to court to hold this agency accountable for protecting each and every buckwheat.”

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WLOX News (Biloxi, MS)

State, federal scientists begin examining dead Fin whale found on Pass Christian beach

By Leslie Rojas, Published: Jan. 8, 2023

PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss. (WLOX) -Scientists from different agencies are conducting research on a dead fin whale that washed ashore in Pass Christian.

The endangered species is now being examined by several scientists from federal and state agencies, including the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, Mote Marine Laboratory, FWC Marine Mammal Research and Rescue, and many more.

Crews arrived early to start collecting samples that will determine the cause of death.

“We are doing an external review of the animal, but we will also be looking internally at all the organs and collecting samples to send them off for testing,” IMMS stranding coordinator Theresa Madrigal said.

There’s no clear answer on what caused the whale to wash ashore, but scientists believe it has to do with health problems.

“These animals are very deep dwellers. They are going to stay offshore for the most part, so when they come inshore, typically they are very sick. It’s likely this animal was sick and started to come into the Mississippi Sound,” Madrigal said.

In the past, only three Fin whales have been stranded in the Gulf of Mexico. This is the first time one has been stranded on the Mississippi Coast. The sighting is extremely rare and people like Michael O’Dwyer were shocked to hear the news.

“I thought that I would just come and observe what’s going on. It’s unusual that we see them on the beach. We see porpoises quite often. Not too often do we see whales here,” O’Dwyer said.

Scientists will continue to conduct research in Pass Christian. The cause of death will be determined once they receive lab results.

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Oregon Public Broadcasting (Portland, OR)

Oregon Zoo awarded $2 million to help California condors

By Alex Hasenstab (OPB), Jan. 8, 2023

The conservation of a critically endangered bird species received a major funding boost. The Oregon Zoo was awarded $2 million to support the conservation of the California condor — funding that came from the year-end omnibus bill signed by President Joe Biden.

The Condor Restoration Resiliency Project will modernize the zoo’s offsite Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation, located in rural Clackamas County. The center is the second-largest of the nation’s four condor breeding facilities.

“They were the first animal to be added onto the endangered species act in the ‘70s and they’re one of the more charismatic animals and really important success stories in the conservation realm,” said Travis Koons, who runs the program.

In recent years, wildfires and winter storm power outages have forced evacuations at the center.

“We have several plans to upgrade our electrical backup systems,” Koons said. “We currently have generators that power our incubation equipment and a few other very important items critical to our operations.”

The program will also use the $2 million, championed by Sens. Merkley and Wyden as part of a package of Oregon investments, to create wildfire resiliency at the center.

“We’re actually going to be investing in improving our relationship with beavers that have made the property their home and trying to utilize some of their natural abilities to mitigate wildfire risk,” Koons said.

He added that the center will also purchase equipment to improve our firebreaks and add protective coatings to barns. The center is also considering a sprinkler system.

The California condor was one of the original animals included on the 1973 Endangered Species Act. In 1982, only 22 of these birds remained in the wild. By 1987, the last condors were brought into human care in an attempt to save the species from extinction.

The Oregon Zoo joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service condor recovery effort in 2003 with the goal of hatching and releasing as many condors as possible. Today, thanks to this recovery partnership, there are around 500 condors, with more than 300 flying free. This year, the zoo hatched a record 12 condor chicks and released eight into the wild, including three for the Yurok Tribe’s historic Northern California reintroduction.

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Roll Call (Washington, DC)

Spending law presents challenges for environmental regulators

Spending bill delays action on protecting whales and prohibits certain Clean Air Act rules

By Benjamin J. Hulac, Posted January 6, 2023

The new year brings challenges to Biden administration regulators: how to handle environmentally unfriendly riders inserted by lawmakers into the fiscal 2023 spending bill.

The provisions protect the use of lead-based bullets and fishing tackle, thwart steps to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale and sage grouse, and block new climate regulations under the Clean Air Act.

Congressional Republicans touted the provisions as small wins in an omnibus spending law many of their GOP peers voted against.

Environmentalists condemned the inclusion of the whale and sage grouse riders as possibly ushering in the total collapse of both species in the wild, while Maine’s congressional delegation and its governor, Democrat Janet Mills, cheered the added whale language, which delays until 2028 new fishing gear rules drafted to protect the vulnerable species.

“There are only about 340 right whales left,” Danielle Kessler, U.S. director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said by phone. “This is really a population that really teeters on the brink of extinction,” Kessler said. “We cannot keep losing right whales to what are avoidable risks.”

The legislative add-ons became law as populations of plants and animals are plummeting in number and researchers warn humans have driven Earth into a period of mass extinction and biodiversity loss.

To blunt mass die-offs of flora and fauna, more than 190 nations reached an agreement during December talks in Montreal to set aside at least 30 percent of the world’s lands and waters by 2030. The U.S. is not a signatory to the international convention on biological diversity, the organizing mechanism behind last month’s gathering, and participated as an observer last month in Canada rather than an official party. But the Biden administration has set a goal of protecting 30 percent of its land and water before the decade ends.

Found often in coastal waters, especially during their breeding season, North Atlantic right whales can weigh as much as 70 tons, stretch more than 50 feet and live 70 years.

Nearly hunted to extinction by commercial whalers in the late 1800s, the bus-sized mammals face deadly threats from fishing gear and vessel strikes, their leading causes of death. Whales often get tangled in fishing lines that run from buoys down to the ocean floor. As whales migrate along the Eastern Seaboard, they may move through about 1 million vertical ropes, Kessler said. When they hit a rope, they often roll to the side, leading to more entanglement, she said.

“It may not kill them instantly. But it’s going to have this toll,” Kessler said, adding that entanglements also put rescue crews dispatched to untangle the animals in danger. “It’s putting those folks at risk as well.”

Maine fisheries

The Maine delegation took issue with a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration rule that would require U.S. lobster and Jonah crab fisheries to use gear safer for the whales by, among other steps, utilizing fishing lines designed to break free if snagged.

Between 2010 and 2019, fishing gear was found on 62 whales out of 114 documented right whale entanglements, federal officials said.

Lawmakers from Maine bristled against the requirements of new gear under the rule, saying it was hard to find and expensive. Once the provisions to delay the NOAA rule were in place, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said the legislation sidestepped an “economic death sentence” for his state’s lobster industry.

The law authorizes $50 million for a grant program through 2032 and includes $20 million in funding for fishermen to shift to ropeless gear.

“We would like to see this money land in the pockets of fishermen,” said Kessler, adding that IFAW is working with Massachusetts fishermen to deploy a new generation of whale-safe gear.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., called the inclusion of the whale provision “terrible,” while Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., the incoming House Natural Resources ranking member, said the bill “undermines the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act and will send the North Atlantic right whale even further along the trajectory to extinction.”

Ninety-one right whales have been found dead or gravely hurt in the past five years, according to NOAA data. Entanglements may not kill a whale, but they can stress and fatigue the animal, making it harder for them to give birth.

Like right whales, sage grouse have plummeted in numbers because of human encroachment.

“Once numbering 16 million birds, the greater sage grouse population has dwindled to a few hundred thousand,” said Josh Osher, public policy director at Western Watersheds Project. “The species continues to decline due to impacts from oil and gas drilling, livestock overgrazing that leads to invasion by flammable weeds, habitat fragmentation and other human-caused factors.”

Lead ammunition

Protecting the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on and in federal lands and waters is a priority of hunting and gun clubs.

A provision in the new funding law blocks any of the money it distributes from being used to “regulate the lead content of ammunition, ammunition components, or fishing tackle” under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, the American Bird Conservancy and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonpartisan group, petitioned the Interior Department in November to ban lead ammunition and fishing tackle from national parks. Lead threatens birds and fish when it enters the food chain, ultimately killing or contaminating wildlife species, they said.

In 2009, the National Park Service began a campaign to ban lead from parks before scrapping it, although some parks ended the use of lead in culls and other NPS sites stopped selling fishing tackle with lead in it. California began to phase out lead ammunition in state parks in 2019, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in September that it would phase out lead-based ammunition and tackle in 18 refuges, citing health risks for humans and animals.

One measure in the new law blocks steps to “promulgate or implement” new federal rules that require permits to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, water vapor or methane emissions from cattle. And another provision halts any steps to report greenhouse gas emissions from “manure management systems.”

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Fox Weather

Florida’s manatee death toll falls short of record levels but remains alarmingly high

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates there are only around 7,500 manatees left in Sunshine State.

By Andrew Wulfeck, January 5, 2023

A late-year arctic blast that impacted the Sunshine State helped propel manatees’ 2022 death toll to at least 800, continuing a streak of what has been identified as an unusual mortality event by biologists.

Data released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Thursday showed the yearly death count was roughly 8 percent higher than average but sharply lower than the record 1,100 deaths reported in 2021.

Biologists previously blamed a giant seagrass die-off for causing starvation among the endangered species, mostly along Florida’s east coast.

Following the record year, state and federal agencies established a supplemental feeding program in a Central Florida lagoon, where many of the giant sea cows migrate to during the winter.

Biologists distributed more than 200,000 pounds of leafy greens in the Indian River Lagoon with the intent of doubling the amount during the current cold season.

A record-breaking arctic cold snap over the holiday season only compounded issues, dropping temperatures of some waterways to below 68 degrees and increasing the potential for cold-stress syndrome in warm-blooded mammals.

“With the cold impacting the entire state, it was definitely a statewide uptick,” said Andy Garrett, a mammal stranding coordinator at the FWC. “We don’t like to say this in this business, but before Christmas, we were quiet. And it picked up from there.”

In addition to the cold, the yearly report showed boating and birthing led the way for known causes of deaths in 34 counties across the state.

Animals found alive but suffering from malnourishment or injuries are being treated and rehabilitated at facilities from Ohio to Puerto Rico.

“We have the 79 in-house right now and over 20 that are going to be going back to being returned to the wild in the next two months by the end of February. So that’s going to put us right there in a better place,” said Teresa Calleson, a biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The USFWS believes the facilities could handle an additional 40 to 50 manatees and are prepared to open two contingency sites if an unexpected uptick in rescues happens.

The FWC said manatees are taking advantage of its feeding site in Brevard County, and biologists have observed a return of some of the animal’s natural feeding grasses in critical waterways.

“I want to caution people. We’re not going to fix the seagrass situation in the Indian River Lagoon overnight or over the course of the year. It’s going to take several years for those seagrasses to come back. And that is dependent on a lot of things that are largely out of our control,” said Tom Reinert, FWC manatee program spokesperson.

The FWC estimates there are only around 7,500 manatees left in Sunshine State, and if boaters see an animal in distress, they should inform the agency about the sighting by calling 888-404-3922.

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Maine Public (Lewiston, ME)

Massachusetts declares April 24 as Right Whale Day to raise awareness about the endangered species

Maine Public, By Carol l Bousquet, January 5, 2023

Massachusetts has declared April 24 as Right Whale Day in an effort to raise awareness about the endangered species.

North Atlantic right whales number fewer than 350, according to federal fisheries estimates. The New England Aquarium says it hopes Right Whale Day will encourage Massachusetts residents to learn more about the mammals and threats posed to them by entanglements in fixed fishing gear and ship strikes.

“Despite it being right off of our coast, a lot of people don’t know about the right whale. They don’t know it’s the state’s marine mammal. They don’t know that it’s critically endangered,” said James Sutherland, the New England Aquarium’s associate vice president of public policy and advocacy.

Aerial surveys have tracked North Atlantic right whales in Cape Cod Bay and off of Nantucket from December to May.

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WIBW (Topeka, KS)

Kansas leaders move to block endangered listing of lesser prairie chicken

By Sarah Motter, Published: Jan. 3, 2023

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – Leaders in both Kansas and Oklahoma have moved to block the listing of the lesser prairie chicken on the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) says that he and Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) along with U.S. Representatives Tracey Mann (R-KS), Jake LaTurner (R-KS), Ron Estes (R-KS), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Stephanie Bice (R-OK), joined together to officially introduce a Congressional Review Act joint resolution of disapproval to strike down the recent listing of the lesser-prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act.

“The recent listing of the lesser prairie-chicken is terrible for Kansas’ economy but great for the climate activists who have way too much influence over President Biden. Private property in the LPC range might as well be federal lands if this egregious policy goes into effect,” Marshall said. “While high inflation is the greatest challenge facing our nation, this listing will increase financial difficulties for the Kansans who raise cattle for your hamburgers and drill oil for your gasoline. This President says lowering costs is a priority, but yet again he is making decisions that will do the exact opposite.”

Marshall indicated that if the CRA resolution is enacted, the measure would prevent the listing from going into effect.

“The decision to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened will negatively impact crucial industries in our state and place unnecessary restrictions on farmers, ranchers and energy producers,” Moran noted. “Kansas and surrounding states have contributed millions of public and private dollars to successfully conserve the habitat area and increase the population of the bird. Listing of the lesser prairie-chicken will harm our state’s wildlife conservation efforts in the future by removing any incentive for similar local efforts.”

Marshall said the CRA is part of a multi-pronged approach to stop the lesser-prairie chicken listing which was announced earlier in December.

“Agriculture and energy producers in Kansas are already suffering from the Biden Administration’s failed policies and burdensome government regulations,” said Rep. LaTurner. “The decision by Washington bureaucrats to designate the lesser prairie-chicken as an endangered species is completely unnecessary as landowner and state-level efforts to restore the LPC habitat have been successful. All this reckless listing will do is create additional red tape making it more difficult for hard-working Kansans to succeed.”

On May 21, 2021, Marshall noted that he and Moran joined colleagues to urge the U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to not list the LPC under the ESA.

“I refuse to sit idly by while the United States Fish and Wildlife Service imposes burdensome regulations on producers with no input from Congress,” said Mann. “The designation of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species in places like Kansas is unacceptable. This resolution calls for an absolute refusal of this rule, which should have no force or effect until Congress is consulted. At a time when inflation is at a 40-year high and families are struggling to fuel their cars while keeping food on their tables, we should be working to eliminate barriers for the agriculture and energy sectors, not hamstring hardworking Americans with government overreach. Since this rule threatens the livelihoods of the men and women who feed, fuel and clothe us all, I hope that all my colleagues in Congress will join me in refusing to accept it.”

On July 16, 2021, Marshall also said he, Moran and Mann led another group of colleagues to request a 90-day extension to the comment period for the proposed listing of the LPC.

“Time and again we’ve seen the Biden administration assert their overreaching and burdensome regulations on the lives of hardworking Kansans. The recent classification of the lesser prairie chicken is another example of using Washington bureaucrats to dictate how Kansans live and work. The farmers, ranchers and energy producers of the Midwest have made great strides in conserving our land and protecting our natural resources. Now it’s necessary for Congress to rein in these out-of-control regulators and restore the rights of Kansas ranchers and energy producers,” said Estes.

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Los Angeles Times

California’s endangered salmon population plummets amid new threat

BY SUSANNE RUST, IAN JAMES, JAN. 3, 2023

They’ve been pushed to the brink of extinction by dams, drought, extreme heat and even the flare of wildfires, but now California’s endangered winter-run Chinook salmon appear to be facing an entirely new threat — their own ravenous hunger for anchovies.

After the worst spawning season ever in 2022, scientists now suspect the species’ precipitous decline is being driven by its ocean diet.

Researchers hypothesize that the salmon are feasting too heavily on anchovies, a fish that is now swarming the California coast in record numbers. Unfortunately for the salmon, anchovies carry an enzyme called thiaminase, which breaks down thiamine — a vitamin that is essential to cell function in all living things.

“These are fish that returned to the river early [last] year and then spawned in the spring and early summer. They had really low thiamine,” said Nate Mantua, a fisheries researcher with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Santa Cruz. Concentrations were “worse than” the previous year.

In humans, a critical deficiency of thiamine, or vitamin B1, can lead to heart failure and nerve damage. In female salmon that are returning to rivers and streams to spawn, thiamine deficiency can be passed on to their many hatchlings, which suffer problems swimming and experience high rates of death, researchers say.

Now, with government agencies and Native American tribes fearing the collapse of the winter-run Chinook, scientists are embarking on a campaign to determine why the anchovy population has exploded off the California coast, and why winter-run Chinook are seemingly ignoring all other prey.

“The very unusual thing about their diet is that it’s been so focused on anchovies and so lacking in other things that historically they have been found eating,” Mantua said. “It is something we don’t have great information on.”

Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife and UC Davis are employing new technologies, such as environmental DNA sampling and isotopic analyses of fish eye lenses, along with older methods — such as plankton sampling and fish ear bone studies — to better understand how and why the salmon ocean diet has changed.

Scientists first discovered salmon were suffering from a vitamin deficiency in 2020, after hatchery workers noticed salmon fry behaving strangely — swimming repeatedly in tight, corkscrew-like patterns before spiraling to their deaths at the bottom of the tanks. They learned a similar situation had occurred in the Great Lakes in the 1960s, when lake trout had exhibited similar behaviors after gorging on alewives, another fish chock-full of thiaminase.

State, federal and UC Davis researchers quickly treated the swirling salmon fry with thiamine — infusing the water in their tanks with the vitamin; the salmon soon recovered.

But over the last three years, thiamine concentrations in salmon eggs have continued to drop.

“We thought initially it was just a one-year thing, maybe the way we thought of COVID,” said Rachel Johnson, a fisheries biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and UC Davis. “I was cautiously optimistic that the ocean was going to rearrange itself back to normal. And we just haven’t seen that.”

Chinook salmon start their lives in the rivers of Central and Northern California, before migrating downstream to the Pacific Ocean. There, they typically spend the next two to three years feeding on a variety of fish and invertebrates — such as squid — off the coast.

But ever since anchovy numbers began to balloon in 2016, they have triggered feeding frenzies among salmon and other predators. Humpback and gray whales have been seen in record numbers lunge feeding on the forage fish, and last summer San Francisco residents complained of fish falling from the sky — probably the result of birds dropping fish from their over-stuffed talons or beaks.

Mantua and Johnson are investigating whether there is a seasonal component to the winter-run Chinook’s taste for anchovies.

“Some of the diet data we have from the ‘50s and ‘70s and ‘80s show that salmon that were caught off of Central California would typically have herring, crab and krill in the winter, early-spring diets. Then juvenile rockfish would become a bigger component in the spring and early summer. And it wasn’t really until August and September that anchovies and sardines were the dominant prey item,” Mantua said.

Johnson’s lab is attempting to figure that out by examining the lenses of fish eyes.

Like an onion, the lenses accumulate layer upon layer over a salmon’s lifetime. Examining the chemical isotopes in each layer, Johnson and her colleagues can get an idea of what kinds of foods the salmon were eating and when.

“It’s kind of like a diet journal … that allows us to check in over the lifetime of a salmon,” she said.

Meanwhile, she and her colleagues at the hatcheries continue to treat fry with thiamine and inject the vitamin into egg-bearing females.

Winter-run Chinook are one of four distinct seasonal runs of salmon that populate the Sacramento River and its tributaries, but are the only one that has been declared endangered by the state and federal government. The name “winter-run” refers to the season in which sea-faring salmon return to San Francisco Bay to make their long journey to spawn in ancestral headwaters.

Those cool headwaters, however, have long since been blocked by dams, and the fish have been forced to lay their eggs in Central Valley waters in the heat of summer, causing many eggs to die. Today, the winter-run Chinook survive only through the intervention of government hatcheries and periodic releases of cold water from the same dams that block their passage upstream.

In the last several years, drought, extreme heat and debris flows from wildfire burn scars have taken a huge toll on their numbers, along with thiamine deficiency.

According to federal data, the total number of juvenile winter-run Chinook that were counted swimming downstream past the Red Bluff Diversion Dam in 2022 was 181,000 — the lowest on record. In 2021, the number was 558,000, and in 2020, it was just over 2 million.

Egg-to-fry survival was also low, said Michael Milstein, a spokesman for the federal agency. Despite the fact that river temperatures remained cooler in 2022 and most eggs survived, the young salmon struggled after they hatched. A preliminary survival percentage released recently was 1.94% — once again, the lowest ever recorded. In 2021 the egg-to-fry survival percentage was 2.56%. In 2020, it was 11.46%

To give the endangered fish a better shot at survival, state and federal officials have been studying ways of restoring salmon to their traditional cold-water habitats upriver from dams, such as the McCloud River, upstream of Shasta Lake.

From last September through early December, biologists and members of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe worked together on an experimental project on the McCloud River, releasing thousands of juvenile winter-run salmon and later recapturing some of them.

By mid-December, more than 1,600 of the fish had been recaptured, loaded into aerated coolers and trucked downstream of the dam, where they were released to continue their journey.

“They looked great,” said Matt Johnson, a senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The fish, he said, looked larger than hatchery raised salmon. “It was strong evidence that the McCloud provides great habitat for juvenile Chinook — not a surprise to us, given the quality and quantity of the habitat in that river system.”

He described the project as a success.

Jason Roberts, an environmental program manager for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the Winnemem Wintu Tribe’s participation in the project was vital. He said the department’s officials want to repeat the project next year and are talking with tribal leaders and federal officials about co-managing the effort.

“In the face of climate change, we have to get winter-run off the valley floor back into their historical habitat if they’re going to have a chance of surviving,” Roberts said.

For the Winnemem Wintu, salmon are central to cultural and spiritual traditions, and leaders have long sought to return salmon to the river where their ancestors lived.

Caleen Sisk, the tribe’s chief and spiritual leader, said last year’s effort was a good step.

“I think it has the potential to achieve the restoration of salmon in rivers above the dams — not just McCloud, but this is a prime example of what could happen, and what would be good for fish,” Sisk said.

For years, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe has advocated an approach to reintroducing salmon that would involve developing a “swimway” so that fish could travel upstream and downstream on their own around Shasta Dam. The tribe also wants to use salmon that once lived in the Sacramento River but were transplanted to New Zealand more than a century ago. The salmon have been thriving in mountain rivers in New Zealand, and tribal leaders say those eggs should be brought back.

“We believe that whatever happens to salmon happens to us,” Sisk said. “Maybe this is a step that we get to return to the river too.”

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Public News Service

Third of Yellowstone Elk Habitat Not Protected from Development

Eric Galatas, Producer, January 3, 2023

More than a third of all known elk habitat in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem remains wide-open for human development, according to new analysis recently published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation.

Laura Gigliotti, the report’s author, said data collected showed which of the park’s 26 herds are most vulnerable at different points along their migration corridors. She explained elk play a major role in one of the last remaining intact ecosystems on the planet.

“And it has this large diversity of not only migratory ungulates but large predators, and all these different species that are coexisting in this ecosystem,” Gigliotti pointed out. “If we lose one aspect of that ecosystem, we’re losing this really valuable resource.”

The elk habitat at risk sits outside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park, which has been protected for the past 150 years and is privately owned with no zoning.

Wyoming has made moves to protect migration corridors on private lands. Gov. Mark Gordon recently approved a new partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture which offers landowners incentives to support critical wildlife habitat for elk and other migratory species.

As parcels of land adjacent to Yellowstone become more valuable to developers, conservationists worry subdivided land could impact the long-term health of herds. Gigliotti’s research showed elk can thrive on private lands, and can tolerate some level of human development.

“But what we typically see is that when we get to about 1% to 2% development in an area, we start to see animals start to avoid those areas,” Gigliotti emphasized.

Under the new partnership, private landowners in Wyoming can elect to tap federal dollars to replace five-strand barbed wire, which Gigliotti noted is one of the biggest barriers facing elk.

“It might be restricting movement routes of where animals can go in the environment,” Gigliotti cautioned. “One way to make this better is either to use wildlife-friendly fencing or remove fences that aren’t really serving a purpose on the landscape.”

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Colorado Newsline

How Colorado plans to reintroduce wolves on Western Slope by 2023 deadline

Colorado Parks and Wildlife releases draft plan to comply with 2020’s Proposition 114

BY: CHASE WOODRUFF, JANUARY 2, 2023

Colorado could be less than a year away from the state’s first relocation of gray wolves to parts of the Western Slope, as required by a ballot initiative passed by voters in 2020.

A draft plan released by Colorado Parks and Wildlife last month calls for the reintroduction of 10 to 15 wolves per year over the next three to five years, with an initial target of a stable population of at least 50 animals within the state.

“This draft plan represents the division’s very best effort to develop a blueprint and common-sense approach to implement Proposition 114,” said Carrie Besnette Hauser, chair of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, at the panel’s December meeting. “The goal was to develop a plan that the majority of the public will support and one that represents reasonable compromise, viability, and has room to evolve over time.”

Voters narrowly approved Proposition 114, a citizen-initiated measure backed by wildlife conservation groups, by a 51% to 49% margin in November 2020. It directed CPW to develop a plan and take steps to reintroduce gray wolves west of the Continental Divide by the end of 2023.

Under the state’s 293-page draft plan, CPW staff will work with counterpart agencies in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to capture wolves from existing wild populations in those states, and release them on state-owned and private lands at least 60 miles from neighboring state or tribal borders.

Based on criteria of habitat suitability and conflict risk, the plan identifies a northern zone centered on Glenwood Canyon and a southern zone centered on Gunnison County as the best locations for the wintertime releases of captured wolves. The first releases would occur in the northern zone in the winter of 2023-24, and the wolves will be tracked via GPS collars to help wildlife managers gather data on survival and dispersal.

Although the new law includes a provision requiring the state to compensate agricultural producers for any livestock losses caused by wolves, ranchers on the Western Slope and industry groups like the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association have remained wary of the proposal.

The state’s draft plan includes detailed procedures for compensating ranchers for livestock losses of up to $8,000 per animal. Commission Vice Chair Dallas May, a rancher from Lamar, called the plan “a great start” but told state staff that the $8,000 maximum is “insufficient.”

“Many horses and livestock seedstock are much more valuable than that,” May said. “A well-trained young ranch horse — the value of those start at $15,000. Most people have pastures of $15,000 horses that are necessary to operate their business.”

‘A momentous conservation achievement’

Gray wolves are native to Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states but were hunted to near-extinction by the mid-20th century. With the support of conservation groups, reintroduction efforts like one in Yellowstone National Park beginning in 1995 have allowed populations to recover in the northern Rockies. Studies have linked wolf reintroduction to a variety of positive effects on impacted ecosystems, like healthier elk herds and the recovery of riparian habitats previously damaged by over-grazing.

Sightings of wolves that have migrated from other states have periodically been reported in Colorado, and the state’s first breeding pair of wolves in 70 years was confirmed in Jackson County in 2021.

Dillon Hanson-Ahumada, a Southern Rockies field representative for the Endangered Species Coalition, said in a statement that CPW’s plan “marks one more step toward a momentous conservation achievement for the wilds and the people of Colorado.”

“The gray wolf is an important native species to our state, and a vital part of the wildlife heritage we all share as Coloradans,” Hanson-Ahumada said. “We will work to ensure that the final plan commits Colorado to a full recovery of wolves now and for future generations of Coloradans.”

Some environmentalists, however, object to the plan’s approach towards livestock-wolf conflicts. Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the draft plan “paves the way for far too many wolves to be shot.” Under the plan, many state protections for wolves would expire once the population reaches 200 animals, potentially leading to legal wolf hunting, as states like Montana and Wyoming have allowed.

“This disappointing proposal doesn’t require ranchers to take responsibility for preventing conflicts and will lead to government agents regularly shooting Colorado wolves from helicopters,” Robinson said in a statement. “The commissioners should reject this draft and rewrite the plan based on science.”

CPW staff will hold five public hearings throughout the state in January and February to receive public comment on the draft plan, with a final set of revisions and the plan’s potential approval scheduled for April and May. Members of the public can also submit comment through an online form until Feb. 22.

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Honolulu Civil Beat

Endangered Bird Poised To Get Hundreds Of Thousands Of Protected Acres In Hawaii

Conservationists took the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to court last year to spur action that was overdue for the imperiled native honeycreeper.

By Marcel Honore, January 2, 2023

Federal wildlife officials have proposed that more than 275,000 acres of forest across Hawaii be designated critical habitat for the ‘i‘iwi bird, one of about a dozen native honeycreeper species currently headed toward extinction.

Conservationists with the Center for Biological Diversity heralded the long-awaited move by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as key to saving the ‘i‘iwi. The nonprofit had sued the federal agency last year to propose a habitat as required by law for the bird, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

That lawsuit led to a deal in which the Fish and Wildlife Service would propose a critical habitat by December 2022. The ‘i‘iwi was listed as threatened in 2017, according to the suit.

“Protecting the places the ‘i‘iwi calls home will give these beautiful birds their best chance at survival,” Maxx Phillips, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Hawaii director and staff attorney, said in a release.

“It shouldn’t have taken a lawsuit, but the Service made the right call. As our forests fall quiet, federal officials must do everything possible to ensure these birds bounce back and stop sliding toward extinction,” Phillips added.

The iconic honeycreeper, known for its bright-red plumage, is among some 17 forest bird species native to the islands poised to disappear.

Their numbers have been decimated in recent years by avian malaria and other mosquito-borne illnesses. Researchers say that warming temperatures from climate change are driving the insects higher and deeper into the birds’ forest habitats.

Compounding the problem for the ‘i‘iwi, according to both federal officials and conservationists, is the demise of native ohia trees across Hawaii. At least one million of those trees have perished across Hawaii due to the spread of rapid ohia death. The birds survive on the nectar of those trees’ lehua blossoms and they play an important role as pollinators of many native Hawaiian plants.

The ‘i‘iwi’s proposed critical habitat would encompass federal, state and private forest lands spread across three Hawaiian islands where the birds are still found: Kauai, Maui and Hawaii island.

All of the proposed area is currently occupied by the honeycreeper, according to Fish and Wildlife officials. More than 38% of that proposed area overlaps with the designated critical habitat for other endangered species, according to the federal agency.

Philip Taylor, a conservation biologist who works with the Army’s Natural Resources Program on Oahu, said that it makes sense to start with the three neighbor islands because they have the greater number of birds and better forest habitat.

“It’s better to start there, where the birds are,” Taylor said. “Oahu’s tough. There’s not a lot of acres left for native birds” with there being so many people and widespread development.

Taylor said he’s only seen ‘i‘iwi three times on Oahu since 2007, with all of those sightings occurring in the southern Waianae mountains. Further, it’s been more than a decade since the last reported sighting of an ‘i‘iwi on Hawaii’s most populous island, he added.

Designating critical habitat isn’t the same as creating a marine protected area, wilderness preserve, or some other conservation area as defined by the federal government. It also doesn’t change the ownership of that land, according to an explanation on critical habitat from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. Instead, it requires all federal agencies to make sure that any actions they take won’t affect the habitat area in a harmful way that would prevent the species’ recovery.

Fish and Wildlife, meanwhile, is scheduled to host a virtual public meeting on its proposal Feb. 10. Those interested in attending can register here. Members of the public can also submit comments on the proposal through Feb. 27 via this federal portal.

Fish and Wildlife separately announced last week that it aims to direct some $14 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help save 12 of the imperiled Hawaiian honeycreepers.

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KCCI Des Moines

Meet a rainbow fish and other new species discovered in 2022

December 30, 2022

The tree of life grew in 2022 as California Academy of Sciences researchers and their international collaborators discovered 146 new animal, plant and fungi species.

The previously unknown creatures and plants were found around the world, including the mountains of California, Australia’s Queensland state, the rocky peaks of Brazil and the coral reefs of the Maldives. Scientists made discoveries on six continents and within three oceans.

Among the new species were 44 lizards, 30 ants, 14 flowering plants, 13 sea stars, seven fish, four sharks, three moths, two spiders and one toad.

Academy research associate Aaron Bauer’s work helped more than double the number of known species within a group of small forest geckos in the mountains of New Caledonia. The 28 new Bavayia geckos living across dozens of South Pacific islands bear similar brown and white markings.

“Nearly every mountain in New Caledonia hosts a unique Bavayia species, and these habitats share many of the same conditions,” Bauer said. “The result is several species that are often almost indistinguishable from one another.”

Meanwhile, San Francisco Bay Area high school students Harper Forbes and Prakrit Jain worked with Lauren Esposito, curator of arachnology at the California Academy of Sciences, to discover two new species of scorpions. The students saw images of the unidentified species on the iNaturalist online platform and conducted fieldwork to find the small scorpions, which live in the dry lake beds of Central and Southern California.

While one of the scorpions, Paruroctonus soda, is on federally protected land, the other, known as Paruroctonus conclusus, lives on a narrow, mile-long strip that’s unprotected.

“The entire species could be wiped out with the construction of a single solar farm, mine, or housing development,” Forbes said in a statement. “Mapping the biodiversity of a given area can help build the case for why that land should be protected.”

New species research is critical to identify ecosystems most in need of protection, said Shannon Bennett, California Academy of Sciences virologist and chief of science.

Indeed, conservation was one of the key topics at the 2022 UN Biodiversity Conference held Dec. 7-19 in Montreal.

“As we’ve seen over the last two weeks at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, biodiversity science is at the forefront of global conservation action and is key in unifying nations and equipping them with the tools and information necessary to reverse species extinction rates by 2030,” she said. “By uncovering and documenting new species, we can contribute to this landmark goal and ensure that our natural world remains rich and diverse for generations to come.”

Mountain finds

Academy research associate Julie Kierstead found a new species of onion by happenstance during a helicopter trip over California’s Klamath Mountains in 2015. When the copter landed on Minnesota Mountain for about 30 minutes, Kierstead spotted an unidentified flowering allium, part of a plant family that includes onions, shallots and garlic.

Since then, another patch of the Minnesota Mountain onion was discovered on nearby Salt Creek Mountain. Both peaks receive more rainfall than others in the region, which has allowed the onion to flourish.

Thousands of miles away, Frank Almeda, emeritus curator of botany at the California Academy of Sciences, and research associate Ricardo Pacifico identified new flowering plants on the isolated peaks of Brazil’s campo rupestre.

The harsh conditions of the mountainous region, which includes extreme temperatures, high winds and nutrient-leached soils, has caused plant life to adapt — and surprisingly thrive in such a barren environment.

Almeda and Pacifico found 13 new species of flowers as they surveyed parts of the ecosystem that botanists had never explored before.

“The shrubs on the summit were less than half a meter high,” Pacifico said. “It was like walking through a garden.”

The newly discovered flowering plants live under very specific conditions, and they could disappear due to environmental shifts driven by the climate crisis, the scientists said.

Beneath the waves

One of the seven new fish discovered this year was the rose-veiled fairy wrasse, which lives in the Indian Ocean’s “twilight zone.”

Known by the scientific name Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa, the colorful fish was found at depths ranging from 131 to 229 feet beneath the ocean’s surface off the Maldives.

“Twilight zone” reefs can be 160 to 500 feet beneath the ocean’s surface and provide a unique environment for fish such as fairy wrasses.

The name honors the fish’s stunning pink hues as well as the pink rose, the national flower of the Maldives. “Finifenmaa” means rose in the local Dhivehi language.

Hundreds of species thrive in the waters near and surrounding the archipelago nation, but the fairy wrasse is the first fish to be described by a Maldivian scientist — Ahmed Najeeb.

“It has always been foreign scientists who have described species found in the Maldives without much involvement from local scientists, even those that are endemic to the Maldives,” said Najeeb, a biologist at the Maldives Marine Research Institute, in a statement when the discovery was announced in March.

“This time it is different and getting to be part of something for the first time has been really exciting, especially having the opportunity to work alongside top ichthyologists on such an elegant and beautiful species.”

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Centre Daily Times (State College, PA)

Feds: Vanishing right whale must remain on endangered list

By PATRICK WHITTLE ASSOCIATED PRESS, December 28, 2022

PORTLAND, MAINE The fading North Atlantic right whale will remain protected under the Endangered Species Act, and the species requires a series of protective steps to stave off extinction, federal authorities said Tuesday.

The whales number only about 340 and they have declined in population in recent years. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a review of the whale’s status on Tuesday that said the whale “is continuing to decline and has not met many of the recovery criteria outlined” in its recovery plan.

Protection of the whale is a source of dispute between conservationists and commercial fishermen because one of the top threats to the animals is entanglement in fishing gear. NOAA performed a required five-year review of the whale’s status that said the animal is continuing to decline because of the threats of fishing gear, collisions with ships and other stressors.

“There is also uncertainty regarding the effect of long-term sublethal entanglements, emerging environmental stressors including climate change, and the compounding effects of multiple continuous stressors that may be limiting North Atlantic right whale calving and recovery,” the agency said in its report.

NOAA also released recommended actions to try to stabilize the whale’s population. The actions include partnering with the Canadian government to reduce collisions and entanglements. The whales migrate every year from the waters off Georgia and Florida to New England and Canada.

The agency also recommended more research and implementation of fishing gear modifications that reduce risk to the whales. It also said there should be more emphasis placed on the removal of derelict fishing gear from the whales’ range.

NOAA’s announcement came a week after Maine’s congressional delegation announced plans to use the federal spending bill to attempt to delay new protections for the whales for six years. That would put a halt to new restrictions on lobster fishing, an industry based largely in Maine. The delegation and Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement that the planned restrictions would “not meaningfully protect the right whale, but will threaten the livelihoods of thousands of Maine families and small businesses.”

Environmental groups that have called for more whale protections said the delay would hasten the extinction of the species.

 “The science is clear: humans are killing right whales faster than they can reproduce, and entanglement in lobster gear is a leading cause,” said Erica Fuller, an attorney with Conservation Law Foundation.

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CBS News

Deaths of 3 endangered dolphins in Cambodia raise alarm

DECEMBER 26, 2022

Three endangered freshwater dolphins have died within 10 days of each other, alarming conservationists in Cambodia.

The death of a third healthy dolphin in such a brief period indicates “an increasingly alarming situation and the need for an intensive law enforcement be urgently conducted in the dolphin habitats,” the World Wildlife Fund said in an announcement Monday.

The latest Irrawaddy dolphin death — believed to have stemmed from entanglement in an illegal fishing line — spotlighted the need for law enforcement to help save the species, also known as the Mekong River dolphin, according to the statement.

The WWF said the body of a healthy female dolphin estimated to be between 7 and 10 years old was found floating in the river Saturday in the eastern province of Kratie. It said an examination of its carcass suggested that the dolphin, 196 centimeters (6 1/2 feet) long and 93 kilograms (205 pounds), had been hooked and wrapped in a tangle of fishing line.

Seng Teak, WWF Cambodia director, said in the statement that without immediate action “the recent increase in illegal fishing activities in the dolphin conservation areas” would destroy the Mekong River dolphin population in Cambodia.

The statement advocated stepping up day and night patrols to protect the remaining dolphins in conservation areas.

The first census of Irrawaddy dolphins in Cambodia in 1997 estimated their total population was about 200. In 2020, the population was estimated to have fallen to 89.

WWF said 11 dolphins have died in 2022, bringing the total number of deaths to 29 in the past three years.

The Irrawaddy dolphin is classified as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Other groups of these dolphins are found in two other freshwater rivers: Myanmar’s Irrawaddy and Indonesia’s Mahakam on the island of Borneo.

In February, Cambodian wildlife officials announced the death of the last known Irrawaddy dolphin in a population on a stretch of the Mekong River further upstream, which appeared to be caused by entanglement in a fishing net.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Court Forces EPA to Address Harms of Four Pesticides to Endangered Species

Decision Among Three Recent Rulings Chastising Agency for Not Completing Required Reviews of Pesticides’ Harms to Protected Species

WASHINGTON—(December 23, 2022)—The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals today ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to address the harms of four pesticides to endangered plants and animals.

The court chastised the agency’s repeated failure to complete assessments of pesticides’ harms to endangered species, noting that “the dysfunction” of the EPA’s “registration process has drawn attention from various quarters.”

Today’s decision marks the third time in two months that federal courts have ordered the EPA to address pesticides’ harms to endangered species. Earlier this week the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the agency to address dangers to endangered wildlife and pollinators from the systemic insecticide sulfoxaflor. Last month the D.C. Circuit ordered the EPA to address its long-delayed obligation to protect endangered species from the toxic insecticide cyantraniliprole.

More than 1 million pounds of the pesticides covered by today’s order — halauxifen-methyl, bicyclopyrone, flupyradifurone and benzovindiflupyr — are used every year across the United States.

The four pesticides, which are used on a wide variety of crops, have been documented to pose serious threats to hundreds of protected plants and animals, including fish and marine crustaceans, mammals and birds.

“For decades the EPA has practiced a reckless spray-first-look-later approach to addressing the threats of pesticides to imperiled species,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The courts’ unequivocal message is that ‘enough is enough.’ EPA’s pesticide office isn’t above the law and must address the outsized role of pesticides in driving the extinction crisis.”

Today’s legal victory for the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety and Defenders of Wildlife sets court-ordered deadlines in 2025 and 2027 for the EPA to finalize biological evaluations of harms to endangered wildlife under the Endangered Species Act.

The EPA has already restricted uses of a fifth pesticide included in the lawsuit — cuprous iodide — to protect endangered salmon and other aquatic species.

“Just in time for the holidays, today’s decision is a vital victory for endangered wildlife and the rule of law,” said George Kimbrell, legal director for Center for Food Safety. “Once again, courts have confirmed that EPA’s job is not to grant the fondest wishes of pesticide companies but instead to protect the environment and do it by meaningful deadlines.”

For decades the EPA has failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act’s requirements to consult with expert wildlife agencies to reduce the harm of pesticides to protected species. As a result of ongoing pressure from the environmental community, earlier this year the EPA released its first-ever comprehensive workplan to address the challenge of protecting endangered species from pesticides.

The agency is also initiating pilot programs focused on reforming the pesticide-approval process to correct violations of the Endangered Species Act. It also committed this year to analyzing the effects of new pesticide active ingredients on endangered species before registering them.

Background

Bicyclopyrone is an herbicide used mostly on corn. The EPA’s own risk assessment found that bicyclopyrone exceeds levels of concern for mammals and hundreds of plants protected under the Endangered Species Act, potentially affecting nearly half of all threatened and endangered species in the United States. Yet the agency approved new products combining bicyclopyrone and atrazine, a pesticide that the EPA recognizes is likely to harm more than 1,000 of the nation’s most endangered plants and animals.

Flupyradifurone is a systemic insecticide that is absorbed by plants and distributed throughout the plant to kill and deter pests. It is used on a range of crops including cotton, fruits, vegetables, orchards, grapes and alfalfa. The EPA’s risk assessment concludes that flupyradifurone may harm nearly every taxonomic group of protected species. It is “highly toxic to honeybees on an acute oral exposure basis” and “very highly toxic” to freshwater insects and marine crustaceans. It is also mobile and persistent in the aquatic environment.

Benzovindiflupyr is a fungicide used on corn, soybeans and other crops. The EPA recognizes that it has the potential to harm protected mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates. Even with steps to mitigate its harm the agency acknowledges “there are still broad risks of concern” for mammals, birds, fish and aquatic invertebrates.

Cuprous iodide — copper iodide — is an antimicrobial pesticide used to treat fabrics and other products. Because copper is very highly toxic to aquatic organisms it can adversely impact reproduction and growth at very low concentrations. Cuprous iodide can leach into waterbodies when products such as socks and sheets are washed. Once forced by litigation to look at its impacts to endangered species, the EPA changed the approval to eliminate washable uses that could leach into waterways.

Halauxifen-methyl is an herbicide most frequently used on wheat. It poses threats to endangered plants and pollinating species, such as monarch butterflies and bees that rely on flowering plants to survive. Because of the pesticide’s potential to drift, protected plants more than 2,500 feet from the application site could be harmed.

The EPA approved bicyclopyrone, flupyradifurone, benzovindiflupyr and cuprous iodide for use in 2015 and halauxifen-methyl in 2016.

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The Humane Society of the United States

Press Release, December 22, 2022

Animal protection groups and veterinarians submitted petition to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to ban wildlife killing contests

Today, veterinarians and 18 organizations, led by the Humane Society of the United States, submitted a petition to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources requesting that the agency initiate rulemaking to prohibit cruel, unnecessary wildlife killing contests in the state. At least 20 killing contests that target coyotes, foxes and raccoons for cash and prizes took place across Illinois in 2022.

Wildlife killing contests are organized events in which participants compete for cash and prizes—typically guns—for killing the most, largest or smallest animals over a period of one or two days.  To achieve high kill numbers, participants use electronic calling devices to attract coyotes and foxes into rifle range with sounds that mimic prey animals or young in distress and then shoot them with AR-15-style weapons fitted with night vision and thermal imaging scopes. 

Competitors then gather at celebratory events—often with young children in attendance—to weigh and count the bodies, pose for pictures next to piles of bloody carcasses, and receive their prizes. Following the event, the animals are typically dumped like trash. Even the fur often goes to waste because the high-powered guns rip holes in the pelts. Hundreds of animals may be killed at a single contest. 

While eight states have already prohibited these cruel contests in the last few years, the Illinois DNR has failed to act. In fact, the IDNR has taken a position of opposition to legislation introduced earlier this year that would have prohibited killing contests—catering to the whims of the few Illinois residents who choose to competitively slaughter the public’s wildlife for cash and prizes. 

An April 2022 poll by Remington Research Group found that 73% of Illinois voters support banning killing contests and 83% believe that wildlife like coyotes and foxes are important to healthy Illinois ecosystems.

“Wildlife killing contests make a sadistic game of slaughtering animals for prizes,” said Marc Ayers, Illinois state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “Senselessly gunning down coyotes and tiny foxes and then dumping them like trash is far outside the realm of what most Illinoisans would find an acceptable pastime. We urge the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to join the eight other states that have already taken a stand against this unconscionable, cruel bloodsport.”  

Eight states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington—have outlawed killing contests, and last Friday the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission directed the state agency to draft a similar rule to prohibit coyote killing contests. When proposing the rule, Oregon commissioners joined wildlife agencies and commissions in six of the states that have already banned killing contests in stating that they are unethical, not supported by sound science and damage the reputation of hunters and threaten the future of hunting. There is no scientific evidence to support participants’ claims that killing contests reduce coyote numbers, boost populations of game species like deer or turkey for hunters, or minimize conflicts with livestock. In fact, the best available science shows that random killing of coyotes, such as occurs during killing contests, can increase coyote numbers and increase conflicts with livestock.

The Humane Society of the United States has gone undercover to investigate many of these competitions. Investigators documented participants dragging bloody animal bodies to scales to be weighed, children playing among dead animals, competitors bragging about the “thrill” of the kill and trucks bearing license plates and stickers bragging about this sick game included sayings like “COYOTE HEARSE,” “YOTE H8R” and “KLN YOTES.” 

Groups and individuals that submitted the petition, led by the Humane Society of the United States include Harvard Law School Animal Law & Policy Clinic, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Born Free USA, Center for Biological Diversity, Endangered Species Coalition, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, Illinois Bobcat Foundation, In Defense of Animals, the National Wolfwatcher Coalition, Pegasus Foundation, Pettus Crowe Foundation, Predator Defense, Sierra Club – Sangamon Valley Group, Second Nature Wildlife Rehabilitation, Speak for Wolves, Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust, Wolf Conservation Center, state veterinarians, and faith leaders.

“The draft rule as proposed in the petition is a sensible and narrowly constructed regulation that aligns with hunting ethics,” said Ayers. “Its effect would be simply to prohibit competitions that involve the mass killing of animals for cash and prizes. It would not otherwise restrict the take of species covered. It would also not ban field dog trials, big buck contests or fishing tournaments, nor would it prevent farmers and landowners from using lethal control to protect livestock.” 

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Center for Biological Diversity

Nearly 4,200 Acres of Habitat Protected for Endangered Florida Fern

PETERSBURG, Fla.—(December 21, 2022)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected 4,195 acres of critical habitat for the endangered Florida bristle fern. The fern, found in small patches in Miami-Dade and Sumter counties, is acutely threatened by historic and ongoing habitat loss from development and sea-level rise.

“It’s a relief that this festively bright green fern has finally received the protections it needs to save its swiftly disappearing habitat,” said Elise Bennett, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Protecting places for the beautiful Florida bristle fern to survive is a crucial step in bringing it back from the brink of extinction.”

The dainty fern has no roots and grows in moist, shady areas of exposed limestone. Its Miami-Dade rockland hammock habitat has been dramatically degraded because of population growth. The plant’s populations are now also highly susceptible to further habitat loss and inundation due to sea-level rise. In Sumter County, habitat degradation from development and agricultural activities continues. Only six populations of Florida bristle fern are known to exist in the world.

Today’s proposal identifies 515 acres of land in Miami-Dade County and 3,680 acres in Sumter County as protected critical habitat. In response to public comments and new information, the final rule protects approximately 91 acres more than the original proposal.

The rule also includes new unoccupied critical habitat that is essential for the fern’s conservation, providing more diverse areas for the species to recover and adapt to changing conditions.

Species with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be moving toward recovery than species without such protections. Federal agencies that fund or permit projects in critical habitat are required to consult with the Service to ensure this habitat is not harmed or destroyed by their actions.

In 2011 the Center reached a historic settlement agreement with the Obama administration to speed protections for the Florida bristle fern, as well as a host of other species that the government had been previously petitioned to protect. To date, more than 200 plants and animals have received protection as a result of the agreement.

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Reuters

Endangered pink iguana hatchlings seen for first time on Galapagos island

QUITO, Dec. 20 (Reuters) – Scientists have discovered hatchling and juvenile populations of the Galapagos pink land iguana, an endangered reptile native to a sole island on the Ecuadorean archipelago, for the first time since the species’ discovery just decades ago.

Native only to the slopes of Wolf Volcano on the Galapagos’ Isabela Island, the iguana is considered critically endangered and just several hundred are left, according to estimates.

“This discovery marks a significant step forward, which allows us to identify a path going forward to save the pink iguana,” Director of the Galapagos National Park Danny Rueda said in a statement on Tuesday.

The iguanas, which can stretch up to 18.5 inches (47 cm) in length, were first discovered by national park rangers in 1986. However, scientists took decades to recognize the pink iguana as a separate species from others on the island.

Their population is threatened by introduced species on the island, particularly rodents, the national park said.

“Knowing all the aspects that make their existence vulnerable will allow us to take timely actions, mainly against invasive species and thus avoid interrupting the natural cycles of these fragile ecosystems,” Rueda said.

The Galapagos Islands, with its unique wildlife, was a key force behind British scientist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. It is home to a number of species not found anywhere else including giant tortoises, flightless cormorants and several species of iguanas, including the pink iguana.

The Wolf Volcano is one of the most remote spots monitored by the national park, which installed a research and monitoring station at its base.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Kylie Madry; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Earth.com

How can we save Ohio’s endangered rattlesnakes?

By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.com staff writer, December 20, 2022

A recent study led by Ohio State University (OSU) has compared the genetics and relocation patterns among two populations of threatened rattlesnakes in order to guide conservation planning that would give these endangered creatures a better chance of survival.

According to the experts, a collection of six closely situated but isolated populations of Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes in northeast Ohio could increase their numbers if strategic alterations were made to stretches of land between their home ranges. Reconnecting these genetically disparate populations could not only help Eastern massasaugas escape extinction, but also establish a thriving habitat for other endangered prey and predator species.

Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes live in isolated spaces in midwestern and eastern North America and were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2016 due to loss and fragmentation of their habitat. The scientists examined two groups of Eastern massasaugas in Ohio – a large, genetically diverse population inhabiting the Kildeer Plains Wildlife Area in north central Ohio, and six small, separate populations clustered near each other in Ashtabula County.

By genetically analyzing blood samples of 109 snakes cohabitating in the Kildeer Plains area, the researchers found that the snakes living in fragmented sites in northeast Ohio were very distantly related, and stopped mingling three generations ago. “Once we knew that they didn’t seem to be moving around, the real question is why aren’t they moving? It’s not that big of a distance – so we focused on finding out what was stopping them from being connected,” said study lead author Scott Martin, a PhD student in Conservation Genetics at OSU.

“It seemed to be about specific features of the habitat. If the snakes in northeast Ohio were moving as far as we would expect them to, based on how the Killdeer snakes move and data on the species’ range, they should be able to move between these little sites. And yet when we look at the genetics and use pedigrees to see if there is any breeding between the sites, there’s just not.” 

According to the scientists, wooded areas, cropland, roads, and housing developments – known as “impervious surfaces” – were the main obstacles to snake relocation. By contrast, wet prairies were an ideal habitat for these snakes, offering them more possibilities to move and intermingle.

“You can imagine two snakes in the same habitat that are probably very genetically similar because they can move easily. And then in this other region you have two snakes near each other, but on either side of a four-lane highway, and they will be genetically different because snakes don’t move across that highway, and over time they’ve diverged,” Martin explained. “That means a highway would have a high resistance value and an open field would have a very low resistance value.”

These findings helped the states of Ohio and Michigan to obtain a $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire land that could benefit Eastern massasaugas in both states.

“To me, this is a clear example of where Ohio State basic research has produced practical results that have then been directly used to help conserve wildlife in Ohio – in other words, achieving one of the goals of a land-grant institution, which is to provide useful, practical knowledge of value to the citizens of the state,” concluded senior author H. Lisle Gibbs, a professor of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology at OSU.

The study is published in the journal Ecological Applications.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Right Whale Condemned to Extinction in Senate Omnibus

Unprecedented Poison-Pill Rider Lets U.S. Lobster Fishery Drive Whale Extinct

WASHINGTON— (December 20, 2022)—With no process or accountability, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy inserted an unprecedented right whale policy rider into the omnibus funding budget released today. Schumer’s measure gives the U.S. lobster fishery six years to delay necessary actions to prevent fishing gear from entangling and killing critically endangered right whales.

With a declining population of 340 individuals and 70 breeding females, the right whale will almost certainly be on an irreversible extinction trajectory if U.S. lobster fisheries are allowed to avoid key conservation measures.

“Schumer and Leahy are extinction Democrats who just heartlessly put special interests above our nation’s beautiful natural heritage,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Right whales have migrated along New York’s coastline for thousands of years, but Sen. Schumer’s action will make this generation the last to witness these remarkable creatures. What a horrific legacy to leave to one’s grandchildren.”

The FY2023 omnibus provides some additional funding to the Environmental Protection Agency, but the funding remains a cut in real dollars after accounting for inflation. It still remains insufficient to address the decade of flat EPA funding and four years of staff attrition during the Trump administration.

Similarly, the Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received additional funding compared to FY2022, but these amounts remain well short of what’s needed to address the extinction crisis.

“Sacrificing a great whale to extinction in exchange for funding the government is immoral. Doing so just to give Sen. Schumer another political chit in his pocket is simply pathetic,” said Hartl. “A hundred years from now, no one will remember or care about the trivial victories Democrats will try to claim in this legislation, but they’ll mourn the loss of the right whale.”

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EcoWatch

High Stakes Biodiversity Summit Ends With Agreement to Protect 30% of Nature by 2030

By: Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, December 19, 2022

In a landmark deal for the protection of nature, nations meeting at the COP15 UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal have reached a deal to protect 30 percent of Earth for nature by 2030.

The goal of the Kunming-Montreal Global biodiversity framework is to protect the planet’s rich yet threatened biodiversity. It also includes objectives for the preservation and restoration of ecosystems — like wetlands and rainforests — and for safeguarding Indigenous peoples’ rights.

“Biodiversity is fundamental to human well-being and a healthy planet, and economic prosperity for all people, including for living well in balance and in harmony with Mother Earth, we depend on it for food, medicine, energy, clean air and water, security from natural disasters as well as recreation and cultural inspiration, and it supports all systems of life on earth,” the framework reads.

The agreement aims to preserve genetic diversity and guarantee that nature’s resources, such as plant-based medicines, are equally and equitably shared, BBC News reported.

“We are finally starting to forge a peace pact with nature,” said UN Secretary General António Guterres, as reported by BBC News.

The pact includes the goal of taking swift and drastic action to slow the extinction of species, which has been escalating at an alarming rate.

“An average of around 25 per cent of species in assessed animal and plant groups are threatened, suggesting that around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss. Without such action, there will be a further acceleration in the global rate of species extinction, which is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years,” the framework reads.

The deal also intends to reform $500 billion in subsidies that are harmful to the environment, reported The Guardian.

“It’s a deal with very precise and quantified objectives on pesticides, on reduction of loss of species, on eliminating bad subsidies. We double until 2025 and triple 2030 the finance for biodiversity,” said France’s Minister for Ecological Transition Christophe Béchu, who was the head of its delegation, as The Guardian reported.

The pact was made official by host China, despite an eleventh hour informal objection by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which is home to the second largest tropical forest on the planet.

The DRC said it did not support the agreement and that developed countries had a responsibility to provide funding for conservation in developing countries. However, the remarks were not classed as a “formal objection” because those specific words were not used.

The passing of the Kunming-Montreal framework by China’s Minister of Ecology and Environment Huang Runqiu in the face of concerns from the DRC led to some countries denouncing the process as undemocratic. The framework is not legally binding and depends on the countries who are party to it exercising trust and goodwill.

“Legally, it’s done. Morally, what can I say? It’s over,” said Gabon’s Minister of Water, Forests, the Sea and Environment Lee White at the end of the talks, as reported by The Guardian.

Representative of the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity Viviana Figueroa was pleased that the framework appreciated the importance of Indigenous peoples in the preservation of biodiversity.

“For us, it’s like a change of paradigm. They are recognising this important role that was invisible,” Figueroa said, as The Guardian reported.

Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault praised the deal, likening it to the 2015 Paris agreement, a legally binding international treaty to keep global temperatures below two degrees Celsius.

“It is truly a moment that will mark history as Paris did for climate,” said Guilbeault, as reported by BBC News.

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azcentral.com (Phoenix, AZ)

As bald eagles return to nesting areas, Arizona imposes restrictions on public lands

Jake Frederico, Arizona Republic, December 18, 2022

As bald eagles return to Arizona for the upcoming breeding season, state officials are preparing to welcome the birds by implementing restrictions on public lands.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department says some portions of public land and water areas will be temporarily closed to help ensure that the bald eagles, which have traveled to the state for the winter, will have the best opportunity to reproduce.

AZGFD is encouraging outdoor recreationists, aircraft pilots, drone operators and motorized paragliders to do their part in not disturbing the state’s 94 eagle breeding areas.

The Federal Aviation Administration has also established an advisory for airspace up to 2,000 feet above ground level along the Salt and Verde River drainages, as well as Lake Pleasant, Roosevelt Lake and Alamo Lake.

“We want to give these birds every chance they can to be successful,” said Tuk Jacobson, raptor management coordinator for AZGFD.  “These young are what drive our population into the future.

The birds are pair bonding and nest building ahead of breeding season. Most of the birds will not lay eggs until January or February.

Bald eagles were first listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1978. At the time only 11 breeding pairs were identified in the state, but bald eagle populations have improved significantly with federal protection, and the species was officially delisted in 2007.

Threats to the species in the Southwest, such as drought, warming temperatures and lead poisoning, mean the birds are still monitored by federal and state agencies. AZGFD adheres to protective coordinated management actions by the Southwestern Bald Eagle Management Committee.

Measures enacted by AZGFD include a winter population count, occupancy and reproductive assessment flights, the nest watch monitoring program, demographic studies and monofilament recovery program.

As of last year’s breeding season, 73 of the breeding territories in the state were occupied. Jacobson says monitoring these territories is important to make sure eagle populations remain on the uptick.

“If the eagles are not producing enough young to replace those aging adults and fill in territories, then that would turn the trajectory of the population in a direction that we would not want,” he said.

Birds will typically return to the same breeding area year after year. But in recent years AZGFD is finding about one to three new nesting locations, an indicator of a healthy population.

AZGFD is preparing for nesting season to begin in January. The agency uses a mix of on-the-ground and aerial monitoring to calculate an accurate count of the birds. Volunteers will fan across public lands near lakes and other designated points to count how many bald eagles they encounter.

In northern parts of the state, volunteers will travel along a series of roads and do their counting along their route. But in more remote and rugged regions, the state agency will conduct surveys by helicopter.  During a four-day stretch, officials will monitor from above ground and travel along lakes and other main river systems like the Verde and Salt.

The birds nest in trees that are typically within a mile of water where fish are easily accessible. In Arizona, most of this nesting will occur in desert habitats along the Salt and Verde River. A healthy breeding population can also be found at Roosevelt Lake.

A group of “nest watchers” will be contracted after breeding season to closely monitor bald eagles as they nest. About 16 of these nest watchers will monitor the progress of birds as they prepare to hatch and fledge.

Jacobson says the public can still enjoy viewing the majestic birds in the wild but should maintain their distance, especially if the bird is nesting.

Eagles are particularly sensitive to humans during breeding and nesting season. Even a slight disturbance can cause the birds to expend valuable energy when flushed. In extreme cases, the birds will abandon their nests, leaving eggs to fail or newly hatched chicks to die.

A disturbed eagle will circle its intruder and vocalize its discomfort.

“When I was a kid, there wasn’t a whole lot of them out there, so you didn’t see them,” he said. “Now people have a really good opportunity to see eagles out there, so don’t forget to enjoy them, just at a distance.”

AZGFD lists specific restrictions and closures online, along with a map of the bald eagle nest locations.

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The Seattle Times

Oregon research forest will be North America’s largest

Dec. 17, 2022 By DAVID STEVES and CASSANDRA PROFITA, The Associated Press

Oregon is on its way to creating North America’s largest research forest, following this week’s decision by top state officials to separate the Elliott State Forest in southwest Oregon from its obligation to fund schools and designate the land as a place for scientific discovery.

The State Land Board voted unanimously to create the 80,000-acre Elliott State Research Forest, signaling an end to a years-long debate over how to manage the forest that was failing to generate revenue for public education.

The board advanced the transition of the Elliott from a traditional state forest to a research site by decoupling the forest from the Common School Fund, which relies on revenue from the sale of timber on state forests, among other resources, to help pay for public education in Oregon.

The Elliott forest will remain in public ownership in collaboration with Oregon State University.

The Elliott provides habitat to dwindling wildlife populations, including salmon, the northern spotted owl and the marbled murrelet. Oregon political leaders have been struggling for decades to find a way for the forest to comply with wildlife protection requirements while continuing to meet a legal obligation to generate revenue for public schools.

State officials said the Elliott will continue to contribute to conservation, recreation, education, local economies and more as a publicly owned, working research forest.

“The Elliott will provide a better approach for working forest management, improve conservation protections and, significantly, keep the forest in public hands,” Treasurer Tobias Read said in a statement. “We can be proud that current and future generations of Oregonians will benefit from this valuable natural resource.”

Read was joined by Gov. Kate Brown and Secretary of State Shemia Fagan in approving the final plan.

The use of natural resources to pay for education in Oregon dates back to statehood in 1859. Revenues from logging on certain state lands have historically gone to the Common School Fund. After the land board’s vote to remove the Elliott State Forest acreage, there are about 41,500 acres of land left in the fund. While state income tax and local property tax now serve as major funding sources for education, the requirement to make up for the loss in revenue from timber harvest on the Elliott is significant.

Before the plan to turn the Elliott into a research forest, the land was no longer generating enough revenue to cover the costs of managing it. The state considered selling much of it, but the sale never went through.

The vote was enabled by legislative action that transferred $221 million into the Common School Fund to replace revenue that logging on the Elliott might otherwise have generated.

Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Portland Audubon Society, was a member of an advisory committee that helped pave the way to converting the Elliott into a research forest. He is also on a new board of directors created by the land board Tuesday to oversee the research forest going forward.

“From a conservation perspective, it’s exciting because much more of the forest will be protected than was historically,” he told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “The Elliott State Forest was used to fund schools, and it was intensively logged for decades in violation of the Endangered Species Act.”

Lawsuits over charges of illegal logging fueled the state’s move to change how the forest is managed. Sallinger said there’s still a lot of work to be done to meet a statutory deadline of July 2023 to finish transforming the Elliott into a research forest that likely won’t be official until January 2024.

Right now, Oregon State University is developing a forest management plan that will need approvals, federal agencies still need to finalize a Habitat Conservation Plan for protecting threatened and endangered species in the forest, and the state will need to approve a financial plan. The board of directors for Oregon State University will also have to grant final approval for the research forest.

Sallinger said there will still be some logging in the forest in the future, but the goal of the logging operations will be to collect research data. There will also be a 34,000-acre preserve that will be the largest stretch of protected forest in the coast range, as well as stronger stream protections. Research in the forest will likely focus on ecologically responsible forestry, managing forests for climate change and improving forest management for threatened and endangered species.

“I think the Elliott will be a hell of a lot better from an ecological perspective than anything we’ve seen before,” he said. “The coast range has just been hammered over the years, so preserving what’s left and improving it is really important.”

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Office of California Governor Gavin Newsom

Governor Newsom Statement on Mountain Lion P-22

Published: Dec 17, 2022

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom issued the below statement today after the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that mountain lion P-22 has been humanely euthanized following a comprehensive medical evaluation that found severe injuries and chronic health problems.

“P-22’s survival on an island of wilderness in the heart of Los Angeles captivated people around the world and revitalized efforts to protect our diverse native species and ecosystems,” said Governor Newsom, whose father was a founder of the Mountain Lion Foundation and championed permanent protections for the species. “The iconic mountain lion’s incredible journey helped inspire a new era of conserving and reconnecting nature, including through the world’s largest wildlife overpass in Liberty Canyon. With innovative coalitions and strategies to restore vital habitat across the state, we’ll continue working to protect California’s precious natural heritage for generations to come.”

Governor Newsom and the Legislature last year advanced more than $100 million to fund wildlife crossings, and an additional $50 million this year for this priority – including $10 million for the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing. Earlier this year, the Governor signed the Safe Roads and Wildlife Protection Act directing Caltrans to identify and address barriers to wildlife corridors. In 2020, the Governor signed legislation taking action against second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides, which are known to cause adverse health impacts to natural predators and endangered species.

The state this year released Pathways to 30×30 outlining a strategy to achieve its first-in-the-nation goal to conserve 30 percent of California’s lands and coastal waters by 2030 in order to protect biodiversity, expand access to nature and tackle climate change.

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Terrace Standard (Terrace, B.C.)

Endangered wildlife committee keeps B.C.’s humpback whales on the list

North Pacific humpbacks will maintain ‘special concern’ status

KAITLYN BAILEY, Local Journalism Initiative, Dec. 17, 2022

The North Pacific humpback whale population is still at risk with a recommended status of “special concern”, announced the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) on Dec. 8.

Since commercial whaling for humpbacks was outlawed in 1966, the North Pacific population has been slowly growing, COSEWIC stated. They added that more than 4,000 whales spend time off the coast of B.C., but there are still risks.

COSEWIC reevaluates species at risk at least every 10 years.

“If you heard what sounded like a gigantic sigh of relief this week, it may have been us,” the Marine Education and Research Society wrote on social media on Dec. 9.

North Pacific humpback whales were classified as special concern on the endangered list, which is the lowest status for wildlife classified as at risk. The only statues below it are species that do not have enough information to be properly assessed and species that are not at risk at all.

If COSEWIC determined that humpback whales were no longer at risk, the government would not have any obligation to protect them or reduce their threats, Jackie Hildering, a humpback whale researcher at the Marine Education and Research Society, explained.

Funding for research and education to reduce threats to humpback whales and resources to stop the problem of entanglement and collision are all tied to the level of protection, Hildering said. Necropsies to investigate how a whale died are also linked to their endangerment status.

Furthermore, while the population of humpback whales appears to have increased from the 1960s, it is impossible to know how many are dying, Hildering said. On the though, we know threats to the whales, such as climate change, large vessel traffic, entanglement in fishing gear and noise, are increasing

“You’ll never know how many whales die. You can learn from the bodies that wash up, you can look at the scarring to get a sense of how often these threats might happen, but you can never know exactly how many there are in the case of whales,” Hildering said, after explaining that when the mammals die they usually sink.

“There’s certainly more than when we killed them, but it’s not just population growth that’s happening. They’re also shifting from somewhere else. So our colleagues in southeast Alaska were missing a lot of their humpbacks during the marine heatwave.”

For these reasons, she is thankful that COSEWIC at least maintained humpback’s special concern status. The decision was made in light of an acknowledgement that we do not know enough about the population amid known rising threats, is very positive and could set a precedent for other species, she said.

Hildering also notes there has been a shift in society to move away from thinking about whales as a population to caring about them as individuals. This mentality is not reflected in the species at risk list and the corresponding Species at Risk Act.

The act merely considers how many individuals are in a species and how many we can afford to lose without compromising the population’s vitality.

Each whale also benefits our environment and society.

“What I think people don’t realize is that what the whales are doing for us is they are fertilizing our ecosystem. Because they poo at the surface they are allowing there to be more algae so that there is more oxygen, there is more carbon dioxide being taken in and there’s more food for the whole ecosystem,” Hildering said.

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Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, CA)

State considers listing four bee varieties on endangered species act; public comment wanted

Tri-County News, Dec. 16, 2022

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is seeking data and public comments on a petition to list the Crotch’s bumble bee, Franklin’s bumble bee, Suckley’s cuckoo bumble bee and western bumble bee under the California Endangered Species Act.

The Crotch’s bumble bee (Bombus crotchii) is found between San Diego and Redding in a variety of habitats including open grasslands, shrublands, chaparral, desert margins including Joshua tree and creosote scrub, and semi-urban settings. It is near endemic to California, with only a few records from Nevada and Mexico.

The Franklin’s bumble bee (Bombus franklini) has the smallest range of any bumble bee in North America, occurring only in northern California and southern Oregon. In California, it historically occurred in Siskiyou and Trinity counties in grasslands and meadows ranging from 540 to 7,800 feet in elevation. It has not been observed in California since 1998 or in Oregon since 2006.

The western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis occidentalis) ranges broadly from northern Mexico to central British Columbia, Canada. In California, it historically occurred from sea level to over 8,000 feet and was found in a variety of habitat types including shrublands, chaparral, gardens and urban parks. It currently is observed in high elevation meadows, forests, riparian areas in the Sierra Nevada and Cascades as well as in coastal grasslands in northern California.

The Suckley’s cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus suckleyi) is a nest parasite of the western bumble bee. The range of the Suckley’s cuckoo bumble bee is limited to a subset of its host’s range, though with a more montane distribution in the Cascades, with a possibility of occurrence in the Sierra Nevada based on limited historic records.

Threats to all these bumble bees include habitat loss, climate change, disease and exposure to pesticides. Small population size is also a potential threat to the Franklin’s bumble bee. For the Suckley’s cuckoo bumble bee, threats include the decline of its host species.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife and Center for Food Safety submitted a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission to list the Crotch’s, Franklin’s, Suckley’s cuckoo and western bumble bee species as Endangered under CESA. The Commission determined listing “may be warranted,” however, that listing was legally challenged but ultimately upheld and candidacy was reinstated on Sep.30, 2022, and the list of specified bee species now have the same legal protection afforded to an endangered or threatened species.

Over the next 12 months, CDFW will conduct a status review to inform the Commission’s final decision on whether to list the species under the endangered species act. As part of the status review process, CDFW is soliciting information regarding the species’ ecology, genetics, life history, distribution, abundance, habitat, the degree and immediacy of threats to its reproduction or survival, the adequacy of existing management and recommendations for management of the species.

CDFW respectfully requests that data and comments be submitted before Jan. 15, 2023. Submit data and comments to CDFW by email at wildlifemgt@wildlife.ca.gov and include “Bumble bee” in the subject line.

Data or comments may also be submitted by mail to California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wildlife Diversity Program, Attn: CESA Conservation Unit, P.O. Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244-2090.

CDFW will produce a peer reviewed report based upon the best scientific information available, which will include a recommendation as to whether the petitioned action is warranted. The report will be made publicly available on CDFW’s website for at least 30 days before the Commission considers acting on the petition.

The listing petition, CDFW’s petition evaluation report and updates on the listing process are available of the Commission’s website https://fgc.ca.gov/CESA?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.

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U.S. Department of Interior

Department of the Interior Releases Multiagency Strategy for Preventing Imminent Extinction of Hawaiʻi Forest Birds

Efforts to conserve endangered species strengthened by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

Press Release, 12/15/2022

HONOLULU — The Department of the Interior today announced a multiagency strategy that seeks to prevent imminent extinction of Hawaiian forest birds imperiled by mosquito-borne avian malaria. The strategy includes more than $14 million in funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other appropriations to address avian malaria, which causes widespread mortality of endemic honeycreepers and other forest birds.

Hawaiian forest birds are an integral ecological and cultural component to the Hawaiian Islands. They are representative of the health of the forest and remain a cultural connection between the Native Hawaiian Community and the Hawaiian Islands. Many native and endemic species evolved for centuries in isolation, free from threats such as avian malaria spread by invasive mosquitoes.

“Hawaiʻi’s forest birds are facing an extinction crisis, in part because rising temperatures caused by climate change have enabled mosquitoes to reach high-elevation areas that were once sanctuaries for these birds,” said Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz. “Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other investments, we can help protect and conserve these species through a coordinated strategy that considers Hawai‘i’s unique ecosystems and the islands’ natural and cultural heritage.” 

The Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Office of Native Hawaiian Relations (ONHR), National Park Service (NPS), and Office of Policy Analysis (PPA) are coordinating on the development and implementation of the strategy.

“The forest birds of Hawaiʻi are unique, not only because of their evolutionary history but their cultural significance to the Native Hawaiian people,” said Earl Campbell, field supervisor, USFWS’ Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office. “We must continue working with our conservation partners as we strive to preserve our forest birds for future generations.”

“The best available science demonstrates that several species of Hawaiian forest birds are suffering precipitous population declines. If resource managers don’t receive effective tools for mosquito control and bird conservation, it is likely that multiple species will be lost in the near future,” said Bob Reed, deputy director, USGS’s Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center. 

“Now more than ever, it is important to work with the Native Hawaiian Community and our partners to prevent more of Hawai‘i’s forest birds from disappearing,”said Stanton Enomoto, senior program director, Office of Native Hawaiian Relations. “The sacred nature of our forest birds as expressions of island evolution and embodiments of the gods of the wao akua depend on this timely initiative.”

“The National Park Service, along with our partners, is stepping up to address this urgent issue with a creative, landscape-scale solution to save Hawaiian forest birds. The time for action, and controlling non-native mosquitoes, is now. Partner and community support will be key to saving these birds,” said Natalie Gates, superintendent, Haleakalā National Park, which is positioned to be the first site where novel mosquito control technologies will be implemented. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park will follow in subsequent years.

Avian malaria causes widespread mortality of endemic honeycreepers and other forest birds, and a single bite by an infected mosquito is fatal for some species. Four Hawaiian honeycreepers – ‘akikiki (Kauaʻi honeycreeper), ‘akeke‘e (Hawaiian honeycreeper), ‘ākohekohe (crested honeycreeper) and kiwikiu (Maui parrotbill) – may go extinct within the next 10 years due to these combined impacts. Nine additional bird species are at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future if landscape-level management solutions cannot be implemented. 

Agencies from the Department and the state of Hawai‘i have worked together for many years with partners in the Birds, Not Mosquitoes(link is external) working group on a comprehensive initiative to prevent the extinction of Hawaiian forest birds. This strategy puts forward a unified vision and approach by the Interior Department’s bureaus and offices to strengthen internal coordination and effectiveness in collaborating with the state, the Native Hawaiian Community, and other partners. 

Investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law support the ability of federal partners to make strategic and significant ecosystem restoration investments in Hawai’i forest bird conservation, including:

*Conducting an environmental assessment led by the National Park Service and in cooperation with the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources to evaluate the impacts of deploying a new technique to manage mosquitoes, using a naturally occurring bacteria known as Wobachia, to reduce the mosquito vector of avian malaria. The proposed project area includes lands on Maui within Haleakalā National Park, adjacent state lands, and private conservation lands that are managed independently by The Nature Conservancy.

*Hiring and deployment of field staff to expand the Insect Incompatibility Technique (IIT) effort to high elevation areas on Kauaʻi.

*Increasing the Department’s and the state of Hawaiʻi’s efforts in IIT product development, packaging, registration, testing and deployment. 

*Contracting and planning for construction of additional captive care facilities in Hawaiʻi for forest bird conservation.

*Planning for translocation of some forest birds to higher mosquito-free habitats on Hawaiʻi Island.

*Funding USGS research to confirm efficacy of deploying IIT and identification and development of next-generation tools that could include biotechnology for targeting mosquitoes or increasing malaria resistance in birds.

*Incorporating Native Hawaiian biocultural knowledge into all planned conservation actions, including use of appropriate traditional cultural protocols and practices. 

Successful implementation of this plan can serve as a model approach with transferrable science applications of how to mitigate and reverse the combined impacts of invasive species and climate change at landscape scales to preserve both biodiversity and biocultural connections.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests $1.4 billion overall for ecosystem restoration efforts over the next five years, building on proven projects, programs and partnerships that conserve our cherished wildlife and natural resources critical to supporting local economies, creating jobs, and strengthening communities. These investments build on the Department’s work in the recovery and conservation of our nation’s imperiled plant and animal species, working with experts in the scientific community to identify species on the verge of extinction and to build the road to recovery to bring them back.

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The Hill

‘Keystone’ mountain pine of US West earns endangered species protections

By SHARON UDASIN – 12/14/22

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced on Wednesday that it would be listing the whitebark pine as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Whitebark pines are what the FWS describe as “a keystone species” that live in windy, cold, high-elevation environments across the Western U.S. and southern Canada.

“Extending ESA protections to whitebark pine is critical to not only the tree itself, but also the numerous plants, animals, and watersheds that it supports,” Matt Hogan, an FWS regional director, said in a statement.

This five-needled pine species impacts the health and life cycles of other mountain inhabitants and plays a critical role in curbing runoff from snowmelt, according to the FWS.

The trees also provide a high-energy food source to animals, the agency added.

Whitebark pine nuts are rich in fats, carbohydrates and protein — making them an important snack for grizzly bears before denning, according to the National Park Service.

While the whitebark pine plays a critical role in Western mountain ecosystems, the tree species “is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future throughout its range,” according to the FWS.

The primary threat to the tree is “white pine bluster,” a non-native fungal disease. Other threats include mountain pine beetles, altered wildfire patterns and climate change, the FWS stated.

Scientists estimate that as of 2016, as many as 51 percent of all standing whitebark pine trees were dead, the agency added.

Providing endangered species protections to the whitebark pine will help support research efforts on conservation, while making it illegal to remove, process or damage the trees on federal lands, according to the FWS. The protections will also prohibit interstate or foreign commerce — including the import or export — of the tree.

“It’s just incredibly sad to see so many dead whitebark pines in the high country,” Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

“These exceedingly beautiful trees are an icon of our western mountains and they need all the help they can get, including protection from development,” Greenwald added.

The final rule to list the whitebark pine as a threatened species will be published on Thursday in the Federal Register but is currently available for public inspection.

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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists Tiehm’s buckwheat as an endangered species and designates critical habitat in Nevada

Press Release, Dec. 14, 2022

RENO, Nev. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is publishing its final rule listing Tiehm’s buckwheat as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The Service is also designating 910 acres of critical habitat on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management in the Rhyolite Ridge area of the Silver Peak Range in Esmeralda County, Nevada, to help conserve the imperiled plant. 

The designated critical habitat is currently occupied by the plant’s single population. The critical habitat would not affect land ownership or establish a wildlife refuge, wilderness reserve, preserve or another conservation area .

“Habitat loss is pushing more and more limited-range species like Tiehm’s buckwheat to the brink of extinction,” said Service Director Martha Williams. “We look forward to working with our partners on this conservation effort to protect this rare plant and its habitat.”

The Service used the best available science to designate the critical habitat. It contains physical and biological features essential to the conservation of this Nevada native species, including open, sparsely vegetated areas, suitable soil and year-round and connected habitat for pollinators. 

By designating critical habitat for the species, we can work more effectively with partners to ensure development projects are planned and designed to avoid the destruction of habitat while supporting current and future land-use plans.

Tiehm’s buckwheat is a low-growing perennial herb subject to threats such as mineral development, road development and off-highway vehicle activity, livestock grazing, nonnative invasive plant species, climate change , herbivory and small population size.

Conserving rare plants and healthy habitats ensures America’s shared natural heritage continues to endure for future generations. Flowering plants also support wildlife—including pollinators—and bring aesthetic beauty to our natural world and public lands.

The proposed and final rules, as well as the comments received on the proposed rule are available at http://www.regulations.gov by searching for Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2020-0017.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Petition Seeks Jaguar Reintroduction, Habitat Protection in New Mexico, Arizona

One Wild Jaguar Survives in U.S. 50 Years After Being Protected as Endangered

SILVER CITY, N.M.—(December 12, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to reintroduce jaguars to the Southwest. The largest cat in the Americas was put on the endangered species list 50 years ago, but because of federal inaction, only a single known wild jaguar now survives in the United States.

“A thoughtfully planned reintroduction is crucial for jaguar recovery,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center. “Restoring the jaguar to a small part of its historic range in the U.S. would enrich our southwestern ecosystems, genetically bolster jaguars in Mexico, and show that we love life on earth, even in its fiercest manifestations.”

The 107-page scientific petition requests reintroduction of jaguars to the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico. It also calls for the designation of critical habitat for their recovery in New Mexico and Arizona. This includes space to facilitate safe cross-border movements between the United States and Mexico.

Returning jaguars to the American Southwest would help save the largely isolated jaguars in northwestern Mexico, which have low genetic diversity. Climate change also adds urgency for the jaguar to be able to expand its range to the north.

Jaguars were placed on the endangered list in 1972. Just one jaguar is known to live in the United States today: Sombra, a male named by middle-school students in Tucson. Since 2016 Sombra has been repeatedly photographed in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona, one of the areas requested for critical habitat designation. He was almost certainly born in Mexico.

Reports and scientific studies described in the petition found the Gila National Forest and the broader Mogollon Plateau, extending northwest to the Grand Canyon, have excellent jaguar habitat. The petition seeks the release of jaguars in the Gila National Forest, which includes the Gila Wilderness and adjoining Aldo Leopold Wilderness. The Gila National Forest harbors abundant deer, elk and javelina that could support a jaguar population.

The last known female jaguar in the United States was shot in 1963 in Arizona, 159 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, in the Apache National Forest that adjoins the Gila National Forest. She had elk remains in her digestive system.

“Over eons through survival of the fittest, these exquisitely camouflaged cats helped make the mule deer’s ears swivel toward the slightest sound,” said Robinson. “Because all life is connected in ways that humans only partly understand, I truly believe that jaguar reintroduction will benefit the long-term sustainability of all living beings in the Southwest.”

Bolstered by rural community support, a reintroduction program in Argentina is returning jaguars to a region from which they had disappeared. Argentina’s initial success suggests one possible model for a future U.S. jaguar reintroduction program. This petition similarly seeks a multi-year planning process that would involve Tribal nations, local communities, scientists and others to promote co-existence.

Background

The jaguar is the Western Hemisphere’s largest felid species and the third-largest cat globally after tigers and lions. Jaguars evolved in North America millions of years ago before expanding their range to Central America and South America. Native peoples in the United States since time immemorial depicted jaguars in artifacts, described them in oral accounts and used jaguar skins ceremonially. Explorers and colonists encountered jaguars from California to the Carolinas. Yet jaguars in the United States were killed one by one without concern for their ecological importance.

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Courthouse News Service

Canadian caribou species wins Endangered Species Act protection

The population of Dolphin and Union caribou has plunged 89% since 1997.

ALANNA MADDEN / December 12, 2022

(CN) — Just in time for Christmas, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday added two species of caribou or “reindeer” to its list of federally protected species under the Endangered Species Act.

Dolphin and Union caribou — also written as “Union-Dolphin caribou” — are a distinct population of barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) native to Canada. As such, the service’s endangered listing only restricts trade in Dolphin and Union caribou in the U.S. and no critical habitat has been designated.

Initially, the service proposed to list the species as threatened, but new information highlighted a 75% decline in the animal’s population between 2015 and 2018. This decline became evident again in 2020, only 3,800 animals remained — an 89% decrease from 1997 populations.

Climate change remains the biggest threat to the species, which migrate across sea ice from wintering grounds to calving grounds on Victoria Island. Many fall through the ice due to inadequate formation, and increased shipping activity doesn’t help the species either as ships break apart sea ice and increase the risk of drowning.

“This listing reflects the growing extinction crisis and highlights the importance of the ESA and efforts to conserve species before population declines become irreversible,” said Fish and Wildlife Director Martha Williams in a statement. “Climate change is having a profound impact on species around the world and addressing it is a priority challenge for the Administration.”

Hunting pressure also negatively affects the Dolphin and Union caribou, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. As of Jan. 12, 2023, all personal and commercial imports and exports, excluding those accompanied by permits for research and educational purposes, will be prohibited.

“I’m grateful that the service acknowledged Dolphin and Union caribou are at risk of extinction and gave the population the Endangered Species Act’s strongest protections,” said center scientist Dianne DuBois in a statement. “I hope the agency also uses every resource available to tackle the climate crisis and ensure these animals’ ancient migration for years to come.”

The final rule to list the Dolphin and Union caribou under the Endangered Species Act will be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday.

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Scientific American

As the World Scrambles to Halt Biodiversity Loss, ‘Things Are Getting Worse’

More than one quarter of the more than 150,000 species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species are threatened with extinction

By Andrea Thompson on December 9, 2022

The outlook for Earth’s biodiversity is grim. Pollution, disease, habitat loss and climate change are among the myriad stressors now threatening tens of thousands of species across the planet. Of the more than 150,000 species evaluated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) Red List of Threatened Species, “over a quarter are threatened with extinction,” says Craig Hilton-Taylor, who heads the IUCN Red List Unit. “The trend on the Red List is that things are getting worse.”

The IUCN announced the latest updates to the list on Friday, including 22 species whose conservation status declined. Abalones, dugongs and other marine creatures were among the species highlighted in the announcement.

The updates come during crucial international negotiations in Montreal to draft a global agreement aimed at protecting biodiversity and reversing its decline by 2030, akin to the Paris climate accord that set goals for reducing greenhouses gas emissions and limiting global warming. The climate emergency often overshadows the plight of Earth’s rapidly vanishing species, but these crises are “two sides of the same coin,” and addressing one helps alleviate the other, Hilton-Taylor says.

The Red List has a network of thousands of researchers around the world who assess the risks facing each species. These are then incorporated into a ranking that ranges from “least concern” to “critically endangered” for those species still found in the wild. (Beyond that are the categories of “extinct in the wild” and “extinct.”) Though the list holds no legal weight, it can serve as “the first call to conservation action,” Hilton-Taylor says, giving governments and conservation groups critical information needed to draft conservation plans.

The abalone is a marine mollusk widely considered a seafood delicacy. Nearly 40 percent of the world’s 54 abalone species are now threatened with extinction, primarily because of unsustainable harvesting and poaching, the IUCN says. Pollution, disease and marine heat waves exacerbated by climate change have compounded these animals’ plight.

Another ocean dweller, the dugong—a marine mammal related to the manatee—has also seen its situation worsen. The population off the coast of East Africa is now considered critically endangered, with fewer than 250 mature individuals remaining in the wild. The dugong population of New Caledonia, a French island territory in the South Pacific, is now listed as endangered. Injuries from boat strikes imperil both populations, as do oil and gas extraction in East Africa and poaching in New Caledonia.

The IUCN also spotlighted the pillar coral, which is found throughout the Caribbean. Its population has declined by more than 80 percent across most of its range since 1990, and it has moved from vulnerable to critically endangered. Of acute concern is the highly contagious stony coral tissue loss disease that has emerged in the past four years. Rising ocean temperatures and pollution can make corals more susceptible to such diseases, and the pillar coral is “really is just the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to the plight of corals, Hilton-Taylor says.

There were some glimmers of hope in the updates, with seven species seeing an improvement in their status. The Yosemite toad moved from endangered to vulnerable, thanks to a comprehensive conservation plan that involved several government agencies, as well as local landholders, Hilton-Taylor says. Likewise, the inclusion of local communities was key to the Australasian bittern, a type of bird, moving from endangered to vulnerable. The bird thrives in wetlands, and conservationists in Australia worked with local rice farmers to make their fields friendly to the species, he says.

These successes show that well-designed conservation plans—ones that involve local communities and that have sufficient resources—can make a difference in reserving species declines, Hilton-Taylor adds. He and many other conservation experts hope the agreement to protect biodiversity being negotiated this month in Montreal will help make such efforts possible on a much larger scale. “We really need a global plan to protect life on earth,” he says, and it must have “ambitious, bold, measurable targets.”

One such target being considered at the current Montreal negotiations is protecting 30 percent of the planet’s lands and oceans by 2030. In a statement issued by the nonprofit Wildlife Conservation Society, its vice president of international policy Susan Lieberman said that in order for the negotiations to succeed, “governments must commit to: conserving and protecting ecological integrity and highly intact ecosystems (from forests to coral reefs); equitably protecting and conserving at least 30% of land and ocean by 2030; and to eliminating exploitation, trade and use of wildlife that is illegal, unsustainable, or that poses a risk of pathogen spillovers to humans, wildlife, or other animals.”

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WildEarth Guardians

Conservation groups seek to protect Mexican gray wolves by listing coyotes as endangered in parts of Arizona and New Mexico

WildEarth Guardians joins in formal “similarity of appearance” Endangered Species Act petition

TUCSON, Ariz. –(December 8 2022)—In a formal “similarity of appearance” Endangered Species Act petition filed today, fourteen conservation groups are urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide better federal protection for Mexican gray wolves by listing its look-alike species, the coyote, within the wolves’ recovery area. Illegal wolf killing is the leading cause of death for Mexican gray wolves, and the similarity of appearance with coyotes is a common excuse for wolves being unlawfully killed.

“If people are going to confuse Mexican wolves for coyotes, then it makes sense to stop killing coyotes in the areas where wolves are recovering,” said Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project. “Our petition demonstrates that even professional wildlife agents can’t seem to tell wolves and coyotes apart, and if it’s that hard to really distinguish between the species, both should be protected by the Endangered Species Act for the sake of the rare Mexican wolf.”

“Illegal mortality is the leading cause of death for Mexican wolves, and research shows that undetected wolf deaths are likely as high or higher than known wolf poaching.  Outlawing coyote killing in occupied wolf habitat in Arizona and New Mexico would be a simple and effective solution to the poaching problem,” said David Parsons, former coordinator of the Mexican wolf recovery program. “If the Service won’t prosecute people for mistakenly killing wolves, making it illegal to kill coyotes should substantially reduce Lobo mortalities.”

Today’s petition includes evidence that numerous Mexican wolves have been killed by people who believed, or claim to have believed, they were killing a coyote. This misidentification invokes a Department of Justice practice known as the “McKittrick policy” that effectively protects the killers from prosecution because it requires the government to prove that the defendants knew they were killing an endangered species when they pulled the trigger.

“Arizona and New Mexico don’t do nearly enough to regulate coyote killing in ways that would protect Mexican gray wolves. In New Mexico, coyotes can be killed year-round without even so much as a hunting license,” said Chris Smith, southwest wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “With such lax oversight and regulations, it’s no wonder that imperiled and iconic wolves end up in the crosshairs.”

“Native wild canids, whether they are Mexican gray wolves or coyotes, are essential to ecosystems and neither need lethal management,” explained Michelle Lute, PhD in wild canid conservation and carnivore conservation director for Project Coyote. “Protecting both species makes pragmatic, ecological and ethical sense.”

“The government should do everything it can to protect endangered Mexican gray wolves, and this listing would be a key step,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s an outrage that merely saying ‘I thought it was a coyote’ serves as a get-out-of-jail-free card for anyone who shoots one of these highly imperiled animals.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Scientists Demand Endangered Species Act Protection for Pacific Walrus

Ecologists, Biologists, Climate Experts Say Walrus Needs Immediate Safeguards

WASHINGTON—(December 7, 2022)—Twelve scientists urged the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to promptly protect the Pacific walrus under the Endangered Species Act. The Center for Biological Diversity first submitted a petition to list the Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) as threatened or endangered in 2008, more than a decade ago.

Today’s letter was signed by experts in conservation biology, sea-ice melting, climate science, marine ecology and other related fields. The scientists note that Arctic warming driven by climate change is reducing the walrus’ sea ice habitat and presenting a dire threat to the survival of the species.

“It’s long past time for the government to protect the Pacific walrus under the Endangered Species Act,” said Kristin Carden, a senior scientist at the Center. “We’ve known for decades that the sea ice walruses rely on is melting at an alarming rate. The situation is only getting worse as the climate continues to warm, and we can’t let these iconic animals become the next victims of the global extinction crisis.”

The Service responded to the Center’s initial petition in 2011 with a finding that the walrus merited protection because of its shrinking habitat. But in 2017, the Trump administration reversed that decision, denying the walrus protections.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the denial in 2021, in response to a lawsuit, because the agency hadn’t adequately explained why the walrus was no longer under threat. The Service has yet to take action following the 9th Circuit’s decision, and the walrus remains vulnerable to threats from oil and gas extraction, shipping and climate change-induced habitat degradation.

The threats to the enormous tusked Pacific walrus have only grown since the initial petition as the climate warms and studies have shown that the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the globe. The region has lost 40% of its summer sea ice over the past several decades, and the ice-free season has grown longer, making it difficult for the walruses to conduct courtship, give birth, raise their young, and rest during foraging and molting.

According to the scientists’ letter, models predict accelerating sea ice loss through at least the year 2100. Each metric ton of carbon released into the atmosphere causes three square meters of sea ice to disappear.

Endangered Species Act protection would require the federal government to designate critical habitat and mandate that it consider the threats and harms of federal approvals of oil and gas development and other greenhouse gas-emitting activities on the species. Additionally, protections under the Act would not interfere with subsistence uses.

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EcoWatch

650+ Scientists Urge World Leaders to Stop Burning Trees for Energy

By: Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, December 6, 2022

More than 650 scientists have written a letter to world leaders urging them to stop the burning of trees to produce energy because it destroys wildlife habitats and undermines international biodiversity and climate pledges.

Leading up to the UN biodiversity summit COP15 — which begins on December 7 in Montréal — the scientists said countries need to stop using bioenergy from forests to generate electricity and heat, and that renewable energy sources should be used instead.

“We are writing to express our concern regarding an emerging and growing threat to biodiversity… the large-scale use of forest bioenergy to generate electricity and heat. We ask you and your countries to end all reliance on forest bioenergy and, over time, to replace it entirely with alternative renewable energy sources like wind and solar,” the scientists said in the letter.

The letter was addressed to President Xi Jinping of China, U.S. President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Rishi Sunak, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, President of South Korea Yoon Suk-yeol and Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida.

“Troublingly, because it has wrongly been deemed ‘carbon neutral,’ many countries are increasingly relying on forest biomass to meet net zero goals. This is harming our world’s forests when we need them most. Many of the wood pellets burned at power stations for bioenergy are coming from whole trees — not wastes and residues from logging, as the industry claims,” the letter said.

According to an International Energy Agency report, bioenergy is projected to make up a third of what has been deemed “low-carbon” energy by 2030, reported The Guardian.

“We must transition our energy system, but it cannot be at the cost of nature. Ensuring energy security is a major societal challenge, but the answer is not to burn our precious forests – calling this ‘green energy’ is misleading and risks accelerating the global biodiversity crisis,” said Director of Science at Kew Gardens Professor Alexandre Antonelli, a lead author of the letter, as Carbon Pulse reported.

The burning of biomass as part of the UK’s net zero plan has been supported by subsidies of $6.81 billion over the past ten years, reported The Guardian.

“The scale of this logging is alarming. For example, in 2019, approximately 5.7 million metric tons of wood pellets were exported from the United States to the UK, requiring the clearing of an area larger than the UK’s New Forest,” the letter said.

When trees are cut down to produce bioenergy, carbon that would have otherwise been stored in forests is released into the atmosphere.

“In addition to its impacts on wildlife, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently noted the critical role that forests play in keeping their stored carbon out of the atmosphere. Harvesting for bioenergy seriously harms forests and their ability to sequester and store carbon,” the scientists noted in the letter.

Wood burning releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than gas or even coal, The Guardian reported. More energy is also used in the harvesting and transporting of the wood.

Most of the wood used for biomass comes from the U.S., Canada and Estonia.

“Also disturbing is the fact that many of these trees are coming from old, biodiverse and/or climate-critical forests. For example, we know that wood pellets burned in the UK come from clearcuts of mature hardwood forests in the U.S. Southeast’s North American Coastal Plain Biodiversity Hotspot; protected forest ecosystems in the Baltics that are critical habitats for imperilled birds and mammals; and primary forests in Canada, including the boreal forest, one of the world’s last remaining intact forests and a stronghold for global bird populations. Rare species such as the prothonotary warbler, the boreal woodland caribou, and the black stork, are already declining due to the loss and degradation of these forests,” the letter said.

The letter pointed out that as many as one million species are at risk of extinction by 2100 — mostly because of the fragmentation and loss of their habitat — and that forests absorb almost a third of fossil fuels emissions.

“Wood used for biomass energy is routinely logged using harmful practices like clearcutting. On-the-ground investigations show that two of the world’s largest pellet manufacturers — Enviva and Drax — make pellets from wood clearcut from forests. Clearcutting to provide timber for wood pellets in the EU and UK is even occurring in reserves designed to protect forests and rare and threatened species (e.g. European Union’s Natura 2000 network). Studies in tropical forests have shown that once a forest has been clearcut, it takes decades, if not centuries, before it can regrow to recover its original level of ecosystem productivity and biodiversity,” the scientists said in the letter.

The letter said that if 30 percent of Earth’s land and seas is to be preserved for nature by 2030, the international community must stop relying on biomass as fuel.

“The best thing for the climate and biodiversity is to leave forests standing — and biomass energy does the opposite,” the letter concluded.

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Good News Network

Two Channel Island Plants Found Nowhere Else are Off Endangered Species List and Now Flourishing

By Good News Network, Dec. 6, 2022

Two plants that live on California’s Channel Islands and nowhere else on earth have reached recovery thanks to Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections.

The Santa Cruz Island dudleya and island bedstraw are now recommended for delisting after the Fish and Wildlife Service restored their population to flourishing levels with the help of partners like the Nature Conservancy.

The ESA is the most successful conservation legislation of any nation, preventing 99% all species listed since 1973—around 291—from going extinct.

In 1997, the Service determined 13 plants on California’s northern Channel Islands needed ESA protections as a result of decades of habitat loss and alteration due to sheep grazing and soil loss caused by rooting of non-native feral pigs.

By 2000, sheep grazing ended, and by 2006, all non-native feral pigs were removed from the islands. In 2000, the Service worked with botanists and land managers to develop a recovery plan to guide recovery efforts for the imperiled plants.

Island bedstraw (Galium buxifolium) is a long-lived woody shrub with small flowers that lives on coastal bluffs, steep rocky slopes, sea-cliffs, and occasionally pine forests, on Santa Cruz and San Miguel islands. At the time of listing, population estimates were in the hundreds. Helicopter surveys from 2017 estimate more than 15,000 individual plants now occur on the islands.

The Santa Cruz Island dudleya (Dudleya nesiotica) also known as the “liveforever” is a flowering succulent perennial that lives on Santa Cruz Island. Scientists say the population has remained relatively stable over the last 25 years, with current estimates around 120,000 individuals.

“The recovery of these island plants is the result of long-term cooperation and conservation efforts by scientists and land managers,” said Paul Souza, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Southwest Region. “That’s what the ESA can bring to the table – attention, resources, and incentive for sustained conservation work that produces meaningful results.”

Isolation over thousands of years has gifted these five islands with unique animals and plants found nowhere else on Earth.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Emergency Endangered Species Act Protections Sought for Clear Lake Hitch

Once An Important Food Source for Tribes, California Fish on Brink of Extinction

CLEARLAKE, Calif.—(December 5, 2022)—Together with the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians, Robinson Rancheria of Pomo Indians, Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake and the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians, the Center for Biological Diversity urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to provide emergency protections to the Clear Lake hitch.

Today’s request under the Endangered Species Act notes that the imperiled California fish’s numbers have plummeted in recent years. Extinction is now a distinct possibility if swift action isn’t taken. The hitch has great cultural significance and has been a primary food source that has sustained the Tribes for generations.

“Our Tribe expects and relies on the state and federal agencies to carry out their responsibilities for managing land, water, and all the fish and wildlife,” said Philip Gomez, chairman of the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians. “We have come to a point where we know that the agencies must try harder, and they must welcome the Tribes to co-manage our land and waters. We call out to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to authorize emergency listing of the chi/Clear Lake hitch immediately, so they can be protected for their spawning a few months from now. None of us want this fish to go extinct on our watch, as Tribal leaders.”

“We are talking about extinction,” said Meg Townsend, senior freshwater attorney at the Center. “The hitch can’t withstand one more year of failed spawning. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to protect this severely imperiled fish for more than a decade is shocking and unacceptable. Only emergency protections can correct this grievous error and give the hitch a fighting chance.”

The last successful spawning of Clear Lake hitch was observed in 2017. The following year, extremely few juvenile hitch were collected. Almost no juvenile hitch have been observed since. Adult hitch are now also in steep decline. With an estimated six-year lifespan, the hitch can’t survive many more years of failed spawning without disappearing forever.

The primary threat to Clear Lake hitch is a lack of spring flows in lake tributaries used for spawning. This is caused by water over-withdrawal, both legal and illegal, that is being worsened by climate change-driven drought. The hitch is also threatened by fish-passage barriers, habitat degradation, pollution and predation, and competition from invasive, stocked fish, including carp and bass.

The Center petitioned the Service in 2012 to protect the hitch under the Endangered Species Act. After eight years of delay and a lawsuit by the Center, the agency finally issued a decision, but, in a bizarre move, denied the fish protections. The Center challenged this decision in federal court, leading the agency to reconsider listing the hitch, but no new decision will be made until 2025.

“As President Biden highlighted this week at the White House Tribal Nations Summit, Indigenous Knowledge is to be considered in policy and agency decision making,” said Sherry Treppa, chairperson of the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake. “The Service needs to respect not only Tribal Nations but the president and take immediate action otherwise years of research, preservation and re-population efforts by local tribal nations and county will be for naught.”

“The Clear Lake hitch — the chi — is an important part of our Tribe’s culture that sustained our families for generations,” said Jesse Gonzalez, vice chair of Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians. “We as Indian people have lost so much of our ways and our culture at the hands of others, and now we’re trying so hard to hold on to what’s left, for ourselves, for our families, and for our future. I remember catching chi as a young boy and now can only hope that my children will one day have that same experience. If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t give the chi emergency endangered species protections, we fear that our future generations will never have that opportunity.”

The hitch needs immediate action, including captive rearing, enforcement action against illegal water withdrawals by cannabis growers and others, control of invasive predatory fish in the lake, and work with legal water rights holders to maintain instream flows. Emergency protection under the Endangered Species Act would help ensure these things happen.

On Nov. 3, the California Fish and Game Commission took the unprecedented step of writing to the Service to request emergency listing of the hitch under the Act.

The Service has only given emergency listings to two species in the past two decades. Such listings take effect immediately upon publication in the Federal Register and last for 240 days. Simultaneously, the Service must publish a proposed rule to extend the listing beyond the initial period.

“The Clear Lake hitch is on the verge of extinction unless action is taken now,” said Michael Y. Marcks, vice-chairperson of the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake. “Tribes are united in seeking protection of the hitch, which is culturally significant to The Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake. Our Tribe has strong connections and traditions to our land, and we constantly strive to conserve, preserve, and protect all our natural resources. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must use its emergency authority to protect and preserve the hitch for future generations.”

“In 2004, Robinson Rancheria started the efforts for the first petition to U.S Fish and Wildlife for the hitch to be listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act,” said Irenia Quitiquit, secretary treasurer of the Robinson Rancheria of Pomo Indians Citizens Business Council. “Because of Robinson Rancheria’s peoples’ strong ties to the hitch, culturally and for subsistence, an emergency listing would be a great victory toward saving the hitch from extinction. Robinson Rancheria’s Tribal efforts over the past 18 years has been documented through many federal grants and tribal support efforts to continue studying the hitch. Research has proven to be effective in this hopeful goal — having the hitch listed as a federally endangered species. All Lake County California Tribes look forward to continuing the meaningful work to save the Hitch.”

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Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)

Scientists along West Coast call for action to help endangered sunflower sea stars

Associated Press, December 3, 2022

ASTORIA, Ore. — Scientists along the West Coast are calling for action to help sunflower sea stars, among the largest sea stars in the world, recover from catastrophic population declines.

Experts say a sea star wasting disease epidemic that began in 2013 has decimated about 95% of the population from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska to Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, The Astorian reported.

The decline triggered the International Union for Conservation of Nature to classify the species as critically endangered in 2020. A petition to list the species under the federal Endangered Species Act was filed in 2021.

Steven Rumrill, shellfish program leader at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in his more than 40 years as a marine scientist, he hasn’t seen a widespread decline of a species on the same scale as the sunflower sea star.

The sea stars, which are among the largest in the world and can span more than 3 feet (91 centimeters), are predators to the kelp-eating sea urchin. Without them, sea urchin populations have exploded, causing a troubling decline in kelp forests that provide food and shelter to many aquatic species along the West Coast.

Rumrill contributed to a recently published roadmap to recovery for the sea star as a guide for scientists and conservationists.

“It just sort of breaks your heart to see a species decline so rapidly to the point of extinction,” Rumrill said. “At the global scale, we’re recognizing that the impacts of humans have had major impacts on populations and lots of extinctions worldwide. Here’s one that’s happening right in front of our eyes.”

The roadmap was completed in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, National Marine Fisheries Service, and state agencies in California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

The sea star wasting disease is estimated to have killed over 5.75 billion sunflower sea stars, according to the document.

The source of the outbreak has not been conclusively identified, but the document points to evidence that warming ocean waters from human-caused climate change increases the severity of the disease and could have triggered the outbreak.

Rumrill said listing through the Endangered Species Act could result in federal funding to continue research.

Matthew Burks, a spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said whether the agency recommends the sea star be listed under the Endangered Species Act will be posted to the Federal Register by early next year.

While sunflower sea stars appear to be the most affected by the sea star wasting disease, they are among about 20 documented species of sea stars at risk along the West Coast.

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Mongabay

Rare, critically endangered gecko making dramatic recovery in Caribbean

by Maxwell Radwin on 2 December 2022

A rare gecko no larger than a paperclip is making a comeback in the Caribbean, thanks to conservation efforts by environmental groups and the government.

The Union Island gecko (Gonatodes daudini), known for its jewel-like markings, has seen its population grow from around 10,000 in 2018 to around 18,000 today — an increase of 80%.

The gecko resides in an approximately 50-hecatre (123-acre) swath of old-growth forest on Union Island, part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. When it was discovered in 2005, the animal almost immediately became the target of exotic pet collectors, according to Fauna & Flora International (FFI), a wildlife conservation organization focused on protecting biodiversity.

The organization worked with Re:Wild and local partners like Union Island Environmental Alliance and St. Vincent and the Grenadines forestry department to develop a species recovery plan, which involved greater protected area management and expansion as well as anti-poaching patrols and camera surveillance.

The gecko’s wild population had shrunk to one-fifth its original size since being discovered. One 2017 study found that it was the most trafficked reptile from the Eastern Caribbean.

“As a Unionite and a community leader, I am extremely proud to be a part of this success story,” Roseman Adams, co-founder of the local Union Island Environmental Alliance, said in a press release. “Without a doubt, our shared, unwavering dedication and sacrifice has brought us this far. We now have to be entirely consistent with further improvements in our management and protection of the gecko’s habitat for this success to be maintained.”

In 2019, the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines also managed to list the Union Island gecko on Appendix I of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), meaning the species now has the highest level of protection against exploitation and illegal trade. It gives authorities around the world the power to take concrete legal action against poachers and international traders.

“It is truly a testimony to the determination of the Forestry Department — and the amazing community wardens on Union Island — that this gecko has become one of the best guarded reptiles in the world,” Jenny Daltry, Caribbean Alliance director for Re:wild and FFI, said in the release. “This is something for which the whole community of Union Island can be rightly proud.”

The island, with its well-preserved tropical dry forest and coral reefs, has a host of endemic species in need of protecting, including Caribbean diamond tarantula (Tapinauchenius rasti) and the Grenadines pink rhino iguana (Iguana insularis insularis).

“If not properly managed, the development of Union Island not only puts the future of the gecko at risk, but will impact a large number of other threatened species that are endemic to this area,” said Isabel Vique, FFI’s program manager for the Caribbean.

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Federal News Network

Nevada toad in geothermal power fight gets endangered status

SCOTT SONNER, December 2, 2022

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A tiny Nevada toad at the center of a legal battle over a geothermal power project has officially been declared an endangered species, after U.S. wildlife officials temporarily listed it on a rarely used emergency basis last spring.

“This ruling makes final the listing of the Dixie Valley toad, ” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a formal rule published Friday in the Federal Register.

The spectacled, quarter-sized amphibian “is currently at risk of extinction throughout its range primarily due to the approval and commencement of geothermal development,” the service said.

Other threats to the toad include groundwater pumping, agriculture, climate change, disease and predation from bullfrogs.

The temporary listing in April marked only the second time in 20 years the agency had taken such emergency action.

Environmentalists who first petitioned for the listing in 2017 filed a lawsuit in January to block construction of the geothermal power plant on the edge of the wetlands where the toad lives about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Reno — the only place it’s known to exist on earth.

“We’re pleased that the Biden administration is taking this essential step to prevent the extinction of an irreplaceable piece of Nevada’s special biodiversity,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin regional director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The center and a tribe fighting the project say pumping hot water from beneath the earth’s surface to generate carbon-free power would adversely affect levels and temperatures of surface water critical to the toad’s survival and sacred to the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe.

The Fish and Wildlife Service cited those concerns in the final listing rule.

“The best available information indicates that a complete reduction in spring flow and significant reduction of water temperature are plausible outcomes of the geothermal project, and these conditions could result in the species no longer persisting,” the agency said.

“Because the species occurs in only one spring system and has not experienced habitat changes of the magnitude or pace projected, it may have low potential to adapt to a fast-changing environment,” it said. “We find that threatened species status is not appropriate because the threat of extinction is imminent.”

Officials for the Reno-based developer, Ormat Technology, said the service’s decision was “not unexpected” given the emergency listing in April. In recent months, the company has been working with the agency and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to modify the project to increase mitigation for the toad and reduce any threat to its survival.

The lawsuit over the original plan to build two power plants capable of producing 60MW of electricity is currently before U.S. District Judge Robert Jones in Reno. It’s already has made one trip to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which refused in August to grant a temporary injunction blocking construction of the power plant the bureau approved in December 2021.

But just hours after that ruling, Ormat announced it had agreed to temporarily suspend all work on the project until next year. Then in late October, the bureau and Ormat asked the judge to put the case on hold while Ormat submitted a new plan to build just one geothermal plant, at least for now, that would produce only 12MW of power.

Ormat Vice President Paul Thomsen said in an email to The Associated Press on Thursday that the company disagrees with the wildlife service’s “characterization of the potential impacts” of its project as a basis for the listing decision. He said it doesn’t change the ongoing coordination and consultation already under way to minimize and mitigate any of those impacts “regardless of its status under the Endangered Species Act.”

“Following the emergency listing decision, BLM began consultation with the FWS, and Ormat has sought approval of a smaller project authorization that would provide additional assurances that the species will not be jeopardized by geothermal development,” he said.

“As a zero-emissions, renewable energy facility, the project will further the Biden administration’s clean energy initiatives and support the fight against climate change,” Thomsen said.

Donnelly agreed renewable energy is “essential to combating the climate emergency.”

“But it can’t come at the cost of extinction,” he said.

The last time endangered species protection first was initiated on an emergency basis was in 2011, when the Obama administration took action on the Miami blue butterfly in southern Florida. Before that, an emergency listing was granted for the California tiger salamander under the Bush administration in 2002.

Other species listed as endangered on an emergency basis over the years include the California bighorn sheep in the Sierra Nevada in 1999, Steller sea lions in 1990, and the Sacramento River winter migration run of chinook salmon and Mojave desert tortoise, both in 1989.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Two California Plants Saved From Extinction by Endangered Species Act

Channel Islands Recoveries Mark Another Success for Landmark Law

LOS ANGELES—(November 30, 2022)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to remove two Channel Islands plants from the endangered species list because they have successfully recovered.

The Channel Island bedstraw and Santa Cruz Island dudleya were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1997 because of grazing, trampling and soil erosion caused by sheep and feral pigs. Following the plants’ protection, sheep and feral pigs were removed from the islands, which benefited not just the two rare plants but the entire ecosystem.

“The Endangered Species Act has saved the lives of 99% of the plants and animals under its care, including these two beautiful California plants,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Recovery can take decades, but the investment is worth it to safeguard the biodiversity we all depend on.”

Island bedstraw is a 3-foot-tall woody shrub with small greenish-white flowers. At the time of listing there were 19 known sites and around 600 individual plants. In recent surveys there were 39 sites and more than 15,700 individuals.

Santa Cruz Island dudleya, also known as Santa Cruz Island liveforever, is a succulent perennial, known from only one population on the westernmost tip of Santa Cruz Island in Santa Barbara County. Since the plant’s listing, the population has fluctuated from 40,000 to 200,000 individuals and has stabilized at 120,000 individuals with an increase in distribution.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has developed a monitoring plan to ensure the plants continue to thrive. This is especially important for the Santa Cruz Island dudleya, whose single population remains vulnerable to sea-level rise caused by climate change.

The Channel Island bedstraw and Santa Cruz Island dudleya will join more than 50 species of plants and animals that have successfully recovered under federal protection, including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, humpback whales, Coastal California sunflowers and Channel Islands foxes.

“Nearly 50 years into its legacy, the Endangered Species Act remains the most important tool we have to end extinction and ensure a healthy future for humans and the diversity of life that makes the Earth so vibrant,” Curry said.

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EcoWatch

Researchers Use Magnets to Remove Microplastics From Water

By: Paige Bennett, November 30, 2022

Researchers at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University) have discovered a way to use magnetic materials to quickly and affordably remove microplastics from water. The findings show the materials work to remove plastic particles 1,000 times smaller than plastics currently detectable in existing water treatment plants.

The team developed an adsorbent from nanomaterials, including iron, that attracts the plastic particles in the water, working in as little as one hour compared to other microplastic removal methods that can take several days to work. The adsorbent is mixed into water, and microplastics and even dissolved pollutants are attracted to the adsorbent. Then, because of the iron content, the researchers were able to use magnets to collect the microplastics and dissolved pollutants.

“The nano-pillar structure we’ve engineered to remove this pollution, which is impossible to see but very harmful to the environment, is recycled from waste and can be used multiple times,” Nicky Eshtiaghi, lead researcher and professor from RMIT’s School of Environmental and Chemical Engineering, said in a statement. “This is a big win for the environment and the circular economy.”

The research, published in Chemical Engineering Journal, explained that about 4.8 and 12.7 million tons of microplastics enter the oceans each year, and smaller microplastics under 5 millimeters cannot be detected and filtered out by existing water treatment technology. Some options, like filter papers or photodegradation, have been tested before, but these methods can’t capture the smallest microplastics or take a long time to remove the pollutants.

“Microplastics smaller than 5 millimeters, which can take up to 450 years to degrade, are not detectable and removable through conventional treatment systems, resulting in millions of tonnes being released into the sea every year,” co-lead researcher Nasir Mahmood said. This is not only harmful for aquatic life, but also has significant negative impacts on human health.”

The RMIT team’s developed adsorbent — as the study explained, nanopillared structures composed of two-dimensional metal–organic framework separated by carbon encapsulated iron oxide nanopillars — removed about 100% of microplastics from the water sample in just one hour.

The adsorbent is designed to be a quick, cost-effective solution to cleaning up microplastics and dissolved pollutants in water. Now, the team is looking for collaborators to scale up the project and test it in wastewater treatment facilities.

“The results suggest a promising pathway to addressing the removal of mixed contaminants from water in a single process and highlighting its potential in resolving critical industrial and domestic wastewater treatment,” the study authors wrote.

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NPR

Northern long-eared bat, devastated by a fungus, is now listed as endangered

November 29, 2022, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The Biden administration declared the northern long-eared bat endangered on Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to save a species driven to the brink of extinction by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease.

“White-nose syndrome is decimating cave-dwelling bat species like the northern long-eared bat at unprecedented rates,” said Martha Williams, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency is “deeply committed to working with partners on a balanced approach that reduces the impacts of disease and protects the survivors to recover northern long-eared bat populations,” she said.

First documented in the U.S. in 2006, the disease has infected 12 types of bats and killed millions. The northern long-eared bat is among the hardest hit, with estimated declines of 97% or higher in affected populations. The bat is found in 37 eastern and north-central states, plus Washington, D.C., and much of Canada.

Named for white, fuzzy spots that appear on infected bats, white-nose syndrome attacks bats’ wings, muzzles and ears when they hibernate in caves and abandoned mines.

It causes them to wake early from hibernation and to sometimes fly outside. They can burn up their winter fat stores and eventually starve.

The disease has spread across nearly 80% of the geographical range where northern long-eared bats live and is expected to cover it all by 2025.

Another species ravaged by the fungus is the tricolored bat, which the government proposed to classify as endangered in September.

Bats are believed to give U.S. agriculture an annual boost of $3 billion by gobbling pests and pollinating some plants.

The Fish and Wildlife Service designated the northern long-eared bat as threatened in 2015. With its situation increasingly dire, the agency proposed an endangered listing in March and considered public comments before deciding to proceed. The reclassification takes effect Jan. 30, 2023.

In many cases, the service identifies “critical habitat” areas considered particularly important for the survival of an endangered species. Officials decided against doing so for the northern long-eared bat because habitat loss isn’t the primary reason for its decline, spokeswoman Georgia Parham said. Calling attention to their winter hibernation spots could make things worse, she added.

Recovery efforts will focus on wooded areas where the bats roost in summer — usually alone or in small groups, nestling beneath bark or in tree cavities and crevices. Emerging at dusk, they feed on moths, beetles and other insects.

Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to be sure projects that they fund or authorize — such as timber harvests, prescribed fires and highway construction — will not jeopardize a listed species’ existence.

For nonfederal landowners, actions that could result in unintentional kills could be allowed but will require permits.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said that it will also work with wind energy companies to reduce the likelihood that bats will strike turbines. These collisions are currently a threat in roughly half of the northern long-eared bat’s range, an area likely to grow as wind energy development expands.

The service has approved nearly two dozen plans allowing wind energy and forestry projects to proceed after steps were taken to make them more bat-friendly, said Karen Herrington, Midwest regional coordinator for threatened and endangered species.

Operators can limit the danger by curtailing blade rotation during bats’ migration season and when winds are low.

Research continues for methods to fight white-nose syndrome, including development of a vaccine. The service has distributed more than $46 million for the campaign, which involves around 150 agencies, private organizations and Native American tribes.

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Sea Shepherd

A Win for Endangered Species; Sea Shepherd Lawsuit Succeeds in Protecting Māui Dolphins

Court of International Trade bans import of fish from certain New Zealand fisheries to protect the Māui dolphin

November 29th, 2022—Today, in a lawsuit brought jointly by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Sea Shepherd New Zealand (collectively Sea Shepherd) to protect the critically endangered Māui dolphin, the United States Court of International Trade ordered a ban of imports of nine fish species caught off the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. The ban specifically applies to set-net and trawl fisheries operating in Māui dolphin habitat.

The Māui dolphin is found only in New Zealand waters and most recent estimates suggest between only 48 and 64 individual dolphins over the age of one year remain. Sea Shepherd brought its lawsuit against the United States Department of Commerce under the Marine Mammal Protection Act because set-net and trawl fisheries that overlap with Māui dolphin habitat result in injury and death to dolphins in excess of United States standards. The preliminary import ban will remain in place until the United States makes a valid finding that New Zealand’s regulatory program for the fisheries is comparable in effectiveness to the U.S. regulatory program or until the court case is fully resolved.

“The Court’s ruling sends a strong signal to New Zealand and other countries that unless they can show their fisheries regulatory program is comparable to the U.S. regulatory program, they risk an import ban,” said Pritam Singh, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. “The Court found we are likely to succeed on two of our legal claims and that a preliminary import ban for these nine species was in the public interest. We agree.”

“This is a victory for independent science, which, in this case clearly demonstrated the technology used by the fisheries at issue – indiscriminate set nets and trawls – were putting the endangered Māui dolphin at greater risk of extinction,” said Michael Lawry, Managing Director of Sea Shepherd New Zealand. “We’re happy the Court of International Trade recognized the urgency of this situation for the Māui dolphin and agreed with us that an import ban was legally required.”

The nine fish species included in the Court’s injunction are: 1) snapper; (2) tarakihi; (3) spotted dogfish; (4) trevally; (5) warehou; (6) hoki; (7) barracouta; (8) mullet; and (9) gurnard deriving from New Zealand’s West Coast North Island multi-species set-net and trawl fisheries.

Sea Shepherd is represented in the lawsuit by Lia Comerford and Allison LaPlante of Earthrise Law Center, at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.

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U.S. Department of Interior

Biden-Harris Administration Announces Critical Progress as CITES CoP19 Comes to a Close

Press Release, 11/28/2022

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA — After working around the clock for two weeks, the Biden-Harris administration announced today it has forged critical agreements to ensure legal, traceable and biologically sustainable international trade of wild animals and plants. U.S. government leaders met with over 2,000 representatives from more than 150 nations, non-governmental organizations, industry and academia at the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP19) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the world’s only forum on international trade in plants and wildlife.

Held November 14-25 in Panama City, Panama, the CoP19 and its participants took a strong stance to conserve a wide range of known and lesser-known species and improve CITES implementation on matters ranging from ending illegal trafficking in totoaba and restricting trade in live African elephants to ensuring conservation of marine turtles and curbing the illegal trade in cheetahs and jaguars.

The U.S. delegation to CoP19 was led by Department of the Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Matthew J. Strickler, supported by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs and Special Envoy for Biodiversity and Water Resources Monica Medina, and the Service’s Assistant Director for International Affairs Bryan Arroyo. In addition to the Service, which is responsible for implementing CITES in the United States, delegation members included representatives from the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Justice, NOAA Fisheries, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, as well as committee staff from the U.S. Senate.

“With 1 million species facing extinction around the world, international trade often represents the tipping point for wildlife already impacted by habitat loss and degradation, climate change, invasive species or disease. No one country can solve these problems alone. Seeing nations come together and take a collaborative, strong stance for wildlife over the past two weeks gives me hope that together we can meet the challenge. I am very pleased with our outcomes,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Strickler.

“If CITES is to be successful in preventing the extinction of species threatened by international trade, we need to continue prioritizing investment in capacity-building efforts,” said Service Director Williams. “CITES is only as strong as each of its member nations. As part of our commitment to CITES capacity-building efforts, we have supported regional cohorts to attend the CITES Masters Course at Spain’s Universidad Internacional de Andalucía in recent years. These emerging conservation leaders are the future of CITES, and many of the delegates who demonstrated outstanding leadership at CoP19 are graduates of this course. We will continue to support global efforts to increase the capacity of parties to implement CITES and ensure all voices are heard in this critical forum.”

Notable at CoP19 were the strong voices advocating for increased protection for native species. For the U.S. delegation, increased protection for U.S. native reptiles included CITES listing of 36 species of U.S. native turtles, which are under increasing demand from East Asia and Europe. Biological and life history traits make freshwater turtles and tortoises highly vulnerable to exploitation. The turtle trade follows a boom-and-bust pattern, in which exploitation in one species shifts to another as species become depleted to a level where they can no longer be commercially exploited or when it becomes subject to stricter regulations. The CITES Appendix-II listing of alligator and common snapping turtles, all map turtles, all mud turtles except for the two species already included in Appendix I, all musk turtles, and all soft-shelled turtles (Apalone species), will complement U.S. state management efforts, reduce the risk of overharvesting, and support biologically sustainable use and legal and traceable international trade in U.S. native turtles.

The United States also co-proposed the inclusion of glass frogs in Appendix II, alongside Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil, Cote d’lvoire, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Gabon, Guinea, Niger, Panama, Peru and Togo – a proposal that passed by consensus today. Glass frogs have unique transparent skin on their underside, showing their bones and internal organs. International demand for glass frogs in the exotic pet trade adds to the numerous threats they already face, including habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, invasive species and diseases such as chytrid fungus. In the U.S., demand for glass frogs in the pet trade has increased exponentially, from 13 live individuals imported in 2016 to 5,744 individuals in 2021. Individual glass frog species are difficult to tell apart. Including the entire genus in Appendix II is a critical step in ensuring that international trade does not represent an added threat to wild populations.

The United States proposed strong measures to enforce CITES provisions to end illegal fishing and trafficking in totoaba and ensure survival of the critically endangered vaquita, which now numbers 10 or fewer individual animals and is at imminent risk of extinction. Despite its protected status, the totoaba suffers from illegal fishing that has continued in Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California to meet demand for its swim bladder in East Asia. Without an end to this illegal fishing, vaquita will continue to be caught and drown as bycatch. Working closely together over the past two weeks, the U.S. and Mexico agreed on a way forward to curb illegal fishing of totoaba, taking into consideration the concerns expressed by Mexico as well as the need to act immediately to avoid the vaquita’s extinction. Parties supported their joint decision by consensus.

The Biden-Harris administration is committed to ensuring transparency and inclusiveness in CITES implementation and preparation for CITES meetings, in particular CoPs. The Service began its public participation process to gather and evaluate information related to species involved in international trade and improving implementation of the convention more than two years ago, culminating in the submission of 14 species proposals and six documents the U.S. advanced or co-sponsored to be considered by CITES member nations at CoP19.

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CITES

November 27, 2022/Press Release

Record number of species to be regulated by CITES after CoP19

Representatives of more than 160 governments, Parties to the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species of Wild fauna and flora (CITES), today reaffirmed their commitment to address the biodiversity crisis by adopting proposals to regulate international trade in more than 500 new species.

CITES CoP19 closed in Panama today after two weeks of negotiations on the most important issues facing the trade in endangered species of animals and plants.

The CoP adopted a total of 46 Proposals of the 52 put forward. This will bring species of, among others, sharks, lizards, turtles, fish, birds, frogs and more than a hundred tree species under CITES regulations, designed to ensure the sustainability of these species in the wild, while allowing their international trade and also contributing to the conservation of ecosystems and global biodiversity.

The CoP also reached a record number of 365 decisions as they worked to safeguard threatened wildlife species, while at the same time allowing the international trade that underpins human well-being and contributes to conservation efforts. The decisions will shape CITES’ work for the years to come.

The meeting – also known as the World Wildlife Conference – opened on November 14th and on four days ran until 10pm as the details of these decisions and resolutions were worked through and agreed. More than 2,500 people have attended the event; the ultimate decision-making body of CITES, which takes place every three years. This year the meeting was held in Panama, the first time for twenty years that a CITES CoP has returned to Latin America.

In welcoming the decisions made by the Parties, the Secretary-General of CITES, Ivonne Higuero, pointed out that they come at an important time, “The Parties to CITES are fully aware of their responsibility to address the biodiversity loss crisis by taking action to ensure that the international trade in wildlife is sustainable, legal and traceable. Trade underpins human well-being, but we need to mend our relationship with nature. The decisions coming from this meeting will serve the interests of conservation and wildlife trade, that doesn’t threaten the existence of species of plants and animals in the wild, for future generations.”

A first for the meeting was the adoption of a resolution on gender, to try to address inequality as it relates to the trade in wildlife. The meeting heard that women are more likely to lose out on the benefits of wildlife trade and work will now be done to suggest ways to tackle this issue.

The meeting also decided to work towards becoming a more inclusive forum by increasing the number of languages it works in for key meetings. Future CoPs are likely to be run in Arabic, Chinese and Russian, in addition to the current working languages of Spanish, French and English.

The contribution that CITES can make to reducing zoonotic diseases is also to be investigated. 70% of emerging diseases are estimated to be transferred from wild animals to humans. CITES is to look at the role it could play in reducing the likelihood of this transfer.

The new species that will be listed on CITES and their international trade consequently regulated, include nearly 100 species of sharks & rays, more than 150 tree species, 160 amphibian species, including tropical frogs, 50 turtle and tortoise species and several species of songbirds. All these species have seen declines in their populations over recent years.

The Parties to CITES also agreed a joint approach to support Mexico as it fights to save a species of porpoise from extinction. Numbers of vaquita in the Gulf of Mexico are believed to have dropped to fewer than twenty. It is endangered through fishing for a different species, the totoaba. Parties have agreed to a coordinated approach, designed to limit fishing in totoaba and consequently reduce the threat to the vaquita.

CITES regulates the world’s trade in threatened species of animals and plants, 183 countries and the European Union are Parties to the Convention and every three years, they take part in a meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP). This is the 19th time they have met in the past 50 years, since the Convention was adopted in 1973.

CoP19 has taken place at a crucial moment. This year has seen a number of significant scientific reports which have highlighted the need to halt, and reverse, biodiversity loss, if our planet and human well-being is to be sustained. The three main threats to wild plants and animals are habitat loss, climate change and overexploitation. It is hoped that the decisions taken in Panama will contribute to addressing these crises and pave the way for CoP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is taking place in Montreal next month. That meeting is expected to agree a Framework to address the loss in Biodiversity, to which a number of multilateral environmental agreements, CITES included, will contribute.

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International Fund for Animal Welfare

world wildlife conference makes great strides for protected species

(Panama City, Panama – 25 November 2022) — The 19th Conference of the Parties (CoP) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Panama City concluded today, with governments agreeing new protection for hundreds of species at risk from international trade.

IFAW welcomed the many important conservation decisions taken at this meeting. This included groundbreaking new controls on the international trade in shark fins, as well as greater protection for many species found in the international exotic pet trade, such as species of glass frogs and turtles.

“Over a million species are at risk of extinction if we do not change the way we treat wildlife,” said Matthew Collis, IFAW Deputy Vice President for Conservation. “Governments at CITES have shown they are beginning to grasp the scale of the challenge required to confront the crisis facing the natural world. Overexploitation of species, including through international trade, is a key contributing factor to the decline of many species.”

“Panama’s leadership of CoP19 set the tone with their ambition for this conference —to leading a game-changing proposal to ensure the majority of shark species in the international fin trade received CITES protection,” added Collis.

Nearly 100 species of sharks and rays were added to CITES Appendix II to control the unsustainable global trade in their fins and meat—a trade which has pushed some of these ecologically important predators to the brink of extinction. This brings most shark species in international trade under CITES control, meaning no trade should take place unless it is legal and sustainable.

Similar protection was granted to all species of glass frogs (frogs with semi-transparent skin through which you can see their skeleton, intestines and beating heart) and many freshwater turtle species and other reptiles, all popular in the burgeoning exotic pet trade. An analysis of U.S. import records shows that, between 2016 and 2021, imports of glass frogs increased by approximately 44,000%—from 13 live individuals in 2016, to 5,744 individuals in 2021.

In good news for elephants and rhinos, CITES member governments rejected proposals to reopen international trade in ivory and rhino horn. IFAW welcomed this decision, as any legal trade provides opportunities for criminals to launder poached elephant tusks and rhino horns into the market. Similar proposals have been repeatedly rejected by governments in previous CITES conferences.

Mr Collis said: “It is clear there is no appetite for reopening these dangerous trades. Instead, the international community must find innovative new ways to generate income for conservation without exposing animals to being poached.”

“Sadly, governments missed just such an opportunity at this meeting by failing to agree on Kenya’s suggestion to set up a fund to create financial resources in exchange for the destruction of ivory stockpiles. We urge governments to reconsider such ideas before the next conference, otherwise we will see a repeat of the divisive discussions on ivory stockpiles that have long characterised CITES conferences.”

The conference adopted a number of decisions regarding the prevention of pandemics and taking a ‘One Health’ approach to management of wildlife trade. Government agencies were encouraged to collaborate to identify and reduce risks of pathogen spillovers along wildlife trade supply chains and CITES to work with international efforts in this area. Governments agreed to keep this under review and potentially return with further recommendations at the next meeting.

IFAW was also pleased to see CITES advocate that governments continue to take action to address wildlife cybercrime and build capacity to help enforcement agencies deal with live animals seized from wildlife traffickers, both growing challenges for governments worldwide as they tackle wildlife crime.

CITES meets every three years and already offers protection to more than 38,000 species across the globe. This was the first CITES meeting hosted in Latin America in 20 years.

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Center For Biological Diversity

Critical Habitat Proposed for Endangered Florida Bonneted Bat

More Than 1 Million Acres Proposed in 13 Florida Counties

PETERSBURG, Fla.—(November 22, 2022)—Following a court-ordered agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday proposed protecting nearly 1.2 million acres of ­­critical habitat for the endangered Florida bonneted bat. The native bat faces devastating habitat loss from climate change and urban sprawl.

“While I’m happy that the Fish and Wildlife Service is moving to protect more than 1 million acres of critical habitat for the Florida bonneted bat, it has excluded crucial areas threatened by immediate development,” said Ragan Whitlock, a Florida-based attorney at the Center. “We hope the Service will revise the final designation to accurately reflect all the areas these charming bats need to recover.”

Although the proposal acknowledges the bats and their habitat are threatened by climate change and sea-level rise, the Service did not extend badly needed protections for unoccupied critical habitat.

The proposal also excludes “humanmade structures” in areas known to be used by the bat, which is contrary to available science showing that several bat populations depend on bat boxes and urban foraging areas to survive.

“While we welcome the Service’s reproposed critical habitat designation, we are surprised by some of their proposed limitations to area that have suffered anthropogenic disturbances,” said Dennis Olle, president of the Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association. “Specifically, we are disappointed by the exclusion of certain disturbed or otherwise human-modified areas that are clearly important to the survival of the Florida bonneted bat. The Service’s failure to understand this shows a surprising lack of reliance on good science.”

“We are glad to see that the Service has finally issued the proposed critical habitat and included additional areas where we know the bat resides, like the Corkscrew and Kissimmee units,” said Lauren Jonaitis, conservation director of Tropical Audubon Society. “However, we still have major concerns that the Service did not include unoccupied critical habitat to bolster against habitat loss from sea level rise and range shifts as climate changes.”

“Having already undergone major revisions we were expecting a more comprehensive and accurate proposal from the Fish and Wildlife Service that truly represents all the habitat the Florida bonneted bat is dependent on for its survival,” said Jon Flanders, Ph.D., director of endangered species interventions at Bat Conservation International. “Completely dismissing the importance of urban-based populations and their habitat needs is a massive setback for the recovery of the species.”

Development and pesticide use nearly drove Florida bonneted bats extinct before litigation filed by the Center compelled the Service to protect the bat in 2013 under the Endangered Species Act. Conservation groups sued again in 2018 and then once more this year to secure habitat safeguards for the species.

Animals with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be moving toward recovery than species without such protections. Federal agencies that fund or permit projects in critical habitat are required to consult with the Service to ensure this habitat is not harmed or destroyed by their actions.

Background

Named for the broad ears that hang over their foreheads, bonneted bats are the largest of Florida’s 13 bat species, and the second largest in North America. The bats roost in old tree cavities and artificial structures and forage for insects over dark open spaces. They also use one of the lowest-frequency echolocation calls of all bats, so some people are actually able to hear the bonneted bats’ bird-like chirps as they hunt for insects.

Florida bonneted bats have one of the smallest ranges of any bat species. They live only in South Florida — an area that’s highly susceptible to rising sea levels, impacts by major storms, and development. Projections indicate that sea levels will rise between 3 and 6 feet within much of the bats’ habitat over the course of this century.

This week’s Fish and Wildlife Service proposal follows a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Tropical Audubon Society, and the Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association.

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ABC News

Endangered status sought for manatees as hundreds starve

Manatees that are dying by the hundreds mainly from pollution-caused starvation in Florida should once again be listed as an endangered species

By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press, November 21, 2022

PETERSBURG, Fla. — Manatees that are dying by the hundreds mainly from pollution-caused starvation in Florida should once again be listed as an endangered species, environmental groups said Monday in a petition seeking the change.

The petition filed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contends it was an error to take manatees off the endangered list in 2017, leaving the slow-moving marine mammals listed only as threatened. They had been listed as endangered since 1973.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service now has the opportunity to correct its mistake and protect these desperately imperiled animals,” said Ragan Whitlock, attorney for the Florida-based Center for Biological Diversity.

Under the Endangered Species Act, a species is considered endangered if it is “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” A threatened species is one that may become endangered in the foreseeable future.

The petition, also sponsored by the Save the Manatee Club, Miami Waterkeeper and others, contends that pollution from fertilizer runoff, leaking septic tanks, wastewater discharges and increased development is triggering algae blooms that have killed much of the seagrass on which manatees depend, especially on Florida’s east coast.

That resulted in the deaths mainly from starvation of a record 1,100 manatees in 2021 and is continuing this year, with at least 736 manatee deaths reported as of Nov. 11, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The 2021 deaths represented 13% of all manatees estimated to live in Florida waters.

Placing the manatee back on the endangered list would enhance federal scrutiny of projects and issues that involve manatees and bring more resources and expertise to tackle the problem, said Patrick Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club.

“Re-designating manatees as endangered will be a critical first step in righting a terrible wrong,” Rose said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to determine whether restoring the manatee to endangered status is warranted and, if so, 12 months from the date of the petition to complete a review of the manatee’s status.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said in an email that officials are “aware of the petition. Service staff will review the petition through our normal petition processes.”

Meanwhile, state wildlife officials say they will launch a second year of experimental feeding of lettuce to manatees that gather by the hundreds during winter in the warm-water discharge an electric power plant near Cape Canaveral.

Last year, about 202,000 pounds (91,600 kilograms) of mostly donated lettuce was fed to manatees under the program. But wildlife experts caution that starvation is a chronic problem that will continue to harm the manatee population without greater attention to reducing pollution.

“With astounding losses of seagrasses around the state, we need to address water-quality issues to give the manatee a fighting chance to thrive and survive,” said Rachel Silverstein, Miami Waterkeeper executive director.

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Public News Service (Boulder, CO)

BLM Prioritizes AZ Habitat Connectivity for Wildlife

Alex Gonzalez, November 21, 2022  

The Bureau of Land Management says it will prioritize habitat connectivity of public lands in Arizona and other states, to improve migration routes for wildlife.

The BLM administers over 12 million acres of public land in Arizona.

The agency has published a document that directs state offices to assess wildlife corridors on BLM lands and take steps to safeguard landscapes and migration routes that are crucial to native species.

Director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, the club’s organization for Arizona, Sandy Bahr said they’re happy to see the BLM take the initiative to help mitigate the effects of habitat fragmentation.

“This drives home the importance of those lands,” said Bahr, “and that there is a role in protecting those for habitat and for this habitat connectivity.”

The policy directs public land managers to work collaboratively with Tribal nations, state and local wildlife officials, conservation groups and scientific experts to conserve and restore habitats.

Bahr said the directive from the BLM encourages protection of the biodiversity for which Arizona is so well known.

The policy is a new consideration by the BLM – to protect and restore wildlife corridors and migration routes on public lands and not just monument lands, said Bahr.

She stressed the importance of these corridors, especially as climate change will present challenges to animals – including birds – in finding the natural resources they need to survive.

“Whether it’s to take advantage of rain and vegetation in a particular area, or if it’s just traditionally what the wildlife did,” said Bahr, “and then all the sudden, there was a road there. It’s really important to ensure the connections.”

Bahr said connectivity is important for many different species – not just the large mammals that usually come to mind.

The BLM says this guidance will not have any impact on private lands.

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CITES

Towards a World Free of Wildlife Crime – ICCWC launches Vision 2030

20 November 2022,  News Press release

The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime has launched its Vision 2030 which will guide the Consortium’s work in the decade to come, to support Parties’ efforts to combat wildlife crime and to contribute towards a world free of wildlife crime.

ICCWC is a unique partnership between five intergovernmental organizations to strengthen criminal justice systems and provide coordinated support at national, regional and international level to combat wildlife and forest crime. It brings together Interpol, The UN Office on Drugs and Crime, The World Bank Group, The World Customs Organization and the CITES Secretariat. Cites is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The Vision aims to contribute significantly to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), through the interconnection of wildlife crime to broader environmental and socioeconomic goals and through advocating the importance of criminal justice. Importantly, the work of ICCWC contributes both directly and indirectly to 10 of the 17 SDGs.

This week, at the 19th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES – or CITES CoP19, Botswana and Panama highlighted, at an ICCWC-hosted event, how the Consortium has contributed to their enforcement efforts and enhanced their responses to combat wildlife crime in recent years.

Successes include a significant increase in detection of illicit activities online and how authorities have made use of support available to enhance their responses to wildlife crime linked to the Internet. ICCWC also supported 15 of the 36 successful operations, conducted by Panamanian authorities, that contributed to the investigation of over 41 wildlife crime cases, seizures of 3,000 pieces of Dalbergia Retusa – known as ‘cocobolo’ in Latin America – and over 15 arrests for illegal logging and timber trafficking.

These are a few of the results that CITES Parties have achieved, thanks to support from ICCWC. The ICCWC Vision 2030 follows a Theory of Change methodology, designed to support and strengthen wildlife authorities, police, customs and entire criminal justice systems to ensure that they are well equipped and capacitated to effectively respond to the threat posed by wildlife crime. Five critical outcomes have been identified in the Vision 2030:

*reduced opportunity for wildlife crime;

*increased deterrence of wildlife crime;

*increased detection of wildlife crime;

*increased disruption and detention of criminals; and

*evidence-based actions, knowledge exchange and collaboration, as a basis for the achievement of the first four outcomes and to drive ICCWC’s impact.

The Rt Hon Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Jorge Rodriguez Romero, Head of Unit of the European Commission, DG Environment, joined Parties and ICCWC partners for the launch of the ICCWC Vision and welcomed the support provided by the Consortium and the development of the ICCWC Vision 2030. At the event DEFRA announced a pledge of £4m towards the ICCWC Vision.

Speaking at the launch, the ICCWC partner organisations highlighted the importance of the Vision 2030 in combating wildlife crime around the world.

Ivonne Higuero, Secretary-General of CITES, highlighted that: “Parties are at the forefront of our efforts and CITES is proud to stand alongside our ICCWC partners to continue to support their hard work to combat wildlife crime. We are extremely grateful to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, that announced during the event, their contribution of 4 million GBP that will kick-start the process. Together we can make a difference, together we can overcome the threat posed by wildlife crime, together we are stronger – this is embodied by the work of ICCWC.”

The framework of the ICCWC Vision 2030 provides a roadmap, to be implemented through two 4-year Strategic Action Plans (2023-2026 and 2027-2030) that will enable addressing wildlife crime in a holistic and comprehensive manner.

“ICCWC is not only a mechanism allowing for effective collaboration amongst key international organizations. It is also much more and more importantly, it is about actionable resource bringing concrete benefits to our member countries, and ultimately to the environment and resources that we all depend on,” said Steven Kavanagh, Executive Director Police Services at INTERPOL.

“The victims of these crimes are the planet and people; these crimes affect communities and undermine the resilience of ecosystems, and the consequences are severe for our shared future”, said Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

“Wildlife crime is at its heart a development issue. We live in a world today where development is slowing, and the ranks of the extreme poor are swelling. And the three reasons behind this are tied inextricably to natural resources and environmental crime”, said Valerie Hickey Global Director, Environment, Natural Resources & Blue Economy at the World Bank Group.

“The CITES Conference of the Parties is an excellent forum to gather the international community in assessing our efforts to protect our planet’s most vulnerable species. ICCWC takes this opportunity to present to the international community the ICCWC Vision 2030 and its Action Plan, detailing ICCWC’s future endeavours to disrupt criminal syndicates’ activities and mitigate wildlife and forestry crime at global level”, said Kunio Mikuriya, Secretary-General of the World Customs Organization.

The ICCWC Vision 2030 outlines the next phase in the continuation of ICCWC’s work and follows the ICCWC Strategic Programme that will come to an end in 2023. Implementation of the ICCWC Strategic Programme has been possible through strong support from the European Union, France, Germany, the Principality of Monaco, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America.

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UPI/SCIENCE NEWS

Nations vote to extend protection to over 50 shark species

By Patrick Hilsman, November 18, 2022

Nov. 18 (UPI) — Nearly 200 countries have voted to extend protection to more than 50 species of sharks at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Tuna and Flora (CITIES), the world’s largest wildlife summit.

The measure, which was introduced by host nation Panama, offers protection to approximately two-thirds of the species that are targeted in the global shark fin trade. The protection applies to the requiem family of sharks, which includes tiger sharks, as well as to several species of hammerhead sharks.

The decision, which brings the percentage of shark species regulated by CITIES from 25% to 70%, is binding for member states, who have a year to implement the changes. The measure would require shark fin exports to have correct paperwork proving they are in compliance with regulations.

A study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature found that approximately one-third of shark and ray species are in danger of extinction. Additionally, research indicates that ocean-going shark populations have decreased by 70% in the past 50 years.

Overfishing and lack of regulation are believed to be the principal factors driving the the depopulation of the sharks.

Japan pushed back against the measure, lobbying to remove 35 species that are not endangered from the list. Peru, a major exporter of shark fins, lobbied to have the blue shark removed from the list.

The trade in shark fins remains a multimillion-dollar industry, with shark fin exports from Peru increasing to twice their pre-pandemic levels in 2021. Of the 300 tons of shark fins exported Peru, 160 tons came from species that have now come under regulation.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Petition Seeks California Endangered Species Protection for Sage Grouse

SAN DIEGO—(November 18, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition today to protect greater sage grouse in the state under the California Endangered Species Act. The petition, filed with the California Fish and Game Commission, demonstrates that most of the greater sage grouse populations in California have declined significantly and are at imminent risk of being wiped out.

“It’s alarming that nearly all sage grouse populations in California continue to decline, and these magnificent birds are now only found in a fraction of their former range,” said Lisa Belenky, a senior counsel at the Center. “More legal protections are needed because threats to sage grouse and their sagebrush habitat keep increasing. Years of voluntary conservation measures haven’t stabilized these populations or provided the protections these birds and their habitat need to survive in California.”

Sage grouse risk disappearing from California because of habitat loss and other threats from land development, mining, invasive species, wildfire, climate change, off-road vehicle use and increased predation. Many of the sage grouse’s sub-populations in California are below the minimum population threshold, increasingly isolated and at imminent risk of disappearing.

Greater sage grouse are famous for their showy plumage and elaborate mating dances, during which the males make popping sounds with large, inflated air sacs. There are two separate units of greater sage grouse in the state: a northern California population in Lassen and Modoc counties and the bi-state sage-grouse population, which is found east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains straddling the California-Nevada border in Inyo and Mono counties.

The bi-state population is a genetically unique and isolated population of greater sage grouse, with nearly all subpopulations at risk of extirpation. Only the Bodie Hills sage-grouse population in the bi-state area has shown strong stability in recent years.

Under the California Endangered Species Act, once the petition is accepted as complete, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has three months to make an initial recommendation to the Fish and Game Commission. The commission will then vote on whether to move the petition forward for analysis at a public hearing.

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Audubon

Lesser Prairie-Chicken Now Listed Under the Endangered Species Act

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision presents an opportunity to protect the bird while bolstering rural economies.

SANTA FE, N.M. –(November 17, 2022)—The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced its decision today to list two distinct populations of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken under the Endangered Species Act. The species is managed separately in the northern and southern parts of its range, which includes portions of five states (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico).

“This decision is essential if we hope to save the Lesser Prairie-Chicken from extinction,” said Jon Hayes, executive director of Audubon Southwest and vice president at the National Audubon Society. “Many people have worked through voluntary measures and agreements to avoid this moment but as we all know, you don’t put food on the table with effort, and what we have done hasn’t been enough.”

Since formal nationwide bird monitoring began in the 1960s, Lesser Prairie-Chicken populations have declined by 97 percent across their range. This decline is one of the most precipitous among all bird life in the U.S. and will ultimately lead to extinction if not addressed. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) prohibits anyone from harming an endangered species either directly or indirectly, it requires the development of a recovery plan for the species, and it generally requires the identification of critical habitat.

“Ensuring the existence of this bird for future generations will come at a cost, but these costs do not have to be accompanied by conflict,” said Hayes. “Activities like energy production will have to be curtailed in the areas designated as critical habitat for the bird, but there are ways for the agency and industry to work together.”

For example, the Fish and Wildlife Service has taken steps to create an Incidental Take Permit that energy companies can apply for allowing them to mitigate their predicted impact by restoring and protecting the Lesser Prairie-Chicken habitat. With rigorous accounting, we can ensure that mitigation helps restore the bird’s populations.  This idea of Conservation Banking could prove to be the path forward that will help to protect the bird while also accommodating the needs of industry.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has also worked to ensure flexibility for landowners and land managers by offering regulatory certainty through voluntary programs for agriculture and sustainable ranching. New federal investments and incentives for landowners resulting from today’s decision will also make our grassland healthier, improve the infiltration of groundwater, sequester carbon, and make the rangeland more resilient overall.

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

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

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

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Defenders of Wildlife

Judge Allows Biden Administration to Delay Restoring Critical Endangered Species Act Protections

Administration will keep harmful Trump era regulations in place for now

WASHINGTON, D.C.  NOVEMBER 16, 2022

In a major setback for wildlife protection and conservation, a federal district court today sided with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, delaying the restoration of comprehensive Endangered Species Act protections for hundreds of species and the places they call home.

The Services filed the motion in December 2021 in response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), National Parks Conservation Association, Wild Earth Guardians, and the Humane Society of the United States challenging harmful rules put in place by the Trump administration in 2019. The Services asked to partially rewrite flawed Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations while keeping them in place during a rulemaking process that could take years to complete. The Court agreed, allowing the 2019 ESA regulations to remain in place with no set timeline for the Biden administration to propose new rules.

Conservation groups challenged the Trump administration rules for undermining protections for imperiled species and habitat necessary for their survival, and their lawsuit was joined by a group of states, led by California, and an animal welfare group.

With today’s ruling, the Trump rules will continue to upend decades of legal clarity and undermine protections for hundreds of species that have benefited from the established policy. It is now vital that the Biden administration move quickly to reverse all the harmful changes put in place by Trump. Although the Biden administration early on stated its intent to revise the harmful Trump-era rules, it has dragged its feet over the past two years and now says that it will need two more years to complete its amendments.

The Trump-era rules allowed economic considerations to influence whether species were provided life-saving protections, allowed agencies to sideline impacts to endangered species from climate change, and reduced protections for species listed as threatened, among other harmful changes.

“Every day that harmful rules remain in place is bad for biodiversity and a blow to the Endangered Species Act,” said McCrystie Adams, acting vice president and managing attorney of conservation law for Defenders of Wildlife. “We need the Biden Administration to adopt and implement policies and rules that are commensurate with the threats to biodiversity without delay.”

“Today’s ruling means that the Endangered Species Act stays in its weakened state from the Trump administration,” said Kristen Boyles, attorney with Earthjustice. “We are in a biodiversity crisis, and the Biden administration has dragged its feet in revitalizing the world’s most effective law for species and habitat protection. The administration is out of excuses.”

“This decision pushes at-risk species like wolverines and golden-winged warblers even further into harm’s way,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Fish and Wildlife Service should have rescinded these terrible rules gutting the Endangered Species Act on day one of the Biden administration. If we’re truly going to address the extinction crisis, we need a reformed agency that acts with urgency.”

“If the Biden administration cares about climate change impacts, and cares about wildlife, it will rescind the Trump-era rules without further delay,” said Karimah Schoenhut, Senior Staff Attorney for the Sierra Club. “These unlawful Trump-era rules frustrate effective implementation of the ESA, and vulnerable species don’t have time to waste.”

“To stem the biodiversity crisis, we need swift, comprehensive action to restore and fully implement ESA protections.” said Lucas Rhoads, Attorney in the Nature Program at NRDC. “The court’s disappointing decision underscores the need for the Biden Administration to step up to protect our most vulnerable species. So far, progress has been too slow.”

“This decision is a setback to America’s conservation legacy and diminishes our ability to protect threatened and endangered species amidst the dual climate and biodiversity crisis,” said Bart Melton, Wildlife Program Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “The Biden administration should end these Trump-era regulations that undercut the effectiveness of our nation’s most effective tool in the fight to recover imperiled species.”

“Today’s decision means wildlife facing extinction must wait even longer for protections they desperately need,” said Joe Bushyhead, endangered species attorney with WildEarth Guardians. “The onus is now on the Biden administration to fix the damage from Trump’s attacks on the Endangered Species Act, and to do so quickly.”

“This decision will allow dangerous and unlawful regulatory rollbacks to remain in place, weakening the Endangered Species Act when our most vulnerable species need its protections more than ever,” said Nicholas Arrivo, Managing Attorney for the Humane Society of the United States. “There is no time to delay; the Biden administration must move swiftly to rescind these rules and make good on its promise to restore our most effective wildlife protection law.”

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Prensa Latina

Panamanian initiatives stand out in forum on endangered species

November 15, 2022, Published by: Alina Ramos Martin

Panama City, Nov 15 (Prensa Latina) Panama’s proposal to preserve specimens such as the ‘carnidae’ shark and the glass frog, stood out at the COP19, which begun its second day in this capital.

During the 19th Summit of the Parties (COP19) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Minister of Environment, Milcíades Concepción stressed that this type of shark is key in the purpose of having 30% of the oceans protected, ‘because the important thing is that marine life exists’, he said.

Concepción explained that the ‘carnidae’ shark has a role similar to that of the jaguar in the forest, it protects the ocean, hence the support for the initiative among the dozens of proposals to the Cites convention, by including it in Appendix II, to regulate trade and ensure the sustainability of the species through traceability and legality.

COP19 opened the day before with clear messages about the current planetary crisis as a consequence of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss.

Until November 25, some 2,500 representatives from 183 countries will also discuss the conservation of the hippopotamus, the elephant, the rhinoceros and other endangered species.

They will also take stock of the fight against fraud and vote on new resolutions, among them, the risks of zoonoses (diseases transmitted by animals to humans), an issue that has become more important with the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Utah’s Least Chub

Tiny Fish Threatened by Proposed Cedar City Water Pipeline

TUCSON, Ariz.—(November 15, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice today of its intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect the imperiled least chub under the Endangered Species Act.

This small fish was once widely distributed in rivers, springs, marshes and ponds in Utah’s Bonneville Basin. Significant habitat loss and alteration, as well as competition and predation from non-native species, have driven this fish to the brink of extinction.

Following a 2021 petition from the Center seeking protection for the fish, the Service had until this September to make a final listing decision but missed this deadline.

Only seven wild populations of least chub survive. In addition, there are roughly a dozen introduced populations, which provide some assurances that if wild populations are lost, they can be replaced. However, in most cases, the longterm survival of these populations is uncertain and the sites where they occur are man-made or semi-natural.

More than half of the remaining wild populations are jeopardized by proposed groundwater pumping to support human population growth in Cedar City, Utah. The proposed Pine Valley Water Supply Project would pump billions of gallons of groundwater from Utah’s West Desert, threatening the springs the chub depends on.

“The least chub is in the crosshairs of the Pine Valley Water Supply Project,” said Krista Kemppinen, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Center. “If this desperately imperiled fish doesn’t get federal protections, the repercussions could be catastrophic.”

Despite the efforts by Utah to protect the least chub, the majority of wild populations continue to decline or are in a precarious state. Restoring populations is important, and the wild places where least chub continue to survive need to be protected.

“Endangered Species Act protection would ensure the Pine Valley water grab doesn’t jeopardize the survival of this tiny native Utah fish,” said Kemppinen.

Background

The least chub is a gold-colored minnow, typically less than 2.5 inches long, that has evolved to survive in the extreme spring habitats of the Bonneville Basin. First described in 1872, it is the only species in its genus, Iotichthys.

The least chub has been of conservation concern for decades. The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for its listing under the Endangered Species Act in 2007. In response, the Service found that listing was warranted but failed to provide any protection.

In 2014 the Service reversed this finding, in part because of the implementation of additional conservation measures led by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

In 2021 the Center again petitioned for protection. The Service had until September 2022 to make a final listing decision, but has yet to do so.

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Science Daily

New tool developed to monitor health of marine ecosystems and extinction risk of species

November 14, 2022, Source: Simon Fraser University

Scientists from Simon Fraser University are part of an international team of researchers that has developed a new science-based indicator to assess the state of health of the oceans — and the possible risk of extinction of their species.

Recent biodiversity studies show an unprecedented loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity on land, but the extent to which these patterns are widespread in the oceans is not yet known.

In a new study published recently in the journal Science, researchers from Spain-based AZTI Technology Centre, in collaboration with SFU and the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), have developed a global indicator that measures the state of marine biodiversity based on changes in extinction risk recorded over seven decades in oceanic predatory fishes (52 populations of 18 different species of tuna, billfish and sharks).

The study reveals how, since the 1950s, the global extinction risk of oceanic predatory fishes has continuously worsened due to excessive fishing pressure until the late 2000s.

The results offer some hope after the global rebuilding of commercially important tuna and billfish species yet reveal a problem in the management of sharks captured incidentally by the same fisheries, showing the urgency of implementing actions to prevent their increasing risk of extinction.

Then, the implementation of management measures in international fisheries organizations effectively reduced fishing mortality, recovering tunas and billfishes. Yet the extinction risk in the undermanaged sharks continues to rise.

“It’s encouraging to see we’ve been able to halt declines of tunas and billfishes but the decline of sharks continues,” says SFU’s Nick Dulvy, distinguished professor and Canada Research Chair in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation.

“If we don’t do anything to mitigate overfishing and lack of effective management, the loss of these species threatens the balance of ecosystems and risk of food security and jobs in both developed and developing countries.”

The study’s authors believe it’s possible to replicate the successes of tuna and billfish fisheries management for sharks. They say oceanic sharks urgently need better management and protection from overfishing, by regulating trade, redefining priorities in international fisheries bodies and settling clear biodiversity goals and targets.

Implementing science-based catch limits and changing how and where gear is deployed can avoid and minimize the incidental catching of sharks, the study finds. This week’s CITES meeting in Panama offers a unique chance to regulate 90 per cent of the global shark fin trade.

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KUOW Radio (Seattle, WA)

Still a chance to restore grizzly bears in Washington state

BY Courtney Flatt, November 14, 2022

There’s still a chance to restore grizzly bears in Washington’s North Cascades.

The National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced the reopening considerations for how to help grizzly bears in the region.

“This is a first step toward bringing balance back to the ecosystem and restoring a piece of the Pacific Northwest’s natural and cultural heritage,” said Superintendent Don Striker of North Cascades National Park in a statement. “With the public’s help we will evaluate a list of options to determine the best path forward.”

This is a second look at bringing more grizzly bears into Washington state. It comes after federal officials abruptly ended a similar review in 2020. That review had been in the works for five years, deeply dividing many ranchers and wildlife advocates.

Biologists say Washington’s grizzly bear population won’t survive without some help. Grizzly bears are endangered in Washington state.

Biologists say there may only be a handful of grizzly bears left in Washington’s North Cascades ecosystem, which is cut off from other grizzly bear habitat. The last sighting of a grizzly in the region was in 1996.

According to the National Parks Service, grizzly bears are an essential part of the North Cascades ecosystem. The bears help keep other wildlife populations in check. Grizzlies also spread nutrients throughout their habitat.

This new review process of potential environmental impacts to bringing grizzlies to the region will include an option that would give local land managers more control over managing the bears.

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Oregon State University

Largest known manta ray population is thriving off the coast of Ecuador, new research shows

By Michelle Klampe, November 14, 2022

NEWPORT, Ore. – Scientists have identified off the coast of Ecuador a distinct population of oceanic manta rays that is more than 10 times larger than any other known subpopulation of the species.

The findings, just reported in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, indicate that while other populations of oceanic manta rays are typically small and vulnerable to human impacts, this population is large and potentially quite healthy, said Joshua Stewart, an assistant professor with the Marine Mammal Institute in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences and a co-author of the paper.

“It’s clear that something different is happening here,” Stewart said. “This is a rare story of ocean optimism. In other regions, we typically have population estimates of 1,000 to 2,000 animals, which makes this species very vulnerable. In this area, we’ve estimated that the population is more than 22,000 mantas, which is unprecedented.”

Oceanic manta rays are the largest species of ray, with wingspans that can reach more than 20 feet. They are filter feeders that eat large quantities of krill and other zooplankton and tend to live in small subpopulations in tropical, subtropical and temperate waters, spending much of their time in the open ocean.

Oceanic manta rays were listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2018, and in 2019 their threat category increased from vulnerable to endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List. The biggest threat to oceanic manta rays is commercial fishing, both as the target of some fisheries and as unintentional bycatch in many others.

The new study was led by Proyecto Mantas Ecuador of Fundación Megafauna Marina del Ecuador, a conservation organization based in Ecuador, in collaboration with The Manta Trust, the Marine Megafauna Foundation and the Ocean Ecology Lab at OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute, which is led by Stewart.

Oceanic manta rays are a challenging species to study in part because they tend to spend their time in offshore locations that are hard for researchers to access, and their visitation patterns can be unpredictable.

But in the late 1990s, researchers from Proyecto Mantas Ecuador discovered that a population of oceanic manta rays aggregate in August and September each year around Isla de la Plata off the coast of Ecuador, where they are relatively easy to locate and study. It is also a popular diving area, and visitors take numerous photographs of the animals, providing researchers with a trove of data.

“Many of the photos used in our study were contributed by recreational divers who became citizen scientists when they snapped photos of manta rays,” said the study’s lead author, Kanina Harty of The Manta Trust. “We get a huge amount of information about each animal just from these photographs.”

Each manta ray has a unique spot pattern on its belly, similar to a human fingerprint, which allows researchers to identify individual animals and track their movements and locations over time. Photos of individual rays can also be used to document injuries, evidence of mating and maturity.

The researchers used data collected through their own observations and from recreational SCUBA diver photos between 2005 and 2018 to identify more than 2,800 individual rays and estimate a total population of more than 22,000.

“That is significantly larger than what we’ve seen in oceanic manta ray populations elsewhere,” said Guy, Stevens, chief executive and founder of The Manta Trust. “This is by far the largest population that we know of.”

The researchers’ findings suggest that conditions in the region are particularly favorable for a large, healthy manta ray population, Stewart said. The rays tend to straddle the region around the border of southern Ecuador and Peru, though a handful were found to have traveled as far as the Galapagos Islands.

“This work solidifies Isla de la Plata, and Ecuador more broadly, as a globally important hot spot for this endangered species,” said Michel Guerrero of Proyecto Mantas Ecuador, which is a Fundación Megafauna Marina del Ecuador project. “While this population may be healthy thanks in part to its large size, it is essential that we take the necessary steps to protect and prevent the declines that many other manta ray populations have faced.”

Manta rays are likely drawn to the area due to availability of food, the researchers said. The ocean off the coast of Ecuador and Peru is one of the most productive in the world, due to cold, nutrient-rich water rising to the surface in a process called upwelling.

“It seems that this productive upwelling region is able to support huge populations of even very large animals,” Stewart said.

Capturing manta rays in fisheries has been illegal in Ecuador since 2010, and since 2016 in neighboring Peru, but the species likely still faces threats from fishing activity, including line entanglement, vessel strikes and bycatch, Guerrero said. There were 563 manta rays identified in the study with visible injuries or scars, and more than half of those were either entangled in fishing gear or showed evidence of previous fishing line scarring.

Continued monitoring of the population is needed to understand how human activity and climate change may affect food availability, distribution and overall population health, Stewart said.

“While there is good news about this population, it is a cautionary tale,” he said. “Manta rays appear to be sensitive to environmental disruptions such as changes to ocean temperatures and food availability. They will likely be impacted by a warming climate if upwelling strength and the abundance of food changes alongside ocean temperatures.”

(Additional co-authors of the study are Anna Knochel of the Fundacion Megafauna Marina del Ecuador and Andrea Marshall and Katherine Burgess of the Marine Megafauna Foundation.)

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Imperiled Southern Hognose Snake

Unique Snake Has Declined by 60%, Faces Numerous Threats

WASHINGTON—(November 14, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice today of its intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for denying Endangered Species Act protections to the southern hognose snake. The species lives in coastal plain habitat in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. It used to also be found in Alabama and Mississippi, but populations there have disappeared.

Southern hognose snakes, named “hoggies” by reptile enthusiasts for their upturned noses used for digging, have experienced a 60% population decline. The snake is threatened by habitat loss, urbanization, climate change, collisions with vehicles, invasive species, disease, human persecution and collection for the pet trade. The Service projects that by 2060 about 72% of southern hognose snake populations will be extinct, and no resilient populations will remain.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service ignored its own science when it decided not to protect the southern hognose snake,” said Chelsea Stewart-Fusek, an endangered species attorney at the Center. “These neat little snakes simply can’t adapt quickly enough to recover from the many threats they face. If the agency doesn’t protect this species now, we’re setting these animals on the path to extinction.”

The southern hognose snake lives in longleaf pine savanna, a fire-dependent ecosystem that once covered an estimated 92 million acres in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions. By the 21st century, because of forest clearing and fire suppression, longleaf pine forests covered less than 3 million acres. Threats like urban expansion and climate change-driven sea-level rise are expected to cause significant southern hognose snake declines in the future.

The Center’s notice follows an October study that found that most species are not protected under the Endangered Species Act until they reach dangerously low population sizes — a key factor in instances where species struggle to recover.

“The Endangered Species Act is very good at protecting animals and plants that actually make it on the list, but far too often the Service drags its feet, failing to protect species like the southern hognose snake until they’re nearly extinct,” said Stewart-Fusek. “If we want a real chance at recovering this species, it needs protection now.”

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Daily Press (Escanaba, MI)

Wisconsin wolf plan ends state population goal

MADISON, Wis. (AP) —(Nov. 14, 2022)–Wisconsin wildlife officials released their first new wolf management plan in almost a quarter-century but the document doesn’t establish a new statewide population goal, a number that has become a flashpoint in the fight over hunting quotas.

The Department of Natural Resources adopted a wolf management plan in 1999 that calls for capping the statewide population at 350 animals. As the number of wolves in Wisconsin has increased — the DNR released estimates in September showing that the population currently stands at 970 — hunters have used that 350 number to justify generous quotas, much to the chagrin of animal rights advocates.

The draft plan the DNR released Thursday strips hunters of that argument by eliminating a statewide population goal. Instead it recommends the DNR with the help of advisory committee monitor local populations within the state’s six wolf hunting zones and decide whether to reduce the local population, keep it stable or allow it to grow.

Neighboring Minnesota released an updated wolf plan in June that calls for maintaining that state’s wolf population between 2,200 and 3,000 wolves. Recent estimates put the number of wolves in that state at 2,700.

Wisconsin DNR officials wrote that their approach is more flexible without a hard population goal.

“This plan’s goal is focused on a holistic and pragmatic approach to wolf management, conservation and stewardship,” the plan states.

Former Rep. Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill in 2012 establishing an annual wolf hunt in the state. The hunt has become one of the most contentious outdoor issues in the state.

Animal advocates argue that the wolf population isn’t strong enough to support hunting and the animal is too majestic to slaughter.

Hunt supporters counter that wolves prey on farmers’ livestock. The DNR paid out more than $3 million between 1985 and 2021 to provide compensation for livestock and hunting dogs killed by wolves, according to the draft plan. Residents of northern Wisconsin have complained, too, that they’re afraid wolves could attack their pets and children.

A federal judge in February restored endangered species protections for gray wolves across most of the country, outlawing hunting. But federal wildlife officials could push to remove those protections if they determine the population is strong.

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Nature World News

Uptick in Pet Turtle Demand Drives Poaching, Risks 50% of Remaining Species into Possible Extinction

By Rich Co, Nov. 12, 2022

Growing demand for pet turtles is steadily fueling an uptick in poaching. According to experts, this may result in the extinction of 50% of the remaining species.

The illegal sale of reptiles online is a growing concern, according to Lou Perrotti, director of conservation programs at Providence’s Roger Williams Park Zoo.

In a recent wildlife raid, 16 turtle hatchlings the size of quarters were seized. These eastern musk turtles are infamous for spending a large portion of their lives in ponds and swamps and for producing an offensive odor when threatened.

Confiscated and Quarantined Tiny Musk Turtles

The little musk turtles were discovered being sold online by an intern with the Rhode Island Environmental Police. Each one costs only $20 according to its internet listing. The five-inch (13-centimeter) long, brown or black turtles have a yellow or white line running along the top of their heads and can live for decades.

In September, after planning an undercover purchase at the seller’s home, police arrested him. For illegally owning a reptile, the seller was fined $1,600. The turtles are currently housed in two plastic bins and are being kept in a clean, well-lit quarantine area at a zoo in Rhode Island in the hopes that they will soon be healthy enough to be released back into the wild.

Poaching Towards Extinction

Perotti claimed that there has been an increase in turtle poaching, which is becoming more ruthless and is causing thousands of turtles to leave the United States every year. He continued by saying that turtle populations couldn’t withstand such a blow from such a high rate of removal from the wild.

Wildlife trade specialists think that poaching, which is being fueled by a rise in pet demand in the US, Asia, and Europe, is a factor in the global extinction of rare freshwater turtle as well as tortoise species. Over half of the 360 species of living turtles and tortoises, according to a study published in Current Biology, are in danger of going extinct.

Twelve proposals to strengthen freshwater turtle protection have been made in response to these worries at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting being held in Panama from November 14 through November 25 where 184 nations are scheduled to attend.

Hopes for Banning, Restriction of Commercial Trade

It can be challenging to locate precise statistics on the turtle trade, especially the illegal trade. According to Tara Easter, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan who studies the trade, the number of mud turtles exported commercially from the United States rose from 1,844 in 1999 to almost 40,000 in 2017 as well as from 8,254 in 1999 to over 281,000 in 2016.

The United States along with several Latin American countries referred to data from Mexico that showed that almost 20,000 turtles were confiscated, most from the Mexico City airport, from 2010 to 2022 in their CITES call to ban or restrict the commercial trade in over 20 mud turtle species.

Freshwater turtles are among the most trafficked animals in the world, and criminal groups that target them send the reptiles to black markets throughout Hong Kong as well as other Asian cities after connecting with buyers online. They are then sold as pets, to collectors, for commercial breeding, food, and traditional medicine, as well as for use in traditional medicine. Trade is either insufficiently or completely unregulated in many nations.

Poachers, Climate Change, Predators

The lucrative industry adds to the dangers that turtles already face because some species are sought after for their unique or colorful shells, which can fetch thousands of dollars in Asia. These include habitat loss, road fatalities, and predators consuming their eggs.

Because they target endangered species as well as adult breeding females, poachers are a particular problem, according to experts. Many turtle species, which have a lifespan of several decades, take ten years or longer to reach reproductive maturity.

According to Dave Collins, the Turtle Survival Alliance’s director of North American turtle conservation initiatives, the loss of significant numbers of adults, particularly females, can plunge turtle populations into a downward spiral from which they are unable to recover. The reproduction rate of turtles is incredibly low; they lay only a few eggs per year, AP News reports.

Responsible Private Ownership

Limiting captive breeding and legal trade to address declines in wild populations is counterproductive, according to the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, which promotes responsible private ownership as well as trade in reptiles and amphibians.

Native species removal, even to keep pets, has a significant impact, according to Harold Guise, a police detective specializing in environmental cases. Guise, who handled the case, added that We cannot even begin to measure the effects of the commercialization of wildlife until it has already taken place.

It served as a reminder to Perrotti, that the once-concentrated illegal trade in Asia is now increasingly occurring in his backyard.

Perrotti expressed his skepticism regarding the existence of a market for it and the idea that people were either mass producing or mass gathering these reptiles to profit financially. He continued by saying that the idea of a $20 turtle is absurd because wildlife is not a commodity that can be sold for a profit, The Telegraph reports.

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La Prensa Latina (Memphis, TN)

One million species face extinction, expert warns

November 12, 2022, By Fabio Agrana

Panama City, Nov 12 (EFE).- One million species could be wiped out if the climate crisis and the illegal trade of animals is not averted, an expert warned on Sunday.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) chief Ivonne Higuero told Efe in an interview ahead of the 19th Conference of the Parties (Cop19) in Panama that much effort was needed “at a time the world faced a terrible planetary crisis, pollution problems, climate change and the loss of biodiversity.”

“We have to put a lot of effort into this meeting, so that decisions are made to prevent this loss of biodiversity,” Higuero said. “We are concerned that up to a million species may be lost in the coming decades.”

“If we don’t make the right decisions, we are going to have many more serious problems in future,” the expert continued.

Cop19-CITES, which kicks off on Monday, is expecting over 2,500 attendees from the 183 countries that have signed the Convention, senior officials from the United Nations environment agency and representatives from international organizations and NGOs focused on environmental issues.

Attendees will address 52 proposals for amendments to Appendices I and II that safeguard the protection to threatened species globally, according to Hidalgo.

Cites Appendices I, II and III are lists of species given different levels or types of protection against overexploitation.

The dangers and threats to the wild fauna and flora identified include marine overexploitation, over-logging in forests and the exploitation of habitats of plants and animals for livestock farming, among others.

The threat of climate change adds myriad challenges such as floods, droughts, organized crime and the illegal trade of species, which is fourth in the world after the trade of weapons, drugs and humans, Higuero added.

Corruption is also a “very serious” problem and plays a “very big role” in the illegal trade of species and the money that moves across borders, CITES’ chief continued.

In order to tackle this, participants at this year’s CITES summit are aiming to strengthen cross-border work to train police and customs officers to detect illegal shipments.

“There are many stories of people who arrive with a suitcase at the airport and it’s the customs officers who say ‘it seems to me that there is something strange that is happening here, we are going to investigate this luggage’, and they have found, for example, bird eggs whose sale is prohibited internationally,” she explained.

“Now that we have this meeting in Latin America, we are realizing that we must pay more attention, and do more training workshops to be able to combat crimes relating to the illegal trade in species that are listed by CITES,” she concluded.

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World Economic Forum

This model can assess species’ vulnerability better, says MIT

Nov. 10, 2022, David L. Chandler, Writer, MIT News

Wildfires, floods, pollution, and overfishing are among the many disruptions that can change the balance of ecosystems, sometimes endangering the future of entire species. But evaluating these ecosystems to determine which species are most at risk, in order to focus preservation actions and policies where they are most needed, is a challenging task.

Most such efforts assume that ecosystems are essentially in a state of equilibrium, and that external perturbations cause a temporary shift before things eventually return to that equilibrium state. But that assumption fails to account for the reality that ecosystems are often in flux, with the relative abundances of their different components shifting on timetables of their own. Now, a team of researchers at MIT and elsewhere have come up with a better, predictive way of evaluating these systems in order to rank the relative vulnerabilities of different species, and to detect species that are under threat but could otherwise go unnoticed.

Contrary to conventional ways of making such rankings today, they found, the species with the lowest population numbers or the steepest decline in numbers — criteria typically used today — are sometimes not the ones most at risk.

The findings are reported today in the journal Ecology Letters, in a paper by MIT associate professor of civil and environmental engineering Serguei Saavedra, recent doctoral student Lucas Medeiros PhD ’22, and three others.

The new work is analogous to the way Edward Lorenz’s analysis of weather patterns decades ago revolutionized that field, Saavedra says. Lorenz’s research suggested that tiny perturbations could ultimately lead to very large outcomes — famously expressed as the idea that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in one place could ultimately lead to a hurricane somewhere else. “Even infinitesimally close initial conditions can diverge quite largely over a given period of time and therefore become unpredictable,” he says. With that in mind, “We said, what would happen if we apply the same kind of perspective to trying to figure out which are the most sensitive species?”

In some cases, as in aspects of weather forecasting, scientists understand the underlying physics of the phenomena and can produce equations describing their dynamics, up to a point. That’s not the case with complex ecosystems, he says, where we don’t have the underlying equations for the dynamics of even single species, much less the whole system. But over the last decade or so, he says, the team has developed mathematical techniques so that “we can have a description of the dynamics without knowing the underlying equations,” as long as there is a sufficient time series of data to work with.

The team developed two different approaches, called expected sensitivity ranking and Eigenvector ranking. Both approaches performed well in tests using large sets of simulated data, producing rankings that closely matched those expected given the underlying assumptions of the simulation’s model.

Traditional attempts to rank the vulnerability of species tend to focus on measures such as body size — larger species tend to be more vulnerable — as well as population size, both of which can be useful indicators much of the time. But, as Saavedra points out, “These species are embedded in communities, and these communities have nonlinear emergent behavior such that a small change in one place would change completely in a different way some other aspect of the system.”

The fact that species within an ecosystem may have abundances that rise and fall, sometimes cyclically, sometimes randomly or determined by external forces, means that the exact timing of a given perturbation can make a big difference — something that equilibrium models fail to account for. “Approaches based on equilibrium dynamics have this static view of species interaction effects,” Medeiros says. “Under nonequilibrium abundance fluctuations, these interaction effects can change over time, impacting the sensitivity of any given species to perturbations.”

For example, a species that is highly active in summer but dormant in winter may be strongly impacted by a summer wildfire or heat wave, but completely unaffected if the disruption happens in winter. Or, if interactions between a predator species and its prey vary over the course of a year, then the timing of a disruption can be more disruptive during some seasons than others.

The new analytical approaches are broadly applicable to any kind of ecosystem, Saavedra says, whether it be marine or terrestrial, tropical or arctic. In fact, the formulas are so general, when applied to systems with many interactions and constant flux, that some of the researchers have also applied them successfully to predicting the dynamics of financial markets.

“The techniques are quite general for any nonlinear dynamics or dynamical systems in general out of equilibrium,” Saavedra says. One student in the group who had been working on these techniques ended up working for a hedge fund, he says, and another took a sabbatical to work for a foreign bank. “He basically was able to apply these techniques, and they were working.”

But the primary goal of the work remains in the assessment of species vulnerability, and already the findings are beginning to be applied. For example, Medeiros, the paper’s lead author, is working at the University of California at Santa Cruz and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, applying these techniques to the management of fisheries. “With fisheries in particular, you have a lot of data series, looking at the rise and fall of these population sizes over time,” Saavedra says. Using those data, he says, it’s now possible “to predict precisely the species that should be most sensitive to, for example, climate change, or the highest rate of fishing quotas.”

The research team also included Stefano Allesina, now at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University; Vasilis Dakos, now at the University of Montpelier, in France; and George Sugihara, now at the University of California at San Diego. The work was supported by MIT’s Environmental Solutions Initiative, the Martin Family Society of Fellows for Sustainability, the U.S. Department of Defense Environmental Research and Development Program, the National Science Foundation, the Department of the Interior, and the MIT Sea Grant Program.

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Mongabay

More than half of palm species may be threatened with extinction, study finds

by Liz Kimbrough on 9 November 2022

Palm trees are iconic figures in tropical landscapes, providing food, tools, medicine and materials for homes to millions globally and playing key roles in many ecosystems. Now, researchers have determined that more than half of global palm species could be at risk of extinction.

Using novel machine-learning techniques and data from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, researchers from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the University of Zurich, and the University of Amsterdam investigated the extinction risk of nearly two-thirds of the palm family.

Of the 1,889 species of palms with enough data for analysis, more than half (56%) may be threatened with extinction, the researchers found. When these findings are extrapolated to all known palm species, more than 1,000 species could be threatened, researchers say. These findings have been published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

“Palms are the most iconic plant group in the tropics and one of the most useful too. After this study, we have a much better idea of how many, and which, palm species are under threat,” Rodrigo Cámara-Leret, a senior researcher at the University of Zurich and co-author of the study, said in a press release.

The IUCN Red List is regarded as the authority on the conservation status of animal, plant and fungal species. However, making determinations about whether a species is threatened with extinction often requires massive amounts of data and work by researchers, so scientists decided to employ artificial intelligence and machine learning to sift through the data and fill in some of the gaps. Researchers hope that AI can speed up preliminary evaluations of a species’ conservation status, reduce costs, and avoid bias toward vertebrate animals.

“This is a great application for machine learning — to address the extinction crisis facing palms,” M. Patrick Griffith, a palm expert and executive director of the Montgomery Botanical Center in Coral Gables, Florida, who was not involved in the research, told Mongabay by email. “Writing a formal conservation assessment for a palm species can be a slow, painstaking process. This paper provides a way to rapidly assess huge numbers of poorly-known palm species, and offers ways to help conserve those palms.”

Palms are found in 227 regions (countries and/or individual islands) globally and have a wide breadth of genetic diversity. Priority conservation may be given to threatened species that are more genetically different, or evolutionarily distinct, from their relatives; have unusual features that make them functionally distinct; or are known to be used by humans.

The study found that nearly half of the functionally distinct species were threatened, as well as nearly one-third of species used by humans (at least 185 palm species). Like many other threatened plant and animal species, the greatest risk to palms is habitat destruction from agricultural and urban expansion.

“This is a bit less than extrapolations based on the Red List assessment only, but is still very concerning given the many interactions between palms and other living beings,” Sidonie Bellot, research leader in character evolution at Kew, said in a press release. “These interactions range from the fungi and insects living on them, to the mammals and birds eating their fruits, to the many people relying on palm products.”

The study also identified high-priority regions for palm conservation, where more than 40% of the regionally distinct or highly utilized palms face risk of extinction. These areas include Borneo, Hawai‘i, Jamaica, Madagascar, New Caledonia, New Guinea, the Philippines, Sulawesi, Vanuatu, and Vietnam.

“Caribbean islands hold many threatened palm species, and this study identified priorities for palm conservation and research in Cuba and Jamaica, and offered some alternative species for human livelihoods in Trinidad and Tobago,” Griffith said. “These findings, along with vital local expertise in those countries, can help protect these important, compelling, and irreplaceable tropical palms.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Endangered Species From Cattle Grazing in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest

TUCSON, Ariz.—(November 9, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon filed a notice today of their intent to sue the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their repeated failure to control cows illegally grazing in endangered species critical habitat, primarily along the Salt River and its tributaries.

“It’s pathetic that we need to keep suing federal officials to force them to do their jobs protecting public lands instead of ranchers,” said Center cofounder Robin Silver. “The rivers and streams on the Tonto National Forest are clearly designated endangered species critical habitat, but Forest Service officials continue to look the other way as ranchers continue cheating and imperiled animals dependent on these steams continue disappearing.”

Today’s notice follows the Center’s 2020 report and lawsuit and resulting 2021 legal agreement protecting the Verde River from cattle grazing. It aims to protect critical habitat for many threatened and endangered species, including yellow-billed cuckoos, southwestern willow flycatchers, Chiricahua leopard frogs, northern Mexican garter snakes, narrow-headed garter snakes, spikedace, razorback suckers and Gila chub.

“We’ll keep doing everything we can to stop the Forest Service’s promotion of cow-ranching abuse of our rivers and streams,” said Maricopa Audubon Conservation Chair Charles Babbitt. “There’s no place for cows anywhere along our desert waterways. They’re too destructive and they’re causing endangered plants and animals, especially songbirds, to disappear.”

The Forest Service had agreed to monitor riparian areas, maintain and repair fencing, and remove trespass cattle when they’re detected by the agency, the Center, or the public. The agency also pledged to devise ways to address invasive species and other conservation challenges facing imperiled southwestern species. That agreement came more than 20 years after federal agencies first promised to keep cows off these riparian habitats to safeguard rare plants and animals.

In a 1998 legal agreement with the Center, the Forest Service agreed to prohibit domestic livestock grazing from these and other streamside habitats while it conducted a long-overdue consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service on the impacts of grazing on threatened and endangered species.

Beginning in 2019 Center staff and contractors conducted surveys that found widespread, severe cattle damage — including manure and flattened streambanks — on the Verde River, a tributary of the Salt River, and its tributaries in the Tonto, Coconino and Prescott national forests, imperiling several rare species.

From September 2020 to March 2022, the Center surveyed new areas and again found widespread, severe cow grazing damage. These findings are the basis for today’s filing.

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DeeperBlue.com

US Government Won’t Add Hammerhead Sharks To Endangered Species List

By John Liang, November 9, 2022

The US National Marine Fisheries Service has decided not to add the Hammerhead Shark to the Endangered Species List.

NMFS had received a petition last June from the Center for Biological Diversity to list the Hammerhead as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, according to a notice published in the Federal Register this week.

The center had argued that the a 2019 assessment by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature had designated the species as “critically endangered,” meaning that “the species satisfies the listing criteria under the ESA.”

However, NMFS said:

“We thoroughly reviewed the information presented in the petition, in context of information readily available in our files, and found that it does not provide any credible new information regarding great hammerhead sharks or otherwise offer substantial information not already considered in our status review report of the great hammerhead shark (Miller et al. 2014) and 12-month finding (79 FR 33509, June 11, 2014). As such, we find that the petition does not present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted.”

In a statement to DeeperBlue.com, Kristin Carden, a senior scientist with the center, said:

“The Fisheries Service’s decision not to move forward with protecting the great hammerhead shark under the Endangered Species Act is disappointing and misguided. This critically endangered species has suffered a global population decline of more than 80% over the past 70 years. The agency’s failure to protect great hammerhead sharks keeps them on the path toward extinction.”

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The Guardian

Ten African countries accuse EU of failing to protect hippos

Brussels’ plan to oppose a a total international ban on trade in hippopotamus products puts species at risk, says letter signed by states, including Mali, Niger and Senegal

Arthur Neslen, 8 Nov. 2022

Ten African countries have accused the EU of jeopardising the survival of the common hippopotamus by not supporting a proposed commercial trade ban, in documents seen by the Guardian.

Illegal hunting for meat and ivory is thought to have wiped out hippo populations in five African states: Algeria, Egypt, Eritrea, Liberia and Mauritania. But Brussels is planning to oppose a bid to ban the global trade in hippo products at a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) conference in Panama from 14 November.

That in turn has sparked “grave concerns about the future of this species” from 10 states – Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Gabon, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo – which have co-authored a letter to the European Commission.

“By openly opposing our proposal, the EU is jeopardising the chances of the west and central Africa region, which are range states of more than half of the hippo populations, to adequately ensure the survival of the species,” the letter, dated 20 September, says. “Hippos have been silently dying for 30 years. We must act quickly before they become extinct.”

Hippo teeth are prized by ivory hunters, and were among the mammal parts most commonly seized in 2020, according to a European Commission report. Between 2009 and 2018, products from nearly 14,000 hippos were globally traded or shipped as hunting trophies, according to the Cites trade database.

Despite an estimated global population of 115,00-130,000, the semi-aquatic mammals have suffered an overall population decline of between 30% and 50% over the last decade.

In 2016, they were classed as vulnerable to extinction in the wild on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s red list, which said that population trends in about two-thirds of range states were declining or unknown.

Hippos, the third-largest land mammals after elephants and rhinos, are threatened by illegal hunting, habitat loss and degradation, climate crisis and by conflict with expanding human settlements.

Jan Pluháček and Rebecca Lewison, co-chairs of the IUCN’s hippo specialist group, said that hippo populations were “not experiencing these threats equally. More substantial declines were observed in west and central African countries versus stable and in some places increasing populations … in eastern and southern African strongholds. A new [assessment] is planned for 2024 or 2025.”

An IUCN analysis for the Panama conference said that because global hippo numbers have not fallen by more than 50% over the last decade, the species “would not therefore appear to meet the biological criteria for inclusion in Appendix 1”, which lists species that cannot be internationally traded due to extinction risks.

The commission is discussing its final stance on the issue with EU countries. Officials say that neither illegal trade volumes nor population declines among hippos are sufficient to justify a trade ban.

“The commission takes its commitments to preserving biodiversity very seriously,” a spokesperson said. “The EU’s ambition is to shape global efforts to halt and reverse the continued decline of biodiversity.”

Twelve conservation NGOs argue, however, that the EU’s position on hippos and other species is at odds with its own precautionary principle and biodiversity strategy.

“Many of the commission’s positions reflect a very narrow interpretation of the Cites listing criteria,” they say in a letter signed by groups including Humane Society International, Born Free and Pro Wildlife. “The commission has ignored the precautionary principle by pointing to limitations on available scientific data as justification to not support listing proposals, even when those species would benefit from monitoring to ensure international trade is legal and non-detrimental.”

Slow-reproducing species like hippos only have offspring every other year, while crocodiles can lay 60 eggs in a clutch, resulting in an “absurd” situation where the current Appendix I rules may one day support animals that could quickly recover from population declines but not those that could be wiped out, the letter said.

In September, the European parliament called on the commission to take a more ambitious position in Panama and support Appendix 1 status for hippos and other species.

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JD Supra

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Revised Critical Habitat for Fisher DPS

Samantha Murray, November 8, 2022

On November 7, 2022, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) proposed to designate approximately 595,495 acres of critical habitat for the Southern Sierra Nevada distinct population segment (DPS) of fisher (Pekania pennanti) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The critical habitat designation would span six units in California’s Tuolumne, Mariposa, Madera, Fresno, and Tulare Counties. The majority of the land comprising these units is owned and/or managed by federal, state, or tribal governments.

The fisher is a small, carnivorous mammal native to North American boreal forests. It is closely related to the American marten (Martes americana) and Pacific marten (Martes caurina) and is a member of the weasel family. Fishers have few natural predators, but were historically prized for their pelts, and were nearly hunted to extinction in the early 20th century. Although conservation and protection measures have allowed some degree of rebound, fishers remain endangered under the ESA.

The Service had previously published a proposed rule on this same issue on October 19, 2021, and is now revising that proposal based on the information it received during the public comment period. The Service learned a new Fisher Reproductive Habitat Suitability Model (2021 Reproductive Model) had become available and made the determination that this model, along with the comments it received on site-specific habitat areas, had become the best available information upon which to base its critical habitat designation. The Service introduced a more inclusive definition of reproductive habitat in its updated proposal. It now defines suitable reproductive habitat as including intermixed denning, foraging and dispersal areas, and explains that such habitat provides structural features for parturition, raising kits, weather protection, foraging, and cover to reduce risk from predation. The updated critical habitat designation proposal sets aside an additional 41,041 acres of habitat when compared to the previous proposal.

The Federal Register notice states that the proposed rule will be open for comments until December 22, 2022. The Federal Register notice and supporting documents are available at regulations.gov, under Docket Number FWS-R8-ES-2021-0060.

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International Fund for Animal Welfare

governments to determine fate of threatened species at forthcoming world wildlife conference

November 7, 2022

(Panama City, Panama – 07 November 2022) — The survival of many animals hangs in the balance as world governments attend the 19th Conference of the Parties (CoP) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that begins in a week in Panama City.

In the first CITES meeting hosted in Latin America in 20 years, experts from IFAW will be on-site recommending greater protection from international trade for a range of threatened species, from elephants, rhinos and sharks to tiny glass frogs.

The protection and conservation of many animals traded for their parts or as live specimens will be affected by decisions taken by attending government representatives of 183 member countries and the EU.

“CITES is a critical opportunity that only comes around once every three years to put vital protections in place for some of the world’s most vulnerable species,” said IFAW’s Deputy Vice President of Conservation, Matt Collis.

“Since 1975, nations across the world have come together to protect threatened species by regulating trade, establishing a framework for countries to cooperate with each other to ensure that plant and animal species are not depleted by international demand. We applaud many of those critical efforts, and particularly the Latin American region for its leading role as the world arrives in Panama City next week.”

A focal point of CoP19 are several historic proposals that would change the face of shark conservation, placing nearly all shark species traded for their fins and meat under CITES oversight and controls, up from only 25% today.

Led by the Government of Panama and already supported by 40 other nations, proposal 37 calls for regulation in the trade of all requiem sharks, the core of traded shark species that includes the Endangered grey reef shark, beloved by scuba divers throughout the world, as well as species such as the dusky shark where overfishing and the trade of fins has driven it to the edge of extinction.

Additional proposals look to secure similar protections for small hammerhead sharks (proposal 38) and guitarfishes (proposal 40)—flat-bodied relatives of sharks.

Recent evidence reinforces the urgency of this action, with 37% of all sharks (and closely related rays), and 70% of species traded for their fins already at risk of extinction. Sharks and rays are the second most threatened vertebrate group on the planet after amphibians. Many requiem sharks are key predators on the world’s coral reefs, but recent global surveys indicate that reef sharks are functionally extinct on 20% of reefs, further jeopardizing the health of these ecosystems that are already devastated by the impact of climate change.

“The astounding decline in global shark populations resulting from the unsustainable global trade in shark fins threatens to push these ecologically critical predators to extinction,” said Collis. “The proposal by Panama and its partner governments offers a pivotal moment for global leaders to turn the tide for sharks and define a clear pathway for the survival of these species.”

IFAW heads to CoP19 with additional focus on wildlife crime, one of the greatest threats to wildlife in biodiverse regions like Latin America. Illegal wildlife trade, including cybercrime and what to do with live animals seized in trade, present unique challenges for enforcement agencies, and IFAW will be using the conference to promote best practices to address these at the regional and international level.

As in previous CITES conference, elephant ivory and rhino horn trade will again be contentious issues.  However, this conference will see discussion of an alternative proposal by Kenya for the development of a specialised fund for elephant conservation in exchange for the destruction of ivory stockpiles. IFAW commends Kenya’s effort to set a clear path away from ivory trade while ensuring a sustainable alternative to the benefit of both elephants and local communities

The 19th CITES Conference of the Parties is scheduled to run until Friday, 25 November.

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World Animal News

Kenya’s Severe Drought Continues To Worsen As Hundreds Of Threatened & Endangered Species Lose Their Lives

November 7, 2022, By Lauren Lewis

From trophy hunting to illegal wildlife trafficking, the lives of wild animals in Africa are continually threatened. Tragically, hundreds of them have also fallen victim to yet another hazard, the relentless drought that has been plaguing Kenya for more than two years.

Cabinet Secretary for The Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Heritage, Peninah Malonza, shared the news on Friday in conjunction with the release of the Ministry’s new report which examines the effects of the current drought on wildlife in Kenya’s protected areas.

According to The Impacts Of The Current Drought On Wildlife In Kenya, the deaths of 205 elephants, 512 wildebeests, 381 common zebras, 51 buffalos, 49 Grevy’s zebras, and 12 giraffes have been counted in the past nine months alone.

“I confirm that different species of wildlife have been affected by the drought with a total of 14 different species of wildlife being affected between February and October 2022,” Malonza said in a statement, further noting that the most affected areas include the Amboseli, Tsavo, and Laikipia-Samburu ecosystems. “The mortalities have arisen because of depletion of food resources, as well as water shortages.”

As per Manzola, most of the wildlife died in the months of August, September, and October. The highest number of wildlife deaths due to the drought were recorded in September and October.

“The rhino population has not been seriously affected by the drought with only one rhino aged about two years old having died,” continued Malonza, who warned that, “the continued worsening of the drought condition could affect more rhinos in overstocked rhino sanctuaries,” such as the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary in Tsavo West National Park among others.

In addition to many of the interventions that have been and continue to be taken, Manzola stated that the Government of Kenya together with development and conservation partners will work to provide finances to destock Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary in Tsavo West National Park, as well as other rhino sanctuaries to prevent any eminent drought related mortality of black and white rhinos in their sanctuaries.

Kenya Wildlife Service Rangers, Community Scouts and Research Teams from the Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI), as well as nonprofit organizations have been monitoring the impacts of the drought on wildlife while also collecting mortality data. The groups have been operating in the eight conservation areas as defined by Kenya Wildlife Service.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Sickle Darter Protected as Threatened Under Endangered Species Act

Fish Imperiled by Pollution, Dams in Tennessee, Virginia

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.—(November 7, 2022)—In response to a 2010 petition and 2015 agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced a final rule to protect the sickle darter as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. But in today’s decision, the agency failed to designate critical habitat for the fish.

“It’s tragically too late for the sickle darter in the watershed where I live, the French Broad River, but with protections in place, we can still save this rare fish in other rivers,” said Will Harlan, a senior campaigner and staff scientist at the Center. “So many folks get their drinking water from or just have fun on the Appalachian rivers where these fish live, so saving this big, beautiful darter will also help a lot of people.”

The primary threat to the sickle darter is habitat loss from siltation, water pollution and dams. Siltation fills the spaces in between rocks on the river bottom that the fish needs to lay eggs and find prey. The sickle darter’s water is polluted by animal waste, domestic sewage, pesticides, heavy metals from mining, and other toxins and pathogens. Dams and impoundments have separated sickle darter populations and limited their movement. Climate change is also harming the fish and its habitat.

In Tennessee, populations of the sickle darter are still found in the Emory, Little and Sequatchie Rivers. These populations are separated from populations in the upper Clinch and the Middle and North Fork Holston Rivers in Virginia. The fish has been wiped out in North Carolina, where it was once found in the French Broad, South Fork Holston, Powell and Watauga Rivers.

“Our cities and farm fields are polluting rivers across the country,” said Harlan. “This fish is just one of many that are suffering. We have to do more to protect them, and one powerful way the Service can do that is by providing critical habitat for the sickle darter.”

The sickle darter is large by darter standards, growing to be nearly 5 inches long. It has bigger scales than other darters and a prominent black stripe on its side. It uses its large mouth and long pointed snout to feed on larval mayflies, midges, riffle beetles, caddisflies and dragonflies. Sickle darters can live up to four years.

It was first described as a species in 2007, when it was found to be distinct from the closely related longhead darter. The scientific name is Percina williamsi, honoring the renowned biologist Jim Williams, who has been working to describe and protect freshwater species in the southeastern United States for more than half a century.

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Southern Environmental Law Center

NEWS, NOVEMBER 4, 2022

The once-endangered snail darter is now a Southern success story

Last month, in a win for endangered species protected by federal law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the beloved snail darter’s recovery and removal from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife.

“We are heartened to see that the snail darter no longer faces the threat of extinction. Its growing numbers now stand as a testament to the success of the Endangered Species Act in recovering imperiled species,” said Ramona McGee, senior attorney and leader of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Wildlife Program. “This delisting comes as a result not only of the population’s current stability, but decades of protection and steady conservation actions that have expanded the range of this southern fish and shown the importance of preserving habitats essential for species endemic to our region.”  

The announcement was the latest chapter in a saga that made the snail darter – a small fish native to waterways in Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia – the face of the Endangered Species Act and a household name in many parts of the South. 

The snail darter was thrust into the national spotlight in the 1970s when its discovery brought plans to dam the Little Tennessee River to a halt.

The Tennessee Valley Authority had been planning to build the Tellico Dam on the river, which, unlike other dams that TVA had built in the early part of the 20th century, would not generate electricity. Instead, the agency aimed to create a lake in order to draw tourism to the area. Despite strong opposition from local communities, construction on the dam began in 1967. 

After construction began, biologists found the snail darter in the river and petitioned to have it federally listed as an endangered species under the recently-passed Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service granted that, and also designated the Little Tennessee River as critical habitat for the fish.

Conservationists then sued TVA to stop construction of the Tellico Dam, which would have likely wiped out the known populations of the snail darter and degraded their important ecosystem.

The case worked its way to the U.S. Supreme Court and became the first major test of the Endangered Species Act, which had been passed just five years earlier. In 1978, the Supreme Court sided with the snail darter, writing in its decision that “the plain intent of Congress in enacting [the Endangered Species Act] was to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost.”

“The 1978 landmark ruling established the scope of the Endangered Species Act. From then on, the snail darter — a once-overlooked, tiny fish — came to symbolize the significance of the law’s protections for species big and small,” McGee said. 

After the ruling, Congress passed an exception to the Endangered Species Act that allowed TVA to finish building the Tellico Dam. But even though the dam was completed in 1979, the snail darter’s plight spurred years of conservation actions that helped the fish’s numbers climb.

Now, the snail darter serves not only as an example of the strength of the Endangered Species Act, but as an example of its success as well.

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Earth 911

Earth Action: Protect Endangered Sharks

By Gemma Alexander, NOV 4, 2022

Earth911 is honoring the 52 years of Earth Day with 52 Actions for the Earth. Each week through Earth Day 2023, we will share an action you can take to invest in the Earth and make your own life more sustainable. Although most of us will never experience the ocean beyond standing on its shore, it covers more than 70% of the surface of our planet. Unfortunately, however little direct experience we have of the sea, our actions have a tremendous impact on its ecology. This week, you can act on behalf of the ocean by helping to protect endangered sharks.

Action: Protect Endangered Sharks

Ocean Ecology

There are a lot of ways that human activity harms the ocean, even from afar. Anthropogenic climate change contributes to ocean acidification and is raising ocean temperatures. That is unbalancing aquatic ecosystems by reducing food sources and increasing diseases. Blameless daily activities – like laundry and wearing masks and sunscreen – release nonpoint source pollutants and garbage. All those chemicals, cigarette butts, and pieces of plastic eventually make their way to the sea. There they alter water chemistry and form giant gyres, harming sea life from corals and shellfish to apex predators.

More directly, we harvest the ocean’s wildlife, eating species to extinction. Some species, like tuna, have been the focus of attention for a long time. And resources like Seafood Watch help conscientious diners eat seafood more sustainably. But overfishing is still a huge problem and many endangered or threatened species are not protected.

Sharks

In the U.S., sharks have been partially rescued from their role as Hollywood nightmare fuel by Shark Week, but they have never really been on the menu. In other countries, shark fins are a delicacy. It has led to the horrifying practice of shark finning: catching sharks, removing their fins, and throwing them back in the water to die. Regardless of the method, shark fishing is one of the top threats to shark species. Nearly a quarter of shark species – 100 of 470 – are considered endangered, and total shark and ray populations have declined 71% in the last 50 years.

Requiem sharks make up the majority of the shark fin and meat trade, with 68% of requiem sharks already listed as Endangered and Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. But requiem sharks are one of the least regulated shark families.

Expand Shark Protection

There are a lot of ways that you can help protect our oceans. This week you can help increase protection for endangered and threatened sharks and rays. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Listing a species as endangered under CITES does not automatically protect that species. Individual nations must still enact and enforce their own laws (in the U.S. that’s the Endangered Species Act). But a CITES listing is the first step to global protection.

At the upcoming CITES convention this November in Panama, 19 requiem shark species are proposed for listing under CITES Appendix II – a list of threatened species that require protection through trade controls to maintain a sustainable population. Listing these species could help end the international shark trade. A global letter circulating online will be delivered to key delegates ahead of the conference, to ensure that they know the global public supports their vote in favor of protecting sharks.

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EcoWatch

New Yorkers to Vote on First Environmental Bond Act in 26 Years

By: Olivia Rosane, November 3, 2022

On the upcoming midterm elections Tuesday, November 8, New Yorkers have a chance to invest in a greener future for their state.

If voters approve Proposition #1, the “Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022,” they would authorize New York to sell $4.2 billion worth of state bonds to finance projects to help the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, protect its environment and better prepare for the impacts of the climate crisis.

“When it comes to the worsening climate catastrophe, it’s hard not to get depressed. But action is warranted, not hand wringing. Prop #1 moves New York forward in adapting the state to the growing climate threats,” New York Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Blair Horner said in a statement reprinted by WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

The measure was actually passed by the state Legislature and Governor Kathy Hochul as part of the 2022 state budget, Gotham Gazette explained. However, any measure that increases New York state’s bond debt must be signed off on by voters. The proposition is the first environmental bond act on the New York ballot in 26 years, according to The Guardian.

If passed, the measure would:

*Put at least $1.5 billion towards mitigating climate change.

*Put at least $1.1 billion towards flood prevention and natural restoration.

*Put at least $650 million towards creating more green spaces and conserving nature.

*Put at least $650 million towards improving water quality and infrastructure.

The climate mitigation projects would include funneling at least $500 million towards electric school buses, reducing emissions from state-owned buildings and farms, making cities more resilient to heat waves through cooling centers and green space and curbing pollution in marginalized communities.

“This is the first time in a generation that New Yorkers have had this opportunity to vote for environmental funding,” Nature Conservancy director of policy and strategy Jessica Ottney Mahar told Gotham Gazette. “The bond act is focused on really big issues facing all of our communities.”

Supporters of the act, which include the Democratic Party and several advocacy groups, say that it will fund much-needed improvements that will make the state more resilient to storms like 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, which killed 44 people in the state and cut power to 2.5 million, as Horner pointed out. Beyond Sandy, climate-fueled storms have cost the state $50 to $100 billion over the last two decades, according to a 2022 federal report. The bond money will also allow the state to update infrastructure like lead pipes.

“A lot of New Yorkers are still relying on infrastructure that was put into the ground 100 years ago, so it’s time for some upgrades,” Ottney Mahar told The Guardian.

The main opposition to the proposal comes from the Conservative Party and other fiscal conservatives who argue against taking on more debt.

“New Yorkers do not need another $4.2 billion in public debt, together with its resulting debt service,” state Conservative Party Chair Gerard Kassar said in a statement reported by Gotham Gazette.

However, proponents, who are more vocal and organized, counter that this view is short-sighted. One study found that the bond could create 84,000 jobs. Further, Ottney Mahar told The Guardian that the money would make it easier for New York to access funds from the bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act that require matching state funds for federal support.

“It’s good debt,” New York League of Conservation Voters President Julie Tighe said, as Gotham Gazette reported.

So far, it looks like voters agree with her. A Siena Research Institute poll from mid-October found that 54 percent of voters supported the proposal and 26 percent opposed it.

“Climate change is a very important issue for voters, not just in New York or in the United States, but globally,” deputy director of research for the Rockefeller Institute of Government Laura Rabinow said, as The Guardian reported. “I think the goals themselves are a reflection of that building consensus.”

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Yahoo! News/Australian Associated Press

Logging agency failing to protect possums

Thursday, 3 November 2022

Victoria’s logging agency is not adequately protecting endangered possums and many of them will probably die during timber harvesting, a court has found.

Two environment groups took VicForests to the Supreme Court, arguing the agency is legally obliged to identify and conserve two endangered possum species when logging in state forests.

Kinglake Friends of the Forest and Environment East Gippsland contended greater gliders and yellow-bellied gliders needed better protection in Victoria’s East Gippsland and Central Highlands forest management areas.

Justice Melinda Richards found VicForests logging has failed to adequately protect the two endangered species and presented a serious threat to the possums.

“There is a threat of serious and irreversible damage to greater gliders as a species, in that the species is at risk of extinction,” she said on Friday.

“I am also satisfied that VicForests’ timber harvesting operations in East Gippsland and the Central Highlands present a threat of serious or irreversible harm to the greater glider as a species.

“There is a lack of scientific certainty about the nature and extent of the threats to the species, including as to the effect of timber harvesting operations on the species.”

VicForests’ actions were inadequate and unlikely to be effective in conserving greater gliders detected within a coupe scheduled for timber harvest, she found.

Further, she found the agency’s approach to logging fell well short of its requirements under the state’s timber production code of practice.

“The ecological evidence was clear – greater gliders that live in coupes that are harvested in accordance with VicForests’ current practices will probably die as a result of the harvesting operations,” Justice Richards said.

VicForests was ordered not to conduct logging in East Gippsland or Central Highlands forests containing glider habitats, “unless it retains at least 60 per cent of the basal area of eucalypts in the harvested area of the coupe” including feed and hollow-bearing trees.

VicForests said the agency was disappointed by the court’s decision.

“We are reviewing the decision and considering our options,” the department told AAP.

In July, Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek pushed greater gliders further up the list of concern from threatened to endangered species.

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UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURAL, CONSUMER AND ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES

Bats protect young trees from insect damage, with three times fewer bugs

Peer-Reviewed Publication, November 1, 2022

URBANA, Ill. – Bats help keep forests growing. Without bats to hold their populations in check, insects that munch on tree seedlings go wild, doing three to nine times more damage than when bats are on the scene. That’s according to a groundbreaking new study from the University of Illinois.

“A lot of folks associate bats with caves. But as it turns out, the habitat you could really associate with almost every bat species in North America is forest. And this is true globally. Forests are just really important to bats,” says Joy O’Keefe, study co-author and assistant professor and wildlife extension specialist in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at Illinois. “We wanted to ask the question: Are bats important to forests? And in this study, we’ve demonstrated they are.”

Other researchers have demonstrated bats’ insect-control services in crop fields and tropical forest systems, but no one has shown their benefits in temperate forests until now.

“It’s especially important for us to learn how bats affect forests, given that bats are declining due to diseases like white-nose syndrome or collisions with wind turbines. This type of work can reveal the long-term consequences of bat declines,” says Elizabeth Beilke, postdoctoral researcher and lead author on the study.   

The research team built giant mesh-enclosed structures in an Indiana forest to exclude the eight bat species that frequent the area, including two federally threatened or endangered species. The mesh openings were large enough to allow insects free movement in and out, but not flying bats. Every morning and evening for three summers, Beilke opened and closed the mesh sides and tops of the structures to ensure birds had daytime access to the plots. That way, she could be sure she was isolating the impacts of bats.

Beilke then measured the number of insects on oak and hickory seedlings in the forest understory, as well as the amount of defoliation per seedling. Because she erected an equal number of box frames without mesh, Beilke was able to compare insect density and defoliation with and without bats.

Overall, the researchers found three times as many insects and five times more defoliation on the seedlings when bats were excluded than in control plots that allowed bats in each night. When analyzed separately, oaks experienced nine times more defoliation and hickories three times more without bats.

“We know from other research that oaks and hickories are ecologically important, with acorns and hickory nuts providing food sources for wildlife and the trees acting as hosts to native insects. Bats use both oaks and hickories as roosts, and now we see they may be using them as sources of prey insects, as well. Our data suggest bats and oaks have a mutually beneficial relationship,” Beilke says.

While insect pressure was intense in plots without bat predation, the seedlings didn’t succumb to their injuries. But the researchers say long-term bat declines could prove fatal for the baby trees.

“We were observing sublethal levels of defoliation, but we know defoliation makes seedlings more vulnerable to death from other factors such as drought or fungal diseases. It would be hard to track the fate of these trees over 90 years, but I think a natural next step is to examine the impact of persistent low levels of defoliation on these seedlings,” Beilke says. “To what extent does repeated defoliation reduce their competitive ability and contribute to oak declines?”

The researchers point out that birds, many of which share the same insect diets as bats, are also declining. While they specifically sought to isolate bats’ impact on forest trees, the researchers are confident insect density and defoliation rates would have been higher if they had excluded both birds and bats in their study. In fact, similar exclusion studies focusing on birds failed to account for bats in their study designs, leaving mesh enclosures up all night.

“When we were initially working on the proposal for this research, we looked at 37 different bird exclusion studies, across agriculture and forest systems. We found nearly all of them had made this mistake. Most of them had not opened or removed their treatment plots to bats,” Beilke says.

In other words, before Beilke’s study, birds were getting at least partial credit for work bats were doing in the shadows.

Clearly, both types of winged predators are important for forest health in temperate systems. And, according to O’Keefe, that makes these studies even more critical to inform forest management.

“I think it’s important to stress the value of this type of experimental work with bats, to really try to dig into what their ecosystem services are in a deliberate manner. While we can probably extrapolate out and say bats are important in other types of forest, I wouldn’t discount the value of doing the same kind of work in other systems, especially if there are questions about certain insect or tree species and how bats affect them. So rather than extrapolating out across the board, let’s do the work to try to figure out how bats are benefiting plants,” she says. “And before they’re gone, hopefully.”

The article, “Bats reduce insect density and defoliation in temperate forests: an exclusion experiment,” is published in Ecology [DOI: 10.1002/ecy.3903]. The research was supported by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the Indiana State Department of Natural Resources, the Indiana Space Grant Consortium, the Department of Biology at Indiana State University, and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at Illinois.

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Maui Hotel, Conservation Groups Reach Agreement to Protect Endangered Hawaiian Petrel

The Grand Wailea Resort on Maui has implemented protective measures like reducing lighting to help protect the endangered ‘ua‘u, or Hawaiian petrel

News Release, November 1, 2022

WAILEA, HI — In accordance with a recent settlement agreement, the Grand Wailea Resort on Maui has implemented protective measures, including reducing lighting, to help protect the endangered ‘ua‘u, or Hawaiian petrel. The agreement, which was finalized on October 21, 2022, resolves an Endangered Species Act (ESA) case brought by Conservation Council for Hawai‘i and the Center for Biological Diversity, which were represented by Earthjustice.

“This agreement gives our precious ‘ua‘u a chance at survival,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawai‘i director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The dark skies needed by these birds during fledging season benefit our community too, by allowing us to marvel at the stars as people have since time immemorial.”

“Grand Wailea’s deep commitment to protecting endangered Hawaiian seabirds is reflected in the numerous new protective measures that we implemented ahead of the fledgling season, including removing, replacing, shielding, and dimming lights across the property,” said J.P. Oliver, managing director of Grand Wailea. “We will continue to monitor seabird activity on the property and are contributing to off-site projects to protect ‘ua‘u.”

“The parties worked cooperatively to identify measures that will help reduce the risk of seabirds being attracted to and grounded by artificial lights at the resort,” said Earthjustice Attorney Leināʻala Ley. “Grand Wailea also agreed to monitoring by dedicated and trained seabird searchers who will verify whether the resort’s lighting minimization measures are sufficient to prevent future harm.”

“The resort is taking meaningful steps to minimize the light attraction problem in this important Hawaiian petrel flyway,” said Colleen Heyer, board president of Conservation Council for Hawai‘i. “If other hotels and other landowners took a similar approach to dimming their lights, it would go a long way towards ensuring these magnificent birds will be around for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.”

The Hawaiian petrel (Pterodroma sandwichensis) is a native seabird that is listed as endangered under the federal ESA and Hawai‘i state law. It travels thousands of miles across the Pacific to forage for squid and other marine life. Hawai‘i is the only place in the world where the ‘ua‘u breeds, with adults returning to nest at the same site where they fledged after spending the first six years of their lives at sea. The largest surviving nesting colony occurs on the volcanic slopes of Haleakalā, where the birds dig burrows in the rocky soil.

Fledgling ‘ua‘u leave their nests for their first flight to the sea from mid-September to mid-December. Some birds are attracted to and disoriented by artificial lights, circling the lights until they fall to the ground from exhaustion or strike other human-made structures. Once grounded, it is difficult for ‘ua‘u to take flight, leaving them highly vulnerable to predators, dehydration, and starvation.

Hawai‘i is an extinction hotspot, and local action to protect the islands’ unique species and ecosystems is invaluable in the global fight to preserve biodiversity and ensure a livable future.

This agreement resolves the conservation groups’ lawsuit filed in February 2022.

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E&E News/Greenwire

Scientists go to bat for Halloween’s iconic, at-risk species

By Michael Doyle, 10/31/22

Federal agencies and their allies are reinforcing the fight against the scary and, yes, tricky disease that’s been wiping out bat populations.

In this month of Halloween, the Fish and Wildlife Service is offering grant treats of between $50,000 and $300,000 to scientists researching what the agency calls “biotechnological tools” that might combat white-nose syndrome.

All told, FWS will provide $1.5 million in this newest round of grant funding, which comes at a seemingly propitious time.

“In short, I would describe the current status of WNS research as promising,” Jeremy Coleman, the agency’s national white-nose syndrome coordinator, told E&E News today, noting that “there are a few different tools in field trials now across multiple states.”

These potential tools, Coleman added, include vaccines, probiotics, microclimate manipulation and ultraviolet light, while the new funding could “advance development of biotech-based tools targeting the fungus for more enduring solutions.”

Pitching in, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation last week announced $478,000 in grants to address the disease and promote bat survival.

“White-nose syndrome is a challenge that requires novel and innovative strategies to improve survival and recovery of North American bat species,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Caused by a soil-based fungus named Pseudogymnoascus destructans, white-nose syndrome was discovered in New York in the winter of 2006-2007. Since then, it’s been responsible for the deaths of millions of bats (Greenwire, July 17, 2017).

The fungus invades the skin of bats. Infection leads to bats waking up more — and for longer periods of time — during hibernation and eventual depletion of the fat reserves they need to survive winter.

Underscoring the dangers, FWS last March proposed that the northern long-eared bat requires heightened federal protection as an endangered species. The move acknowledges a deterioration in the condition of the bat, which was designated a threatened species in 2015.

A lawsuit filed by environmentalists subsequently compelled the federal agency to reconsider the status of the species (Greenwire, April 1, 2015).

“White-nose syndrome is devastating northern long-eared bats at unprecedented rates, as indicated by this science-based finding,” FWS Regional Director Charlie Wooley said in a statement earlier this year.

“There is no known mitigation or treatment strategy to slow the spread of [the fungus] or to treat WNS in bats,” FWS said, adding that white-nose syndrome has “caused estimated northern long-eared bat population declines of 97–100 percent across 79 percent of the species’ range.”

As of August, white-nose syndrome has been confirmed or suspected in bats in 39 states and eight Canadian provinces. Evidence of the fungus, called Pd for short, has been detected in at least four additional states without signs of the disease.

The new grants provided through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Bats for the Future will fund efforts at Southern Illinois University to investigate how the Pd fungus invades the host bats’ tissue. Another grant to Michigan Technological University will test two methods to create cooler temperatures in bat hibernacula — the places they hang out in — to slow the growth of the fungus.

A third grant to Bat Conservation International will develop a novel tool designed to target and disable key cellular functions in the fungus.

The Bats for the Future Fund is a partnership of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, FWS, the Bureau of Land Management, the Avangrid Foundation and Southern Co.

Another angle is being pursued in Montana, where ultrasonic microphones have been placed at the top of 10-foot poles to record echo-locating bats from sunset to sunrise. The high frequency recordings are used to identify the bat species.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center are working with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks counterparts to analyze the acoustical data and assessing the impacts of white-nose syndrome on Montana bat populations.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Petition Seeks to Protect Smalltail Shark Under Endangered Species Act

WASHINGTON—(October 31, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity submitted a petition today urging the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect the smalltail shark under the Endangered Species Act. The smalltail shark population has declined by more than 80% globally over the past 27 years.

The smalltail is found from the Gulf of Mexico south to Brazil, where it has been eliminated from waters off the coast of at least 11 Brazilian states.

“The rapid and catastrophic decline of the smalltail shark is alarming, and the species needs immediate help,” said Kristin Carden, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “More than 100 million sharks, including smalltail sharks, are killed every year for their fins, meat and other body parts. Without Endangered Species Act protections, the smalltail shark will soon become another victim of the global extinction crisis.”

The smalltail shark is categorized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as critically endangered, a designation for species teetering on the brink of extinction. The species is highly threatened by overfishing for its meat and fins, in addition to impacts of climate change, ocean pollution and insufficient regulatory protections throughout its range.

Smalltail sharks are diminutive animals, growing only up to five feet long. The species lives in shallow, nearshore areas, which makes it vulnerable to fishing activity. A slow-growing, late-maturing species, the smalltail shark is slow to recover from overexploitation.

Smalltail sharks have suffered severe population declines across their range. The core population of the species off the coast of Brazil has dropped by 90%. Heavy fishing pressure has also driven the smalltail’s numbers down in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Federal Times

NOAA, energy bureau seek to expand wind power while sparing rare whale

North Atlantic right whale numbers plunge to about 340 in the world.

By Patrick Whittle, The Associated Press, Oct. 30, 2022

WASHINGTON (AP) —Two federal agencies outlined a strategy to try to protect an endangered species of whale while also developing offshore wind power off the East Coast.

President Joe Biden’s administration has made a priority of encouraging offshore wind along the Atlantic coast as the U.S. pursues greater energy independence. Those waters are home to the declining North Atlantic right whale, which numbers about 340 in the world.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released a draft plan this month to conserve the whales while allowing for the building of wind projects. The agencies said the ongoing efforts to save the whales and create more renewable energy can coexist.

“As we face the ongoing challenges of climate change, this strategy provides a strong foundation to help us advance renewable energy while also working to protect and recover North Atlantic right whales, and the ecosystem they depend on,” said Janet Coit, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries

The development of offshore wind is going on along the migratory routes of the whales, which travel from Georgia and Florida to New England and Canada every year. That potentially leaves the whales vulnerable to disturbance or injury. The agencies said they plan to provide offshore wind developers with guidance about mitigation measures to help navigate the regulatory process as part of the whale strategy.

The strategy focuses on “improving the science and integrating past, present and future efforts related to North Atlantic right whales and offshore wind development,” said Jon Hare, the director of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center and a lead author on the document. It also identifies mitigation measures related to project planning, leasing and siting, he said.

The right whales have been declining in recent years and face threats such as collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear. Environmentalist groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, have called for more protections for the whales.

The protection strategy is promising, but it needs funding for implementation and requirements for measures that minimize harm to the whales, said Alison Chase, a senior policy analyst with the council. Those include speed and noise reductions, Chase said.

“We need offshore wind, and we need to do it right,” Chase said. “But as we fight climate change, we must avoid, minimize, and mitigate threats to ocean life in whatever ways we can.”

The government will take public comment on the draft strategy until Dec. 4.

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ScienceDaily (University of South Australia)

October 28, 2022

Australians clueless about their country’s most endangered species

Australia holds an unenviable conservation status: it’s the fourth-worst country in the world for species extinctions and is in the top three for critically endangered animals.

This week’s Federal Budget included a $224 million allocation to help save threatened species – news that coincides with some concerning findings of a new paper authored by University of South Australia (UniSA) researchers.

A study led by UniSA conservation psychologist Dr Elissa Pearson reveals overwhelming public ignorance of Australia’s most threatened species, a factor that is contributing to the extinction crisis of endangered animals.

UniSA researchers, alongside colleagues from Zoos Victoria and Edith Cowan University, polled more than 300 zoo visitors and community members, testing their awareness of seven endangered species at risk of extinction within the next decade.

“More than 90 per cent of those surveyed did not recognise six of the seven species; the exception being the Tasmanian devil,” Dr Pearson says.

The other species were the Leadbeater’s possum, eastern barred bandicoot, helmeted honeyeater, southern corroboree frog, Lord Howe Island (LHI) stick insect, and orange-bellied parrot.

The Journal for Nature Conservation paper outlines a clear link between species recognition, likeability and conservation support, showing that people are far more inclined to donate toward conserving Australia’s iconic koala, kangaroo and wombat populations, despite these not being endangered.

“There are huge gaps in community knowledge regarding native Australian wildlife, with less than eight per cent of people able to correctly name six of seven endangered species when shown photographs.

“Apart from the Tasmanian devil, which 86 per cent of people recognised, the level of familiarity and knowledge of our vulnerable species is limited. Misidentification is also common, particularly the eastern barred bandicoot which is often mistaken for a bilby.”

The most likeable Australian animals – the koala and kangaroo – also reflect the ‘similarity principle’, which suggests that people tend to prefer animals most like humans, and that when only a limited number of species can be conserved, mammals are favoured over other species, regardless of their endangered status.

The helmeted honeyeater, southern corroboree frog and LHI stick insect were consistently the least liked species.

“Apart from the likeability factor, our study showed that being able to recognise species increased people’s willingness to support their conservation, so that is a starting point we need to address.”

Endangered insects are fighting an uphill battle for support, with 85 per cent of people disliking them, putting their survival at most risk. However, this perception could be changed with some clever marketing initiatives, the researchers suggest.

“The LHI stick insect has some exceptional qualities, such as their resilience and survival against all odds, their ability to reproduce without males, their tendency to form large social groups during the day, or even the fact that their foot pads are heart shaped. If people knew these facts the likeability factor would likely shoot up,” Dr Pearson says.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Humpback Whales From California Gillnet Entanglements

Massive Fishing Nets Trap, Harm Marine Mammals, Sharks, Rays

SAN FRANCISCO—(October 27, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity sued NOAA Fisheries today to force it to protect endangered Pacific humpback whales from entanglements in California drift gillnets. In the past two fishing seasons an estimated 12 Pacific humpbacks were caught in the California drift gillnet fishery, according to federal reports.

The fishery’s excessive harm to endangered humpback whales violates the Endangered Species Act, today’s lawsuit notes. The fishery uses mile-long hanging nets, left in the ocean overnight, to catch large fish like Pacific bluefin tuna, swordfish and thresher sharks. As the lawsuit points out, NOAA Fisheries also failed to adequately analyze the fishery’s impact on the humpback populations that were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2016.

“This struggling humpback whale population faces numerous threats, and these absurdly huge nets are one more hazard they can’t avoid,” said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney at the Center. “Whales off California are swimming through a treacherous gillnet gauntlet, and we need to get the nets out of their habitat to give them a chance to recover. But the Fisheries Service is sitting on its hands while whales suffer.”

To remedy these legal violations, the Center is recommending that the Service close the area in Southern California where two humpback whales were recently entangled and ensure the fishery is not jeopardizing the continued existence of the species.

Fishing gear entanglements are a leading threat to migratory endangered humpbacks along the West Coast, where 48,521 square nautical miles were designated as critical habitat for the species in April 2021.

West Coast humpback whale entanglement reports increased sharply from 2014 to 2017, reaching a record high of 53 entanglements in 2016. Since then, whale entanglements have remained elevated. NOAA Fisheries has observed fewer than 20% of gillnet sets in the past two fishing seasons, which means that because two were seen tangled in nets, an estimated 11.7 humpbacks were caught. Entanglements can lead to death, injury and lower calving rates in whales.

The most imperiled humpback population — which winters in Central America — has about 1,500 individuals and feeds almost exclusively off California and Oregon. The threatened Mexico population has about 2,900 individuals.

Legislative efforts to phase out the fishery include California Senate Bill 1017, which was signed into law on Sept. 27, 2018. The legislation directed the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to establish a voluntary transition program to incentivize drift gillnet permittees to transition out of the drift gillnet shark and swordfish fishery.

Bipartisan federal legislation that would have gradually ended the use of drift gillnets off the West Coast was vetoed by President Trump at the end of 2020.

“California’s drift gillnet law was a great step, but we’ve seen that it isn’t enough to keep humpbacks from getting entangled,” said Kilduff. “We also need federal agencies to do their part and protect this dwindling population from harm.”

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E&E News/Greenwire

Biden admin picks up pace on Endangered Species Act rewrite

By Michael Doyle, 10/27/2022

The Biden administration could be done with its rewrite of Trump-era Endangered Species Act rules by May 2024, an official noted in an update for a federal judge overseeing a crucial legal challenge.

Samuel Rauch III, NOAA Fisheries’ deputy assistant administrator for regulatory affairs, stated that he had previously estimated the final ESA rule changes could be published two years after the judge rules on the lawsuit, first filed in 2019. Now, he says definitively that the final rule changes could be done by May 2024.

“Since my [earlier estimate] was filed, the Services have been further examining and clarifying an anticipated timeline for a rulemaking to propose revisions to the 2019 rules,” Rauch wrote in the administration’s most recent legal filing.

NOAA Fisheries and the Fish and Wildlife Service are jointly working on the revised ESA rules, which cover complex issues including the designation of critical habitat and different protection levels for threatened as opposed to endangered species.

At the same time, Rauch cautioned in his declaration filed Oct. 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that the “anticipated timeline may need to be lengthened” depending on the judge’s future rulings.

The immediate legal question is not whether the Trump ESA rules will change. The Biden administration has already committed to making changes. Rather, the question is what happens to the Trump rules in the meantime.

In July, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar sided with the environmentalists and vacated Trump’s ESA rule changes, meaning they would no longer be in effect while the Biden administration undertakes its revisions (E&E News PM, July 5).

“Here, the Services themselves concede that they have substantial concerns with the 2019 ESA Rules, both with respect to certain substantive provisions as well as certain procedures that were utilized in promulgating these regulatory revisions,” Tigar wrote.

An Obama administration appointee, Tigar noted that the agencies’ chief argument was that vacating the rules would cause confusion among the public, other agencies and stakeholders.

“But, as the Services themselves explain many times, leaving the regulations in place will cause equal or greater confusion, given the flaws in the drafting and promulgation of those regulations,” Tigar wrote.

Thirteen conservative-led states, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Petroleum Institute and other intervenors then asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to keep the Trump rules in effect until a final ruling on an appeal.

In a court filing after the judge’s ruling, the conservative states and allied farm and energy organizations declared that vacating the Trump rules at this point, without a ruling on the underlying merits, “is like asking a surgeon to weigh the pros and cons of amputating a gangenous leg without first determining that the leg is infected with gangrene.”

In September, a three-judge appeals court panel ruled that Tigar had “clearly erred in vacating the 2019 rules without ruling on their legal validity.”

One of the Trump administration’s rules covered how FWS and NOAA Fisheries designate listed species’ critical habitat. Another eliminated FWS’s former policy of automatically extending to threatened species the protections against “take” that the law automatically provides for endangered species (Greenwire, Sept. 4, 2020).

A third rule changed how FWS and NOAA Fisheries work with federal agencies to prevent proposed agency actions that could harm listed species or their critical habitat.

The Biden administration agreed last December to redo the three rules in response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians and the Humane Society of the United States.

Earthjustice, which is representing the environmental groups, asked Tigar to amend his July ruling to consider some or all of the merits of the lawsuit.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched Seeking Final Endangered Species Protection for Nevada’s Rare Tiehm’s Buckwheat

RENO, Nev.—(October 25, 2022—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice today of its intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to force it to finalize Endangered Species Act protections for the rare Nevada wildflower Tiehm’s buckwheat.

“Tiehm’s buckwheat is staring down the barrel of extinction, and it can’t wait one more day for Endangered Species Act protection,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center. “The Service is dragging its feet on protecting this rare wildflower and apparently needs the threat of legal action to do its job.”

The unique buckwheat, which is threatened with extinction by a lithium mine, was proposed for protection as an endangered species on Oct. 7, 2021. Under federal law the Service has one year from the date of a proposed rule to issue a final rule, after accepting public input.

Tiehm’s buckwheat grows on just 10 acres of public land in the Silver Peak Range of Esmeralda County and is adapted to live on lithium-rich soils. Ioneer’s Rhyolite Ridge Mine would be a 1,000-foot-deep, mile-wide open pit that would eventually destroy 90% of the buckwheat’s native range.

In October 2019 the Center filed an Endangered Species Act petition for Tiehm’s buckwheat, citing the existential threat of the Rhyolite Ridge Mine. In 2020 the Center successfully sued the Service for failure to act on the petition, which led to last year’s proposed rule.

More than 100 scientists have urged the Biden administration to immediately protect Tiehm’s buckwheat because of the threat of extinction. The fight for the wildflower has drawn international attention and has come to represent the tradeoffs inherent in the clean energy transition.

“Lithium is part of our renewable energy transition, but it can’t come at the cost of extinction,” said Donnelly. “Nevada’s biodiversity is too special to sacrifice to mining, no matter how important the minerals are. We won’t let politics and greed win out over science and the law.”

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New York Times

Emperor Penguins Are Protected Under the Endangered Species Act

Under the new listing, federal agencies are required to reduce threats to emperor penguins, which are vulnerable to warming temperatures and melting sea ice caused by climate change.

By Derrick Bryson Taylor, Oct. 25, 2022

Emperor penguins have been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act because the animals’ sea ice habitat is shrinking, federal officials announced Tuesday. Experts predict that 99 percent of the world’s emperor penguin population will disappear by 2100 without significantly reducing carbon pollution.

The Antarctic sea ice, where the penguins spend much of the year, is under distress. Heat-trapping gases released by humans’ use of fossil fuels is causing the ice to disappear and break apart. That ice is essential to the animals’ livelihood — it is where they breed, raise their chicks and escape predators.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “endangered” means a species could face extinction throughout all or a large portion of its range. “Threatened” means a species is likely to become endangered in the near future. There are between 625,000 and 650,000 emperor penguins in the wild, or 270,000 to 280,000 breeding pairs, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The service’s director, Martha Williams, said in a statement that the listing reflected the “growing extinction crisis.”

“Climate change is having a profound impact on species around the world and addressing it is a priority for the Administration,” Ms. Williams said. “The listing of the emperor penguin serves as an alarm bell but also a call to action.”

The designation, which comes more than a year after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to protect the penguins, places the animals among a couple dozen species that the federal government considers threatened by climate change, including polar bears, two kinds of seals and 20 varieties of coral.

The Endangered Species Act is the world’s strongest environmental law that is intended to prevent extinction and foster the recovery of at-risk species, according to a news release from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, a research facility in Massachusetts. A listing under the act encourages international cooperation on conservation strategies, and, although the species is not found within the United States, federal agencies must now ensure that their projects that emit large amounts of carbon pollution do not threaten the penguin or its environment.

“Emperor penguins, like many species on earth, face a very uncertain future, which is dependent on people working together to reduce carbon pollution,” Stephanie Jenouvrier, an associate scientist and seabird ecologist at Woods Hole, said in the news release. “We should draw inspiration from the penguins themselves; only together can penguins brave the harshest climate on earth, and only together can we face a difficult climate future.”

It has been more than a decade since the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the emperor penguin under the Endangered Species Act, the news release said. In 2014, the agency agreed that the animal may be endangered because of climate change but did not take action. Five years later, the center sued the Trump administration for failing to act on the petition.

There are 18 different species of penguins, and the emperor penguin is the tallest, at nearly four feet. It and the Adélie, a medium-size penguin with a white ring around the eyes, are the only penguins native to Antarctica. Emperor penguins are an integral part of the Antarctic food chain, in which they prey upon squid and small fish and are preyed upon by larger predators like the leopard seal and killer whale.

Caring for their young is a task that involves both parents. After laying a single egg, females hunt while males hold it on their feet, covering it in a feathered pouch. After the egg hatches, the parents alternate caring for the chick. Young penguins that do not develop their adult feathers before the sea ice disappears cannot swim in the freezing waters and will die.

Emperor penguins do not fare well on land. They cannot climb icy cliffs and are vulnerable to warming weather and high winds. In 2016, the Antarctic’s second-largest colony of the birds lost more than 10,000 chicks after a period of heavy winds and record-low sea ice before the chicks had grown their feathers.

(Amanda Holpuch contributed reporting.)

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ABC News

Endangered whale’s decline slows, but population falls again

The decline of an endangered species of whale slowed last year as it lost about 2% of its population

By PATRICK WHITTLE, Associated Press, October 24, 2022

PORTLAND, Maine — The decline of an endangered species of whale slowed last year, as it lost about 2% of its population, but scientists warn the animal still faces existential threats and is losing breeding females too fast.

The North Atlantic right whale’s population was more than 480 in 2010 and fell by more than 25% over the following decade. The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, a group of scientists, government officials and industry members, said Monday that the population fell to an estimated 340 last year.

That is a decline of eight animals from the previous year, when the population was initially thought to be even fewer. The whales are vulnerable to ship collisions and entanglement in commercial fishing gear, and they have suffered from poor reproduction and high mortality in recent years.

“The reality is we are still seeing unsustainable levels of human impacts on the species,” said Heather Pettis, research scientist in the New England Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life and executive administrator of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium. “We’re still injuring these animals to a point where it’s not just about survival. It’s about health, it’s about reproduction.”

The right whales live off the East Coast and migrate every year from calving grounds off Georgia and Florida to feeding grounds off New England and Canada. They were once abundant but were decimated during the commercial whaling era, when they were hunted for their oil and meat.

The whales have been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act more than 50 years but have been slow to recover. The population was even lower in 1990, when it was 264, Pettis said. One of the biggest challenges facing the right whales today is that the number of female whales that are capable of breeding appears to be falling.

An article that appeared this month in the scientific journal Frontiers in Marine Science reported that the estimated population of female right whales fell from 185 in 2014 to 142 in 2018. The largest decline was seen in breeding females, and only 72 were estimated to be alive at the beginning of 2018, the article said.

The whales appear to be getting smaller, and that is hurting their ability to reproduce, Peter Corkeron, chair of the Kraus Marine Mammal Conservation Program at the Cabot Center and one of the authors of the article.

“The world needs more fat whales,” Corkeron said.

The plight of the right whale has emerged as a major issue for commercial fisheries in the U.S., especially the American lobster industry, which is based mostly in Maine. The whales are particularly vulnerable to becoming entangled in the kind of fixed vertical underwater lines used to fish for lobsters and crabs.

The federal government has crafted new restrictions on lobster fishing in an effort to save the right whale, and fishermen have argued that the rules could put them out of business. A group of lobster fishermen sued to stop the rules, and their case is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The new right whale estimate indicates that the population is stabilizing, said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. The new fishing rules, however, could “decimate the Maine lobster fishery,” McCarron said.

Warming oceans are also a concern. The whales are aided by a network of protected zones designed to allow them to eat the tiny organisms they feed on without danger of entanglements and collisions. However, warming waters have caused their food to move, and they have followed it into unprotected areas where they are more vulnerable, scientists have said.

Conservation groups have advocated for vessel speed restrictions and stricter fishing regulations to save the whales.

“These latest population numbers confirm that the species continues to teeter on the verge of functional extinction, and current measures to save it are falling short,” said Sarah Sharp, a veterinarian with International Fund for Animal Welfare. “Nevertheless, there is hope on the horizon. Solutions do indeed exist.”

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Sustainability Times

Wild tigers, leopards and elephants can ‘thrive near humans’

By Daniel T Cross on October 24, 2022

Large and endangered wild animals like tigers, leopards and elephants do poorly near human communities. Or do they? The results of research led by scientists at the University of Queensland appear to have belied the assumption that they invariably do.

The researchers examined paleontological records to compare the historic distribution of Asia’s 14 largest wild animal species with their current populations in tropical forests and found that animals such as tigers, Asian elephants, clouded leopards and wild boars, deprived of much of their natural habitats, have been evolving to live alongside humans.

“These results show that under the right conditions some large animals can live nearby humans and avoid extinction,” says Zachary Amir, a scientist at the university’s School of Biological Sciences who was an author of a study.

“[They] challenge the narrative within some conservation circles that humans and megafauna are incompatible,” Amir explains.

It is generally assumed that in a phenomenon called “trophic downgrading,” which refers to the extreme loss of the world’s largest wild animals, these animals tend to fare worst near humans, who may hunt them into extinction or otherwise reduce their populations.

In some parts of Asia, however, tigers, clouded leopards, elephants and wild boars appear to be higher near human populations than elsewhere, perhaps indicating that they benefit from human activities in some ways such as the availability of food to forage.

“This may be the outcome of tougher anti-poaching efforts in the national parks that are closer to human settlements and are more frequently visited by tourists,” Amir notes.

That said, continued habitat loss such as deforestation, as well as poaching, continues to pose grave threats to these animals. However, in the absence of poaching they can survive even within relatively small areas, according to the scientists.

“Previously, there have only been a few examples of large Asian species thriving in small habitats near humans, notably in Mumbai, India where leopards in an urban park prey on stray dogs,” Amir says. “Thankfully, we found that a wider range of animals can coexist with humans.”

The researchers cite as an example the small island nation of Singapore, where land for wildlife is scarce. Poaching there has been eliminated while some forested areas, now protected, have been restored. As a result, sambar deer and wild boar are thriving again.

“Singapore has actually experienced the natural rewilding of sambar deer and wild boars, which are now frequently observed in an urban forest, the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve,” Amir says.

“If we replicate those protection efforts in larger forests and other counties, we may see positive impacts right around the world,” he suggests. “But before this can happen, [we] humans need to get our act together and limit poaching.”

The authors of the study stress that not all large animals were found to do well near humans. The numbers of tapirs, Sumatran rhinos, sun bears and other large animals have continued to decline sharply.

Overall, though, the findings should be seen as encouraging for conservation efforts.

“The key innovation of this work was to systematically investigate the population trends of many different wildlife species across the region,” notes Matthew Luskin, a biologist specializing in biodiversity at the University of Queensland.

“Then we tested if all species showed consistent trends and if similar parks retained similar species. Remarkably, we found no two forests currently possess the same group of wildlife compared to thousands of years ago,” he explains.

“These results provide hope for wildlife in forests previously considered too far degraded or too close to cities. Now we’re exploring new conservation strategies for these surprising places,” he adds.

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Public News Service (Boulder, CO)

Wyoming, USDA Agree on Partnership to Conserve Wildlife Habitat

Eric Galatas, producer, October 24, 2022

Gov. Mark Gordon has signed onto law a new pilot program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which aims to support Wyoming farmers and ranchers whose operations provide wildlife habitat as elk, mule deer, pronghorn and other big game travel between winter and summer ranges.

Lesli Allison, executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance, said the program can help ease pressures facing some producers to sell off lands for development, and keep large tracts of Wyoming’s working lands intact.

“This partnership understands that we need to support what’s working,” Allison explained. “We need to support keeping the lands open that are already allowing wildlife to use them for these migration corridors.”

The program provides an increased commitment of $16 million starting next year for restoration and preservation of agricultural lands. Private landowners can voluntarily opt to tap federal dollars for a wide range of conservation moves, including replacing five-strand barbed wire with wildlife-friendly fencing.

Scott Christensen, executive director of conservation for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said Wyoming is home to some of the last remaining viable wildlife migrations in the lower 48 states. He emphasized over the last decade, the state has emerged as a leader in wildlife-corridor science and conservation.

Christensen believes the new partnership will help sustain the landscapes and ecosystems that make Wyoming special.

“Tens of thousands of elk, pronghorn and mule deer migrate across Wyoming’s lands every year, and about half of that year they spend on property owned by Wyoming’s farmers and ranchers,” Christensen noted. “This is good for wildlife, it’s good for people.”

Allison pointed to a new “habitat leasing” initiative, which allows working ranches to stay in business while also providing the critical habitat wildlife require for survival. Private landowners who choose to enroll agree to maintain quality habitat over a 10- to 15-year period in exchange for annual payments on a per-acre basis.

“For ranchers to be able to do their grazing management in a way that provides that forage for the wildlife populations, and also continue to be able to support their livestock operations,” Allison stressed. “That’s really the key.”

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Scientific American

Behavior in Los Angeles Mountain Lions

Already threatened mountain lions in the Los Angeles area crossed busy roads more often and exhibited other risky behaviors after the 2018 Woolsey Fire

By Chelsea Harvey, E&E News on October 21, 2022

It’s been nearly four years since the Woolsey Fire ripped through Southern California, burning nearly 100,000 acres and destroying hundreds of homes in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Now, new research finds that human communities weren’t the only ones to suffer.

An elusive population of mountain lions living in and around Los Angeles also found their habitats scarred by the fire.

The big cats were forced to adjust their behavior in dangerous ways to avoid the burn zones after the blaze, the study finds. They crossed major roads more often; trespassed on one another’s territories; and moved around in the daytime, risking encounters with humans.

The findings, published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, suggest yet another way worsening wildfires may threaten natural ecosystems in the western U.S. They can force wildlife into closer contact with human communities and urban landscapes.

For the mountain lions of Los Angeles, that’s an extra challenge on top of an already serious suite of threats.

The population is small to begin with—there are likely around 100 cats in the Santa Monica mountains north of the city, and perhaps a dozen or so in and around urban Los Angeles. And they’re threatened by expanding urbanization, which is carving up their habitat into smaller and smaller pieces.

Mountain lions are solitary, territorial animals. They need large spaces to themselves, ideally in wooded areas with lots of cover to help them stalk mule deer, their favorite prey. Fragmented, urbanized landscapes can support fewer individuals over time.

Research has found that the small population is beginning to suffer from inbreeding. A 2016 study warned that a lack of genetic diversity could put the population in danger of extinction within 50 years.

“That was the context when the Woolsey Fire happened,” said Rachel Blakey, the lead author of the new study and a scientist at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. “We have already a population that has a lot of barriers to dispersal and is experiencing a lot of stressors.”

Scientists had already been monitoring the urban cats for years, tracking them using GPS collars. The wildfire gave them an opportunity to investigate how the animals responded to a major environmental disturbance. The fire transformed large swaths of the area into “pretty much a moonscape,” according to Blakey, making it unusable habitat for the cats.

The researchers found that the mountain lions still made a major effort to avoid humans after the fire, steering clear of urban areas as much as possible. But avoiding the burned areas as well presented a challenge for the cats.

The researchers found that they began crossing roads more often, including the area’s busy 101 highway. They also began dipping into other cats’ territories more frequently.

The researchers haven’t yet determined whether these behavioral changes have led to an increase in fatalities. But it’s a concern. Being killed on roadways is the population’s leading cause of death. And altercations with territorial adult males is another major cause of death in adolescent male mountain lions.

The combination of urbanization and worsening wildfires may present a growing threat to the Los Angeles mountain lions as time goes on. As the climate warms, stronger and more frequent fires run the risk of transforming the landscape, destroying native forests and turning them into shrublands—poor habitat for the cats.

Mountain lions are currently listed as a “specially protected species” in California while the state conducts a review to determine whether they should be classified as a threatened species. In the meantime, construction is underway on a new wildlife bridge across Southern California’s 101 highway. The bridge could help mountain lions safely disperse into new territories, potentially increasing the population’s genetic diversity and addressing at least one threat to the population’s survival.

The Woolsey Fire is believed to have killed at least two mountain lions directly, the new study notes. But the event’s aftermath is a reminder that these events can have even more insidious effects in the long run.

“I do think we need to think more about what those disturbances do in a longer-term fashion,” Blakey said. “Our study was only 15 months after the fire, but we did see these ongoing behavioral changes, which cause a great deal of concern for a population that was already struggling to maintain resilience into the future.”

(Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.)

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Oregon Public Broadcasting (Portland, OR)

Death of northeast Oregon wolf continues uptick in poaching

By Bradley W. Parks (OPB), Oct. 21, 2022

This week the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced the poaching death of another wolf, the fifth illegal wolf slaying in the state so far this year.

OR-88 was the breeding female of the beleaguered Lookout Mountain Pack of northeast Oregon. In the photo announcing her death, she’s on her side, a gaping, dark red wound on her right shoulder.

Her death is part of an upward trend of wolf poaching in Oregon that wildlife advocates say is associated with decreasing protections for the species.

“It’s tragic enough when a wolf gets killed,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “And it’s even more tragic when a wolf has been illegally killed.”

Poachers have killed at least 21 gray wolves in Oregon since 2015, the year Oregon removed state Endangered Species Act protections for the canids.

Last year, after the Trump administration yanked gray wolves in the lower 48 states from the federal endangered species list, at least eight wolves were poached in Oregon, the highest number reported in the past decade.

A federal judge restored Endangered Species Act protections to wolves earlier this year, but Oregon’s poaching problems have yet to subside.

Oregon updates its wolf management plan about every five years and made its last revision in 2019. Weiss said the state will need to address the rise in poaching during the next plan update.

“[Wolves] are really valuable to wild nature. They’re really valuable as part of our cultural and natural heritage,” Weiss said. “No matter what you think of wolves, poaching is wrong.”

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Michelle Dennehy said that despite the uptick in poaching, the state’s wolf population has maintained a strong foothold. The last minimum wolf count issued by the agency for 2021 counted 175 wolves.

“As terrible as poaching is, and we’re definitely very concerned about it here at ODFW, we’re not expecting to see a decline in the population at this point,” Dennehy said.

The agency has determined that if human-caused wolf mortalities — including poaching, vehicle collisions and agency-approved killings — remain below 20% of the population, the population should continue to grow and expand.

Still, ODFW is working with the Oregon Department of Justice and Oregon State Police to combat the increase in poaching of wolves and other wildlife. Earlier this year, the DOJ hired a special prosecutor devoted to locating, investigating and prosecuting poachers.

The Oregon Wildlife Coalition is offering an $11,500 reward for information leading to an arrest or citation in the death of OR-88.

Anyone with information regarding the wolf’s death is urged to call the Oregon State Police Turn in Poachers hotline at 1-800-452-7888.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched Against Arizona Plan to Block Jaguar Migration With Shipping Containers

TUCSON, Ariz.—(October 19, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration to challenge plans to obstruct a critical jaguar and ocelot migration corridor with shipping containers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“These shipping containers are a shameless publicity stunt that will jeopardize the survival of endangered wildlife,” said Robin Silver, a co-founder of the Center. “There are 3,700 agents covering the Tucson Sector alone, not to mention helicopters, drones and hundreds of cameras. We’re in an extinction crisis, and it’s reckless to sacrifice a critical wildlife corridor and harm endangered animals so Ducey can score political points.”

Today’s legal notice follows the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s demand that Arizona remove double-stacked containers Ducey ordered placed along the border near Yuma in August. The bureau says the containers on federal and Cocopah Indian tribal land violate federal law.

The notice anticipates plans to install additional shipping containers along the border west of the Huachuca Mountains in the Coronado National Forest near Coronado National Memorial. The Center has documented dozens of shipping containers stockpiled in the area.

This area is an established, critical migration corridor for jaguars and ocelots, which are listed as endangered and protected under the Endangered Species Act. The notice says blocking the corridor will obstruct the animals’ movement and prevent their recovery in the United States, violating the Act.

“These useless barriers do nothing to stop people from crossing the border, but they’ll stop wildlife in their tracks,” Silver said. “Unless Ducey wants his legacy to be driving Arizona’s most iconic animals to extinction, he needs to end this ridiculous waste of taxpayer money.”

Beyond jeopardizing wildlife, endangered species and public lands, the U.S.-Mexico border wall is part of a larger strategy of ongoing border militarization that damages human rights, civil liberties, native lands, local businesses and international relations. The border wall impedes the natural migrations of people and wildlife that are essential to healthy diversity.

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Announces More Than $66.7 Million to States for Collaborative Efforts to Conserve America’s Most Imperiled Species

Funding will support projects across the U.S. under the Endangered Species Act and will leverage an additional $35 million in partner funds

Press Release, Oct 19, 2022

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced more than $66.7 million in grants to 16 states and Guam to support land acquisition and conservation planning projects on over 13,500 acres of habitat for 162 listed and at-risk species through the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund (CESCF). The grants will be matched by more than $35.1 million in partner funds.

“These grants will enable state and territorial fish and wildlife agencies and their partners to advance the stewardship of our nation’s most imperiled species and the habitats upon which they depend,” said Service Director Martha Williams. “This cooperative approach to conservation demonstrates a shared commitment to the Endangered Species Act’s purpose of protecting biodiversity.”

Authorized by Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and partly funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, CESCF grants contribute millions annually to support implementing state and territorial programs to conserve and recover federally listed and at-risk species on non-federal lands. This approach to conservation, done in cooperation with states, territories, willing landowners and local partners, furthers species conservation and economic development.

CESCF land acquisition funding to states is awarded through two nationally competitive grant programs: the Recovery Land Acquisition Grant Program, which provides funds for the acquisition of habitat in support of Service-approved recovery plans; and the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) Land Acquisition Grant Program, which provides funds to acquire habitat for listed and at-risk species to complement conservation strategies of approved HCPs. This year’s awards, totaling more than $57.6 million, will fund the acquisition and permanent protection for 19 projects over 13,500 acres of habitat across 12 states for the benefit of 43 listed and at-risk species.

Examples of projects approved this year include:

*The state of California will receive nearly $4.4 million under the HCP Land Acquisition Grant Program to enable the acquisition and permanent protection for up to 737 acres of land that complement, but do not replace, the mitigation commitments of the Western Riverside Multiple Species HCP in Riverside County. The proposed acquisitions are in ecologically significant, high-priority conservation areas that support key populations of ESA-listed species such as the San Jacinto Valley crownscale, spreading navarretia, coastal California gnatcatcher, thread-leaved brodiaea, Stephens’ kangaroo rat and western spadefoot toad.

*The state of Alabama will receive nearly $2.57 million under the Recovery Land Acquisition Grant Program to support the acquisition of 1,728 acres of Red Hills salamander habitat in Monroe County. This project supports the state’s ongoing efforts to permanently protect and restore some of the best remaining habitat for the species across its range and will result in over 13,800 contiguous acres of permanently protected habitat for the species.

The Service also approved more than $9.1 million in grant awards to eight states and Guam under the Conservation Planning Assistance Grant Program. Funding awarded through this program may be used to support the development, renewal or amendment of HCPs, safe harbor agreements and candidate conservation agreements with assurances. Eligible activities include document preparation, public outreach, baseline species surveys, habitat assessments, inventories and environmental compliance. This year’s awards will support 15 conservation planning efforts covering 135 listed, candidate and at-risk species.

Examples of projects approved this year include:

*The state of Hawaii will receive $414,595 to support the completion of the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) HCP and associated environmental compliance documents. The HCP will offset the incidental take of nine threatened and endangered species impacted by KIUC’s operation and management of power lines and lighting across the island. The species affected include seabirds, water birds and sea turtles. KIUC will minimize take through modifications to power lines to reduce the likelihood of collisions, and adjusting lighting to reduce disorientation. The conservation strategy of the HCP includes establishing, protecting, managing and monitoring seabird colonies; funding a seabird and water bird rehabilitation program; and monitoring nesting sea turtles.

To learn more about the CESCF grant programs, please visit: https://www.fws.gov/program/cooperative-endangered-species-conservation-fund.

The ESA provides a critical safety net for North America’s native fish, wildlife and plants. The Service is working to actively engage conservation partners and the public in the search for improved and innovative ways to conserve and recover imperiled species. To learn more, visit https://www.fws.gov/program/endangered-species.

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The Kingman Miner (Kingman, AZ)

Rare toad fight similar to landmark endangered species case

SCOTT SONNER, Associated Press, Originally Published: October 19, 2022

RENO, Nev. — The unusual circumstances that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on the Endangered Species Act in 1978 have not surfaced much since then.

But the stage is being set in Nevada for another potentially significant test of the nation’s premier wildlife protection law in a legal battle over a geothermal power plant with similarities to the precedent-setting fight over the snail darter and a dam in Tennessee nearly a half century ago.

Even smaller than that tiny species of perch, the endangered critter in Nevada is a quarter-sized toad found only in high-desert wetlands fed by underground springs on federal land.

Citing the potential threat posed by the water-pumping power plant, the Fish and Wildlife Service declared the Dixie Valley toad endangered on a temporary, emergency basis in April — only the second time in 20 years it’s taken such action.

And while the geothermal plant would generate electricity by spinning turbines with steam tapped from hot water beneath the earth instead of hydropower harnessed from rivers, both projects were born with the promise of producing some of the cleanest, renewable energy of their time.

Decades ago, Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger seemed to anticipate the significance of the 1978 ruling and controversy that would follow when he authored the 6-3 majority opinion on the snail darter just five years after President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law.

“It may seem curious to some,” Burger said, “that the survival of a relatively small number of three-inch fish among all the countless millions of species extant would require the permanent halting of a virtually completed dam for which Congress has expended more than $100 million.”

“We conclude, however, that the explicit provisions of the Endangered Species Act require precisely that result,” he wrote in the case pitting the fish against the Tennessee Valley Authority.

More than four decades later, a similar scenario is unfolding 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Reno where environmentalists and tribal leaders are trying to block the geothermal plant Ormat Technologies agreed to temporarily stop building in August — four months before it was scheduled to start producing power.

The Bureau of Land Management rushed to approve the Nevada project during the final days of former President Donald Trump’s administration. But President Joe Biden’s administration continues to defend it as part of its own agenda to replace fossil fuels with renewables.

Environmental groups insist they share the president’s goals to combat climate change. But they say the bureau ignored repeated warnings from state and federal wildlife biologists, the U.S. Navy and even its own experts about potential harm to the Dixie Valley toad.

“The expert agency, FWS, has determined that Ormat’s project is likely to cause extinction of the species — the very catastrophe the Endangered Species is intended to prevent,” the Center for Biological Diversity’s lawyers wrote in recent filings in federal court in Reno.

The case already has made one trip to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and seems likely to return in the months ahead.

On Aug. 1, the appellate court refused to reinstate a previous injunction temporarily blocking construction, concluding further delay would make it “all but certain” Ormat would be unable to meet a Dec. 31 contract deadline.

Ormat, which already had invested $68 million, argued failure to meet the deadline would cost it another $30 million over 20 years and could jeopardize the project altogether. But later that day, Ormat agreed to suspend all work pending consultation between the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Like the snail darter, the conflict differs from most battles over endangered species. They typically target broad government management plans for things like hunting grizzly bears, energy exploration near sage grouse habitat, logging around northern spotted owls and dam operations on Pacific salmon rivers. Less common are disputes over specific projects like TVA’s dam or Ormat’s geothermal plant.

Now, with the full force of the Endangered Species Act at play, Ormat’s opponents are zeroing in on the section of the law the Supreme Court cited in prohibiting construction of the Tellico Dam in 1978.

“The case is analogous to (that case), where it was discovered late into the construction of a $100 million federal dam project that completing and operating the dam would eradicate a rare species of minnow,” environmental lawyers wrote Sept. 16.

They said Congress specifically mandated that federal agencies secure Fish and Wildlife Service approval before taking any action that could jeopardize a species to “prevent a situation like the one presented in TVA” and “avoid an outcome in which the only choices left to an agency are to violate the Endangered Species Act or scrap a virtually completed project.”

Last week, a judge granted a request from the Bureau of Land Management and Ormat to extend the deadline for their responses until Oct. 28.

Central to the Nevada dispute is uncertainty about effects groundwater pumping will have on surface water levels and temperatures.

Ormat insists water it would pump and return to the ground will come from a different aquifer than feeds the wetlands. But environmentalists say the bureau ignored every caution flag raised en route to the project’s approval.

“BLM disregarded repeated warnings and objections from scientific experts and nearly every other federal and state agency involved in the project’s development, all of whom warned the project would likely dry up, or at the very least degrade, the hot springs that the Dixie Valley toad depends on for its survival, and cautioned that the project’s monitoring and mitigation plan would be ineffective.”

They cite internal documents that show:

— The Navy, whose Fallon Naval Air Station borders the site, characterized the plan as “inadequate and incomplete.”

— UFWS said it was “a plan describing the development of a plan.”

— BLM staff acknowledged the estimates were “rough guesses.”

In May, the BLM said informal consultation had started and produced a draft biological assessment concluding the project “is likely to adversely affect” the toad. But the FWS said the BLM’s assessment was ”inadequate to initiate formal consultation … missing major elements and lacking necessary analysis.”

The toad is in the spotlight, but similar disputes are brewing at other Nevada green energy projects.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the FWS in August to list a rare butterfly where Ormat plans another geothermal project near the Oregon line.

Last October, the agency formally proposed listing a desert wildflower as endangered where Ioneer USA wants to dig a lithium mine halfway between Reno and Las Vegas for the mineral essential for electric car batteries.

And a U.S. judge has scheduled a hearing Jan. 5 in Reno for another lawsuit brought by conservationists, tribes and a rancher challenging a bigger mine Lithium Nevada plans near the Oregon line.

That case has focused primarily on threats to groundwater and cultural resources near a site where tribes say their ancestors were massacred by U.S. troops in 1865. But last month, Western Watersheds Project petitioned for endangered species listing of a tiny snail that lives nearby.

In the original 1978 snail darter case, the Supreme Court found “an irreconcilable conflict” between operation of the dam and compliance with the act.

After it ruled, Congress exempted the dam from the Endangered Species Act altogether. But the court’s precedent remains, and it’s now front and center in Nevada.

“It is clear from the Act’s legislative history,” the 1978 ruling said, “that Congress intended to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction — whatever the cost.”

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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Service Completes Initial Reviews on Endangered Species Act Petitions for Four Species

Press Release, Oct. 18, 2022

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed 90-day findings on petitions to list four species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Based on our review, we find that the petitions to list the southern population of bog turtle, ghost orchid, Pedernales River Springs salamander and tall western penstemon present substantial information that the petitioned actions may be warranted. The Service will add these species to the National Listing Workplan and initiate status reviews for each species.

The ghost orchid grows in southwestern Florida’s Collier and Hendry counties and in Cuba. It prefers deep swamps, high humidity, mild temperatures and dappled shade. It produces seeds only in the wettest locations. The leafless plant attaches itself by its roots high up on trees, making its white blossoms with trailing petals appear to hover in the air. The photosynthetic roots require a special type of symbiotic fungus to obtain nutrients. Their nighttime scent attracts large moths with proboscises (or mouth parts) long enough to reach pollen deep within the ghost orchid flower. Threats to the species and its habitat include draining of wetlands, large scale land conversion, real estate development, logging and prolonged droughts. Poaching, recreation overuse, competition from invasive species , pest insects, sea level rise, and hurricanes were also found to be threats. We find that the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information that listing the rare, swamp-dwelling ghost orchid as threatened or endangered under the protections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) may be warranted.  We will fully evaluate all potential threats during our 12-month status review, pursuant to the Act’s requirement to review the best scientific and commercial information available when making that finding.

Bog turtles are a wetlands species readily recognized by their yellow-orange cheek spot and their diminutive size – with a shell growing up to 4.5 inches long, they’re North America’s smallest turtle. The southern population of bog turtle lives in a variety of rare wetland types collectively called southern Appalachian bogs in Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The southern population was listed in 1997 as threatened due to similarity of appearance, a special status offering limited protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), to address threats stemming from poaching for an illegal turtle trade, which is a significant threat to the turtle. Additional threats to the species include limited availability and loss of mountain bog habitats due to drainage, conversion to other uses, and degradation due to changes to water flow or plant communities resulting from human impacts on the landscape. We find that the petitions present substantial scientific or commercial information that the southern population of the bog turtle may qualify as a distinct population segment (DPS) which may warrant listing under the ESA. The Service will fully evaluate all potential threats to the species, including DPS considerations regarding significance, during a 12-month status review, pursuant to the Endangered Species Act’s requirement to review the best available scientific information when determining whether or not to list a species.

The tall western penstemon is one of the rarest vascular plants in the Pacific Northwest and lives today in just five known populations, narrowly distributed from southwestern Washington to northwestern Oregon. The species is part of a genus of plants known as “beardtongues.” Its vivid purple-blue flowers, perched high atop its unusually long stems, make the tall western penstemon a distinctive and beautiful presence in the region’s rare, ecologically intact wet prairies. We find that the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that listing the tall western penstemon as a threatened or endangered species may be warranted. The Service will fully evaluate all potential threats during our 12-month status review, pursuant to the Endangered Species Act’s requirement to review the best available scientific information when determining whether or not to list a species.

The Pedernales River springs salamander (Eurycea sp.) is a yet-to-be scientifically described member of the central Texas salamander genus Eurycea, which includes several federally listed species that are known only from the Edwards Plateau region.  The Edwards, Edwards-Trinity, and Trinity Aquifers and their related springs, spring-fed creeks and water-filled subterranean spaces provide vital habitat for central Texas Eurycea.  Individuals move between aquatic surface and subsurface habitats on a seasonal basis and/or in response to dry or wet conditions, making the presence of these salamanders a good indicator of groundwater quality. In 2019, a comprehensive study conducted by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin determined that the Pedernales River springs salamander is a distinct, new species closely related to the endangered Barton Springs salamander.  Populations of the Pedernales River springs salamander are known from northeastern Blanco, northwestern Hays and southwestern Travis counties. 

The ESA allows citizens to petition the Service to add species to the ESA list, remove species from the list, and to reclassify species already on the list. To the maximum extent possible, the Service issues a finding on a petition within 90 days of the petition’s receipt.

Substantial 90-day findings represent a relatively low bar, requiring only that the petitioner provide information that the petitioned action may be warranted. The next steps involve in-depth status reviews and analyses using the best available science and information to arrive at a 12-month finding. The public can play an important role by sharing relevant information with the Service.

The notice for the above findings will be available in the Federal Register Reading Room on October 18, 2022 at https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection on the 2022 Notices link under Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.

For more information on the ESA listing process, including 90-day findings and status reviews, please go to www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf.

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The Times-Picayune – NOLA.com (New Orleans, LA)

World’s ‘most endangered’ whale under threat from Gulf oil industry, scientists say

Oil exploration and drilling could wipe out the 50 whales that remain

By TRISTAN BAURICK, Oct. 18, 2022

Scientists from around the world are sounding the alarm about the threat oil and gas exploration poses to an exceedingly rare whale recently found to be a unique species that lives only in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

In an open letter to President Joe Biden’s administration, more than 100 marine scientists from as far away as Norway and New Zealand said stronger protections are needed to avoid the extinction of a species that has only about 50 individuals left.

“The Gulf of Mexico whale is the most endangered whale species in the world,” said Peter Corkeron, a whale researcher with the New England Aquarium in Boston and one of the signatories. “To the best of our knowledge, it occurs only in U.S. waters, so Americans have a special responsibility to work together to save it.”

Officially named Rice’s whale but commonly referred to as the Gulf of Mexico whale, the species prefers the deep, dark waters of DeSoto Canyon, one of the busiest commercial areas of the Gulf, where oil and gas development pose a “clear, existential threat,” the letter says. The canyon is located east of Louisiana’s coast in the northern Gulf.

The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster killed about 20% of the whales and caused long-lasting reproductive issues in the population’s females, according to federal natural resource damage assessments.

The species is also harmed by the seismic airgun blasts used to find undersea oil and gas deposits. The deep-penetration blasts interfere with the whales’ ability to navigate, find food and communicate.

At 250 decibels, the blasts are louder than the detonation of a pound of dynamite, and several times louder than the Superdome on game day. The blasts are typically repeated every 10 seconds, sometimes for weeks, on vessels that pull several guns.

The American Petroleum Institute credits the technology with revealing vast oil and natural gas deposits that had gone undetected by other surveys. In the late 1980s, surveys estimated just under 10 billion barrels of untapped oil in the Gulf. But with seismic airguns, oil companies in 2011 were able to update their estimates to nearly 50 billion barrels, according to API.

Collisions with ships are another concern. At night, Gulf of Mexico whales rest near the water’s surface, making them vulnerable to ship strikes. A lactating female and another member of the species were recently found with injuries likely caused by ships.

“A number of shipping routes traverse the whales’ habitat along the northern Gulf, and the collision risk is likely to increase with new offshore oil and gas development,” the letter says. “With abundance so low, the loss of even a single whale threatens the survival of the species.”

The letter was sent to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and four other federal agency leaders last week. It was signed by experts at top U.S. marine research centers, including Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, several aquariums, and universities in Canada, Ukraine, South Africa, Australia and other countries.

Less than two years ago, Gulf of Mexico whales were thought to be Bryde’s whales, an endangered baleen whale that ranges around the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Both species grow to about 55 feet long and weigh around 30 tons, making them part of what are known as the ‘great whales,’ a group that includes other large filter-feeders like humpbacks and blue whales.

In early 2021, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed the Gulf of Mexico whale’s status as a distinct species. NOAA scientists named it Rice’s whale in honor of Dale Rice, the biologist who first recognized that a version of Bryde’s whales were in the Gulf in the 1960s. But the name Gulf of Mexico whale is more commonly used by non-government scientists and conservation groups.

Unlike the rambling Bryde’s, the Gulf of Mexico whale appears to be a homebody, sticking to the waters between Louisiana and Florida. They also feed in deeper water and have some small but important physical differences, according to NOAA scientists.

The Bryde’s whale was granted protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2019. The Gulf of Mexico whale retained its protected status under the ESA after it was found to be a distinct species.

Despite the challenges the whale faces, scientists are confident it can recover, but that will take significant changes in the way the Gulf is managed.

The scientists’ letter urges federal regulators to halt oil and gas drilling and seismic blasting in the whale’s primary habitat, a strip of water running along the continental shelf from the eastern through central and western Gulf.

“Continuing with seismic exploration or drilling in the northern Gulf is antithetical to basic principles of conservation and would jeopardize the species’ survival and recovery,” the letter says.

The scientists also advocated for a ship speed limit in the whale’s habitat and urged the government to steer future industries, including offshore wind turbines and floating fish farms, away from the whales.

“The Gulf of Mexico whale is a unique part of the Gulf’s natural history … yet few on-water measures have been established to protect it,” the letter says. “Unless significant conservation actions are taken, the United States is likely to cause the first (human-caused) extinction of a great whale species.”

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ShareAmerica

Tiger populations are on the rise

By Noelani Kirschner, Oct. 18, 2022

Good news for wild tiger populations: New estimates show an increase of approximately 40% in wild tiger numbers, with 4,500 tigers in the wild.

This is the first climb in numbers in decades and signals a potential comeback for the species.

The increase in tiger populations is thanks, in large part, to a unified conservation effort among countries, including the United States.

The number of wild tigers — a critically endangered species around the world — has steeply declined over the past 100 years from 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century to an estimated 3,200 in 2010.

In 2010 tiger range countries agreed upon the Global Tiger Recovery Plan, an ambitious plan to save wild tigers from further decline and to double wild tiger numbers before the next “Year of the Tiger” in 2022.

The U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with U.S. scientists and a range of governments and communities in countries such as India, Indonesia and Nepal, also have worked together to conserve the endangered animal.

New studies and initiatives lead the way

India is home to 75% of the world’s tiger population and has seen the greatest declines in tiger populations in the past.

To help tigers and local communities coexist, researchers at Columbia University and the Wildlife Institute of India analyzed five wildlife corridors — protected natural thoroughfares tigers use to move between protected areas. Their ultimate goal is to ensure there are wildlife corridors connecting protected tiger landscapes and to reduce human-tiger conflicts.

“We hope that this [study] offers a clear message about where the current science agrees, and can bolster existing efforts to conserve tigers and other species that share their habitat in central India,” Columbia University graduate student Jay Schoen, who was involved with the study, told the Columbia Climate School.

In Indonesia’s Leuser ecosystem, USAID supported Wildlife Response Units to work with the country’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry officials to reduce human-wildlife conflict. The WRUs and ministry officials expanded the model in 221 communities and trained over 1,200 community members.

Since 2015, no tigers have been killed because of wildlife conflicts in this landscape, according to the 2021 END Wildlife Trafficking Strategic Review.

“It’s a fragile success,” Dale Miquelle, tiger program coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society, told the Washington Post about the latest IUCN report. “There are still many pressures on tiger populations, and they are disappearing from some areas.”

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JD Supra

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Listing Two Snakes and Designating Critical Habitat

Samantha Savoni (co-author: Noah DeWitt), October 17, 2022

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) proposed to list two snake species, the Key ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus acricus) and the rim rock crowned snake (Tantilla oolitica), as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service also proposed to designate critical habitat for these nonvenomous snakes, including approximately 2,604 acres in Monroe County and approximately 5,972 acres in Miami-Dade County and Monroe County, Florida for the Key ring-necked snake and rim rock crowned snake, respectively. The proposal comes as a result of a petition and lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity earlier in 2022.

The Key ring-necked snake is a small, slender snake averaging 6-10 inches in length. This snake can be identified by its grayish-black dorsal surface and yellow, orange, or bright red abdomen, which fades to orange/red underneath its tail. Historically, the snake’s habitat is limited to pine rocklands and rockland hammocks in the Florida Keys. The species requires a moist microhabitat near fresh water.

The rim rock crowned snake is slightly smaller, ranging from 7-9 inches in length. This slender snake can be identified by its black head and its tan or beige body. As a mostly fossorial (underground) species, the rim rock crowned snake typically inhabits shallow soil, rocks, and stumps. Its habitat spans from the lower Florida Keys in the south to Miami-Dade County in the north.

According to the Federal Register notice, due to the cryptic and fossorial nature of the ring-necked and rim rock snakes, there is limited information available concerning the species’ population and demographics. As such, the Service based its assessment of each snake on the condition of its habitat as a proxy. The Service stated that the primary threats to the snakes include urban and agricultural development throughout the Florida Keys, which have fragmented the species’ limited habitats. The snakes also face concurrent habitat threats from fire suppression and sea level rise driven by climate change. Due to the snakes’ limited population range, these species experience low resiliency and are especially susceptible to further habitat loss.

As a consequence of shrinking habitats and limited resiliency, the Service concluded that each snake warrants listing as an endangered species under the ESA.

The Federal Register notice states the proposed rule will be open for comments until December 13, 2022. The Federal Register notice and supporting documents are available at regulations.gov, under Docket Number FWS-R4-ES-2022-0022.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Two California Salamanders Proposed for Endangered Species Protections

Grazing, Roads, Climate Change Threaten Kern Canyon, Relictual Slender Salamanders

CARLSBAD, Calif.—(October 17,2022)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed protecting two species of salamander in Southern California under the Endangered Species Act, while denying protections to a third. The Kern Canyon slender salamander will be protected as threatened and the relictual slender salamander as endangered. The agency declined to protect the Kern Plateau salamander.

Today’s proposal responds to a 2012 petition and subsequent litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity. As part of the decision, the agency proposed to protect 2,051 acres of critical habitat for the Kern Canyon slender salamander and 2,685 acres for the relictual slender salamander.

“I’m so glad these two secretive, slender salamanders are finally on track to get the protection they need to survive,” said Tiffany Yap, a senior scientist at the Center. “Protecting these salamanders will help preserve the seeps and streams that provide clean water for wildlife and people alike.”

The Kern Canyon slender salamander and relictual slender salamander have small ranges in the southern Sierra Nevada, where decades of livestock grazing, logging and development — including the construction of the Isabella Dam and state Route 178 — have taken their toll. The Kern Canyon slender salamander is believed to survive at just nine sites and the relictual slender salamander at 12. The latter species has been lost from the Lower Kern River Canyon.

Both species are lungless, breathing through their skin. They are terrestrial salamanders that catch invertebrates with projectile tongues. The salamanders are found close to water, including seeps and streams, under cover objects such as logs, leaf litter and rocks. They’re thought to be highly sedentary, not moving far from where they were born.

“Few may ever be fortunate enough to see one of these intriguing salamanders, but their habitat is important, and they play a crucial role in the web of life, helping to control insect populations and providing prey to other animals,” said Yap. “We can’t allow these unique salamanders be lost to our own carelessness.”

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

2022 State of the Birds Report shows broad declines for U.S. species, except for waterfowl

Paul A. Smith, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 15, 2022

A sobering report released last week showed declines in U.S. birds in every habitat except wetlands and called for new conservation measures to help reverse the losses.

The 2022 U.S. State of the Birds Report released last week by the U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative used the latest bird monitoring and scientific data to assess the status and health of all U.S. bird species, according to its authors.

It was the first comprehensive look at the nation’s birds since a 2019 study showed the loss of nearly 3 billion birds in the U.S. and Canada over the last 50 years.

The 2022 NABCI report shows that more than half of bird species are declining and some are at a tipping point toward extinction.

The report used five sources of data, including the North American Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count, to track the health of breeding birds in habitats across the U.S.

Findings in the 2022 State of the Birds report included:

*More than half of U.S. bird species are declining.

*U.S. grassland birds are among the fastest declining with a 34% loss since 1970.

*Waterbirds and ducks in the U.S. have increased by 18% and 34%, respectively, during the same period.

*Seventy newly identified Tipping Point species have each lost 50% or more of their populations in the past 50 years, and are on track to lose another half in the next 50 years if nothing changes. These species, none of which are currently listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act, include the rufous hummingbird, golden-winged warbler and black-footed albatross.

*Hawaii’s ten most endangered species are collectively represented by fewer than 5,500 individual birds.

*Shorebirds are down 33% since 1970.

The report tells a tale of two trends, one hopeful, one dire, according to the American Bird Conservancy.

Significant declines of U.S. bird populations seen in all habitats except wetlands

Long-term trends of waterfowl show strong increases where investments in wetland conservation, including through the Federal Duck Stamp program and contributions from excise taxes and license sales to hunters, have improved conditions for birds and people.

But data show birds in the U.S. are declining overall in every other habitat — forests, grasslands, deserts and oceans.

The Birds of Conservation Concern (BCC) list, mandated by law and updated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, identified 269 migratory nongame bird species that, without additional conservation actions, are likely to become candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

“From grassland birds to seabirds to Hawaiian birds, we continue to see that nearly all groups of birds and types of bird habitat have declined significantly,” said Martha Williams, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Recovering America’s Wildlife Act may help recover declining bird species

The report highlights the need for new funding and support.

“The State of the Birds report paints a grim picture for birds, but it also shows how concerted conservation efforts and investments can recover species,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico).

Heinrich is a sponsor of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, a bill passed by the House of Representatives but awaiting a vote in the Senate. The proposal would provide about $1 billion annually to states and tribes for nongame wildlife management.

“Similar to laws like the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act and North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is widely supported and would smartly address the wildlife crisis in this country,” Heinrich said.

To view the full report, visit stateofthebirds.org/2022/.

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CBC Kids News

#ICYMI — 69% of planet’s wildlife wiped out, report says

Montreal hosting conference in December to encourage action

Story by CBC Kids News • October 14, 2022

In case you missed it (ICYMI), a new report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says that the number of animals on the planet has dropped by almost 70 per cent in 50 years.

The international conservation group released its Living Planet Report 2022 on Oct. 13.

It showed that global populations of all the mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish that they were monitoring have decreased by an average of 69 per cent from 1970 to 2018.

These are “terrifying figures,” said WWF director general Marco Lambertini.

The report is based on data collected by the Zoological Society of London, a British charity devoted to the worldwide conservation of animals.

“Our research gives a clear message: We’re chipping away at the very foundations of life on Earth … and urgent action is needed,” said Zoological Society of London member and report co-author Robin Freeman.

The organization is now calling on governments to make firm commitments to reverse the trend of species loss.

That includes protecting and restoring natural areas and putting money towards the recovery of endangered species, among other things.

Conservationists hope to discuss an action plan at a United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Montreal, Quebec, this December.

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CBC Radio (Toronto)

Whale species discovered just last year already on the brink of extinction

More than 100 marine scientists sign open letter calling for protection for Gulf of Mexico whale

Sheena Goodyear, CBC Radio, Posted: Oct. 14, 2022

It’s been less than a year since scientists identified the Gulf of Mexico whale as a distinct species, and it’s already on the verge of extinction.

Scientists estimate there are only between 50 and 100 of the creatures in existence, and they make their home in U.S. waters that are rife with dangerous human activity, including oil and gas speculation.

“As soon as we knew that this was a unique species, we also knew that it was one of the most critically endangered species on the planet,” Vancouver’s Michael Jasny, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council,  told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

“Just a single oil spill, a strike from a single vessel, just the continuous din of industrial noise around the whales’ habitat, all of these things can drive this … species of whale into extinction.”

That’s why Jasny helped organize an open letter — addressed to U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, and signed by more than 100 marine scientists — calling for new conservation policies to protect the species.

“Gulf of Mexico whales are on the edge of extinction, and measures are urgently needed to reduce mortality and serious injury as well as to alleviate human stressors,” the letter reads.

A new species discovered

Jasny says the Gulf of Mexico Whale — also known as Balaenoptera ricei or Rice’s whale — is “sleek and beautiful.”

It can grow as long as 13 metres and weigh as much as 27,000 kilograms, and has a unique whale song that Jasny describes as “a long moan.”

“It’s this wonderful … enigmatic series of tonal shifts that are very low frequency,” he said. “You really kind of feel it in your bones.”

There are recorded sightings of the marine mammal dating back as far back as 1965, when biologist Dale W. Rice first described them, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

But until recently, scientists thought they were Bryde’s whales, a species found in oceans around the planet.

Over time, a different picture started to emerge. It became clear they were evolutionarily distinct from other Bryde’s whales, and that they made their home exclusively in U.S. waters.

In January 2021, a team of scientists, led by NOAA’s Patricia Rosel, published a paper declaring the whale a unique species, based on DNA evidence and a detained examination of the remains of one that washed ashore and died in Florida in 2019.

Unlike other large whales, which are migratory, Rice’s whale resides in the U.S. year-round. Jasny says that “really puts it in the responsibility of a single nation.”

The creatures have already been afforded some federal protection. They are classified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

But marine traffic and resource extraction continue to pose a significant threat to their dwindling population, and more needs to be done, the scientists who signed the letter say.

“Unless significant conservation actions are taken, the United States is likely to cause the first anthropogenic extinction of a great whale species,” it reads.

What can be done

One of the Rice whale’s primary threats is from marine traffic in the Gulf of Mexico, which cause both collisions and noise pollution.

“Unfortunately, you couldn’t design an animal that could be more vulnerable to collision with those ships,” Jasny said. “The whales spend their days diving for food, but at night they come up quite close to the surface to rest. And they’re just in the perfect spot to be struck by a ship but not seen by the ship and avoided.”

The letter calls on the Biden administration to require traffic in the area to slow down, reducing both noise levels and risk of collision with the whales.

It also calls on the government to reject proposals for offshore oil and gas drilling in the area, warning of the risk of oil spills like 2010’s Deep Water Horizon.

Even oil and gas speculation poses a threat, the scientists say, because the seismic air gun blasts that accompany it can disrupt their feeding and reproduction.

“Both from spills and just from the daily business of oil and gas production, you have an activity that … is just antithetical to the survival and recovery of the species,” Jasny said.

Jasny says he remains hopeful the U.S. government will take heed their call.

As It Happens reached out to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for comment. The NOAA said in an email that it’s aware of the letter and will “respond through the appropriate channels.”

Jasny says if the U.S. can’t do what’s necessary to protect this whale, it doesn’t bode well for how it handles the broader climate and biodiversity crises facing the nation and the planet.

“Here you have a you know, what’s known as charismatic megafauna —  I mean, a species that is enormously attractive and appealing to humans,” he said.

“If we can’t muster the leadership to help bring this species back from the brink, it really begs the question about whether we’re going to be able to do anything to stem the tide of the broader crisis we’re in.”

(Interview produced by Devin Nguyen.)

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EcoWatch

Climate Crisis Puts Half of Reefs at Risk by 2035

By: Olivia Rosane, October 13, 202

Half of the world’s coral reefs are threatened by 2035 if nothing is done to mitigate the climate crisis.

That’s the alarming finding of a new study published in PLOS Biology Tuesday, which found that 50 percent of reefs could face “unsuitable” conditions in just 13 years.

“While the negative impacts of climate change on coral reefs are well known, this research shows that they are actually worse than anticipated due to a broad combination of climate change-induced stressors,” lead author and University of Hawaiʻi (UH) at Mānoa Department of Geography and Environment in the College of Social Sciences PhD student Renee O. Setter said in a press release. “It was surprising to find that so many global coral reefs would be overwhelmed by unsuitable environmental conditions so soon due to multiple stressors.”

The fact that coral reefs are in trouble is not news. The climate crisis is currently considered the greatest threat to the world’s reefs, and 14 percent of them were lost because of it between 2009 and 2018 alone. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, even limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrial levels would still see 70 to 90 percent of tropical reefs wiped out.

The new study builds on these earlier warnings by considering how multiple stressors might interact to harm a reef, instead of focusing on just one factor.

“We know that corals are vulnerable to increasing sea surface temperatures and marine heat waves due to climate change. But it is important to include the complete anthropogenic (environmental change caused or influenced by human activity) impact from numerous stressors that coral reefs are exposed to in order to get a better sense of the overall risks to these ecosystems,” study co-author and associate research professor at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology in UH Manoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology Erik Franklin said in the press release.

The five stressors the research team considered were

*Sea-surface temperature

*Ocean acidification

*Tropical storms

*Land use pressures

*Human population pressures

The research team was interested in when one or more of these pressures would generate unsuitable environmental conditions. This means that the reef ecosystem’s health would degrade considerably, but the species calling it home wouldn’t necessarily become locally or globally extinct. To find out, UH Manoa-based team ran different models based on different emissions scenarios considering the impacts of one or multiple stressors.

In a worst-case, business-as-usual emissions scenario, they found that just one stressor would push half of reefs into unsuitable conditions by 2050. However, if multiple stressors were considered, half of reefs would reach that point by 2035. For a best-case emissions reduction scenario, the difference was still stark. Looking at just one stressor would see 41 percent of reefs facing unsuitable conditions by 2100, but considering multiple would see 64 percent of reefs reach that point by the century’s end.

For the worst-case scenario, predictions were even more dire for the mid and end point of the century, with 99 percent of reefs facing unsuitable conditions due to at least one stressor by 2055 and 93 percent of reefs threatened by two or more stressors by 2100. All of this means that scientists and conservationists need to act faster to save the world’s coral reefs.

“Prior studies have indicated the projected dire effects of climate change on coral reefs by mid-century; by analyzing a multitude of projected disturbances, our study reveals a much more severe prognosis for the world’s coral reefs as they have significantly less time to adapt while highlighting the urgent need to tackle available solutions to human disturbances,” the study authors concluded in their abstract.

While the paper is global in scope, it also has important local consequences.

“This has great implications for our local Hawaiian reefs that are key to local biodiversity, island culture, fisheries and tourism,” Franklin said in the press release.

The team next hopes to study the impact of the climate crisis on individual coral species to determine which are more vulnerable.

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University of Washington (Seattle, WA)

Endangered fruit-eating animals play an outsized role in a tropical forest — losing them could have dire consequences

James Urton, UW News, October 12, 2022

A new study by researchers at the University of Washington shows that losing a particular group of endangered animals — those that eat fruit and help disperse the seeds of trees and other plants — could severely disrupt seed-dispersal networks in the Atlantic Forest, a shrinking stretch of tropical forest and critical biodiversity hotspot on the coast of Brazil.

The findings, published Oct. 12 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, indicate that a high number of plant species in today’s Atlantic Forest rely on endangered frugivores — the scientific term for animals that eat primarily fruit — to help disperse their seeds throughout the forest. As a result, losing those endangered frugivores would leave a high proportion of plants without an effective means to disperse and regenerate — endangering these plants, reducing diversity in the Atlantic Forest and crippling critical portions of this ecosystem.

“Tropical forests contain this incredible diversity of trees,” said lead author Therese Lamperty, a UW postdoctoral researcher in biology. “One of the main processes forests use to maintain this diversity is dispersal. If you’re not dispersed, you’re in a crowd of trees that are just like you – all competing for resources. And there are a lot of plant enemies already in the area or that can be easily recruited, like harmful animals or plant diseases. Your chance of survival is higher when you get transported away from your mother tree to an area without trees like you.”

The Atlantic Forest, which lies east of the rainforests of the Amazon Basin, once encompassed an area twice the size of Texas. Some 85% of it has been lost over the centuries due to deforestation, industrial development and urbanization in eastern Brazil, according to The Nature Conservancy. The forest is home to a variety of frugivores, from primates to birds, which disperse seeds by regurgitating or excreting them. The seeds of some plant species can’t even germinate until they pass through the gastrointestinal tract of a frugivore.

Lamperty and senior author Berry Brosi, a UW associate professor of biology, analyzed a dataset published in 2017 that incorporated data on the diet and distribution of fruit-eating vertebrates in the Atlantic Forest. The data, compiled from 166 studies spanning more than half a century, allowed Lamperty and Brosi to paint a comprehensive picture of the interactions between hundreds of frugivore species — 331 total — and 788 tree species.

“For reference, the entire state of Washington only has 25 native tree species,” said Lamperty.

Lamperty and Brosi deduced how important those frugivore species are for the forest by modeling how many tree species would be left without seed-dispersal partners if certain frugivores died out. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, only 14% of the frugivore species they analyzed are endangered, but losing them left about 28% of the plant species they analyzed without a means of dispersing seeds. Losing endangered frugivores led to a worse outcome than losing even “generalist” frugivores, which eat fruits and nuts from a variety of species and were previously believed to be the most important group of frugivores for seed dispersal networks.

“A lot of frugivores are generalists. But in the Atlantic Forest, it turns out that a lot of plants are specialists,” said Brosi. “The size and the toughness of their fruit and their distribution in the forest can really limit which animals can perform this important role for them.”

Nearly 55% of the specialist plant species in the dataset relied solely on endangered frugivores to disperse their seeds.

Losing a species — like an endangered frugivore — is bad enough. But this study serves as a reminder that what appears to be one loss has numerous “secondary effects,” said Lamperty. Researchers don’t always know these effects until in-depth studies that span years and incorporate many species linked by different interactions, like this one, are conducted. That can also keep the public unaware about the long-term consequences of losing endangered species.

“It’s a reminder that we should try to understand better what ecological roles and interactions we lose when endangered animals disappear — not just these seed dispersal networks, but other roles, too,” said Lamperty. “Endangered animals have co-evolved with many species in these ecosystems, and I’m not sure we know enough about the roles they play in the health and well-being of places like the Atlantic Forest.”

“It’s an alarming finding, and a sign that we should pay more attention to these interactions between species when considering conservation and land protections,” said Brosi.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, Emory University and the UW.

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MyNorthwest (Seattle, WA)

WA lists Cascade red fox as endangered species

BY L.B. GILBERT, MyNorthwest Content Editor, October 12, 2022

The Washington state Fish and Wildlife Commission has listed the Cascade red fox as an endangered species.

This comes after Mount Rainier Wildlife ecologists drafted a report in July, recommending the foxes be listed as a threatened sub-species.

Cascade red foxes are an endemic subspecies of the red fox, native to alpine habitats of the southern Cascade Mountains.

No resident population is currently known to exist north of the Interstate 90 corridor. Climate change could reduce the availability of habitat for this species.

According to the Fish and Wildlife website, the foxes have a high vulnerability to climate change because they are adapted specifically to a higher elevation with colder climates, which has been reduced due to warming temperatures and longer fire seasons.

Over the course of the next few years, the report says that the wildlife commission will need to develop a recovery plan for the species to prevent them from going extinct.

The newest report says they only exist in about half their historical habitat.

This puts pressure on the state agency to further research the animal and develop a recovery plan to keep this species of fox from going extinct.

They are one of the top predators in the mountains and play a vital role in keeping their ecosystem intact.

Going forward the agency is looking to conduct a more in-depth review to find a resident population of Cascade red foxes in the North Cascades to better understand how to protect the sub-species.

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Courthouse News Service

Budget squeezes hindering US efforts to save endangered species

While the Endangered Species Act represents one of the strongest laws for imperiled species conservation in the world, a new study suggests the agency responsible for listing and protecting species is starved for resources.

ALANNA MADDEN,  October 12, 2022

(CN) — When it comes to environmental conservation, it’s easy to champion the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as the save-all solution to protecting imperiled species. However, new research published Wednesday suggests the U.S. is not protecting enough species in a timely manner.

Led by Erich Eberhard of Columbia University, the study finds that despite representing the strongest law in the U.S. for preventing species extinction, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which is responsible for implementing the ESA, is starved for resources.

“As a result, we are very slow to give species the protections they deserve, typically waiting until they’re extremely rare and at an extreme risk of extinction,” Eberhard told CNS. “And then when the species are listed, the Fish and Wildlife Service isn’t being provided with the resources it needs to recover them.”

The study is not a dig at Fish and Wildlife, which was unable to comment on the study before press time. In fact, Eberhard explained that when it comes to the Endangered Species Act’s first goal of preventing extinctions, it’s largely successful.

“Many species are recovering, having rates specified in their recovery plan,” Eberhard said.

Instead, the study — published in the peer-reviewed, open access journal PLOS ONE — focuses on the shortcomings of the law’s other goal, which is to get species to the point where they no longer need protection. Part of what researchers found was that the increase of imperiled species outpaced the agency’s budget, leaving it to do more with less and to begin conservation efforts at bleak starting points.

Between 2000 and 2009, for example, the median wait time for listing threatened or endangered species under the law was 9.1 years. The time limit set by Congress is about two years. But during this time, FWS also received the greatest influx of petitions, while the budget per species steadily decreased.

“Concurrently, the number of species listed for protected under the ESA increased by over 300% between 1985-2020,” Eberhard wrote. “As such, resource management appropriations, when measured on a per species basis, have dropped by nearly 50% since 1985. Our data suggests that inadequate funding has persisted for decades, with no clear relationship as to which political party is in power.”

As such, many species are not receiving protection until populations have reached dangerously low levels. Yet, the delay is not just a consequence of underfunding, it’s also a matter of agency process.

“We suspect that most of the species listed since 1993 had fallen to low population levels well before the time span of our study, a reflection of past anthropogenic activities,” Eberhard wrote. “Their protection under the ESA implies a painfully slow process of clearing a backlog of rare but unprotected species as opposed to a failure to respond to recent, rapid population declines in formerly more common species.”

The finding is similar to that of another 2015 study co-written by Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, which explained the Service’s process of listing endangered species, and why it generates a backlog of species awaiting protection.

When a listing petition is filed by a third party, the Service has up to two years and one month to decide whether a species needs protection. But during that timeline, there are three rounds of committee decisions that determine eligibility, one of which can classify a species as “warranted but precluded” – meaning protection is warranted but not possible because another species is a higher priority .

According to Greenwald, the designation was meant to be a limited exception to the Act’s strict timeline. However, the agency’s practice of using the designation liberally contributes to the backlog of species awaiting listing decisions.

Should the FWS find a species needs listing, its third round of decisions involves issuing a proposed rule, opening a comment period and issuing a final rule to list a species or withdraw it from consideration. Yet, if there’s a scientific dispute, the agency can extend the process for six months, but it’s not the only delaying factor.

Political interferences also happen, Greenwald says, which might account for why FWS doesn’t often initiate listings on its own — a process that only takes one year.

“They’re constantly worried that there’s going to be backlash to listing a species, and then maybe Congress will step in and undermine the Endangered Species Act,” said Greenwald, noting how certain protections can impede vested interests like oil production. “That fear is really real to them, so they often don’t list species that clearly need to be listed.”

Or, as noted by Eberhard apart from the study, the former administration made several moves that conservationists considered efforts to weaken the ESA. The most significant, Eberhard explained, was an alteration to the definition of “critical habitat,” which narrowed the definition in a way that made it more difficult to reserve lands previously considered essential to species recovery. The Biden Administration has since revoked these changes.

Litigation is another contributing factor to why it could take longer for species to be listed, as organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity sue the government when it denies a listing or places a species on the consideration list too long.

According to Greenwald, the Center’s lawsuits have contributed to listing over 700 species over the years, and Eberhard’s research makes a similar note, stating how the majority of the recent listings are the result of a petition or lawsuit. However, his research does not address political factors contributing to listing delays, only that funding for the Service’s resources has decreased regardless of political party.

At the end of the day, Eberhard hopes international leaders will use research like his to use the Endangered Species Act as a template for how to create “an ambitious, visionary framework to provide biodiversity conservation around the world in the coming decade” and to learn from its mistakes.

To that note, Eberhard said, “the functional implementation of that framework is going to depend on in part on a serious investment of resources by the parties.”

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EcoWatch

California Becomes First State to Ban Plastic Produce Bags

By: Olivia Rosane, October 12, 2022

Much of the movement to reduce ocean plastic pollution has focused on the single-use plastic bags used to cart purchases away from the supermarket. But there’s another type of plastic bag that is ubiquitous in grocery stores across the country: the handleless plastic bags typically on offer by the produce or meat sections for shoppers to tear off and use to separate their apples or cold cuts from the rest of their haul.

In California grocery stores, however, these other plastic bags will soon be a thing of the past. The state became the first in the nation to ban them in grocery stores when Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill to that effect into law September 30.

“This kind of plastic film is not recyclable. It’s a contaminant in almost any bin you put it into,” Nick Lapis, director of advocacy for pro-bill group Californians Against Waste, told The San Jose Mercury News. “It flies around landfills and flies out of trucks. It gets stuck on gears at recycling facilities. And it contaminates compost. It’s a problematic product we want to get rid of.”

The bill, known as Senate Bill (SB) 1046, stipulates that stores can only provide so-called “precheckout bags” if they are compostable or made from recyclable paper.

“The bill would define a ‘precheckout bag’ for this purpose to mean a bag provided to a customer before the customer reaches the point of sale, that is designed to protect a purchased item from damaging or contaminating other purchased items in a checkout bag, or to contain an unwrapped food item,” the bill reads.

The ban was originally going to go into effect in 2023, but the California Grocers Association successfully lobbied to push the date back to January 1, 2025, according to The San Jose Mercury News.

The bill builds on the success of Proposition 67, a ballot measure that banned plastic carry-out bags in 2016.

“There was a 72% drop in grocery bag litter in the state just one year after it was fully implemented,” Californians Against Waste Legislative Director Nicole Kurian told ABC7.

The original ban was passed based on arguments about the role that petroleum-based plastics play in the climate crisis and the ways in which they pollute the terrestrial and marine environments, according to The San Jose Mercury News. However, another factor also influenced the new bill’s passage. Also in 2016, the state passed a bill to reduce the amount of organic waste tossed into landfills by 75 percent by 2025. This led composting programs to sprout up, but plastic produce bags can contaminate the state’s compost.

“Requiring compostable bags be provided by grocery stores in lieu of plastic produce bags is a critical step to increasing and cleaning our composting streams,” the bill’s author Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) said in a statement posted by Californians Against Waste. ‘SB 1046 is also an indispensable tool our local jurisdictions can use to meet our state’s composting and organic waste diversion requirements.”

The loudest voice against the bill was the California Grocers Association, which argued that the bags were essential for hygiene reasons, according to The San Jose Mercury News. The bill’s supporters countered that compostable or paper bags could be just as effective at keeping food separate when necessary.

The California Grocers Association has now accepted that the bill will be law, however.

“Now that the governor has signed SB 1046, the grocery community is focused on preparing to comply with the new law by 2025,” the group’s senior director of communications Nate Rose told SFGATE in an email. “There are many moving pieces to navigate, mostly concerning how to source and scale compostable and recyclable pre-checkout bags for our shoppers in a supply chain environment that has not been without its challenges in the past few years.”

Ordinary shoppers overall seemed pleased with the measure, at least according to interviews conducted by ABC7 in San Jose.

“We have to solve the plastic problem because we’re idiots,” shopper Barbara Dixon told the network. “Humans have got to stop doing crazy stuff and start fixing things.”

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The Chronicle (Centralia, WA)

Weyerhaeuser Reaches Agreement With Federal Government to Protect Endangered Bird Species

By The Chronicle staff, October 12, 2022

Weyerhaeuser Timber Holdings, Inc., has developed a safe harbor agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect marbled murrelets, a federally threatened seabird.

The draft agreement was released on Wednesday for a 30-day public comment period.

Safe harbor agreements are voluntary, non-regulatory agreements for private landowners who wish to support the recovery of plants and animals listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In exchange, the landowner receives assurances they will not be required to engage in new conservation efforts in the future.

A total of 637,021 acres of land located in Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King, Pierce, Thurston, Lewis, Cowlitz, Wahkiakum, Pacific and Grays Harbor counties are proposed for inclusion in the agreement.

Under the proposed agreement, Weyerhaeuser will continue to continue managing its forest lands for timber production while voluntarily deferring timber harvests on land that is potential marbled murrelet nesting habitat.

The marbled murrelet, which spends most of its life in marine waters, was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1992. The bird is found along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to central California and nests in forests up to several dozen miles inland.

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WUSF Public Media/WUSF 89.7 (Tampa, FL)

Gopher tortoises are not endangered and will not get increased protections, federal officials say

By Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida, October 11, 2022

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says increased protections are not warranted for gopher tortoises in Florida and other states, despite issues such as development moving into the animals’ habitats.

Concluding that the animals are “not in danger of extinction,” federal wildlife officials Tuesday rejected listing gopher tortoises in Florida as endangered or threatened species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a 113-page decision that said gopher tortoises would continue to be considered a threatened species in parts of southwest Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana under the Endangered Species Act.

But it said increased protections are not warranted for gopher tortoises in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and other parts of Alabama, despite issues such as development moving into the animals’ habitats.

“Although the threats to the species of habitat loss and fragmentation due to urbanization, climate change, sea level rise, and habitat management are expected to persist in the foreseeable future and the effects of these threats on this long-lived species will continue at some level, some threats have been reduced and will continue to be reduced through implemented and ongoing conservation actions and regulatory mechanisms,” the agency’s decision said.

But the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed a lawsuit that helped spark a review of the animals’ status, sharply criticized the decision.

“Denying gopher tortoises the protection they need to survive is indefensible,” attorney Elise Bennett, Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a prepared statement. “It ignores devastating urban sprawl that’s decimated the tortoise’s habitat and will continue to drive the species ever closer to extinction.”

Gopher tortoises have long spurred debates in Florida, as development has spread and conservationists have pushed for habitat protections. Gopher tortoises are considered threatened by the state, which has a permitting process for capturing and relocating the animals.

The Legislature this year passed a measure that took steps to increase the sites where gopher tortoises can be moved. In part, the bill (SB 494) directed state agencies to consider using parts of certain public lands as gopher tortoise “recipient” sites. Also, it called for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to “streamline and improve the review of applications for public and private gopher tortoise recipient sites.”

But groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity have long sought increased protections for the animals.

In the lawsuit filed last year in federal court in Washington, D.C., the Center for Biological Diversity accused the Fish and Wildlife Service of “dragging its feet” on listing gopher tortoises and other species as endangered or threatened. A settlement in April led to the review.

The review included scenarios up to 80 years in the future. While it said gopher tortoises are “likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future” in the region that includes southwest Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, that was not the case in areas such as Florida.

“After evaluating threats to the species and assessing the cumulative effect of the threats … we conclude that the risk factors acting on the gopher tortoise and its habitat, either singly or in combination, are not of sufficient imminence, scope or magnitude to rise to the level to indicate that the species is in danger of extinction now (an endangered species), or likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future (a threatened species), throughout all of its range,” the decision said.

But the Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release that development and habitat loss for gopher tortoises “limits food availability and options for burrow sites, which exposes them to being crushed in their burrows during construction, run over by cars or senselessly attacked by people.”

“This denial is a blow to the gopher tortoise and all the people who care deeply about this humble creature’s future, but we won’t give up,” Bennett said. “We’ll review this decision closely and fight to get the tortoise the protections it needs to survive.”

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New York Times

Six Gray Wolves in Washington Were Fatally Poisoned, Officials Say

More than $51,000 is being offered for information about the endangered animals’ deaths.

By Derrick Bryson Taylor, Oct. 11, 2022

Officials with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are investigating the fatal poisoning of six endangered gray wolves in the northeastern part of the state, the authorities said on Monday. More than $51,000 in rewards are being offered for information about the poisonings.

The investigation began in February when officials found four dead wolves from the Wedge pack in Stevens County, about 65 miles northwest of Spokane, according to a news release from the department. Within a month, officials discovered two more dead wolves.

All six wolves died from ingesting poison, according to officials.

The pack had been known to cause trouble. In July 2020, officials killed an adult female member of the pack, which had repeatedly preyed on cattle on public and private grazing lands. More wolves were lethally removed the next month.

Becky Elder, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Police, said on Tuesday that there had been previous cases of wolves being poached in the state, but they had been singular in scope. “This incident is quite large in scale compared to prior poaching with six wolves killed in a relatively short time frame,” she said, declining to give specifics on the type of poison used or how it was administered.

“With increased patrols and enforcement presence we are hopeful that this type of illegal activity is not replicated by those responsible for the initial poaching or attempts made by potential copycats,” Ms. Elder said.

A group of eight organizations, including Northwest Animals Rights Network and Washington Wildlife First, are offering rewards totaling $51,400 for information that leads to a conviction in the poisonings.

“It is deeply disturbing that even with the use of publicly funded deterrents and state intervention in response to depredations, there is still a situation where someone felt compelled to do this,” Paula Swedeen, a policy director at Conservation Northwest, one of the organizations offering the rewards, said in a news release. “We need to find solutions that allow wolves to inhabit this wild country without constant death threats hanging over their heads.”

Zoe Hanley, a wolf biologist with Defenders of Wildlife, another organization supporting the investigation, said the poisonings were a “tragic, unnecessary loss” to the state’s wolf population. “This cowardly act flies in the face of committed efforts from biologists, policymakers and ranchers working to recover and coexist with wolves in Washington,” she said.

Under state law, gray wolves are listed as endangered, and the animals are also protected by the federal Endangered Species Act in western portions of the state. At the end of 2021, there were at least 206 wolves in the state, officials said. Results from the next year-end population survey will be released in the spring.

The illegal killing of a wolf is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

Late last year, officials in Oregon pleaded with the public for help in solving a similar case in which eight wolves were found dead from poisoning. It was unclear if that case had been solved.

The debate over the protection and management of wolves across the United States dates back nearly 50 years, when they were first shielded by the 1973 Endangered Species Act.

In February, gray wolves regained federal protection in most of the lower 48 states after a court ruling struck down a 2020 Trump administration decision to remove the animals from the endangered species list.

After gray wolves were removed from the list, wolf hunting sharply rose in some states, particularly in Wisconsin, where hunters killed more than 200 in less than three days.

Before European settlers arrived, gray wolves thrived in forests, prairies, mountains and wetlands across North America. But two centuries of eradication campaigns decimated the population in the lower 48 states, leaving about 1,000 south of the Canadian border by the mid-20th century.

Population numbers rebounded after the species was placed under federal protection. In 2020, about 6,000 wolves were living in the western Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains, with smaller populations in Oregon, Washington and California.

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EcoWatch

Spend Time Near Water as a Child? You’re Probably a Happier Adult, Study Finds

By: Paige Bennett, October 11, 2022

More and more studies are showing the benefits of having outdoor access and spending time in nature. Even just having indoor plants in your home or looking at nature photos can have positive impacts for humans. So it’s no surprise that a new study from University of Exeter has found that people who have positive experiences with blue spaces, like lakes, rivers or ponds, in childhood tend to have a better sense of well-being as adults.

Researchers at University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health collected data from over 15,000 people in 18 countries in the BlueHealth International Survey (BIS).

The survey asked for participants to think back to experiences with blue spaces they had from ages 16 and under, with questions asking for specifics about how often these spaces were visited and how comfortable the parents or guardians were with the kids playing in these blue spaces. The survey also asked respondents to share any experiences with both blue and green spaces over the previous month along with questions about mental health over the two weeks prior to taking the survey.

The results were analyzed and used for a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. Researchers found that those who spent more time with blue spaces as children and had positive experiences tended to spend more time in nature as adults, too, and exhibited signs of better well-being in adulthood.

“In the context of an increasingly technological and industrialized world, it’s important to understand how childhood nature experiences relate to wellbeing in later life,” Valeria Vitale, study lead author and PhD candidate at Sapienza University of Rome said in a statement. “Our findings suggest that building familiarity and confidence in and around blue spaces during childhood may stimulate an inherent joy of nature and encourage people to seek out recreational nature experiences, with beneficial consequences for adult mental health.”

While the researchers note that blue spaces can be dangerous for children, it’s important for parents and guardians to help kids develop skills to feel safe and comfortable in blue spaces in order to reap benefits well into adulthood. The study also emphasizes the need for more natural blue and green spaces in cities.

“The current study is adding to our growing awareness of the need for urban planners and local bodies responsible for managing our green and blue spaces to provide safe, accessible access to natural settings for the healthy mental and physical development of our children,” said Mathew White, study co-author and senior scientist at the University of Vienna. “If our findings are supported by longitudinal research that tracks people’s exposures over the entire life-course, it would suggest that further work, policies and initiatives encouraging more blue space experiences during childhood may be a viable way to support the mental health of future generations.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Legal Victory Speeds Habitat Protection for Endangered Florida Bonneted Bat

Bat Extremely Vulnerable to Habitat Destruction, Sea-Level Rise

PETERSBURG, Fla.—(October 7, 2022)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed today to propose critical habitat for the endangered Florida bonneted bat by Nov. 15, 2022, marking a legal victory for the Center for Biological Diversity, Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association and Tropical Audubon Society. The indigenous bat faces devastating habitat loss from sea-level rise and urban sprawl.

“The Florida bonneted bat’s habitat is disappearing before our very eyes, so federal action is absolutely crucial,” said Ragan Whitlock, a Florida-based attorney at the Center. “Protecting the places these bats call home is long overdue, but I’m happy the necessary safeguards will be in place soon.”

Development and pesticide use nearly drove Florida bonneted bats extinct before litigation filed by the Center compelled the Service to protect the bat in 2013 under the Endangered Species Act. Conservation groups again sued in 2018 and 2022 to protect the bat’s dwindling habitat.

“It is unfortunate that conservation groups have to routinely sue the USFWS in order to compel them to do their job, especially in circumstances as clear at that presented by the Florida bonneted bat’s need for critical habitat designation,” said Dennis Olle, president of the Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association. “We hope this agreement will finally secure a better future for the bat but stand ready to keep fighting until this incredibly vulnerable species gets the protections it deserves.”

“Without immediate action we might lose this fragile species, so the fact that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is finally taking the necessary step of proposing critical habitat for the bat is hopeful,” said Lauren Jonaitis, conservation director of Tropical Audubon Society. “Every species counts because biodiversity is essential to the ecosystems we all rely upon to eat, breathe and thrive.”

Animals with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be moving toward recovery than species without such protections. Federal agencies that fund or permit projects in critical habitat are required to consult with the Service to ensure this habitat is not harmed or destroyed by their actions.

Florida bonneted bats have one of the smallest ranges of any bat species. They live only in South Florida — an area that’s highly susceptible to rising sea levels and development. Projections indicate that sea levels will rise between 3 and 6 feet within much of the bats’ habitat over the course of this century. The bats are the largest found in the state and get their common name from the broad ears that extend over their foreheads like bonnets.

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EcoWatch

Plastics Increase Acidity of the World’s Oceans, Study Finds

By: Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, October 6, 2022

The trillions of pieces of plastic that end up in Earth’s oceans each year are wreaking havoc on the hundreds of thousands of marine organisms who live there. Mammals like whales and smaller organisms like fish ingest plastic particles, which contain toxins that stay in the animals’ bodies and are passed along to the organisms that feed on them, while dolphins, turtles and other marine life become entangled in discarded fishing nets.

Now, new research has shown that, not only does plastic harm marine animals, it also contributes to ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification occurs when the pH levels of the planet’s oceans decrease due to their uptake of human-produced carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Higher levels of acidity in the ocean makes it hard for organisms that use calcification — like corals, oysters, urchins and planktons — to build their skeletons. When these organisms falter, it can affect other marine species that rely on them for habitat and food.

A new study led by scientists from Barcelona’s Institut de Ciències del Mar (ICM-CSIC) has found that the interaction of plastic with sunlight causes a mixture of chemicals to be released into the ocean, reported Mongabay. The organic acids that are leached into the ocean lower the seawater’s pH and cause a rise in acidity. Plastic deteriorating in the sun can also result in a release of carbon dioxide, causing pH levels to fall even further.

“The main factor producing the acidification is the greenhouse gas emissions that are dissolved in the ocean,” postdoctoral researcher at ICM-CSIC Cristina Romera-Castillo, who was lead author of the study, told Mongabay. “But I think it’s interesting to know that plastic is also contributing to the acidification.”

The study, “Abiotic plastic leaching contributes to ocean acidification,” was published in the journal Science of The Total Environment.

About 30 percent of the carbon emissions produced by humans are absorbed by the world’s oceans, which has caused a decrease in pH levels, Mongabay reported, with the corresponding rise in acidity. Ocean acidification doesn’t happen equally across the world, however. The pH of surface waters has gone down an average of about 0.1 pH units, which has caused many changes that will be exacerbated if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase.

“Thanks to this study we have been able to prove that in highly plastic-polluted ocean surface areas, plastic degradation will lead to a drop of up to 0.5 pH units, which is comparable to the pH drop estimated in the worst anthropogenic emissions scenarios for the end of the 21st century,” Romera-Castillo said, as reported by Earth.com.

The research team used new plastics and aged plastics gathered from beaches in the Canary Islands for their study, Mongabay reported. The plastic fragments were placed inside glass bottles full of seawater and exposed to levels of ultraviolet light comparable to those of the sun.

The scientists found that old, decaying plastic released higher levels of broken down organic carbon into the ocean. After just six days of sunlight exposure, a significant amount of organic carbon was released by older plastics, leading to a marked decrease in pH, reported Earth.com. However, new low-intensity polyethylene (LDPE), polystyrene and plastic fragments that were biodegradable did not cause pH to fall considerably. 

“I think it’s important that people know about this phenomenon,” marine biologist and ocean acidification expert at the University of Plymouth Jason Hall-Spencer, who was not involved in the study, told Mongabay, “because what we’re often told is that plastics, once they get into the ocean, will last for millions of years, won’t break down or be there effectively forever.”

How much plastic contributes to ocean acidification is another question. Hall-Spencer said that the effects of plastic acidification could be lessened by the mixing of the water by the ocean’s currents and waves. Carbon dioxide-consuming organisms encrusted on the plastics could also mitigate the amount of acidification the plastics contributed, Hall-Spencer said, adding that much of the ocean plastic falls to the seafloor, away from sunlight.

Plymouth Marine Laboratory marine ecologist and co-chair of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network Stephen Widdicombe, who was also not involved in the study, pointed out that the findings of the study are important because they demonstrate that plastic could further coastline ocean acidification, though additional research would be necessary to determine if the same results would occur in a broader, natural setting.

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EcoWatch

First Artificial Coral Modules Placed off Caribbean Island to Restore Dying Reefs

By Olivia Rosane, October 6, 2022

Coral reefs are some of the ecosystems most vulnerable to the climate crisis. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that if global warming reaches even two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, 99 percent of them will die off.

Yet these unique ecosystems, which currently only take up less than 0.1 percent of ocean space, support more than 25 percent of marine biodiversity. To help restore and protect these important habitats, the innovative project OceanShot placed its first-ever human-made “coral modules” off the coast of Antigua and Barbuda Monday. 

“This is our moon shot — but instead of launching up, we’re launching down,” OceanShot co-founder and climate scientist and marine biologist Dr. Deborah Brosnan said in a press release. “With OceanShot, we are restoring the place that is critical to human survival today — as well as for our future. Without healthy oceans, there is no us.”

OceanShot was launched a year ago by Brosnan and philanthropist entrepreneur John Paul DeJoria to help restore reefs that are already struggling. It is backed by the Global Citizen Forum and the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI).

Currently, more coral is lost each day than can be restored in 10 years, and the world’s oceans have already lost half of their reefs. Global warming killed off 14 percent of reefs between 2010 and 2020 alone, according to Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network data reported by The Hill.

Warming ocean temperatures are responsible for coral bleaching, in which the hot water drives away the algae that give coral nutrients and color. In addition to bleaching, the climate crisis also threatens coral because increased carbon dioxide in the oceans leads to ocean acidification. Reefs are also threatened by more localized pollution from agriculture and coastal development as well as overfishing.

The island nation of Antigua and Barbuda is an example of a place whose reefs have almost entirely died, which is partly why it was chosen to be the first site of the OceanShot project, according to the press release. The country has suffered from the loss of its reefs, which protect islands from storm surges and prevent erosion. Some of its beaches are disappearing at a rate of 10 feet per year.

“The island nation of Antigua and Barbuda proudly pledged its full support to OceanShot from the outset,” Prime Minister Gaston Browne said in the press release. “We are the first country on which the project’s scalable solutions have been deployed. Prioritizing ocean resilience and blue economy for our citizens are among the most important initiatives being developed on the islands of Antigua and Barbuda.”

OceanShot spent a year developing its restoration project with scientists of different specialities as well as local residents. It involved three main components:

*Coral reef modules: These are human-made structures that are designed to provide habitat and protect the coasts. The first were made by Reef Cells.

*2,000 corals: These corals were raised by the community to be “planted” on the modules.

*A living lab: This is an ongoing site of experimentation on Barbuda for reef restoration.

The first five modules were put in place off the coast of Barbuda’s Coco Point on Monday, Brosnan announced on Instagram.

“Today we created history,” she said on Instagram.

The team also placed AI cameras in the seabed to monitor the success of the project.

While the OceanShot is starting in one Caribbean location, Brosnan hoped to see it expand to other islands in the future.

“This isn’t just a science project, this is a full-scale solution that might be the answer to saving small island nations,” she said. “We now know how to design and build reefs, and locate them so we get maximum benefits for the coast, as well as reviving fisheries and local communities’ blue economies.”

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World Animal News

Breaking! The European Parliament Votes To Increase Protection Of Endangered Species; Calls For Ending The Illegal Wildlife Trade By 2025

October 5, 2022, By Lauren Lewis

Ahead of the global UN meeting on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Panama which begins on November 14th, the European Parliament voted today to approve strategic objectives to improve the global protection of at-risk species.

According to a statement from the assembly, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) want to go further than reduce illegal trade of CITES-listed wildlife species and eliminate it altogether by 2025. A move the MEPs deem necessary because of the threat presented by the wildlife trade to individual animals and species, as well as to human and animal health and the environment.

Parliament also expressed a concern that the market for exotic pets and the range of affected species being traded are growing both in the EU and internationally.

The resolution calls on all countries to significantly improve their enforcement of the UN Convention, as the current application of bans and restrictions on the trade in protected species is inadequate due to lack of resources. To successfully combat the involvement of organized criminal groups, MEPs believe that transnational wildlife crime should be recognized as serious organized crime under the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime.

Parliament calls on the EU to review and expand the existing legislation regulating wildlife trade to make it illegal to import, export, sell, acquire or buy wild animals that are taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of the law of the country of origin or transit.

They also want dissuasive sanctions in cases of non-compliance, urgent action to ban the import of “hunting trophies” of CITES-listed species, and the creation of a science-based EU-wide approved list of animals allowed as pets. Only animals where trade does not cause harm to wild populations and to European biodiversity should be on the list.

MEPs welcome the renewed commitment to the EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking but stress the need for adequate funding and clear and implementable targets and actions, as well as a monitoring and evaluation mechanism. They also underline the need to tackle both online and offline trade in the revised Action Plan.

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WildEarth Guardians

Mexican wolf recovery plan revision draws mixed reviews from wildlife advocates

Plan limits wolf population to an average of 320 wolves, whereas top wolf scientists have recommended at least 750 wolves in the wild

TUCSON, ARIZONA—(October 5, 2022)—Wildlife advocates expressed mixed feelings about the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, Second Revision that was released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today. The plan includes positive actions towards wolf recovery but also does not go far enough in addressing the dire threats to the species.

“Recovery plans are supposed to be based on the best available science,” said Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project. “The recovery objectives in this plan—improve genetic diversity, ensure adequate habitat availability—are laudable, but the actual criteria for assessing these goals are still lacking. Recovery isn’t just about numbers; it’s about the health and stability of the population in both space and time.”

Conservation groups take particular issue with the plan to downgrade federal protections for the Mexican wolf based solely on the number of captive wolves released into the wild that survive to breeding age – whether or not they ever successfully reproduce. The Service is using that goal as a proxy for meeting genetic diversity goals without using any real genetic diversity metrics to assess inbreeding and adaptive capacity. Today’s plan also limits the wolf population to an average of 320 wolves, whereas top wolf scientists have recommended at least 750 wolves in the wild.

“We’ll have to see whether any of the ideas proposed in the recovery plan have impacts on the ground,” said Chris Smith, southwest wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Human-caused mortality—including intentional, illegal killing—remains one of the greatest threats to lobo recovery. Will the actions proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service really reduce that threat?”

“We need the outcome of more genetically diverse breeding pairs successfully raising their pups in the wild,” said Erin Hunt, coordinator for Lobos of the Southwest. “Releasing genetically important individuals without also assessing whether or not they are actually able to raise families of their own is not enough. Effort without outcomes is meaningless, and none of it will achieve long-term conservation of the Mexican wolf without addressing illegal killing and other sources of human-caused mortality.”

“We have the science to inform best practices regarding increasing genetic diversity, promoting human-wolf coexistence and helping lobos adapt to climate change,” said Michelle Lute, PhD in wolf conservation and carnivore conservation director for Project Coyote. “Yet political extremists and fringe special interests are being allowed to arbitrarily limit Mexican wolf populations and distribution. The Services’ plans to increase outreach, law enforcement, conflict prevention and movement facilitation will need to be much more robust than we’ve seen in the past.”

“I believe that the Service does want to recover the Mexican wolf, but it mistakenly believes it is constrained by the state game and fish agencies’ desire for fewer wolves in fewer places, and a more rapid delisting process that would turn management over to them,” said Anderson. “The Endangered Species Act should not be subverted for the special interests controlling game and fish departments in Arizona and New Mexico.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Alpine Flower in Northern California Proposed for Endangered Species Protection

Climate Change Threatens Lassics Lupine With Extinction

EUREKA, Calif.—(October 5, 2022)—In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect the Lassics lupine under the Endangered Species Act with 512 acres of critical habitat in California’s Humboldt and Trinity counties.

There are only two populations of the lupine. Both grow above 5,000 feet elevation on the talus slopes of Mt. Lassic and Red Lassic Mountain in the Six Rivers National Forest, 80 miles southeast of Eureka.

“Climate change effects in Northern California are already so severe that the Lassics lupine would be lost to extinction within 20 years without intervention,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “Now we breathe a sigh of relief that this beautiful flower finally has the Endangered Species Act’s effective protections to keep it from being lost forever.”

In 2016 the Center, the California Native Plant Society and two scientists petitioned the Service to protect the rare flower, primarily because of threats from climate change. Over the past two decades the lupine’s range has been shrinking because of drought, decreased snowpack and increasing temperatures. As conditions have become harsher, predation on the flower’s seeds from small mammals has increased, pushing it towards extinction.

The plant’s population has become so small that it would be lost to extinction from seed predation without active management efforts using cages to keep out small mammals, whose other food sources have declined. The total population of the plant has ranged from less than 200 to nearly 1,000 individuals over the past five years.

The Lassics lupine has striking, pink-rose-tinged flowers above white-silver foliage, in sharp contrast to the surrounding black and reddish barren rocky slopes where it grows. It is dependent on sufficient snowpack and adequate shade to survive on the steep mountainsides. It benefits from periodic fires that remove encroaching vegetation, but the flower can be threatened by severe fire and the invasive cheatgrass that follows.

“That this alpine flower in a protected area is on the very edge of extinction because of climate change should serve as yet another wake-up call to world governments that we have to take bold action now to save life on Earth. Otherwise the fabric of life is going to unravel, and so are we,” said Curry.

The scientists who joined the petition to list the plant are David Imper, former plant ecologist for the Arcata office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Sydney Carothers, a botanist who has been studying the lupine for more than 20 years.

The lupine was discovered in 1983. The Lassics Mountains were named after the Athapascan Lassik tribe, which was forcibly removed from the region in 1862. The species’ Latin name is Lupinus constancei, named for the famous California botanist Lincoln Constance.

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Southern Environmental Law Center

Snail darter’s recovery tells an Endangered Species Act success story

NASHVILLE, Tenn. —(October 4, 2022)—Today, in a win for endangered species protected by federal law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the beloved snail darter’s recovery and removal from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife.

Native to the Tennessee River watershed in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee, the fish has long been an Endangered Species Act icon thanks to conservation efforts to save its habitat starting in the 1970s, when the Tennessee Valley Authority proposed construction of a dam in the Little Tennessee River. The snail darter was central in the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill, which solidified the scope of the recently passed ESA.

“We are heartened to see that the snail darter no longer faces the threat of extinction. Its growing numbers now stand as a testament to the success of the Act in recovering imperiled species,” says Ramona McGee, Senior Attorney and Leader of SELC’s Wildlife Team. “This delisting comes as a result not only of the population’s current stability, but decades of protection and steady conservation actions that have expanded the range of this southern fish and shown the importance of preserving habitats essential for species endemic to our region.” 

Named for its diet of primarily freshwater snails, the fish was first listed as endangered in 1975, when it put TVA’s plans to build the Tellico Dam on the Little Tennessee River on hold. Its endangered status sparked a contentious legal challenge that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. When the court upheld the newly passed ESA at the request of conservation groups and local organizations, including Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the snail darter came to symbolize the significance of protections for often overlooked species.

“Along with being a household name in many parts of Tennessee, the snail darter has long been a symbol of the Endangered Species Act,” said George Nolan, Senior Attorney in SELC’s Tennessee office. “Now, thanks to decades of conservation efforts, it can be hailed as one of the legislation’s many success stories.”

Though the dam was eventually built after Congress amended the ESA in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, the snail darter’s plight spurred years of conservation actions that helped the fish’s numbers climb. 

The finalized removal of the snail darter from the federal endangered species list follows an August 2021 proposed delisting marking that the fabled fish no longer faces the threat of extinction.

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AFP

Australia lists small wallaby, snake among new endangered species

AFP, October 3, 2022

Australia’s government vowed to stop plant and animal extinctions Tuesday as it listed the grey snake and a small wallaby among 15 new threatened species.

Many of Australia’s unique species are clinging to existence, their habitats shrinking from human activity and extreme events such as the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires, wildlife groups say.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s government announced a new 10-year scheme to try to halt the slide into extinction of 110 “priority species” and to shield 20 “priority places” from further degradation.

It set out an aim of preventing any new extinctions of plants and animals while conserving at least 30 percent of Australia’s land mass.

Wildlife groups blame Australia’s poor record in protecting its unique species largely on habitat destruction, accelerated by global warming and resulting extreme weather.

The Black Summer fires burned through 5.8 million hectares in eastern Australia and killed or displaced an estimated 1-3 billion animals.

“The Black Summer bushfires in particular have seen devastating results for many species. We are determined to give wildlife a better chance,” said Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek.

“Listing species as threatened under national environment law is a critical step in protecting the species and habitats in need  of urgent help.”

‘Extinction capital’

Australia’s attempts to protect its wildlife so far had not worked, the minister added.

“Australia is the mammal extinction capital of the world,” she said.

Among the 15 plants and animals listed as threatened are the endangered mildly-venomous grey snake of Queensland, the vulnerable small parma wallaby — threatened by bushfires and predators — and the endangered small, wingless matchstick grasshopper, which is sensitive  to drought and frequent bushfires.

Listing a species as threatened offers it protection under environment conservation law.

Wildlife groups welcomed the government’s goal of preventing any new plant or animal extinctions.

The objective “is ambitious but essential if future generations of Australians are to see animals like koalas, mountain pygmy possums, greater gliders and gang gang cockatoos,” said the Australian Conservation Foundation’s nature program manager Basha Stasak.

“Stopping the destruction of wildlife habitat is the key to achieving this objective.”

Stasak called on the government to strengthen national environment law, saying it had failed to protect animals, plants and ecosystems.

 ‘Downward spiral’

Scientists had estimated the cost of tackling Australia’s “extinction crisis” at Aus$1.69 billion ($1 billion) a year, Stasak said.

A five-yearly State of the Environment report released in July painted a picture of wildlife devastation on land and sea.

It cited the clearing of millions of hectares of primary forest and mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef caused by marine heatwaves.

WWF-Australia called for investment in recovery plans for all threatened species.

“Australia’s wildlife and wild places have been on a dangerous downward spiral,” said WWF-Australia chief conservation officer Rachel Lowry.

She welcomed Australia’s target of zero new extinctions, saying it matched the goals of New Zealand and European Union  member countries.

Lowry pressed the government to set out and fund a recovery plan for the more than 1,900 threatened species in Australia.

“This plan picks 110 winners,” she said.

“It’s unclear how it will help our other ‘non priority’ threatened species such as our endangered greater glider for example.”

The government said giving priority to certain species and locations would deliver “flow-on benefits” to other threatened plants and animals in the same habitat.

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SF Gate (San Francisco)

Endangered species on the brink of extinction in California desert makes a comeback

Amanda Bartlett, SFGATE, Oct. 2, 2022

A tiny, mouse-like species on the brink of extinction in the Mojave Desert could be making a comeback after years of intensive habitat restoration and conservation efforts in California.

The Amargosa vole, which has a habitat spanning no more than 247 acres in the diminishing marshes in southeastern Inyo County, was previously considered one of the most endangered mammals in North America. Only about 500 of the whiskered rodents were left in the wild, fighting to survive amid a historic drought and “inconsistent water availability,” a report from UC Davis read in 2017. Two years earlier, the university’s veterinary school launched a captive breeding program as one of its “last-ditch intervention attempts to save the species,” but it feared the efforts would not be enough. 

However, a photo captured on August 8 by a trail camera set up along the bulrush by UC Davis researchers showed one or two new pups scurrying around. The sighting occurred after 16 adult voles were gradually reintroduced to the restored wetlands just east of Death Valley National Park beginning in 2020, according to a news release shared by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife last month.

“The goal is to create an independent population in Shoshone to improve resilience of the species,” Janet Foley, vole lead and professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said in a statement. “We were incredibly thrilled to see pups this year on camera. This tells us that the restored marsh has the right conditions to support voles.”

Amargosa voles first appeared in the marshes of Shoshone Village in the late 1800s and were thought to be extinct by the early 1900s until they were rediscovered by a CDFW biologist in the late 1970s. They were subsequently listed as a federally endangered species in 1984. Research conducted by Foley in 2015 revealed the species had an 82% chance of becoming extinct within five years if immediate intervention was not taken.

“Amargosa voles live nowhere else on Earth, except these unique Mojave Desert marshes fed by natural springs and the mostly underground Amargosa River,” Deana Clifford, a senior wildlife veterinarian with the CDFW and co-lead on the vole reintroduction effort, said in a statement. “By restoring marsh habitat, not only will we help voles, but we will provide critically needed water and habitat that many other species need and will increasingly rely on in the future to survive the predicted impacts of climate change.

“The two go hand-in-hand – to save the vole, we must save and restore the marshes that support not only voles, but many other species.”

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KCDZ/Z107.7FM (Joshua Tree, CA)

Western Joshua Tree’s “Threatened Species” Status To Be Decided Oct. 12

October 2, 2022, Mike Lipsitz

Another Mojave native’s protection status will be decided at October’s State Fish and Game Commission meeting. The Western Joshua Tree hasn’t been on the threatened species list since June when the four-member commission failed to reach agreement on how to best to protect the tree from increasing threats.

For environmental groups, failure to add the western Joshua tree to those protected under the California Endangered Species Act is far from the defeat it may first appear to be. That’s because the tree will continue to enjoy the protected status that has been in place for the last 18 months. Those opposed were also neither big winners nor losers.

Protected status doesn’t put an end to development, “it just means [development] will happen under a more careful watch,” said commission president, Samantha Murry.

So between now and an October decision, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will work on a conservation plan for the species. Hopes are that such a plan can help mitigate the species’ primary threats of wildfire, development, and climate change.

The California Fish & Game commission meeting that decides if the western Joshua Tree will be added as a “threatened species” will take place on October 12 and 13th in King’s Beach California.

The meeting will be livestreamed – they haven’t set a time for the meeting yet but we’ll keep you informed when they do.

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Earth.com

Bird diversity suffers in urban environments

By Zach Fitzner, Earth.com staff writer, Sept. 30, 2022

Research from Lund University shows that bird diversity in forests surrounded by urban areas is less than that in comparable rural forests. To carry out the research, the scientists examined 459 naturally wooded areas near or in 32 cities in southern Sweden.

“Our study demonstrates that you cannot surround nature with urban development and believe that it will remain as it is, there is going to be a negative effect,” said William Sidemo Holm, who worked on the study during his time as a doctoral student.

In woodlands near a city center, there were on average 25 percent less bird species compared to woodlands outside the city. Likewise, there were approximately half as many endangered species inside the urban woods.

The scientists emphasize they were looking at natural woodland areas inside cities, not in urban parks. In fact, this is one of the first studies to compare similar natural areas along an urban gradient.  

“This way we know that the results are not driven by differences in the actual habitats, which in this scenario was natural forest. Instead, it was the surrounding environment that was different,” said Sidemo Holm.

It was already known that urbanization has a negative impact on biodiversity, but this study is important in showing the impact of cities even on protected natural areas in their midst.

“Our results highlight the importance of taking surrounding nature into account in urban planning. Above all, it is important to avoid the expansion of cities adjacent to protected environmental areas where there may be endangered species – we found that these are particularly sensitive to urban surroundings,” said Sidemo Holm.

“Our conclusion is that it is important to preserve natural forests both in the cities and outside them in order to maintain local diversity.”

While the study may drive greater protection for urban dwelling birds and other creatures, the scientists still believe more research would be of greater benefit.

“In the future, it would be particularly interesting to investigate whether coherent green infrastructure in cities, or between city and countryside, can increase the opportunities for bird species in the city to find the necessary resources,” said Sidemo Holm.

(The research is published in the journal Global Change Biology.)

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EcoWatch

More Than Half of Palm Species Threatened With Extinction, Study Finds

By: Olivia Rosane, September 30, 2022

It’s hard to imagine a world without palm trees. Members of the recognizable Arecaceae family drop coconuts onto white-sand beaches, pierce their fronds through the greenery of rainforests and line glamorous boulevards from Los Angeles to Miami.

But a new study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution Monday warns that we might have to. A research team from the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG), Kew; the University of Zurich; and the University of Amsterdam used a mix of conservation data and innovative machine learning techniques to determine that more than half of palm species are likely threatened with extinction.

“Palms are the most iconic plant group in the tropics and one of the most useful too,” study co-author and University of Zurich senior researcher Dr. Rodrigo Cámara-Leret said in an RBG, Kew, press release shared with EcoWatch. “After this study, we have a much better idea of how many, and which, palm species are under threat.”

Why Palms Matter

There are around 2,600 known species of palm in the world, according to PlantSnap. They are normally found in the tropics and subtropics, where they play a vitally important ecological role.

“In some tropical rainforests, palms are among the dominant plant families, which means that they contribute significantly to store carbon and to the general functioning of the forest ecosystem,” study co-author and RBG, Kew, research leader Dr. Sidonie Bellot told EcoWatch in an email.

They also provide habitat and nutrients for animals and fungi. For example, ant colonies make their homes in certain species of rattan palms. Further, their fruit feeds dozens of bird and mammal species.

Including humans. The relationship between homo sapiens and the Arecaceae family goes back 5,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia, where humans grew date palms for food and religious purposes, according to PlantSnap. The Bible references them 30 times and the Quran at least 22. In Indian mythology, the coconut palm is regarded as “the tree that provides all the necessities of life,” according to earthstoriez. Today, millions of people rely on palms for everything from building materials to tools to food to medicine, according to RBG, Kew. Yet like many natural-human relationships in recent years, the relationship between some humans and palms has soured. While the study didn’t focus on identifying specific threats that human activity poses to palms, some leading dangers are clear.

“[L]and use change, especially deforestation and forest fragmentation, is increasing the extinction risk of palms by decreasing their population sizes,” Bellot said.

Other potential threats are the overuse of some species for palm hearts, diseases and the climate crisis.

Gilding the Gold Standard

To better understand the risks faced by palm species worldwide, the research team turned to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, which is considered the “gold standard” extinction-risk assessment for plants, animals and fungi, according to the press release. However, the Red List does not currently provide accurate data on the extinction threat faced by every species out there because conducting a risk-assessment is labor intensive and funding is not always available. For palms, assessments have been published for only 508 species, according to the study.

The research team thought they could provide a more comprehensive estimate by turning to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

“The biodiversity crisis dictates that we take urgent action to stem biodiversity loss. We need to use all the tools at our disposal, such as prediction and automation, to generate rapid and robust assessments,” study co-author and Research Leader in Kew’s Conservation Assessment and Analysis team Dr. Steven Bachman said in the press release. ”The addition of plants to the Red List is one of the vital steps conservationists can take to raise awareness of species at risk.”

How exactly can AI help predict a species’ extinction risk?

“We know that palm extinction risk is related to their distribution range size and population size, but also to human density and deforestation intensity. However, we did not know exactly how to use this information to predict palm extinction risk,” Bellot said.

To get around this, the researchers used species for which an assessment had been completed either by the IUCN or the plant-specific ThreatSearch. Based on these examples, they trained a model to predict extinction risks for other species using common factors like population and range size known as “predictors.” When they tested the model on further species for which the extinction risk had already been assessed, it was right 82 percent of the time. It was then time to plug unassessed species and their predictors into the model.

“This allowed us to predict the extinction risk of 1381 species, which, combined with the [existing] Red List and ThreatSearch assessments, covers 75% of the palm family,” Bellot said.

When the researchers combined the 1,381 species assessed by their model with the 508 species conventionally assessed, they had data for a total of 1,889 species. They concluded that 56 percent of these species are likely threatened, for a total of more than 1,000 menaced palms.

“Overall, we show that hundreds of species of this keystone family face extinction, some of them probably irreplaceable, at least locally,” the study authors concluded. “This highlights the need for urgent actions to avoid major repercussions on palm-associated ecosystem processes and human livelihoods in the coming decades.”

Guiding Conservation

The researchers went further than simply calculating a total number of threatened palms, according to the press release. They also looked at three factors that make a palm species a prime target for conservation:

*Evolutionary distinctness, or whether a species is genetically different from its closest relatives

*Functional distinctness, or whether a species has unique characteristics

*Documented human use

A little less than half of the evolutionarily and functionally distinct species were threatened, the study authors found, while around one-third of the commonly used species were. Further, the research team issued some initial conservation recommendations. They said that palm conservation should focus on Madagascar, New Guinea, the Philippines, Hawaii, Borneo, Jamaica, Vietnam, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Sulawesi, because in these locations more than 40 percent of the evolutionarily distinct, functionally distinct and/or commonly used species were likely threatened. They also recommended alternative species for 91 percent of the currently used species that are at risk for extinction, according to the study.

“Our study is global, but conservation is often best achieved at local scales, in collaboration with people who know and rely most on the plants,” Bellot told EcoWatch. “We hope that our lists of threatened species and potential alternatives for threatened used species can be the baseline for local conservation actions and research on the mechanisms that can help threatened species to be resilient to perturbations.”

In addition, the researchers hope that their work can speed the Red List assessment of more palm species and that on-the-ground investigations can be done to assess the more than 600 palm species that the team didn’t know enough about to feed into their model.

“[A] main goal for follow-up research is to gather more data about the least-studied palm species, so that their extinction risk can be more reliably estimated,” Bellot said.  

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Mongabay

New estimate of less than 50 Sumatran rhinos shows perilous population drop

By Jeremy Hance, Mongabay, September 29, 2022

The world’s most endangered large mammal is in even worse shape than previously reported, according to a new population estimate.

For years, officials and experts have said there were “fewer than 80” Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) left in the wild. This figure has been used both by the Indonesian government and Sumatran Rhino Rescue, a consortium of NGOS, that have since 2018 worked on a plan to capture and breed more rhinos. However, the new estimate, compiled by wildlife trade watchdog TRAFFIC and the Asian Rhino Specialist Group at the IUCN, the global wildlife conservation authority, concludes that the real number of rhinos is just 34-47, down from their previous minimum estimate of 73 animals in 2015.

The new estimate is based on interviews with on-the-ground rangers who have been attempting to count rhinos in four distinct locations using camera traps as well as other rhino signs such as footprints, wallows and distinct feeding patterns.

“We got these numbers from the field team leaders who had the best handle on what the actual numbers might be,” said Susie Ellis, co-author of the report and former head of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF).

Sumatran rhinos live in remote and dense tropical forests and highlands, making it incredibly difficult to get accurate numbers. They are the only animals in the genus Dicerorhinus, making them distinct from all other living rhinos. The smallest rhinos in the world, they are also known for their shaggy hair and their vocal dispositions: they whistle, squeak and grunt. Park officials have turned to camera trapping in recent years to gain a better understanding of the population, but even that has not put doubts to rest.

Sumatran rhinos live in remote and dense tropical forests and highlands, making it incredibly difficult to get accurate numbers. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

“These are unbelievably hard to find, track, monitor animals,” said Nina Fascione, the current head of the IRF, who was not involved in the study. “They’re reclusive. These are thick jungles. You could have a rhino 20 feet [6 meters] away and not know it.”

The report notes that the current population estimate represents a 13% decline every year from 2015-2021. While the population is definitely believed to be declining, the numbers also probably reflect an overestimate of rhinos from the past.

“In my opinion, the population has always been overestimated, beginning in 2008 or so,” Ellis said.

According to the new study, the wild population is split into four distinct areas. The researchers believe two to three wild rhinos still survive in Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo (in addition, one rhino is currently in captivity there); 12-14 in Way Kambas National Park in southern Sumatra (where an additional eight live at a captive-breeding center); and the largest population in Gunung Leuser National Park in northern Sumatra. Here, camera traps have recorded 18 individuals, but researchers think there may be 20-30 left.

The population estimate also states that rhinos might be hanging on in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, also in southern Sumatra. However, no rhino has been recorded in this park for years, and even camera traps have failed to capture any trace of them.

“It’s hard to believe there are any Sumatran rhinos left there,” Ellis said.

Still, some park authorities have argued that a few may persist. The recent estimate says that fewer than five might be in the park.

“It’s hard to prove a negative,” Fascione said. “We’re not seeing signs of rhinos, although I hear some mixed things. There are enough people on the ground who indicate that there may still be a few rhinos that I suppose it can’t be ruled out entirely.”

She added the IRF is willing to pay for analyzing any suspected stool samples from the park, if any are brought in. Experts can often confuse tapir and rhino stools, just as they can confuse the footprints of both large mammals.

If any rhinos survive here or in Kalimantan, the population isn’t large enough to sustain itself even in the short term.

The Sumatran rhino, like all other rhinos, has suffered from thousands of years of human hunting. In the modern age, the demand for rhino horn — for various health benefits that have never been medically proven — has pushed every rhino species toward extinction.

Although rangers have found no evidence of Sumatran rhinos being poached in recent years, Ellis said she “believe[s] poaching continues,” adding that “there needs to be much more aggressive government intervention, and corruption among local authorities needs to be addressed.”

Today, however, Sumatran rhinos may be more imperiled by the simple fact that there are so few left that they rarely meet and successfully breed. Female Sumatran rhinos commonly suffer from reproductive problems, making reproduction both in the wild and captivity even more challenging. Like many megafauna, Sumatran rhinos are also incredibly slow breeders, with a 15-month gestation period and a minimum of three to four years between calves.

A Sumatran rhino calf, one of eight Sumatran rhinos currently living in captivity. A new estimate pegs the remaining wild population at 34-47 individuals . Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

The long decline of the species led conservationists to enact a captive-breeding effort in the 1980s that was rife with mistakes, but eventually produced calves beginning in the 2000s. The most recent was born in March this year, bringing the total number of captive rhinos up to nine, though breeding remains frustratingly slow.

The plan by Sumatran Rhino Rescue to capture more individuals from the wild to enhance the captive-breeding program (many of the individuals in captivity today are directly related) was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Requests for comment from Indonesia’s environment ministry were unanswered as of press time. However, Fascione said she believes Indonesian officials are aware the situation is “dire” and are working to respond.

“The government of Indonesia is doing a lot to move forward. They absolutely are. They are working on the emergency action plan. The national park directors are all incredibly behind this and working collaboratively,” Fascione said, adding that she believes rhino captures will begin in earnest next year.

“This is the Hail Mary pass, this is it. I think that’s clear to everyone … There used to be more intellectual disagreements among [conservationists about] the best way forward. The good news is, everybody’s on the same page right now.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

New Red Wolf Recovery Plan Needs Public Input

Draft Proposes Reintroductions, Protections

RALEIGH, N.C.—(September 28, 2022)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today issued a revised draft recovery plan for the red wolf, the world’s most endangered canid, following a 2020 legal victory by the Center for Biological Diversity. The plan proposes several beneficial actions the federal government should take, including the establishment of new populations and ways to reduce human-caused wolf deaths.

“After 32 long years, the Service is finally modernizing its recovery plan for the most endangered canid in the world,” said Perrin de Jong, North Carolina staff attorney at the Center. “The plan sets the right tone by expanding red wolf recovery activities to multiple new populations. But more needs to be done, and the public has to push the Service to include specific sites for these populations so that critical recovery efforts can proceed without delay.”

The plan includes many beneficial elements, including a proactive vision for the species’ federal recovery program. It holds as a goal that in the future, wild and free red wolves will coexist with humans in multiple populations across the species’ historic range. It also seeks to reduce current threats to the wolves through conservation activities and earning the public’s trust and engagement.

It acknowledges that new wild populations of red wolves are critical for the species to recover and sets a goal of having three viable, wild populations in the future. However, the draft recovery plan did not identify potential new reintroduction sites in the more than 20,000 square miles of suitable habitat that were identified in a 2019 report produced by the Center.

The plan further recognizes that addressing human-caused red wolf deaths is key to recovery. It identified numerous steps to reduce these threats, including public education and outreach, and physical safety measures to reduce deaths from shooting and vehicle strikes.

“This draft shows that the Service is heading in the right direction, but we need to keep pressure on the agency to ensure that new wild populations are established and the existing wild population is protected and reinforced immediately,” said de Jong.

Background

Last year the Biden administration officially abandoned a red wolf management rule proposed by the Trump administration that would have shrunk the species’ protected range to 10% of the current size and legalized the killing of any wolf that wandered off federal lands. In early 2022 the Service formally recommitted itself to the success of the red wolf recovery program.

Red wolves were once abundant across the Southeast, but the species is now the most endangered canid in the world. Today fewer than a dozen confirmed red wolves remain in the wild, surviving in five sparsely populated counties in eastern North Carolina. This year the first known red wolf litter since 2018 was born in the wild.

In 2020 and 2021, seven adult red wolves were released into the wild population. In 2021 alone, seven red wolves were confirmed killed by vehicle strikes, gunshots and unknown causes. Gunshots are the leading cause of death for wild red wolves, followed by vehicle strikes.

Comments on the draft plan will be accepted through Oct. 28 and can be sent to redwolf_comments@fws.gov.

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New York Times

What does Hurricane Ian mean for Florida’s wildlife?

Catrin Einhorn, September 28, 2022

Florida’s native wildlife is well adapted to hurricanes, and species have all kinds of strategies for staying safe or rebounding quickly. For example, even though sea turtle nesting season overlaps with hurricane season and some eggs may be destroyed, many of the young have already hatched and crawled out to sea by the time the season really ramps up. Lots of wildlife in the state can even benefit from new habitat created by flooding and downed trees.

But increasingly, that natural resilience is compromised by two human-created problems.

First, many species are suffering declines driven by habitat loss and other factors. These depleted populations may be squeezed into limited parcels of land, making it much more difficult for them to bounce back after a storm.

Second, climate change is supercharging some hurricanes. Scientists are still learning what this means for wildlife. Bigger storms can wipe out important habitat on land and at sea.

One of Florida’s most beloved species, the manatee, can get trapped inland when floodwaters recede. As Ian progresses, experts are poised to rescue the animals when they can do so safely. They are also asking people to report stranded, injured or dead manatees to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

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Knewz.com (New York City)

Colorado’s State Fish, Thought For Decades To Be Extinct, Makes Triumphant Return

By Richard Horgan, September 28, 2022

Los Angeles (Knewz)—The good folks at Colorado Parks and Wildlife are blessed with great patience and determination.

After discovering in 2012 a small population of greenback cutthroat trouts in Bear Creek on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, they went to work. They started by improving the creek habitat and surrounding watershed, then moved to helping the small population breed.

“This was a huge breakthrough, considering that in 1937 the greenback cutthroat trout was considered extinct,” the agency explained. “For decades, it was believed only two native cutthroat – the Colorado River and Rio Grande – had survived while the greenback and yellowfin had succumbed to pollution from mining, pressure from fishing and competition from other trout species.”

Beginning a decade ago, each spring, Wildlife aquatic biologists also hiked into Bear Creek carrying heavy electro-fishing backpacks to catch-and-release greenbacks, while collecting their milt (sperm) and roe (eggs). In makeshift labs on the banks of the creek, they fertilized those eggs, which were then sent to the group’s hatchery in Salida. From there, the young fish that hatched from those eggs were finally put into Herman Gulch, west of Denver, for the first time in 2016.

Six years later, the fish in Herman Gulch have existed long enough to reach adulthood and begin reproducing on their own.

Thus, 2022 marks the first time since 1937 that the greenback cutthroat trout is reproducing in the wilds of the Centennial State.

Throughout the past ten years, Wildlife staff have battled various concerns in Bear Creek, including disruption from increased recreation, flash floods and wildfires. In addition, as they awaited for signs of self-initiating life in Herman Creek, they alarmingly documented zero reproduction activity in Bear Creek in 2020

The agency is giving a major extinction-beating tip of the hat to an unknown tourist fishing enterprise. They believe that sometime in the late 1800s, such a company brought the greenback cutthroat trout to Bear Creek, where it survived quietly while other state traces disappeared.

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Euronews.green (Lyon, France)

Wolves, bears and bison: 50 species make ‘spectacular’ comeback in Europe

By Charlotte Elton, 27/09/2022

Bears, wolves, and bison are making a comeback across Europe, new research has revealed.

The animals are among 50 expanding species tracked in the new European Wildlife Comeback report.

From loggerhead turtles and Eurasian otters to humpback whales and wolverines, many previously-struggling species have made ‘spectacular’ recoveries.

“Wild nature is resilient and can recover if conditions are suitable,” the report declares.

Humans play a decisive role in creating these suitable conditions, facilitating habitat restoration and species reintroduction.

Which species are recovering in Europe?

The 2022 Wildlife Comeback Report does not sugarcoat the biodiversity crisis.

Much European wildlife remains under threat. Nearly one in eight birds and around one in five mammals are still at risk of extinction on the continent.

However, the report shows “reasons for optimism” in analysing many of the species that have made impressive comebacks.

Wolves are one of the most iconic populations to experience a resurgence.

Grey wolves used to roam across the continent. But they nearly disappeared in the 20th century, as humans encroached on their habitats and hunted them down.

Since the 1970s, population numbers have boomed by 1,800 per cent to 17,000.

The brown bear is another carnivore making a comeback thanks to these efforts. Since 1960, populations have increased by 44 per cent.

In every type of habitat, some animal species have increased. Grey seal numbers have increased by 6,273 per cent since 1971. At the start of the 20th century, there were just 1,200 beavers in Europe. Now, there’s over a million.

European bison populations meanwhile have increased by 399 per cent since 1971.

The large herbivore – one of the few surviving megafauna animals in the world – is a ‘keystone’ species, helping to maintain partially wooded landscapes by eating huge amounts of shrubbery.

Most of these triumphant recoveries are thanks to hunting bans, dedicated reintroduction efforts, and habitat restoration.

Why is it important to reintroduce species?

It’s easy to support conservation for cute, cuddly animals. But when it comes to carnivores, people can have reservations.

Animals like bears and wolves are often perceived as a threat to people and other animals. They’ve been the stuff of folklore for thousands of years, gobbling up sheep and shepherds in local tales.

But in the 21st century, the benefits of reintroduction far outweigh the threats.

Reintroducing and protecting vulnerable species improves the health of the entire ecosystem – often in complex ways.

“For example, Grey wolves in the Białowieża Primeval Forest in Poland have changed the distribution of (deer and wild boar) browsing, by scaring browsing species away from certain areas,” the report authors explain.

“In turn, this can lead to increased tree regeneration at these locations.”

Different species rely on one another in complex ways – think of the ‘food chain’ – so rebalancing population numbers can revitalise an area.

“[Our] hope is that this report will reinforce the message that whilst it can be complex, wildlife recovery and coexistence is not only possible, but essential for the health of our planet”, says Sophie Ledger, lead author of the report.

When it comes to predators, authorities can protect people who might suffer from a reintroduction. For example, farmers who lose livestock to wolf predation are entitled to complete compensation under EU law.

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Reuters

Drought is killing Kenya’s endangered wildlife

By Ayenat Mersie, September 27, 2022

NAIROBI, Sept 27 (Reuters) – Kenya’s worst drought in four decades has killed almost 2% of the world’s rarest zebra in three months, and 25 times more elephants than normal over the same period.

It is starving Kenya’s famed wildlife of normal food sources out in the open and driving them into deadly conflict with people as they roam wider, to the edges of towns and villages, in a desperate search for sustenance.

Without interventions to protect wildlife, or if the approaching rainy season fails again, animals in many parts of the East African country could face an existential crisis, conservationists say.

“It’s a serious threat to us,” said Andrew Letura, a monitoring officer at Grevy’s Zebra Trust (GZT). Grevy’s zebra, which are larger than a standard plains zebra and have narrower stripes and wider ears, are the rarest in the species: there are 3,000 left in the world, 2,500 of which are in Kenya.

Drought has killed about 40 Grevy’s since June – which is how many would be expected to die over a whole year, said Letura, squinting under the searing sun at Samburu National Reserve in Kenya’s arid north.

“If we are losing 40 within three months, what would that mean to the remaining population?”

GZT has begun to feed Grevy’s zebras hay poured over a mix of molasses, salt and calcium, helping to reduce but not eliminate deaths, the trust says.

The situation in southern Kenya is also bleak.

“Rangers have counted eight times as many animals dead or too weak to stand, compared to a normal September. The Amboseli Trust for Elephants have recorded 50 elephants dead or missing,” said Benson Leyian, chief executive of Big Life Foundation which works with local landowners to protect conservation areas and open rangelands of the Amboseli Ecosystem.

STENCH OF DEAD ANIMALS

In the Kitenden Conservancy nearby, the stench of rotting animal carcasses is so strong that some tourists have started to wear protective masks, a ranger there said.

Some wild animals are dying at the hands of people.

“We’re seeing a five-fold increase in incidents of people poaching for bushmeat, as compared to other dry seasons,” said Leyian.

Save the Elephants, meanwhile, said it is finding a growing number of elephants killed by guns or spears, but with their tusks intact – a sign that they fell victim to conflict with humans in populated areas, rather than to poaching.

The crisis isn’t attributable to drought alone, experts say. Overgrazing by livestock is depleting rangelands and making it harder for ecosystems to recover from drought, said David Daballen, field operations chief for Save the Elephants.

Even thinking about the possibility of the next rains, which are expected in October-November, failing is frightening, said Letura of GZT. “The situation is already bad. But that would make it a serious crisis,” he said.

“The first words anyone says now is that they are praying for rain.”

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Alliance For Science (Ithaca, NY)

New biotechnologies can help restore extinct species, say conservation scientists.

JOHN AGABA, September 26, 2022

New biotechnologies such as de-extinction and cloning could help to bring extinct animals back from the dead and revive millions of endangered species, conservation advocates say.

Ben Novak, who leads a project to revive passenger pigeons that died out in captivity in the 1900’s at Revive and Restore, says the new biotechnologies could also stop the species’ invasive diseases and make it possible for humans to coexist with nature, without necessarily threatening its habitat.

But getting there will require deeper appreciation of these technologies (by the humans) and what they can do to restore nature and lost genetic diversity.

A United Nations report published last month painted a gloomy picture of global biodiversity loss, estimating that more than one million species are on the verge of extinction in part because of human activities such as farming and logging; while another report by Lauretta Burke and others has estimated that almost 90 percent of the world’s coral reefs will die by 2050 if nothing is done.

But these biotechnologies can help.

“De-extinction is one of the most ambitious and awe-inspiring ways scientists are trying to advance biotech for conservation,” says Novak.

But the same basic principles of de-extinction make it possible to recover alleles from the past for bottlenecked populations – reviving extinct genetic diversity within still living species and giving them back their original adaptive potential that has been compromised from human activities, he says.

Then there are other technologies such as CRISPR/Cas systems that have been developed in the past 10 years and are major tools that are making new conservation strategies possible. But one cannot take a genetically engineered or gene-edited (collectively GE) cell in a petri dish and turn it into an organism without an advanced reproductive technology (ART) such as cloning.

Novak says scientists around the world are already using these biotechnologies to advance conservation.

For instance, scientists at the TIGGR Lab at University of Melbourne are using de-extinction to restore the thylacine or Tasmanian tiger. Scientists at the lab also want to create reproductive technologies to help Australia’s endangered marsupials.

But the real success story is at Novak’s Revive and Restore.

Scientists at the US non-profit used frozen cells of a female ferret that died more than 30 years ago to clone a black-footed ferret, named Elizabeth Ann in 2020. Ann is the first ever native endangered species to be cloned in the United States.

Now, the scientists are working to find Ann a suitable mate. If she gives birth, Ann might actually help to revive the species that didn’t have any known living relative in the 1980’s.

Scientists are also using the biotechnologies to facilitate adaptation to disease and climate change, as well as create more effective, scalable, and even humane methods to eradicate invasive populations.

For instance, researchers under a Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents (GBIRd) program are developing gene drive technologies to eradicate rodents from islands while scientists at Revive and Restore are working to develop a genetically inherited vaccine to Yersinia pestisplague, a disease that prevents the black-footed ferrets’ complete autonomous recovery in the wild.

For coral reefs, scientists are developing a myriad of early detection and monitoring techniques for bleaching events, new cryopreservation methods, and stem cell techniques for regeneration and GE to facilitate adaptation to warming oceans.

Although some critics have said GE and cloning will interfere with nature and de-campaigned the tools, Novak says conservation needs these biotechnologies today more than ever.

“Conservation, is by definition, an interference with nature,” he says. “It is a conscious interference to undo the harms of often unintentional actions, or the intentional actions of past societies that did not understand, recognize, or value nature.”

“The narratives that these technologies will interfere with nature (or aren’t safe) aren’t true and aren’t helping,” says Novak. “They are not suggesting any solutions. They are only wasting time which we don’t have.”

“The truth is millions of species today are endangered and on the verge of extinction because of human activities,” says the scientist. “The human condition is the greatest barrier to helping nature: from simply protecting habitats all the way to contemplating biotechnologies, humanity stands in its own way.”

“The ways we generate food and energy have created an infrastructure that is incompatible with coexistence with nature.”

“(Traditionally) conservationists have saved hundreds of species from the brink of extinction, completely recovered many species, and even built (or rebuilt) habitats from the ground up.

“But it will not be possible to achieve conservation goals without biotechnologies,” says Novak. “Even if we as collective humanity decide to scale down our goals to prevent further extinctions, biotechnology will still be necessary to create any form of sustainable co-existence with natural ecosystems.”

Wendy Craig at the Convention of Biological Diversity, says new biotechnologies were today more relevant when it came to what they can do to solve conservation challenges.

She says more people were increasingly aware of these technologies and the role they could play to solve conservation challenges and save biodiversity.

But scientists and governments needed to engage the public and other stakeholders to build trust in these tools.

“The beauty of technology is that it can make it possible for us to achieve coexistence with nature while still attaining the futuristic quality of life we imagine in the best of optimistic ‘science fiction’ books, television, and movies,” says Novak.

“We could have a planet with huge populations of megafauna, vast continent-wide tracts of wilderness – all with incredible cities and transport ways, even a few boutique farms here and there sustaining ways of life that have been important to most cultures for tens of thousands of years.”

But getting there will require overcoming “our divisions as a global community, and letting go of our knee-jerk reactions of fear when it comes to change and find common ground in our rooted values of nature and have dialogue rooted in knowledge, science, and evidence.”

“We must stop fretting the ‘unintended consequences’ of our actions, recognize the devastating consequences of inaction, and act responsibly and swiftly to achieve intended consequences,” says Novak.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Rare Florida Keys Lizard Proposed for Endangered Species Protection

Threatened by Climate Crisis, Florida Keys Mole Skink Will Receive Hard-Fought Protections

MIAMI—(September 26, 2022)—Following a 2020 legal victory by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed protecting the Florida Keys mole skink as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The agency also proposed designating 7,068 acres of protected critical habitat.

“Protection for this rare little lizard with a bright pink tail is coming at virtually the last possible moment,” said Elise Bennett, Florida director and attorney at the Center. “I’m so relieved that the Fish and Wildlife Service finally acknowledged how quickly sea-level rise and development could wipe out the skink and so many other species in the Keys. That’s a crucial first step. Now it’s time to get to work securing this amazing lizard’s future.”

The Service found the skink is threatened by “rapid and intense shifts in climate” including sea-level rise, more frequent high tides, and storms of increasing intensity, which destroy the lizard’s dry, sandy, coastal habitat in the Florida Keys. By 2060, the Service projects that 72% to 88% of the skink’s remaining habitat could be lost to sea-level rise alone. Development and associated human activities further threaten the rare lizard’s survival.

In 2017 the Fish and Wildlife Service inexplicably determined the Florida Keys mole skink did not warrant Endangered Species Act protections. Following a Center lawsuit, a federal district judge rejected that determination in 2020. The judge found that the agency had failed to justify its decision in light of available science showing sea-level rise driven by climate change would inundate much of the species’ habitat across its range.

“My recent visits to the Keys have felt like part of a long and heartbreaking goodbye to the skink,” said Bennett. “But this decision gives me hope. It opens the door to a slew of protections that will give this rare and beautiful lizard a fighting chance.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service wrongly denying protection to the skink is not an isolated incident. In the past 30 years, dozens of decisions by the Service have been overturned because the agency let politics guide determinations that by law are supposed to be made solely on the best available science.

Species Background

Adorned with a bright-pink tail, the Florida Keys mole skink lives exclusively along shorelines in the Florida Keys. It burrows in dry sand and hunts insects under leaves, debris and washed-up vegetation on beaches.

Accelerating sea-level rise and storms of increasing frequency threaten to inundate the skink’s coastal habitat, eventually leaving it no place to live. Because the animals survive in only a few populations across a small geographic area, a single major storm could wipe out the whole subspecies.

In addition, urban sprawl is squeezing the animal into increasingly smaller areas, while exposing it to threats from pollution, traffic and feral animals.

The Center petitioned to protect the Florida Keys mole skink under the Endangered Species Act in 2010.

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The Guardian

Sudden die-off of endangered sturgeon alarms Canadian biologists

The deaths within days of 11 sturgeon, a species unchanged for thousands of years, have puzzled scientists

Leyland Cecco in Toronto, 26 Sept. 2022

When the first spindly, armour-clad carcass was spotted in the fast-flowing Nechako River in early September, Nikolaus Gantner and two colleagues scrambled out on a jet boat, braving strong currents to investigate the grim discovery.

Days later, the remains of 10 others were spotted floating along a 100km stretch of the river in western Canada.

In total, 11 endangered white sturgeon have mysteriously died in a short period of time, blindsiding biologists, who are trying to save a fish teetering towards extinction.

The species has remained relatively unchanged in 200m years: toothless apex hunters that glide gracefully in a handful of British Columbia’s rivers. To navigate the murky waters, sturgeon gently brush whisker-like barbels that hang from their snout along the gravelly bottom.

White sturgeon, with a torso clad in five distinct bony plates called scutes, look every inch a prehistoric fish. The largest ever recorded reached 20ft long and another, believed to be 104 years old, weighed nearly 1,800 lbs.

“When you see a massive head appearing through the murky water and the eyes look at you, it’s just incredible to see this majestic animal alive,” said Gantner, a senior fisheries biologist with the British Columbia government. “And you gain respect for it, knowing that most fish we see are older than us.”

The rapid succession of deaths has taken an unexpected emotional toll on Gantner and his colleagues.

“I’m deeply saddened. These last couple of weeks, I feel like I’m going through grief,” he said. Each time he and colleagues tenderly move the hulking carcasses of the fish from the shore to the freezer and on to the necropsy table, he feels a pang of sorrow. “I don’t think I felt like that from other fish that I’ve worked with.”

So far, there are no obvious answers. The team hasn’t found any sign of trauma nor evidence of chemical exposure, disease, or angling-induced death.

“Whatever it is, it affects larger sturgeon, not other species. It’s constrained to a place in time and space. So that gives us some clues,” said Steve McAdam, a biologist with the province’s ministry of land, water and resource stewardship. “In a way, it’s easier to rule a bunch of stuff out than to rule some things in.”

The deaths in the Nechako are particularly painful for McAdam, who studied a similar die-off in the lower Fraser River in 1993 and 1994, when the region lost 36 fish in two years.

A battery of tests that followed that die-off was inconclusive, said McAdam; the events occurred in differing ecosystems, hundreds of kilometres apart, offering limited clues to investigators.

Because the team investigating the current episode has a narrow window of time to recover dead sturgeon before decomposition sets in and destroys valuable clues, they have appealed to the public for help. In a region where the fish have deep cultural ties to First Nations and are part of the curriculum in local schools, residents have paid close attention to the phenomenon.

A range of theories have been suggested, including a belief that elevated water temperatures are to blame. But McAdam said previous hot summers had not triggered similar die-offs.

“There’s no end to the ideas. There are some partial explanations, but we’re really trying to keep an open mind and not veer too far down one path,” he said.

Before the mysterious die-offs, white sturgeon, which are listed as a federal species at risk, were already in trouble.

Over the last century, the numbers in the Nechako River have dropped from more than 5,000 to only 500. Soon after a dam was built on the Nechako River in 1957, the species experienced what biologists call “recruitment failure” – new fish weren’t being added to the population.

It is from within that ageing population, already missing an entire generation of fish, that the 11 have died.

Overfishing, drainage projects and dam construction have all contributed to the collapse. On all the rivers in the province where sturgeon once thrived, dams have crushed their populations. Only the Fraser River, the largest without a dam, has a relatively healthy sturgeon population in the tens of thousands.

British Columbia has worked since 2001 to help the species recover, drawing teams of provincial and federal biologists, First Nations groups and the industries tied to sturgeon habitat loss, like hydroelectric dam operators.

Efforts include using hatcheries, a “stopgap measure” to help the population recover, as well a longer-term goal of restoring habitat.

But the sudden death of 11 members of a species already spiralling towards demise mirrors a trend all over the world: sturgeon have become the most threatened genus of fish.

All of the 26 remaining species of sturgeon are now at risk of extinction. They are the victims of overfishing; in some species, like beluga sturgeon, the roe is prized as caviar. And the habitats they have persisted in are disappearing.

“They are a quite a charismatic species and it’s a fish that has been around for millions of years. So you don’t take it lightly when it’s in danger,” McAdam said.

The abruptness with which the fish have died has puzzled biologists in part because white sturgeon have been closely studied and monitored for the last three decades, precisely because of their precarious situation.

“And then within a week, this happens. We have a new huge question mark,” said Gantner. “It’s really blindsided us.”

Both Gantner and McAdam were hopeful that the deaths will serve a broader end, providing valuable insight to biologists into what might have happened – and how a similar outcome can be prevented in the future.

Because the other option – that they have already reached some kind of a tipping point – is too bleak to consider.

“We’ve never done the experiment of eliminating them fully and seeing how truly important sturgeon are to an ecosystem,” said McAdam. “And personally, I don’t think we ever want to.”

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People

‘No Longer Hope’ for Endangered Mother Whale Entangled in Fishing Gear for Months, Experts Say

Bailey Richards, September 26, 2022

Scientists made a heartbreaking discovery about a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.

The whale, named Snow Cone, is tangled in “heavy” fishing gear in what is at least her fifth entanglement, according to a Sept. 22 press release from the New England Aquarium.

The aquarium’s aerial survey team spotted the entangled whale while flying south of Nantucket, Massachusetts, on Sept. 21.

In addition to the new gear caught on the whale, the team also identified the fishing gear the mother whale became entangled in some time before December 2021 — around when Snow Cone gave birth while entangled in fishing rope — still stuck to the marine mammal.

Snow Cone’s first calf was killed by a boat, and the calf born during her entanglement has not been seen since April. After the second baby whale’s birth, scientists were concerned about whether Snow Cone could effectively nurse the calf in her state.

After spotting the whale last week without her calf, the team documented the whale’s situation, taking photos and notes for “potential disentanglement efforts.” One scientist, Sharon Hsu, who had previously photographed Snow Cone, was “shocked” by her health decline.

“Eighteen months ago, there was hope that disentanglement efforts could remove enough of the gear and that would allow her to survive,” Hsu said. “Now, she’s covered in orange cyamids [whale lice]. She was moving so slowly, she couldn’t dive, she just sunk. She’s suffering. There is no longer hope for her survival.”

Both the “heavy” presence of orange cyamids — indicators of poor health — and rake marks on Snow Cone’s head further illustrate the impact the entanglements have had on the whale. While there was previously hope for her survival, now, according to the release, Snow Cone’s death is “all but certain.”

The aquarium said that Snow Cone’s tragic case — one of five whales observed with attached gear this year — shines a necessary spotlight on the “urgent need for dramatic changes to fixed gear fisheries, including accelerating the transition to ropeless or ‘on-demand’ gear.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the North Atlantic right whale as critically endangered, with an estimated population of fewer than 350 whales.

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Nature

Sea turtles swim easier as poaching declines

An estimated 1.1 million sea turtles were illegally harvested from 1990 to 2020 — but today poaching poses less of a threat to these endangered reptiles.

Freda Kreier, September 20, 2022

Poaching is less of a threat to the survival of sea turtles than it once was, a new analysis suggests1. Illegal sea-turtle catch has dropped sharply since 2000, with most of the current exploitation occurring in areas where turtle populations are relatively healthy.

This study is the first worldwide estimate of the number of adult sea turtles moved on the black market. According to the analysis, more than one million sea turtles were illegally harvested between 1990 and 2020. But the researchers also found that the illegal catch from 2010 to 2020 was nearly 30% lower than that in the previous decade.

“The silver lining is that, despite the seemingly large illegal take, exploitation is not having a negative impact on sea-turtle populations on a global scale. This is really good news,” says co-author Jesse Senko, a marine conservation scientist at Arizona State University in Tempe. The research was published 7 September in Global Change Biology.

Turtles for trinkets

For millennia, humans have used both adult sea turtles and their eggs as a food source and for cultural practices. In the past 200 years, however, many sea turtle populations declined steeply as hunting rose to meet a growing demand for turtle-based goods. In Europe, North America and Asia, sea-turtle shells were used to make combs, jewelry and furniture inlays. Turtles were also hunted for meat and for use in traditional medicine.

The rise in turtle hunting meant that, by 2014, an estimated 42,000 sea turtles were legally harvested every year, and an unknown number of sea turtles were sold on the black market. Today, six of the seven sea-turtle species found around the globe are endangered owing to a deadly combination of habitat destruction, poaching and accidental entanglement in fishing gear.

To pin down how many sea turtles were illegally harvested, Senko and his colleagues surveyed sea-turtle specialists and sifted through 150 documents, including reports from non-governmental organizations, papers in peer-reviewed journals and news articles.

By combining this information, the researchers made a conservative estimate that around 1.1 million sea turtles were illegally caught between 1990 and 2020. Nearly 90% of these turtles were funneled into China and Japan, largely from a handful of middle- and low-income countries (see ‘Long-distance turtle transport’). Of the species that could be identified, the most frequently exploited were the endangered green turtles (Chelonia mydas), hunted for meat, and the critically endangered hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), prized for their beautiful shells.

However, the data also showed that the number of illegally caught turtles decreased from around 61,000 each year between the start of 2000 and the end of 2009 to around 44,000 in the past decade (see ‘More sea turtles swim free’). And, although there were exceptions, most sea turtles were taken from relatively robust populations that were both large and genetically diverse.

Although sea turtles seem to be doing well globally, this doesn’t mean that threats to regional populations can be ignored, says Emily Miller, an ecologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California. The study pins down where — and for whom — sea turtles are being exploited, which could help conservationists to target communities for advocacy, she says.

Overall, the numbers signal that conservation efforts could be working, says Senko. “Contrary to popular belief, most sea-turtle populations worldwide are doing quite well,” he says. “The number of turtles being exploited is a shocker, but the ocean is big, and there are a lot of turtles out there.”

(doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-02983-3)

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Associated Press

Some 230 whales beached in Tasmania; rescue efforts underway

HOBART, Australia (AP)—(September 20, 2022)—About 230 whales have been stranded on Tasmania’s west coast, just days after 14 sperm whales were found beached on an island off the southeastern coast.

The pod, which is stranded on Ocean Beach, appears to be pilot whales and at least half are presumed to still be alive, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania said Wednesday.

A team from the Marine Conservation Program was assembling whale rescue gear and heading to the area, the department said.

A resident told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. the whales were visible near the entrance to Macquarie Harbour and described the stranding as a “massive event.”

David Midson, general manager of the West Coast Council, urged people to stay clear.

“Whales are a protected species, even once deceased, and it is an offence to interfere with a carcass,” the environment department said.

Griffith University marine scientist Olaf Meynecke said it’s unusual for sperm whales to wash ashore. He said that warmer temperatures could also be changing the ocean currents and moving the whale’s traditional food sources.

“They will be going to different areas and searching for different food sources,” Meynecke said. “When they do this, they are not in the best physical condition because they might be starving so this can lead them to take more risks and maybe go closer to shore.”

Fourteen sperm whales were discovered Monday afternoon on King Island, part of the state of Tasmania in the Bass Strait between Melbourne and Tasmania’s northern coast. The department said it is not unusual for sperm whales to be sighted in Tasmania.

The pilot whale is notorious for stranding in mass numbers, for reasons that are not entirely understood.

Two years ago, about 470 long-finned pilot whales were found beached on sandbars off Tasmania’s west coast in the largest mass-stranding on record in Australia. After a weeklong effort, 111 of those whales were rescued but the rest died.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Threatened Coral Species

Protections Against Collection, Trade, Climate Change Crucial to Prevent Extinction

WASHINGTON—(September 20, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue the federal government for failing to protect 20 coral species in the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific. The corals all received Endangered Species Act listings in 2014 but not the protective regulations the law requires, including prohibitions on collection and sale.

Today’s notice letter to the National Marine Fisheries Services comes as corals worldwide are experiencing dramatic declines. They’re threatened by climate change and collection for trade in the international aquarium industry, among other problems.

“Prohibiting collection and import of threatened corals is the bare minimum that federal officials should be doing to protect these amazing creatures,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney with the Center. “Ocean warming and trade are existential threats to these corals. If we want to prevent corals from going extinct, we need to give them the strongest protections available.”

In 2020 the Center petitioned the Fisheries Service to issue rules prohibiting activities that kill or harm listed coral, banning import of listed coral, and addressing climate change and local threats. But last year the federal government deemed such protections unnecessary.

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. The United States is the world’s largest importer of corals, yet current international restrictions on coral imports offer only minimal protections to Endangered Species Act-listed species.

In 2014 the National Marine Fisheries Service listed 20 species of corals as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The five Caribbean corals at issue are 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).

Among the 15 Indo-Pacific coral species in today’s notice letter are Acropora globiceps, Acropora jacquelineae and Acropora lokani.

The Endangered Species Act requires the Fisheries Service to issue protective regulations necessary for the conservation of threatened species concurrent with listing. Today’s legal notice informs the Fisheries Service of its failure to issue protective regulations and threatens litigation.

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UC Davis (Davis, CA)

Endangered-Mouse Study Shares No-Contact Sampling Method

A New Genetic Sampling Technique for Salt Marsh Harvest Mice and Other Small Mammals

by Kat Kerlin, September 19, 2022

From species of marmots to moles, shrews and mice, many of the world’s endangered mammals are small. Genetic sampling is important for understanding how to conserve and protect their populations. But finding efficient, noninvasive ways to collect genetic samples from small animals can be challenging.

A study from the University of California, Davis, describes a new, noninvasive genetic survey technique for the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse, which lives solely within the tidal marshes of the San Francisco Bay Estuary.

In larger mammals, scientists often collect samples from scat, but the poop of small animals can be so small that it is difficult to detect in the wild.

The new technique, published in the Journal of Mammalogy, uses a combination of bait stations and genetics to sample and identify salt marsh harvest mice, or “salties” as researchers affectionately call them. The species has lost more than 90% of its habitat to development and is also threatened by rising sea levels. That’s why it is imperative that the remaining populations are identified accurately and efficiently, the authors note.

Dine and dash

The technique is simple: Scientists bait boxes with a snack of seeds, millet and oats, and lay down cotton bedding. The mice are free to come and go. A researcher returns a week later to collect the fecal pellets for genetic sampling at the lab. There, a unique species identification test differentiates salt marsh harvest mice samples from those of other rodents that may have used the bait box.

Contrast that process with the more common and intensive method of live trapping: A team of three to five researchers checks traps at sunrise and sunset for several consecutive days. To prevent animal drownings, those traps must be placed above the tideline, ruling out several areas of tidal marsh habitat. But with the new, noninvasive technique, mice can leave at any time, allowing researchers to monitor more marshes and more mice, safely and efficiently.  

“Our genetic identification method is simple, inexpensive, and can be adapted to other small mammal systems,” said lead author Cody Aylward, a recent graduate and former doctoral student of the Mammalian Ecology and Conservation Unit in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “I hope someone studying an endangered small animal somewhere reads this study and goes, ‘That’s something I can do.’”

Small wonder

Little is known about salt marsh harvest mice, so the impacts of their potential loss are also unclear. Scientists know the species is unusual in several ways. For example, salties are strong swimmers, can drink seawater and have a unique genetic lineage, as Aylward explains:

“Genetic data says there’s 3.5 million years divergence between them and their closest relative,” he said. “So if we lose them, that’s 3.5 million years of evolutionary history that’s lost.”

Co-authors include principal investigator Mark Statham, Robert Grahn and Benjamin Sacks from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Douglas Kelt from the UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology; and Laureen Barthman-Thompson of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

(The research was funded by the California Department of Water Resources and USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.)

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WUSF Public Media (Tampa, FL)

These sparrows were on the brink of extinction. Now their resilience is wowing researchers

WMFE | By Amy Green, September 17, 2022

The Florida grasshopper sparrow was North America’s most endangered bird, with around 80 left in the wild. The total wild population has jumped to more than 120.

Three years ago the Florida grasshopper sparrow was on the brink of extinction.

Now the sparrow is rebounding, thanks to an emergency effort to breed the birds in captivity and release them on the central Florida prairie, the only place on Earth where they are found in the wild.

The Florida grasshopper sparrow is a drab-colored bird, no larger than the palm of your hand.

When the wildlife agencies in 2019 began releasing the sparrows on the prairie, after agonizing debate, no one knew whether the effort would be successful. The Florida grasshopper sparrow was North America’s most endangered bird, with around 80 left in the wild. Some feared releasing the birds would condemn them to extinction — the same fate as Florida’s dusky seaside sparrow, which died out in 1987.

But since that first release in 2019 the sparrows have wowed supporters with their resilience. The captive-raised sparrows have paired and bred with their wild counterparts, producing offspring that are breeding. Juan Oteyza of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the total wild population has jumped to more than 120.

“We often just see them and don’t really think of them as released birds. And that’s a great thing, right?,” he says. “They just incorporated into the wild population really well.”

Some of the captive-raised sparrows began their lives far from the prairie, at the Brevard Zoo.

Kelly Currier, conservation coordinator at the zoo, keeps her voice low to avoid spooking the skittish sparrows, as her colleague steps inside a wooden and wire-mesh enclosure with a morning meal of crickets and worms.

“It is how you act when you’re in here,” she says. “If you are calm they can feel it, and if you are slow it affects how they are going to act as well.”

The Brevard Zoo is among four partners raising sparrows in captivity, after a few of the birds were rescued from flooded and failing nests. The rescues ended years of deliberation over how taking sparrows from the wild for captive breeding might affect their critically endangered population.

At the zoo, inside each enclosure is like a little patch of the prairie, with tall wild grasses and branches where the sparrows can perch and look out. The staff spends hours preparing their meals and observing them.

Currier has nicknamed her favorite Wild One, for the sparrow’s fierce devotion to her hatchlings. She is never sad to see them go to the prairie.

“I want for every one of these birds to be out there living their life that they want to live,” Currier says. “So I’m so happy when they go. It’s like, Bye! Good luck!”

The Florida grasshopper sparrow still faces many threats. The sparrow remains one of the most endangered birds on the continent, with a population so small that one thing could wipe it out, like a disease or weather event. Oteyza says the sparrow’s plight could be a sign of trouble for other species.

“This may be telling us that there’s something else that is wrong for other species, and it’s a bigger problem,” he says. “And this problem may be associated with climate change.”

Still, Oteyza says the biggest threat to the Florida grasshopper sparrow is habitat loss. Here in fast-growing central Florida the prairie itself is vanishing.

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The Guardian

Sighting of new gray wolf family raises hopes of resurgence in Oregon

Richard Luscombe, September 16, 2022

The sighting of a new family of gray wolves in Oregon’s Cascade mountains has given wildlife advocates hope that the recovery of the endangered species in the state is gathering pace.

The state’s fish and wildlife department (ODFW) said a group of two adults and two pups was captured by a trail camera in August.

Officials have designated the Warm Springs reservation where they were spotted a new area of known wolf activity (AKWA), and the animals will formally become known as the Warm Springs pack, the state’s third in the northern Cascades, if the group still has all four members surviving at the end of the year.

“Wolves will disperse to different places, but when we have resident wolves, like we know they’re sticking in that area, that’s when we create an AKWA,” the agency’s communications coordinator, Michelle Dennehy, told USA Today.

Decades of hunting of gray wolves almost wiped out the species across the 48 contiguous US states by the middle of the last century, and in Oregon at the end of 2009 only 14 individual wolves were known to exist.

With protections from the Endangered Species Act beginning in 1974, numbers have risen slowly since, to 175 individuals in Oregon by the end of last year, living in more than 35 packs, according to ODFW figures.

“The wolf count did not increase as much over the past year as in previous years, and a higher number of mortalities that included the loss of breeding adults certainly played a role,” an ODFW wolf biologist, Roblyn Brown, said in a statement.

Earlier this year, a judge restored federal protections from hunting for gray wolves that were scrapped in the waning days of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Wildlife activists successfully argued to district court judge Jeffrey White in Oakland, California, that US Fish and Wildlife had failed to show wolf populations could be sustained in the midwest and portions of the west without protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“Illegal wolf killing is rampant in Oregon, so these animals need every possible safeguard,” Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

“I hope this will be an exciting new chapter in the story of wolf recovery in the state, which is seeing wolves dispersing into territory where they haven’t lived for decades. Having more wolves establish home territories and families in western Oregon will be crucial for the long-term survival of these beautiful animals.”

A remnant population in the western Great Lakes region has expanded to about 4,400 wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to the Associated Press, and more than 2,000 wolves occupy six states in the northern Rockies and Pacific north-west.

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The Chronicle (Centralia, WA)

Lawsuit Filed Over Denial of Endangered Species Protection for West Coast Fishers

By The Chronicle staff, September 15, 2022

The Center for Biological Diversity and two other environmental groups filed a lawsuit on Sept. 13 against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) after its denial of endangered species protection status for West Coast Fishers.

The other two agencies involved in filing the suit were the Environmental Protection Information Center and the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. The lawsuit was filed to the United States District Court, Northern District of California.  

Fishers are mid-sized forest carnivores whose habitat used to stretch throughout most of the West Coast. Logging and fur-trapping led to a drastic decrease in fishers by the 1950s and now face threats from rodenticides used by cannabis farmers and climate change issues including increased forest fires, according to the environmental groups.

The remaining fisher population is now limited to northern California and southern Oregon while additional populations have been translocated to the southern Oregon Cascades and Washington.

“I’m deeply concerned about the survival of the mysterious fisher and the old-growth forests it calls home,” said Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity endangered species director, in a news release. “These tenacious animals can eat porcupines, but they can’t survive the damage we’re doing to their forests. Fishers needed Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection 20 years ago, and they need it even more today.”

This lawsuit is just the latest in a litany of legal actions going all the way back to 2000 when the Center for Biological Diversity filed its first petition to the FWS to get West Coast Fishers listed as threatened throughout various Pacific Northwest habitats.

The trigger for this lawsuit was a 2020 decision by the FWS that removed protection for Fishers on the entire West Coast except for the southern Sierra Nevada region.

“Fishers have it rough. From rodenticide poisoning, to habitat loss from logging and fires, these tenacious critters face significant threats to their continued existence,” said George Sexton, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center conservation director, in a news release.

The full lawsuit can be viewed online at https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/mammals/fisher/pdfs/West-Coast-Fisher-Complaint-2022-09-13.pd

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EcoWatch

Toilet Paper Companies Destroying Canada’s Boreal Forests: New NRDC Report

By: Paige Bennett, September 14, 2022

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has just released its Issue With Tissue report for 2022, and while it does show some progress in regards to sustainable bathroom tissue, the findings also show that many major toilet paper companies are destroying Canada’s boreal forests. Boreal forests are crucial to our planet, as they store 30% to 40% of land-based carbon.

In the new scorecard, the NRDC notes that major companies, including P&G, Kimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific have received F scores for top brands such as Angel Soft, Charmin, Cottonelle and Quilted Northern. These companies are sourcing virgin forest fibers from primary boreal forests for their toilet tissue products. Other retailers, including Aldi, Lowe’s, Home Depot and Walmart, also received F scores for their toilet paper.

Scores were based on factors including percentage of recycled content, percentage of virgin fibers, FSC certification, the bleaching process, and for products made with virgin fibers or non-FSC bamboo, the judges determined whether or not the fibers were sourced from primary forests.

While many of the 60 toilet paper products surveyed received Fs, there were an increasing number of products earning higher markings with more sustainable options for consumers. Twelve products received A or A+ scores.

Some of the top marks went to Trader Joe’s, Green Forest and Natural Value. H-E-B’s Field and Future toilet paper, Kroger’s Simple Truth toilet paper, Target’s Everspring toilet paper and Seventh Generation Extra Soft & Strong toilet paper were among those earning A scores.

In total, the report evaluated 142 products, including toilet paper, paper towels and facial tissues. Seventeen products in total received A+ marks, and another 17 received As.

“Industry laggards like P&G are fueling a tree-to-toilet pipeline that is flushing away some of the most environmentally important — and threatened — forests in the world,” said Jennifer Skene, NRDC’s Natural Climate Solutions policy manager, as reported by CleanTechnica. “The primary forests of the boreal — those areas that have never before been industrially disturbed — must be protected if we’re going to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Turning them into toilet paper is a climate crime, especially when done by the very companies that most need to step up to protect our future.”

While some major companies, including Kimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific, have recently released toilet paper products made with recycled materials that have earned B+ ratings, there is more work to be done. P&G is testing a bamboo toilet paper for its Charmin brand, but it has yet to commit to scaling up the product for more sales or sharing a long-term strategy for more sustainable forest fiber sourcing.

“P&G’s Charmin brand has become a relic that’s completely misaligned with the urgency of the climate crisis we face,” Ashley Jordan, NRDC’s boreal corporate Campaign Coordinator, said.  “Newer toilet paper companies are investing in products that provide healthy options for consumers and the planet. P&G, a $350 billion corporation, has the potential to show real leadership by making Charmin planet-safe. Our forests and our future depends on it.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Aims to Force Biden Administration to Protect Red Squirrel, Nation’s Most Endangered Mammal, From Extinction

TUCSON, Ariz.—(September 14, 2022—Conservation groups have sued the Biden administration to force two federal agencies to comply with the Endangered Species Act and protect imperiled Mount Graham red squirrels in southeastern Arizona from extinction.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Tucson, says the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have failed to acknowledge that the red squirrels are in extreme jeopardy, a designation that would require relocating recreational cabins and an abandoned camp from the animals’ best remaining habitat.

“It’s infuriating that federal officials refuse to acknowledge the facts and do everything possible to save these vulnerable little squirrels,” Robin Silver, a cofounder of the Center for Biological Diversity. “These structures should’ve been removed decades ago, but now the animals are clustered in tiny, isolated pockets of what little canopied forest remains. The squirrels are sliding toward extinction while the agencies worry about inconveniencing a few cabin renters who’ve known for 30 years that they needed to move.”

The Mount Graham red squirrels face a historically precarious habitat bottleneck. The cabins and abandoned camp occupy the only intact, significantly sized canopied, upper-elevation forested area on Mount Graham, which is ideal for the squirrels’ short-term recovery.

The 14 recreational cabins and a camp are in the Columbine/Ash Creek drainage near the top of the mountain. Earlier agreements with the agencies, in 1987 and 1988, required removing the cabins and camp to protect the squirrels.

“The squirrels’ survival is far more precarious than it was 30 years ago, with much less habitat and dwindling pockets of isolated populations,” said Charles Babbitt, Maricopa Audubon conservation chair. “It’s incomprehensible that federal officials aren’t doing more to save these little animals. They’re paid to protect endangered animals and they need to obey the law and legal precedent. That means creatures on the brink of extinction get the benefit of the doubt.”

The squirrels’ prime spruce-fir habitat and nearly all of their designated critical habitat are gone because of land acquisition by the University of Arizona administrators and astronomers, wildfires, fires set unnecessarily to protect the telescopes, and undue pressure exerted by former Sen. John McCain to keep the telescope project on track. The squirrels also have been harmed by the Fish and Wildlife Service’s weakened standards for plants and animals in jeopardy and the agency’s illegal failure to reinitiate consultation to save the squirrels.

Mount Graham red squirrels live solely in the isolated “sky island” range in the Coronado National Forest and feed on conifer seeds; only 109 remain on Earth.

“The recreational cabins and camp occupy the only canopied forest available for the squirrels to recover and, hopefully, thrive,” said Roger Featherstone of the Mount Graham Coalition. “To save the Mount Graham red squirrel these structures must be relocated as promised more than a generation ago.”

The White Mountain Apache tribe has urged the Forest Service to remove the structures to save the squirrels. In a 2020 letter to the Coronado National Forest supervisor, the Tribe’s cultural resources director said the Forest Service should consider “the sacred nature and spiritual power” of the squirrels, known as Na’iłtso Łisogé, or the “original keeper of fire.”

In response to an April 2019 lawsuit from the Center and Maricopa Audubon, the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed that designating additional critical habitat for the Mount Graham red squirrel may be warranted. The agency has yet to protect any of the habitat currently occupied by the red squirrels.

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EcoWatch

4 Countries Harbor 80% of the World’s Deforestation Caused by Industrial Mining

By: Olivia Rosane, September 13, 2022

While more than 70 percent of deforestation worldwide is linked to agriculture, this isn’t the only threat faced by the world’s tropical forests. Another threat is industrial mining, and this could grow in significance as demand for rare-earth minerals rises due to the clean energy transition.

That’s why a team of researchers published the first-ever study Monday to consider how industrial mining contributes to tropical deforestation.

“The energy transition is going to require very large amounts of minerals — copper, lithium, cobalt — for decarbonized technologies,” study co-author and Clark University geographer Anthony Bebbington said, as Reuters reported. “We need more planning tools on the parts of governments and companies to mitigate the impacts of mining on forest loss.”

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at deforestation caused by industrial mining in 26 countries with wet or dry tropical forests between 2000 and 2019. To do so, the scientists looked at the coordinates of industrial mines and compared them to the Global Forest Change dataset of deforestation, Eurasia Review explained.

The study authors wrote that mining activities directly led to the loss of 3,264 square kilometers (approximately 1,260 square miles) of forest. What’s more, 80 percent of that loss occurred in just four countries: Indonesia, Brazil, Ghana and Suriname.

Of these four countries, Indonesia took the lead, with 58.2 percent of direct deforestation taking place there, according to Eurasia Review. The driving force behind that deforestation was coal mining in the province of East Kalimantan, which increased due to rising demand from China and India.

“Although Indonesia’s total deforestation has declined annually since 2015, these findings emphasize the continued need for strong land use planning to ensure mining does not destroy forests or violate community rights,” professor of forest policy at Bogor Agricultural University Hariadi Kartodihardjo, Ph.D., who was not involved with the study, told Eurasia Review.

Brazil, meanwhile, was responsible for 10 percent of direct deforestation, followed by Ghana with 6.5 percent and Suriname with 6.2 percent, according to the study. In Brazil, the destruction was driven by iron and gold mining, while, in Ghana and Suriname, it was gold and bauxite mining, according to Reuters.

In addition to considering direct deforestation caused by mining, the study also looked at indirect deforestation. Direct deforestation is any deforestation that takes place within the borders of the mining site itself, the study explained, while indirect deforestation is the deforestation caused through attempts to fuel the mining process and build infrastructure as well as the settling of new areas as the mine is created. What the study authors found was that indirect deforestation due to mining was present in two thirds of the countries they studied. In these countries, there were higher rates of deforestation within 50 kilometers (approximately 31 miles) of mining sites.

Overall, the study authors called for greater environmental regulation of mining as potential demand increases. Mining now extracts double the amount of raw material it did in 2000, according to Reuters, and 65 percent of the direct forest loss observed by the study authors took place in the last 10 years.

“There is a broad range of environmental damage caused by mining operations on top of deforestation, including destruction of ecosystems, loss of biodiversity, disruption of water sources, the production of hazardous waste and pollution,” study lead author and associate professor at the Institute for Ecological Economics, Vienna University of Economics and Business. Stefan Giljum said, as Eurasia Review reported. “Government permitting should take all of this into account; an industrial mine can easily disrupt both landscapes and ecosystems. Industrial mining remains a hidden weakness in their strategies to minimize environmental impacts.”

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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

PRESS RELEASE, September 13, 2022

Service proposes to list the tricolored bat as endangered under the Endangered Species Act

Ongoing spread of white-nose syndrome is primary threat, increasing risk of extinction.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced a proposal to list the tricolored bat as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The species faces extinction due primarily to the range-wide impacts of white-nose syndrome, a deadly disease affecting cave-dwelling bats across the continent.

Bats are essential for healthy ecosystems and contribute at least $3 billion annually to the U.S. agriculture economy through pest control and pollination. The growing extinction crisis highlights the importance of the ESA and efforts to conserve species before declines become irreversible.

“White-nose syndrome is decimating hibernating bat species like the tricolored bat at unprecedented rates,” said Service Director Martha Williams. “Bats play such an important role in ensuring a healthy ecosystem. The Service is deeply committed to continuing our vital research and collaborative efforts with partners to mitigate further impacts and recover tricolored bat populations.”

The tricolored bat is found east of the Rocky Mountains in 39 U.S. states and the District of Columbia; in four Canadian provinces from the Atlantic Coast west to the Great Lakes; and in portions of eastern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and Nicaragua. 

The proposal to list the tricolored bat comes after an in-depth review found that the species has declined so dramatically across its range that it now meets the definition of endangered under the ESA. White-nose syndrome has caused estimated declines of more than 90 percent in affected tricolored bat colonies and is currently present across 59 percent of the species’ range.

The disease driving their decline is caused by the growth of a fungus that sometimes looks like white fuzz on bats’ muzzles and wings. The fungus thrives in cold, dark, damp places and infects bats during hibernation. Impacted bats wake up more frequently, which often results in dehydration and starvation before spring arrives. Only bats are known to be affected by white-nose syndrome, which has been confirmed in 38 states and eight Canadian provinces.

Tricolored bats are vulnerable to the disease during the winter, when hibernating in caves and abandoned mines and tunnels. During spring, summer, and fall, they roost primarily among leaf clusters of live or recently dead trees, emerging at dusk to hunt for insects over waterways and forest edges.

While white-nose syndrome is by far the most serious threat to the tricolored bat, other threats now have a greater significance due to the dramatic decline in the species’ population. Those threats, which are exacerbated by climate change variables such as changes in temperature and precipitation, include disturbance to bats in their roosting, foraging, commuting, and wintering habitats and mortality at wind energy facilities.

The Service has a strong foundation in place for working with stakeholders to conserve bats while allowing economic activities within the range to continue to occur, and will continue to build on these in light of the tricolored bats endangered status. For example, through the use of habitat conservation plans, wind energy projects can move forward after minimizing and mitigating their impacts to tricolored bats.

The Service has determined that designating critical habitat is not prudent because current or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of the species’ habitat or range is not having large rangewide effects on the species. Furthermore, identifying locations of bat roosts may increase risk of direct harm to tricolored bats or modification and vandalism of their habitat.

The proposal follows the March 2022 announcement of a similar finding for the northern long-eared bat, which the Service recommended should be reclassified from threatened to endangered due largely to white-nose syndrome. Endangered species are those that are in danger of extinction, while threatened species are defined as likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.  

When a species is listed under the Endangered Species Act, the Service works with industry and others to find strategies to avoid take (harming, harassing, killing) using our various conservation tools, authorities, and programs authorized under Section 7 and Section 10 of the Act. These tools include consultation and habitat conservation plans that provide management flexibility and predictability for landowners, project managers and other non-federal groups while providing long-term conservation for listed species. The Service is working with a number of federal agencies under section 7 and non-federal entities under section 10 in anticipation of the potential listing of the tricolored bat.

To address the growing threat of white-nose syndrome to the tricolored bat and other bats across North America, the Service is leading the White-nose Syndrome National Response Team, a coordinated effort of more than 150 non-governmental organizations, institutions, Tribes, and state and federal agencies. Together we are conducting critical white-nose syndrome research and developing management strategies to minimize impacts of the disease and recover affected bat populations. To date, this effort has yielded scientific advancements that include identification of critical information about white-nose syndrome and its impacts on North American bat species. We developed and are using disease surveillance tools to monitor spread and impacts, and we’re testing biological, chemical, immunological, genetic and mechanical treatments in a number of states to improve bat survival.

The best available scientific and commercial information was used to assess the status of the tricolored bat. Comments are invited on the proposed rule to list the tricolored bat as endangered, which appears in the September 14, 2022 Federal Register. Comments on the proposal may be submitted through November 14, 2022 by one the following methods: 

*Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter the docket number or RIN for this rulemaking (FWS-R5-ES-2021-0163 or 1018-BG15). For best results, do not copy and paste either number; instead, type the docket number or RIN into the Search box using hyphens. Then, click on the Search button. On the resulting page, in the panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, check the Proposed Rule box to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment.”  

*By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail to: Public Comments Processing, Attn:  FWS-R5-ES-2021-0163, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: PRB/3W, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.

*Public hearing: We will hold a virtual public informational meeting from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Eastern Time, followed by a public hearing from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Eastern Time, on October 12, 2022. To listen and view the meeting and hearing via Zoom, listen to the meeting and hearing by telephone, or provide oral public comments at the public hearing by Zoom or telephone, you must register. Register for the virtual public meeting and hearing. You may submit comments during the public hearing.

Comments should be sent only by the methods described above. All comments will be posted on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that any personal information provided will also be posted. 

The Service will evaluate all information received during the comment period and will announce a final decision within 12 months.

More information on white-nose syndrome and the Service’s efforts to combat it can be found at www.whitenosesyndrome.org.

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EcoWatch

Nanoplastics Travel Up the Food Chain From Soil to Plants to Animals, New Study Finds

By: Paige Bennett, September 13, 2022

A new study finds how nanoplastics journey up the food chain, from being absorbed from the soil by lettuce, moving to insects, and eventually winding up in fish. The authors note this could pose potential health risks if this process is replicated with other crops and organisms.

There’s been growing concern about the presence of microplastics, which measure 0.1 to 5,000 μm, and nanoplastics, which measure 1 to 100 nm (0.001–0.1 μm). Recent studies have found microplastics in human lungs and blood, and nanoplastics have even been found in the remote North and South Poles of the Earth.

New research from the University of Eastern Finland now shares how nanoplastics may move upward through the food chain, using lettuce as an example. Researchers developed a metallic fingerprint-based technique that measures nanoplastics in the soil. In the study, the researchers tested this technique with a model food chain consisting of three levels: lettuce, black soldier fly larvae and the insectivorous fish.

For the study, the researchers exposed lettuce plants to soil contaminated with common plastic waste, including polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride nanoplastics, for two weeks. Then, the lettuce was harvested and fed to the black solider fly larvae for 5 days. Next, the insects were fed to the fish for five days.

In the experiment, the study authors then used scanning electron microscopy on dissected plants, insects and fish and found that the nanoplastics from the soil were absorbed through the roots of the lettuce and into the plant leaves. When the insects ate the lettuce, they also consumed the nanoplastics, which remained in their mouths and guts after 24 hours. As for the fish, the nanoplastics were found in the gills, intestines and primarily in the liver. Researchers noted that no nanoplastics were found in the fish brains.

“Our results show that lettuce can take up nanoplastics from the soil and transfer them into the food chain,” lead author Fazel Monikh of the University of Eastern Finland said in a statement. “This indicates that the presence of tiny plastic particles in soil could be associated with a potential health risk to herbivores and humans if these findings are found to be generalizable to other plants and crops and to field settings.”

The authors note that more research is needed to assess health and environmental risks, but that the technique and process used within the study can be replicated for further research on the bioaccumulation and trophic transfer of nanoplastics in other food chains.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Agreement Reached to Protect Endangered Species From Livestock in National Conservation Area in Arizona

PHOENIX—(September 12, 2022)–A federal judge approved an agreement today to protect critical habitat for threatened and endangered species from cattle grazing in southeastern Arizona’s Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area.

Today’s agreement between the Center for Biological Diversity, Maricopa Audubon Society, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service follows similar agreements with the U.S. Forest Service. Those deals will protect more than 150 miles of rivers and streams in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico’s upper Gila River watershed, and more than 100 miles of the Verde River watershed in central Arizona from livestock.

“Cattle grazing has devastated streamside habitats across the Southwest and pushed a lot of vulnerable plants and animals closer to extinction. This agreement will help give some of them a fighting chance,” said Chris Bugbee, Southwest conservation advocate at the Center. “Federal officials should never have let the Gila Box be turned into a feedlot, but that’s what happened. Hopefully it’s not too late to restore these life-giving rivers and streams and permanently protect them from the ravages of grazing.”

Field surveys by the Center have documented widespread livestock damage along the streams that meander through the Gila Box, including designated critical habitat for yellow-billed cuckoos. More than 32 river miles were surveyed, and most of them had significant damage from cows, which are supposed to be excluded from the area because of its federal protection.

Today’s agreement requires the BLM to ensure that the conservation area’s streamside habitats are protected from cattle grazing. The Bureau has agreed to monitor riparian areas, maintain and repair fencing, and remove trespass cattle when they are found by the agency, the Center or the public. The area covers six grazing allotments in the conservation area.

The 21,767-acre Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area was set aside by Congress in 1990 to protect the streamside habitat along the Gila and San Francisco Rivers, and Bonita and Eagle Creeks, and their numerous tributaries. Weaving through dramatic canyons as deep as 1,000 feet, these streams are home to endangered species including the western yellow-billed cuckoo, Gila chub, Gila topminnow, desert pupfish, loach minnow and spikedace. The BLM describes the area as a “year-round desert oasis” and “a very special riparian ecosystem abounding with plant and animal diversity.”

In the desert Southwest, livestock grazing harms threatened and endangered wildlife and is the primary driver of riparian ecosystem degradation. Removal of livestock from riparian areas is a critical component of adapting to climate change.

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Big Country News (Clarkston, WA)

Groups Urge Federal Courts to Relist Wolves in Montana and Idaho

Darrell Ehrlick, Sept. 11, 2022

Several conservation groups argue that because Montana and Idaho are “hellbent” on eradicating wolves, a court should instate equally aggressive measures aimed at restoring federal protection for gray wolves.

In both of the Rocky Mountain states, lawmakers have relaxed rules about wolf hunting. For example, Idaho now allows private contractors to kill wolves, permits year-round trapping on private land, and allows hunters and trappers to kill an unlimited number.

Montana has also loosened trapping rules and increased the number of wolves that can be killed. It has drawn fire for nearly decimating a pack of wolves that spend most of the time inside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park but were hunted after crossing the border into state land.

Montana can use bait to lure wolves, as well as use night scopes to hunt them, means not usually allowed for other species.

While wolves are protected in many states under the federal Endangered Species Act, they were delisted in Idaho, Montana, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and northern Utah because of a congressional legislative rider in 2011. A court battle in Wyoming also booted the wolves from protection there.

Supporters of more permissive wolf hunting measures have argued a high wolf population in some places means the animals are killing more elk, deer and moose. Some hunters have said more wolves mean fewer ungulates for them, although biologists have reported other predators have a significant impact on elk.

However, groups, including The Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club, have filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the wolves need emergency protection in the two states “to prevent wolves from being virtually eradicated from the northern Rockies as a result of the new laws.”

Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to make a decision on whether the gray wolves warrant the designation “threatened” or “endangered,” they argue in the lawsuit that courts must order the federal agency to protect them. Late last year, the FWS made a finding that information filed by the groups last year to re-list the wolves presented “credible and substantial information that human-caused mortality may be a potential threat to species in Montana.”

The federal wildlife service also addressed the new laws passed by the states saying the new laws “may be inadequate to address this potential threat.”

Because the FWS missed its own deadline to make a determination, the groups are asking the court to order it to make a decision about whether federal protection is warranted.

“The Endangered Species Act’s substantive protections cannot safeguard a species facing extinction until the species is formally listed as endangered or threatened,” the lawsuit states.

“Because Idaho and Montana are hellbent on eradicating wolves from their states, these animals desperately need federal protection now,” said Andrea Zaccardi, carnivore conservation legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Fish and Wildlife Service can’t stand idly by while these states let hunters and trappers kill hundreds of wolves every year.”

The post Groups urge federal courts to relist wolves in Montana, Idaho to protect them appeared first on Daily Montanan.

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Business Insider

World’s largest container line is rerouting its fleet to avoid collisions with endangered blue whales, the largest animals on earth

Mediterranean Shipping Company rerouted its vessels to help protect blue whales near Sri Lanka.

Conservation groups recommended the move after research showed it could help avoid whale collisions.

Kelsey Vlamis, Sept. 10, 2022

The largest container line in the world has rerouted its ships passing near the coast of Sri Lanka in order to avoid potential collisions with endangered blue whales.

“MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company has taken a major step to help protect blue whales and other cetaceans living and feeding in the waters off the coast of Sri Lanka by modifying navigation guidance in line with the advice of scientists and other key actors in the maritime sector,” MSC said in a statement provided to Insider.

MSC said the action was taken in response to research conducted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) along with other groups and universities. The vessels passing through Sri Lanka’s coastal waters will now travel about 15 nautical miles to the south from the previous route.

Blue whales can be found year-round off the southern tip of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, resulting in a high risk of collisions as the usual international shipping lanes pass right through the area where most of the whales congregate, the IFAW said in a statement praising MSC’s rerouting.

“By ensuring these small changes, MSC is making a significant difference for these endangered whales. Whales often die as a result of collisions and this population is at risk. Ship strikes are both a conservation and a welfare problem, and even one whale death is one too many,” Sharon Livermore, the director of marine conservation at IFAW, said.

MSC’s voluntary rerouting does not impact other shipping carriers, but advocates hope their decision could help lead to permanent changes to the official shipping lane that would impact all vessels. Research conducted on the area’s blue whale population found that adjusting the shipping lane would reduce the risk of a ship striking a whale by 95%, according to IFWA.

“Re-routeing is the key hope to turn the tide for blue whales off Sri Lanka. It also demonstrates to the Sri Lankan government that now is the time to take appropriate action and move the shipping lane out of blue whale habitat for all merchant vessels,” Nicolas Entrup, the director of International Relations at OceanCare, said.

Blue whales are the largest living animals on earth. They can reach 80 to 100 feet in length and live for 70 to 80 years. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists blue whales as endangered, noting the species was hunted to the brink of extinction by the 1960s, at which time it was given international protections.

While hunting blue whales is prohibited, the species continues to be threatened, primarily due to declines in its primary food source, krill. The decline in krill has been linked to the climate crisis, ocean acidification, and other factors.

MSC became the largest container line in the world earlier this year, with a fleet capable of carrying 4.3 million standard 20-foot containers.

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Nevada Current

Conservation group ask feds to list rare NV springsnail as endangered due to lithium mine

BY: JENIFFER SOLIS , September 9, 2022

A group of conservationists are seeking to get a tiny rare Nevada springsnail listed as an endangered or threatened species, arguing that the species is threatened by a planned lithium mine in Thacker Pass.

The Western Watersheds Project petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the rare Kings River pyrg under the Endangered Species Act. The pyrg is only known to live in 13 small isolated springs around Thacker Pass in Humboldt County, an area where Canada based Lithium Americas, plans to develop a lithium mine.

The mine secured federal approval early last year and has also secured a number of state permits required to begin construction of the project.

“This rare springsnail’s entire world wide range stands to be affected by open-pit lithium mining, which threatens to draw down or contaminate all 13 springs where it is known to live,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director with Western Watersheds Project. “Federal land managers put this aquatic snail in the crosshairs of extinction by hastily approving large-scale lithium mining at Thacker Pass. Endangered species listing is now necessary to ensure the survival of the species.”

Conservationists say the Kings River pyrg is highly vulnerable to natural and human-caused threats, including livestock grazing, various impacts associated with the recently approved Thacker Pass lithium mine, spring modification, hydrological drought, climate change, and the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.

Conservationists claim the mine’s operation would deplete aquifers that feed the springs inhabited by the Kings River pyrg, causing springs to dry up and threatening the species’ survival.

“The potential extinction of the tiny King’s River pyrg illustrates how delicate desert aquifers become heavily impacted by industrial mining activity,” said Kevin Emmerich, director of Basin and Range Watch. “The Thacker Pass Mine would pump 1.7 billion gallons of water annually for 41 years. It would be unsustainable for much of the wildlife in the Montana Mountains and would become a death sentence for this rare springsnail.” 

Several tribes have also opposed the lithium mine— including the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and the Winnemucca Indian Colony in Nevada. The Reno Sparks Indian Colony has challenged the mine in court in an effort to halt any excavation or construction at Thacker Pass. However a judge ruled against the tribes.

Tribes in Nevada consider Thacker Pass a sacred site and refer to the pass as “Peehee mu’huh” which translates to “rotten moon” in honor of their ancestors who were massacred in an area of the Pass shaped like a moon by U.S. soldiers in 1865, according to several written accounts.

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Defenders of Wildlife

Court Upholds Federal Action to Protect Right Whales From Deadly Entanglements in Lobster Gear

WASHINGTON, D.C. SEPTEMBER 9, 2022—A federal court has rejected a lobster industry attack on the science supporting recent federal efforts to protect critically endangered right whales from deadly entanglements in lobster gear. The industry sued NOAA Fisheries, and Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Conservation Law Foundation intervened to defend the science.

“This decision rejects the lobster industry’s attempts to distract from the overwhelming scientific evidence that entanglements have killed far too many right whales for far too long,” said Erica Fuller, a senior attorney at Conservation Law Foundation. “It took the Fisheries Service five years to finalize a rule that only reduced lethal entanglement risk by 50% when the science shows 90% is needed. This species doesn’t have another five years to wait for the agency to comply with the law.”

The lobster industry argued that a biological opinion issued by the Fisheries Service in 2021 under the Endangered Species Act and a final rule issued under the Marine Mammal Protection Act overstate lobstering’s threats to right whales, resulting in overregulation. In Thursday’s ruling, the court rejected all of the industry’s arguments.

“We are pleased that the court deferred to the agency’s analysis of the best available science showing that lobster fishing is causing unsustainably high rates of right whale deaths and injuries,” said Jane Davenport, a senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “However, for years the agency has deferred to the lobster industry’s demands for weaker fishing regulations. The Fisheries Service now needs to follow its own science and protect the right whale before the clock runs out on this iconic species’ survival.”

North Atlantic right whales are among the world’s most endangered animals, with fewer than 340 individuals alive today. Entanglement in fishing gear is one of the primary threats to the whales; the other major danger is collision with vessels.

“This decision affirms that right whales can’t wait any longer for stronger protections from deadly entanglements in fishing gear,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The science has shown this for years, and it’s disappointing that the agency hasn’t taken more meaningful action, leaving the whales to suffer the consequences. The court’s latest ruling sends another powerful signal that the federal government needs to take bold action to save these critically endangered whales from extinction.”

When right whales become entangled in fishing gear, they can drown immediately or die over an extended period from injuries, infections or starvation. Chronic entanglements are also affecting right whale calving rates, pushing the species closer to extinction.

Thursday’s decision came about two months after conservation groups won a legal victory in their own case challenging the biological opinion and final rule for failing to do more to protect right whales from lobster gear entanglements, in violation of the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. The parties are in the middle of remedy briefing in that case.

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Audubon

The Guam Kingfisher Could Soon Return to the Wild After a 30-Year Absence

Extinct on its native island since the late 1980s, the endangered bird may fly free as soon as 2023—but not on Guam.

By Jenny McKee, Reporter, Audubon Magazine, September 09, 2022

Once extinct in the wild, the California Condor now soars across the western United States thanks to successful breeding in captivity that allowed their later reintroduction to the wild. Now, a dedicated team is poised to do the same for the bright red and blue Guam Kingfisher. Endemic to Guam and extirpated on the island since 1988, these birds may soon fly free on a Pacific island—one more than 3,000 miles from their native home.

“It’s the first, long-overdue, much-needed step,” says Suzanne Medina, a wildlife biologist at the Guam Department of Agriculture Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources who helps lead the kingfisher’s recovery. “I am feeling very optimistic.”

As with most of the native bird species on Guam, by the 1980s the kingfisher was wiped out by invasive brown tree snakes, which were introduced to the U.S. territory shortly after World War II, creating a “silent forest” devoid of bird song. The Guam Kingfisher, known as Sihek in the indigenous Chamorro language, was spared from extinction when biologists brought the remaining 29 birds into captivity. Today, nearly 140 Sihek live in 25 facilities around the world, but their survival depends on a successful reintroduction to the wild.

“Getting them back into the wild, but also growing that captive population, are two things that need to happen to have the Guam Kingfisher persisting,” says John Ewen, a conservation biologist at the Zoological Society of London and member of the Sihek recovery team.

Experts say one of the main limitations to increasing captive Sihek numbers is space. Because of the species’ inherent aggression toward each other, the birds are kept in separate enclosures—sometimes even in different buildings—unless actively breeding. On top of that, Sihek suffer from inbreeding due to their depressed numbers. Because the population declined so precipitously, and only 16 of the rescued 29 birds raised young, the recovery team has to carefully plan breeding to maximize the species’ genetic diversity. Even with the strict management, inbreeding has caused a decline in Sihek lifespan and breeding success, increasing their risk of extinction. Expanding chick production—with a much-needed boost from wild birds after a successful introduction—is the species’ best shot at survival.

Ideally, biologists would reintroduce Sihek into their native Guam forests. But Guam still can’t sustain wild Sihek because of the brown tree snake’s unyielding presence, despite extensive eradication efforts—including dropping poison-laced mice from planes—that have helped dampen the snake’s population. “They are Guam’s bird, so it’s very sad that we can’t actually put them back there,” Ewen says. Fortunately, the Endangered Species Act permits introducing listed species into new areas if their current habitat is too degraded to support them.

An official recovery team formed in 2020 to search for the Sihek’s potential new home. Cocos Island, a small island just one mile off the southern tip of Guam was the first candidate—the climate, habitat, and resources are essentially identical to the bird’s native home. However, the discovery of a flourishing population of brown tree snakes on Cocos squashed those hopes. Palmyra Atoll, a collection of 26 tiny islands more than 1,000 miles south of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, then rose to the top of the list.

After a successful rat-eradication effort in 2011, Palmyra is predator-free and the lush rainforest boasts a plethora of nesting materials and food for the endangered birds, including invertebrates and an endemic gecko species. Captive Sihek eat insects, anoles, and even live mice, but wild Sihek ate skinks and geckos on Guam. “It’s going to be really interesting to see what they will choose to eat once they are in the wild,” says Stefan Kropidlowski, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (FWS) refuge manager of Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

In July, the recovery team visited Palmyra to finalize the introduction details. “Immediately you could see right away where the birds would fit on the atoll,” Medina says. “It’s definitely a place where the Sihek can thrive.”

Thanks to a partnership between the Nature Conservancy and FWS, Palmyra also already hosts a small research station, increasing the project’s chances of success. “We’re such a small, tiny little island that most people don’t even know about—the fact that we can help another small, little, tiny Pacific island achieve their conservation goals is fantastic,” Kropidlowski says.

While the recovery team’s progress is promising, several regulatory hurdles remain before Sihek call Palmyra home. FWS is currently accepting public comments on the proposed introduction until September 30, 2022. And before the release, surveys will assess the possible impacts on native flora and fauna of introducing Sihek to Palmyra, which the team doesn’t expect to be an issue. Once finalized, Sihek can be released sometime in 2023.

Then, the hard work begins. “The remote location is ideal in some respects, and it can complicate things as well,” says Megan Laut, a FWS wildlife biologist on the Sihek recovery team. The only access to the island is by plane or boat, so the birds will experience little human disturbance. But that also means that supplies to build bird enclosures must be sent well ahead of the birds’ release. “If you don’t have the right piece of equipment, you can’t run out to the store and get it,” Laut says.

To minimize transporting foreign germs or bugs from birds traveling from multiple facilities to the atoll, 20 kingfisher eggs will travel to Honolulu, Hawaii where avian keepers will hand-rear chicks. Nine of those youngsters will eventually travel to Palmyra (the remaining chicks will fly to Guam for captive breeding) where they will live in small cages until they pass health checks. Finally, Sihek can once again fly free.

After release, biologists will monitor the kingfishers around the small island—another advantage of Palmyra—with tracking devices attached like tiny backpacks. “There’s a lot we can learn from keeping transmitters on the birds for a couple months,” says Erica Royer, the aviculturist who helped test the methods on captive individuals at the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. “Are they finding food okay? And how far are they dispersing from the release site?”

Another unknown is when the wild birds might start breeding. In mainland facilities in the United States, they breed during the winter, but on Guam they can raise young year-round. Biologists are hopeful that these introduced birds—and a second group if the first release of Sihek goes well—will produce wild-born Sihek for the first time since the 1980s. Developing techniques and learning how the birds respond to being in the wild after such a long absence—from finding food to courtship—will help the recovery effort and pave the way for future introductions on Guam.

“Ultimately our objective is to reestablish birds on Guam,” Laut says. When will hinge on the success of the Palmyra release, and the snake eradication on Guam. But Medina is hopeful that a return to Guam could occur within five years of the proposed introduction. Sihek could be released on Guam where snake’s numbers have dipped, for example, or snake-proof fences might be used to protect any introduced birds. “There is still hope out there, and there are still actions that can be taken to help save our species,” Medina says. “This is just going to be the beginning.

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EcoWatch

California Sea Lions Sickened in Toxic Red Tide Crisis

By: Olivia Rosane, September 8, 2022

More than 60 California sea lions have washed up disoriented on the beaches of Southern California since mid-August.

The reason? A bloom of the toxic algae Pseudo-nitzschia, which can cause the marine mammals to sicken and, in some cases, die, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explained.

“We are now managing about 100 calls a day,” the Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute (CIMWI) wrote on Instagram August 26. CIMWI works to rescue stranded marine mammals in California’s Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

The organization first announced the poisonings in an Instagram post from August 21 and said that they had begun to receive an increase in calls about sick sea lions on August 15. CIMWI determined that the poisonings were caused by dominic acid (DA), a neurotoxin produced by the algae Pseudo-nitzschia that is also known as “red tide.”

DA makes it from the algae to the sea lions and other larger marine predators including birds when the larger animals eat fish like anchovies, sardines and squid, NOAA explained. The toxin can cause brain damage, seizures and occasionally death. Sickened sea lions will exhibit strange behaviors like bobbing their heads, foaming at the mouth and swaying from side to side.

As of August 30, CIMWI said on Instagram that it had encountered 101 sea lions and one fur seal that had likely been poisoned by DA.

“It truly is a crisis in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties for these sentinel species and for CIMWI,” the organization wrote.

At least one sea lion died after it was discovered seizing on a beach near Ventura Pier, according to NOAA. However, the symptoms of the toxin will usually abate in around 72 hours as the sea lions expel it from their systems via urine, CIMWI said.

“Our extremely dedicated, skilled, and caring team of volunteers is working from sunrise to sunset responding to all of the sea lions and evaluating each animal individually,” CIMWI Managing Director Ruth Dover told NOAA. “Some animals are put under observation in a safety perimeter with educational signs and we monitor their symptoms. Some animals are rescued based on their condition. We are sending team members to these animals as quickly as possible and we appreciate your patience.”

In addition to responding to the immediate crisis, scientists want to understand why this particular outbreak was so extreme and how the climate crisis will impact future “red tides,” The Guardian reported.

While blooms of the DA-producing algae are a regular occurrence in Southern California, the timing of this one is unusual, Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System director Clarissa Anderson told The Guardian.

“We expect that more to peak in April or May,” she said.

It’s also possible that the release of DA may become more common as ocean temperatures increase.

“We have evidence that these cells do well when the water is warm, and we have evidence they do well in nutrient-depleted environments that are followed by rapid nutrient inputs,” NOAA scientist Vera Trainer told The Guardian. “And that’s likely to happen more and more as the climate changes.”

That said, Anderson noted that Pseudo-nitzschia actually prefers colder waters and that temperature was only one of many factors that made a bloom more or less likely. Whatever the cause, though, the blooms are a growing problem.

“Over the last 20 years, they have become more prevalent and more toxic,” Anderson said.

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The Guardian

US lobster put on ‘red list’ to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales

The 1m lines from pots used to catch the crustaceans are one of the two main threats to the whales, of which fewer than 340 remain

By Karen McVeigh, 8 Sept. 2022

Lobster nets and pots have become such a threat to the survival of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales that the crustaceans have been “red-listed” as seafood to avoid by a major fish sustainability guide.

Fewer than 340 of these whales exist today, including only 80 breeding females. The population is estimated to have dwindled by 28% over the past decade.

Seafood Watch, a sustainability guide for consumers and businesses issued by Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, has downgraded Atlantic lobster caught by pot and gillnet fisheries in the whales’ range to “avoid”, its lowest rating.

The new assessment reflects the lack of “timely, effective management” to mitigate “significant risks” of entanglement and promote recovery of the species. The US lobster fishery is worth about $500m (£430m) a year.

Entanglement in the fishing gear used to catch lobster, crab and other species is one of the two leading threats to right whales (the other being ship strikes). The whales’ migration route – from their calving grounds in Florida to feed in Canada – is littered with more than 1m vertical lines from pots and traps, with 622,000 of these in US waters.

When a whale is entangled in fishing gear, the ropes can become embedded in its skin, weighing it down and leaving it unable to swim or feed properly. More than 80% of right whales have been entangled in fishing gear at least once.

In June, a court ruled that a US federal agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), violated both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act by failing to quickly reduce impacts of lobster fishing gear on the North Atlantic right whale.

Other fisheries added to the “red list” include all fishing for Jonah crab, and other trap, pot and gillnet fisheries. Gillnets are a wall of netting that hangs vertically in the water, while traps and pots also have vertical lines from the surface.

Oceana, a conservation pressure group, urged the US and Canadian governments to implement stronger measures to protect North Atlantic right whales. “It’s unfortunate that the government’s failure to update the safeguards to protect North Atlantic right whales is having such serious consequences on these [lobster] fisheries,” said Gib Brogan, Oceana’s campaign director.

Brogan said for the whale population to recover, the average number killed or injured by human activities must be fewer than one a year. “Every vertical fishing line and gillnet is a threat to the remaining whales, which face the risk of entanglement every day,” he said.

Strong fishing regulations were needed to avoid interactions and minimise the effects of interactions, he said. To give the species a fighting chance, the National Marine Fisheries Service (also known as NOAA Fisheries) should reduce the number of vertical lines and gillnets in the water and move to whale-safe fishing equipment, such as ropeless gear, Brogan said.

“Ordering lobster or crab should not mean jeopardising the future of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales,” he said.

Last year, the Marine Stewardship Council was criticised by conservationists for certifying as “sustainable” fisheries within the right whales’ migration route.

A NOAA spokesperson said: “The US wild-caught American lobster fishery is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under state and federal regulations. In addition, NOAA Fisheries is taking an integrated ‘Road to Recovery’ approach to protect, conserve and restore the endangered North Atlantic right whale species.”

In September 2021, NOAA Fisheries issued a regulation to reduce entanglement in the north-east lobster and Jonah crab fishery, that went into effect in May 2022. In July, it announced proposed changes to further protect right whales, including changes to vessel speed and guidance on the use of ropeless fishing gear.

In a statement, Fisheries and Oceans Canada said the Canadian government “continues to take strong action to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales and to help their population rebuild”.

Measures include closing fishing areas when whales were present, working with harvesters on whale-safe gear, such as lower breaking-strength rope. “So far this season, for the third year in a row, there were no reported deaths of North Atlantic right whales in Canadian waters,” it said.

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Fox Weather

America’s rarest snake found choked to death on giant centipede in Florida

Hillary Andrews, September 7, 2022

For the first time in four years, researchers said, the rarest snake in North America was spotted earlier this year in Florida, but it appears its eyes may have been too big for its stomach.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the rim rock crowned snake is a tiny reptile, growing to less than a foot in length, that is only found in a very small part of southeast Florida and the Florida Keys. The head, also known as the crown, is black to light brown, while the belly ranges from yellow to red with black spots.

Researchers at the Florida Museum of Natural History said in a study published Saturday in the journal Ecology, a hiker found the snake on the side of a trail at a park in Key Largo, Florida, in February. What was even more astonishing to researchers was that the snake appeared to have choked on its last meal – a giant centipede about a third of the snake’s length. Researchers said they believe the size of the centipede cut off the snake’s air supply at its widest part.

“I was amazed when I first saw the photos,” Coleman Sheehy, the Florida Museum’s herpetology collection manager and author of the study in a press release. “It’s extremely rare to find specimens that died while eating prey, and given how rare this species is, I would never have predicted finding something like this. We were all totally flabbergasted.”

Scientists opted for CT scans instead of dissection to keep the snake as intact as possible for further study on the elusive species.

“We were able to perform a digital autopsy, which allowed us to examine the centipede and snake, including its injuries and gut contents, without ever picking up a scalpel,” Jaimi Gray, another of the researchers, said.

The rim rock crowned snake, or Tantilla oolitica, is one of several species of plants and animals that only exists from central Florida to the Keys along an ancient coral reef, according to the FWC.

“We can’t say for sure whether or not they’re still present in peninsular Florida,” Sheehy said. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but their habitat has basically been destroyed.”

As cities expanded, the snakes’ numbers dropped. According to FWC, hurricanes and thunderstorms also flood their habitat, which is mostly underground in limestone. They can sometimes be found above ground in rotten logs or hiding under rocks or trash.

The Florida Museum has only cataloged 26 rim rock crowned snakes.

In the wild, life expectancy is about five years. After two years, the snake lays about six eggs per year, according to the FWC.

Snakes have specially designed jaws held to their skulls with ligaments and muscles, allowing them to open their mouths as wide as their prey. Human jaws are directly attached to our skulls.

Sheehy said that snakes literally wrap their head around their food which gives them the ability to eat things that are much larger than they are.

In this case, researchers said, the scans showed that the centipede fought back. Its venomous pincers attacked the inside of the snake, causing internal bleeding. Sheehy said that the wound was not fatal. The pinched trachea was.

Before this CT scan, no one knew exactly what the snake ate. Obviously, they do eat centipedes. This is the first time scientists were able to see the serpent’s eating habits.

The Florida Museum team said they are so excited about the rare find that they are offering up free, downloadable CT scans to other scientists to further everyone’s research.

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PHYS.ORG

More than 1.1 million sea turtles poached over last three decades: study

by Arizona State University, September 7, 2022

One of the most serious threats to wildlife biodiversity, in addition to the climate crisis, is the illegal killing and trafficking of animals and plants. Despite many laws against the black-market wildlife trade, it is considered to be one of the most lucrative illicit industries in the world.

Animals, especially endangered and threatened species, are often exploited and sold for their pelts or used as medicine, aphrodisiacs, curios, food and spiritual artifacts.

In a new study published in Global Change Biology, Arizona State University researchers estimate that more than 1.1 million sea turtles have been illegally killed and, in some cases, trafficked between 1990 and 2020. Even with existing laws prohibiting their capture and use, as many as 44,000 sea turtles were exploited each year over the past decade in 65 countries or territories and in 44 of the world’s 58 major sea turtle populations.

Despite the seemingly large number of poached turtles, the study shows that the reported illegal exploitation of sea turtles declined by approximately 28% over the last decade —something that surprised the researchers. They initially expected to see an overall increase in reported poaching.

“The decline over the past decade could be due to increased protective legislation and enhanced conservation efforts, coupled with an increase in awareness of the problem or changing local norms and traditions,” says Kayla Burgher, co-first author of the study and a doctoral student in ASU’s environmental life sciences program in the School of Life Sciences.

In addition to the slight decline, the researchers found that most of the reported illegal exploitation over the past decade occurred in large, stable and genetically diverse sea turtle populations.

Jesse Senko, co-first author of the study and an assistant research professor with the ASU School for the Future of Innovation in Society says this discovery may be a silver lining to the high number of turtles illegally exploited. “What this means is that most of these sea turtles came from healthy, low-risk populations, which suggests that, with a few exceptions, current levels of illegal exploitation are likely not having a major detrimental impact on most major sea turtle populations throughout the world’s oceans.”

Senko adds, however, the results should be cautiously considered. “Assessing any illegal activity is difficult, and the take and trade of sea turtles is no exception, especially when it becomes organized or connected to crime syndicates. Our assessment also did not include eggs or turtle products, such as bracelets or earrings made from sea turtle shells that could not be easily attributed to individual turtles,” says Senko.

In the study, the researchers reviewed data from peer-reviewed journal articles, archived media reports, NGO reports, and online questionnaires to determine a comprehensive look at existing information on exploited sea turtles. The study revealed additional patterns and trends that may assist in determining conservation management priorities. For example, Vietnam was the most common country of origin for illegal sea turtle trafficking, while China and Japan served as destinations for nearly all trafficked sea turtle products. Similarly, Vietnam to China was the most common trade route across all three decades.

Across the 30-year study period, 95% of poached sea turtles came from two species—green and hawksbill turtles—both of which are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Also, Southeast Asia and Madagascar emerged as major hotspots for illegal sea turtle take and trade, particularly for critically endangered hawksbills, which are prized in the illicit wildlife trade for their beautiful shells.

“Our assessment is an important foundation for future research and outreach efforts regarding illegal sea turtle exploitation. We believe this study can help conservation practitioners and legislators prioritize conservation efforts and allocate their resources to best help protect sea turtle populations from harmful levels of exploitation worldwide,” says Burgher.

The research team says much more needs to be done to sustain global biodiversity.

“Increased support for governments lacking the resources to protect sea turtles is needed, along with support for communities to sustain human well-being in the face of restrictions or bans on sea turtle exploitation. We must develop conservation strategies that benefit both people and turtles,” says Senko.

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EcoWatch

‘Doomsday Glacier’ Melting More Rapidly Than Predicted, Could Raise Sea Levels by 10 Feet

By: Climate Nexus, September 7, 2022

A massive Antarctic glacier is less stable and could potentially cause more and more rapid sea level rise than previously predicted, a study published Monday in Nature Geoscience finds.

The Thwaites Glacier, known as the “doomsday glacier” because it holds enough water to raise global sea levels by multiple feet, is especially susceptible to rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change because it rests on the seabed and can thus be melted from underneath.

After conducting an extensive mapping of the ocean floor, researchers found that at some point in the last 200 years, the base of the glacier dislodged from the seabed and retreated at double its recent rate of retreat. If Thwaites underwent another such rapid retreat, the results could be “existential,” University of South Florida marine geologist Alastair Graham, a co-author of the study, told The Washington Post.

The specter of the rapid disintegration of the Thwaites Glacier comes as Greenland — which lost enough ice in one weekend this summer to put West Virginia under a foot of water  — recorded its largest September ice melt on record.

“This [September] event demonstrates how global warming does not only increase the intensity but also the length of the melting season,” Maurice van Tiggelen, a polar scientist from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, told The Washington Post.

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PHYS/ORG

Environmental scientists explain why so many tree species going extinct is so bad for the planet

by Bob Yirka , Phys.org, September 6, 2022

A team of environmental scientists has written a follow-up paper to their study published last year that warned that approximately one-third of tree species around the world are in danger of extinction. In this new paper, published in the journal Plants, People, Planet, the group explains why the loss of so many tree species is so devastating and why attempts should be made to reverse such extinctions.

Last year, the researchers published what they called the State of the World’s Trees report, which detailed the 17,500 tree species that they found were in danger of extinction—a number that they also note represents approximately a third of all tree species. This time around, the same team has published a paper explaining why the loss of so many tree species in the years ahead could be a big problem.

The biggest problem, they note, is that loss of tree diversity makes life difficult for the tree species that remain. Forests grow smaller and become more susceptible to pests. And smaller and weaker forests mean less carbon sequestration, which means more carbon in the atmosphere warming the planet. It also leaves less forest available for use as a resource. Trees are sources of wood and paper products and are the biggest provider of fruits.

Forty-five other scientists from 20 countries are backing their report. It also has the backing of the Botanic Gardens Conservation International and the Global Tree Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s species survival commission.

The researchers note that in addition to the dangers to the planet posed by loss of tree diversity, such losses would also harm many people directly. There are billions of people around the world who rely on forests for their livelihood. Loss of tree diversity, they note, would also adversely impact wildlife that make forests their home.

The researchers conclude that approximately 100 tree species have already gone extinct. They strongly suggest that leaders around the world and those who support them begin initiatives to preserve the diversity of the world’s forests.

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EcoWatch

Dolphins Rescued From Hotel Pool Are Set Free Into Open Waters

By: Paige Bennett, September 6, 2022

In Indonesia, three bottlenose dolphins that had spent years of their lives in a resort hotel pool and as part of a traveling circus are now swimming free. They were released off the coast of Bali after spending time in a rehabilitation center since their rescue in 2019.

The dolphins, named Johnny, Rocky and Rambo, were rescued and rehabilitated by the Umah Lumba Rehabilitation, Release and Retirement Center in Banyuwedang Bay, West Bali, Indonesia in a collaboration with the Indonesian government and the Dolphin Project. They were then released off the coast of Bali.

“It was a perfect morning: The sea was calm, the sky was filled with the warmth of the rising sun, and a chorus of birds sang in the background. On the dock, the poles were painted red and white, representing the colors of the Indonesian flag,” the Dolphin Project said in a statement.

It took the dolphins about an hour and a half of sitting in the open pen, wide open seas ahead, before any of them swam away from the sanctuary.

“They would make their way to the opening and hover there, without crossing over. To us, going through that opening represented freedom, but to the dolphins, going through represented a journey into the unknown,” the Dolphin Project said. “Finally, at 9:33 a.m. local time, Johnny was the first to go out, leading the way for the other two dolphins to follow. This ‘elder statesman’ swam a few yards into the opening, and then swam to the side of the main pen, where he began communicating with Rocky and Rambo. Within moments, they too swam out of the pen.”

Johnny, Rocky and Rambo were rescued from the Melka Excelsior Hotel in North Bali, where they were found underweight and injured. Prior to their time spent in small pools at the resort hotel, the dolphins were forced into a traveling circus.

They were rehabilitated at the center, and in recent months, had resumed hunting for food largely on their own in the foraging pen at the Umah Lumba Rehabilitation, Release and Retirement Center. During his stay, Johnny, whose teeth were worn down while in captivity, was given a new set of teeth in a first-of-its-kind technique.

The dolphins will be tracked via GPS for one year. According to The Associated Press, the dolphins are free to return to the sanctuary temporarily or permanently as they wish, or they could go off to join another pod of dolphins. They may stay together or separate once in the wild.

The Dolphin Project is working on providing further education to local fishers, boat operators and residents to avoid feeding or approaching the dolphins and will establish a hotline for people to call if they spot the dolphins.

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KTAR News (Phoenix, AZ)

USFWS announces recovery plan for endangered Arizona cactus

September 4, 2022, BY ALEX WEINER, KTAR.com

PHOENIX — The acuna cactus is a small and spherical succulent that grows pink colored flowers with green fruits in the Sonoran Desert.

The cactus native to Arizona, though, is listed as endangered and has been since 2013. The species has eight surviving populations, four of which contain 50 or fewer individuals.

Drought, climate change, urban development, mining, livestock, border activity, non-native plants and illegal collection are among the acuna cactus’ greatest threats, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

USFWS announced last week it finalized a recovery plan for the species after a 60-day public comment period.

The goal is to establish long-term persistence of acuna cactus in the wild and take it off the threatened and endangered species lists, according to the plan.

The plan has six main objectives which include increasing the size and number of populations, setting up plant and seed collections at botanical institutions and seed banks, protecting and restoring Sonoran Desert habitat and improving understanding of the acuna cactus’ geography, ecology and threats.

For downlisting to occur, there needs to be a minimum of 10 acuna cactus populations with growing numbers.

Other requirements include establishing a living collection of plants representing the geographical, morphological and genetic diversity is within 10 years in multiple botanical institutions and protecting a 1,000-meter radius surrounding at least five populations in the wild.

The Service will have to survey land for potential sites and work with land owners and managers to secure permits. From there, it will monitor and research the state of the populations.

USFWS has worked with the Tohono O’odham Nation, the National Park Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Desert Botanical Garden to monitor populations since the 2013 listing, according to a press release.

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National Parks Traveler

“Rewilding” The West With Wolves And Beavers

By Kurt Repanshek, September 4th, 2022

Two species that came close to being wiped off the U.S. landscape now are being looked upon as keys to “rewilding” the American West, a movement seen as building on the Biden’s administration determination to see at least 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters preserved for nature by 2030.

Wolves, long viewed negatively as voracious predators that sometimes kill for fun and need to be eradicated, and beavers, whose pelts fueled the 19th century hat industry, came close to being extirpated from the United States. Now, though, a group of scientists believes the two species are key to bringing nature back into balance on federal lands.

“Rewilding aims to re-establish vital ecological processes. These typically involve key native animals, restoring key species, and they typically involve restoring predators,” explained Professor William Ripple, an Oregon State University ecologist and the lead author of Rewilding The American West. “The rewilding concept is more commonly known in Europe than in the United States, where they have conservation programs that have brought back thousands of wolves and bears and lynx.”

During a wide-ranging conversation on the National Parks Traveler’s weekly podcast with co-authors Michael Phillips from the Turner Endangered Species Fund and Elaine Leslie, who was the National Park Service’s chief for biological resources, Ripple said wolves and beavers should lead the restoration effort because the canids can control burgeoning populations of deer and elk while beavers can help restore landscapes by building dams that create watery oases.

“Wolves can offer significant ecological benefits by helping control, naturally, over-abundant prey such as deer and elk that browse down important plant species such as aspen and willow,” Ripple said. “Another point that I want to make about wolves is that they can provide important carrion for a variety of scavenger species. So wolves are really very much what wildness is about, and much of the American public is really enthused about wolves, and they have this keystone effect. The beaver are also considered a keystone species, by felling trees and shrubs and constructing dams. Beaver enrich fish habitat, they can help maintain water flows during the droughts. They improve the water quality, and generally improve habitat for a lot of plant and animal species. The ponds and the wetlands constructed by beaver can serve as natural firebreaks in the case of wildfire, which seems to be more and more common these days given climate change.”

The paper (attached below), which appeared last month in BIOSCI, had 20 co-authors. In addition to Ripple, the lead author, Phillips, and Leslie, input came from Daniel M. Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service from 2011-2017, and John Vucetich, a Michigan Technological University researcher who long has studied wolf-moose interactions at Isle Royale National Park, and others.

“These two specific species on the landscape scale are critically important right now when we’re discussing things like where we are with climate change, biodiversity loss,” Leslie said during the podcast. “And it’s not just some of those iconic species that are intertwined with this rewilding effort. We need to look at invertebrates and herpatofauna, reptiles, and avafauna. I mean, you can’t go through a nice wild riparian system and not notice bird habitat, and the invertebrates are critical to that. And that whole intertwining of healthy waters, healthy systems, healthy ecosystems, is critically important to a myriad of species. So, you know, we can look at the iconic wolf and we can look at beavers and moose and habitat, etc., but we need to scale down sometimes and look at the microfauna level as well and the importance of the restoration of the species in this habitat, in really bringing back biodiversity and preventing further loss.”

While beavers in recent years have been seen as being beneficial to many landscapes and are being encouraged by the National Park Service to help restore landscapes in places such as Rocky Mountain National Park and Bandelier National Monument, many politicians in the West take a dim view on increasing wolf numbers and would be hard to convince that it makes sense to release them in places such as Utah’s Wasatch-Cache National Forest, the Sierra National Forest in California, or Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest in Washington, to cite three of 11 public lands areas in the West with at least 1,930 square miles (5,000 square kilometers) that the study identifies for rewilding with wolves and beavers.

Phillips, however, maintained that expanding wolf habitat might not be as controversial as it might seem on its face. Colorado voters in 2020 voted to have the state restore wolf packs to that state.

“Gray wolves are relatively easy to work with. They’re wonderful ecological generalists,” he said. “Gray wolves can make a bad restoration plan look good. All they need, all they need really, is access to something bigger than themselves to live on. Gray wolves are hardwired to prey on large-hoofed mammals, and they need to be left alone. The only thing that’s ever given gray wolves the blues, the only thing that’s ever threatened the gray wolf anywhere is human-caused mortality.

“They are not hard to live with,” Phillips continued. “They do not represent a threat to human safety. They do not represent a threat to the livestock industry and they do not represent a threat to the big game hunting industry. What gets in the way of wolf recovery, and we’ve whittled away at this for decades now, is the myth of the wolf. This myth that would have you believe that gray wolves can exercise their predatory will on a whim. Nothing could be further from the truth. But unfortunately, the myth on the gray wolf is as wrong as it is strong, and it persists through present. And while we make two steps forward, we always have one step back. We’ve had great success restoring gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. But now in the presence of state laws, there’s a concerted effort to liberalize recreational killing, to effect a significant reduction in wolf numbers for no justifiable reason.”

Phillips, who played a role in the Colorado wolf initiative, is confident the general public would support the rewilding proposal. “The problem isn’t with the American public, it’s with elected officials and decision-makers that inevitably bring their own ideologies to the decision-making table,” he said.

Aiding the proposal when it comes to wolves is that in much of the West the species is protected by the Endangered Species Act. So if wolves thrive in Colorado and some make their way west into Utah’s national forests, the act would, in theory, protect them from being hunted or killed.

“In the absence of needless killing, gray wolves will find the nooks and crannies where they can flourish,” said Phillips.

Along with finding places where the two species can flourish, the scientists pointed to the need to established wildlife corridors linking the 11 areas proposed for restoration.

“These animals need the ability to move and to move safely. And this country, we have no federally designated wildlife corridors,” said Leslie. “We have Path of the Pronghorn, but that’s not a federally designated corridor system. We need a federally protected corridor system. We need landscape corridors, we need steppingstone corridors, we need buffer zones, linear corridors. We need a way for these animals to move in a protected fashion. And right now, it doesn’t matter if it’s the predator or the prey, they don’t have that ability.”

Another potentially controversial aspect of the proposal is the scientists’ call for removing livestock from 29 percent of the grazing allotments on federal lands in the West. The proposal calls for an “economically and socially just federal compensation program for those who relinquish their government grazing permits.”

“When you look at our work closely enough, there’s one thing above all else that would advance rewilding, beyond tolerance,” said Phillips. “And I don’t think it’s too much for folks to value life and not kill things needlessly. But beyond that, the one thing that this proposal needs to become alive and effective, and that’s removing livestock from grazing allotments. About 29 percent of the grazing allotments of the Western U.S. When you look at the science, we understand livestock are a big burden on native species and native landscapes.”

Once the livestock are removed, wolves would be returned to bring balance to ungulate populations so as to allow riparian areas to rebound and provide the willows, ash, shrubs, and other vegetation beavers need to build their dams.

“I know the world of wolf restoration very well. There’s really not any other place where you need to advance the wolf’s presence through reintroductions,” said Phillips. “There will have to be reintroductions of beavers, but that should be met with little controversy. You have to get lawmakers to embrace the notion of tolerance and the avoidance of needless killing. At the end of the day, if that’s all we were able to bring about, it would forment massive changes in the health and integrity of these Western landscapes. It’s not complicated if you just not kill things needlessly. And if we put beavers back and celebrate their importance, as ecological engineers, the vision of the Western rewilding network would become real.”

Doing so, said Ripple, would greatly benefit the environment.

“If we can make our environment more pristine, and have our plant species flourishing better, that gives us more resilience in climate change,” he said.

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The Guardian

Endangered whale species off Australia’s south coast is calving less often, study shows

Decades-long research of the southern right whale reveals normal calving times every three years has increased to four to five years

Australian Associated Press, 2 Sept. 2022

An endangered whale species found off Australia’s southern coast is calving less often, a decades-long research project has revealed.

The southern right whale usually calf every three years but a Curtin University-led study has found the majority of whales are having an offspring every four to five years.

“Increased calving intervals has been linked to climate change and slower recovery rates,” lead researcher Dr Claire Charlton said.

“It’s vital we understand how climate change and human activities may impact their ongoing survival.”

For more than 30 years, researchers have conducted annual surveys of southern right whales to track their population off Australia’s southern coastline.

The Curtin University study is the result of a collaboration with the Minderoo Foundation, the Yalata Anangu Aboriginal Corporation and other groups.

Southern right whales were once abundant in the waters off southern Australia but intensive whaling in the 1800s drastically scaled back their numbers.

Conservation efforts have boosted the endangered species’ Australian population to about 3,000 but Charlton said more could be done to protect them.

“We know the key threats to whale populations are habitat disruption, underwater noise and strikes from marine vessels and entanglement,” she said.

“We must do everything we can, including legislative protection, to ensure their expansion into new habitats and continued recovery over time.”

Dr Steve Burnell, who began the research project in 1991, said ongoing funding from the Minderoo Foundation and others ensured the whales would be monitored for years to come.

“The long-term southern right whale study is unique and irreplaceable, with the national and international value of the unbroken 30-plus year dataset growing each year,” he said.

“It is vital for informing conservation management of this endangered species across the Australian marine park networks and for understanding the marine ecosystems southern right whales rely on.”

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EurekAlert!

NEWS RELEASE 1-SEP-2022

Eight new species of tiny geckos tumbling out of Madagascar’s rainforests

An international team has discovered and named eight new day gecko species from Madagascar, and each of them is no longer than your pointer finger

Peer-Reviewed Publication, UNIVERSITY OF COPENHAGEN – FACULTY OF SCIENCE

An international team has discovered and named eight new day gecko species from Madagascar, and each of them is no longer than your pointer finger.

Researchers working in the rainforests of Madagascar have been studying the tiny brown Lygodactylus geckos in the subgenus Domerguella for decades. All this time they have been trying to understand their distribution and evolution, thinking that there were just five species. Now, based on analysis of their DNA and careful examination of their scales and proportions, an international team has discovered that there may be as many as seventeen! They have named eight new species in the journal Zootaxa.

In some places, the team found there were three or four different species found in the same place. ‘This was a remarkable discovery’ says Professor Miguel Vences of the Technische Universität Braunschweig, Germany, first author on the study, ‘On Montagne d’Ambre in the north of Madagascar we thought we were collecting just one species, but now we find there are four. Four different, closely related species that are almost indistinguishable to us, occurring together in the same place, apparently without interbreeding—this is exceptional, even for Madagascar.’

Indeed, Madagascar has remarkably high levels of reptile diversity and endemism, and over 150 new species have been discovered and named in the last thirty years. ‘These results highlight how important it is that we continue to collect samples across Madagascar, even of species we think we understand,’ says Dr Frank Glaw, Curator of Herpetology at the Zoologische Staatssammlung München in Munich, Germany, ‘There is still very much more to discover.’

Many of the new reptile and amphibian species described from Madagascar in recent years have been tiny, and the new species are no exception. ‘Domerguella are tiny, at just five to seven centimetres (or roughly two inches) from the nose to the tip of the tail. We think that their small size may play a role in the way they speciate,’ says Dr Mark D. Scherz, Curator of Herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Denmark and last author on the study, ‘because small animals are generally less able to move from one area to another, and are more likely to get isolated by barriers like rivers cropping up between populations. This could explain why we have seen these kinds of patterns in the tiny frogs, chameleons, and now also geckos that we have been studying in Madagascar.’

The new results also reveal how threatened some Domerguella species have been, even without having had scientific names before. ‘The five species we knew before were mostly thought to be unthreatened, but the eight new species are all either probably endangered or critically endangered’ says Dr Fanomezana Ratsoavina, manager of the Unit for Zoology and Animal Biodiversity at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar. ‘This shows how important it is to continue to work to discover, describe, and assess the conservation status of the wildlife of Madagascar.’

(Citation: Vences, M., Multzsch, M., Gippner, S., Miralles, A., Crottini, A., Gehring, P.-S., Rakotoarison, A., Ratsoavina, F.M., Glaw, F. & Scherz, M.D. (2022) Integrative revision of the Lygodactylus madagascariensis group reveals an unexpected diversity of little brown geckos in Madagascar’s rainforest. Zootaxa, In press.)

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Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for West Coast’s Bull Kelp

OAKLAND, Calif.—(September 1, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned NOAA Fisheries today to grant Endangered Species Act protection to bull kelp, which faces grave threats from climate change and coastal development. The range of these underwater forests extends along the western coast of the United States.

“Extreme heat events over the past eight years have caused immense damage to bull kelp populations, so NOAA Fisheries needs to act quickly,” said Mukta Kelkar, a science intern at the Center. “Bull kelp is an iconic West Coast species and important habitat for fish and sea otters. Endangered Species Act protection will give our kelp forests a safety net.”

After the 2014 marine heatwave, bull kelp populations decreased by 90% along the coasts of Mendocino and Sonoma counties. That marine heat wave was followed by one of the most extreme El Niño events in recorded history, and bull kelp has yet to fully recover.

Kelp forests are a crucial foundation of coastal habitats, providing a barrier to coastal erosion and offering a high rate of primary productivity. Animals like sea otters, salmon, and abalone depend on them for shelter.

But climate change pressure is hastening these forests’ transformation into urchin barrens — after kelp dies off from heat stress, purple sea urchins take over the remnant areas and graze destructively on what’s left.

“Bull kelp urgently needs Endangered Species Act protection to shield it from threats to its survival,” said Kelkar.

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Popular Science

Blue-throated macaws are making a slow, but hopeful, comeback

The Asociación Armonía and the Rainforest Trust report progress in protecting one of the world’s rarest birds.

By LAURA BAISAS, August 31, 2022

A new report from The Rainforest Trust and Asociación Armonía (Rainforest Trust’s partner in Bolivia) shows that conservation efforts to protect the habitat of one of the world’s most beloved and endangered birds may be working. Once thought to be extinct, a population of nearly 50 blue-throated macaws was rediscovered in northeastern Bolivia in 1992, and thanks to conservation efforts, there are an estimated 200-300 of them living in the wild today.

As this year’s nesting season for the blue-throated Macaw nesting season comes to an end, the Laney Rickman Reserve reports 16 nesting attempts in the 100 nest boxes monitored by the park’s rangers. The nesting resulting in eight chicks successfully fledging—a significant number nt for conservation of the species, according to the Rainforest Trust. The Laney Rickman Reserve was created in 2018 in the southeast portion of the Beni Savanna as an effort to protect the largest known group of nesting critically endangered Blue-throated Macaws in the world.

As of last year, Asociación Armonía has successfully fledged 105 Blue-throated Macaw chicks since the inception of its nesting box program in 2005.

“Rainforest Trust and our donors care about all endangered birds–indeed all endangered species. But Blue Throated Macaws are special–spectacular, brilliant, social. Our world would be vastly impoverished without them,” Rainforest Trust CEO James Deutsch said in a press release. “That’s why we are so privileged to support Asociación Armonía in their highly professional and successful efforts to pull this species back from the brink.”

The gold and blue parrot is one of the rarest birds in the world (it’s found only in Bolivia’s Beni Davanna) and highly intelligent. Despite these recent successes, they are still critically endangered due to habitat loss and the illegal pet trade.

The reserve is located in the Beni Savanna, in the lowlands of the southwestern Amazon River basin in northern Bolivia. The area is also called the Llanos de Moxos and is one of only two unique Bolivian endemic ecosystems. It’s made up of natural savannas, forest islands with motacú and totai palm trees, dry forest patches, and river edge Amazonian forests. It is home to 146 mammal species, including giant anteater, jaguar, and maned wolf, and hundreds of species of birds.

A 2017 study published in Scientific Reports finds that three macaw species (including the blue-throated macaw) are influential seed dispersers in the ecosystem, primarily for the Motacú palm. The tree is also their preferred nesting tree and preferred food and need seed dispersal in order to thrive. 2017 also saw a record number of macaw sightings (155 individual sightings) at the Barbara Azul Nature Reserve in Bolivia, according to Asociación Armonía.

Despite the success, there are still major hurdles in protecting the world’s critically endangered species. A study published earlier this month in the journal Current Biology, finds that predicted loss of birds species with striking and extreme traits will likely face extinction first, taking with them unique traits in evolutionary history. Some estimate that there has been a 68 percent decline in species population and size over the past 52 years, with climate change threatening even greater biodiversity loss.

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Forbes

Huge Humpback Whale—And California Celebrity—Killed In Ship Strike Amid Concern Over Collisions

Joe Walsh, Forbes Staff, August 31, 2022

A humpback whale whose annual visits to Monterey Bay turned her into California’s most famous sea mammal has died in a ship collision, researchers learned this week, bringing new attention to a threat that has haunted whales even as their populations recover.

Key Facts

The 49-foot-long humpback whale was spotted Sunday on a beach in Half Moon Bay, Calif., and a necropsy by the Marine Mammal Center found one of her vertebrae was fractured and her skull was dislocated, suggesting she died after being struck by a ship.

Within days, researchers identified the beached whale as “Fran,” a 17-year-old humpback who was well-known to local marine biologists and whale enthusiasts alike.

Fran was the most frequently spotted whale in California on Happywhale, a site that allows users to track the giant marine mammals, with more than 250 sightings since 2005 spanning from Monterey Bay in California (where humpback whales feed in the warm months) to the Pacific coast of Mexico (where they tend to breed).

Fran’s personality also made her something of a local celebrity in Monterey Bay, where scientists and whale watchers often spotted her dramatically breaching above the surface of the ocean or gregariously swimming up to boats, according to interviews with the San Jose Mercury News, NBC’s San Francisco affiliate and SFGATE.

For the first time, Fran brought a healthy female calf to California this season, and the mother and daughter were both spotted swimming in Monterey Bay last month, according to the Marine Mammal Center and Happywhale.

Including Fran, at least four whales in the San Francisco area have washed up on the shore this year due to ship collisions, the Marine Mammal Center says.

Key Background

Humpback whales were killed en masse during the age of whaling, when ships scoured the ocean hunting the 40-ton mammals for their oil-producing blubber. The species has recovered since then as the whaling industry declined and governments introduced conservation efforts in the 20th century, and researchers think thousands of humpbacks now feed off the coast of California and spend their winters in Mexico and Central or South America. However, the massive animals still face a handful of manmade threats, including entanglement in fishing gear and collisions with container ships and oil tankers, Karen Grimmer, a resource protection coordinator with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, told Forbes. It’s difficult to estimate exactly how many whales are killed by boats, but Grimmer said “there is a very high risk” as mega-ships often transit through areas frequented by whales. Grimmer believes part of the solution is for ships to slow down to under 10 knots—or 11.5 miles per hour—during peak whale season. Many shipping companies have agreed to voluntarily reduce their speeds off the coast of California, particularly in designated lanes, but while Grimmer notes this system has achieved some success, she added “we would like to see them slow down throughout sanctuaries” rather than specifically in shipping lanes.

Crucial Quote

“We are very concerned about ship strikes,” Grimmer said. “Hundreds of large container ships are transiting through the [Monterey Bay] sanctuary every year.”

Surprising Fact

Humpback whales are spending more time feeding off the coast of California every year, according to Grimmer. This trend is partially due to the population’s recovery, but it’s also linked to climate change, which has extended the season and made food more available.

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EcoWatch

‘Time Has Run Out’—UN Fails to Reach Agreement to Protect Marine Life

By Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, August 29, 2022

The fifth round of United Nations talks that began in New York on August 15 and were aimed at securing a UN Ocean Treaty to protect marine life in the international waters of the High Seas has ended in another stalemate, reported The Guardian.

The treaty would have established regulations for the protection of biodiversity in two-thirds of the world’s non-territorial waters.

“We’re disappointed that governments at the UN did not bring the High Seas Treaty over the finish line this week. However, it has been uplifting to witness the global momentum for ocean action steadily build throughout these negotiations. Communities across the world are asking for decisive ocean action to protect marine life and safeguard the vital role the ocean plays for the climate, global food security and the overall health of our planet. States must now build on the progress made and deliver on their promise for an ambitious Treaty by the end of 2022,” said senior strategic advisor to the High Seas Alliance Sofia Tsenikli, a press release from The Nature Conservancy said.

The failure of countries to come to an agreement leaves the world without a cohesive strategy to stop and reverse marine biodiversity loss. A rich array of marine life is integral to the health of our planet and vital to many people’s livelihoods.

“Regardless of where you live, the high seas is contributing to the oxygen you breathe and is one of the climate regulators of the planet,” said coordinator of the High Seas Alliance Peggy Kalas, as Bloomberg reported. “The ocean absorbs our carbon emissions and is really making our existence possible on Earth while providing food for billions of people.”

The inability of 100 world leaders from the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, the Global Ocean Alliance and Leaders’ Pledge for Nature to agree on how to reverse biodiversity loss at sea and on land illustrates the gap between promises made by world leaders and the action needed to make these changes, The Nature Conservancy press release said.

“In a process which was started at the Rio+20 UN Conference in 2012, States have tried to negotiate a Treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) — the ocean beyond Exclusive Economic Zones, which makes up 70% of the ocean. The work needed to reach the final Treaty could be completed relatively quickly if States are willing to cooperate, keeping the 2022 deadline alive. This is essential if the world is to achieve the goal of protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030 — something which cannot be achieved without the Treaty,” Tsenikli said in the press release.

Scientists have said the goal of 30 percent protection of the world’s oceans by 2030 is necessary to protect wildlife and help lessen the effects of climate change, Greenpeace has said.

“We got very close on the conservation elements of the treaty. I am confident we can get a strong treaty over the finish line if countries come together and resolve the remaining issues in 2022,” said Lisa Speer of the Natural Resources Defense Council in the press release.

Solidifying these agreements would provide the “whole-ocean” strategy the world needs to tackle the biodiversity crisis.

Environmental advocates put the blame on the U.S. and other wealthy countries for failing to compromise quickly enough after years of intermittent talks.

“While progress has been made, particularly on ocean sanctuaries, members of the High Ambition Coalition and countries like the USA have moved too slowly to find compromises, despite their commitments,” said Laura Meller of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign, as reported by The Guardian.

Some of the main issues hindering the treaty’s progress are environmental impact assessments and coming to an agreement on a procedure for the creation of protected areas.

According to Meller, some of the groups participating in the negotiations were closer to solidifying the agreement than others, like the Caribbean group and the Pacific islands, while the world’s northern countries had only just begun progressing toward compromise in the latter part of the talks.

“Time has run out,” Meller said, as The Guardian reported. “While countries continue to talk, the oceans and all those who rely on them will suffer.”

Meller said Russia had been unwilling to take part in the talks and had obstructed the process.

“Russia has also been a key blocker in negotiations, refusing to engage in the treaty process itself, or attempting to compromise with the European Union and many other states on a wide range of issues,” said Meller, as reported by The Washington Post.

Talks will resume automatically in 2023 unless the UN General Assembly schedules a special emergency session before the end of this year.

“Clearly significant progress towards the treaty was made during this fifth session, but I am disappointed that despite growing evidence of [devastating] impacts to marine life and calls for much higher ambition we did not reach a treaty. Time is not on our side and we must accelerate our efforts to protect the largest ecosystem on our planet,” said President of the Marine Conservation Institute Lance Morgan in the press release.

Leaders will have another chance to protect the world’s oceans and address the biodiversity and climate crises at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15), to be held in Montreal in December of this year.

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Arizona Public Media

Arizona state fish might soon shed endangered designation

The Apache Trout was first listed as endangered in 1973.

by Megan Myscofski, August 29, 2022

The Arizona state fish might soon shed its designation as an endangered species. That comes after a five-decade conservation effort.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that after a five-year review, it recommends that the Apache Trout be delisted from the Endangered Species Act.

The service expects to publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register to delist the fish by the end of the year that will include a 60-day public comment period.

It said that despite the recommendation to delist, it will continue conservation efforts of the fish.

The fish is native to the streams of the White Mountains and first gained protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1973.

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National Geographic

Where the buffalo roam, endangered prairies thrive

A study 29 years in the making shows how bison reintroductions can create richer ecosystems and resilience against climate change in North America.

By JASON BITTEL, August 29, 2022

Twice a year for the last 29 years, scientists have waded through the same sections of tallgrass prairie in eastern Kansas and tallied up as many plant species as they could find. The goal was to determine the impact of American bison and cattle on the ecosystem, compared with plots of similar prairie protected from these grazers.

It’s hot, tedious, and tick-infested work, but it is incredibly important: Tallgrass prairies used to cover a huge portion of Texas and stretch all the way up to southern Canada. Today this habitat, dominated by head- and waist-high grasses and forbs, herbaceous flowering plants, is imperiled. Tallgrass prairie is now present in just four percent of its former North American range.

Now, decades of diligence and data show a perhaps surprising result: When bison were allowed to graze through patches of tallgrass prairie, they boosted native plant species richness by a whopping 86 percent over the past three decades, according to a study published August 29 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Areas grazed by cattle also benefited native species, though they increased by just 30 percent. American bison, also called buffalo, provided nearly three times the environmental benefit as cows, and researchers aren’t yet sure why. (See beautiful photos of grasslands and prairies.)

“We’re still kind of surprised at just how large of an effect bison had,” says study leader Zak Ratajczak, an ecologist at Kansas State University. “I don’t think anyone would have predicted this ahead of time.”

The scientists checked their results against 252 similar studies worldwide that looked at the impact of large herbivores on plant diversity. Among these studies, the American bison and their effects ranked in the 95th percentile, meaning that the new study’s findings are some of the most dramatic on record.

Between 30 million and 60 million bison lived in the United States in the mid-1800s, before the U.S. government largely exterminated the population, reducing their numbers to just a few hundred by 1889, part of a coordinated effort to deny a key food source to Native American populations. The new study’s findings suggest that ongoing efforts to reintroduce bison into their former range could have enormous benefits not only to Native peoples and their culture, but also to the land and natural environment.

“That is a reciprocal relationship that really was severed,” says Jason Baldes, tribal buffalo program manager for the National Wildlife Federation’s Tribal Partnerships Program, who was not involved in the new study.

“As Native people, as we restore this connection to the buffalo, it heals us. And that buffalo, by its presence on the land, heals the land,” says Baldes, who is also an ecologist and a member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. “And that is something that we can all learn, understand, and benefit from.”

How do bison affect tallgrass prairies?

For the prairie grass study, scientists surveyed sections of the Konza Prairie Biological Station, an 8,600-acre tallgrass prairie reserve co-owned by Kansas State University and the Nature Conservancy. In some areas, which are as large as 2,000 acres, free-ranging bison were allowed to graze year-round and other sections housed cattle during the growing season, between April and November. To test the impact of the grazers, a third group of plots were kept clear of both species.

In the herbivore-free plots, much of the landscape was covered by just four species of native grasses: big bluestem, Indian grass, switchgrass, and little bluestem. However, when bison and cattle were allowed to mow these species down, other, less dominant plants were able to thrive.

“That’s something we call ‘keystone herbivory,’” says Ratajczak.

One particular beneficiary was a tall, flowering forb known as rigid goldenrod. The botanists saw this species only rarely in the ungrazed plots, but it popped up regularly in those frequented by bison. Similarly, several species of dry-adapted grasses also took hold in the bison plots, along with 11 annual species that had never been seen before in those plots.

Beneficial wallowers

Though Ratajczak can’t say for sure yet why bison create better opportunities for native species than cattle do, he has some theories.

Bison tend to be more heterogeneous in their grazing, he says. This means they might crush one area and eat everything down to the nubs, while leaving another patch of prairie untouched—thus creating more plant diversity. Cattle, on the other hand, tend to be more methodical and uniform in their grazing.

“Bison also go around forming disturbances in the soil, called wallows,” says Ratajczak. “These are areas where they roll around and shake off their winter fur, and that creates this little hot spot of very different types of soil characteristics you wouldn’t find otherwise.”

Wallows harden and collect water after rain, for instance, creating miniature wetlands, which allow still more and different types of plants to grow.

Interestingly, by promoting different types of plant growth, the scientists believe bison could help their ecosystems become more resilient to prolonged droughts, one of the most significant effects of climate change in the American West.

For instance, annual plant species, which were abundant in the grazed plots, reproduce early before they flower, seed, and finally go dormant during the hottest and driest months, reappearing when climate conditions improve.

“We have to reassess what progress has looked like”

For his part, Baldes was impressed with the scope of the new study and says its findings reiterate “what we already know about the importance of this animal as a keystone species.”

Bison boost butterflies, salamanders, and reptiles by creating habitat both for the animals themselves and the plants they require for survival, says Baldes. When the large herbivores shed their thick winter coats, that hair becomes useful for nesting birds. “I’ve witnessed osprey flying over me at the buffalo enclosure, and it looks like they’re carrying a snake, but they’re carrying a big piece of buffalo hair back to their nest.”

Baldes is working to bring bison back to lands they once inhabited, such as Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation, which is home to almost a hundred reintroduced bison. It’s an idea that’s gaining momentum in the U.S. and Canada, bolstered by studies such as this one, he says. A recent study also suggested that bison reintroductions would help Native American populations achieve better food sovereignty and economic sustainability.

By rejecting environmental exploitation, reintroducing important species like buffalo, and working to preserve Native languages, Baldes says, “we can make sure that our young people can be proud of being Shoshone and Arapaho, Blackfeet, Crow, Cheyenne, or any of the 574 federally recognized tribes in this country that are trying to tell their story.”

“We’ve had a level of colonization that’s happened, not only to Native people, but also to how land gets utilized,” says Baldes. “It’s been plowed up, paved over, fenced in, fenced out, all with this idea of progress.”

If bison reintroductions are going to succeed, Baldes says the health of the environment should take priority.

“That colonial system of thinking destroyed predators and removed the buffalo,” he says. “And so we have to reassess what progress has looked like.”

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Voice of America

Climate Change Affecting US National Parks

August 28, 2022, Deborah Block

WASHINGTON — U.S. national parks are in danger from climate change, and people need to take action to protect them, said Brendan Cummings, conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit organization working to protect endangered species.

From coast to coast, in 63 iconic parks, visitors can see soaring waterfalls, colorful hot springs and giant sequoia trees in landscapes that vary from wetlands to desert.

The landscapes are under stress, and climate change is making it worse, Garrett Dickman, a Yosemite National Park forest ecologist, told VOA.

Scientists are warning that if the warming continues at its current rate, much of the wildlife and vegetation in the parks is in danger of disappearing by the end of the century.

“Climate change is the greatest threat the national parks have ever faced, … [ they] are warming at twice the rate as the rest of the country,” the National Parks Conservation Association said on its website.

Across the country, one of the biggest problems is water, sometimes too much, causing flooding, or too little, triggering drought and fires.

Yellowstone National Park in the western U.S. is known for its wildlife, vibrant hot springs and beautiful mountain ranges.

It has also experienced devastation from climate change.

Over four days in June, the park had record rainfall. Along with an already rapidly melting snowpack, the rain caused disastrous flooding and rockslides that eroded riverbanks and tore apart bridges.

“Yellowstone historically did not have a lot of floods,” and there was no warning that this level of flooding was coming, said Cam Sholly, the park superintendent.

Cathy Whitlock, a Yellowstone climate change expert, explained, “There was a lot of snowfall late in the season, with excessive rain on top of the snowpack, and instead of getting soaked into the ground, it was flowing into the rivers.”

As the park continues to get warmer, she said, “we get more precipitation in the winter and then very dry summers, which leads to more frequent forest wildfires.”

The loss of the trees is affecting the ecosystem.

“We don’t get the same trees that were burned coming back, and some areas that were once forested are becoming shrublands or grasslands,” Whitlock said.

The changing climate is also affecting wildlife.

“Cold water fish are going to colder streams in higher elevations, and grizzly bears are looking for additional food sources,” Whitlock said.

Yosemite National Park in California features granite cliffs, tall waterfalls and old-growth trees.

In recent years, an increasing number of tree and shrub species have been dying from extreme heat.

“This summer there’s been more days over 100 degrees (37 Celsius) than there used to be in the past,” Dickman said. “The trees can’t get enough moisture to survive, and so they get weakened and become more vulnerable to insects and disease.”

The dead vegetation is adding fuel to the fires.

“We’re having these huge fires that burn hotter than ever before and we have areas that have converted to invasive grasses,” Dickman said. “Within the lower elevations, we’ve lost at least 2.4 million trees.”

Climate change is also having an impact on the giant sequoia trees in the park, which can live some 3,000 years.

They’re very resilient, but they haven’t adapted to the fires of today, said Dickman. Although none of the trees in the park have died, he continued, they are showing stress from the drought.

Joshua trees at Joshua Tree National Park in the California desert are also having trouble surviving due to increasing temperatures.

“I see lots of dead Joshua trees that look like they died from drought or heat stress,” said Cummings, who lives near the park. The trees are also dying because rodents have stripped their bark for food when there’s nothing else to eat because it’s been so dry.

The slow-growing trees do not bounce back quickly.

“It takes about 30 years before the trees produce seeds, and very few of them grow to become a Joshua tree, maybe one in a thousand,” Cummings explained. Today, it is even more difficult for the seedlings to survive the harsh desert climate.

“We may need a plan to grow the seedlings in higher, cooler elevations,” he said.

The awe-inspiring Grand Canyon in Arizona was carved by the 446-kilometer-long Colorado River.

“There are reduced flows in the river due to the changing weather patterns,” said Mark Nebel, the parks geosciences program manager. He said, “This impacts the groundwater, which feeds our springs” that the wildlife relies on, as well as the vegetation, causing massive die-offs of junipers, small trees that are relatively drought tolerant.

The river is also used for agriculture and drinking water for millions of people in the Southwest.

“We’re taking too much water out of the river,” he told VOA, “and we need to find ways to use less of it.”

In the southeastern U.S., the Florida Everglades is a vast subtropical wetland ecosystem.

Rising sea levels that have caused coastal erosion and flooding in south Florida have also changed the Everglades.

“We’re seeing changes in the water chemistry, specifically salt, and the soil elevation is sinking,” said John Kominoski, an Everglades researcher and associate professor at Florida International University.

“Freshwater areas are becoming more salty and saltwater wetlands are getting freshwater,” he said, “and that can affect the trees, mangroves and wildlife.”

Kominoski said he is hopeful the Everglades will remain intact in the future, but that water management is key.

“It’s a reality that we can’t ever go back to how things were before,” he said, “so we have to find ways to go forward in a new way.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Legal Agreement Moves Dunes Sagebrush Lizard One Step Closer to Protection

Oil, Gas Extraction in Texas, New Mexico Threatens Rare Lizard

SILVER CITY, N.M.—(August 6, 2022)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed yesterday to decide by June 29, 2023, whether to protect the imperiled dunes sagebrush lizard under the Endangered Species Act. The lizard has been waiting for protection for four decades.

The dunes sagebrush lizard lives in a small area of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico that overlays a part of the Permian Basin. Over the last decade, the region has been one of the fastest-growing oil and gas extraction areas in the world. This decision comes after the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Service in May for stalling on deciding whether to protect the lizard.

“I’m relieved that these intrepid little lizards are finally getting another shot at protection,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center. “The dunes sagebrush lizard will go extinct if the species doesn’t get Endangered Species Act safeguards from the environmental wreckage caused by the oil and gas industry.”

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.

“Wildlife officials can’t let big oil and gas interests smooth-talk them out of protecting the dunes sagebrush lizard again,” said Robinson. “We’re in the middle of an extinction crisis, and every day counts.”

Background

The Fish and Wildlife Service identified the dunes sagebrush lizard as needing protection in 1982. In 2002 the Center submitted a petition to place the lizard on the endangered species list. Prompted by the Center’s continuing litigation, the Service proposed to list the lizard in 2010. However, the agency instead struck a deal with the Texas Comptroller’s Office to deny the lizard protection in exchange for non-binding agreements to protect some of the animal’s habitats.

In 2018 the Center again petitioned for protection and the Service issued an initial finding that a listing was warranted. It is now three years overdue in presenting a more comprehensive finding and an associated proposed rule to officially list the lizard as endangered and designate critical habitat. Earlier this year, the Center sued the Service over this delay, leading to this legal agreement.

The Service has long failed to provide timely protections to species in need. The entire process of listing species and designating critical habitat is supposed to take two to three years. On average it has taken the Service 12 years, and in many cases decades, to protect qualifying species. At least 47 species have gone extinct while awaiting protection.

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The Guardian

More than 100 hen harriers fledge in England for first time in a century

Conservationists welcome successful breeding season but say birds remain at risk of being illegally killed

Nadeem Badshah, 25 Aug. 2022

Nearly 120 rare hen harrier chicks have fledged in England this year, the highest number for more than a century, England’s conservation agency has said.

Natural England and its partners recorded 119 hen harrier chicks successfully fledging from nests across uplands in County Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, Northumberland and Yorkshire. A fledgling is a young bird that has grown enough to acquire its initial flight feathers and is preparing to leave the nest and care for itself.

It is the first time in more than a century that the number added to the population has exceeded 100 young birds, the agency said.

But conservation experts have warned that work needs to continue to tackle the illegal persecution of England’s most threatened bird of prey, which hunt red grouse chicks to feed their young, bringing them into conflict with commercial shooting estates.

The Natural England chairman, Tony Juniper, said: “It is very encouraging to see the progress made this year on the recovery of this majestic species, tipping the numbers fledged to more than 100 for the first time in over a century.

“It is testament to the dedication of the volunteers, landowners and staff from all our partner organisations who work so hard to protect, support and monitor these vulnerable birds.

“Despite this year’s success, we clearly still have a long road to travel to see hen harrier numbers truly recover to where they would naturally be without illegal persecution – with many birds sadly still going missing.

“We are committed to continuing to work with our partners to drive down persecution rates and achieve a permanent long-term recovery.”

Hen harrier breeding populations in England reached a nadir in 2013, when no chicks successfully fledged.

After eight chicks fledged in 2016, there have now been six successive years of increases, with 49 nests recorded in 2022, of which 34 were successful in producing chicks.

Lancashire remains a stronghold for the birds, with 18 nests recorded in Bowland, while there were nine nests in Northumberland, 10 across the Yorkshire Dales and Nidderdale, seven in the North Pennines and five in the Peak District.

A spokesperson for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said: “We welcome the news from Natural England that this year hen harriers have had their most successful breeding season and are proud of the contribution our teams have made to this success through nest protection, habitat restoration and monitoring efforts.

“However, the risk of these young birds being illegally killed after leaving the safety of their nests remains very real. That is why we are calling on the UK government to provide resources to support the conservation of hen harriers and ensure that existing wildlife protection laws are better enforced.”

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WABI-5 (Bangor, ME)

Maine sees record numbers of endangered piping plovers

By WMTW, Published: Aug. 24, 2022

PORTLAND, Maine (WMTW) – A record number of piping plovers are nesting in Maine and raising chicks.

Laura Zitske, a wildlife ecologist for Maine Audubon, says there were 140 nesting pairs in Maine this summer and that those pairs raised 252 chicks to the point where they could fly. She said both those numbers are records for Maine.

Monitoring of piping plover numbers in Maine started in 1981. This continues a growing population trend over the last couple of years.

The piping plover population reached records in 2020 when the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said there were 98 nesting pairs on Maine’s southern beaches and 197 fledgling plovers. Both numbers far surpassed the records set in 2019.

Piping provers are a small, sand-colored shorebird that is an endangered species in Maine and a federally threatened bird along the East Coast of the U.S.

Zitske said the record numbers this year are thanks to partnerships with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as work with local municipalities, private landowners and volunteers.

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Science

Up to 135 U.S. tree species face extinction—and just eight enjoy federal protection

Top threats include invasive pests, climate change and habitat loss

24 August 20225 By GABRIEL POPKIN

Up to one-sixth of the tree species found in the continental United States face possible extinction, yet only a handful enjoy federal protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, a new study finds. 

The study, which focused on 881 tree species native to the continental United States, drew on field data indicating where trees occur and scientific literature detailing threats they face. (Hawaii has a vastly different flora that’s being assessed separately.) Researchers evaluated how endangered each tree is according to criteria developed by the organizations NatureServe and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). As a result of invasive insects, pathogens, climate change, development, and other threats, the team found, 11% to 16% of those trees—as many as 135 species—face possible extinction.

“That’s a lot of species,” says Murphy Westwood, vice president of science and conservation at the Morton Arboretum and lead author of the study, which was published this week in the journal Plants People Planet.

The number is consistent with extinction estimates for other groups of organisms, says Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Tucson, Arizona–based Center for Biological Diversity, who was not involved in the research. Earlier this year, for example, researchers reported that one in five of the world’s reptiles is threatened.

Still, Greenwald says, the level of threat is “quite concerning.” Trees play especially foundational roles in ecosystems: When trees die out, whole swaths of biodiversity can perish along with them, as can ecosystem services that humans depend on. “Trees and forests are really the bench that we all rest on,” he says.

Invasive insects and pathogens are the top killers of U.S. trees, the authors found. Nearly half of ash species, for example, are threatened by emerald ash borer, a beetle that arrived from Asia some 2 decades ago and has spread across half the continent. Chestnut, hemlock, pine, and laurel species also face deadly pests.

Human-caused climate change registered as the second most pervasive threat. A “poster child” for the risks posed by global warming is a medium-size, thick-leafed oak, Wesley Knapp, chief botanist at NatureServe, says. Quercus tardifolia. Just one known individual is left in the wild, located in Texas’s Big Bend National Park, and climate change is rapidly making its habitat unsuitable. “The tree is not long for this world,” Knapp says. (Overall, the oak and hawthorn genera contain the largest numbers of threatened species.)

Although Q. tardifolia may be doomed, other threatened species can be saved, the authors emphasize. Organizations restoring forests, for example, could include threatened trees in their plantings, Westwood says.

Preventing new tree killers from reaching the United States is also critical, says Leigh Greenwood, a forest specialist at the Nature Conservancy, which was not involved in the research. “This paper is very much a call to action to bolster the prevention strategies that we have against the entry of new forest pests and pathogens.”

Strengthening efforts to collect seeds and tissues from threatened trees and place them in long-term storage or grow them in protected places could help provide a crucial insurance policy, researchers say. Seventeen species flagged in the study don’t appear in any seed bank or collection, the authors found. “If those threatened species disappear from the wild,” Westwood says, “we have no backup.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) currently lists just eight U.S. tree species as threatened or endangered. But not all species flagged by the new study would necessarily qualify for federal protection, Westwood says, because the government uses criteria that differ from those used by IUCN and NatureServe. And even if a tree species does qualify, it could take years for officials to add it to the list. In a 2016 study, Greenwald found the service took an average of 12.1 years to list a species.

A spokesperson for FWS declined interview requests.

Despite the grim news, Westwood says the United States has the wealth and expertise to save at least some of its threatened trees. “We have the technology and resources to shift the needle,” she says. “We can make a difference. We have to try.”

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JDSUPRA

Service Makes Four 90-Day Findings and Initiates Status Reviews of Two Species

Sara Greenberg, August 24, 2022

On August 23, 2022, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) issued a notice in response to petitions seeking to list, delist, or revise the critical habitat of four species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service found the petitions to list the Fish Lake Valley tui chub (Siphateles bicolor ssp. 4) and to delist the southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) “present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned actions may be warranted,” and are therefore initiating status reviews to determine whether to list and delist the species, respectively. The Service also found the petitions to list the Pryor Mountain mustang population (Equus caballus) and to revise the critical habitat designation for Sonora chub (Gila ditaenia) do not present substantial information indicating the petitioned actions may be warranted and are therefore not initiating status reviews for those two species.

Section 4 of the ESA requires the Service to make a finding in response to a petition to list or delist a species as endangered or threatened under the ESA within 90 days of whether that petition “presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted.” If the Service finds the action may be warranted, it must initiate a status review of the species and issue a finding within 12 months indicating whether the action is warranted or not warranted. If warranted, the Service must publish in the Federal Register its plans to initiate the petitioned action, indicate the petitioned action is precluded by other regulatory proposals, or indicate the petitioned action is no longer necessary.

The Service considers a number of factors in determining whether a petitioned action may be warranted. For the Fish Lake Valley tui chub, the Service determined listing may be warranted based on the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range caused by agriculture, encroachment of aquatic plants, geothermal energy, and lithium mining, and on the threats climate change and stochastic events pose to its continued existence. The Service’s finding with respect to the southern sea otter was based on cited sources in the petition demonstrating a reduction of threats to its habitat curtailment and declining frequency of oil spills. For the Pryor Mountain mustang population and the Sonora chub, the Service concluded the petitions did not present substantial information indicating the petitioned action may be warranted.

With the Service’s finding on the Fish Lake Valley tui chub and the southern sea otter, the agency requests from the public scientific and commercial data and other information that could inform whether listing or delisting is warranted.

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EcoWatch

Dugongs (Related to Manatees) Declared Functionally Extinct in China

By: Olivia Rosane, August 24, 2022

The human imagination once transformed dugongs into mermaids. But now, human activity is pushing the gentle marine mammals into the realm of the imagination in a more sinister way.

A new study published in Royal Society Open Science Wednesday found that the dugong (dugong dugon) is “functionally extinct” in Chinese waters.

“The likely disappearance of the dugong in China is a devastating loss,” study co-author professor Samuel Turvey of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), one of two institutions behind the research, said in a ZSL press release. “Their absence will not only have a knock-on effect on ecosystem function, but also serves as a wake-up call — a sobering reminder that extinctions can occur before effective conservation actions are developed.”

Dugongs, also known as sea cows, are the only marine mammals that feed only on plants. They are related to the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), which has been struggling with starvation in Florida. Dugongs and three species of manatees all belong to the order of marine mammals known as Sirenia, according to MSN. Dugongs can be distinguished from the rest of the order by their dolphin-like tail fins.

Dugongs are considered Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. They live along the tropical and subtropical coasts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, from East Africa to Japan. And, for hundreds of years, their range included the waters of southern China, according to ZSL. However, reported sightings in the country began to decline rapidly after the 1970s, and the Chinese State Council listed them as a Grade 1 National Key Protected Animal in 1988.

To assess the dugongs’ current status in the country, ZSL and the Chinese Academy of Sciences conducted surveys in 66 fishing communities in four Chinese provinces that border the South China Sea. They also looked at historical data, according to the paper. Only five percent of 788 people surveyed told the researchers that they had seen a dugong, and the mean sighting was 23 years ago. Only three people said they had seen a dugong within the last five years.

The historical data was equally discouraging: there were no records of the animals after 2008 and no confirmed field observations after 2000.

“Based on these findings, we are forced to conclude that dugongs have experienced rapid population collapse during recent decades and are now functionally extinct in China,” the study authors concluded.

They noted that it was the first functional extinction of a large vertebrate in the country’s ocean waters. However, the Yangtze River dolphin was determined to likely be extinct in 2007, Turvey noted in the press release.

“Sadly, our new study shows strong evidence of the regional loss of another charismatic aquatic mammal species in China — sadly, once again driven by unsustainable human activity,” he added.

In the case of the dugong, the activities that drove their decline were likely hunting, accidental entangling in fishing gear and the destruction of seagrass beds — their primary food source. Overall, the study authors interpreted their findings as a warning.

“This rapid documented population collapse also serves as a sobering reminder that local extinction can happen within a very short time, especially for long-lived, late-maturing species with low reproductive rates, and potentially before effective conservation actions can be developed within dugong habitats in other countries,” they wrote.

Indeed, worldwide, around seven percent of seagrass habitat disappears annually because of a combination of development, agriculture, overfishing and the climate crisis, according to UN Environment Programme figures reported by BBC News.

The loss of seagrass — primarily because of agricultural pollution — is also what is threatening the dugong’s manatee cousins in Florida.

“The dugong is a sad example of what is happening to the marine environment where there is increasing encroachment of human activities,” IUCN high-seas policy advisor Kristina Gjerde told BBC News.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched Seeking National Gray Wolf Recovery Plan

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Piecemeal Policy Violates Federal Law

WASHINGTON—(August 23, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today that it intends to sue over the agency’s failure to develop a national wolf recovery plan as required by the Endangered Species Act. The planned lawsuit would seek to require the Service to draft a recovery plan that includes all populations of wolves in the contiguous United States.

“The Service’s piecemeal approach isn’t enough to protect and restore wolves,” said Sophia Ressler, a staff attorney at the Center. “By not completing a national recovery plan, which it’s legally required to do, the agency has failed wolves and the millions of people who want these amazing animals to thrive across the country.”

The Center filed a petition in 2010 requesting that the Service prepare a national recovery plan. So far, the agency’s approach has focused on individual wolf populations in separate geographic areas, instead of looking at both current and potential wolf habitat, and all existing populations in the lower 48 states.

In 2018 the Service denied this petition. Today’s notice of intent to sue challenges that denial and the Service’s failure to prepare a national recovery plan. The planned lawsuit would also challenge the Service’s failure to complete the required five-year status review of the species in a timely manner. The last review was completed more than a decade ago.

“We’ve seen time and time again that when the Endangered Species Act is implemented properly it really works,” said Ressler. “We’re asking the Service to comply with the law and allow the Act to truly work for wolves.”

The Endangered Species Act requires that parties submit a 60-day notice of intent to sue before a lawsuit can be filed. If the Service fails to remedy its legal violations within 60 days, the Center will file a formal lawsuit

Background

Scientists estimate that as many as 2 million gray wolves once roamed the contiguous United States. Because of government-sponsored killing programs, that number dwindled to only 1,000 animals, who resided almost entirely in northeastern Minnesota.

Federal protections have allowed the population to slowly increase, but wolves still occupy only 10% of their native habitat. Despite this, the Service continuously attempts to remove protection for the species.

Most recently, a rule finalized in November 2020 removed all Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves nationwide. A federal court vacated this rule and restored species protection in the lower 48 states. These protections do not extend to the Rocky Mountain population, which are currently not protected under the Act. The Center and its allies recently filed a lawsuit to restore those protections.

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KOLO-8/News Now (Reno, NV)

Rare Nevada fish inches closer to endangered species protections

The fish is a rare minnow with a habitat currently limited to just a single spring on a ranch in Fish Lake Valley, Nevada

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) –(August 22, 2022)—A rare fish is taking another step towards achieving endangered species protections.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday that the Fish Lake Valley tui chub may qualify for protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Fish and Wildlife will take one year to complete a review and decide whether to protect the fish.

The fish is a rare minnow with a habitat currently limited to just a single spring on a ranch in Fish Lake Valley, Nevada.

They were once found in several locations throughout the valley, but have been progressively losing their habitat due to alteration and groundwater over pumping that have put the fish at risk of extinction.

“I’m pleased that the Fish Lake Valley tui chub is getting a shot at the protection that’s needed to beat extinction,” said Krista Kemppinen, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Over-exploitation of groundwater is a huge threat to these fish and the spring they call home.

Over pumping is typically done as a way to grow alfalfa which is then exported to Asia or the Middle East. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, other threats to the Fish Lake Valley tui chub include proposed mines and energy projects.

“This decision highlights just how badly Nevada has failed to manage groundwater for irreplaceable species like the Fish Lake Valley tui chub,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Water levels are falling all over Fish Lake Valley. I hope that Endangered Species Act protection will prompt smarter management of groundwater and save these fish and all the other plants and animals that depend on rare desert springs.”

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Traffic

Rhino poaching and illegal trade decline but remain critical threats – new report

Joint Press Release IUCN / TRAFFIC (August 22, 2022) – Overall rhino poaching rates have declined since 2018, and trade data suggests the lowest annual estimate of rhino horns entering illegal trade markets since 2013, according to a new report by the IUCN SSC African and Asian Rhino Specialist Groups and TRAFFIC for the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which will be held in Panama in November this year.

“The overall decline in poaching of rhinos is encouraging, yet this remains an acute threat to the survival of these iconic animals,” said Sam Ferreira, Scientific Officer with the IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group. “To support the growth of rhino numbers, it is essential to continue active population management and anti-poaching activities for all subspecies across different range states.”

The report finds that rhino poaching rates in Africa have continued to decline from a peak of 5.3% of the total population in 2015 to 2.3% in 2021. At least 2,707 rhinos were poached across Africa between 2018 and 2021, accounting for both the white rhino (Ceratotherium simum), which is Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, and the rarer Critically Endangered black rhino (Diceros bicornis). South Africa accounted for 90% of all reported cases, predominantly affecting white rhinos in Kruger National Park, home to the world’s largest white rhino population. As a result, overall white rhino numbers on the continent have declined by almost 12% (from 18,067 to 15,942 individuals) during this period, while populations of black rhino increased by just over 12% (from 5,495 to 6,195 individuals). Overall, Africa’s rhino population declined around 1.6% per year, from an estimated 23,562 individuals in 2018 to 22,137 at the end of 2021.

According to the report, global lockdowns and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic saw several African countries experience dramatically reduced poaching rates in 2020 compared to previous years. South Africa lost 394 rhinos to poaching in 2020, while Kenya recorded no rhino poaching that year. However, as COVID-19 travel restrictions lifted, some range states reported new increases in poaching activities – for example, South Africa reported 451 and Kenya six poached rhinos in 2021. However, these numbers are still significantly lower than during the peak in 2015, when South Africa alone lost 1,175 rhinos to poaching.

Alongside the decline in poaching, data analysed for range and consumer states suggests that, on average, between 575 and 923 African rhino horns entered illegal trade markets each year between 2018 and 2020, compared to approximately 2,378 per year between 2016 and 2017. However, in 2019, before the COVID-19 outbreak, the reported seized weight of illegal rhino specimens reached its highest point of the decade, perhaps due to increased regulations and law enforcement efforts. While range and consumer countries most affected by illegal trade remained the same as in previous reports, the lack of consistent reporting by some countries still limits the ability to better understand patterns of illegal trade in rhino horns.

“Overall better reporting of seizure data will help us better quantify the extent of horns entering illegal trade for future reports. Although we cannot say with exact certainty what impact COVID-19 restrictions have had on rhino horn trade, 2020 did represent an abnormal year with low levels of reported illegal activity, law enforcement, and government reporting. The continued and consistent monitoring of illegal trade is vital.”–Sabri Zain, TRAFFIC Director of Policy

Zain continued to highlight the need for greater sharing of critical information such as DNA samples among countries affected by the illegal trade in rhino specimens.

The report also examined Asian rhino populations. It found that populations of Vulnerable greater one-horned rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis) and Critically Endangered Javan rhinos (Rhinoceros sondaicus) have both increased since 2017, while the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) has suffered population declines of 13% per year. Thanks to conservation efforts including strengthened law enforcement, the number of greater one-horned rhinos in India and Nepal increased from an estimated 3,588 in 2018 to 4,014 at the end of 2021, while the total population of Javan rhinos increased from between 65 and 68 individuals in 2018 to 76 at the end of 2021. There were an estimated 34 to 47 Sumatran rhinos in 2021, compared with 40 to 78 individuals in 2018, as the small size and isolation of populations limit breeding in the wild.

The report finds that 11 rhino poaching incidents were recorded in Asia (ten in India and one in Nepal) since the beginning of 2018, all of which involved greater one-horned rhinos. Detection of carcasses in dense rainforests remains a challenge, and there were no reports of illegal killings of Sumatran rhinos despite the substantial population declines recorded. The report concludes that Asian rhino poaching declined between 2018 and 2022, continuing the trend since 2013.

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Yahoo News 360

Scientists say they can bring extinct species back. But should they?

Mike Bebernes,·Senior Editor, August 22, 2022

A group of scientists last week announced a plan to resurrect the Tasmanian tiger, a coyote-like marsupial that has been extinct for nearly a century, using state-of-the-art gene editing technology.

The goal, researchers say, is to eventually reintroduce the creature back into the Australian wilderness, where it roamed as an apex predator before being hunted into extinction in the early 20th century. To achieve this, scientists plan to splice genetic material from old Tasmanian tigers with the DNA of its closest living relative — a mouse-sized marsupial called a dunnat — to create a new animal nearly identical to its long-dead ancestor.

The project is a collaboration between Australian researchers and a U.S.-based company called Colossal Biosciences. Last year, Colossal unveiled a bold plan to bring back the woolly mammoth. As difficult as reviving the Tasmanian tiger might be, the mammoth presents even larger challenges. Mammoths have been extinct for 4,000 years, meaning there is even less genetic material available to work with. The people behind the project concede that — if their work is successful — it will result in a creature that isn’t exactly a mammoth as it once existed, but really a “cold-resistant elephant with all of the core biological traits of the Woolly Mammoth.”

These efforts are part of an emerging scientific movement called “de-extinction.” Separate projects have been launched in hopes of bringing back extinct species like the Christmas Island rat, the passenger pigeon and even possibly the dodo. Similar work is being done to help animals currently at risk of extinction. In 2020, scientists successfully cloned a black-footed ferret, a severely threatened species that would likely disappear without new members being added to wild populations.

As significant as the question of whether these animals can be brought back — and a lot of experts have their doubts — there is a lot of debate over whether they should be.

Why there’s debate

Supporters of de-extinction say, beyond the sheer wonder it creates, the science gives us a chance to right some of the wrongs committed in the past by reviving species eradicated by humans. There is also hope that, once reintroduced, these creatures will help reestablish an equilibrium missing from their ecosystems since they went extinct.

Advocates say there are other potential outcomes that could benefit humans as well. The scientists trying to bring back mammoths, for example, say wild herds of these enormous animals may help combat climate change by slowing the erosion of permafrost in the snowy regions they may one day roam. Others say ambitious projects like de-extinction are likely to unlock breakthroughs in genetic science that can be used to protect endangered species.

But critics say the attention, effort and — perhaps most important — money put into de-extinction efforts would be much more effective if they were used to preserve the 1 million currently existing species that face extinction. There are also questions about whether it’s right to bring animals back into a world very different from what they once knew, how their reintroduction might harm creatures living there now and even broader concerns about the ethics of “playing God” by manipulating the natural order.

What’s next

Scientists at Colossal say they hope to have a living woolly mammoth, or mammoth-elephant hybrid, within the next five to six years. The company hasn’t given a specific timeline for the Tasmanian tiger, but there’s optimism that, thanks to its relatively short gestational period, it could be the first species they successfully bring back.

Perspectives

Supporters: De-extinciton could have enormous benefits for science and conservation

“Most de-extinction researchers aren’t looking to resurrect a charismatic ancient beast just for the sake of putting it into the nearest zoo for viewer pleasure. Rather, they are aiming to create proxies for educational or conservation purposes, such as to fill the void left by their extinct counterparts in ecosystems or to boost the numbers of modern-day endangered species.” — Yasemin Saplakoglu, Quanta

The research could unlock new tools to save other species from extinction

“It’s vital we maintain robust scrutiny and skepticism of ambitious projects, but we must also support scientists to push boundaries and take educated risks. And sometimes we learn, even when we ‘fail.’” — Wildlife ecologist Euan Ritchie to The Conversation

There’s real value in accomplishing something that once seemed impossible

“The prospect of de-extinction is profound news. That something as irreversible and final as extinction might be reversed is a stunning realization. The imagination soars. Just the thought of mammoths and passenger pigeons alive again invokes the awe and wonder that drives all conservation at its deepest level.” — Stewart Brand, National Geographic

Skeptics

Scientists should focus on saving species that are facing extinction right now

“​​There is evidence of a mass extinction taking place, the likes of which hasn’t been seen on Earth for millions of years. When it comes to protecting biodiversity on our planet, resurrecting a prehistoric creature is low on the priority list.” — Justine Calma, The Verge

The choice of what species get to be revived shouldn’t be left to private companies

“Reshaping the planet shouldn’t be left to a chosen few, with insider advice from hand-picked experts. Instead, Colossal, and all companies like it, should do something as radical for business as its plans are for the planet: actively involve the public in its research decisions.” — Victoria Herridge, Nature

Animals will suffer enormously along the way

“The whole discourse is about bringing this animal back, but the welfare of the individual animals isn’t really talked about. [Animal suffering] cannot be justified for such an uncertain result. It would be many years, if ever, that cloned [Tasmanian tigers] could have anything like the life they may have had—and deserve—in the wild.” — Carol Freeman, animal studies researcher, to Scientific American

De-extinction is impossible

“De-extinction is a fairytale science. It’s pretty clear to people like me that thylacine or mammoth de-extinction is more about media attention for the scientists and less about doing serious science.” — Jeremy Austin, animal DNA researcher, to Sydney Morning Herald.

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Johnson City Press (Johnson City, TN)

Grasslands conservation legislation will help endangered species

TENNESSEE WILDLIFE FEDERATION, Aug. 21, 2022

The North American Grasslands Conservation Act will help farmers, ranchers, tribal nations, and others work to collaboratively address the immense challenges facing North America’s grasslands and prairies — one of the fastest disappearing ecosystems in the world. The legislation, introduced by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), will invest $290 million in voluntary initiatives to collaboratively conserve and restore native grasslands to support working ranch lands and to help recover wildlife like Western meadowlark and monarch butterflies and safeguard this vital habitat for future generations.

“Grasslands were once a significant part of the southeastern United States and supported hundreds of species of wildlife and plants, many of which are rare today,” said Mike Butler, chief executive officer, Tennessee Wildlife Federation. “The North American Grasslands Conservation Act presents a proven approach to restoring these important grassland habitats, and we call on Congress to pass this important legislation.”

“Grasslands are North America’s most imperiled ecosystem and without urgent, collaborative, conservation efforts, this essential habitat and the lives and livelihoods it supports are at risk. Just as we’ve restored millions of acres of wetlands through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Duck Stamp, the North American Grasslands Conservation Act will mark a sea change in how we conserve, restore and revitalize our prairies for ranchers, hunters and wildlife alike,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Thank you to Senator Wyden for this landmark legislation that brings long overdue and much needed resources to what remains of this great American landscape that holds such importance for the future of both ranchers and wildlife. Congress should take up this landmark bill as soon as possible.”

Grasslands and sagebrush shrub-steppe systems are some of the most threatened ecosystems in the world. More than 70% of America’s tallgrass, mixed grass, and shortgrass prairies have vanished. According to recent research, the United States lost 1.1 million acres of grasslands every year from 2008 through 2016. Tennessee lost an average of 27,359 acres every year during the same period. Scientists like Dwayne Estes of the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative estimate that there were nearly 7 million acres of grasslands in Tennessee at one point.

“Over the last several hundred years, we’ve forgotten that many of our roads were originally built on bison trails. And while we aren’t likely to bring back free ranging herds of bison in Tennessee, we’ve watched as many animals we love drop in numbers, said Estes, professor of Field Biology at Austin Peay State University and executive director of the Southeastern Grasslands Institute (SGI). “Habitat loss is a big factor in all of those declines and the habitat is grasslands.”

Additionally, on average, about 1.2 million acres of sagebrush burn each year due to invasive annual grasses that fuel catastrophic wildfire.

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PBS News Hour

African migratory birds threatened by hotter, drier conditions

Wanjohi Kabukuru, Associated Press, August 20, 2022

MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) — Africa’s migratory birds are threatened by changing weather patterns in the center and east of the continent that have depleted natural water systems and caused a devastating drought.

Hotter and drier conditions due to climate change make it difficult for traveling species who are losing their water sources and breeding grounds, with many now endangered or forced to alter their migration patterns entirely by settling in cooler northern areas.

Roughly 10% of Africa’s more than 2,000 bird species, including dozens of migratory birds, are threatened, with 28 species — such as the Madagascar fish eagle, the Taita falcon and hooded vultures — classed as “critically endangered.” Over one-third of them are especially vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather, an analysis by environmental group BirdLife International said.

“Birds are being affected by climate change just like any other species,” BirdLife policy coordinator Ken Mwathe said. “Migratory birds are affected more than other groups of birds because they must keep on moving,” which makes it more likely that a site they rely on during their journey has degraded in some way.

The African-Eurasian flyway, the flight corridor for birds that travel south through the Mediterranean Sea and Sahara Desert for the winter, harbors over 2,600 sites for migrating birds. An estimated 87% of African sites are at risk from climate change, a greater proportion than in Europe or Asia, a study by the United Nations environment agency and conservation group Wetlands International found.

Africa is more vulnerable to climate change because it is less able to adapt, said Evans Mukolwe, a retired meteorologist and science director at the World Meteorological Organization.

“Poverty, biodiversity degradation, extreme weather events, lack of capital and access to new technologies” make it more difficult for the continent to protect habitats for wild species, Mukolwe said.

Hotter temperatures due to human-caused climate change and less rainfall shrink key wetland areas and water sources, which birds rely on during migratory journeys.

“Lake Chad is an example,” Mwathe said. “Before birds cross the Sahara, they stop by Lake Chad, and then move to the Northern or Southern hemisphere. But Lake Chad has been shrinking over the years,” which compromises its ability to support birds, he said.

Parched birds means tougher journeys, which has an impact on their ability to breed, said Paul Matiku, executive director of Nature Kenya.

Flamingoes, for example, which normally breed in Lake Natron in Tanzania are unlikely to be able to “if the migration journey is too rough,” Matiku said.

He added that “not having water in those wetlands means breeding will not take place” since flamingoes need water to create mud nests that keep their eggs away from the intense heat of dry ground.

Non-migratory birds are also struggling with the changing climate. African fish eagles, found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, are now forced to travel further in search of food. The number of South African Cape Rockjumpers and Protea canaries is severely declining.

Bird species living in the hottest and driest areas, like in the Kalahari Desert that spans Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, are approaching their “physiological limits,” the most recent assessment by the U.N.’s expert climate panel said. It added that birds are less able to find food and are losing body mass, causing large-scale deaths for those living in extreme heat.

“Forest habitats get hotter with climate change and … dryland habitats get drier and savannah birds lack food because grass never seeds, flowers never fruit, and insects never emerge as they do when it rains,” Matiku said.

Other threats, such as the illegal wildlife trade, agriculture, the growth of urban areas and pollution are also stunting bird populations like African fish eagles and vultures, he said.

Better land management projects that help restore degraded wetlands and forests and protect areas from infrastructure, poaching or logging will help preserve the most vulnerable species, the U.N. environmental agency said.

Birds and other species would benefit from concerted efforts to improve water access and food security, especially as sea level rise and extreme weather events are set to continue, said Amos Makarau, the Africa regional director of the U.N. weather agency.

Scientists say that curbing emissions of planet-warming gasses, especially in high-emitting nations, could also limit future weather-related catastrophes.

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EcoWatch

Bumblebees Increasingly Stressed by Climate Change Over Past 100 Years, Study Finds

By: Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, August 18, 2022

Bumblebees are larger than honeybees and, while they collect and store nectar from flowers to consume themselves, they do not convert nectar into honey like honeybees. Bumblebees are essential pollinators for many wildflowers and agricultural crops like sunflowers, cranberries, blueberries and tomatoes.

Two contemporaneous papers examining bumblebee populations in the UK were recently published by scientists from the Natural History Museum and Imperial College London.

In one of the studies, conducted by a network of museums in the UK, scientists linked signs of stress in bumblebee wings to the progressively hotter and wetter conditions of our changing climate, stated a press release from The Natural History Museum, London.

The findings, “Signatures of increasing environmental stress in bumblebee wings over the past century: Insights from museum specimens,” were published in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

Recently, insect pollinators such as bumblebees have faced sharp population declines due to the higher temperatures associated with climate change, the excessive use of toxic agricultural chemicals, intensive farming and lack of crop rotation.

Using ancient DNA techniques usually used for studying ancient humans and wooly mammoths on insects for the first time, the researchers sequenced the genomes of bumblebees going back more than a century in order to demonstrate past stressors for bees.

The study can also be useful in forecasting potential future causes of stress, as well as possible prospective population declines, the press release said.

The researchers took specimens of four UK bumblebee species going as far back as 1900 and examined their body shapes using digital images. The researchers found asymmetry in the shapes of the bumblebees’ wings to be indicative of stress. Stark differences in the shape of each wing meant that the bees had been exposed to stressors during their development.

The researchers found that the lowest evidence of stress for the bees occurred around 1925, but that the bees’ stress levels increased as the century went on. They also found evidence of a persistent higher level of stress for the bees in the second half of the century.

“By using a proxy of stress visible on the bee’s external anatomy and caused by stress during development just days or weeks before, we can look to more accurately track factors placing populations under pressure through historic space and time,” said study author Aoife Cantwell-Jones from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London in the press release.

When the researchers looked at the yearly rainfall and mean temperature during each collection year, they found that in years that were wetter and hotter, the asymmetry of the bees’ wings was more distinct.

“With hotter and wetter conditions predicted to place bumblebees under higher stress, the fact these conditions will become more frequent under climate change means bumblebees may be in for a rough time over the 21st century,” said senior author of the study Dr. Richard Gill from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, according to the press release.

In a concurrent study, scientists from the Natural History Museum and the Earlham Institute used more than 100 bumblebee specimens from the museum going back more than 130 years in order to sequence their genomes.

The findings of the second study, “First large-scale quantification study of DNA preservation in insects from natural history collections using genome-wide sequencing,” were published in the journal Methods in Ecology & Evolution.

In this study, the scientists used one bee leg from each of the bee specimens to measure the amount of DNA that had been preserved in order to find out how stress may cause loss of genetic diversity.

The researchers will use the information to examine how the genomes of bees have evolved in order to learn whether populations of bees have acclimated to changing environmental conditions.

“Our goal is to better understand responses to specific environmental factors and learn from the past to predict the future. We hope to be able to forecast where and when bumblebees will be most at risk and target effective conservation action,” said Dr. Andres Arce of the University of Suffolk, who contributed to both papers, as The Guardian reported.

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3WTKR (Norfolk, VA)

World’s smallest, most endangered sea turtle species seen hatching after decades of waiting

It’s the first time the species has been seen hatching in Louisiana in over 75 years

By: Douglas Jones, Aug. 17, 2022

The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle has been spotted hatching on barrier islands in Louisiana, making it the first time in more than 75 years that the endangered species has been known to hatch there.

Crews had been monitoring a chain of barrier islands located 50 miles east of New Orleans called the Chandeleur Islands when they spotted the tracks of females leaving and returning nests. Workers with the state’s coastal protection department were doing flyovers as part of a restoration project for the crucial barrier islands when they spotted hatchlings existing nests.

Chip Kline of the Louisiana Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority said, “As we develop and implement projects statewide, we are always keeping in mind what’s needed to preserve our communities and enhance wildlife habitat. Having this knowledge now allows us to make sure these turtles and other wildlife return to our shores year after year,” WVUE reported.

The news has brought a national spotlight on Louisiana and its conservation efforts for multiple species that nest on barrier islands.

“Louisiana was largely written off as a nesting spot for sea turtles decades ago, but this determination demonstrates why barrier island restoration is so important,” Kline said.

Now activists and environmental workers are renewing a push to continue protecting the now vital Chandeleur barrier Islands of Louisiana, which host multiple threatened species.

Beth Lowell, vice president for the U.S. with the nonprofit Oceana said, “The endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle has returned to nest on the Chandeleur Islands, highlighting the need to protect this sensitive habitat so it can continue to be home to ocean and coastal wildlife in the future.”

Authorities in Louisiana announced that the threatened loggerhead sea turtle is also nesting on the same barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, which is part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, the second-oldest national wildlife refuge in the United States, the Associated Press reported.

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EcoWatch

Emerald Green Hummingbird Deemed ‘Lost to Science’ Reemerges in Colombia

By: Mongabay, August 17, 2022, Liz Kimbrough

In the mountains of Colombia, an experienced bird-watcher saw an iridescent flash of blue and green. “A hummingbird caught my attention. I got out my binoculars and was shocked to see that it was a Santa Marta sabrewing,” Yurgen Vega said. “This sighting was a complete surprise, but a very welcome one.”

This was only the second time the critically endangered hummingbird has had a documented sighting since 1946. The last bird was spotted in 2010.

“It’s like seeing a phantom,” said John C. Mittermeier, director of threatened species outreach at the American Bird Conservancy.

Vega, who found the bird while working with the conservation organizations Selva, ProCAT Colombia and the World Parrot Trust to survey endemic birds in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region, spotted the male Santa Marta sabrewing (Campylopterus phainopeplus) and identified it on sight by its green feathers, iridescent blue throat and black curved bill.

“When I first saw the hummingbird I immediately thought of the Santa Marta sabrewing. I couldn’t believe it was waiting there for me to take out my camera and start shooting,” Vega told The Guardian. “I was almost convinced it was the species, but because I felt so overcome by emotion, I preferred to be cautious; it could’ve been the Lazuline sabrewing [Campylopterus falcatus], which is often confused with Santa Marta sabrewing. But once we saw the pictures, we knew it was true.”

Ornithologists have been on high alert for the Santa Marta sabrewing, which is listed as one of the top 10 most-wanted lost birds by the Search for Lost Birds, a collaboration between Re:wild, the American Bird Conservancy and BirdLife International. None of the most-wanted birds have had a documented sighting in the wild in at least 10 years, and all (now with the exception of the sabrewing) are considered lost to science. Many of these lost birds are native to areas rich in biodiversity that also urgently need protection and conservation efforts.

“When we announced the top 10 most-wanted lost birds last year, we hoped that it would inspire birders to look for these species,” Mittermeier said. “And as this rediscovery shows, sometimes lost species reemerge when we least expect it. Hopefully rediscoveries like this will inspire conservation action.”

Not much is known about the Santa Marta sabrewing. It lives in mid-elevation humid tropical forests and is thought to be migratory, traveling to higher elevations in the paramo, an area of grass and shrubs, to find flowering plants to feed on in the rainy season. The population of Santa Marta sabrewings in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, researchers believe, is small and dwindling.

Only around 15% of forests in the Santa Marta mountains are still standing, scientists estimate. The rest was cleared to make way for agriculture and development. The Santa Marta sabrewing was found in an area of forest in the Santa Marta mountains with no protection.

“[This] means that it is critically important for conservationists, local communities and government institutions to work together to learn more about the hummingbirds and protect them and their habitat before it’s too late,” Esteban Botero-Delgadillo, director of conservation science with SELVA: Research for Conservation in the Neotropics, said in a statement.

Scientists now plan to search for more individuals and stable populations of the species to understand where they live and what threats they face in the wild.

“The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is so incredibly biodiverse and harbors so many amazing endemic species,” said Lina Valencia, Andean countries coordinator at Re:wild. “It’s hugely exciting to have proof that the Santa Marta sabrewing is still living in the mountains. We still have time to save it.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Agencies Warned for Failing to Protect Endangered Species From South Florida Water Park Development

Miami Wilds Project Threatens Extremely Rare Florida Bonneted Bat, Miami Tiger Beetle, Endangered Butterflies

MIAMI—(August 17, 2022)—Conservation groups notified the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today that they intend to sue the agencies for failing to protect the federally endangered Florida bonneted bat, Miami tiger beetle, Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and other imperiled species from the destructive effects of the Miami Wilds water park and retail development in south Florida.

The Florida bonneted bat heavily uses the proposed development site as a key foraging area. The project footprint also includes critical habitat for Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and Florida leafwing, two endangered butterflies, and proposed critical habitat for the endangered Miami tiger beetle. Rare plants like Florida brickell-bush and Carter’s small-flowered flax are also present around the site.

In February the Park Service signed off on an agreement to release land-use restrictions on the site of the proposed project, paving the way for construction to proceed. In doing so, the agency failed to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure the development will not jeopardize endangered species or destroy critical habitat — a key step required by the Endangered Species Act.

“It’s shocking that the Park Service plowed ahead knowing the project is likely to hurt endangered species like the Florida bonneted bat,” said Elise Bennett, Florida director and an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency has a legal duty to ensure its actions won’t drive species toward extinction, and it has to do this before taking action. This is a critical failure.”

Miami Wilds plans to build a 27.5-acre water park, retail area, hotel and more than 40 acres of associated parking lots. Miami-Dade County approved a lease agreement for the Miami Wilds site on June 22, 2022.

“This bat-killing project risks the permanent, irreversible extinction of one of the most endangered mammals in the United States,” said Mike Daulton, executive director at Bat Conservation International. “The habitat in and around Zoo Miami supports the second-largest known population of the highly endangered Florida bonneted bat. Destruction of this vital habitat would be devastating.”

“Unfortunately, the failure of the Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to follow their own rules continues to jeopardize the viability of many endangered species, including the most highly endangered bat in North America,” said Dennis Olle, president of the Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association.

“The Endangered Species Act is a powerful tool to protect wildlife and their habitat. Its purpose is broad, and encompasses protecting biodiversity by preventing the extinction of plants and animals,” said Tropical Audubon Society Senior Conservation Director Lauren Jonaitis. “The Park Service’s failure to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service is a glaring oversight that needs to be remedied. This required step must be taken, otherwise the development could put endangered species at risk of extinction.”

In addition to impacting endangered species, the development also threatens critically imperiled pine rockland habitat on and surrounding the site by hampering natural fire needed to support ecosystem health. Pine rocklands are home to dozens of rare and endangered animals, plants and insects found nowhere else on Earth.

Today’s notice was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Bat Conservation International, Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association, and Tropical Audubon Society.

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CBS News

Fishing ship sinks, spilling massive amount of diesel fuel near endangered orcas in Washington state

By EMILY MAE CZACHOR, August 15, 2022

Law enforcement, environmental agencies and a whale advocacy group have joined forces in Washington state, where a massive oil spill continues to pollute waters that are home to an endangered breed of orca as well as other marine species.

The oil spill began on Saturday morning, when a 49-foot fishing vessel sank near the coast of San Juan Island, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Officials estimate that the vessel was carrying about 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel, plus an additional 100 gallons of hydraulic fluid and lubricant oil, on board. The vessel was still leaking diesel fuel into the water on Sunday evening, the Coast Guard said.

A coordinated response was launched that morning after all crew members aboard the Aleutian Isle were rescued and a sprawling oil sheen was observed floating north in the water near Canada. The sheen reportedly spanned two miles, according to the agency.

Officials say they are focusing on public safety and taking steps to mitigate damage to wildlife as the diesel fuel permeates marine habitats.

“The safety of the local public and their interests, and preservation of the environment and protected marine species, continue to be the top priorities throughout the response and recovery process,” the Coast Guard said in a news release, noting that air monitoring equipment was moved to the San Juan islands over the weekend to track airborne contaminants that could pose risks to the surrounding community.

Along with Coast Guard crews, personnel from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and The Whale Museum’s Sound Watch conservation program have been monitoring area waters for marine mammal activity, with a focus on southern resident killer whales, an endangered species that experts believe now has a population of fewer than 100.

Although a few of the whales were reportedly seen near San Juan Island when the fishing vessel sank, none appeared to be in the “immediate proximity” of the spill and seemed to travel in the opposite direction after it happened, the Coast Guard said.

As of Sunday night, the vessel had sunk more than 100 feet below the water. The Coast Guard said “a plan is being developed to efficiently and safely enact containment and recovery of pollutants” and potentially salvage parts of the ship as well. Diving operations were scheduled to take place on Monday, and more detailed assessments of the wreckage and remaining pollution are expected to follow.

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Study Finds

Endangered insects and spiders being sold illegally on eBay and Amazon, study shows

August 15, 2022, by Matt Higgins

ITHACA, N.Y. — You can find anything on eBay and Amazon — including rare and endangered insects that are illegal to sell. A new study from Cornell University researchers finds that exotic or threatened insects and spiders can be easily purchased online since there’s no adequate oversight.

Researchers found a number of these creepy crawlers, including tarantulas, being sold illegally online. John Losey, the study’s lead author and a professor of entomology at Cornell, says the study started as a project for his Insect Conservation Biology course. The study includes 18 student co-authors who were undergraduates in 2019 when the research was done.

“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,” says Losey in a university release. “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.”

Researchers broadly searched the internet and after gathering leads, they formalized its process and divided searches across several platforms, including Amazon, eBay, Etsy and Alibaba, among others. They then narrowed their search on vulnerable insect and spider species found on the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) lists, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and the U.S. Endangered Species List.

During their online sale searches, researchers found 79 species listed across the three lists, including seven species on the Red List, which names just the critically endangered insects. Among the insects for sale were a Gooty sapphire tarantula for $232.50 and a Cyprus beetle for $1,100 on eBay. A rare and endangered butterfly, the Luzon peacock swallowtail, was found illegally for sale on Amazon for around $110. The most expensive insect was a birdwing butterfly species named Ornithoptera allotted, which is listed on CITES Appendix 2, for $3,850 on eBay.

“It was really astonishing how easily endangered species are openly being sold online,” says Juan Pablo Jordan, a student co-author who is now a doctoral student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “It was also surprising how accessible the [endangered species] listings are to find and the complacency of the sale platforms that are essentially supporting the trade of at-risk species that are protected by law.”

Calls for better tracking of insects, spider sales online

Researchers also found species that provide ecological services for sale, including ladybugs released for pest control and pollinators. If these insects are diseased or have the wrong strain, they could impact larger wild populations and have harmful effects on the services they provide.

“Hopefully, our findings will lead to better enforcement of the illegal online sale of rare insects and protect those species in the wild,” notes study senior co-author Paul Curtis, extension wildlife specialist in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment.

Their findings have been shared with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which enforces illegal trade of species. However, the agency lacks the resources to monitor the commerce. Losey hopes to continue the project with student-specialists who monitor the web for illegal sales. Losey believe insects that provide services should be considered “livestock,” so their unregulated sale could be monitored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

(The study is published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.)

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Courthouse News Service

Feds sued for neglecting protections for endangered Hawaiian species

Conservationists in the ‘extinction capital of the world’ are concerned that the lack of critical habitats may hurtle endangered species into uncontrolled extinction.

CANDACE CHEUNG / August 11, 2022

(CN) — Hawaii is home to a great level of biodiversity, but that comes with an unfortunately corresponding level of threatened endemic species. The Center for Biological Diversity has sued the U.S. government for violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to protect endangered species on the Hawaiian Islands.

The complaint, filed Thursday in the United States District Court of Hawaii, alleges that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to act in the protection of 49 endangered species by neglecting to designate critical habitats for nearly six years.

“We’re the extinction capital of the world,” said Maxx Philips, attorney for the Center of Biological Diversity and director of the Center’s Hawaii program, “We have one of the highest levels of endemics, and within that we have a huge amount of endangered and threatened plants. Those species haven’t been afforded the same level of protection and funding under the law.”

The species identified in the complaint, consisting of 39 plants and 10 animals, were first listed as endangered in 2016. The Endangered Species Act dictates that critical habitats are to be designated at the same time as the listing, with a leeway only for special circumstances. At the time, the government agency indicated that these species constituted a special circumstance, and designation was deferred for what should have only been one year. Philips and other conservationists have been waiting now for six years, watching as the statute of limitations continued to run.

“Based on the fact that none of these species are reflected in the Service’s next five-year work plan, it was clear that they were not going to designate critical habitat anytime soon, so it forced our hand to file,” she said.

The endangered plant and animal species named in the complaint are distinct to the Hawaiian Islands and cannot be found elsewhere. Many have been threatened by both climate effects and human intervention. These elements existed in 2016 when the Service first listed the species as endangered and have only grown in the years since.

Temperature fluctuations and rising sea levels exacerbated by climate change degrade the islands’ environment. Urbanization and the introduction of invasive species, like encroaching weeds and bushes, along with feral deer and pigs, have pushed the endemic species out of their natural habitats and decimated their quantities.

The goal of the Endangered Species Act is to not only prevent extinction but to also aid in the recovery of the species and to increase their numbers back to sustainability. Designating a critical habitat for these species is a key element in the process and is especially important in preventing other federal agencies from destroying the habitats necessary for the propagation of endangered species.

“There’s always the opportunity for nature and wildlife to bounce back. The ESA is the best tool to do that, and species with critical habitats have been demonstrated to be two times more likely to bounce back from extinction and come off the list,” Philips said in an interview with Courthouse News.

Many of the species listed are not only ecologically and scientifically significant but are also important to Native Hawaiians.

“We can’t look at the survival of these species in a vacuum. You have to have an ecosystem-based approach when you look at the protection of the species. They have all co-evolved over centuries and they need each other,” Philips said.

The list of endangered species the lawsuit includes several types of yellow-faced bee, known in Hawaiian as Nalo Meli Maoli, along with the ‘Akē‘akē or the band-rumped storm petrel.

Philips also calls particular attention to the ‘aiea tree, whose quantities on the Big Island are facing an immediate threat this week due to a wild brush fire started on Wednesday, with 20,000 acres burned by the next morning.

Philips comments that this sort of neglect is a trend across the nation, explaining that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is severely backlogged on not only in designation of critical habitats and recovery plans, but even in the listing of endangered and threatened species in the first place.

“Unfortunately, they are grossly underfunded, and not just the Fish and Wildlife Service, but specifically our jurisdiction, Hawaii and out to the Marianas, they aren’t given the resources from Washington to do what needs to be done,” she said. “Still, that doesn’t mean that from the scientific side and the cultural side, because a lot of these species do have a cultural importance to Native Hawaiians, it doesn’t mean that we can sit back and say, ‘Oh you guys don’t have appropriate funding or manpower, so we’ll just let it slide.’ These species are hurtling toward extinction, we need to do everything that we possibly can.”

The suit also names Deb Haaland in her official capacity as Secretary of the Interior, under which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is an agency. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could not be reached immediately for comment.

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WyoFile (Lander, WY)

Groups sue feds for inaction on wolf protection

Conservationists say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service missed a deadline to decide whether wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains should regain Endangered Species Act protections.

by Angus M. Thuermer Jr., August 11, 2022

Saying that the federal government missed a mandatory deadline, a consortium of conservation groups filed suit Tuesday to force a decision on whether wolves should regain Endangered Species Act protections in Wyoming.

Four groups claim the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was required to decide by June 1 whether wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains — Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, plus small parts of Utah, Oregon and Washington — should be declared threatened or endangered. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finding that human killing of wolves threatened the species in Idaho and Montana, obligated the agency to decide on re-listing by the recent deadline.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund and Sierra Club filed the suit, which states that the government could also protect gray wolves throughout the West, not just in the Northern Rockies.

A decision to again protect wolves would upend Wyoming’s management plan that includes a hunting season in northwest Wyoming and unregulated killing in a predator zone covering the other 85% of the state. At the end of 2021 an estimated 200 wolves inhabited Wyoming outside Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Who said what

Conservationists last year filed an “emergency petition” claiming, among other things, that Wyoming’s sweeping predator zone hampered wolves’ recovery in the region. In response, the USFWS found “credible and substantial information” that new hunting regulations in Idaho and Montana may be a potential threat to the species in those states, entangling Wyoming because it holds part of the northern Rocky Mountain population.

Wyoming protested. “Our program, our plan has worked and we believe we have strong evidence to support that,” Gov. Mark Gordon said at the time. Wyoming’s system “does not need to be fixed,” he said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service must now act, the suit says.

“The ESA’s substantive protections cannot safeguard a species facing extinction until the species is formally listed as endangered or threatened,” the suit states. “Therefore, it is critical that FWS meticulously follow the ESA’s listing procedures and deadlines so that species are protected in a timely manner and early enough to stem and reverse their trend toward extinction.”

Instead of meeting its obligation, federal authorities “have regularly ignored these statutory procedures and missed statutory listing deadlines,” the suit states.

History

The USFWS transplanted wolves from Canada to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and the population expanded to occupy parts of northwest Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. The agency removed ESA protections from regional wolves in 2011 and 2012. But a court blocked the action in Wyoming until an appeal in 2017 handed control and hunting authority back to the state.

Wyoming set a limit of 47 wolves in its 2021 hunting season, which did not account for wolves killed in the predator zone where wolves could be killed by any means, all year long. Hunters killed 30 wolves in the regulated area that season.

In 2021 wolves in Wyoming killed 50 cattle, 53 sheep, five livestock-guarding dogs, and one horse, Wyoming Game and Fish reported.

The suit states that a member of the Center for Biological Diversity — the group’s Government Affairs Director Brett Hartl — is harmed by the FWS inaction. That’s because “fewer wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains makes viewing and photographing wolves much more difficult,” the suit states.

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Discover

Indigenous Lands Could Help Threatened Primate Populations

As it turns out, protecting indigenous people’s territories also protects lorises, tarsiers, monkeys and apes.

By Sam Walters, Aug. 10, 2022

The northern muriqui, the black-capped capuchin and the munduruku marmoset are only a few of today’s 500-or-so primate species. Yet, these three animals all share a range in South America that intersects with the territories of Indigenous peoples.

Science suggests that this intersection makes sense. In fact, scientists recently revealed that Indigenous lands frequently have higher levels of primate biodiversity. Published in Science Advances, the research also revealed that the non-human primates living inside these territories face the threat of extinction less often than those living just outside of them.

A Prime Part of the Forest

Non-human primates, a diverse group of animals including lemurs, lorises, tarsiers, monkeys and apes, serve several important functions for the forests of South America, Asia and Africa.

“Most primates exploit forests, where they serve as agents of pollination and seed dispersal,” says Paul Garber, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, in a press release. “They play a very important role in the regeneration of forests.”

They’re also crucial players in predator-prey relationships. They consume all sorts of insects and small vertebrates and a variety of carnivorous creatures, including other primates, consume them.

That said, in the face of their importance, primate populations are threatened all around the world. “There is an impending extinction crisis among the world’s 521 primate species,” Garber says in a press release. “We know that 68 percent of these species are vulnerable […] and many of them may not survive to the end of the century.”

Aspiring to reverse these stark projections for the future, Garber and a team of scientists studied the influence of land use in supporting primate biodiversity. Their studies showed that how Indigenous peoples use the land corresponds with an increase in its overall diversity of primates, a fact which could inform future conservation efforts.

Protecting Primates

The team reviewed the available research and carried out a spatial analysis to compare people’s use of land and primate’s diversity. Ultimately, the researchers wrote that Indigenous areas “account for 30 percent of the primate range, and 71 percent of primate species inhabit these lands,” according to a press release.

Proposing several potential reasons for this pattern, the team says that Indigenous populations tend to participate in practices that aid in the preservation of primates. “There are many different Indigenous peoples, and they exploit their environments in different and multifaceted ways,” Garber says in a press release. “While many groups hunt primates, they also hunt pigs, ungulates, rodents, birds and fish. They gather forest resources including medicinal plants. They have gardens, employ methods of shifting cultivation and engage in herding.”

This variety of resources may prevent their overreliance on primates and could assure that the nearby primate populations remain strong. Additionally, the study authors propose that Indigenous populations sometimes maintain traditional ties to these primates and are therefore less likely to injure their populations.

“Indigenous groups have various prohibitions based on their knowledge, culture or religion,” Garber says in a press release. “We cite several cases, for example, where a species of primate may only be hunted for a particular festival. Or a particular primate species is not hunted when fruit is overabundant in the forest, allowing those populations to get into reproductive condition and produce offspring.”

The authors caution that there are some exceptions to this trend and that the trend alone does not prove that Indigenous populations support primate diversity directly. But the authors also conclude that “safeguarding Indigenous peoples’ lands, languages and cultures represents our greatest chance to prevent the extinction of the world’s primates,” according to a press release.

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Mongabay

Study highlights elusive Cameroonian gorillas, and the threats encircling them

by Ryan Truscott on 10 August 2022

Gunshots, grassland and a tiny population of critically endangered gorillas coexisting with nearby human populations in southwestern Cameroon: a new study analyzes a complex set of factors to help understand how to continue conserving the gorillas of Ebo Forest for future generations.

The last time the Ebo gorillas were counted in 2010, there were estimated to be just 25 of them. Some researchers think they could even represent a third subspecies of western gorilla, of which two others — the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and the Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) — are found elsewhere in Cameroon.

The Ebo gorilla’s forest home is under threat from hunting, the bushmeat trade, and habitat loss.

A key finding of this study is that these gorillas stick to a relatively small 2,200-hectare (5,400-acre) area within the 200,000-hectare (490,000-acre) Ebo Forest.

The study also found that within that 2,200-hectare patch, which contains a rich diversity of mature and secondary forest and swamp, the gorillas mostly use small grassland areas. That was initially surprising to lead researcher Daniel Mfossa.

“I would have thought mature forest that has high coverage with fruit trees and other plants the gorillas feed on would be used proportionately more,” he told Mongabay.

But the preference makes sense, he added. Grassland patches, sometimes caused by falling trees or branches, are rich in plants from the arrowroot (Marantaceae) and ginger (Zingiberaceae) families. The gorillas eat these and use them for nesting materials.

The study, funded by San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, was published in the African Journal of Ecology.

There are some similarities between the foraging behavior of Ebo’s gorillas and ones found near Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of Congo, said Robin Morrison, a postdoctoral researcher with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, who was not part of the Ebo Forest study.

“Gorillas rely on a range of different habitat types for different activities,” she said. “This means that areas with a mosaic of different habitat types, like in the area studied [in Ebo Forest], seem to be particularly important for gorillas.”

She described the study as valuable.

“Being able to say, ‘Here is a charismatic and critically endangered species using this forest in exactly these places,’ makes it that much harder to justify things like logging in the area,” Morrison said.

Logging isn’t actually happening at the moment in the gorilla study site. But there are other threats, including the gathering of bark from essock trees (Garcinia lucida) for medicine and a major road construction project that has the support of some villages.

Though gorillas are not directly targeted, hunting of other species for bushmeat also has negative impacts. Gunshots heard by the gorillas as hunters target other animals can be a source of stress, the researchers say. That stress can affect the gorillas’ ability to breed. There’s also the risk that the gorillas or their babies get caught in traps meant for other animals.

Community-based Gorilla Guardian Clubs are working with villagers and traditional chiefs to limit human access and activities within the gorillas’ tiny enclave, with some success already. A recent resolution, taken jointly by three nearby villages, was “to declare the gorilla area a no-go zone for humans,” said Mfossa, who coordinates the clubs for the Ebo Forest Research Project (EFRP).

Conservationist Vianny Rodel Nguimdo, a colleague of Mfossa’s at the EFRP, though not a co-author of the study, said it was critical to include local communities to find solutions for the conservation of endangered species and biodiversity like the Ebo gorillas.

“They have a good mastery of forests and other wild places, as well as the animals and trees found there,” he told Mongabay. “They also have sustainable solutions to overexploitation of resources through their traditional laws.”

Camera traps set up in the forest have since 2015 captured images of both baby gorillas and pregnant females, suggesting the Ebo gorilla population is expanding.

To gather their data on the distribution of the isolated Ebo population, Mfossa and colleagues conducted “recce surveys” over five years — random walks in search of gorilla signs, such as feces or nests or footprints — as opposed to more systematic line transects. The latter would have necessitated cutting paths through the forest that could also be used by hunters.

The team gathered most of their evidence indirectly, to avoid habituating the gorillas to humans while hunters are still active in the area.

Martha Robbins, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, who was not involved in this study, said while both the recce surveys and the lack of direct observation of the gorillas may have affected the quality of the study’s data, the results were still exciting to see.

“This study is another example of how gorillas are able to exist in an area with high levels of human disturbance,” she said.

“The Ebo population is unique because of its location, so it is wonderful to see how ecological research can contribute to their conservation and management strategies in a human landscape.”

(Citation:  Mfossa, D. M., Abwe, E. E., Whytock, R. C., Morgan, B. J., Huynen, M. C., Beudels‐Jamar, R. C., … Tchouamo, R. I. (2022). Distribution, habitat use and human disturbance of gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) in the Ebo forest, Littoral Region, Cameroon. African Journal of Ecology. doi:10.1111/aje.13052)

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Center for Biological Diversity

New Report Outlines Blueprint for Rewilding American West

Proposal Would Restore Wolves, Beavers to Federal Lands in Western States

SAN FRANCISCO—(August 9, 2022)—A first-of-its-kind analysis by 20 leading scientists has identified a network of 11 federally owned reserves where wolves and beavers could be restored across the western United States. Restoring these keystone species could also improve degraded habitat relied on by 92 threatened and endangered species, including the Gunnison sage-grouse and the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse.

The report, called Rewilding the American West, shows that gray wolves and North American beavers provide invaluable benefits to the ecosystem, including drought relief and stream restoration. It describes how restoring these two species, and ending livestock grazing on federal public lands, would have wide-ranging benefits for degraded ecosystems there.

The report also comes as the Biden administration pursues its “America the Beautiful Plan,” which aims to conserve 30% of U.S. land and water by 2030.

“We’re deeply inspired by this compelling report advocating for the rewilding of the West,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We know from our own prior analysis that there are at least 530,000 square miles of suitable wolf habitat in the U.S. but only about a third of it has any wolves. This new report supports our findings and goes even further, advising how countless other threatened and endangered species would benefit from restoring both wolves and beavers to these landscapes.”

Even though livestock grazing on public lands is pervasive in the western U.S., only 2% of national meat production comes from all federal lands where livestock grazing is allowed. Grazing harms streams and wetlands, changes fire regimes, inhibits the growth of woody species that many wildlife use for food, and threatens an already warming planet in the form of greenhouse gas emissions. The report states that mining, logging, and oil and gas drilling also threaten the survival of many species on public lands.

The report analyzed large areas of potential gray wolf habitat on federal lands in Western states and identified potential wildlife pathways between them to create a Western Rewilding Network. The report then inventoried those threatened and endangered plant and animal species with at least 10% of their ranges within the identified network. It showed that 92 threatened and endangered species across nine taxonomic groups — including fish, birds, insects, flowering plants and more — reside in the network area.

These species would benefit greatly from ending livestock grazing, recovering gray wolves and reintroducing beavers to suitable habitat within the network. Having wolves back on the landscape would assist in natural control of native ungulates like elk and deer, which are overabundant. Reducing native ungulate numbers could help restore the vegetation that other native species need to thrive. Similarly, having beavers back would restore the ecological functioning of riparian areas along creeks and rivers, which provide habitat for up to 70% of wildlife species.

“We’re at a crossroads that demands bold action to save life on Earth,” said Weiss, “And that means setting aside vast swaths of land and restoring the natural processes and native species that kept those places vibrant and healthy for eons.”

To learn more about steps urgently needed to stop the extinction crisis, read the Center’s 2020 report, Saving Life on Earth, which proposes, along with other key steps, setting aside 30% of the land by 2030, and 50% by 2050.

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PHYS-ORG

Endangered sharks, rays caught in protected Med areas: study

August 9, 2022

Endangered sharks, rays and skates in the Mediterranean are more frequently caught in protected than in unprotected areas, according to research published Tuesday highlighting the need for better conservation for critically threatened species.

The three types of elasmobranch are among the species most threatened by overfishing.

While often landed as by-catch—or caught in nets of boats seeking to land other species—demand for their fins and meat has driven an estimated 71-percent decline in ocean sharks and rays since 1970.

Although they are among the oldest marine species on Earth, their slow growth rate and late maturity mean one third of elasmobranchs are categorized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as at risk of extinction.

While dozens of nations have banned large-scale fishing of endangered shark, ray and skate species, true global catch figures are likely to be hugely underestimated as 90 percent of the world’s fishing fleet is made up of small-scale boats.

Researchers in Italy wanted to get a better idea of how species fare in the Mediterranean’s partially protected areas, which allow some fishing with restrictions.

They used photo-sampling and image analysis to compile a database covering more than 1,200 small-scale fishing operations across 11 locations in France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Slovenia and Greece.

Protected areas

The team then used statistical models to demonstrate that catches of threatened species were higher in partially protected areas than in areas with no protection at all.

“People assume that it is large-scale trawlers that are impacting biodiversity, which is true and there’s a lot of evidence for this,” said co-author Antonio Di Franco, from the Sicily Marine Center.

“There is less research on small-scale fishing’s impact and our research shows that there is this potential.”

The team found that catches they analyzed in partially protected areas landed 24 species of shark, skate and ray—more than a third of which are endangered.

This is likely in part due to the species’ preference for coastal waters, where most small-scale fisheries prefer to operate.

“We don’t know the activity of small-scale fisheries in general, we don’t know how many nets they actually fish or where they fish,” said Di Franco.

Overall, in the partially protected areas studied, 517 elasmobranchs were caught compared with 358 in non-protected areas.

In terms of mass, the weight of shark, ray or skate species caught in partially protected areas was roughly double that in non-protected areas.

More than 100 countries have committed to increase the amount of protected oceans worldwide to 30 percent by 2030.

Di Franco said there were a number of steps countries could take to help threatened species, including fitting smaller fishing boats with GPS trackers and ensuring that protected areas were joined up, allowing the species to more easily change living regions.

“Protected areas are a great potential benefit to biodiversity but the point is to look at management,” he told AFP.

“But often countries don’t have the capacity to properly manage stocks.”

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EcoWatch

Beluga Whale Experts Struggle to Feed Starving Whale Stuck in Seine River

By: Paige Bennett, August 9, 2022

Experts in France are trying to find a way to quickly save a beluga whale that is starving and stuck in the Seine River. Feeding attempts have been largely unsuccessful but will continue alongside efforts to move the whale out of the river into a saltwater river basin near the sea for monitoring.

Beluga whales live in the Arctic Ocean in much colder waters. But this whale was first found in the Seine last week in the river portion between Paris and Rouen. The whale has so far refused to eat, despite being offered a variety of food such as live trout, squid, and dead herrings.

Veterinarians have also tended to the whale, giving it vitamins and other products in hopes of stimulating its appetite and improving its health.

“The beluga still doesn’t eat but continues to show curiosity,” marine conservation organization Sea Shepherd France tweeted, as reported by Associated Press. With the beluga alert and still moving in the waters, euthenasia has been ruled out so far. But staying in these warm waters for too long put the whale in danger. The whale is also at a high risk of starving to death in the river.

In a new statement released from Sea Shepherd France, the organization explained that aside from being 150 kilometers from the estuary, the whale is moving closer toward Paris rather than the sea and is extremely thin and weak from a lack of food. Moving it would be extremely stressful, leaving the animal’s life at risk. Putting the whale to sleep temporarily for relocation could also kill it, as Sea Shepherd France explained this animal has conscious breathing.

The organization also noted that it consulted with beluga whale experts who examined footage of the animal in the Seine and explained it was still premature to euthanize it.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), beluga whales are social creatures that are near threatened. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explained that these whales face many threats, including pollution, habitat degradation, interactions with fisheries or oil and gas drilling operations, and other human activities.

Today, Sea Shepherd France reported one final effort to save the whale will be made. The plan is to carefully move the whale to a saltwater river basin near the sea, as Reuters reported. Medical treatments have slightly helped the whale’s health, making relocation more feasible.

“Moving it to a salt water pool will allow us to monitor it better and try and treat it,” Lamya Essemlali, president of Sea Shepherd France, told Reuters. “That’s what really matters: determine if it can be cured from what it is suffering from. It’s a necessary step before releasing it into the sea.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Species Protections Sought for Rare Nevada Butterfly

Bleached Sandhill Skipper Among Growing Number of Species Threatened by Poorly Sited Geothermal Energy

RENO, Nev.—(August 8, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to grant Endangered Species Act protection to an extremely rare butterfly called the bleached sandhill skipper.

The butterfly is restricted to a single alkali wetland in Humboldt County, Nevada. It could face extinction if the Baltazor Geothermal Development Project, proposed by developer Ormat, proceeds.

Geothermal energy, while a carbon-free power source, has a well-documented history of drying up nearby springs. Across the globe hot springs adjacent to geothermal projects have gone dry or cooled off, with significant impacts on native biodiversity. If the hot spring which creates this butterfly’s habitat dries up, it will go extinct.

“The bleached sandhill skipper is a unique piece of Nevada’s phenomenal biodiversity, and we’re doing everything we can to prevent its extinction,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Geothermal energy is an important part of our clean energy transition, but it can’t come at the cost of extinction.”

Bleached sandhill skippers are under 2 inches long and get their name from their yellow and beige markings, lighter in color than those of their closest cousins. The butterflies live in a single alkali wetland of around 1,500 acres created by discharge from the boiling hot Baltazor Hot Spring.

Their home meadow is full of saltgrass, presumed to be the butterfly’s larval host plant. In autumn the skippers emerge as adults and fly for a period of just a few weeks, nectaring in dense groups on the abundant rabbitbrush surrounding the wetland.

Ormat’s geothermal project is sited just across SR-140 from Baltazor Hot Spring. If Ormat pumps and recirculates billions of gallons of water per year, as proposed, it is likely to significantly alter the discharge at Baltazor, potentially drying up the wetland, killing off the saltgrass and rabbitbrush, and driving the bleached sandhill skipper to extinction.

“This beautiful little butterfly has evolved over millennia to thrive in this one specific spot, and no one should have the right to just wipe it off the face of the Earth,” said Jess Tyler, a staff scientist at the Center and petition co-author. “I urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to act fast to protect this amazing creature and its hot spring habitat.”

In April the Service gave emergency Endangered Species Act protection to the Dixie Valley toad due to the acute extinction threat it faced from the construction of the Dixie Meadows Geothermal Project, which was also proposed by Ormat. Dixie Meadows is a hot spring-fed wetland in Churchill County, Nevada.

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United Nations

Giraffes, parrots, and oak trees, among many species facing extinction

Around one million species are facing extinction, according to a report from IPBES, an independent intergovernmental science and policy body supported by the UN

UN News, August 7, 2022

It may be surprising to learn that even giraffes, parrots, and oak trees are included in the list of threatened species, as well as cacti and seaweed.

Seaweed is one of the planet’s great survivors, and relatives of some modern-day seaweed can be traced back some 1.6 billion years. Seaweed plays a vital role in marine ecosystems, providing habitats and food for marine lifeforms, while large varieties – such as kelp – act as underwater nurseries for fish. However, mechanical dredging, rising sea temperatures and the building of coastal infrastructure are contributing to the decline of the species.

The world’s trees are threatened by various sources, including logging, deforestation for industry and agriculture, firewood for heating and cooking, and climate-related threats such as wildfires.

It has been estimated that 31 per cent of the world’s 430 types of oak are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species. And 41 per cent are of “conservation concern”, mainly due to deforestation for agriculture and fuel for cooking.

Giraffes are targeted for their meat, and suffer from the degradation of their habitat due to unsustainable wood harvesting, and increased demand for agricultural land; it’s estimated there are only around 600 West African giraffes left in the wild.

Catastrophic results for humanity

The current biodiversity crisis will be exacerbated, with catastrophic results for humanity, unless humans interact with nature in a more sustainable way, according to UN experts.

“The IPBES report makes it abundantly clear that wild species are an indispensable source of food, shelter and income for hundreds of millions around the world,” says Susan Gardner, Director of the Ecosystems Division at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“Sustainable use is when biodiversity and ecosystem functioning are maintained while contributing to human well-being. By continuing to use these resources unsustainably, we are not just risking the loss and damage of these species’ populations; we are affecting our own health and well-being and that of the next generation.

Indigenous knowledge

The report illustrates the importance of indigenous people being able to secure tenure rights over their land, as they have long understood the value of wild species and have learned how to use them sustainably.

Examples of the kinds of transformative changes that are needed to reduce biodiversity loss, include an equitable distribution of costs and benefits, changes in social values, and effective governance systems.

Currently, governments around the world spend more than $500 billion every year in ways that harm biodiversity to support industries like fossil fuels, agriculture, and fisheries. Experts say these funds should be repurposed to incentivize regenerative agriculture, sustainable food systems, and nature-positive innovations.

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TC Palm (Fort Pierce, FL)

Hopeful news: Over a dozen endangered sawfish reported in St. Lucie River so far this year

Reports of the critically endangered animal have increased in recent months

Max Chesnes, Treasure Coast Newspapers, August 7, 2022

Florida wildlife biologists confirm the 13th critically endangered smalltooth sawfish of the year was reported in the St. Lucie River last week after a 5-year-old reeled in the toothy animal from a dock.

The exceptionally rare catch may be a hopeful sign that the St. Lucie River could be reclaiming its historical role as a nursery for the imperiled creatures, who were driven away by decades of coastal development and habitat destruction.

Former Cleveland Clinic Martin Health President Rob Lord was fishing with his grandson in the South Fork of the river July 30, using a live shrimp as bait, when they hooked the sawfish.

 “A rare catch anywhere,” Lord posted to Facebook. “Very cool! If you happen to catch one, there are researchers who want to hear about it.”

One of those researchers is biologist Gregg Poulakis, who leads the state’s sawfish research team in Port Charlotte. He confirmed to TCPalm on Thursday that this latest catch brings the river’s total to more than a dozen for the year.

The next step for the state’s sawfish research team is to gather more details from Lord about the catch, including the length of the animal and its exact location, according to their protocol.

“The question is: Is there a nursery that’s trying to reestablish?” Poulakis told TCPalm recently, referring to an uptick in reports. “This is some good news. They’re starting to come back a little bit. Now we want to keep our finger on the pulse of that.”

Since September 2020, state wildlife biologists have captured and tagged at least seven juvenile and three adult sawfish in the St. Lucie River. Historically, the river was a nursery for the species until human action, like coastal development and habitat destruction, drove them away.

It’s important to note that if you catch a sawfish, try to keep it in the water, according to Annmarie Fearing, a graduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi who is studying the animals.

“Awesome news!” Fearing wrote on Twitter Saturday in response to the latest sawfish sighting in the river. “Make sure to keep sawfish in the water if you ever catch one … it does help reduce their stress.”

Other sawfish sightings have made local headlines in recent months.

In April, a 13-year-old was fishing from a dock in the St. Lucie River when a sawfish started swimming in his direction. He recorded on his smartphone and shared the footage with researchers, who set out on a multiday trip to search for the animal.

A spearfisher this May documented a video just offshore of Martin County of the ultra-rare moment when a sawfish used its rostrum — an extended “nose” that resembles a chainsaw — to swipe at a school of bait.

Sawfish are endangered species

Sawfish are part of the ray family and there are five species of sawfish worldwide. The smalltooth sawfish is the only type to be found in Florida waters.

Sawfish can grow up to 17 feet long and weigh as much as 700 pounds, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Declining habitat and fishing nets have wreaked havoc on sawfish populations. They were the first marine fish in 2003 to be named to the Endangered Species List. The best region to see a sawfish is in Southwest Florida, including Everglades National Park.

The St. Lucie River, which meanders through 35 miles of Martin and St. Lucie counties, is also teeming with other threatened and endangered species such as manatees and sea turtles.

Yet it is one of the few Florida tributaries the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not classify as “critical habitat.” The agency defines that as “essential to conservation of the species,” which could open the door for increased federal protections.

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Newsweek

Loss of Crocodiles, Alligators Would Have Devastating Impact on Other Species

By SIMONA KITANOVSKA, ZENGER NEWS ON 8/5/22

The loss of crocodiles and alligators would have a devastating impact on other species, warned conservationists as they demanded better protection for the threatened amphibians.

More than half of all crocodilians – which includes crocodiles, alligators and caimans – are facing extinction, scientists said.

They say habitat loss, hunting, fishing and damming of rivers are all threats to crocs.

Each species plays different, but important roles in the wider ecosystem, such as creating shelter for other animals by burrowing or by feeding on invasive, agricultural pests.

Researchers led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have studied the important ecological functions and have said that up to 38 percent of them are at risk of being lost.

Lead author Phoebe Griffith said: “Many people think of crocodilians as large predators, grabbing zebra in wildlife documentaries, but that’s just a small part of the behavior of a single species.

“There are around 28 species of crocodilian, and they’ve evolved to be surprisingly different to one another.

“Quantifying the diverse ecological roles of these species is an important factor in understanding and conserving global biodiversity and looking at the scale of what we are set to lose if these key players disappear.”

Publishing their work in the journal Functional Ecology, the researchers identified which species are in most need of conservation.

They also investigated the various roles they play by measuring characteristics such as skull shape, body size and habitat use, which influence the way they behave in their environment.

Crocodilians are vital engineers of the ecology in which they live.

Some, like the saltwater crocodile, travel hundreds of miles across the open ocean, going from land to fresh and salt water, carrying nutrients between these different ecosystems.

Griffith, a ZSL Ph.D. student, added: “If we lose these species, we stand to lose the important roles they play, forever.

“We are only just beginning to investigate what these roles are, but some species may be lost before we have chance to understand their place in the ecosystems they are found.

“This is especially worrying as many of the crocs we highlight as ecologically distinctive are also the species at immediate risk of extinction.”

The study found that conserving threatened crocodilians based on their evolutionary uniqueness would help preserve the diversity of the species worldwide.

But of the 10 species that have the most unique ecological functions, six are critically endangered and are so few in number that they are considered functionally extinct in most of the areas where they have traditionally lived.

Researchers also found that certain traits can help the animals survive – those that reproduce a lot, are highly adaptive to different habitats or can tolerate climate extremes.

The coastlines and freshwaters they inhabit are fragile and under heavy human pressure, particularly in and around Asia, which the study identified as having the most threatened hotspots.

The two most threatened species, the gharial and Chinese alligator, have been marked as a priority by ZSL’s EDGE of Existence program.

EDGE Postdoctoral Research Scientist Dr. Rikki Gumbs said: “From miniature burrowing alligators to giant sea-faring crocodiles, the vast evolutionary journey of crocodilians has produced a dazzling variety of shapes, sizes and behaviors.

“Sadly, many of the world’s most unique crocodilians are in decline and, along with the functions they perform in their ecosystems, are on the brink of being lost forever.

“However, our research shows that we can safeguard much of the diversity we stand to lose by prioritizing the most unique species for conservation action.

“Interestingly, we can also efficiently protect the threatened functions of crocodilians by aiming to conserve their evolutionary history.

“In essence, by looking to the distant past we can effectively conserve crocodilian diversity, and the benefits this diversity provides to ecosystems, into the future.”

The gharial is especially adapted to living in water and it has a long, narrow snout ideal for catching fish. Its presence indicates a clean and healthy waterway.

ZSL said it has been working with partners in India and Nepal as well as local fishing communities to monitor the reptiles and help them live alongside people.

Co-author of the current study, Professor Jeffrey Lang of the Gharial Ecology Project, said: “People are the key to crocodilian conservation. If we value having these dinosaur relatives around, then conserving the world’s alligators, caiman, crocodiles, and gharials will be a priority.

“Studying them and understanding how important these aquatic predators are, in the places where they still live, is the necessary first step in ultimately conserving not only the most impressive crocodilians, but also their many interesting and diverse lifestyles.

“Community gatherings and environmental programs in village schools are vital for local awareness of and appreciation for all resident wetland species, including crocodilians.”

Griffith added: “Our study highlights the highly threatened nature of crocodilians and that immediate, stronger conservation action for many of these species is essential if we are to protect their ecological functions in the freshwater habitats they occur in.

“This is so important as freshwater habitats are amongst the most threatened on Earth, but provide many critical services for our planet.”

(Produced in association with SWNS. This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.)

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EcoWatch

World’s First River ‘Bubble Barrier’ Shows Promise for Preventing Plastic From Reaching the Sea

By: Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, August 5, 2022

Plastic pollution has quickly become one of the biggest environmental issues of the 21st century. Plastics that end up in waterways are the cause of millions of animal deaths each year when birds, turtles, fish and other marine organisms ingest or become entangled in plastic waste.

Plastics contain toxic chemicals like PCBs and DDT that can contaminate waterways, and they can absorb and carry harmful pollutants and invasive species from rivers to the ocean. Once plastic is in the ocean, it slowly decomposes, breaking down into tiny microplastics that can enter the marine food chain.

But what if there was a way to prevent plastics from reaching the ocean in the first place?

According to Plastic Smart Cities, more than eight million tons of plastic pollute the world’s oceans each year, and 60 to 80 percent of that comes from rivers.

In order to reduce the amount of plastic that makes its way from rivers to the ocean, co-founder of nonprofit Coast Busters, Claar-els van Delft, developed a new way to stop plastic from migrating that won’t disrupt fish or ship traffic: The Great Bubble Barrier.

Van Delft noticed something five years ago that indicated that the plastic waste washing up on the beach of the seaside town of Katwijk in the Netherlands was coming from a local river, reported The Guardian.

“We started picking up litter and we noticed, near the river entrance, pieces that came from fresh water – all kinds of plastic,” said Van Delft, as The Guardian reported. “Tampon sheaths, brush bristles, but also crisp packages, drink packages, everything.”

Last month, Katwijk became the home of the first river bubble barrier in the world.

According to The Great Bubble Barrier website, the barricade of bubbles comes from air being pumped through perforated tubing that produces a diagonal curtain of bubbles that guides plastics to the surface and then to a catchment system on the side of the waterway.

The team at The Great Bubble Barrier is made up of surfers, sailors and other water lovers who won a Postcode Lottery Green Challenge in 2018 and started their first trial bubble barrier the next year in an Amsterdam canal, reported The Guardian. The success of the pilot led a dozen municipalities, the Rijnland water board, Coast Busters, the Holland Rijnland and Zuid-Holland regions and community fundraisers to put more than $470,000 into the construction of the company’s first river bubble barrier.

“We notice plastic pollution by visitors to the beach, leaving wrappers and other plastic behind, but we are also the last stop before all the plastics collected along the Oude Rijn flow into the sea. With this bubble barrier we can stop those plastics,” said Deputy Mayor of Katwijk Jacco Knape, as The Guardian reported.

Executive board member of the Rijnland water board Bas Knapp, who is investing in the operations of the bubble barrier, does not believe the barrier will interfere with fish migration.

Knapp said they expected the bubble barrier to remove from 86 to 90 percent of the plastic pollution in the river.

In a test in Amsterdam using tangerines released into the water, on the catchment side of the barrier the capture rate was as high as 90 percent, but on the other side it was much lower, likely due to lesser bubble intensity, said environmental hydrodynamics researcher Dr. Frans Buschman, as reported by The Guardian.

Buschman went on to say that floating objects also had the potential to be blown over the barrier, but that the technique still had “great potential.”

Other Great Bubble Barrier projects are being discussed in Portugal and Southeast Asia.

With the variety of types of waterways worldwide, strategies to deal with plastic pollution like The Great Bubble Barrier will work better in some scenarios and not others, said assistant professor at Wageningen University’s hydrology and quantitative water management group Tim van Emmerik, The Guardian reported.

“Of course, consuming and polluting less plastics will help no matter where you go, and may in fact have the greatest impact,” Van Emmerik said.

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New Scientist

Hummingbird that was feared extinct is spotted in Colombian mountains

By Luke Taylor, August 5, 2022

After years of attempts to find one of the world’s 10 most wanted bird species, the Santa Marta sabrewing has been unexpectedly rediscovered deep in the mountains of Colombia.

The tiny hummingbird had only been officially spotted twice: once when it was discovered in 1946 and again in 2010 when it landed serendipitously in a researcher’s mist net. Since then It has been presumed by many to be extinct.

“It’s so incredible to see photos and video of the Santa Marta sabrewing,” said John C. Mittermeier, director of threatened species outreach at American Bird Conservancy, in a press release. “It’s like seeing a phantom.”

The lost Santa Marta sabrewing has been a magnet for bird enthusiasts desperate to make history by confirming its existence.

Many have returned home disappointed and some may have even been teased by its elusive emerald green body and shimmery blue throat, says Natalia Ocampo-Peñuela, a Colombian ornithologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Some birders snapped photos of what appeared to be the sabrewing’s body, but without the tail they were inconclusive.

“They may have been misidentifying it, or maybe it just has such a reduced population or specific habitat that all the bird watchers that went out there missed it,” Ocampo-Peñuela says. “It was there hiding all along!”

The rare bird was spotted perched on a branch singing by Yurgen Vega, who was studying the area’s endemic birds with SELVA, ProCAT Colombia and World Parrot Trust. The unlikely sighting may just secure its survival, say experts.

Little is known about the mysterious species except that it usually lives in neotropical forest at an altitude of 1200 to 1800 meters and may migrate to chilly moors during the rainy season to search for flowering plants.

The sabrewing was added to the Search for Lost Birds top 10 most wanted list last year in the hope of saving it.

The forests of the Sierra Nevada are under threat from agriculture and the sighting was made in an unprotected area.

Understanding the sabrewing’s habits and habitat should help inform conservation efforts, say conservation advocacy groups.

The Santa Marta mountains are home to at least 22 endemic bird species and a haven of biodiversity in a country that is home to more species per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world.

The confirmation that the region is home to yet another endemic species strengthens the argument that the government must work with conservationists and local communities to preserve the bird, said Esteban Botero-Delgadillo at SELVA, a research institute for conservation in the tropics.

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Greenpeace

Greenpeace USA urges seafood producers and retailers to keep endangered species out of their supply chains

New Zealand commercial fishing caught 58 protected turtles last year alone

August 4, 2022

Washington, DC (August 4, 2022) Greenpeace USA is calling on US seafood producers and retailers to stop environmental harm and biodiversity loss in their supply chains. The call follows a recent report from the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) report, which shows that 58 protected sea turtles, the majority of which were critically endangered leatherbacks, were caught in the last year alone. New Zealand’s sea turtle bycatch tripled in the fishing year 2020 – 2021 compared to the previous decade’s average. The US is one of the largest importers of seafood from New Zealand.

Greenpeace USA senior oceans campaigner Mallika Talwar said: “This is more of the same in a commercial fishing industry built on environmental destruction. As one of the largest importers of seafood from New Zealand, the US is implicated in this destruction of biodiversity by the New Zealand commercial fishing industry. Americans want to know that the food they are consuming is free from the destruction of iconic and protected species like the leatherback turtle. It is high time that seafood producers and retailers that include these tainted products in their supply chain step up to ensure these practices are stopped. ”

Greenpeace Aotearoa oceans campaigner Ellie Hooper called on the Government to step in and regulate commercial fisheries: “This report shows that New Zealand fisheries caught 58 turtles in one fishing year – that’s a number that would have closed the fishery if it was operating in a country like the United States, one of the biggest importers of seafood from New Zealand. But in New Zealand, there is no such limit. Commercial fishing here can catch protected species in huge numbers, and no action is taken. That goes for these turtles and for protected corals too.”

Hooper continued: “Despite this shocking number of turtle captures, New Zealand officials have argued that no additional measures were necessary to address turtle bycatch in Aotearoa, and have argued to have the fishing industry’s impacts noted as ‘minimal.’ Enough of the rhetoric. How much of the amazing biodiversity we have in Aotearoa has to die before the government acts?”

In Hawai’i, an annual limit of 16 leatherback turtle captures is enough to close the fishery for the rest of the year.

The DOC report has been released in the same week New Zealand representatives are attending the UNGA workshop in New York on bottom trawling, where they are advocating an approach that would see seamount ecosystems legally destroyed.

Hooper says: “This is yet more proof the New Zealand Government has its head in the sand on commercial fishing. Rather than admit that New Zealand’s commercial fishing industry urgently needs to change, the Government continues to defend them, talking a big game on the world stage and hoping our clean and green image precedes us internationally. But the facts are very clear. New Zealand commercial fishing is killing endangered wildlife at a much higher rate than what’s accepted overseas. Commercial fishing has all but wiped out our smallest native dolphin. They’re catching endangered turtles at a terrifying rate. And they’re trashing protected coral in our own backyard, Australian waters, and the South Pacific.”

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Reuters

World’s wildlife more at risk than realised, study says

By Gloria Dickie, August 4, 2022

LONDON, Aug 4 (Reuters) – The world’s wildlife may be in more trouble than scientists have so far reported, new research published on Thursday suggests.

While scientists have assessed the status of more than 147,000 plant and animals, there are thousands of species considered too “data deficient” for a full assessment. As a result, those species haven’t been included in the listing of threatened or endangered species, updated each year by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Among those underassessed species are the ocean’s toothy predator, the killer whale, along with the pink fairy armadillo of Argentina and nearly 200 bat species worldwide.

But in some cases, that lack of data itself is a red flag – suggesting the species may be hard to find because its population has declined, according to a team of international scientists who used data on environmental conditions and human threats to map patterns of extinction threat among assessed species.

The team then looked at the 7,699 underassessed species, and estimated that about 56% were facing conditions that likely put them also at risk of extinction, said the study, published in the journal Communications Biology.

That’s almost double the 28% of global species classified as “threatened” by the IUCN.

There are millions more plant and animal species that have never been looked at by the IUCN, and scientists estimate about 1 million of them are threatened with extinction, according to a 2019 report by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

Of the imperiled “data deficient” plants and animals, many “are small-ranged species in remote places,” with many in central Africa, Madagascar and southern Asia, said study author Jan Borgelt, an ecologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

The state of nature “could be worse than we realize if these predictions are true,” he said.

Worst off are likely the underassessed amphibians, with some 85% estimated to be threatened, the study said.

Species classified by the IUCN as threatened or endangered often become a focus for protection by national governments.

Studies such as this “highlight where conservation resources should be allocated,” said Pamela Gonzalez del Pliego, an ecologist at the University of Évora in Portugal who was not involved in the research.

(Reporting by Gloria Dickie in London; Editing by Katy Daigle and Jane Merriman)

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Today/NBCNews.com

Pythons are eating alligators and everything else in Florida.

Snake hunters stand poised to help.

Mary Pflum, August 4, 2022

The Florida Python Challenge, an annual statewide competition that kicks off Friday, will bring hundreds of snake-hunting professionals and novices to South Florida to hunt what wildlife officials are calling the state’s most concerning invasive species: the Burmese python.

Among those preparing for the 10-day hunt: Amy Siewe. Standing 5’4” and weighing 120 pounds, Siewe may appear small. But when it comes to hunting Florida’s Burmese pythons, Siewe is mighty. 

“I don’t look like I can catch a 17-foot snake,” Siewe, 45, said. “But I can.”

As a paid contractor for the state of Florida, Siewe, who calls herself a “python huntress,” searches for the reptiles year-round. The Florida Python Challenge invites novices to hunt alongside professionals like Siewe, and compete for cash prizes. This year’s challenge runs Aug. 5 through Aug. 14. Its goal is to both nab snakes and raise awareness of the environmental harm they cause.

“The proliferation of pythons is an emergency situation for our native wildlife in South Florida,” said Michael Kirkland, senior invasive animal biologist for the South Florida Water Management District and the manager of Florida’s Python Elimination Program. “Human detection right now is the most effective tool in our toolbox.”

Kirkland said professional contractors like Siewe have removed 10,000 pythons since the state began employing them in 2017. With the additional help of novices during the challenge, the state hopes to catch hundreds more.

“When it comes to pythons, we need all the help and awareness we can get,” he said.

Participants in the challenge are required to pay a $25 registration fee and take an online course that requires them to prove, among other things, they can distinguish a Burmese python from native Florida snake species.

Awards of up to $2,500 will be given in a variety of categories, including the most pythons caught and the longest pythons nabbed.

For the professional hunters taking part, the challenge is extremely competitive. All are veterans when it comes to capturing the sizable snakes. Siewe, a former real estate agent who moved to Florida from Indiana, earns $13 an hour for the time she commits to hunting pythons throughout the year, then an additional $50 for the first 4 feet of any python she catches, and $25 for each foot beyond that.

The first python Siewe nabbed measured more than 10 feet. “I caught it by myself, wearing flip-flops,” Siewe said, noting she found it in the middle of a Florida highway.

She disoriented the snake by placing a pillowcase over its head, then put the snake in the trunk of her Camry.

The largest python Siewe has caught was 17 feet, 3 inches, and weighed 110 pounds.

“I jumped on her in a ditch on the side of the road, all 17 feet of her,” Siewe said. “She had the biggest snake head I had ever seen. That was a real battle of strength.”

Among those facing off against Siewe in this year’s Florida Python Challenge: fellow professional python hunter, and defending challenge champion, Dusty Crum. A Florida native, Crum, 42, snagged the longest python in the competition’s professional category last year, catching a 16-foot python. In 2016, he was part of a three-man team that took top honors in the challenge, catching 33 pythons.

“A lot of it is luck, but it’s also about being in the right place at the right time,” Crum said. “It’s anybody’s game.”

Snake hunters use a variety of equipment to get the job done, ranging from snake hooks to special carry bags to an array of lights that can spot the reptiles in the dark of night.

To prepare for this year’s challenge, Crum is employing his carefully curated collection of snake-catching technology.

“When it comes to the challenge, it’s guns blazing,” Crum said. “I’m trying to utilize all my equipment: little geo-trackers, four-wheelers. I’ve got swamp buggies, monster trucks with big tires on them. We outfit those with lights on and I’ll be able to access places the general public can’t get to.”

Python hunting, Crum and Siewe said, is not for the faint of heart. While pythons aren’t venomous, they are powerful — and known to bite.

“They’ve got hundreds of teeth, and when they bite you it’s like needle pricks,” Crum said. “The worst thing that can happen is when the tooth breaks off and gets stuck in you, and it gets infected.”

Siewe said she’s been bitten too many times to count. “A 14-footer bit me on my hand. I’ve been bitten on my butt, on my calf. Thankfully, I haven’t been bitten on my face.”

Like Crum, Siewe says she works to repurpose portions of the pythons she catches. “I use the leather to make Apple watch bands,” she said.

Crum and Siewe both say they’re “in it to win it” when it comes to this year’s challenge.

Neither plan on getting much sleep during the competition, as pythons are nocturnal, meaning the best time for hunting is late at night.

Still, they said, the real goal of the challenge has less to do with any individual victories they might score, and far more to do with the greater cause both say they’re fighting — and hunting — for.

“This isn’t a trophy hunt or a sport hunt,” Crum explains. “This is an environmental hunt. It’s hunting to save our environment. It’s a special feeling when it’s man versus beast, fighting for the environment.”

No humans in the U.S. have been killed by pythons, but plenty of pets have, and wildlife officials worry pythons will destroy entire populations of Florida native species if they’re not stopped. Among the mammals in the Everglades that pythons are decimating: marsh rabbits, raccoons, foxes, deer and bobcats.

“The Burmese python is one of the largest snakes in the world, capable of reaching 20 feet long, and because of our climate the pythons are able to thrive in Florida by preying on our wildlife,” Kirkland said. “In some regions of Florida, up to 95% of fur-bearing animal populations have disappeared.”

The pythons are even eating Florida alligators.

“The pythons are generalists,” said McKayla Spencer, Florida’s Interagency python management coordinator. “They’ll eat anything.”

Pythons made their first appearance in the Everglades in the 1970s, likely a result of a pet snake being released into the wild, but the population did not explode until the 1990s.

That’s when Hurricane Andrew struck Florida, destroying, among other things, several python breeding facilities. Kirkland said there’s no definitive proof that the destruction of breeding farms is responsible for the explosion of Florida’s python population. “But it didn’t help,” he acknowledged.

There’s no official estimate of how many pythons there are in Florida, owing to their stealth nature.

“They are very hard to find,” Spencer said. “For every one python we find, there are 99 more out there.”

Increasingly, Spencer said, pythons are showing up in people’s yards and boats, as the snakes literally swallow more and more Florida territory. 

That’s where human hunters come in. 

“I have always had this obsessive fascination with snakes and reptiles since I was little and my dad taught me to catch fish,” Siewe said. “I thought, ‘Why isn’t this passion [for] puppies or kittens or something normal?’ It’s not — it’s snakes.”

(This article was originally published on NBCNews.com.)

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EcoWatch

Vaquita Porpoise Reproducing Despite Low Numbers and Continued Threats From Illegal Gillnets

By: Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, August 3, 2022

At less than five feet long, the vaquita porpoise is the smallest living cetacean and the rarest marine mammal in the world. It also has the smallest geographical range. The little porpoise with the smiling expression and dark rings around its eyes can be found only in the northern part of Mexico’s Gulf of California, and there aren’t many left. With as few as ten individual vaquita remaining, their numbers have dropped dramatically in recent years, due to the illegal gillnets used by fishing operations within marine protected areas in the Gulf of California, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

New research indicates that, while the few vaquita that remain have been skirting extinction for years, those few that survive are reproducing and may have found ways to avoid the gillnets that threaten their species, the University of St Andrews said in a press release.

The findings of the research, “More vaquita porpoises survive than expected,” were published in the journal Endangered Species Research.

“Finding any vaquita in the area is a surprise, given the rapid declines detected in previous surveys. These survivors are the future of an endemic species of Mexico and must be protected,” said lead author of the research Dr. Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho of the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change in Mexico, according to the press release.

Seven to 15 vaquitas were spotted in 2019, the researchers estimated, and from five to 13 individuals last year. Calves were seen both years. Earlier research had estimated that less than 20 vaquita survived in 2018, with the population decreasing by about half each year.

Scientists have said the only hope for vaquita recovery is for local fishers to stop using gillnets to catch fish and shrimp in the vaquitas’ small territory, as they can trap and drown the endangered porpoises.

The researchers said that extinction is inevitable for the vaquita without another form of livelihood for the fishers that doesn’t include the use of gillnets.

Fishing equipment that wouldn’t entangle the small porpoises does exist, but none of the alternative gear was found in recent surveys of the area, and it would require investment and enforcement to put into effect.

“Against all the odds, we still have one last chance to save the vaquita,” said research scientist at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center Dr. Barbara Taylor, who was co-author of the paper. “Give these animals a chance and they can survive.”

A method called “expert elicitation” was used by the research team in figuring out how many individual vaquitas were seen across various surveys in 2019 and 2021. These numbers were used to estimate the minimum size of the total population. A better estimate wasn’t possible partially due to acoustic monitors, which can provide more comprehensive data, having been damaged and stolen by illegal fishing crews.

“In the absence of direct data on the quantities of interest, expert elicitation is the next best alternative for providing quantifications that can be used for decision making,” said professor Len Thomas of the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling at the University of St Andrews, who, along with Cormac Booth of the University-associated SMRU Consulting, undertook the expert elicitation, the press release said.

The research team did find evidence to suggest that, during an attempt to capture some vaquita in 2017 in order to bring them into protective captivity, a few had avoided gillnets, while some had scars from earlier run-ins with the deadly nets.

“If you kill 99 percent of the animals, the one percent that is left is probably not random. Models do not necessarily account for the intelligence of vaquitas that may have learned how to escape gillnets,” said Taylor in the press release. “That could help stave off extinction of the species a little longer, but vaquita are not far from disappearing because gillnets remain the primary means of making a living in nearby towns, and even protecting the small area where vaquitas remain seems beyond enforcement abilities. Until fishers have access and training in alternatives to gillnets, vaquitas’ extinction is guaranteed.”

The way to help the vaquita is simple: let them be. Alternative equipment must be provided or another means of living found for local fishers.

“I have said several times that vaquitas are very resourceful and if we stop killing them, they will recover. Mexico has all the ‘ingredients’ for management actions to prevent this species from becoming extinct and, in the long term, to recover,” Rojas-Bracho said.

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AP News

Report: Climate change a challenge for Idaho wildlife

By KEITH RIDLER, August 2, 2022

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Climate change could make it more challenging to conserve and manage the state’s most at-risk fish, wildlife and plants, Idaho officials said.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game on Monday released its draft Idaho State Wildlife Action Plan that will guide its management actions for the next decade.

The plan emphasizes preventing Endangered Species Act listings to maintain state’s authority in plant and wildlife management decisions as well as recovering species that are listed. The agency is taking public comments through Aug. 31 on the 336-page draft plan that will replace a 2015 version.

“It’s intended to be a driving force for conservation at a statewide level in Idaho,” said Rita Dixon, Fish and Game’s coordinator for the plan. “It’s intended to help guide what we do to basically make Idaho a better place for people and wildlife.”

Dixon said the draft will be revised based on public comments and then presented to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission at its November meeting. If the commission approves, it will be sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be reviewed by a regional team that includes a director of another state’s fish and wildlife agency. If approved there, the state will remain eligible for federal grant money. The 2015 plan took months before the Fish and Wildlife Service signed off. The state remains eligible for that money under the current 2015 plan, Dixon said.

Federal legislation called the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act has passed the House is expected to clear the Senate. The $1.3 billion legislation could bring millions of dollars to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for conservation of wildlife, fisheries and habitats. The state’s wildlife action plan is needed to be eligible for that money.

The plan put forward this year for the first time includes plants as well as an entire section on climate change.

“Idaho’s climate is expected to become overall warmer, drier in summer, wetter in winter, and more variable during the next 50 to 70 years,” the report states.

The report notes that Idaho’s annual mean temperature has increased 1.8 degrees since 1895, with heatwaves becoming more frequent. The report said precipitation is becoming more variable, with summer and autumn precipitation decreasing with more frequent prolonged droughts.

The report said Idaho’s spring and winter precipitation is increasing but with less snow, and that the state’s snowpack is peaking earlier, shifting toward higher elevations and becoming more inconsistent. Additionally, the report notes that soil and fuel moistures are decreasing, causing increasing wildfires.

The report said annual streamflow has decreased, streams are about 1.5 degrees warmer, and that peak springtime streamflow is one to two weeks earlier. The report predicts streamflow will continue to decrease and peak springtime streamflow could eventually be four to nine weeks earlier.

Idaho currently has about 20 species listed under the Endangered Species Act, including Snake River sockeye salmon, spring- and summer-run of Snake River chinook salmon, Snake River fall-run chinook salmon and Snake River basin steelhead. Other listed species include bull trout, grizzly bears, Canada lynx, slickspot peppergrass, Kootenai River white sturgeon and the Bruneau hot springsnail.

Among the other objectives of the plan is maximizing access for traditional use of natural resources such as grazing, mining and timber harvest, increasing opportunities for voluntary stewardship efforts of ranchers, farmers and private landowners, and increasing public engagement in wildlife management decisions and planning.

The report covers the five major geographic and ecological regions of the state and covers amphibians, birds, mammals, reptiles, fish, invertebrates and plants. The plan also provides descriptions of 39 habitats it says are essential for conserving species.

Besides climate change, other topics analyzed in relation to Idaho’s wildlife include residential and commercial development, agriculture and aquaculture, energy production and mining, transportation and service corridors, human intrusions and disturbances, invasive species, pollution and geological events.

Jeff Abrams of the Idaho Conservation League said he was still reviewing the State Wildlife Action Plan, or SWAP, but found good things for hunters, anglers and conservationists to like.

“We feel like the SWAP is an incredible opportunity to advance maintaining our state’s precious wildlife recourses,” he said. “Any work that you do where you have specifically identified non-game species is automatically connected by default, by the ecosystem role, to fish and game species that are harvested in the state.”

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The Guardian

Call for hippos to join list of world’s most endangered animals

New classification would mean a total ban on international trade in the animal’s body parts, as climate crisis and poaching hit populations

By Patrick Greenfield, 2 Aug. 2022

Hippos could be added to the list of the world’s most endangered animals because of dwindling populations caused by the climate crisis, poaching and the ivory trade.

The semi-aquatic mammals are found in lakes and rivers across sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated population of 115,000-130,000. As well as the trade in ivory – found in its teeth – and animal parts, they are threatened by habitat loss and degradation, and the effects of global heating.

Hippos are also legally traded for commercial purposes and hunting trophies under Cites, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Ahead of the next Cites Cop in Panama in November this year, 10 west African countries, including Togo, Gabon and Mali, have proposed that hippos be given the highest protection under Cites by listing them under appendix I of the convention. Hippos are already listed as an appendix II species, which means they are not necessarily threatened with extinction but could become so if their trade is not regulated.

If approved, it would mean a total international ban on the trade in hippo body parts and ivory to help avert the decline of the species. It is estimated that at least 77,579 hippo parts and products were legally traded from 2009 to 2018.

In 2016, hippos were classified as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN red list with local declines, particularly in west Africa, raising fears about the survival of the species in some of the 38 African countries where it is found.

The hippopotamus is one of the world’s heaviest land animals; males can weigh as much as 1,800kg, and they are often found in large groups. The animals are especially vulnerable to overexploitation due to their long gestation periods of eight months, and females not reaching sexual maturity until nine or 10 years.

Rebecca Lewison, co-chair of the IUCN SSC hippo specialist group, said hippos have been overlooked as a species of conservation concern due to their high population densities, which can give the impression that there are plenty of them in the wild. But populations have declined substantially over the last 20 years.

“The biggest threat to hippos is habitat loss and degradation. Common hippos rely on fresh water to survive, and that often puts them in conflict with local communities who also need fresh water for agriculture, energy, fishing and residential development,” she said.

“Hippo-human conflicts are on the rise, particularly in west Africa, where common hippo populations are declining rapidly. Hippo-human conflicts unfortunately result in both hippo and human fatalities and have contributed to a related problem of unregulated hunting for hippo meat and ivory, which is found in their canine teeth,” she added.

The proposals are unlikely to affect a small population of hippos found in Colombia, which has grown from the private collection of drug lord Pablo Escobar. Many ecologists say these are an invasive species and should be culled.

Following the proposal, the Cites secretariat will provide an assessment to see whether hippos meet the appendix I criteria and produce a recommendation based on expert evidence.

Keenan Stears, a University of California Santa Barbara ecologist who is based part of the year in Kruger national park, South Africa, said he supported the proposed listing because of the important role hippos play in ecosystems. “A large proportion of hippos are in rivers that are experiencing significant reductions in river flow. Threats like habitat destruction for agriculture are a huge issue,” he said.

But given the right conditions, Stears said, populations could stabilise. “They can recover pretty quickly with enough vegetation. Any kind of protected area would be perfectly fine for the population to increase rapidly.”

John Scanlon, secretary general of Cites from 2010 to 2018, said the upgrading to appendix I would involve the prohibition of all commercial trade in hippos, but would not outlaw bushmeat hunting. “It’s meat, teeth or skin: any commercial international trade would be prohibited.

“A number of organisations will be offering their views on the proposal, and I suspect it will be a big deal,” he added. “There are only about 1,500 species that are classified on appendix I.”

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The Guardian

US drafts new speed limits on shipping to help save endangered whales

Fewer than 340 North Atlantic right whales remain and vessel strikes are among the biggest threats to the species

Associated Press, July 30, 2022

Vessels off the US east coast must slow down more often to help save a vanishing species of whale from extinction, the federal government said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made the announcement via new proposed rules designed to prevent ships colliding with North Atlantic right whales.

Vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are the two biggest threats to the giant animals, which number fewer than 340 and are falling in population.

Efforts to save the whales have long focused on fishing gear, especially that used by east coast lobster fishermen. The proposed vessel speed rules signal that the government wants the shipping industry to take more responsibility.

“Changes to the existing vessel speed regulation are essential to stabilize the ongoing right whale population decline and prevent the species’ extinction,” state the proposed rules, which are slated to be published in the federal register.

The new rules would expand seasonal slow zones off the east coast that require mariners to slow down to 10 knots (just over 11mph or 19km/h).

They would also require more vessels to comply with the rules by expanding the size classes that must slow down.

The rules also state that Noaa would create a framework to implement mandatory speed restrictions when whales are known to be present outside the seasonal slow zones.

Federal authorities spent a few years reviewing the speed regulations used to protect the whales. The shipping rules have long focused on a patchwork of slow zones that require mariners to slow down for whales. Some of the zones are mandatory, while others are voluntary.

Environmental groups have made the case that many boats do not comply with the speed restrictions and that the rules need to be tighter.

The environmental organization Oceana released a report in 2021 that said non-compliance was nearly 90% in mandatory zones and compliance was also dangerously low (nearly 85%) in the voluntary ones.

“It’s no secret that speeding vessels are rampant throughout North Atlantic right whales’ migration route, all along the east coast,” said Gib Brogan, a campaign director at Oceana.

Many members of the shipping industry were keenly aware the new speed rules were on the way.

Chris Waddington, the London-based International Chamber of Shipping’s technical director, said: “The shipping industry takes the protection of whales seriously and has undertaken measures to safeguard them, from engaging stakeholders to reducing speed and rerouting.”

The right whales were once numerous, but their populations plummeted due to commercial whaling generations ago.

Although they have been protected under the Endangered Species Act for decades, they have been slow to recover.

More than 50 of the whales were struck by ships between spring 1999 and spring 2018, Noaa records state.

Scientists have said in recent years that warming ocean temperatures driven by the climate crisis are causing the whales to stray out of protected areas and into shipping lanes in search of food.

The whales give birth off the coast of Georgia and Florida and head north to feed off Massachusetts, Maine and Canada.

Members of New England’s lobster fishing industry argue that too many rules designed to save the whales focus on fishing and not on vessel strikes.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Southern Plains Bumblebee

Species Has Already Disappeared From Six States

WASHINGTON—(July 27, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to grant Endangered Species Act protection to the highly imperiled Southern Plains bumblebee.

Southern Plains bumblebees have declined over multiple decades and are now half as abundant as they were historically. Recent observation records show steep declines in the southern Great Plains states of Oklahoma and Texas and in the southeastern states of Alabama and Mississippi.

“These big, beautiful bees are disappearing at an alarming pace, but there’s still time to save them,” said Jess Tyler, a staff scientist at the Center and the petition’s author. “Extinction is a political choice, not an inevitability, so we’re urging the Fish and Wildlife Service to take fast action to save these bees.”

The bumblebee previously inhabited 26 states, including throughout the Great Plains and along the southeastern Gulf coastal plain. It has now disappeared from Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Dakota and Ohio.

Multiple, simultaneous threats are contributing to the bee’s decline. Habitat loss and degradation limit nutrition from diverse pollen and nectar sources while pesticides reduce survival rates, harm immune systems and hinder reproduction.

Southern Plains bumblebees are foraging generalists with a broad floral diet that allows them to inhabit a wide variety of areas. They provide essential pollination service to wild plants and to pollinator-dependent crops.

To survive, the bumblebees need open areas with a variety of flowering plants that are not poisoned by pesticides, heavily grazed or plowed over.

“The Southern Plains bumblebee is disappearing because people aren’t leaving enough space for this remarkable creature to exist,” said Robert Ukeiley, a senior attorney at the Center who has worked for decades to conserve and restore grassland in the Southern Plains. “We know what works and we have the tools to save this bee. We need the power of the Endangered Species Act to help it dodge extinction.”

Southern Plains bumblebees are one of the largest bumblebees in North America and are distinctive for the flattened hairs on their abdomen, which give them a slicked-back look compared to fuzzier bumblebees.

Like other bumblebees, they are social insects living in colonies with a single queen and workers that can number in the hundreds. They make their nests in pre-existing cavities like rodent burrows and downed logs, or on the surface of the ground in large grass bunches.

They are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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Field & Stream

Two of the Largest Freshwater Fish in the World Declared Extinct

Paul Richards, July 27, 2022

The Yangtze sturgeon lived in its namesake river for 140 million years. Now it doesn’t. Nor does another behemoth it shared China’s longest waterway with for ages, the Chinese paddlefish. Updating its Red List of Threatened Species on Thursday for the first time in 13 years, the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the two species, known as “the last giants of the Yangtze,” extinct.

Once the largest freshwater fish in the world, the Yangtze sturgeon, Acipenser dabryanus, could reach 26 feet in length and weigh 1,500 pounds. Its historic range extended throughout Asia, including Japan, Korea, and the Yellow River in China. Dubbed a “living fossil,” it sported a rounded snout, large pectoral fins, and rows of elevated ridges on its spine and flanks. Though there are still captive fish in breeding programs, authorities, despite many efforts, have failed to successfully reintroduce the fish to the river system, and now it considered extinct in the wild.

The Chinese paddlefish, Psephurus gladius, could reach 23 feet in length and weigh a half a ton. It had a long silver-gray body, poorly developed eyesight, and a swordlike snout that it used to locate prey by sensing electrical activity. According to National Geographic, no paddlefish exist in captivity and no living tissues of the fish have been preserved, so there is no hope for its future.

Both fish declined precipitously after the construction of the Yangtze’s first dam, the Gzehouba Dam, in the late 1980s. The Yangtze sturgeon historically traveled 2,000 miles from the East China Sea to its spawning grounds above the dam. The last Chinese paddlefish ever seen was caught and tagged in 2003, the same year the Three Gorges Dam was built.

Both species were considered delicacies and were historically overfished. The paddlefish was once a favored food of ancient emperors, while the sturgeon’s caviar was highly valued. Pollution and ship travel likewise contributed to the fishes’ demise. The Yangtze sturgeon was particularly sensitive to noise and, according to National Geographic, scientists believed that industrial runoff may have caused some fish to change their sex from male to female.

The IUCN’s latest list of threatened species, stated that 100 percent of the world’s remaining 26 sturgeon species are now at risk of extinction, up from 85 percent in 2009.

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EcoWatch

Hungry Polar Bears Are Eating Garbage Instead of Seals as Their Habitats Melt Away

By: Paige Bennett, July 25, 2022

As climate change erodes the icy habitats of polar bears, they are left stranded from their usual food sources for longer periods of time. So instead of filling up on seals, a new study has found that polar bears are supplementing their diets with garbage, which is expected to become a growing threat to the species.

A new report from Canadian and U.S. scientists published in the journal Onyx outlines how polar bears are beginning to turn to humans’ trash as a food source, which could lead to more regular and/or unpredictable human-polar bear conflicts as the animals search for food.

“Bears and garbage are a bad association,” said study co-author Andrew Derocher, a biologist at the University of Alberta, as reported by Reuters. “We know that very well from a brown bear and black bear perspective, and now it’s an issue developing with polar bears.”

Polar bears usually hunt seals, but they need ice to do so. As temperatures rise and the ice melts earlier and refreezes later, polar bears are stuck on shore for longer amounts of time. Their time to hunt is shortening, leaving the animals hungry. So they turn to landfills and other sources of garbage to satiate their hunger, similar to the way brown bears and black bears already come into communities in search of food.

Polar bears, which are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, have been recently spotted in several Arctic communities looking for food. In February 2019, the report stated there was a “mass invasion” of polar bears in Belushya Guba, Novaya Zemlya, Russia, when 52 polar bears came to feed in an open dump. Further, the bears attempted to get into local buildings.

Another 60 polar bears were found scavenging in an open dump in the 600-person village of Ryrkaypiy, Chukotka, Russia in December 2019. The bears remained in the area until the sea ice refroze in the fall.

The trash diet can make the polar bears sick, and they could choke on materials like plastic wrappers.

“Bears don’t know all the negatives that come with plastic ingestion and the diseases and toxins they’re likely exposed to in a (landfill) setting,” Geoff York, study co-author and senior director of conservation at Polar Bears International, said.

But their proximity to humans and potential for conflict is a big risk. People may kill the polar bears to protect their communities. Scientists expect these risks to rise in the coming years as global temperatures continue to rise and human populations extend farther into the Arctic. For example, the human population of Nunavut, Canada is slated to grow 31% from 2014 to 2043. This area is home to thousands of polar bears.

While waste management could help, it can be a challenge for these remote, Arctic communities. The ground is too cold to bury the trash, and the cost to haul the trash away is too high.

“Education, the implementation of polar bear-proof methods of waste storage, law enforcement and the provision of adequate resources at the community level are required to mitigate this potentially increasing problem,” the study said, noting that measures taken to reduce conflicts between brown and black bears and humans could be replicated for polar bears. Scientists also say federal funding will be important to providing better waste management for remote communities in the affected areas.

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Global Citizen

Australia Has Lost More Mammal Species to Extinction Than Any Other Continent: Report

The damning report has once again raised the alarm about the climate crisis.

By Madeleine Keck, July 24, 2022

The state and trend of the environment in Australia have been labelled “poor and deteriorating” in a damning new government report, with findings revealing the country has lost more mammal species to extinction than any other continent in the world.

The State of the Environment report — completed every five years and published Tuesday — shows climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and resource extraction, as well as the lack of solid environmental management frameworks, have resulted in the near collapse of close to 20 ecosystems.

Increasing temperatures due to human-induced climate change were particularly attributed to the loss.

The report concluded that changes in rainfall patterns and the severity and frequency of bushfires and heatwaves have profoundly impacted all aspects of the environment. The nation’s climate has warmed by almost 1.5 degrees since records began, with the decade from 2011 to 2022 the warmest on record.

Recent record bushfires in 2019 and 2021 helped catapult koalas from a “vulnerable” to an “endangered” status.

A further 200 plant and animal species joined the threatened list in the half-decade since the previous report was published.

“Climate change is continuing and is increasing the impacts of other pressures on our environment,” the report read. “Immediate global action to reduce carbon emissions would result in reduced pressures and improved trajectories for most aspects of our environment.”

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the newly elected Labor Government would heed the report’s calls to prioritise environmental protection, reconfirming the party’s emissions reduction goals and protections for national parks and marine areas.

“Australia’s environment is bad and getting worse, and much of the destruction outlined in the report will take years to turn around,” Plibersek said in a National Press Club address held to discuss the findings. “Nevertheless, I am optimistic about the steps we can take over the next three years. Legislating strong action on climate change is a great start.”

Plibersek promised “fundamental reform of national environmental laws” and that Australia’s national estate would be expanded to ensure 30% of all land and sea is protected by 2030. Just under $230 million, meanwhile, has been pledged to the threatened species program.

The report, however, says over $1.5 billion per year is required to ensure the survival of threatened plants and animals.

Environmentalists the country over have praised the report for its clear recommendations to Australia’s leaders.

Among them is President of the Australian Academy of Science Chennupati Jagadish, who backs the report’s call for national leadership to help “foster coordinated action and encourage investment” to address the nation’s “mounting” climate issues.

“Australia must revisit its emission reduction commitments and work with other countries to provide the leadership and collaboration required to place Australia and the world on a safer climate trajectory,” Jagadish wrote in a statement.

Other recommendations include additional collaboration with Indigenous rangers and better coordination of data.

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NPR

There are 40% more tigers in the world than previously estimated

July 23, 2022, SHAUNEEN MIRANDA

It’s the Year of the Tiger, and a new population assessment offers some hope for the endangered species.

An estimated 3,726 to 5,578 tigers currently live in the wild worldwide — up 40% from 2015, according to a new tiger assessment from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

But much of the increase is because of improvements in monitoring the animals.

“A fairly significant chunk of that 40% increase is explained by the fact that we’re better at counting them, that many governments in particular have really sort of moved heaven and earth to do massive scale surveys,” Luke Hunter, executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) big cat program, told NPR.

The WCS is a nonprofit that has worked in roughly 60 countries across the world to save wildlife and wild places.

Beside better counting methods, Hunter also attributes the higher tiger numbers to an increase in conservation efforts by governments in the countries where they live.

Tigers are still considered endangered and remain on the IUCN’s Red List, which assesses endangered species.

Tigers continue to decline in many parts of the world and have lost an enormous amount of their range because of poaching, habitat loss and other human-driven factors.

Tigers are considered highly valuable within the illegal wildlife trade, which has become a massive, global industry, according to Hunter.

Although tigers represent just one of many endangered species, efforts to conserve them can benefit the areas and people within these communities, he says.

“When you succeed in saving tigers or conserving tigers, you are conserving very large wilderness landscapes, with a huge host of biodiversity but also a whole bunch of benefits to the human communities that live in and around those landscapes,” he said.

Hunter said he believes these types of assessments show that conservation interventions can work and tigers can start to recover.

“Expanding and connecting protected areas, ensuring they are effectively managed, and working with local communities living in and around tiger habitats, are critical to protect the species,” the IUCN said in a statement.

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EcoWatch

IUCN Officially Lists Beloved Monarch Butterflies as Endangered

By: Paige Bennett, July 21, 2022

Migratory monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus plexippus) are now considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The species will now be listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species after habitat loss and climate change decimated the population.

Even with recent reports finding a slight uptick in overwintering monarch butterflies, the numerous threats this species faces has led to a major plummet in the population in the past several years.

“Today’s Red List update highlights the fragility of nature’s wonders, such as the unique spectacle of monarch butterflies migrating across thousands of kilometres,” Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director General, said in a statement. “To preserve the rich diversity of nature we need effective, fairly governed protected and conserved areas, alongside decisive action to tackle climate change and restore ecosystems. In turn, conserving biodiversity supports communities by providing essential services such as food, water and sustainable jobs.”

The newly updated Red List includes 147,517 species, with 41,459 of those species being under threat of extinction. The now-endangered monarch butterfly is one of these many threatened species facing extinction.

The monarch butterfly migrates to California and Mexico in the winter to breeding grounds throughout the U.S. and Canada in the warmer months. But its population has declined by as much as 72% in just the past 10 years due to logging, both legal and not, to make room for agricultural fields and urban development. On farms, pesticide use has further harmed the butterflies and milkweed, the only food source for monarch caterpillars.

Climate change has also pushed the migratory monarchs toward extinction. Droughts limit milkweed growth and can lead to more frequent extreme wildfires. The warming temperatures cause butterflies to begin migrations too early, when the milkweed is not yet available. Extreme weather events have killed millions more of the butterflies.

Western migratory monarch butterflies face the greatest threat of extinction, with as much as 99.9% of the population lost since the 1980s. The eastern monarch population dropped by 84% from 1996 to 2014.

“It is difficult to watch monarch butterflies and their extraordinary migration teeter on the edge of collapse, but there are signs of hope,” said Anna Walker, member of the IUCN SSC Butterfly and Moth Specialist Group, and Species Survival Officer at the New Mexico BioPark Society, who led the monarch butterfly assessment. “From planting native milkweed and reducing pesticide use to supporting the protection of overwintering sites and contributing to community science, we all have a role to play in making sure this iconic insect makes a full recovery.”

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The Hill

Biden administration revokes final Trump changes to Endangered Species Act

By ZACK BUDRYK, 07/20/22

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday announced the repeal of the last remaining Trump-era changes to Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations, reverting certain decisions on critical habitats to the Interior Department.

Under the Trump rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service was required to accept private landowners’ claims that including an area in a protected habitat would result in economic harm. Under the pre-Trump rule, which the regulation restores, these exclusions are at the discretion of the Interior secretary.

The announcement comes weeks after a federal judge vacated another Trump ESA rule, this one saying equal protections did not apply to endangered species and those classified as threatened or likely to become endangered. It also comes the month after the administration revoked a separate Trump-era rule imposing stricter constraints on which areas qualify as critical habitats, limiting them to those that can currently support species rather than also those that could later support them.

Environmental organizations praised the decision Wednesday but called on the administration to take steps building on those of the Obama administration rather than simply reverting to the pre-Trump status quo.

“We are thrilled to see the Biden administration take this important step towards restoring Endangered Species Act protections,” Andrew Carter, senior conservation policy analyst for Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “Our health and well-being depends on our nation’s rich biodiversity, and the Biden administration needs to keep taking every possible step to shore up the law responsible for saving it, including developing a national biodiversity strategy.”

“Under Trump’s rule, a landowner could have ludicrously claimed they planned to build the next Taj Mahal or Disneyland on their property to avoid it being protected as critical habitat,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I’m grateful this rule was repealed and that some semblance of common sense has been restored to protecting essential habitat for our endangered plants and animals.”

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PHYS.ORG

New study offers hope to endangered species troubled by neophobia

by Anglia Ruskin University, July 19, 2022

Findings from a new study investigating how birds experience neophobia, which is the fear of new things, could play a vital role in helping to save Critically Endangered species.

The research, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, studied the behavior of a rare bird called the Bali myna (Leucopsar rothschildi), of which there are fewer than 50 living in the wild.

Led by Dr. Rachael Miller of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), alongside colleagues from Cambridge University and the National University of Singapore, the study examined how 22 captive Bali myna birds responded to the presence of new objects and types of food, in addition to how well they tackled simple problem-solving tasks.

The researchers believe that gathering this type of behavioral data can aid in new conservation strategies. Behavioral flexibility is crucial for an individual’s adaptability and survival, and so pre-release training and identifying specific birds for release could help with the successful reintroduction of endangered species, such as the Bali myna, into the wild.

The study was carried out over a six-week period at three UK zoological collections—Waddesdon Manor (National Trust/ Rothschild Foundation), Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Gardens, and Birdworld—and the researchers found overall that birds took longer to touch familiar food when a novel item was present.

Age was a key factor in the behavior displayed, with adult birds proving to be more neophobic than juveniles. The researchers also discovered that the birds that quickly touched familiar food that was placed beside a new object were also the quickest to solve problem-solving tasks.

This new study is part of a larger project led by Dr. Miller, Lecturer in Animal Behavior at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), aiming to combine avian cognition and behavior research with conservation, to help threatened species. Dr. Miller says that “neophobia can be useful in that it can help birds avoid unfamiliar dangers, but it can also impact their adaptation to new environments, such as through an increased reluctance to approach new foods.”

“An understanding of behavioral flexibility, specifically how species and individuals within that species respond to novelty and approach new problems, is vital for conservation, particularly as the world is becoming increasingly urbanized. Many species need to adapt to human-generated environmental changes and how an animal responds to novelty can predict post-release outcomes during reintroductions.”

“We selected the Bali myna for this study specifically because they are on the brink of extinction, with fewer than 50 adults in the wild in Indonesia, but there is a captive breeding program of almost 1,000 birds in zoos around the world.”

“As part of active conservation of the Bali myna, there is a need to continually release birds to try to boost the small, wild population. Now we have data on the behavioral flexibility of these birds, this can help to inform which birds may be best suited for reintroduction. Our study has already identified that releasing juvenile Bali myna may potentially be more successful than releasing adult birds, at least in terms of adaptability to new environments.”

“Our data can also help with developing training before release, where captive birds may learn to increase fear responses to traps or people, if they were to be introduced in areas where poaching takes place, or to decrease neophobia by exposure to unfamiliar safe food sources in areas with low resources. We believe the overall project findings will be able to help not just the Bali myna, but hopefully many other endangered species.”

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Wisconsin Public Radio

A report warns that Australia’s endangered animals will increase because of wildfires

By The Associated Press, July 19, 2022, SHARE

CANBERRA, Australia — A five-year government report found Australia’s environment continues to deteriorate due to climate change, resource extraction and other causes, prompting leaders on Tuesday to promise new laws and enforcement of them.

The State of the Environment report also adds political pressure on the government to set a more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target when Parliament resumes next week for the first time since May 21 elections.

The previous conservative government received the report in December but decided against making it public before the elections.

The center-left Labor Party won on pledges including greater action on climate change.

It wants a target to reduce emissions by 43% below 2005 by the end of the decade enshrined in law when Parliament sits on July 26.

Several unaligned lawmakers want a more ambitious target. Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the report sent a “very strong message that we need to do better, but she rejected calls for deeper emission cuts.

“On the 43% target, we made a promise to the Australian people. We’re going to keep the promise we made to the Australian people,” Plibersek told the National Press Club.

She said she would introduce new environmental protection laws to Parliament next year and the government would create an agency to enforce them.

The government will also set a target of having 30% of Australia’s land and surrounding sea declared protected areas. It wants to create an east Antarctic marine park.

“I am optimistic about the steps that we can take over the next three years. Legislating strong action on climate change is a great start,” Plibersek said.

The wide-ranging report found the number of Australian species listed as threatened had increased by 8% since the 2016 report.

That number will increase substantially after wildfires in 2019 and 2020 destroyed vast tracts of southeast Australian forests, the report said.

Kelly O’Shanassy, chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation, an environmental organization, said land clearing was the major cause of habitat loss.

“There’s nothing in this report we don’t know. This is the fourth State of the Environment Report and every time it’s told us that the environment is getting worse and worse and worse because we’re not taking the type of action we need,” O’Shanassy told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

She welcomed the government’s commitment to law reform.

“That’s what we need to do pretty quickly, otherwise these endangered species will go extinct and they’ll do that in our lifetimes,” O’Shanassy said.

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WildEarth Guardians

Wildlife advocates, hunters, anglers challenge Helena National Forest’s scrapping of longstanding wildlife protections

U.S. Forest Service failed to conduct legally required analysis of the effects this decision would have on threatened grizzly bears, Canada lynx, and big game species including elk

MISSOULA, MONTANA—(July 19, 2022)—Today, a coalition of wildlife advocates, hunters, and anglers challenged the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the Forest Service’s decision to abandon all 10 crucial wildlife standards that have guided wildlife habitat management of the Helena National Forest for 30 years. In the forest plan revision process, the agencies failed to conduct legally required analysis of the effects this decision would have on threatened grizzly bears, Canada lynx, and big game species including elk. The abandonment of these standards significantly weakens protections for wildlife including preservation of important hiding cover, and allows increases in road density in wildlife habitat—a primary factor in grizzly bear mortality.

The revised forest plan allows forest managers to perform “fuel treatments,” a broad category of logging, in the majority of Canada lynx habitat in the national forest, and eliminates standards protecting big game habitat. It also removes grizzly bear habitat standards in many of the areas in the national forest important for grizzly bear movement and connectivity between grizzly populations in Montana, including the Upper Blackfoot and Divide areas.

“Members of Helena Hunters and Anglers have been engaged with the Helena portion of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest since the original forest plan was written in 1986. We are extremely concerned with the Service’s decision to abandon all the Wildlife Standards that were in the previous plan and were based on peer-reviewed science. The intent is clearly to preempt the public’s ability to hold the Forest Service accountable for its actions,” said Gayle Joslin, Helena Hunters and Anglers board member and retired wildlife biologist.

“Hiding cover and road density in the Helena National Forest—in particular in the Divide landscape—have huge implications for threatened grizzly bears, as well as big game including elk,” said Kelly Nokes, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “This major artery for grizzly migration is crucial to their recovery. The Biden Forest Service sidestepping a proper analysis to inform its decision to trash 30 years of successful forest and wildlife policy is beyond disappointing—and it violates the Endangered Species Act.”

“In removing strong standards to protect elk, the Forest Service is also harming threatened Canada lynx and grizzly bears,” said Adam Rissien, ReWilding manager for WildEarth Guardians. “In fact, the revised forest plan fails to ensure grizzly bears have the secure habitat necessary to travel between areas dedicated to its recovery, which further isolates them. The best available science shows that in order to thrive, grizzly bears need safe passages to roam in search of new dens, food and mates. Here the revised forest plan falls short.”

“The 10 wildlife standards were essential for maintaining habitat for wildlife such as grizzly bears, lynx, and big game including bighorn sheep,” said Jocelyn Leroux, Washington and Montana director with Western Watersheds Project. “However, with the removal of these protective 10 standards, the Forest Service completely failed to consider what the cumulative impacts of climate change and other uses such as business as usual livestock grazing might have on wildlife.”

“The standards thrown out by the Forest Service in its revised plan are crucial to protecting wildlife, and to enabling threatened grizzly bear populations in northern Montana and Yellowstone to connect with each other and reach full recovery,” said Bonnie Rice, senior representative for the Sierra Club in the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Rockies regions. “Grizzly bears, Canada lynx, elk and many other species will pay a steep price if this decision is allowed to stand.”

“Elk security is being seriously compromised across the landscape, both from overcutting and from not enforcing motorized travel restrictions,” said Helena Hunters and Anglers member, wildlife biologist, and pilot Doug Powell.

Background: For the past 30 years, and in accordance with the best available science (including the Montana Cooperative Elk-Logging Study), the Service has managed wildlife habitat – specifically, important summer and winter range and security for big game species (mule deer, elk, moose, etc…) – on the Helena National Forest pursuant to 10 forest-wide standards that are designed to ensure sufficient hiding cover and limit road densities on national forest lands in the forest. These ten forest-side standards include the following:

Standard 1: The Service will maintain adequate thermal and hiding cover in winter and summer range for big game species;

Standard 2: The Service will conduct a hiding cover analysis in all NEPA documents for specific projects;

Standard 3: The Service will manage summer range on the forest to ensure 35% hiding cover and 25% thermal cover in winter range (by elk herd unit);

Standard 4: To protect big game security, the Service will ensure road densities do not exceed numeric limits set forth in a formula depending on the amount of available hiding cover.

Standard 5: The Service will ensure minimum size for hiding cover is 40 acres; 15 acres for thermal;

Standard 6: The Service will follow the Montana Cooperative Elk-Logging Study Recommendations;

Standard 7: The Service will inventory and map all summer/fall/winter ranges;

Standard 8: If any sagebrush reduction occurs, the Service will analyze impacts to big game winter range;

Standard 9: The Service will protect bighorn sheep and mountain goat range during resource activities; and

Standard 10: The Service will maintain moose habitat to provide adequate browse species.

These 10 forest-wide standards, which were designed to protect and restore big game habitat on the Helena National Forest, have succeeded in maintaining and protecting wildlife habitat, wildlife numbers, and connectivity on the Helena National Forest from various projects and activities. They also applied throughout the forest and in specific geographic areas important for wildlife movement and connectivity including areas where specific grizzly bear and lynx standards are either inadequate or do not apply at all.

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EcoWatch

Global Biodiversity Crisis Is Worse Than We Thought, New Survey Finds

By Paige Bennett, July 19, 2022

A new survey of 3,331 scientists studying biodiversity across 187 countries has revealed that more species are threatened with extinction than previously thought. As many as 50% of species have been threatened with extinction or driven to extinction since 1500, according to survey results.

The survey, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, was conducted to help fill in gaps of information on biodiversity around the globe. The survey received 3,331 responses from scientists focused on all major species, habitats and ecosystems on Earth.

“While considering the types of species and ecosystems they know best, experts estimated that about 30% of species have been globally threatened or driven extinct since the year 1500,” said Forest Isbell, lead author and an associate professor in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota. “Experts also acknowledged substantial uncertainty around their estimates, with perhaps as few as 16% or as many as 50% of species threatened or driven extinct over this time.”

While these percentages range greatly, the differences may be due to demographic and geographic differences, which the survey acknowledges.

Co-author Patricia Balvanera at the University of Mexico noted that the survey results found that women and those in the Global South tended to provide higher estimates of biodiversity loss. “Also, experts who identify as women disproportionately study the taxa that experts estimate are most threatened,” Balvanera added.

By including information on taxa that are often understudied and including responses from underrepresented experts, the survey ultimately found that global biodiversity loss from 1500 to now and its impacts could be greater than previously thought.

“Since biodiversity is highly regional in nature, the attempt of our study to bring together the opinions of regional experts from around the world is unprecedented,” said co-author Akira Mori of the University of Tokyo in Japan. “From the perspective of social and cultural diversity and inclusiveness, even if they are not necessarily complete, I believe we have presented certain suggestions for future international policy discussions.”

Additionally, the survey results shared that global biodiversity loss is likely to have harmful impacts on ecosystems and reduce nature’s contributions to humans. The respondents gave various reasons behind global biodiversity loss, including land-use change, overexploitation, climate change, pollution, and invasive species, depending on the ecosystem or species.

The respondents do have hope for the future, though. With increases in conservation efforts and funding now, the experts estimated that these actions could remove threats of extinction for one in three species that would otherwise be threatened or extinct by the end of this century.

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PHYS/ORG

Over half of threatened species require targeted recovery actions

by Newcastle University, July 18, 2022

A staggering 57% of threatened species need targeted recovery actions to ensure their survival, new research has shown.

The world’s governments are presently negotiating a Global Biodiversity Framework, containing goals and targets for saving nature, which is due to be adopted at the end of 2022. Conservation experts explored how the suggested targets in the Framework, could contribute to reducing extinction risk of threatened vertebrates, invertebrates and plants. Their findings show that while targets to expand protected areas or reduce pollution will benefit many species, 57% would still need targeted recovery actions. These actions include captive breeding in zoos, reintroduction into the wild, moving individuals between locations, vaccination against disease, and other species-specific interventions.

Led by Newcastle University, the study was published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The project brought together leading ecology and conservation experts, including scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), BirdLife International and a global network of universities.

Study corresponding author, Professor Philip McGowan, Professor of Conservation Science and Policy at Newcastle University’s School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, said: “57% of the world’s threatened species will remain threatened without targeted recovery actions. Many will benefit from policies and actions designed to reduce threats from land- and sea-use change, overexploitation, pollution, invasive species and climate, but these alone will not remove the risk of extinction that these species face. Now, we can identify the species that need such action, and we can monitor what is being done and what the impact of action is on those threatened species”.

Tackling the risk of extinction

The research was based on 7,784 species listed as ‘Vulnerable’, ‘Endangered’, and ‘Critically Endangered’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The team considered the targets in the first draft of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s Global Biodiversity Framework.

The scientists assessed the potential benefits to each threatened species of implementing each target. They found that Target 1 (on implementing spatial planning to retain existing intact ecosystems), Target 2 (on restoring degraded ecosystems and ensure connectivity among them), and Target 3 (on protecting important areas for biodiversity) will be particularly important, as 95% of threatened species would benefit from their implementation.

The data also show, however, that these actions, and those for targets 5-8 on reducing pressures from unsustainable use, invasive species, pollution and climate change would still leave at least 57% of threatened species (4,428 species) at risk of going extinct. For example, the Black Stilt, a threatened waterbird from New Zealand, requires captive-rearing and release and control of hybrids with Black-winged Stilts to prevent genetic swamping, in addition to predator control and habitat management.

Study co-author Dr. Stuart Butchart, Chief Scientist at BirdLife International, noted: “This research shows that we can’t stop species from going extinct just by protecting particular areas and addressing key threats: some species needed dedicated efforts to help them recover. It is critical therefore that governments adopt specific and measurable goals on species conservation, and a clear commitment to implement the actions needed to achieve these.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Legal Victory: Court Orders New Endangered Species Review for Toxic Fungicide

SAN FRANCISCO—(July 18, 2022—In a major win for conservationists and wildlife, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ordered the Environmental Protection Agency today to review the potential harm a toxic new fungicide poses to endangered species by June 2023.

In 2020 the EPA approved use of the fungicide inpyrfluxam on some of the most widely grown U.S. crops, including corn, soy, grains, beans, sugar beets, apples and peanuts. The approval came despite compelling research showing the pesticide to be “very highly toxic” to fish, including endangered salmon and steelhead, and showing that it poses substantial risks to large birds, including whooping cranes. It is also extremely persistent, remaining in the environment for years after use.

“I’m very pleased the court gave the EPA a firm deadline to fully explore the harm this toxic new pesticide poses to endangered species,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This decision should send a clear message that the EPA can no longer ignore its duty to make sure new pesticides don’t push imperiled wildlife, like salmon, closer to extinction.”

The EPA’s 2020 inpyrfluxam approval ignored the expert opinion of the National Academy of Sciences, which recommended the agency develop a new process to analyze risk to endangered species that was more informative and protective. The EPA announced a policy for new pesticide approvals in January of this year because previous approvals resulted in “insufficient protections” for endangered species.

“EPA must stop rubberstamping these toxic pesticides without meaningfully considering the costs and environmental harm,” said Amy van Saun, senior attorney at Center for Food Safety. “We need our government to stand up to industry pressure, comply with the law and protect the environment from dangerous pesticides.”

In April the EPA released its first-ever comprehensive workplan to address the challenge of protecting endangered species from pesticides. Last month the agency announced two pilot programs focused on reforming the pesticide-approval process to correct violations of the Endangered Species Act.

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Salon

Humanity is on track to cause one million species to go extinct, according to UN report

A new study projects that at least one million extinctions are going to occur as a result of climate change

By MATTHEW ROZSA, July 17, 2022

Even as American politicians uselessly quibble over whether climate change is real (it is) and how humanity should address it, the natural world does not need humanity to humansplain to them that the Earth is becoming uninhabitable.

According to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a United Nations body, one million animal and plant species face extinction — and their problem is, ultimately, going to be humanity’s problem. After all, as the authors of the report point out, “billions of people in all regions of the world rely on and benefit from the use of wild species for food, medicine, energy, income and many other purposes.”

Now, these humans’ way of life is in danger, all because “the sustainability of the use of wild species in the future is likely to be challenged by climate change, increasing demand and technological advances.”

Salon spoke by email with Dr. Marla R. Emery, co-chair of the IPBES Sustainable Use of Wild Species Assessment and a scientific advisor for the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research. While climate change is without question one of the biggest man-made environmental problems contributing to the dangerous loss of wildlife, Emery explained that there are other human-made affecting the natural world. These include loss of habitat as humans encroach on spaces previously reserved to wildlife and the introduction of invasive alien species.

“The sustainability of uses of wild species is context specific,” Emery said. Life on Earth is threatened in multiple ways, including fishing, gathering, hunting, harvesting, “economic demands,” and sometimes even by “the systems that are in place to regulate and govern their activities” — or the lack thereof.

In an interview with Salon, Emery went into considerable detail about specific species threatened by extinction. All of the existing species of pangolins and echidnas are threatened; the former are slaughtered for their scales (used in traditional Chinese medicine) and their meat, while the latter have been hunted for their fur and faced peril due to habitat loss. Then there are a variety of species of sharks, which are either slaughtered for their fins (which are eaten) or killed simply because they were bycatch; rays also get accidentally caught by fishermen but kept for their meat.

Within the world of plants, you have some cacti that are dying out because of poaching in the southwestern United States and Mexico; certain cycad species are threatened because they’re used for ornamentation; and orchids likewise face risk because they are used “for both ornamental and medicinal purposes. Cultivation of orchids has provided some supply but also resulted in higher market prices for wild orchid, which is regarded as of higher quality.”

If there is one person who can sympathize with Emery’s concern about wild orchids, it is Dr. Stuart Pimm, the Doris Duke Professor of Conservation at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. Speaking to Salon, he mentioned how he was involved in a nonprofit that works with orchids; he noted how conservationists don’t reveal the precise locations of rare plants these days, in order to prevent poaching.

“We have some spectacular new orchids and we absolutely are not going to tell the world exactly where to find them. Were we to do so, we would be overwhelmed with people who want to go and collect these rare orchids so that they have them in their orchid areas at home,” Pimm says.

Yet even though Pimm shares Emery’s concern about orchids, he has his criticisms of the IPBES report.

“In all fairness to the team of people, these are tough questions,” Pimm told Salon. “I have been unhappy with several of the IPBES reports because I think that it’s not sufficient to say, ‘You know, biodiversity is important because we use species.’ I think we have to take the approach that there are major questions and we need to answer them. And it’s okay to say that ‘We don’t know’ but it’s not okay to sort of pass it off with grandstanding headlines. We need to quantify what we don’t know.”

Dr. Alice C. Hughes of the University of Hong Kong’s School of Biological Sciences echoed many of Pimm’s observations, noting issues with who is nominated to serve on the IPBES board.

“So 80 percent of experts need to be nominated by governments,” Hughes explained. “And some governments are going to nominate people who are convenient rather than the people who actually have a real understanding of what’s going on. And another problem is that, with some governments, they are only going to nominate people from their countries.” This sometimes means that the people selected are not necessarily the most knowledgeable or objective. “An example of that is China, which is never going to nominate someone who is not Chinese. And that means that you are missing out a lot of expertise from people who have real understanding of what’s going on. And it also gives space for vested interests.”

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California Department of Fish & Wildlife

Public Invited To Comment On Petition To List Southern California Steelhead As Endangered

News Release, July 15, 2022

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has initiated a status review for Southern California steelhead and invites data or comments on a petition to list Southern California steelhead as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

Southern California steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) are found in streams from the Santa Maria River at the southern county line of San Luis Obispo County down to the U.S.-Mexico border. Southern California steelhead as defined in the CESA petition include both anadromous (ocean-going) and resident (stream-dwelling) forms of the species below complete migration barriers in these streams.

Major threats to Southern California steelhead include destruction, modification and fragmentation of habitat due to anthropogenic water use (i.e., dams or diversions for the purposes of providing water for human use) and climate change impacts like increased stream temperatures and intensified drought conditions. Southern California steelhead represent an important steelhead diversity component in California due to their unique adaptations, life histories and genetics.

On June 14, 2021, California Trout submitted a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission to list Southern California steelhead as an endangered species under CESA. On April 21, 2022, the Commission accepted that petition for consideration. On May 13, 2022, the Commission provided public notice that Southern California steelhead is now a candidate species under CESA and as such, receives the same legal protection afforded to an endangered or threatened species. The listing petition and CDFW’s petition evaluation report(opens in new tab) are available on the Commission website.

CDFW invites data or comments on the petitioned action, including Southern California steelhead ecology, genetics, life history, distribution, abundance, habitat, the degree and immediacy of threats to its reproduction or survival, the adequacy of existing management or recommendations for management of the species. Data or comments may be submitted via email to SCSH@wildlife.ca.gov. Please include “Southern California Steelhead” in the subject line. Submissions may also be sent to:

CDFW Fisheries Branch

Attn: Southern California Steelhead

P.O. Box 944209

Sacramento, California 94244-2090

Submissions must be received by Sept. 30. CDFW has 12 months to review the petition, evaluate the best available scientific information relating to Southern California steelhead and make a recommendation to the Commission. The Commission will then place receipt of the report on the agenda for the next available Commission meeting. The report will be made available to the public for that meeting, where the Commission will schedule the petition for further consideration.

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North Coast Journal of Politics, People & Art (Humboldt County, CA)

Fourth California Condor Takes Flight in Humboldt County

Posted by Kimberly Wear, July 14, 2022

A fourth California condor is now flying free in the skies over Humboldt County.

A1, a young male, left the enclosure just before dawn this morning during the third release attempt, according to the Northern California Condor Restoration Program, a Yurok-led effort to return the bird they know as prey-go-neesh to the northern reaches of the endangered species’ former territory.

A1 now joins three other condors known as A0, A2 and A3 in forming the first flock in the region in more than 100 years.

Like his fellow cohort members, A1 was given a Yurok nickname. His is “Hlow Hoo-let,” which means “At last I (or we) fly!” according to Yurok Wildlife Department Director Tiana Williams Claussen.

“In line with the heavier names this first cohort carries, I interpret that as reference to the joyous day that all four of our first cohort fly free together,” she said in a statement. “On a lighter note, it’s definitely also a reference to poor A1’s extended wait to be let out, due to his faulty transmitter! We welcome Hlow Hoo-let to the skies of Yurok and surrounding lands, and look forward to his journey with us.”

Read more about the condor restoration program in the Journal’s June 23 cover story here. (Just a note, when the story went to print A0 — the cohort’s sole female — had been on a long sojourn but she has since safely returned to management and release site.)

A live feed of the management and release facility can be viewed on the Yurok Condor Cam, which can be found at: https://www.yuroktribe.org/yurok-condor-live-feed. More information about the effort and how to support condor restoration work can also be found here.

While the mentor bird known as No. 746 is now alone in the enclosure after helping to impart important social skills to this first flock, the adult male will eventually return to a condor breeding facility to contribute his important genetics to a new generation.

But, another cohort of young condors is expected to arrive on the North Coast in late summer or early fall, a process that will continue each year for at least the next two decades, with the ultimate goal of building a self-sustaining condor population in the region that will eventually spread to the Pacific Northwest.

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EcoWatch

Federal Court Reinstates Lobster Fishing Gear Ban for Right Whale Conservation

By: Paige Bennett,  July 14, 2022

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston has ruled to reinstate bans on lobster fishing gear in an area about 1,000 square miles off of the coast of Maine. The ban is a conservation measure meant to protect endangered right whales.

In 2021, the National Marine Fisheries Service, also known as NOAA Fisheries, put restrictions on lobster fishing gear, particularly vertical buoy lines. North Atlantic right whales can get entangled in these fishing lines, and there are fewer than 340 of the species left. The ban was meant to provide more protection for this endangered species.

In response, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine put out a preliminary injunction that would halt the ban, but the federal court has just reinstated the ban on Tuesday, July 12.

“Although this does not mean the balance will always come out on the side of an endangered marine mammal, it does leave plaintiffs beating against the tide, with no more success than they had before,” the court stated, as reported by the Associated Press.

This is the second recent ruling in favor of right whales. Last week, a U.S. District judge ruled that the federal government must implement more rules to better protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

“Lobster gear is a deadly threat to right whales, and the courts are telling the federal government to quit stalling and start taking real action,” Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said of last week’s ruling. “The Biden administration has to work much harder to help the industry prevent these agonizing, deadly entanglements.”

North Atlantic right whales feed in the waters around Canada and New England, then migrate south toward Florida to give birth. But their numbers are dwindling due to fishing entanglements and vessel strikes.

Because of these pressures and climate change, the species is growing smaller, too. Today, these whales are also about 1 meter shorter than they were just a few decades ago. The smaller size means lower numbers of offspring, further threatening population numbers.

The U.S. lobster fishing industry, worth about $500 million, is fighting the restrictions, saying they are concerned the rules could ruin the lobster industry and that the latest ruling “is a distressing setback for the several hundred lobstermen who fish in that area,” according to Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

Yet conservationists are requesting even stricter laws to protect the whales and praising the reinstated ban. Monsell noted that the ruling from Tuesday is  “a lifesaving decision for these beautiful, vulnerable whales.”

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EcoWatch

Americans Divided on Government’s Effectiveness on Climate Change, but Agree on Certain Policies, Survey Finds

By: Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, July 14, 2022

According to a new Pew Research Center survey of 10,282 U.S. adults conducted from May 2 to 8, Americans are deeply divided on how well they think the federal government is doing when it comes to tackling climate change and environmental issues.

Overall, 49 percent of adults in the U.S. said Biden’s policies on climate change were moving the country in the right direction, according to the Pew Research Center.

However, the responses were generally split along party lines, with 82 percent of Republicans or those leaning GOP saying that the Biden administration’s climate policies were taking America in the wrong direction, while 79 percent of Democrats and those leaning Democratic liked the direction the president was taking the country on climate policy.

Eighty-two percent of Democrats also felt that the government could be doing more to lessen the effects of climate change.

“You get the sense from the data that there is frustration or disappointment that more has not been done,” said director of science and society research at Pew Research Center Cary Funk, as Inside Climate News reported.

The survey did show wide bipartisan agreement on certain issues. Ninety percent of Americans expressed their support of planting roughly a trillion trees to soak up carbon emissions and help reduce climate change effects, while 79 percent were for a tax credit to help with technological development for carbon capture and storage of carbon emissions for businesses.

Seventy-two percent were in favor of power companies being required to utilize more renewable energy, like solar and wind, while 68 percent supported taxes based on the amount of corporations’ carbon emissions.

Fifty-five percent of those surveyed opposed the phasing out of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035, with 43 percent in support. This issue was also divided along party lines, with 82 percent of Republicans opposed and 65 percent of Democrats supporting the issue.

As far as actually purchasing an electric vehicle (EV), 42 percent said they were “very or somewhat likely” to consider it seriously.

“Roughly seven-in-ten of those at least somewhat likely to consider an EV in the future cite saving money on gas as well as helping the environment as reasons why,” the Pew Research Center reported.

A majority of Americans, 53 percent, said more stringent environmental laws were worth the cost, as compared to 45 percent who said the laws damaged the economy and resulted in the loss of too many jobs.

Age was also a factor. Younger Democrats were more likely to indicate frustration with the Biden administration’s approach to climate change.

Black and Hispanic, as well as lower-income adults, were more likely to have environmental issues like landfills and water pollution in their communities. Air pollution was reported to be a “big or moderate problem” in the local communities of 61 percent of lower-income adults, compared to 45 percent of middle-income adults and 38 percent of those with higher income.

About 56 percent of Black and Hispanic Americans said pollution of rivers, lakes and streams in their community was a “big or moderate problem.”

The partisan division was evident regarding power companies being required to get more of their energy from renewable sources, with 90 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans in favor.

Most Americans felt the federal government wasn’t doing enough to protect the water quality of lakes, streams and rivers at 63 percent. A majority of those surveyed also felt not enough was being done to protect the lives and habitats of animals or to protect air quality.

As far as the protection of nature preserves, open lands and national parks, 47 percent said the government wasn’t doing enough, while 44 percent felt about the right amount was being done.

Extreme weather was reported as having been experienced by most Americans in the past year, with 42 percent saying their community had seen long periods of abnormally hot weather and 43 percent saying they had experienced intense storms or floods.

In the West, 68 percent of respondents said their community had dealt with water shortages or droughts and 59 percent said they had faced major wildfires. In the Midwest, Northeast and the South, intense storms and floods were more likely to be reported in the past year than in the West.

“Roughly half of U.S. adults (49%) say air pollution is at least a moderately big problem in their communities. Fewer say that access to safe drinking water (41%) and lack of green space (37%) in their communities are problems,” reported Pew Research Center.

These environmental problems were more likely to be reported in Black and Hispanic communities than in White communities.

“For example, 63% of Black Americans and 57% of Hispanic Americans say safety of drinking water is at least a moderate problem in their local community, compared with only 33% of non-Hispanic White Americans. There are significant gaps by race and ethnicity when it comes to other environmental problems, including air pollution,” Pew reported.

Income divides were also reported when it came to being directly exposed to environmental issues.

“[A] majority of lower-income Americans (58%) say the safety of drinking water is at least a moderate problem in their local community, compared with 37% of those in middle-income and 25% of those in upper-income families. Lower-income communities are among those at the greatest risk for unsafe drinking water,” reported Pew.

Air pollution was reported as much more of an issue in urban areas than rural ones, with 64 percent of those in urban areas saying it was “a big or moderate problem,” while 47 percent of suburban residents and 38 percent of rural residents reported it as affecting their communities.

According to scientists, global emissions must be cut in half by the end of the decade in order to avoid the most disastrous effects of global warming. But this likely depends on immediate action by the U.S. government.

The Biden administration’s consideration of a West Virginia gas pipeline and drilling in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico in exchange for the support of Biden’s stalled climate bill by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has frustrated climate activists, The Guardian reported.

“Locking in decades of deadly, planet-heating fossil fuels is an outrageous trade that negates the benefits of an ever-weaker climate bill,” said government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity Brett Hartl, as reported by The Guardian.

As more and more people face extreme temperatures, water shortages and hazy skies filled with wildfire smoke, the reality of climate change becomes more evident.

“The public is frustrated that we’re seeing the impacts of climate change every day in our lives. World treasures like the Giant Sequoias are being threatened by wildfire in ways they haven’t been threatened in two or three thousand years… The public are recognizing that climate change is an existential threat,” said Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy for the American Lung Association, as Inside Climate News reported.

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Earthjustice

Conservation Groups Sue Fish and Wildlife Service Over Inadequate Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Efforts

New management rule sets target of 320 wolves in a single area of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico

TUCSON, AZ—(July 12, 2022)—Conservation groups have filed a lawsuit challenging a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) management rule that fails to provide for the recovery of the Mexican gray wolf, one of the most endangered mammals in the United States. The Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife, represented by Earthjustice in the suit, argue that FWS’s new rule fails to respond to ongoing genetic threats to Mexican gray wolves, sets an inadequate population target, and cuts wolves off from essential recovery habitat.

“The government’s new management program threatens failure for the entire Mexican gray wolf recovery effort,” said Timothy Preso, managing attorney for Earthjustice’s biodiversity defense program. “Improving genetic diversity and establishing additional populations are critically important for the lobo’s survival. Unfortunately, this new rule falls far short of what is needed to restore the Mexican gray wolf.”

In its new management rule, FWS sets a target of 320 wolves in a single area of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico and prohibits wolf access to promising but unoccupied recovery habitat in the Grand Canyon and Southern Rockies regions. Scientists have identified establishing additional Mexican gray wolf populations in those regions as essential to eventual recovery. Further, while the new rule calls for the release of enough captive wolves to improve the wild Mexican gray wolf population’s genetic diversity, it will consider the population’s genetic problems solved if these released wolves merely survive to a certain age, regardless of whether they ever breed.

“We are deeply concerned that FWS continues to disregard the recommendations and concerns of top scientists and the harmful impacts this inaction is having on recovery,” said Craig Miller, senior Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “Mexican wolves, ranchers, and the public would all benefit from the increased coordination that comes with ‘essential’ status and by allowing wolves back into suitable habitats where there are few opportunities for conflict. Instead, the new rule prevents necessary expansion and confines a single population to an area with much unsuitable habitat and a high likelihood of conflict.”

The FWS rule challenged by the conservation groups represents FWS’s effort to revise a prior Mexican gray wolf management framework after it was successfully challenged by the same conservationists. In 2015, FWS put forth a management rule for the reintroduced Mexican gray wolf population that threatened to compound many of the issues that threaten the species’ survival. Conservation groups won their challenge to this rule in March 2018, as a federal court in Arizona found the rule violated the Endangered Species Act. In its ruling, the Court faulted the agency for ignoring the advice of key scientists upon whose work the agency purported to rely. The court directed FWS to issue a new management rule by July 1, 2022.

“Increasing genetic diversity is key to the recovery of the small Mexican gray wolf population, but the government is stalling,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Underlying the federal absence of genetic standards is a determination to keep killing wolves and avoid effective wolf releases, all on behalf of the public lands livestock industry. Our lawsuit will show how the government refused to be candid about the lethal consequences of its mismanagement.”

In addition to the management rule, conservation groups are challenging the 2017 recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves in a separate lawsuit that is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. That suit argues that the plan fails to provide for “conservation and survival” of the species and does not base its delisting criteria on the best available science, as the law requires. Among other recommendations FWS ignored, leading scientists previously determined that recovery would necessitate three connected subpopulations of Mexican gray wolves in the wild, totaling at least 750 wolves. But following pressure from state officials, the recovery criteria were altered to a single population of 320 wolves, with an additional isolated population in Mexico. The new management rule mirrors this and other shortcomings of the 2017 recovery plan.

Mexican gray wolves are the most distinct lineage of wolves in the Western Hemisphere. This wolf subspecies of the American Southwest and Mexico was driven to near extinction as a result of government-sponsored killing in the mid-20th century. By the end of the killing program, just seven individuals remained in a captive breeding program. The enactment of the Endangered Species Act spurred efforts to recover the Mexican gray wolf from the looming threat of extinction and it was listed as endangered in 1976.

While FWS estimates that there were 196 Mexican gray wolves in the wild at the end of 2021, the population’s numbers remain well below recovery objectives and its genetic integrity is badly deteriorated. On average, wolves in the reintroduced population are as related to one another as full siblings.

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Reuters

Ivory-billed woodpecker granted 6-month reprieve from U.S. extinction list

By Rich Mckay, July 11, 2022

(Reuters) – The ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird that few if any living bird watchers have ever seen, has been given a six-month reprieve from being placed on the U.S. government’s extinct list, even though the last confirmed sighting was nearly eight decades ago.

Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put the bird – the largest known U.S. woodpecker – on the list for consideration as an extinct species, bumping it from the critically endangered list.

The declaration would mean that the animal no longer has any any legal protection it had as an endangered species.

The move raised an outcry among birdwatchers who asked to the agency to hold off, saying the bird – known for its distinctive bill and 2.5-foot (76-cm) wingspan – may still live deep in the swamps and hardwood forests of the American South.

As a result, the Fish & Wildlife Service relented even though the bird has been functionally extinct for decades, Ian Fischer, an agency spokesman, said on Monday.

“There’s a lot of passion, enthusiasm for this bird,” Fischer said. “It’s nicknamed the ‘Lord God Bird’ because it’s so big. But there has been no clear evidence that it lives, unfortunately.”

Logging of old-growth forests in the U.S. South destroyed much of its habitat. Its last confirmed sighting was documented in 1944 in northeastern Louisiana, the service said. read more

The agency needs to see new photos or video that are clear enough to be authenticated by experts, he said. Many bird watchers confuse the animal with the pileated woodpecker, another large bird.

The ivory-billed woodpecker was added to a list of 23-species proposed for the extinct category in September 2021. The list includes a fruit bat, 11 birds, eight freshwater mussels and two types of fish, the agency said.

A 30-day comment period was reopened July 7 for bird watchers to produce clear photos or video of the ivory-billed woodpecker. A final decision will be made by the agency released in March instead of September.

“It’s a beautiful bird, and no one wants it extinct,” Fischer said. “But we need evidence.”

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DW (Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster)

Biodiversity: Wild species can help feed the world

Biodiversity experts are calling for the preservation of often endangered wild species, which could provide food and income for billions worldwide.

July 11, 2022

“Transformative changes” are needed to save wild species from extinction and preserve ecosystems that are essential to human life, say the authors of two landmark reports from the the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

The reports examine options for using algae, animals, fungi, and land-based and aquatic plants in a sustainable way.

Almost 400 experts and scientists, as well as representatives of indigenous communities, were involved in the reports. In total, they evaluated thousands of scientific sources. The executive summary was released this week.

“Almost half the world’s population actually depends to a greater or lesser extent on the use of wild species. And it’s much more prevalent than most people think,” said John Donaldson, co-chair of IPBES.

The sixth mass extinction

Currently, about a million species worldwide are threatened with extinction as biodiversity and ecosystem health deteriorate at unprecedented rates.

This undermines economic prosperity while harming the health and quality of life of people around the world.

Due to human-caused climate change, the Earth is currently heading for a warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 degrees Fahrenheit) by century’s end compared to pre-industrial times. This level of warming will increase the risk to endangered species in extinction hotspots tenfold.

The report builds on findings by researchers that a sixth mass extinction is already underway. 

It notes that